ilanarama: profile of me backpacking.  Woo. (hiking)
[personal profile] ilanarama
For the last several years we've done a summer backpacking trip in the Weminuche Wilderness with more or less the same core group of friends. This year, because we'd had little snow, we'd planned on hiking a route in the high mountains east of Silverton, but then May happened, with near-record precipitation and more expected. Instead we decided to do the prudent thing and choose a lower route: the length of the Pine River from north to south within the wilderness area. Britt and I have hiked (or ridden on horseback) every bit of this ~30 mile route at different times, but never as a continuous route, partly because the northern trailhead is quite far away by car, as one has to drive around the wilderness. Fortunately, Frank and June, who had wanted to come along but were not able to spend the whole week backpacking, offered to drive us all up and hike part of the first day with us, and Steve and Ryan, who usually join us at the weekend, would drive to the southern trailhead with our van, and then hike in and meet us.

pine map

You won't find the Pine River on the map. That is, it's there, but it's Los Piños on the map, as well as on the little signs at every highway bridge crossing; but there is no surer way of branding yourself a tourist or a newcomer than calling it by that Spanish name. All the locals call it the Pine, and there are many businesses named for it as well, e.g. the Pine River Bank and the Pine River Library.

Our route started at the Thirtymile Forest Service campground just below the Rio Grande Reservoir and contoured along the bank of Weminuche Creek about five miles to Weminuche Pass and the headwaters of the Pine. At just under 10,600 feet, Weminuche Pass is one of the lower points on the Continental Divide. Weminuche Creek falls steeply into the Rio Grande, and with all the recent rain, it was very high, nearly undermining the bridge over the waterfall a few miles in, where we ate our lunch. But on the Pine side, the valley is broad and flat, and shortly after we crossed the pass we set up camp at a small established site.

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That evening a snowshoe hare, with its huge hind feet, came nosing around our camp, and the next morning three deer passed through, on their way down to the river. We saw big herds of elk, some with calves - our most common sighting this trip - in the river valley, and also, at a distance, two moose. (There is lots of moose poop in this area, but it's sure hard to spot the animals, though we've seen moose on previous visits.)

It started raining that night, and it kept raining. In the morning we decided rather than packing up in the rain, we'd just hang out as a layover - the total distance we had to go wasn't really far, so we had no time pressures - and so we spent the day reading, sleeping, looking for wildlife, and chatting.

Stormy skies

The next morning dawned dry, and we packed up to start down the Pine. We passed Rincon La Vaca and then approached Rincon La Osa, which is where we camped last year, though approaching from the Poison Park trailhead in the east, and also where we camped for our successful climb of the Rio Grande Pyramid in 2008, hiking in from the same trailhead as this time.

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At Rincon La Osa, we had our first major wade. In springtime, the creeks are all high due to run-off, and with the rain from the previous six weeks they were even higher. Up to this point, all of the swollen creeks we'd had to cross had been bridged by fallen logs or stepping stones, or were narrow enough to jump across, perhaps with a pole assist. But Rincon La Osa was broad and swift, so we all swapped our hiking boots for our river shoes (I had a pair of old lightweight running shoes) for the crossing. I was wearing long pants, so I took them off and did the crossing in my underwear! I got a bit nervous watching Britt and Shan cross, as the river came to mid-thigh on them (and they are both much taller than I am!) but as I probed with my poles I found a slightly shallower spot to make my own crossing, and my knees were barely submerged.

Wading Rincon La Osa Wading Rincon La Osa

In addition to being swift, the water was also extremely cold, which made the crossing not very much fun at all. It was even less fun at South Canyon, our second crossing of the day, because it had just started to rain as I swapped my shoes. At least at Rincon La Osa the sun warmed me afterward! But we made camp just past the crossing, so I changed into warm, dry clothes.

Before that second crossing, we had an entertaining wildlife encounter. We had been spotting small herds of elk here and there, mostly in the valley below our trail. Every time we got close enough to spook them (which is not very close!) they would bound away into the woods. At one spot, we snuck up and watched them for a while, and then they finally sensed us and scattered...except that one baby elk (calf) was a little slow on the uptake, and when it looked up, its herd had gone! It heard or saw us, and started coming in our direction, kind of an "Are You My Mother?" sort of thing, until it got close enough to tell that we were most definitely Not Its Mother, and it fled. The photos are not that great, because all this was happening at a distance, but if you go to Flickr and look at the largest size you can make them out.

More elk! Elk calf!

We also stopped by a beautiful waterfall on the Pine, and found our first morel. We do a lot of mushroom hunting, but always in the fall, and had never seen a morel in the wild. (Spoiler alert: we found more...)

Waterfall on the Pine Morel

The South Canyon camp sits on a hill on the west side of the Pine. We had a pretty good view of a meadow below us to the south where elk were seemingly constantly passing through - at least, we did when it wasn't raining. We also had the steep upper reach of the South Canyon creek to get water from, and lots of edible plants to pick to make a salad to accompany our dinner - dandelion leaves, bluebell (mertensia) leaves, clover, stonecrop, and shooting star flowers and leaves. I'd brought some salad dressing so we had ourselves a nice first course! In addition to the edible flowers, I found a single fairy slipper orchid in the woods between our camp and the creek.

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The following day we continued down the Pine River valley under cloudy skies and occasional drizzle. After lunch at the Flint campsite we waded across Flint Creek, descended a steep slope, and camped at an old campsite across the river from a beautiful waterfall which descended in two impressive cascades.

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The next day was Saturday. Our friends Steve and Ryan were planning to hike in on either Friday night or Saturday morning, depending on weather - or, if it was bad enough, they would just drop off our van at the trailhead for us, as we'd brought a spare key. It was still raining off and on, so we figured that they'd bailed - but as we hiked toward our planned camping area for the last night, we ran into them, maybe 9 miles from the trailhead!

We had lunch together in the rain and decided as a group that we'd just keep going and hike out, since the weather was not forecast to be very good, and our gear hadn't dried out completely from the previous night's camp. (By this time I did not have a dry pair of socks left...) Steve and Ryan had just wanted to get out of town, but they were perfectly happy to make it a dayhike rather than a backpack. So we headed toward the trailhead - and what do you know, someone spotted a morel. Then another. So we fanned out in the woods and collected enough for a feast! (Which we cooked on the stove in the van.)

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So we drove back home Saturday evening...and Sunday turned out to be a lovely day, grr! Oh, well, it was nice to get into the Weminuche with our friends, even if it was a trip with more rain than sunshine.

All 83 photos that didn't suck (more than in this post) plus a map, few captions, in a Flickr album
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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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