|This page has a
lot of photographs on it, and may take a bit of time to load. I think the
pictures are worth the wait.
There is good news and bad news about all the country you will see on this page.
The good news is that you own it all, and you can go visit it any time you wish.
The bad news is that you you'll have to walk. This is a wilderness - no mechanized transport is allowed, not even a bicycle.
During the first part of our 2001 trip we were backpacking in Colorado's Weminuche Wilderness, which is 450,000-plus acres in southwestern Colorado. This is Lisa standing in the Squaw Creek Valley, with the trail to her left. It's not very wide, but in most places is easy to follow. The trail begins at the ThirtyMile Campground near Rio Grande Reservoir, and winds up 11.8 miles and 2000 vertical feet to Squaw Pass.
|This is Lindy cooking
lunch at our camping spot at Squaw Pass, elevation 11,200 feet. In the
background just below the top of the mountain, the funny white stuff which
looks like snow is snow. The snow is around in places pretty much
After camping overnight in Squaw Pass, we walked up onto the Continental Divide Trail. Some of the hiking we did involved traversing extended snow fields, which was a bit intimidating when they were pitched at a steep angle, but we were able to kick steps into the snow and continue without much difficulty.
The section of the Continental Divide Trail we did was mostly above timberline, so we got an early start to avoid getting caught by frequent afternoon thunderstorms on exposed terrain where we would have no protection from lightning.
|This is a lake in a glacial cirque. There are four such cirques on the CD Trail north of Squaw Pass. They are lovely camping places. A cirque is a bowl-like depression carved into the face of the mountain by a glacier.|
|This view is looking
toward the south from the last of the glacial cirques as we climbed up
onto the continental divide itself. The trail has switchbacks which make
the climb easier.
The view from the top is stunning, as you will see.
|This is the view from the high point in this section of the Continental Divide Trail, looking to the west. The altitude at this point is about 12,830 feet.|
|This is Lisa standing
with her pack next to a Continental Divide Trail marker near 12,400 feet.
Again, the trail is not very wide, but usually easy to follow. Markers
such as this one as usually found in locations near an intersection with
another trail, or in a place where the trail may be difficult to follow.
The marker has the trail symbol near the top, and the letters CDNST below,
which stands for Continental Divivde National Scenic Trail.
The CDNST runs along the continental divide from Mexico to Canada, 3100 miles in all. A few hardy souls have hiked the entire length of the trail in a single season, including Ray Jardine, who designed the lightweight Golite packs that we carry. On this trips, Lisa's pack was usually around 15 pounds, and mine was under 25. For those interested in backpacking without carrying heavy packs, Ray's book, Beyond Backpacking, can be ordered from Amazon.com or any commercial bookstore which will do special orders. I highly recommend it.
In 1999, when I headed up the Berg Lake trail in Canada, I was carrying 50 pounds. I decided then that I was carrying too much weight, and started doing research on lightweight gear, which lead me to Ray Jardine and his work. This year and last I have carried half of that, which makes the hiking much more pleasant. Ray's book will tell you how. Don't leave home with a pack without having read it.
|Once off the
high ground on the CDNST, we hiked down the north fork of the Los Pinos
river, and then down Weminuche Creek to get back to my truck. This is a
lovely section of a boulder-choked section of Weminuche Creek.
After an overnight stay in the ThirtyMile Campground, we found the truck wouldn't start. When we left on our hike, we started the truck, and didn't drive far enough to the trailhead to recharge the battery after the cold start. The Cummins diesel engine uses glow plugs for starting at temperatures below forty five degrees F., which it is most mornings up here, which takes a lot out of the battery. The third attempt to start it without a good drive to recharge the battery was just too much for it, so we drove over to Alamosa, Colorado, for a new battery after getting the helpful campground manager to jump-start the truck.
|With our clothes
washed, our bodies rested, and our provisions restocked, we headed out
for the high country again. This is a lovel waterfall on the Los Pinos
river about four miles below Weminuche Pass. Our intent was to camp between
Weminuche Pass and the trail intersection with the Flint Creek drainage,
and the following day head up the Flint Creek trail to Flint Lake. There
we would camp overnight, and descend the next day along the CDNST back
to Weminuche Pass.
Well, it didn't quite work out the way we planned, but in this high country, that's not unusual.
A frequent weather pattern up here is for air laden with Pacific moisture, driven by the jetstream, to rise up over the Rocky Mountains, and, in cooling, to lose it's ability to hold moisture, generating thunderstorms. Those are usually just an afternoon affair, over quickly, and the next morning dawns clear and beautiful.
Sometimes, though, cold fronts intrude, and bring more violent weather for a longer period.
|This view of the
Los Pinos valley was taken from our campground across the river from Granite
Peak. The morning dawned clear and beautiful, with mist rising from the
river in the cool morning air.
We packed up, and hiked down toward Flint Creek. Crossing the creek, we noticed black clouds gathering over the peaks up the drainage, building in our direction, and began to hear thunder and see lightning. We stopped about a mile and a half up the creek, and fixed lunch. Our noon meal is actually the big meal of the day, which we cook and do the dishes for before resuming hiking. This serves several purposes.
It gives us a nice long break between the morning and afternoon hikes. It refuels us for the afternoon hike. It is also the only meal of the day we actually cook, eating trail food and snacks at night, and cold breakfast food, which means that bears, which are attracted to cooking odors, are attracted to the place we had lunch, rather than our camp! In country like this, black bears, while present, are not much of a threat, but doing this in grizzly bear country, like Wyoming and Montana, and thus not attracting grizzly bears is something the prudent hiker tries with great diligence to accomplish.
After lunch, we decided that being up on the divide was not the prudent place to be, and we retreated down the Flint Creek drainage.
We headed back up the valley of the Los Pinos river. The storm caught up to us, and dropped very cold rain and hail on us. We hiked on down in the valley protected from lightning by the peaks and the lovely aspen forest the trail wound through. It rained all afternoon, and on into the evening.
We kept hiking until after six o'clock, because hiking in the rain is not noticeably less annoying that sitting in a small tent in the rain.
Eventually, we camped in a nice grove of pine trees, where it was drier under the rain, crawled into our tent to warm up, and went to sleep.
|The next morning,
we woke up, and outside it was cold. The storms had been generated by a
cold front, and it was thirty-six degrees F. outside, nearly ten degrees
colder than the mornings we had been experiencing.
We packed the gear and headed up the trail, which was muddy. It rained again, so we put up our umbrellas, put on our rain gear, and hiked on. With the polypropylene long-johns and polyester fleece we have, we can hike hike warm in the rain, except for our feet, which get wet if we have to ford creeks or rivers.
It stopped raining, started again, and then, finally, stopped for good, giving us this lovely view of the Rio Grande Pyramid in the sunlight breaking through the clouds as we hiked out.
We stopped for a rest and lunch just below Weminuche Pass, and hiked out to the truck in the early afternoon. We drove down to South Fork, checked into the campground, and went to a grocery store for lovely T-bone steaks and mushrooms. We took long, hot, showers, and grilled steaks. What a lovely day!
We've now hiked a hundred miles in the Weminuche Wilderness, and despite the occasional harshness of the high-altitude weather, we love it. Unlike the big national parks like Glacier and Yellowstone, no backcountry permits are needed, you can camp wherever you choose except within 300 yards of a few heavily visited lakes, and the bears are not a problem, also unlike Glacier and Yellowstone.
I wrote this on July 17th, and we plan to be back on the trails on the 19th. More later!
Copyright 2001 by Linden B. Sisk
All Rights Reserved