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Backpacking in the San Juans, 1997, by Daphne

Photos Backpacking 97 Pictures

I grew up backpacking in Colorado. If you pick the right spots there you can go for days without seeing anyone else. Or you can choose some of the more popular destinations. In August of 1997 I went back to visit my folks, and my dad and I decided to visit the Weminuche Wilderness. The Weminuche is a large wilderness area in southern Colorado that is decidedly one of the more popular destinations due to its spectacular scenery.

We parked the car at Beartown just outside the wilderness area. The folks at the Lost Trail Ranch would shuttle it back to their ranch for us sometime during the week. Then we began the long hike up Hunchback Pass. The mileage from our car to the top of the pass was probably only 1.5 miles but we had an elevation gain of about 1000 feet. Then came the long decent to Rock Creek our destination for the night.

Looking down onto Rock Lake
Looking down onto Rock Lake

We descended Vallecito Creek. It was a series of beautiful waterfalls and meadows of waist high wildflowers. At Nebo Creek we ate lunch and the rain started. The summer of '97 in southern Colorado was a wet one, which made the backpacking both better and worse. Worse because we were constantly wet. My shoes were so soaked after the first day I didn't even bother to try to keep them dry. At stream crossings I just waded right in. The water also made the steep trails slick with mud. But the rain also made it better. I've never seen the flowers so tall or so dense. Vallecito Creek was the most spectacular of all, wildflower meadows in full bloom, reds, yellows, and the beautiful sky blue of my favorite flower the Colorado Columbine.

That night we cooked under our tarp in the rain about half-way up Rock Creek. In the morning it was raining just as hard, so we were slow getting out. Rock Creek brought out another advantage and disadvantage of the rain. The rain created the most spectacular waterfalls. They were everywhere coming off the high cliffs. I kept stopping to admire them. The disadvantage was the swollen creeks. Today we had several crossings. One crossing at Rock Creek we were not willing to negotiate, so we had to go way around and bushwhack for a while. Later that day after we had crossed the pass from Rock Lake to Moon Lake, we had to cross Lake Creek. The creek had turned into a small river. It was nerve racking, but there was no choice.

We camped about half a mile from Emerald Lake. That night getting dinner we were cold. We had been cold since the creek crossing got us soaked, but the temperature also dropped that night. In the morning our shoelaces were frozen solid and the ground was frosted over. Luckily it was just a mild freeze and our water bottles were still filled with water and not ice.

Coming down from Emerald Lake we crossed signs of a recent avalanche. The trees all the way down the chute were flattened. The trail was also covered with debris and the snow hadn't melted yet. Not far from there Chay, my dad's dog, was pointing up the mountain. He had found a coyote. Both he and the coyote were standing stock still waiting to see who would move first. When the coyote saw us he took off.

Aspens along the Los Pinos river
Aspens along the Los Pinos river

We decided to camp near Flint Creek where it flows into the Los Pinos River. As we set up camp we saw a prospector go by leading his mule. This whole area in the San Juan Mountains is steeped in lore of lost gold mines. There is one tale of a stash of gold hidden by the miners as they left for the season, but all the miners were killed by the Ute as they left. Reportedly this stash has been found and lost more then once.

The end of our fourth day found us at Flint Lake. We decided to take our fifth day off here and rest. During our first breakfast there, it was dreary and raining, but then the sun broke through and sunlight lit up the mountain in front of us. Then a double rainbow come down. When it started fading my dad told me I should take a photo. Unfortunately it took too long for me to get it and it had mostly faded.

Our last day we hiked out via Ute Creek. We had everything for our last day, rain, hail and bright sun. We had intended to stay at Black Lake and hike out the next day, but the flies and mosquitoes at the lake were too annoying. So we decided to hike out and spend the night at the inn at Pagosa Springs and soak our muscles in the hot springs, a fitting ending to a great trip.

This web page (http://www.gouldhome.com/backpacking97.html) was last updated on December 30, 2001. For any comments or suggestions about the site contact Daphne Gould. Contents copyright © 1999-2003 by Joel and Daphne Gould.