Backpacking in Northern Colorado’s Rawah Wilderness Day 2: Lakes and Moose

Day 2 was the day I was not necessarily looking forward to. Weather predictions indicated a strong possibility that conditions will be cold and rainy for much of the day. When it comes to outdoor activities, conditions matter. What is fun and pleasant one day can be unpleasant another. This is part of the reason it is hard for outdoor enthusiasts not to obsess over the weather.

The morning was a tease. About half an hour after the sunrise, the fog that had spread across the area the prior afternoon appeared to be dissipating.

Only for it to return.

Leaving the campsite was like stepping into the unknown. In the wilderness, there is no access to weather reports. With how much the weather can vary from place to place, from minute to minute in areas with this type of terrain, there was no way to know how this day would play out. There’s little choice but to embrace the unknown.

These trips always seem to bring up thoughts of the past. Of a time when it was much harder to know what to expect. Of a time when there was no internet, no television. A time when the morning newspaper, or some other form of transmitted information was the only information anyone would have to go about their days. This was a time when embracing the unknown was the only option.

Often, the only way to embrace the unknown safely is to be knowledgable and prepared. We knew not to get too close to the moose we saw only about a mile into the hike, also wandering through the fog.

As we climbed, up towards tree line, towards a pass known as Grassy Pass, we actually walked away from the fog.

For the entirety of the morning, it was likely that the valley where we had camped the previous night was still in thick fog.

When we reached the pass that whose natural features were consistent with its name around 10 A.M., it suddenly appeared as if our time in the fog was actually done.

Anyone who spends a lot of time in the mountains knows how much the weather can vary from place to place due to the complexities of the terrain. But, how often do we see it right in front of us? One side of this pass was still engulfed in fog while the other was basking in sunshine.

Places like this are some of the last places where we can truly embrace something quite human. Here, there is no way to know exactly what to expect.

To know what is going to happen at a specific spot, given the wind direction and every small-scale geographic and terrain feature is pretty much impossible. Each cloud represents a small scale current of wind, a moisture profile and subtle differences in the land with so many components it becomes more of a headache than it is worth to try to determine how every minute of every hour is to play out.

In a world where so many lives have become orderly and predictable, trips like this force us to embrace variety and surprise. They force us to release control. Perhaps, after decades of chasing after inventions and policies designed to enable us to track every development, predict and control outcomes, this is exactly what the world needs.

The defining feature of this section of the trip was alpine lakes.

We passed several of them as we descended into another valley, some close, some far away.

We set up camp at Lower Camp Lake.

And hiked up to Upper Camp Lake.

By the way, when backpacking, one of the greatest feelings is setting down your pack and hiking with nothing on your back. Backpacks weight quite a bit and it is a relief just to walk, or exist in general, without all that additional weight.

That afternoon I was back at the camp site, looking at trees full of pine cones and incorrectly speculating that there were families of birds in them.

In this moment, it suddenly dawned on me that the weather I had been experiencing all afternoon, along the Rawah and Camp creeks, at elevations of around 10,800 ft. (3300 m), was very likely better than the weather back in Denver. The sun was shining and the temperatures were actually quite pleasant. It felt like it was around 60°F (15°C), likely warmer than what was occurring in Denver. Out of the embrace of uncertainty can come some truly beautiful experiences. Sometimes things can work out for the best even when it feels like they might not.

That evening would end with another moose sighting.

Followed by a full moon whose light reflected along the lake.

A chill came into the air as the sun went down, but we still laughed. Some of the laughter was indeed at my expense for thinking that all those pine cones in that one tree were actually birds. Still, the laughter, shared experiences and embracing uncertainty made this experience truly human.

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