Trip Report: June 2019 Backpacking Pine River Trail
This page provides a report of a backpacking trip I took in June 2019 along the Pine River Trail in the Weminuche Wilderness in Colorado.
- Please see the sidebar for maps and guidebook excerpts for the Pine River Trail.
- See photos from this trip.
Aborted First Attempt
This year, I first traveled to the area the in early June. I knew that there been heavy snowfall the past winter and spring resulting in a peak snowpack depth almost twice normal. I came prepared to hike and camp in the snow. I expected the creeks and rivers to have high flows. I did not anticipate the intensity of water runoff that I found.
I began hiking up the Pine River Trail from the trailhead near Vallecito Reservoir. About 1.5 miles up, I reached Indian Creek. In a normal year, one can walk across this creek with one's boots on, stepping on a few stones to get across. This first week of June, I found a raging torrent, about mid-thigh deep, with a barbed wire strainer just below the trail crossing point. I could have waded across carefully, but I knew there were much larger creeks up the trail that I would need to cross. I decided to turn around and go home.
I watched the Pine River water flow here . When the flow dropped from 2400 ft3/sec (CFS) to below 1000 CFS, I decided to try again. The SNOTEL sites , short for snow telemetry, indicated that much of the snowpack had melted below 11,000 feet.
I started up the trail again on June 25. When I reached Indian Creek, I saw that someone had placed two logs across the creek with a handline. This made crossing easy.
Extending back fifty years, I have always seen Abert's tufted-ear squirrels while hiking along the lower portions of the Pine River Trail. I did not see any this time. I have no idea why.
The first day, I stopped about 6 miles up the trail and camped at a nice spot a few hundred yard below the bridge over Lake Creek. I have waded and fished a branch of the Pine River at this spot in years past. This video shows dramatically different conditions on this trip.
The next day, I continued up the trail to about a mile below Flint Creek. I only saw a few people this day. Most people that hike the lower part of the Pine River Trail turn left at Lake Creek and head to Emerald Lake.
At mile 9.0, I saw the beautiful double waterfall on Falls Creek on the east side of the valley. It was much larger than in normal years. I also encountered a Forest Service trail maintenance supervisor. He was laying the groundwork to repair a portion of trail that the Pine River was threatening to wash away. The creeks I crossed this day either had logs across them or were narrow and low enough I could cross each of them without getting my feet wet.
I began to see a lot of elk, mostly small groups, but later in the hike, I saw several groups of 30 to 40.
The third day, I hiked up to Flint Creek. There were no logs across it. It was very wide. The center of the flow was swift, about 20 feet wide, and deep enough to cover the top of my thighs. Crossing was a little scary. I used my hiking poles to provide 3rd and 4th legs. It was hard to move the poles in the current. Eventually, I repositioned them by pulling them straight up out of the water and plunging them straight down to the next spot. When in the water, the poles vibrated in my hand from the water rushing around them.
After crossing Flint Creek, I looked up the Flint Creek valley and got a good view of the Pope's Nose. It is the largest granite dome in Colorado. I read on Mountain Project that some people have put up Yosemite-like big wall routes on it that require aid climbing.
The trail conditions were quite different above Flint Creek. In some spots, the trail was somewhat overgrown with willows. There was a lot of deadfall that required extra energy to go over and around. Many areas were wet, muddy, or had standing water. I initially saw no other people. When heading down on Day 5 I saw one group of four people heading up. They said they found crossing Flint Creek a little unnerving as I had.
I had to wade across South Canyon Creek. It was as deep as Flint Creek but not as wide or as swift. I crossed all the other creeks this day without getting my feet wet.
I spent night three beside the Granite Peak Ranger Station. It was built around 1913 and has been restored. I searched online, but I could find very little information about it. I do not know if the Forest Service still has a use for it.
On day four, I planned to hike to the top of the valley and stop near the intersection with the Continental Divide Trail. At about mile 18.5, I saw and heard the miniature Niagara Falls (see the photo at the top of the page) as described by Gebhardt in his guidebook, A Backpacking Guide to the Weminuche Wilderness. Basin Reproduction and Printing Company, Durango, CO, 1976. I saw a few small patches of snow in the trees but never had to walk through snow on the trail. At mile 19.0, I reached Rincon Las Osa. It was too high to cross safely. I guessed that it was waist deep. I cannot be sure of the depth because I did not attempt to cross. It was very swift and turbulent.
I turned around, hiked back down, and camped just below the large falls on the Pine River. There was a beaver skull on a big flat rock near my campsite. That night, I lay awake dreading crossing Flint Creek on the way down.
On day five, I hiked down. I saw many groups of elk. It was difficult to get good pictures of the elk. When they became aware of my presence, they headed up into the hills and forest cover. I saw Yeti fur snagged on some brush by the trail. I got across Flint Creek without a mishap. I camped about a mile below Flint Creek in the same spot I spent night two.
On the sixth day, I did a long hike all the way to the trailhead. Early in the day, I met a couple who looked at Flint Creek the day before and decided not to cross it. I saw more people as I descended, particularly below Lake Creek.
I saw this beautiful Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. I did not get a very good photo, so I am showing my photo alongside a much better one that I downloaded from the Internet.