South San Juan Wilderness 2003
High, Wild and Windy
One hour camp move
Thursday, September 18 The wind had stopped!!!! Sometime in the night, I had rolled over and I realized that there was no noise, just eery quiet. Happy day! We woke to freezing temperatures, but the lack of wind made it feel almost balmy! We broke camp at what we thought was a luxurious pace, but in the end, left only about ten minutes later than our usual 9 am. Maybe that says that the difference between pushing and luxury is a relatively meager amount of time. Something to ponder.
It was another glorious day, made even more glorious by the current absence of wind. We plowed down the trail, pausing in only one spot to try to determine if an uphill stretch was really another trail taking off to the left (it was not). We arrived at the junction with the so-called Notch Trail about 25 minutes after we left camp, made a turn to the right, and were greeted by a distant view of Tim and Diane's tent, obviously in a lovely spot, tucked into the edge of some trees just above Elk Creek. Given the fact that the wind died off during the night, they had to get the prize for foresight, or good fortune. Their location was really superb. We hurried down to their camp, probably arriving by 10 am, hardly worth the effort at having packed up and moved camp. It was clear that given this spot and its beauty, there was no point in trying to move downstream to our original intended location for the night at First Meadows. We figured we could hump an extra mile and a half tomorrow morning, to compensate for our upstream location for the night (371800 E, 4110868 N). It was sunny and even felt a bit warm, and it seemed like a spot to spend a night, our last night of the trip, even though it was barely 10 am.
Not wanting to commit to a specific tent location, Susie and I dropped our packs in the shade of some now-golden aspens, and planned a day hike worthy of the lovely weather. Most of us headed on up the trail to Second Meadows. One advantage of our revised itinerary was that we could now see Second Meadows, something we would have skipped had we stayed up high last night, and moved down to First Meadows. Susie had her pink day pack to carry lunch and camera gear, and with the lovely sunshine, certainly bad weather was not imminent. Basically, we could spend a good chunk of today in near layover conditions. Hiking upstream, a couple of things worthy of noting. First, the beaver activity. It was clear that these workaholics had set up shop in the valley. There was an amazing number of trees they had either cut down, or had tried to fell. We came across a huge dam, obviously several years old, that must have been a 80 - 90 feet wide. And that was just the lower dam. They had also plugged a spot a ways upstream where a side creek moved through a narrow formation, and made a penthouse district. I marveled at the amount of work such structures took. The cliche saying never fit better. The second thing were the aspens. Not only had they really changed from green to gold in the last few days, but it felt like you could actually see them turning before your eyes. Maybe it had been a string of cold nights that had precipitated the changes, but it felt like a different place than when we had started our hike last Saturday.
We took our time working our way up through the woods toward Second Meadows. A fellow caught up to us that was out day hiking but seemed a bit confused as to exactly where he was. He was looking for fish, but it was not clear whether he had stopped at the meadows downstream. The trail and creek feed through a constriction with several nice cascades, readily accessible for photographing, and marveling at the scenery. We arrived at the bridge crossing Elk Creek at the lower end of Second Meadows, and viewed in awe this Alaskan-size place. The meadow must be 3 miles long. It was ringed with aspens in various stages of transition to their fall foliage. Elk Creek itself soft of meandered through the meadow, sort of taking a break before it began its plunge toward First Meadow and the Conejos River. There was a light breeze, but nothing like the wind we had experienced the past few days. Diane kept Tim company while he fished in the stream, and Susie and I moved up the meadow about a mile, to a spot out of the breeze and in the sunshine. An excellent spot for lunch. We were soon joined by Lance and Andy and Sue. Some folks on horseback passed (the number of human encounters was increasing since we had gotten a few miles from a trailhead). They were Forest Service folks, out to check out some fisheries biology type things at Third Meadows, but I think it was an excuse to get out for a nice ride on a fine day.
After lunch, we all went upstream just a bit, took a few more photos, and headed back to camp. We claimed we could detect some changes in the amount of color since we had hiked up here just a few hours ago. We stopped at the bridge, and saw several fish that apparently escaped Tim's attempts to snare them. They seemed pretty large to me, but maybe the water was magnifying their image. Back in camp by mid-afternoon, we put up the tent after finally deciding where to put it (just way too many choices for Susie), and cleaned up along the creek in a sunny spot. I actually got a little warm while taking my bath in this protected area. The high today would reach 58 degrees, but with no wind on a near-cloudless day, it was plenty warm. We all cooked near some of the other tents in a small aspen grove, and while the lemon pepper pasta with smoked turkey was cooking, we took the obligatory last night trail portraits. I like to get them when everyone is at their loveliest, shall we say. We sat around a bit, conjured up a plan for tomorrow, and then repaired to our particular tent sites, to make a little headway toward organizing our gear for an early morning departure. As soon as the sun went down, I could feel the temperature heading south as well. It was time to hit the sack for the last time on this trip.
© Roger A. Jenkins, 2003