ilanarama: a mountain (mountain)
[personal profile] ilanarama
This past weekend, Britt and I headed out on a backpacking expedition to climb the Rio Grande Pyramid (13,821 ft, the 97th highest mountain in Colorado - or possibly the 30th, depending on how you define 'mountain'). I've wanted to climb it for some time; it's a distinctively-shaped peak (the name gives a clue!), much higher than anything else around it and thus visible from most of the high summits of the San Juans, and in 2008 Britt and I attempted to climb it but were rained out.

on the Rincon La Vaca trail

It's also a long way from anywhere, especially here. Even though it's in our local wilderness, the Weminuche, it's on the opposite side from us, near Creede, and one of the defining characteristics of a wilderness (for my non-US friends: this is a legal designation, not a descriptive one) is that there are no roads across it. So on Friday after work, we piled our stuff into the Sportsmobile and drove partway there, spent the night on a Forest Service road, and then got up early Saturday morning and drove the rest of the way to the trailhead.

This trip, we decided to take a different approach from our previous trip, taking the Weminuche Trail from its trailhead on the east side of the Rio Grande Reservoir, over Weminuche Pass to the upper Pine River Valley, and then up Rincon La Vaca, which is the valley to the southeast of the Pyramid. The lower trailhead of the Pine is only an hour from us, right next to the gazillionaire's summer home where Britt's brother works as caretaker (which PS is for sale, if you have a spare $24 million lying around), and we've done many hikes from there, but if we had started there it would have taken us two or three days to get to our base camp. (Incidentally, if you look it up on the map, you will see it's officially called the Los Piños River, but nobody here calls it anything but the Pine.)

Instead we had about six miles to go, beginning with a steep uphill climb above the south side of the reservoir and then up Weminuche Creek's plunging cascades. The climb actually made us feel quite strong and tough, because we passed a large group from Adams State College who were dayhiking to the pass - hah, we are twice as old as you kids and carrying heavy packs and we are still faster than you! (Okay, most of them were overweight and clearly unused to hiking. So yay them for getting out and doing it!)

After the initial climb, the trail mostly levels out, contouring along the side of the Weminuche River valley, which here is a broad, green meadow. We stopped for lunch on a knoll overlooking the valley, and as I looked down, I saw a brown shape break and run for the trees - it was a bear! I shouted for Britt to look, and he just got a glimpse of it, but I was so happy to have seen a bear, my first ever in the Colorado wilderness. (I've seen bears in my YARD, but not out in the woods!)

Weminuche Pass is on the Continental Divide, but it's fairly low. In fact, it's low enough that it is the site of several ditches which steal water from the west side (the Pine side) to send to the more populous east side. We poked around the ditches a little before hiking down the meadows of the upper Pine a short way to turn up its farthest north and highest side canyon, Rincon La Vaca. (Yes, the west side of the Continental Divide is to the south here.) Unfortunately there has not been much trail maintenance on Rincon La Vaca, as you can see here:

obstacle course

It was a freakin' obstacle course out there, and slippery with falling rain to boot (the above photo was taken on the way out) and we were both very happy when we broke out of the forest and into a lovely meadow. A knoll sat above the pretty creek, the perfect place for our camp. We managed to get the tent up in the pause between rainstorms, then dove in to wait out the weather. After a couple of hours, it cleared up enough for Britt to head out on a fishing expedition - and he was successful, so we had fresh cutthroat trout for dinner!

camp La Vaca creek

You might notice a large number of dead trees in these pictures. This is because the spruce bark beetle has infested this area very badly; it eats the tender inner bark of the spruce tree, which kills it. Ordinarily, trees defend themselves by exuding sap to smother the beetles, but because of the persistent drought, trees can't make much sap and are weakened. Another contributor is the warmer winters that global climate change has brought; the beetles don't die back as much in the winter as they should. So alas, the lovely deep-green background of the hillsides is now mostly red-brown.

The next day dawned stormy, so we waited for it to clear a little before heading up the trail. The photo at the top of this entry was taken just as we headed out; you can see both the Pyramid and the Window, a notch in the rock wall which extends south of the peak. This rock is old volcanic stuff, very different from the granite that comprises most of the mountains around here.

Shortly after we started up the trail, Britt, who was in the lead, turned to say something to me - and then he stared past my shoulder and pointed. I turned to see a young moose! He was following us (from a safe distance), or so it seemed, but when we turned and looked at him he casually sauntered off into the woods.

moose

The hike was quite pleasant, with lots of lovely wildflowers: bluebells, harebells, paintbrush, large swaths of some yellow composite, and one of my favorites, fireweed. (Fireweed ought to fire its publicist, because that's such an unattractive name for such a pretty flower!) Eventually we broke out above treeline, where we crossed a boggy area under the Window and headed up to the ridge leading to the peak.

cascade The Window

peak approach climbing the peak

You can see our route on the third picture: we hiked up the green meadow just right of center, and then more or less up the pink streak to the skyline, then up the ridge to the summit. Yay summit!

summit smile

As you can see, the views are wonderful; behind me are many of the mountains we've climbed in previous years, including Jagged, Pigeon, Windom, Jupiter, and Arrow in this view west - to the south we could see Mt. Oso, and to the north, Uncompaghre and Handies peaks. Back to the east we could look down and see our camp (barely, with binoculars - our tent is in the cluster of trees at center-right in the meadow in the middle of the photo below), and when we pointed our binoculars down into the valleys below us to the west, we saw a large herd of elk. We also ate lunch and tended to the scrapes I incurred when one of the loose rocks fell on my leg as we climbed - I guess the mountain had to claim its price...

looking back owie

As is typical for this time of year, the clouds had begun to build and threaten, so soon it was time for us to scurry down. We did not make it below treeline before it started to rain, but the thunder and lightning was not very close, so it wasn't too scary, and of course we had brought our rain gear - never go anywhere in the Colorado mountains in the summer without your rain gear!

descent

We got back to our camp and rested an hour or so; then Britt headed out to catch dinner while I read. We ended up having to eat huddled under a tree as it started raining just as we started cooking, but it wasn't too bad and passed quickly enough.

The next morning dawned bright brilliant blue, but unsurprisingly the clouds were already starting to build by the time we had packed up and started heading back to the trailhead. We stopped briefly at the mouth of Rincon La Vaca, to investigate some ditchwork we'd noticed on the way up; it looked as though the ditch had blown out and was being repaired, but of course because this is wilderness, only hand tools are usable, and materials must be brought in by horses and mules, so it was slow going. Still, it looked pretty nifty:

ditch repair

We passed a doe bounding through the meadow, and then we bounded ourselves, a bit less gracefully and more slowly, all the way back down the trail to our van, and then it was the long drive home.

window and peak view

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ilanarama: me, The Other Half, Moab UT 2009 (Default)
Ilana

August 2017

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My running PRs:

5K: 21:03 (downhill) 21:43 (loop)
10K: 43:06 (downhill)
10M: 1:12:59
13.1M: 1:35:55
26.2M: 3:23:31

You can reach me by email at heyheyilana @ gmail.com

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