Writing last week’s post helped me realize I hadn’t explored two lakes, suitable for backpacking, accessible from the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Range.
Heading south from Westcliffe on highway 69, we turned onto the Medano Pass road around 7:30PM. The road goes over Medano Pass and all the way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, so I thought it couldn’t be too bad. In fact, the road from the highway to the edge of the National Forest was a maintained gravel road, but after that . . . not so much. It turned out that due to a washout the road is closed just a few miles past our destination. Anyway, there were a few sketchy spots with obvious marks in the boulders in the road from low clearance vehicles, and I was happy to have a vehicle with a low-range transfer case. I don’t have any 2-wheel-drive cars I would take on this road, so if you plan to do it, try to convince someone in a 4-wheel-drive to drive to take you.
We arrived at the trailhead, just before dark, and slept in the bed of the truck at a nearby campsite rather than set up the tents.
When morning arrived we ate breakfast and loaded up our packs. Walking up to the trailhead we noticed, and were surprised to find, that nobody else was in the area. The trailhead is at roughly 9,600 ft. while the lake is at 11,500ft. The SkyTerrain map says 3.3 miles, but the Wilderness Area sign and my GPS both agreed it was 4.0 miles. This trail is one of the more pleasant hikes I can remember. Not sure if it’s because I didn’t drive for 2 hours and then begin hiking, as is typical, or if it was the hiking conditions. You see, many of the other trails along the east side of this range have you walking out in the sun, but this one seemed shaded for most of the trip. The first two miles were finished in an hour. The second two miles took an hour and a half. The last half mile or so was a bit steeper with more frequent switchbacks, and large steps and I was more tired. There is lots of water near the trail, so if you filter, there’s no reason to carry too much.
At 3.9 miles, we crossed Medano Creek where there were two sign-posts. One said that there was “No Camping beyond this point”, okay it didn’t really have those words, but actually a little tent symbol with a circle and a line through it. The other sign showed that there was camping to the immediate right. We checked out the sites and set up camp.
Note that just before the creek is another set of nice-looking campsites. With the creek so close to camp, we could hear rushing water all night.
Medano Lake, similar to the other lakes in the Sangre de Cristo Range, is in a beautiful setting.
It’s not a large lake, meaning that if there were 10 people fishing it would probably feel crowded. It appeared that the Cutthroat trout were spawning. Lots of swimming activity in the shallow water but totally uninterested in eating. Some fish were hungry, but not many. I caught five fish that afternoon, having been interrupted for 20-30 minutes by rain. I had my rain gear, but remembering last month’s backpacking trip . . . the rain, lightning, hail and wind, I headed for cover pretty quick.
Sunday morning I fished for several hours and didn’t see anybody else either. About 9:30 AM the water began boiling with fish jumping everywhere. I caught several really nice trout in their spawning red colors, on an elk-hair caddis.
While I was fishing Jeff hiked up to Mount Herrard. On the way up he said that he could see the Crestones to the north and Blanca Peak in the south and a golden eagle soared by him only 30-40 yards away. He enjoyed the hike and views so much that he’d commented that love to come back again next weekend.
We saw 8 hikers at Medano this weekend. Three guys came in to scout for Big Horn Sheep and then left after a couple hours. Then there were four backpackers who sat by the lake for an hour and then left. Never did see where they finally camped. And, then we met a guy backpacking solo while we were hiking out.
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