Big Meadow Reservoir
Spotted Lake

This hike began at a trailhead near Big Meadow Reservoir, which is a short distance off U.S. Highway 160 just east of the summit of Wolf Creek Pass. It is a semi-loop hike, in that it starts up the Archuleta Creek Trail until it's intersection with the South Fork trail. Then we followed the South Fork trail - the trail follows the south fork of the San Juan river, hence the name - up to it's intersection with the Continental Divide Trail. The CDT eventually intersects the Archuleta Creek Trail near Archuleta Lake, and we followed that trail back to the trailhead we started at.

The trailhead on this hike was about 9300 feet. The trail climbed up to about 11,700 feet near Spotted Lake, so the total elevation change on the 19.9 mile loop was 5680 feet or so, according to our trail guide to the Weminuche Wilderness, Hiking Colorado's Weminuche Wilderness by Donna Ikenberry (Falcon Publishing, Helena, Montana), which I highly recommend.

This is a view of a pretty parklike area down in the South Fork drainage as viewed from the CDT.

The walk up the lower Archuleta Creek drainage was beautiful. The stream runs right by the trail, and is full of pretty rapids and waterfalls like this one.

Your monitor is not playing tricks on you - that moss on the rock in the foreground really is orange in color. A great attraction of the Colorado Rockies is the variety of microclimates, with some rain-forest-like areas all the way up to high arctic-like tundra above the treeline.

The lower section of the Archuleta Lake trail is pretty easy walking, and there is lots of traffic on it from day hikers. We encountered a family from Georgia hiking down the trail from Archuleta Lake. They were using a llama as a pack animal, as the woman was carrying a toddler on her back. They stopped to chat, and the man asked us about our GoLite packs, which he recognized and was curious about. ( We told him of our experience with the packs, and that we really liked them. We later encountered the same family on a day hike of the CDT up above the Wolf Creek ski area. They were also day-hiking, but had the llama along with them for exercise. One sees so few people on the trails up here that it is really odd to encounter the same people more than once.

Once we took off on the South Fork trail, though, we didn't see anyone else the entire day. The South Fork trail is little used, is not maintained by the Forest Service, and has lots of trees down across the trail that one has to either climb over or find a way around.

It was, though, pretty easy to follow despite the lack of use. The only places we had to hunt around to find the trail were near a couple of meadows which grow over with high grass annually, obliterating the trail. By following the directions in the trail guide, we were able to get across the meadows and find the trail on the other side. A couple of the meadows did have post markers in them to help show the way. Along the way, we stopped and ate our main meal of the day.

Eating our big meal of the day around noontime has several distinct advantages. It gives us a long break between the morning and afternoon's hikes. It gives us hot, nutritious food to get us through the afternoon's walk. It also keeps cooking odors well away from where we are going to sleep, which, in country with agressive bears, is a great advantage. It also means that, since we will not cook our evening meal, we have done our major meal effort and cleaned up all our cooking gear, avoiding those chores when we are tired from the afternoon's effort. Since we always pick a lunch stop near a water source, we also have the option, should we choose to use it or need to, of pitching an evening camp which is not near a water source.

Eventually we reached the top of the trail, which ends at its intersection with the CDT. Following the CDT north, we eventually reached this lovely overlook with a view of Spotted Lake.

We pitched our tent in a sheltered location to the northeast of the lake in some trees. We didn't get any of the usual afternoon thundershowers, but we did get some light sprinkles of rain, which weren't heavy enough to drive us into the tent. We just sat outside on our sleeping pads under our umbrellas, and enjoyed the view while eating our evening meal, which is usually GORP and summer sausage.


 For those not familiar with the term, GORP is an abbreviation for "Good Old Raisins and Peanuts", but is generically applied to most any trail snack containing nuts, candy, dried fruit and other incredients. I mix a pound of dry-roasted peanuts, a pound of M&M's, and some raisins, which I break into a couple of zip-lock bags. It will generally last two or three days. A bag of GORP has amazing numbers of calories - my mix has more than 5,000 - and it tastes good enough that one doesn't tire of it on the trail.

Lisa likes cashews and M&M's in her's.

We also enjoyed an adult beverage while watching the sun set, as we had each brought a few ounces of our favorite spirits in small Nalgene bottles. Few places one might share a libation with a companion boast such splendid views.

The picture is our view from our camp as the sun was coming up.

In the morning, we ate our breakfast and drank our coffee before packing up and heading down the trail toward Archuleta Lake, which was only about three-quarters of a mile to the north.

The lake, shown here, also has very good camping in trees to the south of the lake and above it, which are to the right of this picture.. The lake is frequently visited, unlike Spotted Lake, and Forest Service regulations forbid camping withing three hundred feet of the lake. That is no great hardship, as the prudent camper will choose shelter among the trees, which are that far away anyway.

The ridge in the background lies along the Continental Divide, and reaches 12,400 feet, which is high enough to generate fierce afternoon thunderstorms from the air laden with Pacific moisture being pushed over the Divide by the jet stream. We've been hailed on more than once at these altitudes, and being within reach of a sheltered camp location by the early afternoon is prudent for those hiking at these high altitudes..

On the way down the trail, we passed this interesting rock. As you can see, it has moss and grass growing out of the rock itself.

We hiked on down the Archuleta Trail, arriving back at the trailhead in the early afternoon.

We drove into South Fork, stopping for steaks and other sundries at the grocery store, then drove to a commercial campground for the evening.

Following the luxury of hot showers, we cooked the steaks and ate our usual huge post-hike meal.

If you want to eat heartily (polite term for pigging out) without gaining weight, take up high-altitude hiking. One of the near-certainties of the activity is that you aren't eating enough while on the trail to replace anywhere close to the calories you are burning hauling yourself and your gear up and down the trails.

Copyright 2001 by Linden B. Sisk  All Rights Reserved

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