South San Juan Wilderness, August 3-6, 2012

The mountains of the South San Juan Wilderness feel substantially different than its northern neighbors.  Rather than in-your-face peaks, the area is characterized by huge, high plateaus gorged with deep canyons.  With the exception of people fishing along the Conejos, it sees few visitors.  We dropped bikes at the South Fork Trailhead and headed for the Elk Creek Trailhead.  We didn’t get on the trail until around 6pm–much later than we’d planned, so we weren’t sure if we’d be able to do our entire planned route of Valle Victoria>CDT>Roaring Gulch.

Elk Creek

We managed to choose a campsite (probably 100 meters off the trail) already occupied by a woodrat, which tormented us all night. We first noticed him around dusk and should have moved camp then.  After a couple times of scaring it away from inside our Shangri-La 2 near our heads, I got up and piled rocks around the perimeter and found my watch 10 meters from the shelter.  Aut’s visor was left hanging on a dead limb and paid the price.

We took the notch trail up out of the Elk Creek drainage to get up on top of the plateau.  This is probably pretty spectacular in September.

Once on top, it’s spruce groves, lakes and big open parks.  This was clearly not a very frequently used trail and disappeared many times.  We had a couple instances of several miles without trail.  Routefinding was generally easy.

On the Valle Victoria “trail”

We started getting rain and then wind early in the afternoon, which made travel a bit slow.  We could see blue sky both north and south of us, but we kept getting hammered hour after hour, and it got quite a bit worse as we approached the CDT.  It continued to get worse and around 6pm we decided to set up our shelter and get warm.  We waited about an hour for it to clear.  The rest of the evening was crazy pretty on one of the best sections of the CDT that I’ve done.

Spruce and a break in the rain

Autumn relieved to be dry and in sunlight

Storm clearing

The pikas were absolutely going nuts through here.  


It was apparent that we weren’t going to be able to do our full route, so the next day we headed down to Canyon Verde trail to catch the South Fork.  Rain on aspen bark…

We considered going all the way to the trailhead that night but opted for camping a couple miles short.  Plenty of time to enjoy the afternoon and evening…

The next morning it was 15ish mile ride back to our truck.

One thing that I neglected to take a photo of was the many pre-1979 name carvings in trees, significant because it was here that the last Grizzly in Colorado was killed that year.  It’s pretty mind blowing to consider how much the presence of one animal can change a place.  Here’s to a return someday…


3 thoughts on “South San Juan Wilderness, August 3-6, 2012

  1. Rick Bass’ “The Lost Grizzlies” suggests they might have lingered a bit longer a bit longer, which is nice to think. I know exactly what you mean re: presence of one animal. Just a few grizzlies in the N. Cascades makes all the difference.

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