Rawah Wilderness, north-central Colorado.
Maps: USGS 7.5' Quad: Rawah Lakes; Trails Illustrated 1:40K: Cameron Pass #112
Access: From Ted's Place at the entrance to Poudre Canyon, drive about 53 miles west on HWY 14 to the Laramie River Rd, 2 miles west of the Big South TH. Go north for about 7 miles to the West Brach TH or another 4 to the Rawah TH.
Trails: Camp Lakes are 7.5 miles from either TH.
Trailhead: NAD83 zone 13 426089e 4510707n Elev: 8400'
Dog Regulations: Leash control
Weather: Current and recent conditions from the NOAA (Oceanic AND Atmospheric...those guys are sharp!) Local Forecast from NWS
Smoke from fires burning at dozens of locations throughout the state had largely dissipated by the time Frank and I backpacked up to Camp Lakes on the last weekend of July 2002. It was the longest hike of the summer, about 7.5 miles, up to two alpine lakes nestled high in the Medicine Bow Range. We began our trip early in the morning, striking off in the brilliant glare of summer under a cloudless sky. I was a little nervous about the 10 other cars in the dirt lot near the trail head, but figured since this trail had many destinations, I would be alone most of the way. The trail provided the nicest hiking I did all summer. It started in boggy meadows and lowlands and rose up into dry sagebrush flats with plenty of wildflowers. From there, it quickly rose up into an open lodgepole pine forest with generous helpings of spring-green aspen towering overhead. I passed several small streams by way of wooden footbridges or flattened logs and before long I was laboring up a series of 10 switchbacks toward a ridge that would guarantee relatively level hiking from then on. I passed two groups of campers along the way, but my speed, combined with the steep-grade, started to cause a hot spot on my heel. I had to stop to apply moleskin for the only time all summer. The day was not hot, and the walking was pleasant. All around, a thousand shades of blue and green with occasional yellows and purples shone with clarity. Birds were singing and the soft breezes stirred the pines and caused the aspen leaves to twinkle like shimmering water in sunlight. I was soon strolling along deeply quiet dirt paths under a thick dark green canopy of spruce and fir, with an understory of bryophytes and mosses. The entire trip up took about 4 hours. I reached Lower Camp Lake and hiked up the steep wooded slope to the west and found a nice flat patch of ground surrounded by spruces to pitch my tent. I left my pack by the tree and Frank and I walked down to the lake to check it out. Frank trotted around to the south end and I followed. The lake was shallow and had water plants growing up along the shores. A small rivulet of crystal clear water ran into the lake from the south. We continued around the north side of the lake where the water became even shallower, and a small stream ran out of the lake through a pile of large boulders. The delta of water out of the lake created another marshy area covered thick as ants with yellow and purple flowers, tall as my waist.
We walked back to camp and I set up my tent and hung my food. I was tired from the long hike so I decided to nap a little. Frank and I slid into the tiny tent and dozed for an hour. I got up with the intent to go fishing. I grabbed my rod and some snacks for my pocket and set off. I tried for a bit at the first lake, but it was so shallow, I wasnít surprised that I got nothing. So, I walked up to the upper lake, ½ mile away. The upper lake is about 5 times larger than the lower lake, and has a dramatic glacial bowl behind it with jagged peaks. It was cloudy when I got there, but calm. I fished for about 15 minutes before the wind hit, making flycasting almost impossible, especially given the thick alpine trees surrounding the lake. I never caught anything. I decided I could at least walk around the lake and check it out, and maybe fish if the wind died down. I bushwhacked a tough trail through very thick vegetation, all taller than my head, around the west shore. I made it to the south shore where water was seeping through the ground to the lake from the snowfields on the cirque. This area was very wet and marshy, and my boots sunk to the laces with each step. Contrary to dying down, the wind had picked up, and I looked to the west to see dark thunderclouds rolling over the top of the sharp ridge. Having flashbacks to the time I got caught in the open in a thunderstorm at Twin Crater Lakes, Frank and I started to sprint for the tent in the safety of the tall spruces. We got soaked. Not so much from the rain, but from running through very tall and very wet vegetation. We were both wet through and through upon arrival to the tent. But it was well that we arrived when we did. While it was only a shower while we were running, it was a downpour once inside the tent. Even the taped seams of my tentís rainfly let water drip through in places. I stripped off my wet clothes and hung them as best I could in the vestibule of the tent. Then I tried to change into dry clothes and get Frank wrapped up in a blanket to ease his shivering (it had turned dastardly cold on us). It was during these attempted maneuvers when I discovered that a tiny one-man backpacking tent is not meant for spending any time but sleeptime within, especially with a dog. You canít move much, and even simple things like putting on socks is difficult since you canít raise your knees high enough to reach your feet without rubbing them along the tent fabric which seems to sponge in water from the outside. The wind howled outside and small pebbles of hail came thumping down. I was thankful, however, that there was no lightening associated with the storm. Frank was too, I'm sure. He lay snug in his blanket, completely wrapped up and warm. I was snugly zipped up in my sleeping bag with a knit cap over my head reading my book and generally enjoying things. I worried that my only pair of dry pants might not be dry by morning if the rain kept up, but figured Iíd have time in the morning to sun dry them.
I dozed for a bit, and read for a bit, and it rained nonstop for hours. It was 8 in the evening when it finally cleared. We got out of the tent and ate a light meal, no cooking. I hung my clothes to dry in deep, perpetually dry, groves of spruce, and retreated to the tent after dark. I slept great and it never got colder than it had been when we went to bed.