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Member Trail Report: Emerald and Moon Lakes

Basecamp member Brent Umphlett and his brother spent five days exploring Colorado's Weminuche Wilderness.

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Trail: Emerald and Moon Lakes, Weminuche Wilderness, CO

Distance: 35.2 miles

Submission: Brent Umphlett

Difficulty: 4/5

Duration: 5 days

Rating: 4/5 stars

With no family reunion to plan our annual backpacking trip around this year (Covid-cancelled), my brother and I decided to leave our regular northwest Wyoming stomping grounds for Colorado’s famed Weminuche Wilderness. On July 20 we followed the Pine River and Lake Creek trails into Emerald Lakes and set up camp, powering through 1,600 feet of elevation gain in the last 5 miles. The evening was a bit rainy, but the views across the water to Peak 1310 and Peak 1320 were nonetheless impressive, with near-vertical rock faces soaring up from the scree. On day 2 we woke up to sunshine. Parts of the trail along and just north of Emerald Lake were more bushwhack than hike, but after a couple of miles of pushing through damp vegetation we returned to a well-worn trail. As the canyon began to narrow we took one last break before digging into the elevation gain for the day. While looking out across the valley my brother spotted a black bear, the first we’d ever seen on a backpacking trip. As we huffed and puffed up the next few miles of hard climbing a series of waterfalls on Lake Creek provided a welcome distraction. The trail follows the creek from above, with wide-open views to the rapids and cascading drops as it rushes down-valley. As we approached the next lake a thunderstorm blew in, cementing our decision to camp at Moon Lake instead of higher Rock Lake. 

Looking down the canyon from our Moon Lake campsite. Photo by Brent Umphlett.

That decision turned out to be for the best, and not just because the lightning passed us by; our campsite at Moon Lake turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever stayed at. We pitched our tent just below the outlet, where we could see the lake itself surrounded by jagged summits to the northwest and panoramic views of the canyon we had just hiked up to the southeast. The next day we climbed the ridge above Moon Lake and dropped over to Rock and Flint lakes, nestled high above the treeline among even more cliff-shrouded peaks. On days 4 and 5 we followed the Flint Creek drainage back down to the trailhead, mostly walking through dense forest with the occasional scramble over fallen logs. Despite the rain on the first couple days of the trip, and the bushwhacking, this was a great trip; lots of wildlife, almost no other hikers, and mountain views from every new lake and ridgeline. Our first ever backpacking trip in Colorado did not disappoint.

Looking towards Moon Lake. Photo by Brent Umphlett.

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