Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Alternate Summer Trail Adventure - Part 1 - Sangre de Cristo Wilderness in Colorado

The Sand Ramp Trail wanders from Great Sand Dunes to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains
As I mentioned in my previous blogs, we saw our plans to tackle both the John Muir Trail or the Long Trail scuttled due to health concerns. But we both still liked to backpack and wanted a one to two day adventure during our trip out west this summer. A fellow hiker, Mags with ultralight backpacking, told us of the beautiful and quite underpopulated via hiking standards Sangre de Cristo mountains in southern Colorado. I did some research and decided this might prove a good little trip for us.

But like all trips, they also hold elements of the unexpected. We arrived at the visitor center to inquire about our plans. Mags had told me of the Sand Lakes region, but because of severe drought, the sand was incredibly thick and unpassable for most vehicles. We were unable to reach the normal trailhead and to do the extra miles to get there would be too much for us.  So we looked at an alternate destination and settled on an alpine lake, Medano Lake, nestled beside Mount Herard. I saw pictures of it and thought it looked beautiful. We could take the Sand Ramp trail from Great Sand Dunes National Park out to a forest service road, hike along the road, through seven water crossings, to the trailhead for the lake and camp in its vicinity at a designated campsite - though the ranger told of campsites along the forest service road should we fall short of our goal.

Papa Bliss slogs through the thick sand and no shade

We started at a pretty good time of day - early morning to avoid heat issues, but the trail was all sand and thick sand that rapidly filled our shoes and slowed us to where we had to empty our shoes numerous times. There was little shade either on the Sand Ramp trail, and as our hike continued to slow, the day heated up. I was getting my first taste of true desert hiking with heat, sand and prickly pear cactus, something I had never experienced before. I had hoped to maybe camp at the alpine lake region that night, but it was not to be. Our best hope was to hike as far as we could when we reached the forest service road and get as close to the trailhead for Medano Lake as possible.

Multiple uses for a bear box - a cooking table and a seat combined

Our campsite just before the Medano Trailhead; Papa Bliss hammocks, I tent
Plodding along the road, and over many water crossings, we finally arrived at this pristine campsite just a tenth of a mile shy of the Medano trailhead. We felt satisfied with our 11 mile day, and at an elevation we are not used to. We had a nice time relaxing and glad to have a safe place to store our supplies in the metal bear box, though we saw no bears on the journey.

The trail toward Mt Herard and Medano Lake

 The next morning we were up early to begin our journey to Medano Lake. The trail was not very difficult, a few steep stretches, but as we ascended past 11,000 feet, the altitude was clearly affecting us. I found myself huffing and puffing unnaturally, which was strange, like I couldn't catch my breath. But the scenery was lovely, and we soon arrived to a beautiful lake, quiet scenery and not a soul in sight.

Made it to what snow existed in this region which did not get the snow pack found in northern Colorado

Our goal is reached! Medano Lake, resting at the foot of Mount Herard!
On the way down the mountain, Papa Bliss has quite severe back pain. We had all but decided we would need another overnight on the forest service road as to do a 16 mile day would not be wise. But once on the road hiking back, we ran into a rescue guy out for some four wheeling who was able to take us back a good part of the way down the road. Then a ranger carried us the rest of the way to our car over very thick sandy roads where he almost got stuck.

So a grand adventure in many ways, and my first time overnight backpacking out west.

Part 2 - Our adventure into the backcountry of Yellowstone to our own geyser area!

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