I don’t remember how old I was when I first went to Emerald Lake, Colorado, but I know I was quite young. Emerald Lake is in the Weminuche Wilderness area in Southwestern Colorado. The elevation of the lake is around 10,000 ft. Fishing is available in two lakes – Little Emerald and Emerald – and in the stream (Lake Creek). Growing up in an Arizona town in the White Mountains of Arizona at over 5,700 ft., 10,000 ft. was not too bad. Years later, coming from sea level to Emerald Lake was much more difficult.
This lake was one of my dad’s favorite places. He knew an outfitter near the trailhead and arranged for wranglers to pack us to the lake. The outfitter would provide horses for us to ride, and also wranglers to pack our camp in with a short string of pack horses. They would unload our equipment, food, etc., and ride back the same day. The distance to where we usually camped, about halfway around the lake is 11-12 miles, so the wranglers had over 20 miles to ride in a day, which is no problem for horses that are accustomed to the elevation and mountain travel.
Many of these trips involved the entire family, including both my mom and dad, and my two brothers. For several years, my dad served as Scout Master for our local troop. He like Emerald Lake so much, he rewarded the four young men who had earned Eagle Scout one year to a trip to this beautiful place.
In those years (1970s), there were few regulations. You could camp anywhere around the lake. We had a favorite camping place about midway around Emerald Lake. In front of this campsite, was a narrow gravel beach. Nearby, was a small stream flowing into the lake which occasionally contained some spawning trout. The trout in the lake were all rainbows and they grew to be about 18 inches long. If the timing was right, Lake Creek at the head of the lake was filled with spawning trout and it was possible to catch 40-50 fish per day there. The fishing was good around the lake and we could use bait or artificial flies and lures.
During two summers, the one between my junior and senior years in high school (1976) and the one right after high school graduation (1977), I took friends and horses and went there for the last two times during that part of my life. They were great experiences and I fondly reminisce about those trips and those friends often.
Fast forward 30 years and many major life changes later, I was living in Texas and my wife and I had just started going to the mountains in the west to escape the uncomfortably hot and humid summers in Corpus Christi, Texas. We got ambitious and decided to start backpacking. Thinking back on my experiences while growing up, I recommended we go to Emerald Lake.
I had not kept up on the advancing technology of light-weight gear, so I used an old external frame backpack, a heavy sleeping bag and pad, heavy gear, etc. In addition to the heavy equipment, living at sea level for more than ten years was not conducive to being in the high country of Colorado with little preparation for a long backpacking trip. Luckily, we had planned to stop along the Los Pinos River about halfway up the trail to try fishing there. We spent two nights there, then we went on to Emerald Lake.
Between the 1970s and then (2008), the regulations for Emerald Lake, Little Emerald Lake, and Lake Creek had changed dramatically. No longer could we camp wherever we wanted. Camping was limited to an area below Little Emerald Lake, or an area above Emerald Lake. In addition, we could no longer fish with bait, but had to use artificial flies and lures. Finally, we could not fish Lake Creek above Emerald Lake until into July, well after any spawning activity had ended. Also, rather than just rainbow trout, Colorado Parks & Wildlife had stocked cutbow trout. However, despite these new regulations, we found the fishing to be great, the area was still beautiful, and the lake was still the breathtaking deep green color that had given it the name of Emerald Lake.
Two More Miles
This first of many backpacking trips was the inspiration for the name of this blog, “twomoremiles.net.” As we were hiking from our camp on the Los Pinos River to Emerald Lake, we asked some hikers headed back down the trail how much farther we had to go. They said, “Two more miles.” When we had been hiking for another hour or so, we asked some other hikers how much farther we had. They also said “Two more miles.” It turned out to be only a few hundred yards from this second two more miles. Since then, we have often heard people say, “Only two more miles,” and we have often told people the same thing.
The distance of two miles seems to be a distance that is attainable to all, but it will still take some effort to get there. Thus, it is the perfect name for this blog as we talk about things common people, such as ourselves, can do with a little bit of effort.