Project Remote is working to precisely calculate and travel to the remotest locations in each of the 50 United States. Below is a written account of our 4-day, 30-mile hiking expedition to document the Colorado Remote Spot. This is our 26th state Remote Spot documented as part of Project Remote.
Euclidean Distance from Nearest Road: 8.8 miles
Distance from Nearest Trail:
Travel Method: Backpacking
Hiking Distance One-Way: 15 miles
Cell Phone Coverage: No
Public Land: Yes, Weminuche Wilderness within San Juan National Forest
Something We Learned: The Colorado Remote Spot is the nation’s highest state Remote Spot at 11, 700 feet above sea level.
In Ryan’s Words...
September 3, 2014. Remote Spotters arrive at Thirtymile campground in the Rio Grande National Forest. This designated USFS campground is the perfect place for us to hang out for the sole purpose of acclimating to the extremely high elevations that we will face at the Colorado Remote Spot. Elevation at camp is 9380 feet. Nearly the entire journey into the CO Remote Spot will be well above 10, 000 feet–to an eventual elevation of 11, 700 at the actual Remote Spot. We hang here for 36 hours. We will have to climb another 2300 feet over a 15 mile hiking journey into the Remote Spot…Altitude sickness is something we take seriously, since we live most of the year at an elevation of 30 feet above the Gulf of Mexico…Our recent journey into the New Mexico Remote Spot (last week) and our being West for nearly 2 weeks began our current acclimation process…Hope it’s enough…There is much evidence that shows 10,000 feet elevation is a threshold beyond which serious, potentially life-threatening, altitude sickness can occur if one is not properly acclimated.
September 5, 2014. Today, we anxiously begin our journey into the center of the Weminuche Wilderness to the remotest location in the entire state of Colorado. My pack weighs in at a frightening 73 lbs, while Rebecca hauls the equally daunting and more interactive Skyla backpack weighing 55 lbs. The first few steps with our ultra heavy backpacks produce incessant breathing, but we don’t seem to have any real symptoms of altitude sickness beyond heavily sucking air on ascents.
We immediately make a 1000 foot ascent to begin the trek. I find out an hour later that Rebecca does have a headache. She seems worried during the first hours of our hike. But it’s rare to get any info out of her about something that could be a chink in her armor. Skyla has no sign of altitude sickness. We ascend into a Rocky Mountain wonderland.
The girls reach Weminuche Pass and we have entered the 10,000 foot elevation mark. We will exist at elevations beyond 10,000 feet for the next 2 days. The weather has turned to intermittent drizzle out of passing clouds and temps in the 60’s. An occasional lightning strike has me on edge. Being from Florida, we are well aware of the potential dangers of lightning. What I don’t like the most is being exposed in a wide-open meadow. We take cover in nearby forest if lightning gets too close…
Time for our little hiker-in-training to give mama’s back a break…
Day one comes to a close a couple miles west of Weminuche Pass. We make approximately 5 miles today. Considering our stupidly heavy pack weights, and the elevation factor, we feel good about the progress…Tomorrow, we’ll get a much earlier start and double that hiking amount. Time for an evening stretch.
September 6, 2014. The Remote Spotters awaken after the next morning to find a frigid landscape covered in dense frost. Our tent is crusty. The temperature is 22 degrees. I take a stroll up slope into the forested hillside, and discover a marked thermocline and temperature inversion. The temperature rises as I ascend. That’s contrary to the usual trend of lowering temperature as one rises in elevation. No frost either. Now that’s cool. Dense, cold air has settled into the valley bowl like fluid. This microclimatic condition has consequences on the high-elevation mountain ecology. The valley bottom is devoid of trees…I think I know why. Trees cannot grow in the valley bottoms because the average summer temperatures apparently are too cold to support woody plant growth because of frequent temperature inversions like this. But just up slope, spruce trees blanket the mountainsides and the air is warmer. If one were to go even higher around here, to approx. 11,500 feet, then, because of normal adiabatic lapse rate, the average annual temperature becomes too low to support tree growth above that level as well. That threshold is called tree line. We will be near that level in a day as we approach the Colorado Remote Spot.
We eat and pack up camp while frost melts in the morning sunshine.
Back to hiking by 10 a.m. We have plenty of distance yet to go before we Go Remote…not to mention, another 1500 feet or so elevation gain.
The geology and ecology are in-your-face…There is something to learn with every step. The frustrating part about Project Remote is that we never seem to have enough time to smell the roses at any given location. If we did, we probably would not finish our 50-state mission in this lifetime. We thought we’d have it done by now, quite frankly, but time and funding are always challenges.
Crack…boom…thud, thud, thud…Hail starts thumping the ground all around us and lighting flashes. Instinctively, we scurry off-trail toward some large boulders. A rock overhang miraculously appears and we bolt under it for cover. This high country has some volatile weather this time of year. It’s still within monsoon season for the American Southwest, and we have experienced it since our New Mexico Remote Spot trip last week. Afternoon thunderstorms produce lightning and occasional hail. Just like back home.
A yellow-bellied marmot perches atop a boulder and watches us pass by. Skyla delights in the pleasure of seeing such a furry, “cute” animal.
And what could be cuter than this? A colorado chipmunk curiously approaches. Skyla is smitten again. We all are.
Mama scores another relative rest while Skyla hikes a bit as we get to within a couple miles of the Colorado Remote Spot. The trade-off, though, when Skyla walks, is that our pace is much slower. It’s tough on me to walk slow with a heavy pack. This is when we must practice some parental patience. Right before our very eyes, Skyla is learning to hike.
September 7, 2014. The morning after camp 2. Cold, dense air settles in the valley bowl again like yesterday. We choose a tent site up slope this time out of the coldest air. This morning, we’ll leave the tent and some gear here, then strike out to the Colorado Remote Spot, conduct our work, then head back. Time permitting, we’ll pack up and head a few miles back toward our starting point…
Below is a view westward from the Colorado Remote Spot…The Colorado Remote Spot sits within a forested hillside covered in spruce. The elevation is 11, 700 feet. We are near, but not beyond treeline. Standing dead spruce trees vastly outnumber the live ones. Apparently a spruce beetle infestation has zapped the majority of this once magnificent, intact forest…Could this be linked to rapid, human-induced global climate change? We’ll do some reading when we get back to civilization to confirm this….A similar die-off is happening in the Appalachian mountain high country to the Frasier Fir forest in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. An exotic invasive pest, the balsam woolly adelgid, is responsible for a massive forest die-off there… We saw this 5 years ago during our Tennessee Remote Spot trip. It’s sad.
We make it back to near where we camped in Day 1. It’s the perfect place to bed down once again…
A young mule deer buck crests a ridge top overlooking our camp. He looks regally down at us and appears unfazed by our presence.
Journal draft still in progress…more coming soon!