Evan wanted to join me on the first backpack of the summer. It’s been a wet spring following a snowy winter, so we knew we would have to stay low for a trip in June. We targeted a trail known as the “Devil’s Causeway” in the Flattops Wilderness. The area is generally lower in elevation than most of the mountain wilderness areas, and the trail sounded like an interesting challenge. It climbs a steep rise to a narrow ridge with a multi-hundred foot fall on either side.
Unfortunately the snow still got the better of us. As we climbed the trail, we ran into a group coming down from the pass that warned us there was too much snow to climb. We had a couple of back-up options in place, so we decided to go check it out for ourselves. Sure enough, the last 500 feet or so was covered in several feet of snow. After post-holing for a few hundred yards, we decided it was not worth the risk.
We turned back and headed for Little Causeway Lake, which sits a couple of hundred feet lower on the trail. It’s a beautiful lake, and would have made for an excellent site, if only some of the flat clearings were dry. There was still too much snow in just the wrong spots. Disheartened, we decided to go ahead and hike back down to the shores of Stillwater Reservoir, where we knew there were several decent dry sites.
As we were leaving, Evan noticed that Laika no longer had her backpack on. We each thought the other had taken it off to give her a break as we hunted for a tent site. We both stared at each other for 30 seconds as we realized she had lost it somewhere in the wilderness. Laika carries her own food and a blanket to sleep on. It wouldn’t have necessarily been a disaster, but it would have marked the end of the trip as we would have had to head home. Amazingly, after stomping around the scrub for 10 minutes or so, Evan spotted the pack laying deep in one of the thickets. He snaked his way in to retrieve it, saving our trip.
We settled for a campsite on the southern edge of the reservoir in a clearing with decent visibility all around for wildlife and star gazing. Then the wind started to whip. The forecast was for low temperatures in the upper 30’s. It clearly got colder. We started a fire to warm us for a while, but eventually we were forced into the warmth of our sleeping bags. We did sneak out once more after the moon set to grab a picture of the Milky Way.
By morning, it became apparent that it had gotten much colder than the forecast said. Laika’s water bowl was frozen solid, and all of our liquids had at least a crust of ice over them. Fortunately the wind had died down and the sun came out to warm up the morning pretty quickly. Evan asked to take Laika and explore around the area. After a few minutes, Laika started barking feverishly. As I looked in that direction, I saw a moose and two calves run out from the scrub. Shortly after, Evan came panting out of the same area looking clearly unsettled. He and Laika had come face to face with the mother, and she made a bluff charge toward them before running away. That will teach Evan to be a little more cautious in where he goes exploring!
It turned into a beautiful day for our hike out. We didn’t make it to the causeway this time, but we will definitely be back for another go in the near future.