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Finding Lily Lake by Dead Reckoning

by Phil Romig Jr.

The Lost Lake that was mentioned in my last two BCL articles is on the east side of the Sangre de Christo mountains in southern Colorado. For the trip we’ll be describing here, we planned to camp near Lily Lake farther along the same trail in the hope that we could fish both lakes.

The first time we tried, we used the following map from “Hiking Colorado’s Sangre de Christo Wilderness” by Jason Moore:

It seemed simple enough; the only junction was where a side trail went off to the left toward Mt. Lindsey. As long as we kept right, there was no way to get lost. Or so it seemed.

The actual trail is shown on the following topographic map:

Note that, where the trail spits (near the “R” in “River” east of Lost Lake), what appeared to be a fork to the left on the trail guide map actually goes straight ahead (with a little jog around a marshy area). The trail to Lily Lake actually branches off to the right. It turned out that, on the ground, the trail junction was not marked, nor was there any clear evidence of a trail worn into the ground. As we hiked it that first time, we were not keeping track of the distance (not doing any dead reckoning) and did not know that we should be watching for the marsh. As a result, we stayed on the trail up the valley till it ended east of Lily Lake. At that point, our only choice was to camp at the end of the trail and, the next day, climb 1,400 feet straight up to Lily Lake.

The second time we went in, we did our planning the way it should have been done the first time, starting with the topo map above. By overlaying the topo map on a satellite image, we could get a sense of what we should expect (the marshy area) in the vicinity of the trail junction. Using an online mapping service, we also were able to place waypoints and read the coordinates at key points along the trail. Following is the map we created for the trip:

Using the coordinates of the trailhead (LLTGATE) and the junction (LLTSPLIT), we calculate that it is 4,662 feet between the two. On the trail with a daypack and leading a llama, my pace is about 4.9 feet, so that translates to about 950 paces. In this case, a few bends in the trail probably will add 5% to the distance, so the trail junction should be about 1,000 paces from the trailhead. The coordinates indicate that the direction is as close to straight south as it can be, so on my paper copy of the map, I wrote “True South 1,000 paces.

When we had counted 1,000 paces, we began looking around the area, and we quickly found the marshy area and the trail junction. This time we ended up in a great campsite within a short walk of Lily Lake.

These two trips are an example of how what seems to be a straight-forward, short (3.4 miles) trip on a well-known trail can go wrong and how a little bit of planning and use of dead reckoning on the trail can make it turn out right. In a few days we will add an example of how a little bit more planning and dead reckoning can make the rest of the trip nearly perfect.