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Rawah Wilderness (part 1)

Started: 2008-07-17 19:04:00

Submitted: 2008-07-21 17:57:12

Visibility: World-readable

I'm in the midst of a two-night backpacking expedition in Rawah Wilderness. (Don't ask, because I don't know how to pronounce it either.) As of last night, I've spent eight nights backpacking so far this summer, which sounds like a pretty good amount. In a normal summer, my three-night expedition in Indian Peaks Wilderness would be the crowning achievement of my summer, but this year (thanks to the conveniently-timed collapse of my former employer) it's one in a long string of adventures.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

I set out from Longmont yesterday morning, stopped to pick up first aid tape and gas along the way, and headed up I-25 to Fort Collins, then headed north to the Cache La Poudre Canyon. (This may have been the first time I was able to navigate Fort Collins without a map.) I got stuck in traffic north of town on US-287 due to construction, but traffic in the canyon was light and most vehicles slower than me let me pass without too much trouble.

I arrived at the Blue Lake Trailhead before 1300, strapped on my 58-pound pack, and headed down the trail. (I went to some trouble to make my pack lighter; I acquired a one-liter teapot weighing 156 grams to replace the 700 gram pot set I had been using and carried a bit less food than Lost Creek, since I would be out in the wilderness for only two nights, but I refused to budge on large and heavy extras such as my camera (911 grams) or my sandals (1020 grams, which come in handy at camp and when crossing deep streams without a bridge). At exactly one-third of my body weight, the pack may have been heavier than optimal but I had no trouble carrying it.)

I hiked along the Blue Lake Trail, which followed Joe Wright Creek for a short distance before joining an old road and eventually entered Rawah Wilderness. I climbed through dense forest (which occasionally fell across the trail, forcing me to scramble over fallen logs and trees) and eventually reached Blue Lake, nestled in a cirque below Cameron Peak. I stopped for a snack and pictures before climbing the rest of the way to Blue Lake Pass.

Blue Lake, Rawah Wilderness
Blue Lake, Rawah Wilderness

From the pass, I descended steeply into the West Branch of the Laramie River drainage. A thousand vertical feet later, at the bottom of the valley, I dropped my pack (careful to mark a waypoint so I could return later) and scouted possible campsites. I ultimately found a tiny patch of flat ground in the forest, far enough from the trail to be appropriate, and returned to grab my pack. I pumped drinking water before heading back to my chosen campsite. As I hiked cross-country to my site, saw two women leading two llamas across the meadow, looking for a campsite in the same area I was.

Llamas in the West Branch Laramie River drainage, Rawah Wilderness
Llamas in the West Branch Laramie River drainage, Rawah Wilderness

I set up camp, ate supper, stowed my food in the bear canister away from my tent, and retired for the night.

For more photos, see Photos on 2008-07-16.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

This morning, while heating water for oatmeal and coffee for breakfast, I got a nasty surprise: I was out of fuel. (The stove did slosh when I shook it, but it was clearly very low.) I had enough hot water to make breakfast, but this posed an unforeseen challenge: My morning and evening meals depended on a ready supply of hot water, and I couldn't easily make do with cold water. I contemplated my options; I was only a day's hike from Motoko, so I could hike out with all of my gear and head home or locate the nearest store with camp fuel, then return either to the wilderness or a nearby campsite and figure out something to do tomorrow before Kiesa joined me. My other option was to build a campfire to heat water for my meals, which might not have been the most carbon-friendly way to cook but would let me proceed without a major alteration to my plans. I decided to go for the second option.

(My mistake was assuming that the stove was full when I refilled it in Indian Peaks Wilderness last week; I did refill the stove from the extra fuel container but only enough for the two remaining meals, not enough for two additional nights in the wilderness. I did give my extra fuel container to Kiesa to bring with her for our rendezvous tomorrow night.)

Abandoned Camp Lake ditch, Rawah Wilderness
Abandoned Camp Lake ditch, Rawah Wilderness

I secured camp for my day hike -- unlike my wilderness expeditions earlier this summer, my plan was to set up a base camp for a long, looping day hike. I hiked down the West Branch Trail, descending down the West Branch of the Laramie River, then turned north onto the Camp Lake Trail, which climbed the valley wall to a hundred-year-old ditch built to divert water into the Cache La Poudre River but abandoned when Wyoming sued Colorado for water rights and won in 1922. The trail followed the ditch and ultimately circled around Camp Lake and joined the Rawah Trail. I continued west along the Rawah Trail, past three of the four numbered Rawah lakes, and crossed Grassy Pass, descending into the North Fork of the West Branch of the Laramie River drainage. I followed the trail down, passing up an opportunity for a side trip to Twin Crater Lakes, and eventually rejoined the West Branch Trail. I had passed this junction earlier in the day; I headed upstream to my campsite, rounding out the lollypop loop in about sixteen miles.

Trail along abandoned Camp Lake ditch, Rawah Wilderness
Trail along abandoned Camp Lake ditch, Rawah Wilderness

The sky remained overcast all day, with intermittent rain. I wore my rain coat several times during the day and remained successful in protecting the my electronics from the rain. (I have a dedicated stuff sack for my camera, which keeps it fairly dry, and I used my rain coat's hood to protect my GPS receiver.)

South and North Rawah Peaks and Rawah Creek
South and North Rawah Peaks and Rawah Creek

Just as I was gathering firewood to heat water for supper, it started raining again, which proved detrimental to actually getting sufficiently-dry wood to burn. I eventually found a flat rock to position over the fire to keep the rain off, which worked fairly well; I was able to boot-strap a fire and get enough wood to dry out from the fire before burning. (When I lit the match I was about ready to give up and retreat to my tent to wait for the rain to stop and for my fire wood to dry out.) Boiling water over an open fire -- especially without any sort of fire grate -- proved difficult; my tea pot was clearly designed for stoves (the rubber coating on the handle melted in the heat of the open fire), but I successfully boiled water for my backpacking meal and hot chocolate. I let the fire burn down while I ate and put it out all the way before retiring to my tent for the night. (As I expected, the rain died out just as my fire was burning well.)

For more photos, see Photos on 2008-07-17.

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