For the next four days I would carry my home, food, and clothing on my back. I've gotten better at packing light, so I estimate this trip the total pack weight was about 45 pounds. When I'm fully loaded with water (almost a gallon for long treks along high ridges), that's almost eight pounds by itself. Ouch.
Since my hike started at the Lobo Overlook above Wolf Creek Pass, I was already at 11,600FT. It was only a few minutes before high meadows opened up to reveal the majesty of the San Juan Mountains in the Weminuche Wilderness.
In these last days of August some of the plants were already turning yellow and losing their vitality.
But some wildflowers were still in healthy bloom.
There is some sort of widespread die off of large conifer trees here. I don't know the cause.
Half an hour into the hike I bid farewell to the last obvious sign of civilization - Highway 160 as it winds west to Pagosa Springs.
Rock Lake - it took me a liesurely two hours to get here.
Just behind me were some day hikers and their Golden Retriever, who enjoyed taking a dip.
The trail kept climbing higher and I was reaching the top of the tree line, crossing fields of stone that had been swept down the slopes by snow slides.
Looking south I could see small patches of snow on the north faces of the higher peaks.
Walking through the regions of tree die off, it was clear that other plants were doing well, and smaller, younger trees were not affected either.
More signs of life among the dead tall trees.
As I neared my planned stopping point for the first day, I could see the terrain change that signaled a change in tomorrow's hiking. The trail zig-zagged over a saddle at 12,600FT, well above treeline. Most of the second day's hike would be on ridge tops above 12,000FT. Water would not be easy to find, and if weather got bad there would be few options to find shelter.
Spotted lake - 11,700FT.
Spotted lake has trout! This one was about 8 - 10 inches.
Archuleta Lake, sitting just below the saddle I would climb tomorrow morning. I made camp just before the dark gray skies started raining. Fortunately it was only a brief afternoon shower.
After I made camp I explored the surrounding terrain. The play of light during these summer storms is difficult to capture in a photo.
It was easy to tell how much new growth was on the conifers for the season - about two inches. From what I remember, this was about twice the previous year's growth. (As a comparison, I've seen White Fir in the southern New Mexico mountains grow as much as six inches in one year.)
This strange scar is from lightning...
...and it ran the entire length of the tree.
Where are the snows of yesteryear? Right here. And they are a pale pink because of algae! This is sometimes called watermelon snow. http://waynesword.palomar.edu/plaug98.htm Any day now the next season's snows will begin to fall and accumulate at these higher elevations.
A low saddle over Archuleta Lake allowed me to see part of tomorrow's hike. The ridge continues to climb, almost to 13,000FT. Beyond that is Piedra Pass. I just hope the weather holds for this long hike.
Even after the afternoon shower, clouds showed there was plenty of energy and instability remaining...and at night it was in the form of a lightning storm.
A final, evening look at the saddle I had to climb the next day.
Despite the night's lightning activity, the morning dawned clear and promising.
2/3 of the way up the saddle, I looked back at the route I covered yesterday.
More distant peaks came into view across the low saddle as I climbed above it.
It's hard to show in a photo the slope angle as you look up. The trail had many switch backs to handle the steep climb angle.
In the distance, right of center, is the Rio Grande Pyramid (13,821FT). http://www.summitpost.org/mountain/rock/151491/the-rio-grande-pyramid.html
An interesting combination of geologic formations, red mountains, and distant snow.
This 'snake' in the middle of the trail scared me for a few seconds. (I was above 12,000FT in cold weather, but still...that shape caught my eye and reflexes took over.)
This little rodent (American Pika http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Pika) was in large numbers in the high altitude rock fields, and would call out a warning when I was anywhere near. (Marmots do the same, but I only heard and saw a few of them.)
High altitude rock erosion can be very unusual.