We woke bright and early with the sun at about 6. After a nearly sleepless night I resisted rising for nearly another hour. Eventually we did emerge from our tent into a bright and fairly warm morning. The plan was to hike the two miles up to Emmaline Lake, and then return down to our tent for lunch, after which we would hike back down to the trailhead and make our way homeward. N wasn’t hungry this morning, perhaps due to the restless night, but I made him eat a little of the dried fruit he brought along for snacks and we hit the trail, leaving our tent and most of our gear behind. Before we set out, however, we spent some time admiring the view of Cirque Meadow and the streams that ran out from it.
The terrain on this portion of the trail was considerably more rugged, with more elevation gain through older forests where there was a lot of treefall. Many streams crossed the path, the larger ones bridged by log bridges. Some of them were in fairly bad shape, which ended up being a problem later on, but for a while we were able to keep going fairly well. The path followed a mountain stream upwards toward the lake, forming a series of small waterfalls. It was tough land, but beautiful, with wildflowers and plants filling the ground around the stream and between trees.
Unfortunately our progress didn’t last. Less than a mile away from the lake we encountered a bridge that we couldn’t cross. The wood was rotted and rounded, and N was unable to find firm footing across. We attempted it anyway, until N’s foot slipped down into the icy cold water and we reluctantly decided to turn back. There was no other way over the water that we could find and we hadn’t brough water shoes for wading. Neither of us was particularly interested in walking through the cold water anyway, and so we decided to head back to camp.
We arrived back at our tent by about 9:30 and decided to pack up and hurry down the trail to the car and drive into Ft. Collins for lunch. As we packed up the tent I discovered one of the drawback of ultralight tent pegs. Apparently I wasn’t careful enough when we pitched the tent, and a couple of them were terribly bent. Everything else was fine, though, and soon our packs were loaded up for the descent to the trailhead.
And then I made a mistake, and didn’t fill up on water before we set out. Our location was perfect, right next to the stream with plenty of water. It wouldn’t really have taken long to get out our water filter, but we still had some water and decided not to take the time. By now the day was nice and hot, certainly compared to the previous day when we hiked up in the cool of the evening under cloud cover and with an occasional sprinkling of rain. So as it happened we were pretty much out of water halfway down the trail with a mile and a half left to go with nowhere else to refill. Needless to say, by the time we reached down some time later, we were both very thirsty. But we made it back, and learned a few lessons along the way.
Although we didn’t make it all the way to the lake it still felt like a successful expedition. We were turned back by an obstacle we couldn’t pass instead of by our own physical limitations, and still managed to hike over nine miles across two days. N slept in a tent for the first time and learned a lot about hiking in the wilderness and sleeping in a tent. More importantly, despite the setbacks and the thunderstorm-induced fear that he experiences, he wants to keep backpacking. We’re not sure what our next trip is going to be, but hopefully it will be even better than the time we spent on the Emmaline Lake Trail.
Even more important than a feeling of success and growth in our backpacking skills is the fact that N was learning the whole time. He studied interesting insects as we came across them, made observations and asked questions about the fallen trees and evidence of old wildfires. He enjoyed the scenery and worked to take nice pictures for his brothers and sisters. He learned what it was like to sleep out in a tent under the night sky and what it feels like to be hours away from civilization for the better part of two days. Everything fascinated him, and even when things were difficult – when the terrain was tough and we were tired and sore and thirsty – he kept on going, and is eager for another trip. He’s an Unschooler through and through, and that natural curiosity and desire to understand the world around him was shining brightly on the Emmaline Trail.