ilanarama: profile of me backpacking.  Woo. (hiking)
[personal profile] ilanarama
As we did last year, we got together with friends for a backpacking trip in the Weminuche Wilderness over the 4th of July holiday weekend. This year we headed for the Poison Park trailhead northwest of Pagosa Springs, which is a good access point for the upper Pine River and Rincon La Osa, where we'd spent the same holiday weekend in 2008. But this time, instead of sticking to the main trail, we bushwhacked along game trails up the west side of the Pine River valley until we picked up an old and overgrown trail leading to Elk Lake; from there, continued up and over Mesa Lato and then down into Rincon La Osa from the south, where we laid over a day before heading back down the valley to the Pine, then up to the bench above Granite Lake, to rejoin our inward path.

route and camp topo

across the meadow Wilderness boundary

The trail from the Poison Park trailhead (don't ask me why it's named that) starts with a long series of downhill switchbacks to a beautiful valley meadow which is (alas) private land. But then it enters the wilderness and contours through wooded hillsides above the East Fork of Weminuche Creek. We camped at the creek crossing and supplemented our freeze-dried dinners with fresh-picked 'salad' - bluebell and strawberry leaves, cranesbill geranium flowers, and sweet cicely.

East Fork Weminuche camp

The next morning we crossed the creek on a log that looked wider before stepping onto it than it did when actually above the rushing waters, and left the valley of the East Fork Weminuche Creek to climb to the Divide Lakes. From there we descended to the Pine River, which we had to wade across. There we met an older couple hiking with a rented llama, and also two of our friends who had not been able to leave Thursday morning with the rest of us and had instead left Durango Thursday afternoon, driven to the trailhead and hiked a few miles in the dark, then woken early and hiked like demons to catch us.

After crossing the Pine, we went downstream the short distance to the Pine River Guard Station, where Britt had spent a lot of time when he'd been a Wilderness Guard in the 1970s. Now it's rarely used, but it made a good lunch spot.

Pine River Guard Station

Then we headed up the hill on a variety of game trails and the remnants of the old trail to Elk Lake. Halfway through we were hit by a hailstorm that had us cowering for cover, but eventually we made our way to the beautiful lake and set up camp at the far end. Britt and several of the others fished in the lake while I relaxed and read.

Elk Lake Elk Lake camp

Early morning sun woke us, and we hurried to pack up camp and get moving, because we were going to be above treeline most of the day and wanted to be sure to be off the heights before the afternoon thunderstorms - which did not always wait until after noon. There was no trail, but the bushwacking wasn't too difficult as we angled up among the scrub and rocks, following bits of game trail when we could. When we broke out onto the ridge we peeked carefully over the other side and were rewarded with the sight of twenty or thirty elk in two large groups - too far away to photograph, but we had several pairs of binoculars among the group and we all took turns watching the animals. Eventually they became aware of us and moved off to the north.

Mesa Lato

We crossed the windy top of Mesa Lato and made it to the top of the Rincon La Osa valley just as the first storm of the afternoon broke over us, and so we quickly descended to treeline. At least, most of us did; I had made a tactical sock error on the first day and had broken blisters on my 'ring' toes, which did not hinder me much on the uphill but hurt like crazy on the downhill, so it took me an agonizingly (literally) long time to reach the shelter of the trees. Not that the trees were very sheltering, as the bark beetle has been making terrible inroads to this part of the wilderness, and nearly all the tall spruce trees are now dead and bare.

The storm passed, and we continued down the hill. We set up camp on a knoll above the creek, just in the trees (which again, were pretty much all dead). Below us, the elk herd ranged in the valley, and we popped out to take peeks at them every so often. We were having our group cocktail hour when another storm blew in, and we ended up having to make our dinner in our tent vestibule, boo. It stopped raining just before sunset lit up the mountains to the east with an eerie light.

After the storm

But the next day dawned blue-sky beautiful, and it turned out to be a lovely day for taking a lay-over - which is exactly what we did. Some people went hiking up to the Window (which we went by but did not scramble up to on our Rio Grand Pyramid hike two years ago), others (including Britt) spent the day fishing. I had been planning to do a little trail running on our layover, but because of my blisters I just sat on my butt and read a book instead.

Rincon La Osa camp Watching the fishermen

Britt fishing In camp

To get an idea of just how bad the bark-beetle tree kill is, take a look at these next two photos. The first is Britt, sitting on a log in the clearing by our camp. The second is from our 2008 backpack, taken from farther up the valley; the camp is the right-center knoll, at the edge of the more thickly treed area - before the beetles killed all the trees.

Rincon La Osa camp osa valley

The next morning we packed up and headed down the valley. We had to cross first the Rincon La Osa creek, and then the Pine River, so I just swapped to my river shoes (a pair of old running shoes) and kept them on during the quarter mile or so between the crossings. Then we hiked up to the bench above Granite Lake where we camped at an old outfitter's camp next to a large meadow where we spotted several deer and one elk that evening. (We also saw moose poop, but no moose.)

Leaving Rincon La Osa On the trail
Crossing the river Granite bench camp

(ps I am not surfing the web on my phone! There is no service! I am probably checking the timer to see when our food will be ready to eat...)

Near our camp, Shan found a horse's skull, picked clean by scavengers and bleached by the sun, and decided to pack it out. I can't imagine it was very light-weight! But Shan's a big guy. Anyway, the next morning we packed up and trooped out of the wilderness.

Shan and skull Leaving the valley

And then we stopped by at Pagosa Brewing for burgers and beers, and drove home, after a very satisfying backpacking trip!

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

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 @


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