Trip dates: July 4-5, 2019
Caltopo map here: https://caltopo.com/m/D2V8
I took advantage of the 4th of July holiday and planned a 3-day trip in the Sangre de Cristo range. I wanted to avoid areas with 14ers due to crowds (based on my experience later in the summer on the Crestone Needle, this would prove a prescient decision). This was my basic plan:
Day 1: Start at the San Isabel TH, and camp at 12,140 ft below Venable Pass.
Day 2: Phantom Terrace, and possibly a ridge traverse to peak 13,419' and down to North Crestone Lake. Then cross the un-named pass below Mt. Adams and camping at South Crestone Lake.
Day 3: Hike out to Crestone via the S. Crestone Lake Trail, and then hike on the 4WD road back to my car at the San Isabel TH.
As per usual, the plan had to be adjusted once I got out there, but this was the first time the reason was fundamentally due to mosquitos. Usually bug pressure in Colorado is so low that I don't worry about it at all. In general I only think about bugs from late May to mid July when melting snow provides perfect mosquito breeding grounds. By choosing to "dry camp" away from water sources at campsites with moderate wind, I've been able to leave the bug net at home year round.
I'd always heard that the arctic had the worst bugs/mosquitos in the world, but it's hard to imagine worse mosquitos than I experienced on this trip. Before I left, I figured they would be bad based on rumors I'd heard about the Sangre de Cristo Range, but I figured once I got above tree line I'd be fine because of the wind. but I didn't expect to have competition for my preferred "exposed" campsites.
San Isabel Lake sits in this basin between two unnamed peaks. My route would eventually take me through the upper left corner of this picture, over an unnamed pass. The "slabby" nature of this range has always caught my eye and reminded me of the peaks in Glacier National Park similar to pictures I've seen from the Canadian Rockies.
Crossing over the unnamed pass looking South. From Left to Right: Venable Peak (upper left). The next pyramidal shaped peak in the distance is Mt. Adams. The interesting peaks to the right of that hold several of the ranges 14ers: Crestone peak, Columbia Pt., Kit Carson, Challenger Pt. The rugged peaks on the right side are mostly unnamed and unranked---and hold my attention much better.
About 100 feet from my campsite I made an interesting animal find. It was a dead marmot which is not so surprising, but the strange part is it that one of its organs was laying beside it. At first I thought it was a kidney because of the shape. People with more biology education than myself said it was too large to be a kidney and was probably a part of the gut.
I'm not showing the picture of the marmot's back where the organ was removed but it looked messy so I'm thinking it was an animal. I looked around quite a bit to see if a mountain lion was around but it was hard to rationalize one being up at 12,140 feet. It was most likely a bobcat (or less likely, a coyote) in the middle of a meal. I worried about sleeping so close for about 20 seconds but soon forgot about it.
Both pieces were gone in the morning.
At the top of the pass I encountered a steep snowfield (which I should have been able to predict based on satellite imagery and average sun exposure mapping tools). I didn't see any steps in the snow from previous people. Since I didn't have an ice-axe I decided to stay high and the ridge where it was snow free.
From Comanche Pass I'd take the trails over to North Crestone Lake where I planned to camp. This would position me well for summiting Mt. Adams (13,931') the next morning.
At this point I'm very torn. The scenery at North Crestone Lake is among the best I've seen all year but there are two significant problems:
I dropped below treeline again, to eat dinner and make a plan. Maybe I'd camp there and try the route the modified route the next day? As I unpacked my stove to boil water I was swarmed by 30 or so mosquitos. I could put my rain jacket on to keep them from biting my torso but I had no solution for my legs. This stop only lasted about 5 minutes, at which point I decided the best option was to speed walk the 8 miles back to the car and skip my planned day 3.
The mosquitos would get unbelievably worse the lower I got. When I was in the Aspens (~8500 feet) I had to keep up a 4mph pace with constantly swatting my body with my hat. It was absolutely unbelievable. I tried to stop for a moment once to take a picture of the 30-40 mosquitos that covered my legs when stopped but I couldn't bear to stop long enough to focus the camera. Near the TH, I passed someone who was car camping so (while running) I asked him if he had any insect repellant. He was basically wearing a beekeeper outfit (why he was setting up a tent in those conditions is beyond me).
"Oh my god! You must have 100 of them on you!" he said.
I honestly think 100 was about right.
I stopped at a scenic overlook near Kenosha Pass on the drive home.