Hiking Emmaline Lake Trail, Part 1

I‘ve been interested in backpacking for years, rather than just dayhiking, but raising a half-dozen young children makes it hard to pursue such hobbies. But the kids are getting a bit older, and N has become just as interested in backpacking, so we decided it was time to gear up and start some longer hikes. Our long term goal is for the two of us to embark on a thru hike of the Colorado trail, but for this summer we’ve been working on shorter hikes toward some overnight backpacking trips to get into shape for such a long expedition.

Unfortunately our attempts earlier in the summer didn’t go so well. We tried a multi-day hike through the Lost Creek Wilderness, but were far too ambitious and seriously over-loaded our packs. A mere couple of hours in, our aching backs forced us to turn back and I spent the next few days in excruciating pain. After that we attempted a couple of long day hikes, but my bad knee and N’s upset stomach ended each of those outings before we reached our goals. Despite these setbacks, we’re not giving up, and N was eager for our next hike.

So this week we decided to hike up the Emmaline Lake trail in the Comanche Peak Wilderness. It’s not a terribly long trail, aproximately 5.5 miles to the lake, with a camping spots at Cirque Meadows about 3.5 miles in. Our initial plan was to hike to the campsite, pitch our tent and leave some of our gear inside it while we hiked up to the lake and back down to the tent. The second day would just be the short 3.5 mile descent back to our car. Of course, life interfered as it often does, and forced a change of plans. We weren’t able to leave in the morning as we had originally planned, and headed for the trailhead in the mid afternoon intending to hike to the campsite that evening and on to the lake the next day.

The drive itself was beautiful, following mountain streams up through green, overgrown canyons into the wilderness. We stopped once or twice to stretch our legs and take a few pictures of the stream, which turned out to be quite similar to some of the terrain we would be hiking through later in the day. Between the two of us we were carrying three cameras. An Olympus TG-4 tough camera, my Olympus Pen-F, and my iphone. A decent mix, which allowed us to capture a lot of pictures, even in rainy conditions when my Pen was safeley tucked away from the moisture.

Eventually we reached the trailhead, after driving through a fair bit of afternoon rain. There were still a lot of clouds, so we kept our rain gear handy, though we didn’t actually need it much on the hike. The serious rain didn’t start until later that night, and while we kept moving we stayed fairly dry. The sun was getting fairly low, and there were more serious clouds gathering, so we kept a pretty quick pace, hoping to get to our campsite before the rain really started and the sun went behind the hills for the night.

The trail was beautiful. Young forests of aspens and pine trees. On one particular stretch of the path there were hundreds of pines on the right hand and all aspens on the left. It was a fascinating look at an area regrowing after a forest fire some years ago and the resulting strange patterns of plant growth. The views were amazing as well, with snow capped peaks rising in the distance and a green valley dotted with lakes and ponds below us. Constant wildflowers and interesting rock formations rounded out the mix. We were both glad we brought along the cameras, though we tried not to stop too much for photography, given the growing darkness and clouds.

We succeesfully made it to our campsite just before the rain began in earnest. The ominous thunder was growing louder and moving in our direction as we finally arrived and began pitching our tent, inflating our sleeping pads and organizing our gear for the evening. N was deeply worried about the lighting and thunder, despite my assurances, and it took quite a bit of calming to help him settle. The rain was increasing, with a little bit of hail mixed in, up so we skipped setting up the stove and cooking a proper dinner and ate a couple of probars instead. Soon we were tucked inside our tent and the rain was pounding down, punctuated by loud rolls of thunder.

To help N calm down, I pulled out his Ricki Ricotta’s Mighty Robot book and he read to me for a while. Then out came the playing cards and I instructed him in the finer arts of Go Fish. He loved it, and by the time the rain had stopped he was calm and ready to go to sleep. Unfortunately, not long after we pulled our quilts around us, the windstorm started. Loud, howling, rushing wind ripping through the trees above. Our site was fairly well protected, and pitched tautly enough that when the wind did hit our tent it didn’t shake much, but the noise made it very difficult to sleep.

This was, in fact, N’s first night sleeping outdoors and the circumstances were not ideal. Between the thunder and then the wind, trying to figure out how to get comfortable on our sleeping pads, and just the general strangeness of sleeping in a tent, it was a restless night. We tossed and turned and talked on and off for hours. Eventually, some time after 2:30, we finally both fell asleep with the wind still howling outside.

Find out what happened on the second day of our hike here!


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