|Backpack||52.26 Miles||2 Days 21 Hrs 49 Mns |
|9,323 ft AEG|
|Heading out into the Weminuche for a few days was goal #2 for my week+ trip to CO. Didn't do a whole lot of research, but I was familiar with the Vallecito area, and it looked like there were a lot of route options plus easy access at Pine River TH. |
Showed up to Pine River TH before lunch and was on the trail by 11:30am. The first few miles through Granite Peak Ranch were serene but fairly uninteresting. Once past the wilderness boundary, the valley opened up and there were tons of amazing meadow campsites. One doesn't have to go far into the wilderness here to have a great experience. The first six miles to the Lake Fork Junction were fast and pleasant.
The scene got even better after climbing up to the next long stretch of meadows, where there is still great camping and a little more solitude. At around 2:30pm, storms started threatening, so I bagged the electronics. It barely managed a sprinkle however, and when the sun came back out, removed them...only for it to start raining a little more. I guess the best way to stop rain is to put your electronics in a bag.
Didn't even see the Flint Creek junction when I crossed the creek, but knew it was there. At around 4:30pm the clouds got just a bit more threatening, and I decided to start looking for a campsite. Got to Sierra Vandera junction around 5pm, and decided to take the next available spot. There was a good campsite 100 yards or so west of the junction, but I didn't like it as much from a lightning standpoint as much as the clearing at the junction. Looked around for the continuation of Pine Creek Trail, but couldn't find it, and set up camp. Started making dinner but was thwarted by the rain's arrival. Had a bit of a gap around 6:15 during which I was able to cook dinner, but it started raining before I could eat. So I ate in the tent, which I know you're not supposed to do, but I didn't want to get wet... Rain stopped for good by 7pm, after which I checked out the start of Sierra Vandera Trail again, and unsuccessfully hunted for the continuation of Pine Creek Trail.
Woke up at 6am and decided to try to "punch through" further up Pine Creek before breakfast, to see if I stumbled on the trail. Followed the line on the FS topo map, and stumbled on the trail a hundred yards or so from the campsite, and it was easy going from there, with occasional deadfall. For the first time I was noticing the devastation spruce and fir beetles have done to this area. The lower part of the canyon, possibly due to higher species diversity, wasn't too bad, but up here some stands were almost completely dead. Passed the guard station (still used sometimes, according to Gabe, who we'll meet in a bit), then headed up to Granite Lake, which was OK. After heading back down, I took a side trip up to Divide Lake, where I met the first other humans of the day.
Beelined it back to camp, and found the trail ends up about 50 feet from where my tent was. Guess I'm blind. Ate breakfast and was packed up and ready to go by 10:30am, when Gabe rode in on a horse with two young daughters on mules. He introduced himself, we chatted for a bit, and he told me about a connector trail from Moon Lake to Rock Lake which offered a more interesting route than I had planned on. Originally was going to go up La Osa and down Flint Creek, but abandoned it when I couldn't find Pine Creek Trail - I had decided on heading back down to the Lake Fork junction, and then day hiking to Moon Lake the next day. Hiking up Flint Creek and going down Lake Fork sounded more fun for sure. Gabe told me I can stay at their camp if I'd like, and there would be steak. I told him I'd decide when I get there...
So I headed down to Flint Creek, then went up a mile and a half or so, where I found their camp right under the Pope's Nose. Was noncommittal, but a little tired, so I decided to take a short nap and decide after. By 12:30pm, storms were rolling in again, and Gabe and Co returned just as it started raining. As the rain continued, and got heavier, it was decided - dry shelter and good company just sounded much nicer than climbing over deadfall in the rain. That afternoon I learned that Gabe spends the majority of his time out there, moves camp every two weeks per regulation, and cuts downed trees so he could get his horses through (of course, we all benefit from this!). If you're ever in the Weminuche, look for Gabe.
Woke up early, hoping to be off by 7am, because I wanted to be up and over the pass before any storms arrived (even though prior to the trip the forecast called for a dry Saturday). Ate, packed up, and thanked Gabe and kids for the hospitality, and was off by 7:30. The mile or two they hadn't cleared yet was a bit miserable, but after that the deadfall was pretty spread out. Took a little over 3 hours to get to Flint Lake, where I ran into a hiker who had just come up La Osa (he said he had also met Gabe). He was thinking about going down Flint Creek; I told him it would be faster to go over the pass. I took off, but then ran back to the junction (sans pack) because I realized he probably hadn't come from the same TH. He was gone, so he probably decided I was an idiot and proceeded down Flint Creek. It's too bad he doesn't know I made the attempt to correct my bad advice...
Once above the treeline the views were phenomenal. Rock Lake was picturesque. Found the trail up away from the lake, which was quite steep. Got to the saddle in no time, admired the views, and found the trail down to Half Moon Lake, which seemed even steeper than the Rock Lake side. All this rush, but there wasn't a cloud in the sky... Started running into people more frequently on the Lake Fork trail, which was in good condition. Minimal deadfall, though the forests were still completely devastated by beetles.
Emerald Lake is entirely too long, Little Emerald is more appropriately sized.
By the time I got down to Pine Creek trail, I think I had logged 18-20 miles and everything hurt, so I took one of the many campsites in the area, although admittedly if I had walked a couple hundred more feet I'd have found a better one... But I didn't care at the time, I just wanted to sit down, eat two dinners (thanks to Gabe I had an extra), and sleep.
Packed up, skipped breakfast, and beelined it back to the trailhead by 10am. Jeep started up and everything was good.
First Weminuche trip was a success. There's definitely more to explore there. Despite the bark beetle devastation (which I assume is just a cycle anyways), it's still insanely beautiful. They just make it so you have to look for leaners when setting up camp... Also, I think it's time to abandon FS topo maps as a source of information. The correct alignment of Pine Trail past the Sierra Vandera junction, as well as the route from Rock Lake to Moon Lake, seem to be on many other topo maps.