George is up early this morning at 6am. There is no television to watch! Instead, he dresses and goes to visit the sheep, goats and llama. Max and Phoebe followed a little while later. Consequently, our usual early morning start is not so early. Our aim for the day is to hike near Vallecito Lake. The owners of the farm where we are staying are able to direct us to one of their favourite hikes. We drive to trailhead and are surprised to see the car park full with cars and horse boxes. We speculate that many have probably chosen to stay overnight, as it is the weekend, in the Weminuche Wilderness that can be accessed from this trail.
The sun is strong in the thin mountain air. The trail begins in a valley, but we have already climbed in elevation on our drive to the trailhead. The bottom of the valley is flat with a broad meadow dotted with pine trees, owned and fenced in by Granite Peaks Ranch. The sides of the valley rise steeply as granite cliffs, standing majestic against the deep blue sky.
We cover exposed skin with sun cream, fill camelbaks with water, pack our picnic lunch and begin our hike. The beginning of the hike takes us through a gate displaying the Ranch name and a notice warning that leaving this area with horses or cattle that do not belong to you is theft. The start of the trail is littered with fresh horse manure. We are thankful for the trees which give shade from the sun.
Our progress is slow. This is an "in/out" trail and we are not sure how far we will hike. The trail can take us to Emerald lake high above the valley but this is 10 miles and the last four 4 miles are a steep climb. Having hiked at this altitude before we know that just to get to the lake will take us around 4 hours.
After about two miles of walking we come to a creek that flows across the trail. Although it is easy to cross, using rocks that are above the water as stepping stones, we stop for a few minutes to enjoy the stream. Phoebe chooses to take off her hiking boots and dip her feet in the cold water.
The trail is strewn with rocks and the elevation rises and falls. George is only wearing indoor soccer shoes. He will borrow Colin's spare trail shoes for future hikes.
After about 3 miles and two hours of hiking we enter the Weminuche Wilderness. Even though we have entered the wilderness, the scenery does not change. We encounter a few other people, some walking with their sleeping mats rolled up in their backpacks and some on horses dressed in stetsons and cowboy boots. They carry their packs on a second horse tethered to the first and without a rider. We meet one couple with two llamas who are heading out into the wilderness. The llamas eye us cautiously but are happy to be stroked by George and Max. The llama hair looks so thick it seems impossible that the animals would feel anything. Phoebe looks delighted to see her favourite animal.
A little way into the wilderness we decide to stop and find a place near the river for lunch before we head back. The scenery is beautiful with the refreshing sound of running water and sunlight streaming across the pine covered mountain slopes. Lunch is sliced bread filled with sweating cheese slices and ham from our backpacks. Phoebe and George and Max are able to climb onto rocks in the swlrling water of the river and eat lunch on their little islands. Colin and I sit on the remaining rocks closer to the shore.
From this point on the 3 miles hike back is at a good speed. It is around 1:30pm and the sun is high in the sky. The trail looks completely different in this light and the heat is getting unbearable. We arrive back glad to consume water and Gatorade that we have in the car.