Saturday 28 September 2019

Camping in the Colorado Rockies

Below the Divide by an unnamed pool with a view to Mount Aetna

On my recent walk on the Continental Divide Trail in Southern Colorado I had twenty-five wild camps. As always these were an integral part of the walk. Staying in one place and watching the landscape is important to me and I find the routines of camping relaxing and satisfying.

Near beaver ponds on Middle Mineral Creek after a day of thunderstorms

Many of my camps were peaceful ones deep in the forest. At first this was because the trail stayed in the trees, later it was often due to thunderstorms that made camping out in the open seem unwise or for shelter from strong winds. Even so I had a dozen or more camps in spectacular situations.

Below the Divide in the Collegiate Peaks region

One of the best sites was chosen by Andrew Terrill. He'd kindly agreed to bring me supplies half way through a twelve day section so I didn't have to descend to a town. Rather than meet me at a high road pass he decided he'd hike into the mountains and meet me at a remote unnamed pool not far below the Divide. He thought this was would be a great place to camp. He was right. It was wonderful. The weather was perfect too so we could sit outside. The picture at the top of the post shows the view across the pool.

Camp with Andrew Terrill

The last section of the walk, nine days in the Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juan Mountains, provided several superb camps, once the thunderstorms had abated. I was happy not to be camping in the forest here anyway as vast numbers of the trees are dead, killed by bark beetles. Many had blown down and I was concerned one could come down on my shelter (a real risk - sadly a hiker was killed when a tree fell on her tent this summer). Camps near trees were chosen carefully.

On the saddle where the Collegiate East and Collegiate West alternatives of the Colorado Trail come together. This was a dry camp. I carried water five miles to it.

I camped on a variety of sites. Some were well-used, with bare ground to pitch on and at least one fire ring (I never lit a fire). Andrew Terrill pointed out to me that many hikers here felt a fire was essential even when camping above the tree line. Other than these unsightly scars the mountains were clean though with virtually no litter.

However many of my sites were pristine ones where there was no sign anyone had camped before. I made sure I left them like that. Here this is called 'dispersed camping'. Some of these were waterless and several times I carried a couple of litres the last part of the day so I had the freedom to camp where I liked.

Another dry camp. In the Cochetopa Hills.

Mostly I didn't treat water. However in the Cochetopa Hills there were few water sources and the little trickles I found were polluted by cows so here I filtered or boiled water. And tried not to notice the yellow colour.

A brief clearance brings a rainbow before the heavy rain and strong winds closed in again. I didn't feel too safe out in the meadow with thunder ringing out but I also didn't want to camp near all those dead trees.

For six days there were several thunderstorms every day. These were frightening at times but when they cleared the light was often superb.

Early morning light in the Lost Trail Creek valley

Mostly I camped on my own but in areas where water sources were far apart there were sometimes others camped not far away, though always out of sight. The only time I camped with anyone were with Andrew and Igloo Ed at the start and then with Andrew when he brought my supplies.

The highest camp at 12,461 feet (3798 metres)

Most of the walk was above 11,000 feet (3353 metres) and so were nineteen of my camps. Only two were below 10,000 feet (3048 metres). Three were above 12,000 feet (3658 metres). Whilst I did notice the altitude the first week, especially when walking uphill, I wasn't aware of it in the landscape. The treeline is around 11,000 -11,500 feet (3353 - 3500 metres) and the summits rise some 2,500 - 3,000 feet (760 - 915 metres) above the forest, which is much the same as in the Scottish Highlands.

In the Weminuche Wilderness looking to Rio Grande Pyramid

For those interested the shelter is my very well-used Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstars. In the last seven years it's been on many long walks and has been out hundreds of nights. It's never let me down.

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