It feels like yesterday I was sitting in IHOP with my boyfriend at the time. It was the summer of 2014 and we were both itching to go somewhere. With only a few days off from work and beautiful weather surrounding us, we were frantically looking for something to do nearby. I was set on finding a dreamy, isolated area where we could hang out for our few days of freedom. The idea was spontaneous, random, and everything I could ever dream of; backpacking.
I had never been backpacking before and had to acquire gear quickly. (Thanks REI). Living in Colorado and having the most wonderful playground literally in my backyard, you would think I would have obtained more hiking gear, but I had to start fresh. I ran to the nearest REI and spoke to all the experts who helped me pick out gear needed for my trip. Hiking boots, a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, pillow, jet boil, flint fire starter, compass, freeze dried food, cool headlight with multiple color settings. Its hard not to buy all the cool extra things when wandering around with excitement in cool outdoor stores, but by the time I left I felt ready; except we had yet to chose a destination.
We had planned to meet at our local library where internet is free and there were private rooms where we could organize. Google is a handy tool when you have no clue what you’re doing. I think we started by searching ‘best backpacking in Colorado’. I had no clue what we were looking for, everything looked wonderful. I was honestly looking for places that had the coolest pictures and was a reasonable distance away. Rocky Mountain National Park, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Snowmass, and Maroon Bells were all locations that had popped up. We surely couldn’t chose solely off of pictures, so we started to look in to more details about these places. The milage of the hike, was it round trip, were there water sources nearby, how much foot traffic was there. It all came down to the least amount of foot traffic, and the ability to have a campfire.
Indian Peaks Wilderness on the Granby side of the continental divide was the most isolated place we could find with the possibility of a campfire, and thats how we decided. It was hard to find any specific trails in the region we chose, but we knew we had to stop at the Forest Service to buy a backcountry permit, so we figured we would plan out further details there.
With our bags packed we left early in the morning so we could reach the station as they were opening. In order to reach the Forest Service building by 8am, we had to drive three hours through heavy fog. I’m pretty sure I played Jack Johnson the whole way there as he slept. The park ranger was helpful in providing a map and showing us his favorite trail. It was a nine mile hike in to Stone Lake, where he promised the fishing would be plentiful and we would be isolated, and thats all it took to convince us to go there.
So we started on our journey. We found the trail head with ease, put on our packs, locked the car and headed up the mountain. Within the first 20 minutes I already felt in over my head. The trail was a steep incline with switchbacks as far as the eye could see. I was not physically prepared for this. I was embarrassed with my panting and already doubting if I would be able to make it all the way to the lake. I was stopping every few steps, trying to hide that I needed to take a breather by pointing out ‘cool trees’ and ‘interesting bugs’ that may or may not have actually been there.
Fortunately the trail started to level out a couple miles in, and my faith was restored. We continued across cool make shift bridges with walking sticks we made out of dead tree limbs, met some park service workers cleaning up the trail (with some awesome llamas by their side), and made our way to the peak of our trail. (Cool fact, IPW is trying to remain as natural as possible, so the park service doesn’t use anything electric in the park. No motorized vehicles, chainsaws, etc. Hence the llama and two man crosscut saw) Unfortunately I lost my really cool walking stick whilst peeing off the side of the trail, because people were coming and I had to quickly cover my toosh.
I only got us lost a few times, but we finally made it to our campsite and boy was I relieved. Wearing brand new hiking boots for the first time on an 18 mile hike was an awful, extremely rookie mistake. We set up our tent as the sun set on us, and quickly tried to light a fire with all the wet wood surrounding us. (I ended up starting the fire after he struggled to, one small step for Emili, one large step for womankind).
We woke up the next morning to the most perfect, fairy tale lake that was all ours. I cooked our delicious freeze dried ‘Backpackers Pantry’ huevos rancheros and then set off to wander and go fishing – aka catch lunch. It didn’t take long to realize we could see the bottom of the ‘lake’, or rather pond, and that there was not a single fish to be seen. This would not have been a problem if we had accounted for no fish, but we only brought a few emergency freeze dried packs and counted on catching fish for our meals.
We wandered around hungry, figuring we should ration the rest of our food for the next two days of our trip. I was dividing up bits and pieces of our trail mix making sure there was a good M&M to nut ratio left for the remaining days. We collected more wood to build fire for the night, and frolicked through the never-ending green.
The hunger started to set in and we began to notice all of the little critters – potential meals – darting around us. There were ground squirrels everywhere! If you’ve ever seen a ground squirrel, you know they’re not very big, a little bigger than a mouse. You would need multiple of them to make a meal for one person. We contemplated the idea of catching them to eat and I said I would be able to skin one if we caught it, although I had never caught an animal, let alone, killed, skinned, cooked and eaten one. But I had seen my uncle skin an animal before, and I dissected a cat in high school, and I watch animal planet on the regular, so I thought I would be capable of the challenge ahead.
We set up little traps everywhere, sparingly using a few nuts here and there from our trailmix. Whilst doing this we spotted an even better meal, a woodchuck perched upon a pile of rocks. We quickly grabbed some large sticks from our firewood stash and ran over to the pile of rocks as our dinner ran in to a hole in the pile. I stood on top of the rocks poking my stick down a hole as my partner in crime (aka attempted animal slaughter partner) stood at the other hole getting ready to pounce on the critter. You could say hunger may have drove us a little insane.
Fortunately, (because I don’t think I could actually kill, skin, cook and eat an animal) we did not catch any creatures. Although we were both hangry it was important that we saved our last freeze dried pack of food for energy for the next day’s hike out of paradise.
The trip was exactly what I was looking for, and it was perfect – minus the lack of food and aching feet. We had a lake to ourselves for the three days we spent there, except for a few animal friends.
And this is where it all begins. My love for the outdoors had grown in a way I didn’t know it could. I had found a new way to escape all my responsibilities and commitments and the ability to lose and find myself in the wilderness, with a few lessons learned: Bring enough food whether there is fish available or not, and don’t wear brand new hiking boots. The tips of my big toes still don’t have full feeling from nerve damage. A forever reminder of my first backpacking trip.