Unlike many other destinations on our schedule in recent years, this one is as new to me as it is to most of you. It was Mim Hubbard who first lobbied to put Pagosa Springs on our hiking schedule perhaps 5 years ago. You could call this belated trip there our tribute to our recently departed, eternally beloved den-mother-emeritus, Mim. In the past, most of the time I’d spent in Pagosa Springs had been wintertime, for both Nordic and Alpine skiing up on Wolf Creek Pass. During my last summertime sojourn there way back in 1988 I had to suffer through a timeshare sales pitch at the Fairfield Pagosa for a free meal and lodging. I’d have rather been hiking. For that matter, I’d have rather had root canal…or at least the nitrous that comes with that.
In any event, by virtue of my inexperience in this area, I can impart little first-hand knowledge to you. Instead, I’ll refer you to other, more knowledgeable, sources. That said, our first hike, North Fork Lake Creek, is one with which I do have some familiarity. The name, Lake Creek, caused some confusion for a few of you. “Are we going by way of Lake City?” some asked. No! Though the Lake Fork [of the Gunnison River] flows through Lake City, the North Fork [of the Gunnison River] flows through Paonia, and there is no Lake Creek anywhere near Lake City.
Lake Creek is a tributary of the Arkansas River, flowing into Twin Lakes on the east side of Independence Pass. The North Fork of Lake Creek is the first stream you’ll encounter east of the Continental Divide. The turnoff to the trailhead is on the left at the bottom of the first switchback on Hwy 82. Our only rendezvous will be 8:30 at the top of Independence Pass. A precise estimate of travel time from Glenwood isn’t possible, given the uncertainties of rush hour traffic and oversized RVs possibly embolized in The Narrows. But for a non-holiday Monday morning, 90 minutes is a reasonable guesstimate.
The trail follows the North Fork 3.5 miles to its headwaters…at a small lake…just below the Continental Divide. Cross the Divide (1700’ gain from the TH), and you’re into the headwaters of the Frying Pan. Since this is an enroute hike, you’re spared the vicissitudes of the return trip to Glenwood. Instead, continue east on 82 to US 24. Go right (south) on 24 through Buena Vista to US 285 south. Follow 285 through Poncha Springs and Saguache toward Monte Vista. North of Monte Vista, at the Rio Grande County Line, turn right on CO 112 toward Del Norte, where you’ll pick up US 160 west to South Fork and Pagosa Springs via Wolf Creek Pass. Piece of cake…right?!
Our hotel, the RiverWalk Inn (260 E Pagosa St.), is on the north side of US 160 east of downtown Pagosa Springs. River Center Park is behind the hotel on the San Juan River. This will be the site of all our tailgates…until further notice. Though there are a few covered picnic tables there, bring your camp chairs…and perhaps your umbrellas. We’ll hold our first one there at 5pm Monday. It’s been suggested that we also could use the Park for a BBQ one or more evenings. Several of us have portable gas grills to share. But if you’re inclined instead to sample the local cuisine, here is a list of restaurants and other businesses in the Pagosa area. Bon Appetit!
The RiverWalk Inn serves a continental breakfast from 7 to 9am each morning. Most of our hikes will depart from the RiverWalk at 8:00. Aside from weather, there are several other factors that could affect our hikes: Wilderness area regulations and beetle infestation/wildfire. A few of our hikes are at least partially within wilderness areas (Weminuche or South San Juan). These areas restrict group size to 15 (25 including stock). So, unless you’re willing to wear a saddle and walk on all fours, we’ll limit our groups to 15 two-legged “stock” each (sorry, no emu allowed…with or without saddles).
Hikes that could be affected by wilderness regulations include Fourmile/Anderson Loop, West Fork/Rainbow Hot Springs, Archuleta Creek/Lake and Hunter Lake Loop in the Weminuche Wilderness and Crater Lake in the South San Juan Wilderness. I’ll have sign-up lists for each of our wilderness hikes. Because there are several hikes scheduled each day, keeping our groups below wilderness area size limits shouldn’t be a problem in most cases. But if you fail to make the cut for a hike you’re keen to take, you may hike it on a different day as long as your group doesn’t exceed the 15-person limit.
I expect the Fourmile/Anderson Loop on Tuesday to be one of the more popular of our hikes. If we exceed 15 people, we can split the larger group in two smaller groups and send one of them in a clockwise direction while I lead the other in a counterclockwise direction. Both groups would start and finish at the same TH. Those who seek only to reach the twin falls should hike with the latter group. Both directions of the 14.5-mile loop appear to be of equal (C) difficulty, while the falls-only 8-mile round-trip hike is an easier (B) option.
But we can accommodate no more than 30 people on this hike. West Fork/Rainbow Hot Springs and Silver Creek also are scheduled on the same day, but we are in need of leaders for both of these hikes. The West Fork has been impacted by the 2013 wildfire of the same name. It also is subject to the same wilderness regulations as Fourmile/Anderson. Silver Creek has been spared the ravages of fire and is not within any designated wilderness area. So, there is no group-size limit there.
There also are two crossover (key exchange) hikes on our schedule:
1) Piedra River Trail on Wednesday, north-south or south-north, 11.2 miles one-way. Elevation gain in either direction of this undulating trail is moderate (<500’). Not subject to wilderness regulations.
2) Windy Pass/Treasure Mountain to/from Wolf Creek Pass via the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) on Thursday, 10 miles one-way. There is moderate elevation gain (900’) from Wolf Creek Pass to the Treasure Mountain Trail, with a net loss overall (-2000’) to the Windy Pass TH. From the Windy Pass TH to the high point on the Continental Divide, the gross elevation gain of 2900’ (net 2000’) makes this a more difficult (C) option. Not subject to wilderness regulations.
Trails that may be impacted by the recent West Fork wildfire include Hope Creek/Sawtooth Peak (Rio Grande NF) and West Fork/Rainbow Hot Springs (San Juan NF). Beetle kill throughout our area is fairly extensive, and tree-fall is a potential hazard from both fire scars and beetle kill.
Trout Creek, which is scheduled on Friday, is not within any wilderness area or burn scar. It’s a relatively easy out-and-back hike of about 6 miles one-way (800’ gain). The trail actually goes much farther (10.5 miles, 2900’ gain), but it enters the West Fork burn scar and steepens beyond 6 miles. Since this is a travel day, you may not want to push your limits. I plan to lead a 7-mile hike from Big Meadows Reservoir to Archuleta Lake with 2700’ gain (C). A shorter option on Friday would be Alberta Peak (3 mi, 1200’) which you access via the CDT from Wolf Creek Pass.
Most THs are accessible in 2WD. The sole exception is Crater Lake, which requires high-clearance 4WD.
There are numerous short & sweet options (<2 miles) for non-hikers or hikers who crave a rest day:
San Juan River Walk
Pagosa Hot Springs
Tubing (sorry, no butt mileage credit)
You can choose your own route home on Friday. Retrace the route we took to Pagosa Springs on Monday or, for a change of pace, follow an alternate route. One recommended option is via Lake City and the North Rim of the Black Canyon through Crawford to Hotchkiss, Paonia and McClure Pass. Be sure to visit North and South Clear Creek Falls (between Creede and Lake City) for mileage credit. This route diverges from our “standard” route at South Fork. Turn left on CO 149 toward Creede. To follow the “standard” route, stay on US 160 to Del Norte, then turn left on CO 112 to US 285 north, etc.
There are no 14ers on our current schedule. But that’s not to say there will be no 14ers to climb this summer. Huh?! Is this a riddle? Another typical example of CHiC smart-assery? Neither. Hear me out. Since everyone needs a different subset of the 54 official 14ers to complete their entire set, and most of us are loathe to climb the same peak twice, I’m leaving it up to each of you to select, plan, and lead any 14er climbs this year. You need not lead the climb yourself, but if you organize it, you’re responsible to find someone to lead it for you. Email me with the name(s) of the peak(s) and proposed date(s). I’ll be happy to advertise them to the rest of our group.
Peak climbs will receive mileage credit only during weeks when Wednesday hikes or overnight trips are scheduled. Realistically, that means the weeks of July 12 & 26, August 9 & 23, September 6 & 20. You will receive mileage credit for either the peak climb or the scheduled Wednesday hike that week, but not both, even if you do them both. There is some flexibility, because you may climb the peak any weekday that week, if necessary to allow for changing weather conditions. But you’ll receive credit for only one peak per week, except peaks that typically are climbed together, such as Grays & Torreys, Oxford & Belford, Shavano & Tabeguache or the “Decalibron”. Unfortunately, we cannot offer mileage credit for a few of our closest peaks (Capitol, South Maroon, North Maroon, and Pyramid) due to their extremely treacherous conditions. I don’t want anyone dying on my watch.
But for those of you are all wet (or have a penchant for becoming so), the Fugahwee have an adjunct activity. We’re the Duckie Dynasty…a rag-tag group of whitewater enthusiasts who seem to have more dollars than sense. Whether you own a duckie, raft, SUP or merely a Speedo and a sense of adventure, you’re welcome to toss your throw-bag into the river with us (figuratively speaking). There’s no set schedule…yet…but we’re considering several different options, beginning with a Dolores River float after the Cortez trip. This would be a 2- to 3-day (1- to 2-night) trip, preferably through the 36-mile Slickrock Canyon reach, camping along the river. Later, there may be options for one-day or multi-day trips on the Roaring Fork, Colorado, Green, Yampa, Arkansas or Gunnison rivers. There may be opportunities to hike side canyons during multi-day floats. But like 14er climbs, you’ll receive mileage credit for no more than the number of scheduled hikes that week.
Some trips can be DIY, while others would be best done with a commercial outfitter. But, depending upon the destination and trip length, costs for an overnight commercial trip can run from $500 to more than $1300. Commercial day trips are a fraction of that (usually <$150). But those of us with our own boats would rather put those investments to use than shell out the equivalent cost of a new boat on a single overnight trip.
I’d like to compile a list of you whitewater enthusiasts. Please email me with your interest, including the type(s) of boat(s) in your fleet…or not…skill/comfort level (class I-IV), where class I is flatwater and class IV is Shoshone at flows >4000 cubic feet per second (cfs). We will prioritize floats with difficulties no greater than class II-III, unless we use a commercial outfitter. For reference, I’ve never paddled my duckie at levels >III. Difficulty can vary with flow. I paddled Hell’s Half Mile (Green River) at low flow (III) that I would not attempt at high flow (IV-V). We rowed the Taos Box DIY easily at 3000 cfs. Then I paddled it with a commercial outfitter at 8000 cfs. 😲
What I don’t recommend, however, is the “boatless” float like the one I took inadvertently in Browns Canyon many years ago. 😵 That’s not the preferred way to learn the difference between “sleepers” and “strainers”. Those sleepers woke me up, while the strainers brushed my teeth and combed my hair…with predictably painful results. Actually, it was the 45-degree water that kept me awake. 🥶 That’s ironic, because once I was pulled from the ice-cold water, I was about as responsive…and coherent…as Trump at a COVID press conference.