Trip Report: September 2021, Backpacking

South San Juan Wilderness

Jäger at the South San Juan Wilderness Boundary Sign
Jäger at the South San Juan Wilderness Boundary Sign

Introduction

This pages contains a brief report of the backpacking trip Connie's dog, Jäger, and I made to South San Juan Wilderness in southern Colorado.

I had not been to the South San Juan Wilderness before. Some say, this is the wildest corner of Colorado. The continental divide passes through it. It contains the headwaters of the Conejos, San Juan, and Blanco Rivers. The last confirmed sighting of a grizzly bear in Colorado occurred there in 1979.

Itinerary

Day 0: Wednesday, September 8, 2021

We drove from Amarillo, TX to the Platoro Valley Lodge & Cabins near Platoro Reservoir, CO (388 miles, 7 hr 13 min). The last 1 1/2 hours of driving were on unpaved forest service roads. Platoro is remote and inaccessible in the winter. It does not have any mobile photo service. A sign in one of the lodges said, "Platoro, the magical place where your smart phone turns into a camera."

Day 1: Thursday, September 9, 2021

We drove from the Platoro Valley Lodge & Cabins to the Lower South Fork (Conejos) Trailhead (12.0 miles, 38 min).

We then hiked up the South Fork Conejos Trail (#724) to where the trail crosses Hansen creek (3.28 miles, ascent/descent 438/-485 feet). I stopped early to fish. I set up camp and ate lunch. Then I started to assembly my fly rod only to find that the middle section was shattered. I splinted the broken section with a metal skewer that I had carried to cook fish. My repair failed after a few minutes of casting.

Day 2: Friday, September 10, 2021

Jäger at Our Campsite, Near the Junction of the South Fork Conejos and Cañon Verde Trails
Jäger at Our Campsite, Near the Junction of the South Fork Conejos and Cañon Verde Trails

We continued hiking west up the South Fork Conejos Trail to its junction with the Cañon Verde Trail (#726) (2.71 miles, ascent/descent 813/-265 feet).

Jäger is 7 years old. If you adjust for his size, that is about 56 dogs years. He seemed to struggle on this day. Perhaps the elevation of around 9,600 feet contributed. After walking a couple of hours, we encountered yet another steep hill. Jäger was walking in front of me. When he saw the hill, he sat down. I encouraged him to continue, and he responded by lying down. We rested a few minutes and continued up the hill. Shortly thereafter we found a great campsite and stopped for the day.

Day 3: Saturday, September 11, 2021

I decided not to hike this day and we rested at our delightful campsite. I made a successful repair of my splintered fly rod. I tried fishing for a while. The creek was choked with logs, trees, bushes, and rocks which made fishing difficult. To save weight, I did not bring wading boots. I fished in my Salomon TECH AMPHIB 4 water shoes. They did not grip the wet, slimy rocks at all. If was not getting any strikes and I stopped fishing before I fell and hurt myself.

We had some unexpected visitors in camp this day.

Unexpected Camp Visitors
Unexpected Camp Visitors

I have had trouble keeping Jäger warm on mountain backpacking trips in the past, (see Trip Report: June-July 2016 Backpacking CDT, Weminuche Wilderness ). He seems to thrive in the mountains during the winter when it may be 10°F outside during the daytime. But when we travel from Amarillo to the mountains of Colorado in summer, he seems to have trouble at night when the temperature gets down to 32°F or colder at night. I thought I came adequately prepared on this trip, but I was wrong. I brought a Ruffwear Highlands Dog Pad to insulate him from the ground. I also brought a Ruffwear Highlands Dog Sleeping Bag. The bag is too small for him to fit inside and zip up, but unfolded, it has a taco shape that I can wrap around him. I also brought a Ruffwear Overcoat Dog Jacket which is a water resistant fleece lined jacket. The jacket keeps him from getting entirely soaking wet if it rains. It also provides insulation when it is not raining.

When sleeping beside me in the tent he would not consistently lie on the pad. Even while wearing the jacket with the bag wrapped around him, he began shivering in the early morning hours when it was coldest. I would then wrap the bag around him tightly, hold him next to me and my sleeping bag, and he would stop shivering.

Day 4: Sunday, September 12, 2021

I decided it would be best not to continue with the longer trip I had planned. We hiked back down the South Fork Trail to the trailhead (5.99 miles, ascent/descent 750/-1,251 feet). It was a warm day and every time we crossed a creek Jäger took a long drink and lay in the water to cool off.

Jäger Cooling Off on a Warm September Day
Jäger Cooling Off on a Warm September Day

I started to drive back to Amarillo. In the middle of nowhere in southern Colorado, my car broke down. The remainder of the trip was a struggle to get my car, Jäger, and me back home. I will not detail the struggle here.