“I need someone to go with.”
The best invitations for adventure are brief.
Three months later at 6am, Derek and I were gripping at the interior of Chris's jeep as he rallied the back-country roads to the trailhead. I was chilly, dusty, and grinning. We'd been gone twenty minutes.
We rigged our packs and set off along ten miles of horse-shit into Colorado's most isolated and expansive wilderness area. We'd be out here 5days, stripping fly-line into snow-melt headwaters hoping to fool trout suspended on the preserved wood. Once we were at the basin, if someone had left their fly-rod leaning against the jeep it would be a 12hour round trip through the bowels of every packhorse in the county to retrieve it.
The Weminuche Wilderness contains numerous peaks 12K’-14K’+, and both eastern and western headwaters of the Continental Divide. The average elevation is over 10K', and in places it is over 7miles as the crow flies to the nearest road. Exploring requires traversing narrow rugged trails on horseback or on foot. There are endless adventures to be had off-trail in the nearly half-million acres (780 sq mi). Consider carrying a GPS locator beacon if you expect search and rescue to locate you.
Wildlife in the area is healthy and abundant. In 2011 The Division of Wildlife succeeded in reintroducing Canadian lynx here. This is prime wilderness area for the reintroduction of wolves as well. The mountain waters foster reproducing populations of rainbow trout, as well as browns, cutthroats, and cut-bows.
Each dawn, Chris brewed french-press coffee to compliment the warmth of our down jackets. We'd explore streams in shorts and polarized sunglasses in the afternoons, and at dusk would filter water to rehydrate meals around a small fire. When we weren't fishing, we'd climb a few pitches in the neighboring boulder field, venture out to snap photos, scramble up a nearby ridge, or recharge in the lake.
After nightfall, we’d have likely been suspended on the edge of a planet, dangling into outer space, were it not for the illuminated moons that kept our eyes from rendering the detail between the mountainous foreground and our nearest stars. The stream sounded more pronounced at night, but meandering mountain air in the tent brought sleep like a fog; quietly approaching until you couldn't see anymore. I’d wake up freezing every night around 3am, my hips and shoulders pinning a deflated sleeping pad to the ground. Thinner air. Thankfully, rising and falling with the sun had proven rejuvenating.
For our final night, we descended to a meadow in the neighboring valley and set up camp in the shade of some tall pines near the river. We found traces of black bear in the area, and strung up our packs before setting out to hunt brown trout. Derek found some black bear fur, which Chris quickly claimed to tie flies with. The air was comparatively thicker and warmer than previous days.
Later that evening, a lightning storm drifted up the valley striking the nearby ridges. We had noticed too late, that several of the downed trees in this meadow had fractured limbs and splintered bark around their base, having been plugged into the stratosphere previously. This wasn’t a good place to be, and it might be the worst; not that we’d wanted to search for a new site by the illumination of pink lightning.
As a marine veteran, Derek had been trained not to fret when the sky was exploding. As a couple of grunts, Chris and I jogged slumped over back to our tents. The barrage continued to be low on strike count, high on strike power. Ten minutes later I heard Chris snoring, and that inspired me to try and relax myself. The next flash of light was inches from my face, but the following one counted out 16miles further down the valley yet. Incoming. I’d be out cold on the mat for round two.
The following morning we woke up alive and explored the river with camera's and fly-rods for a few hours before re-packing and hiking out. Climbing back in the jeep felt like trespassing. We stopped for burgers and beers at bar near the lake, and I continued to struggle with the concept of leaving. I should restock and head back out. Right? I'd just scratched the surface. Chris could pick me up in a few days... Minds drift at elevation.
(Full screen images are moderate in resolution, contain roll-over captions, and may take a moment to render.)
Links to source information on the Wilderness itself are compiled below, along with other interesting links to maps and literature perused during trip research.