The Descent
Backpacking the Rawah Wilderness
Since early June, I've been planning a 3 day Rocky Mountain backpacking trip. And to make myself look good, I invited anyone that doesn't live at high altitude, namely my brother, Trevor from San Francisco, and good friend, Niran from Chicago. Once they arrived in Denver, we agreed on a 16 mile loop in the Rawah Wilderness west of Fort Collins and Poudre Canyon. When we set out, I thought this trip might satisfy my backpacking longings for awhile, but 3 days later, I'm ready to go again... (just not this month).

Day 1

West Branch Trailhead Entering Rawah Wilderness "This isn't so bad..." Switchbacks already? Camp Lake Trail Junction "Dude! I live at sea level!" The Death March Out of the Trees Camp Lake, finally! Second Wind Hiking Pose Campsite near Camp Lake Sunset at Camp Lake
Day 1 began at the West Branch trailhead. From the trailhead, we followed the West Branch Trail for about 1.5 miles and Camp Lake Trail for another 4.5 miles before making camp at Camp Lake. Today was the most challenging day with an elevation gain over 2000 feet. My pack weighed the least at about 40 pounds, and Trevor's was about the same after he was finally convinced to ditch his 2 pound axe at the trailhead. Niran won the heaviest pack award, coming in at around 50 pounds, due to his 5 pound professional camera and one litre of boxed milk for his morning granola (hey, we all have our necessities!).

Day 2

Morning at Camp Lake Moose Crossing Camp Lake Unnamed Lake More Unnamed Lake Lower Sandbar Lake Nearing Treeline Ascent to Grassy Pass Rawah Trail Junction Moose at Rawah Lake #3 Close-up Rawah Lake #3 Niran above Rawah Lake #3 Self Photo above Rawah Lake #3 Lunch Atop Grassy Pass Pond Near Grassy Pass Departing Grassy Pass Sheep Mountain "Look ma, an ice patch!" Rawah Trail Bench Lake The Descent South Rawah Peak The Wildflowers Crossing the North Fork Disturbing the Moose Presenting Jeremiah Weed Campsite Day 2 Trevor earns a merit badge
Day 2 started with a rumble, when two moose came running through our campsite just after the sun came up. From inside the tent, we watched the furry brown blurs pass within about 10 feet of our single tent window. Scrambling to get dressed, I managed to exit the tent and snap a few photos of the moose, a mom and nearly full grown calf, crossing Camp Lake.

After breaking camp, we headed towards Grassy Pass on the Sandbar Lakes Trail, stopping for pictures at several lakes along the way. Today was by far the most scenic and we barely noticed the 750 foot elevation gain to Grassy Pass. Near Rawah Lake #3, we saw another moose grazing near the lake. Atop Grassy Pass, elevation 11,250 feet, we stopped for lunch, enjoyed the views, and listened to Trevor boast how he was going to climb Sheep Mountain (elevation 11,787 feet), even though he nearly collapsed the day before.

After lunch, we descended Grassy Pass and hiked just beyond the West Branch Trail junction before making camp. Along the way, with Niran leading, we managed to startle a young bull moose that bolted across the trail less than 20 feet in front of us. Stunned, we watched the moose dart further into the trees before stopping and turning to watch us. A little further down the trail, we saw his mate also watching us from a distance.

Day 3

Breaking Camp Through the Aspens More Aspens Aspen Tops The Road Home
Following the West Branch Trail for less than 3 miles back to the trailhead, our last day was uneventful and maybe a little sad as we left the simplicity of the wilderness behind, although we all looked forward to a hot shower and a good meal.