Backpacking in Northern Colorado’s Rawah Wilderness Day 1: Bracing for the Weather

The weather does not always cooperate. It does not always work out the way we hope it will to optimize our experiences. On the two days prior to this backpacking trip, the temperature reached 99°F (38°C) in Denver. During heat waves like this one, it is desirable to get up into the mountains.

However, the evening before the trip, a cold front came through, cooling temperatures at all elevations, and making the weather conditions a bit more variable in the mountains.

For the best possible combination of weather experiences, it would have been ideal for the heat wave to have lined up with the period of time we had already set aside for the trip, as opposed to the week before it. However, we can’t always get things like this to line up exactly with how we want them to. As long as we live in a world where we keep schedules and plan activities like this one around our other responsibilities (as opposed to just responding to conditions last minute) we will always have to contend with situations where things don’t line up as we had hoped.

The weather conditions were not even hazardous. It was actually pretty nice most of the day.

It was just not the ideal setup for us to have experienced a maximum amount of comfortable temperatures, something not worth getting too upset about. As has been the case with other backpacking trips, we were in a beautiful environment.

On this first day of the trip, while ascending along the West Branch trail, we unexpectedly encountered some large hoofed mammals, traveling alongside the few other hikers we encountered along the journey.

The Rawah wilderness is in the far northern part of Colorado. It’s part of the Southern Unit of the Medicine Bow- Routt National Forest. The northern part of this National Forest is in Wyoming.

The trail network here is generally well marked, which is reassuring on trips like these where going the wrong way can lead to some bad results.

After several miles on the West Branch Trail, we turned onto the Rawah Trail, to follow our loop. The trail began to ascend even faster.

When backpacking in this general region of the country, it is quite common for the first day to be the most challenging. Through the course of the day, we would climb a total of around 2,500 feet (760m). While climbing, we would first encounter a waterfall.

And finally got to where the surrounding mountain peaks began to appear.

Hikes in this region (Rocky Mountain National Park is actually only about 25 miles away) are generally full of alpine lakes. This one is no exception. Our final destination for the day was Twin Crater Lakes, two amazing alpine lakes tucked away in the mountains.

At this point the weather was actually close to perfect making for a pleasant afternoon.

We set up camp at a beautiful site in the trees about 3/4 of a mile down the creek from the lakes.

Overall, the day was relatively balanced. We hiked a total of about 9 miles (14.3 km), but were able to set up have camp set up by mid afternoon.

This gave us the time we needed to do the typical camping activities like set up a fire, pump water from the stream and cook dinner before dark without having to feel in a hurry in any way. It also balanced out the day a bit, giving us time to just hand out and be in nature.

My thoughts also felt quite balanced, possibly as balanced as they had been for a long time. I am guessing this is due to a combination of being away from the constant distractions of every day life, not being rushed, having the hike be exhausting but not too exhausting and recently reducing my exposure to news and certain topics that were making me unhappy.

Then, around 4 pm, the weather turned. Suddenly the forest looked like a spooky meadow where anything and everything could emerge from and vanish into the trees, much like the baseball players in A Field of Dreams. This was especially true as day gradually descended into night.

It was damp. None of us knew if it was going to rain. Thinking about the potentially unpleasant conditions brought back a feeling that I tend to get on many of these types of trips. It reminds me to appreciate the shelter we often take for granted, our homes with heating and air conditioning. It’s only relatively recently in the course of human existence we have had this. For almost all of the history of humanity, how comfortable we felt, and how challenging life was depended so much more on things like weather conditions and the cycles of the sun and moon. While it does not sound fun to go back to a world where we have to work harder to meet our basic necessities, sometimes I wish more of us could live our lives in manners that are more connected to these things.

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