Colorado Trail 2018
The date at the beginning of each section of this journal is the date that section was written. The mile points, locations, and dates at the end of each journal section are the campsites or town stops recorded in that section. The majority of the entries are one day, but some are two, and a few are three. “TH” = “trailhead” “CG” = “campground” “CT” = “Colorado Trail” “CW = “Collegiate West” “CE” = “Collegiate East” “CDT” = “Continental Divide Trail”
Cast of characters: C = my sister; K = my friend from work at REI; R = my husband; Ki and J = 2 different trail friends; M = my other sister I am guardian for back home.
We are ending our day in a thunderstorm right after supper. We scrambled to get everything stowed. Beginning of trip shakedown. C’s new homemade DCF tarp. She experimented with setup on uneven ground. We talked about how a slight catenary seam at the ridgeline would make the A-frame setup more taut, but might constrain other configurations. K’s new Ursack. Making the knot tight enough, finding a good tree to attach to. The people back down the way, by Bear Creek, asked about whether filtering water is safe and if OP Sacks need to be hung. There is a bear in the area—two men we met earlier today encountered it last night. And there are warning posters at the trailhead. Of course we told them to hang their food as high as possible.
Our walk in Waterton Canyon was hot and felt long. So many people—mountain bikers and hikers. A popular Sunday outing. I got a picture of a flock of mama and baby bighorns. Cormorant. Skink. Walking from shade spot to shade spot like on summer dog walks at home. I felt queasy all day—fatigued, light headed. Worrisome. Just kept walking slowly. I’m feeling better this evening. Polenta pesto supper, greasy but tasty.
After the canyon road we entered a tall pine forest. Not much beetle damage; this forest is green here. Canister stoves only are permitted, because of fire danger. Long water carries in the next 2 days, 8 and 10 miles between sources. Makes packs heavier. I am slowest. K fastest. C right behind K. R is staying back with me mostly. Tomorrow will be longer but we can get going earlier and hike later. I might want to suggest supper before camp or even at lunch time at water—South Platte River. Hoping long days of exercise lead to better sleep. Letting go of all the home responsibilities. Hoping M will be OK, and household, and the dog, and the house sitter.. Birds sounds in the forest, just getting dark. I decided to bring the Ridgerest not the Flash air pad, for less hassle. Less comfortable too but whatever. Turning in about 8:30 p.m. Still a bit of daylight.
Mile 9.3 Camp above Bear Creek.
Long hot day. Camped a little short of my planned goal but not by much. Now 8:50 p.m., nearly dark. I broke my phone falling in the S. Platte. I should have taken it out of my pocket again when I decided to go back and rinse my feet. I knew better. Careless. The fall was only about 6 inches, just off the rock I sat on; it must have hit a rock under water because the screen spiderwebbed. No more GPS map, now just paper maps and guidebooks. We had fun in the river. R and K went swimming; C and I waded. Scenery and forest today. But also two hard climbs and hot afternoon sun across a 1996 burn area. Everyone is beat. We saw many butterflies on thistles. And found more raspberries, and one strawberry. Many yellow comps. Red-orange penstemon. Yellow mullein.
Helped another hiker with her pack adjustment and her new Ursack. Her husband brought her a new batch of food at the S. Platte forest road crossing. She is the same hiker who asked me if she needed to hang her OP sacks of food. She said a bear pulled her hung sacks down and ate all her food at her camp at the Bear Creek crossing last night. We were glad for our Bearikades and our location some distance farther along uphill from the Bear Creek camp.
This evening we were looking for the ridgetop camp with view of Chair Rocks but everyone was tired and when we came to an area where a whole bunch of other hikers were camped and the trail headed uphill again, we asked if they minded if we squeezed in, which they didn’t. Three women in their 40’s thru-hiking, some single guys, and arriving just after us the bear food woman. Lots of Ursacks hanging in the woods across the trail. Today is C’s birthday and we had a dessert of Raspberry Crumble by way of celebration, and took a birthday picture with C’s camera. We have less climbing tomorrow, and less water to carry.
Mile 22 Before Chair Rocks view
Early start at 7:30 a.m. Another hard day. Not such a climb but very hot at 97º according to the mountain bikers near the water stop at the fire station. We filled several bottles there. Miles across a large old burn, fortunately in the morning before the hottest part of the day. At Scraggy TH at the end of Segment 2 we ate lunch, and C decided it was too hot and not fun and caught a ride with some mountain biker women to Fairplay and thence to Frisco. She said she would camp by the lake there and dayhike and await our arrival. Because of group meals, we needed to do some sorting before she took off.
After Scraggy it was supposed to be cooler because of forest but the forest has been thinned and is very open so we got hot sun anyway. Plus my gut is acting up again so I was slogging oh so slowly up the trail. My silver umbrella as a sunshade helped a while but then got too fiddly to hold onto to be worth it and the sun was finally a bit lower. I was thinking about why I kept going even though, as C said, this wasn’t fun. For me it seems like kind of an enforced fitness program that has a chance of keeping me alive for a while longer. And an anti-depressant. Even when Not Fun. At home I wasn’t exercising and was busy busy to no purpose. Out here I have to walk, and carry, and get my blood flowing and muscles working and only worry about the next step, and where’s the next water, and not about the End of Civilization.
We stopped a couple of miles early at Tramway Creek at about 4:45 p.m. We ate C’s tasty home-dehydrated chili for supper. R and I erected just the bug net because there were many flies and mosquitoes but no sign of rain. Lots of people were camped at this spot before we arrived (including bearfood and the threesome), likely because of the good water source, so we had to squeeze in again.
Mile 33.5 Tramway Creek
Oatmeal breakfast. We got going a little later today, about 8:00. Cooler in the pretty forest. A break at Buffalo Creek for a nice long snack and cooling feet. The first section was more forested than it has been. Later even more forested. We didn’t even notice that Buffalo Creek campground turnoff, so it’s a good thing we weren’t looking for it as a place to stay. More open forest. Forest road crossings. Hiking wasn’t too hot in the morning and we made good progress. Monarda, penstemon, yellow comps, orange butterflies. A pretty, old stone bridge over Buffalo Creek. Trending downhill to that point. Then climbing steadily. Meadows up there, and aspens. Those gun club posted warning signs, but no sounds of them.
We spent a nice long relaxing lunch about noon at a small creek just before Wellington Rd. Hard to siphon water into the filter from the shallow flow. In seeking a good spot, I almost sat down in some stinging nettles. Ouch! Fortunately the sting goes away soon. They were new early summer growth, soft and green looking, just by the water. Saddling up, I snagged my right shin on a protruding root, got a big hematoma, but it went down soon. We saw a youth group going out with big packs and borrowed equipment. They seemed to be having a good time. It was a steep climb up to the road where the trailhead for Rolling Creek was. The youth group was headed down the Rolling Creek Trail.
After that we joined the very rocky old logging road that went up and up and kept going steadily up in the hottest part of the afternoon for 4 1/2 miles. R felt sick so we took a rest and snack and water and salt. We talked about maybe having supper at Craig Creek and then getting overnight water and going on for a couple of more miles. But about 3/4 mile before the creek R tripped and fell and hurt his right hand and was pretty shaken. K had gone ahead to the creek to soak her feet. When we arrived R soaked his hand in the cold water.
We decided to go ahead and camp since R’s injury kind of took the stuffing out of us. But a jillion people were filling up all the camp spots by the creek, and the ground was almost too sloped to camp on anyway. The threesome women greeted me with “It’s REI!” when I walked through looking for a spot. They remembered that three of us (C, K, and I) work for REI, from when we met them at Monday night’s camp, and that I had made pack adjustments for bearfood. There really wasn’t any place left to camp. Then K investigated up ahead, across the creek and uphill around a bend, and found a vast bench on the west side of the creek with open forest and tons of level camping. All those folks on the other side are going to walk by in the morning and go “No fair!”
One of the young men at the creek said he’d had a phone signal and picked up a rain forecast for early evening and early morning, so we put our shelters up. He recently started law school, is from Dallas, hopes to move to the PNW, and was very friendly. (We met this young man again later and discovered he knows our younger son from college.) Also a young woman who passed us a couple of times earlier was there.
This evening we had K’s Backpackers Pantry coconut curry, and that chocolate stuff. Originally for 4 of us, it made a lot but we ate it all up. Another party, a dad with a grown daughter and son, joined us on our side of the creek. In the evening a young man cruised by who said he hiked 27 miles today! But he was eastbound so that was mostly downhill. We are now about 4 miles behind itinerary. Discussed if the afternoon heat continues maybe taking a longer break in the early afternoon and then hiking into the evening when hiking is more comfortable and fun.
Mile 45 Headwaters of Craig Creek
Not sure how much I have the energy to write. Long varied day. 13+ or 14 miles. Started with a steep uphill, 2 1/2 miles but felt longer. Rocky old logging road like yesterday. Before leaving camp, the family from Spokane—Dad, daughter (20), son (18)—asked me to adjust all their Deuter packs. I was able to help them quite a bit. They were much more comfortable. Later this evening I tweaked K’s pack too. That’s 5 pack adjustments in 5 days on the trail.
On this morning’s climb I was slow and queasy, but just rest-stepped and breathed. R and I stopped for a snack just before what turned out to be the top of the climb. At first it was more rocky old logging road, then trail through the pretty green forest, uphill on a steep slope. K was ahead. Right at the top a hailstorm arrived suddenly. K was worried about us being behind. It hailed all the way down to Long Meadow. R used his umbrella to good effect.
At Long Meadow, we had to stop and add warm layers and rain gear. This was difficult in pounding cold rain. I need to rethink my pack organization and layering strategy. Pack cover? Dry sacks? Warm layers that might be needed in a hurry should be stowed above the bear can. The temperature must have dropped 30º F in 30 minutes. I was trying to juggle my umbrella to keep my sleeping bag dry while unearthing my warm clothes from the pack liner. Already shivering.
Nearby we met an elderly woman thru-hiking with her dog, a young yellow lab. She was waiting out the storm under a tarp. We leapfrogged several of the young folks we saw yesterday, down the beautiful 6-mile meadow with tons of yellow shrubby cinquefoil and other flowers. A few small tributary stream crossings. It continued raining for a while, then got sunny and warm, then the cold rain returned. We had to keep switching clothing. I lost my REI All-Season gloves at our lunch stop. At one creek crossing someone had left a note to another of their party, encouraging them to keep going to their planned camp up ahead. K wanted a nap and sent us on ahead. I started to feel a cramp in my right foot. Caused by my shoes? After the meadow, we entered a forest of bristlecone pine and aspens. K caught up; she really does move a lot faster. Thick green forest going down to the Long Gulch trailhead, where we arrived about 4:30 p.m. All the potential camping spots were full. We got more water and started at about 5:00 on the 3-mile trek to the next indicated campsite. Fortunately partway we finally found a flat-enough spot. Grateful because it was raining steadily again and we were beat. We were both using the umbrellas this time. We set up camp a little after 6:00. Cheesy baco spuds for supper. Now it’s about 8:00. No energy to write much more. The big map book is all wet. It is not waterproof after all. The Databook is waterproof and OK. I think we are getting stronger but this is still Hard. More downhill for tomorrow morning but then a big climb to Kenosha Pass. Add to kit at next stop: small ACE bandage for R’s injured hand, more sunscreen, two drysacks for daytime warm layers, seek out phone repair. Replace my shoes?
We are doing better with the hiking, hitting our stride, gaining some confidence. We are proud of our 14 mile day.
Mile 59.5 In the bristlecone aspen forest
Hard to remember the day’s details. All becoming a blur of stony path, aspens and firs and bristlecones, sweeping hillsides of grasses in the wind, many flowers. Gentians, campanulas, yarrow, yellow comps, pink tubular flowers (cuphea?). No camera with my phone broken, so will just have to remember. A camera can’t capture the breeze on my face, the warm sun, the thunder, the grasses quivering.
We left our camp late this morning, around 9:00. It turned out we were only about 1/2 mile from that creek we were aiming for. Got water. Clear skies, clouds, rain, more clouds, off and on all day. Downhill 4 1/2 miles. Several creeks, some running, some not. Lots of folks hanging out at Rock Creek. Ki and Tucker the yellow lab. The 3 young girls. The group of 3 moms. A couple of lone guys. They all left ahead of us. We started up towards Kenosha Pass with lots of water, heavier but there is no more until after the highway. K was far ahead so R and I stopped for lunch in a shady place on the climb and sent a message to her with Ki. We were hungry and running out of energy. We met the young weather forecast man again and this is where he and R had the conversation about his college and him knowing our son. He was in a neighboring fraternity, in leadership, and later our son told us he was a big help when he was learning to be chapter president. At the top of the hill, cold rain for 1/2 hour or so, then it blew over. Beautiful woods in there.
We found K at the parking by Hwy 285. Weird to see all semis and stuff going by. Early in the day my right foot cramped up even more, along the inside of the arch, a tendon perhaps, probably because of the shoe forcing my foot to roll inward with each step. It was getting hard to walk, almost limping. I took 3 ibuprofen and 1 aspirin and 1/2 hr. later the pain went away. I felt it again after about 2 more hours but nowhere near as bad, on and off the rest of the day. I hesitated to take more medicine because it left me feeling sedated. Queasy most of the day but have learned to ignore that. Aches and pains come and go, just get used to it like at home.
After visiting with Ki’s resupply people with a cute baby (her dog Tucker left the trail with them—he was tuckered out) we hit the trail again about 5:30 p.m. for 3 more miles up, over, and down to Guernsey Creek to camp. The rest of all those people on the trail seemed to have gone into Fairplay for a town night. We are camped close to the pretty stream flowing through mixed forest and meadow. One other hiker camped nearby. He said it was OK if R played his ukulele, which he did. A fair number of car campers around here because it is just off a FS road. On the 3 miles over here, vast views of South Park far below. 15 miles today. We are caught up with our original schedule.
Mile 74.8 Guernsey Creek
Another long day. Disorganized this morning, more time visiting and not doing chores. Didn’t get out until 9:30 a.m. or so. Saturday. All the mountain bikers were out on the trail. Ki came by before we even departed, and she started down at the campground 3 miles back! Our first 3 miles were up and over to Jefferson Creek through deep green lush forest. With whizzing mountain bikes. At Jefferson Creek some families were out; Forest Service road right there.
Then we began the 6-mile climb to Georgia Pass. Forest mostly, beautiful, many flowers, meadows, sun and clouds, up and up and up. Halfway up was the last water stop. Lunch just before that. We worried that a tiny rill was the water stop but it turned out the real creek was just ahead. K stayed back to treat more water, and caught up as usual. R and I passed Ki and met B and another older woman with a high hat; I didn’t get her name. B is about our son’s age I am guessing. From Corvallis. Hiked the PCT 3 years ago. Ki’s pack has been hurting her back. Then long sweeping meadows up to the top of the pass. Mountain bikers ride all the way up there too. R arrived far ahead of me and I watched his silhouette waiting patiently against the sky. At the top we rested. It isn’t marked as a named pass. (Looking at the map, I think the actual GP is a bit farther north on the CDT but this saddle is GP for CT purposes.)
Ki arrived, and K and I attacked her pack. It’s a big old Granite Gear with screws and grommets holding the harness. With Ki’s help we undid the mounts with Ki’s SAK and moved the attachment up two notches. Before it was way down at the middle of her back. She said it carried better but her load is still too heavy and the pack doesn’t ride comfortably. She is camped with us tonight and plans to go shopping for better equipment at the next town stop before resuming her hike. We are all now at Middle Fork Swan River. The camp area is a big field with lots of different people camped between clumps of trees. It was a long, long walk down from the Pass, to lower than how far we went up, over a shorter distance. Many jeep roads and ATV’ers in this area. We had a good supper supplied by K, Three Sisters Stew. Vegetables, beans, grains, spices. The name led our conversation to my first hippie backpacking trips up in Three Sisters Wilderness. Too tired to write more now.
Mile 88.8 Middle Fork of the Swan River
Slept fitfully last night for the first time on this trip. Sore hips? Not sure. I just remained awake, after a pee break in the middle of the night. Eventually slept more as it was starting to get light. Ibuprofen helped. It didn’t seem to affect my day. Ki joined us for breakfast. We looked over her kit and showed her ours. She tried K’s Flash 60 pack. Ki’s kit is actually pretty good. Mainly the pack is too heavy by itself, and her solar panel setup is heavy and isn’t doing its job.
We got out of camp about 8:30, the last ones to leave. Got turned around a bit with the tributary bridge on one side and the river on the other, but went back to the spot we knew, and tried again, and got it right. We picked up water for 9 miles at North Fork Swan River. The Trailshot plugged up again. I cleaned it twice, and it finally filtered but slowly. It took 40 minutes there at the bridge to get our water done. A working gravity filter would have been quicker. We used K’s Steripen for some of it but that kept blinking out—dying battery.
Lots of mountain bikes on the climb. Sunday. Most are polite but some give no warning and make us scatter like bowling pins. At the top of the ridge K got a cell signal and checked emails. C wrote that she delivered our boxes to Summit Inn and Twin Lakes General Store and headed on home. I am not surprised. Why should she hang out by herself in Frisco? Still, I am sorry she got to do only the hot difficult part of the week and not the pretty part. I’ll try to catch up with her on the phone when I can.
We passed a fork intersection with another mountain bike trail that was wide towards both directions but had no sign. I was far enough behind that I didn’t see the others and couldn’t tell that they had gone the correct way. I figured if I went the correct way, left, there was a 50/50 chance at least that they did the same, and a 100% chance that they would find me in that direction. After a bit I whistled, and then again, and R called back from ahead on the trail. So all was OK.
Mostly downhill after that, with one larger climb over into Muggins Gulch and then another into Horseshoe Gulch. Muggins is private. The forest there is in poor condition, with much beetle kill and trees way too skinny and dense. Some clearcuts. This continued on National Forest land afterwards as well. The trail was dusty, rocky, and wide from bikes. I can see why some of the trip reports of the CT are less than enthusiastic. This part is almost like road-walking through a devastated land. It is scenic on the horizon though. We have until Twin Lakes to decide which alternate to take.
Coming down to Horseshoe Gulch the four of us (Ki hiked with us all day) enjoyed the view over a snack, and then proceeded down the hill and under the power line. Cloudy all day, gathering rain. Earlier, in the morning, R kept saying it was about to rain until Ki told him to stop. There was a new two-story house all by itself at the top of the valley, and I felt that twinge of envy for those with masonry shelter and furniture, but it passed as usual. We got a little water out of grass-choked Horseshoe Gulch—it was only a trickle—and headed up to a dry camp just in time to set up shelters before steady rain set in about 5:00 p.m. K found the best camp again. Her specialty.
Lots of different flowers today. Fireweed, lupines, asters, campanulas. Blueberry plants carpet the ground under dead trees but apparently it is not flowering or fruiting season. I did see one patch just starting to flower. Little wildlife. A few songbirds and chipmunks. An occasional butterfly. Oh and in the morning on the first climb above the FS road we heard howling of many voices not quite like wolves, which don’t live in Colorado anyway, and eventually saw through the trees a huge, makeshift kennel of fencing and pallets, full of malamutes and big huskies. All howling on and off. Way back here in the forest. A sled dog kennel? It all looked kind of sketchy. Pretty dogs, though.
When we got to camp the rain went on for over an hour. We rested and dozed in our shelters. This forest so needs that rain. About 7:00 it let up and we cooked broccoli rice stuff for supper. R has four blisters on his right foot that we may need to get looked at in Frisco. And his Frogg Toggs pants ripped in the crotch seam. We went to bed about dark. Except me, I sat down to write all this. Very dark now. And quiet. Some insect sounds—maybe the rain makes them more active. Pink clouds at dusk. Starting to clear off. At the start of the rain, I went out in my rain suit for a while to look at the rain and the forest. I also checked the drip line around our tarp to be sure the water flowed away. Scratched shallow channels in the dirt with R’s trekking pole to redirect water, just to be sure. Thought later, I should have put our pot under the drip line to catch more water since we are short. K’s shelter is leaking (Big Agnes Fly Creek, many years old, seam tape coming loose on the fly). She used the fly-and-footprint setup and got wet.
Mile 100.7 Above Horseshoe Gulch
Two days in Frisco and still we forgot some stuff. Smart Phone Repairz in Silverthorne says they can fix my phone for $100 + tax. OK by me. Thankful it’s repairable. But it will take until Thursday so when we get to Copper Mountain Resort we need to walk down the ski slope to catch the bus back to Silverthorne to get it. And go back to the Dillon REI to pick up the things we forgot. I put a calendar reminder on R’s phone, with the list.
Yesterday 7/16 Monday we came down the last four miles, from our camp just past Horseshoe Gulch, to the bus stop. Over a forested ridge, down a valley wet and green but its stream just a wide grassy marsh without surface flow. Then steep down switchbacks overlooking Infrastructure, fancy development, and a lake choked with algae, presumably from lawn fertilizer. We had a discussion about that. Bridge, hill, highway, bus stop, ride to town, very urban, not like I imagined from “trail and bus stop” description in the guidebook. Another bus to the motel and to the area where Ki was headed to her friends’ house. We said our goodbyes. She is planning to leave the trail and use the rest of her time off work to take care of some other things in her life, visiting her estranged son and sorting out her household to prepare for moving. K got her email address.
We checked into Summit Inn, laundry there, showers, collected our resupply box from the desk. K walked downtown to explore. When we were dressed we met her there and we all went for good burgers. About 3:00 p.m. by that time. K and R had craft beers they liked. The people at the next table had two babies. Good food and conversation. Ollies Restaurant. An optician place next door gave me 2 dilation shades to replace my broken one (a substitute for prescription sunglasses which I no longer have). Back to our room, rest, walk to Whole Foods for groceries. Tired and a little tense from so much to do. Got salad ingredients and ice cream for supper. Made salad in our room. It was hard to sleep. K went out exploring for the evening.
This morning we slept late. The motel breakfast was minimal. We went to Starbucks for coffee, puzzle, banana bread for R. Then it was time to go out on errands. This took me until about mid-afternoon. R stayed in our room to air his feet and help his toe blisters heal. First to the phone place in Silverthorne, then Dillon REI. My right foot is swollen in the arch. I got dry bags, other things on the list, forgot a few things. I bought another pair of Vasque Monolith boots and some green Superfeet which I trimmed with their scissors. We’ll see if that works. The right Bare Access shoe was forcing my foot to roll inward. I didn’t want to be experimenting with unfamiliar shoes, and the pair of Monoliths at home, that I bought last year for Alaska, had turned out to be surprisingly comfortable then, so I went with what I knew. The boots feel strange with their raised heels. I stopped at a nearby Walgreens and got R a new memory card for his camera. The other one kept saying it was full even though its contents had been downloaded and erased at home. So now we can start taking pictures again.
Then I took the bus back to our motel. K caught her bus for Denver. We ate and organized and packed. A slow methodical process. I rinsed the dust and mud off our tent in the tub and hung it to dry, repaired the inseam of R’s rain pants with duck tape, and iced my foot a couple of times. Researched where to catch the bus from Copper Mountain on Thursday. Ready to be back on the trail. Hoping our feet work without injury for a change. In the morning, we’ll get good coffee and the bus to the trail. It is a long steep climb over Ten-Mile Ridge. Thirteen miles or so. We let the kids know we had made it to here. And yesterday afternoon I talked to C. I thanked her for dropping off our boxes. We had a good conversation. At the REI I saw the family of 3, the Dad and two grown kids from Spokane, and then later again on the bus. They said their packs are carrying much better. They hit the trail this afternoon. We probably won’t catch up with them again. By the time we retrieve my phone we’ll be nearly two days behind. But we have been making our planned hiking mileages.
Mile 104.4 Frisco
We got to camp last night nearly at dark and too tired for writing after setup and supper. So this will be two days of journal here. Yesterday we finished cleaning up our room, got a motel bagel, Starbucks coffee. Sat at the Starbucks to drink it, didn’t finish, tossed two good 1/2 cups of coffee in the trash. Walked to the Breckenridge bus. Some other hikers were on it too. Probably we got on the trail around 10:00, I didn’t check.
It was my first pack day in the Vasque boots. Very little right foot tendon pain with them. But I am clumsier than with the flats. Sort of like a medical walking boot for a foot injury. Mostly climbing. Recent forest fire section, Peak 2 Fire from this year. Many caution signs still posted, to stay on the trail. After Miner’s Creek we were committed to go all the way to the trail above CO Hwy 91, because in between it is all too steep for camping. Some of this trail was especially steep, almost hand over hand at one point. I walked slowly with the rest step for much of it. We met a woman slackpacking this day and using the bus. And another couple wearing skirt and kilt coming down the steep climb the other way. She said it took 4 hours to get up the other side of the ridge in the morning. Beautiful country, many flowers, alpine meadow. After we got above tree line, it was still a long climb to the saddle. It kept looking like we were at the top but then we’d see over the rise and there would be more. My steps were so slow, R had to wait a lot. An exercise in dogged persistence. Good exercise. The trail up top goes kind of parallel to the ridgeline, along one side, sidles over, then along the other side of the next peak. It was pretty up there but getting late with gathering clouds and cold strong wind on the top. We pulled on our windshirts and hustled. A direct view of Copper Mountain development and IH 70 below.
We were relieved to regain tree shelter on the way down. But descending, R’s feet started hurting a lot, with raw places on the toes on his right foot, and on the outer sides of both heels. We had to go almost all the way down to find water and a camp spot. Two parties camped higher up, those two middle-age guys on a grassy slope and someone in a hammock in the trees. Hammock=no need for a flat spot. But both parties must have carried overnight water to camp there. We did not. We worked our way down the steep hillside slowly, R nursing his feet with each step. Finally, almost dark, and R’s feet super sore, we crossed a small stream—our water source—and found a place to camp in the trees by a bend in the trail. It was sloped, but usable. Frustrated with that zipper on one side of the Haven 2 still splitting. Cheesy sausage spuds, and sleep. I slept and woke fitfully because of the slope. Starting with my head downhill, eventually I had to turn around to R’s end of the tent to sleep at all. Ibuprofen towards morning, then slept lateish. Before we emerged, a couple of dogs came over and sniffed. Later we met them and their owner coming back down from a morning walk.
When we broke camp, I got the damaged zipper back together with the tension off the tent, and marked that side so we won’t open it again. If cold or rain blow in and we can’t close it without taking the tent down, big problem. We spent some time re-taping R’s feet. Then down to the highway. Saw the other campsites at the bottom between the highway and the river; it’s a good thing we stopped when we did. R said he didn’t think his toes would have made it any farther. At the road crossing we saw the two middle aged guys again and also the Asian father and son from last week.
Switchbacks up to the slope above the resort. Under the ski lift. Not sure where it is best to go down for the bus. We kept going past the golf course. R decided he would rather wait for me in the woods rather than going to look for a coffee shop at the resort. Just as well—it turned out there wasn’t one, or at least not obvious. He suggested maybe coming into town with me but that would have meant both of us lugging our packs bus to bus, town to town. So he picked a nice spot in the shelter of trees with a view, and settled down.
I took only my wallet bag, left R’s phone with R, and walked down to the bus stop past the golf course. Over 1/2 hour wait in the hot sun for the bus! The start of what turned out to be a tedious day. Waiting for buses. Phone repair place in Silverthorne. Turned out they didn’t charge for water damage repair, which was what supposedly required the 2-day wait. Maybe they figured it out later. Fourteen block round trip walk, bus to phone repair and back. Then another wait for the Dillon bus. I turned on LTE service to text an update to R and over 600 emails flooded in. Mostly irrelevant. At the REI I got the rest of our list—whistle and Superfeet for R, new gloves for me, shock cord and SportWraps for that hands-free umbrella setup from Lady on a Rock. Approved Kronos time in their office. They were all very nice and asked how our hike was going. I bought a turkey sandwich at City Market near the REI. It was so dry and flavorless I could only choke down 1/2 of it. A nice elderly lady at the bus stop offered me a banana. I didn’t feel like I could eat, so politely declined. The bus was late but she said that’s common. Then the two long bus rides back to Copper Mountain. It must have been 4:00 by the time I walked up the hill to R. I was exhausted, hungry, and thirsty. So much better to be in the woods again.
More foot taping, snack, water, pack up, walk. R wore a SF in his right shoe and an orthotic in his left shoe. Whatever works. My boots clumping along. After we passed the hot sunny slope above the western end of the resort, the forest felt cool and green and pleasant. R had read the Segment 8 chapter of the guidebook thoroughly and played a bunch of ukulele during the day. He was rested and in good spirits, unlike me. But I revived. We are camped at that 5.2 mile spot uphill from Jacques and Guller Creeks. It took a bit of searching to find a flat-enough tent spot. I moved our camp while R was down getting water, and laid our our trekking poles along the side path to direct him up to the new flatter location. We had the salmon pasta for supper. Ate it all. No leftovers like we had on the OHT. We are now 1 1/2 days behind our planned itinerary. Tomorrow is mostly climbing all day. I need to wash my feet and socks in the morning.
Mile 115.4 Above Hwy 91 on 7/18
Mile 122.8 Jacques and Guller Creeks on 7/19
Another 2-day journal entry. We got to camp so late last night, 7:45 or so, after supper and cleanup I was way too tired to write. 16-mile day yesterday. From that nice camp above Copper Mountain all the way past Cataract Falls and Camp Hale and up the mountainside, above the forest road and the highway.
Yesterday morning, we walked in forest up Guller Creek and above, with many cyclists, some backpackers. Then out at the top of the valley, sweeping meadows down to the forest. Remnant snow patches feeding melt streams. Flowers all over. Switchbacks across and back over Searle Pass. We looked down on that Janet’s Cabin with the signs warning non-guests to stay away. Bikes all the way up there. A long traverse of the open high alpine Elk Ridge and over the high point at the end. By that time all the bikes had passed us and disappeared. They were all either just out for the day or else van-supported.
Walking down across the long hillside towards Kokomo Pass, we watched the rain clouds coming in, rain on the mountains to the south, dreamy looking in the afternoon light. After the pass our trail paralleled Cataract Creek below, all the way down the valley. Open meadow and willows. All the campsites at Cataract Falls were full or we would have stopped there. It’s a big falls. Then a wide valley of meadows. Across Camp Hale, signs for a Vail Recreation race event. At the far edge of the valley we saw the concrete bunkers remaining from the Camp Hale WW2 facility.
Up the hill, the forest road camp directions in the Guidebook didn’t make sense. (N and NW were off the mountainside in the air. I checked with the compass.) Rather than risk not finding the FS campground with the confusing directions, we got some water from the Vail race coolers at the road junction and followed the trail on up the hill looking for a flat spot with water. A friendly cyclist coming down told us there was a small stream within the mile. We passed a memorial bench overlooking the valley, for a 20-year-old trail building volunteer who died in 2006. Finally, a small stream, and we spotted a small flat space down the hill from the trail. Traffic sounds from the highway. Bright moon. Stars.
This morning it kind of took a long time what with foot washing (me) and foot taping (R) but we got going around 9:30. Sunny morning but gathering haze and clouds. Vail race day turned out to be a half-marathon but fortunately we passed the end of the course before the runners arrived. We met some of their family members hiking up to cheer them along. Then lots of forest and woods and meadows, up and down, down and up, and along a retired railroad grade for some time. My mood wasn’t down exactly but it seemed to be a day for mulling over past and current resentments and complaints. Maybe just needed to work through them in my mind. We could walk abreast on the railroad bed and talk, which is harder on single file trail. Mostly R leads uphill because I slow down so much just breathing and half-stepping when it gets steep. His toes and heel blisters hurt on the downhills so he picks his way slowly and I lead on the steep downhills. My right arch is still swollen and sore but not too much. The shoes are helping. No need for pills. There is a cramp in the left toe area sometimes.
Today’s hike seemed to progress so slowly. It felt like no matter how long we kept walking we were still 7 or 8 miles from camp. Probably I was just putting all my energy into physical effort and not doing the mental math right. By lunch around 2:00, gathering clouds and some cold rain. Just enough to keep us stopping to put on and take off rainwear and layers. Beautiful creek at lunch. A nice young woman was lunching and filtering water and washing her feet at the crossing. Then more meandering forest. The bikes are gone off on a detour around the Holy Cross and Mount Massive Wilderness Areas. We passed turnoffs to cabins for cross country skiers. Those guys from Europe, and the young German woman, and the slack-bike-packing guys with the support van, were all hanging out on a swing at one of the cabin turnoffs. They invited us to hang out too but we smiled and waved and carried on. The path followed many ski trails. These are marked up high on the trees, to be above deep snow during ski season. More forest and beautiful creeks. Around a curve by a scenic view we met a resting family with a daughter and a son about ages 10-12. The dad told the son, who was on the trail but not looking in our direction, to get out of our way and the boy jumped in alarm as we approached. R quipped “It’s OK, I’m not a mountain bike!” and everyone laughed.
Finally, the boundary sign for Holy Cross Wilderness, long after I expected it, out in a big meadow. Across the meadow, only a mile left to Porcupine Lake. Little did we know what was coming. The whole mile was so steep, all the way up. We arrived around 6:00, too late for 3.2 miles to the next camp and we were too tired anyway. Almost all the campsites not on the marshy lakeshore were occupied. The German speaking folks were there, and the Italian woman whose tent fly was lost at the S. Platte and she bought a new Nemo. (I think that was her but I could have been mistaken and it could have been someone else.) We camped pretty close to her in the only unoccupied flat spot we could find and she didn’t seem too happy about our company. We tried to be quiet. They’ll all be gone by the time we are up in the morning. The family with the 2 kids arrived about an hour after we did and camped down by the lake shore. We had a short visit when we walked down there after supper. They are hiking Segments of the CT for vacation each year. Yay!
Beautiful sky glow over the lake. Robins visiting the water. Spongy tundra ground by the lake. Two more days +/- to Twin Lakes. Because we are off our original schedule we are having to recalibrate potential campsites. It’s cold and windy up here at 11,400 ft. Until just about dusk, then the wind stilled. Mosquitoes. Pink clouds. Mountains all around. We saw fewer people on the trail today, especially in the afternoon. Not at all like last Saturday closer to Denver.
Mile 138.5 Uphill past FS 726 on 7/20
Mile 150.7 Porcupine Lakes on 7/21
Now 3 days to catch up on. Getting hard to remember. All a merged jumble of high hills and deep valleys and forest, some meadows, rocky trail, many sparkling creeks. We left Porcupine Lakes around 9:00 a.m. after foot treatment. (On our evening walk the night before I wore the Merrells but even without a pack my right foot wasn’t right. So not much chance of switching back. Today we mailed them home.) Leaving Porcupine Lakes, we got some morning photos of the pretty water lily ponds. It was a Sunday, and nearing Bear Lake and all those other nearby lakes we started to encounter many day hikers. Whole groups. Elders, youth, families. All glad to be out hiking on a summer morning. Many side trails, confusing at times. I resorted to GPS on my phone to be sure of the right trail. Passed right next to two lakes on the right. Some hikers had fishing equipment. One family backpacking with three young kids—5 to 12 or so—and a dog, seemed quite happy on the trail. They said they take a couple of nights in the mountains whenever they can.
After Timberline TH big creeks—Mill Creek, Lake Fork Arkansas River, bridges and gravel roads. Old logging roads sometimes but fading. Pretty much all forest. Conifers, then aspen, then conifers. Ups and downs, none long. The forest seems to go on forever, on one hand looking down, down, down the hillside, and the other hand the same looking up. I was thinking about how this land appears so expansive now, and uninvaded by humans. But it is all second-growth and every bit of this wild-looking place has seen industrial scale human activity—logging, maybe mining—100 years ago or more. Now trees, squirrels, a few birds, butterflies and ants and spiders. Low blueberries are the continuous ground cover. For miles on end. All footpath now, mountain bikes excluded because of Mt. Massive Wilderness Area.
Down to Fish Hatchery Rd. and Rock Creek. We would have camped there but it was packed with tents of one of the youth groups we met earlier on Sunday morning. HMI, a 5-week summer program for high school kids from all over the US. We had a nice chat with some of those kids in the morning encounter. Ethnically diverse. Across Rock Creek some other backpackers were setting up camp. The stragglers, like us, have to go much farther for a site. This time it was another mile and almost 600 ft. straight up! Boy were we tired when we finally came to that small stream. We couldn’t look for a flat spot sooner because we needed the water, not having brought any from Rock Creek. We checked for a site on a rise just before the creek, a possible campsite but not very level, but really the Databook said cross the stream and there is camping above the trail, so we crossed and walked up and there it was! Just like the Princess in the Forest. (Mid-1980’s Mac video game—you had to follow the instructions exactly to get what you wanted.)
Rain clouds had been gathering all afternoon. We hurried to set up shelter and rain started in earnest just as we scrambled inside. I got some untreated water in the Platy for cooking. It was quite murky. We ended up cooking lentil soup in the vestibule while the rain came down. The red lentils were undercooked but we enjoyed the soup anyway. I boiled more water for overnight drinking. The murkiness would interfere with the effectiveness of the Steripen and would plug up the TrailShot. The water was still too hot when I poured it into my years-old Smartwater bottle, and warped it. It still held the water though.
Monday morning the weather was a little drippy but not enough to need rainwear. J the occupational therapist from North Carolina who used to live in Durango walked by and said Hello. She too was headed for Twin Lakes. We got going earlier that morning, about 8:00, which kept us much more optimistic during the morning’s hike. Clear skies and sunshine most of the morning. Forest ups and downs as before. We met a young man at the Mt. Massive TH, starting up to the mountaintop. At the end of the segment, Half-moon Creek Rd. and a big creek, bikes allowed again although we didn’t see any, only their tracks. Later in the day’s hike, we went through some swampy areas with thick black mud, humid jungle-like walls of willows and other vegetation, washed-away sunken bridges, and yes, bike tracks. Mid-day, we encountered numerous day hikers coming down from an early summit of Mt. Elbert. Some of them moms with kids. Enough people it must have felt a little crowded on top! They were all tired and happy.
The trail is wide through most of this stretch. Maybe because it is popular with the mountain summit hikers. Still steeply sloping forest, a few bright flowery clearings with bees and butterflies. We heard a sudden flutter of wings uphill to the right. Didn’t see the bird but it sounded large so we guessed it might have been a ptarmigan. Finally the trail started downwards in earnest. Evidence of the overnight rain in rivulets along the trail and in non-ideal campsites. We made a false start trying for the branch trail to Twin Lakes. At the turn of a switchback, unsigned, but it looked like a trail, exactly where the Guthook app said it was, but it disappeared on the slope. We climbed back up and resolved to give up on the “shortcut” when another trail, this one with a sign saying Twin Lakes Village thataway, appeared, so we took that as recommended in the Guidebook. Big mistake. The “1-mile shortcut” to the Village turned into a (likely—I didn’t measure) 2 1/2-mile, poorly marked, slog down what was, yes, at first an almost tropical pretty hillside with bends around stream heads, but became a rocky steep forest road that went far out of the way before finally curving back to the Village. We could see the village below and for a long time could also see that we were going the other way. But it finally wound back.
We headed for Twin Lakes Inn first, thinking of lodging and laundry. But they were full and didn’t have a laundry after all. The desk attendant said no one has laundry in TL because it is all on septic. He said he has lived there for 10 years and no laundry in all that time. So I will email a correction to the Yogi’s Guide web site when we get home. We sat in their lobby and called places in Buena Vista, and reserved a room at Lakeview Inn there. We could have gone to the Lakeview Campground down the road from TL but we really wanted laundry. Then we walked over to the TL General Store. R got a coffee drink and a women’s razor because that was the only kind they had. Later he said it worked better. The young man minding the store was very cordial and humorous. The resupply boxes are kept in a huge bin unlocked with a key on a long pole. We had to prop open the big heavy double lids and sort though many boxes to find ours. Finally! Some other hikers gathered at outdoor tables. Our son’s college friend, who hurt his ankle on that same rocky non-shortcut down, and J and some others. They said they had rented a cabin for a group of them, and all scoffed at the idea of laundry.
We walked across the road to hitch a ride to BV. We didn’t really know what to expect, but right away a car looking too small pulled over. R noticed a Longhorn decal on it and told the driver we are both UT alumni. He turned out to be a musician, a clarinetist, with a PhD he looked way too young for. Asian ethnicity. Working for a classical music program at Aspen for the summer and touring around Colorado on his days off. He smashed us in, around his banana peels and soft drink cans. He and R had a nice visit all the way down to BV. I contorted under our packs in the back seat, trying to get exact directions to our motel on my phone, and it completely died.
We found the motel on our driver’s phone and he dropped us off. It is a pretty place right by a green park with a little lake at the center of town. The desk clerk/owner is friendly and helpful, if somewhat droll. Our room is comfy. We decided we were too tired to go out to dinner. I put on rain pants and the purple base layer crew top, took all our laundry across the street to the nearest laundromat, and had to some back and get quarters and detergent from the motel desk because the old laundromat had no dispensers. An elderly Indian man was there waiting for his load to dry. He said he runs a sweat lodge but has been shut down all summer by the burn ban. A sweat lodge needs an open fire. We visited about conditions and weather and Colorado and rules. Interesting. Back at our room, after sorting and repacking our laundry, I played around with the ever-so-slow TrailShot filter, and figured out how to get it primed so that the bulb fills all the way, which leads to much faster water output. Supper was peanut stew done on the camp stove at the outdoor chairs and side table on the walkway outside our room. An elderly couple pulled up in a huge SUV and the man gave us fresh apricots from a farm stand—how nice—out of the blue. A big family pulled up to their room across the way. We sorted our clothes, showered, ate, and crashed.
I woke up way too early this morning, about 4:00 a.m., gave up and got up about 5:00, fuzzy, but began organizing our gear one thought at a time. First I went over the itinerary with the Guide and Data books, counted out camps, then meals. We are trying to make our hiking days a little shorter. So fuzzy headed. R can drink motel coffee but I can’t. We piled up stuff to send home. Last night I tried to set up the umbrella holders but the scheme doesn’t work with our umbrellas. The Montbell umbrella handle slides down and leaves the spokes sitting atop my head. The setup needs a pocket rather than just a stretch cord on the lower strap position. Like what B said he has, in that conversation atop Georgia Pass.
On our morning errands we went to the Post Office first. We asked at the Library for the best coffee shop, and then lingered over our coffee. The shop was crowded at midmorning so we shared a patio table with a middle-aged mountain biker who told us about his trips around the area. We stopped at Trailhead Outfitter across the street for a fuel canister, and then walked about a mile down the main road to a City Market for a few groceries—tortillas, apples, crackers, moleskin. Then back to the historic district for burgers at Simple Eatery, which is in the same space as the Trailhead Outfitter. Delicious, relaxing, filling. Flavorful buns, kohlrabi slaw. After lunch, back to the Library where I tried to get into iCloud or LastPass or anything to give me access to my cyber-life. No go. Two factor authentication blocked every move! Gave up. Lesson learned. I’ll have to wait until I am home again to fix my privacy settings.
We went to get our packs from the motel where the owner was storing them for us, packed our purchases at the outside picnic tables, and headed to Hwy 24. Once again, we had a ride within a few minutes. This was a retired white guy in a Chevy Bolt, who told us all about what a great car it is and how cheap it is to run. He dropped us at Hwy 82. Another quick ride from a couple of grizzled guys in an old rattletrap car, going to Aspen for a job handling trash cleanup for a festival. They offered us legal mj and/or beer. We declined. We looked for the CT crossing but didn’t see it so they dropped us off at Twin Lakes. We walked back along the highway 1 2/3 miles to the trail which turned out to be in an underpass out of sight from the road, then up to Lakeview Campground on the CT. We are now at a nice site overlooking the lakes in the distance. Snacks for supper—still full from our big lunch. Peaceful. We rested but didn’t nap. We are looking forward to our next serial backpacking trip starting in the morning. I am going to need a new journal notebook in Salida.
Mile 164.1 A mile above and past Rock Cr. 7/22
Mile 176.8 Buena Vista Lakeview Inn 7/23
Mile 176.8 Lakeview Campground 7/24
I’ve been thinking today about changes to my Thru-hiking Basics presentation. Something like that UFW organizing job ad from the ’70’s—only modified to say for early risers, no beds, no pay, hard physical labor all day, no A/C, no fresh food. Did I clear the room yet? But flowers, long nights of sleep, sun and clouds and rain and hail and sparkling creeks and sometimes even people, all friendly. No phone no email no sitting up at night thinking someone is wrong on the internet.
We stopped early today at about 4:30 at Clear Creek. 14 miles but the first 4 1/2 were flat so it went quickly. We would have gone farther but the next noted camp is over 6.4 miles away uphill. We got off on time from Lakeview CG, 8:00 a.m. Sunny and cool. Down by the underpass, a young couple by the side of the highway with packs. Not hitching, they said waiting for family to come take them to breakfast. She wore a skirt and asked me if I like mine. Cheery. We walked under the road. R made echoes like at the Johnson Creek tunnel near home. Then it was a long walk through sagebrush, all the way around the east end of Twin Lakes Reservoir. Reasonably pleasant in the morning although the sun was in our eyes at the beginning. Some beachgoers. A canoe on the water. That Colorado 14’ers Initiative yurt. M. E. Elbert Power Station Visitor Center. (We didn’t visit it.) Then back into forest on the south side. Many day hikers on the trail by the lake. A few mountain bikers. At the Collegiate East/Collegiate West junction, a group coming down from a CW trip.
We had made our final decision, that we are already stretched to our current physical and psychological limit, and that the CE route would be wisest for us. Then up and up. R walked behind me for a change. He said it helped him feel less exhausted, to stay at my pace. Also he realized he wasn’t having a good time just looking at his footing all day. His mood improved greatly just from going more slowly and looking around instead. Good idea! I also told him how, even when the footing requires me to look mostly at my feet, I still have so much to see. It’s just smaller. The curving grasses and spreading small plant leaves next to the trail, the ants and spiders going about the business of their day, small stones of many colors. I focus on my breath and my steps and small sounds and just what is in front of my eyes, here and now. Learning to do this better has taken much of the burden away, of how hard this is physically.
Today’s hike was more varied. After our climb, the trail traversed the east side of the foot of the mountain, dipping in and out of stream drainages. In contrast to the dry land around the lake, it is surprisingly lush with moist air and forest floor, ground plants thicker and taller and more diverse. Lupines and comps and paintbrush and yarrow and bright red berries the birds seem to enjoy. Chipmunks and squirrels and a rabbit and a couple of large blue birds, probably Steller’s jays, with a topknot but solid blue and bigger than bluejays. We saw geese at the lake earlier. Coming back downhill, a fair amount of jeep roads. Sage meadows. Much beautiful aspen. Reminded me of that middle-of-nowhere campout where our daughter and her roommate took us in 2003. Backroads Colorado. Lunch in a deep glade by a muddy stream. Cool. Early afternoon, clouds moved in, and thunder all around. Not much rain; we only deployed the umbrellas a couple of times. Storm over the mountain above. Ranching valley below.
We watched the weather show all afternoon. That young couple, after their family breakfast, still caught up with us just before the descent to Clear Creek. They were moving fast. We didn’t expect to see them again but they stopped above the Clear Creek descent to worry about lightning on the exposed hillside. The young man was checking his phone for weather. In an earlier conversation he said he grew up in Cedar Park. They now live in BV. We went on, as the thunder was pretty distant, and then they came on down too. They passed us nearly running, but in a happy way. She said there’s a camp a couple of miles uphill on the other side of Clear Creek but hard to find. Then they were gone, back into the forest. R called them The Gazelles. We thought we’d need to use the RV campground, as no way did we have the energy for 6 1/2 more miles, although I expect our brief friends could make it just fine. So we headed around towards the road campground by way of the CT. Passing near the creek, we saw below a lovely rough informal campsite by the water. Yay! No RV’s! No all-night generators! Impending rain = shelter up first. Naps. Now it’s clearing. R is playing his ukulele, exploring notes and tunes for a long time. Very peaceful. Light on the water. A fisherman and his dog across the creek. Cold water on my feet. Time to start supper. We have a big climb in the morning, 2,500 ft up in 4 miles.
Mile 191.2 Clear Creek 7/25
Whooboy are we tired! So much climbing today. Seven miles up, 5 down. In two different climbs. Now at Frenchman Creek. Very steep fast big creek. Hard to get down to collect water. But at least the campsite was unoccupied. We got to camp about 6:00 this evening. Started about 8:30 this morning. Paced ourselves. Average is about 1 mph uphill, 1 1/2 mph downhill. The forest in this section looks older, more diverse, more different ages of trees. Ground plants are more lush. Earlier today, starting from Clear Creek, the land was drier. We saw a sage meadow about two miles up, with a jeep road stopping there, that may have been the dry camping opportunity the Gazelles mentioned. But one would have had to have brought water up. The trail was in good condition but steep, on and on, some switchbacks, often just wrapping around the mountainside. Reached the top of the first climb around 1:00. Then down pretty quickly to Pine Creek by about 2:00 or a bit earlier. On the hike up, there was a spot where the trail was a sea of black deep mud about 20 ft. long. A big log alongside on which I balanced to clear the morass. R felt unsteady on the log especially since there was a steep drop-off on one side, and tried to climb the grassy bank on the opposite side of the trail. He slipped and fell butt first into the deep mud. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt, nor was his pack, just very muddy. When we got to Pine Creek for lunch he was able to get cleaned up.
Approaching Pine Creek from above we saw wide beaver ponds in the valley; when close up we even saw the lodge and the beaver dam. Cool! By that time the now-usual cold clouds and wind had arrived, and I shivered through lunch. At the top we had seen the man with the camo jacket and the really big friendly dog resting. He arrived at Pine Creek just as we were packing up. Three or four other hikers, day hikers or short backpackers, came through while we were there. Most of the day, all day, though, we saw no other hikers. After lunch we made the second climb, arriving at the top just about 4:30. Beautiful long views of the Arkansas Valley, distant mountains, close-by really big mountains, lots of weather blowing around but no rain on us today. Spotty meadows, tons of flowers, squirrels, chipmunks, a gray jay. Hummingbird this morning at Clear Creek. Ants on the path, and spiders. Many butterflies, especially small blue ones, some larger orange ones. Bees and flies in the flowers. Spreading juniper bushes covered with berries. At lunch a robin was going to and from a nearby tree—presumably its nest—and aggressively and loudly chased away a larger black and white bird (magpie?) that approached too near. Here at our camp at Frenchman Creek now it is quiet except for the creek. Still light but the clouds are all pink. We have another big climb tomorrow. We passed the 200-mile mark just before the top of the second climb. Someone had laid out “200” in pebbles and sticks. Tonight is Thursday, then we have Friday, Saturday, Sunday, then into Salida on Monday.
Mile 203.0 Frenchman Creek 7/26
Chalk Creek TH. A lot happened since I wrote at Frenchman Creek the night before last. J passed us the following morning as we were packing. She had to spend a couple of days in BV because of an injured toe; she bought Hokas to fix that. She said college guy’s ankle was better the next morning and he is on Collegiate West but it is supposed to be very rocky so she chose Collegiate East like we did.
That morning, more forest, sunny, mostly down, day hikers near Harvard Lakes. We passed a backpacker higher up; we startled him, as he was looking at his feet, going northbound. I said he should look up and enjoy. He said yes, that’s why he came out here. A young couple passed us also heading northbound. Soon after, we found a new BeFree 1 Liter by the trail. We set it to be seen in case someone came back for it. Day hikers near Three Elk Trail. After Silver Creek, our big climb of the day began, following the creek but high above it. Lunch in the upper reaches. We were short on water because I thought a “near pass” of the creek would be a crossing and we postponed water collection for too long and missed the opportunity. It was a pretty hike up, with aspens and views. Then a stiff climb up, up, up to the saddle below Mt. Yale. Huge arrow on the ground at the top, arranged with an 8 x 8 beam and large rocks, pointing the way to the path to the mountaintop. Ha! We just took pictures. Flowered meadows on the way up. Rain and clouds started early, but rain didn’t get us, just the surrounding mountains. Curtains of rain. Someone made a smiley in the trail with stones and sticks right past the saddle. Then time to go down, down, down. Guidebook calls it Avalanche Trail. Very steep. Some places rocky. I wondered where it was the hiker quoted in the book said they wanted a belay. We were about to find out.
Our Big Misadventure. On a narrow part of the trail made of soft chalky grit on a super-steep slope. I noticed a big green caterpillar on the trail, and stopped to look at it. In the warm sun, since I was already stopped I decided to take off my windshirt, and I set my pack down on the trail. It tipped and went tumbling downslope. My first fleeting thought was it would stop at a tree or brush. It bounced off everything way, way down into the deep ravine, out of sight. Maybe 80 ft down? More? (I spent the rest of the trip intermittently trying to estimate. I think at least 100 ft.) Was all my equipment irretrievable? Was our trip over? I asked R to stay there on the trail and I would work my way down to find my pack.
Little did I know or understand how very steep and difficult that slope would be. It was very high angle and made of some kind of powdered tuff, coarser than sand but finer than crushed granite. Loose gray stuff. A couple of big trees, many baby aspen (thank goodness!), some deadfall nearby but not much right there, some buried rocks in places. I found out quickly that I could not stand on this slope, or walk on it, or get a good foothold on it at all. I had to sit, and scoot, while holding onto baby aspens or rocks; some of the apparently solid rocks would pull loose in my hands. I picked up a piece of a dry branch to use as a brace, digging it into the loose surface.
Then R came down right behind me, saying he should help, slipped, and slid until he got ahold of a larger tree. His pack, left on the trail above, slowly tipped on its own and also went tumbling into the ravine same as mine. I will not put all the long detailed saga here, too tired, but… First I asked R again to stay put. Then worked my way down using the stick and the baby aspens and got his pack, put it on, without the hipbelt since his pack is too tall for me, and worked my way back up by grasping small trees and digging in my feet and bracing them on tiny tree bases. So hard, and one false move could send me tumbling too. R wanted to take his pack on up when I got to him. Hard to remember exactly but I wanted him to get higher and into a more stable position above some rocks. Then I passed his pack to him but he still had trouble holding on and climbing, with only one hand available and the other holding the pack. I climbed back to the trail. So worried he would fall. From above I managed to wrestle his pack to the trail—I don’t clearly remember how—and he worked his way across a juniper bush (prickly!) back up. At first he hesitated to grasp the sharp juniper but it was the only thing and I said it was going to hurt but that he had to, and he did, and thought through his next move, and found a way up on his own.
At this point we were both feeling pretty desperate. This time R stayed on the trail. He could see that if I got into trouble on the slope we would need someone to be in a position to go for help. I embarked on getting my pack, which I had located while down there getting his. Spooked by my hair-raising first trip straight down, I went up the trail a bit to a series of fallen logs and carefully, still holding on against gravity, used them as a handrail to get back down into the ravine. Sitting and sliding on loose grit. Some dead branches gave way. Rocks gave way. I had to plan ahead each move. Slow process. Focus. Got to my pack and put it on. A few items had flown from outside pack pockets when the packs had tumbled down end over end. R called from the top that it would be OK to abandon the blue dishes bag but it was reachable so I went for it. Looked back down and saw his red bag (which had his prescriptions) under the log where his pack had fetched up. I went for the red bag. Hard to get back down there again but I got it, stuffed it in a side pocket of my pack.
How to get back up? Aspen saplings were the only handholds at times. Like climbing, but with loose crumbly surface and no protection. There was another line of dead logs to my right; I had to cross some exposed slope to get there. Foot on small aspen base. Slow. Pulled up bit by bit holding, and sometimes breaking, old dried deadfall, hoping it wouldn’t give way. Rocks tumbled down from my feet. With no hands available to carry, I got the blue bag up by tossing it a short way up after each move. Long tosses of things just made them bounce and roll further down instead. Slowly finally worked my way back up to the trail. R pulled me up by hand the last reach.
Until I was standing on that trail, I didn’t know if I would even make it up. Could fall at any time. All I could say was “That was HARD!” Shaking. Surreal. R had picked up a few loose pieces that had flown out right away at the top—a platy, water bottles, umbrellas. I had seen the new Steripen down near my pack when I got R’s, but forgot about it on the second trip until too late to want to go back for it. The TrailShot was a few feet below the trail so I went for that—we needed something to treat water. In the end, only the Steripen and R’s AquaFina bottle were lost. All this took over an hour and a half. R was understandably shaky—plus we discovered his shoe tread was worn and giving poor traction—coming on down the trail until we got past the rest of that precarious slope. He had a cut below his knee but besides that and some overtaxed muscles for me, we escaped without injury.
I had hoped we might get to South Cottonwood for the night but we were exhausted and out of daylight so after the approximately 1 1/2 mile hike the rest of the way down to Avalanche TH we camped above Middle Cottonwood Creek. Car campers filled the first few camp spots. The trail moved away from the creek so I went down and filled a Platy for the night and we looked higher up the trail. Finally found a spot. (In the morning moving along the trail we could see that it was the last spot, so lucky it wasn’t occupied.) Setting up, still amazed we had any equipment at all much less almost all of it! Collapsed into bed well after dark. I had a hard time relaxing so broke down and took sleep medicine. We talked some about the accident over supper, and agreed on mistakes made. This morning I sewed a stretch cord loop back together on my pack. No other damage. Even the ukulele, which was strapped to the outside of R’s pack, was fine. Maybe the soft surface, so very difficult to negotiate, also prevented damage?
This morning we got out about 8:45, with a 16 mile day ahead. We kept moving. Mostly down or level except for a 2 mile stretch of steep up to get over another ridge. We are short one drinking bottle, so we shared mine. We had a long water carry. We saw J again, and the Gazelles, who also took a zero in BV. Their trail names really are “Snack” and “Achilles.” We all leapfrogged for a while. They stop more and we walk much more slowly. At Maxwell Creek we were able to replenish water. Lunch at Dry Creek around 2:00-2:40. J was there taping her toes. It is a deep lush glade, a vigorous creek with steep cascades. We lunched at a campsite just above and decided we had time to make the 7 miles to Chalk Creek.
After climbing out of Dry Creek valley, we reached the 6 mile road walk. The first part was dirt road; Frontier Ranch, a Young Life facility, at the bottom. Then paved road, on and on and on. Hard on the feet. R got some new blisters. We got a good look at our mountain range from below. Lots of vacation rental cabins and resort places. Stickers in the grass by the road got into our shoes and socks. Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort looked all glitzy and strange and off-putting after so long in the woods. A big college-age group of backpackers headed up Chalk Creek Rd. on a Collegiate Loop trip. The last couple of miles followed a more quiet unpaved country lane paralleling the county road. One charming cottage had a sign out front for $395 per night. Further along, from our right a man called out “Durango?” I looked over my shoulder; he was on a porch across the way. Then I understood, and raised my pole in greeting and answered back, “Durango!” A moment of encouragement just when we needed it!
The last mile or so we passed many lagoons and small lakes and marshes along Chalk Creek, a fishing area. At the TH we crossed the creek on a bridge. Snack and Achilles had arrived and set up camp by the bridge in an informal site, not further up at the main Bootleg CG. They invited us to share their site. We were beat, so we accepted and squeezed in. They came over to visit as I was fixing supper. They are out of school and have a wilderness photography business in Buena Vista. We talked of the trail and how it has been so far. They are headed for Durango too. Cold rain started just as we were beginning to eat so everyone retreated to shelter. I resolved to write journal no matter what so here you have it.
Mile 217 Above Middle Cottonwood Creek 7/27
Mile 232.5 Chalk Creek TH 7/28
Up early this morning just after 6:00 but morning routines went slowly. S and A were already gone. Somehow we take forever. Stove and water setup. Coffee and granola. Teeth. Hair. Clean utensils. Repack bear cans. Foot taping. Going to poop. Washup after poop. Maybe twice. Filter hiking water. Get gear out of tent. Get pine needles out of tent. Take down, zip, and fold tent. Pack backpacks in proper order. Stow stakes and other outside pocket items. Sunscreen face and hands. Strip and stow unneeded layers. Clean out shoes and socks and install. Put on sun gloves and hats. Readjust poles. Finally ready to hike. But we want to try to start hiking earlier because we have more energy then, not so hard as at the end of the day.
Above the creek and past the campground turnoff, on a scenic outcrop, we met some people we’d seen a couple of days ago, very friendly, doing the Collegiate Loop I think, who snapped a photo of both of us, with R’s camera. They were from Wisconsin and were hiking the Collegiate Loop instead of the Colorado Trail because the earlier fire closures induced them to alter their vacation plans; of course now the entire Colorado Trail is open again but their new plans were already made. This morning we were making our way on the trail just fine, across an upland pasture with sparsely distributed pines, plenty of other hikers and cyclists and Sunday vacationers and families camped off the Forest Service roads. Then about late morning we started uphill, sunny and warm, and I had a strong experience of fatigue; I could hardly walk uphill, slow baby steps, just trying to breathe and walk. This went on for over an hour after snack break. We were leapfrogging with J and her trail friend L. At one point we all had a discussion about using Injinjis for blisters. J and R are both struggling with blisters. But of course they didn’t know why R can’t wear Injinjis.
Finally we made it to Little Browns Creek. Many day hikers there, going to see the Falls. A clump of backpackers including J there. That group of three we met there—Chaco and her little brother and that guy that looks like a friend back home. They are on Collegiate Loop. We lunched and visited. All so friendly. I started to feel better. Maybe it was a passing virus. Then ups and downs, clouds and rain, cold wind, views, the trail scooping around one drainage after another. Rainwear on and off, umbrellas, windshirts. Watching the weather, the big sky all around. Late in the afternoon R felt very down, worrying about stamina for the rest of the trip. We stopped at Squaw Creek rather than shooting for Angel of Shavano Campground. Mostly downhill tomorrow, one big climb about 1 1/2 miles in the middle. In camp I got a phone signal and made a reservation at Salida Hostel.
Mile 244.7 Squaw Creek 7/29
And that’s the end of the first notebook.
Second notebook, acquired in Salida.
More Thru-Hiking Basics ideas:
Complexities of resupply. Where can you camp? Where is there water? How far can you hike? Elevation change, etc. = How many days to get to the next resupply = How much food for this leg. Whether in box sent or shopping at town stores. It probably won’t work out like you thought when you were at your desk at home.
Morning. At Woodland Motel in Salida. Ride with volunteer Sheena O’Hara coming at 8:00. We are all collected and ready, just need breakfast for me and shower for R.
On 7/30 Monday we were up and out of camp as usual about 8:30 although trying to be quicker. That single man near us and the threesome, all on Collegiate Loop, out later than us. J came by while were were packing. Morning all cloudy but started to burn off later. The forest is sometimes more open, sometimes denser, plus a large stretch of partially logged forest and huge piles of slash. We had about 5 1/2 miles to go to the trailhead on and arrived at Hwy 50 around 1:30 I think. The threesome and another party (blond beard) already there. Blond and friend were trying to hitch northwest to Monarch, hard because no shoulder on that side so they were on the other side facing opposite. The threesome got a ride from a bike shop shuttle that pulled in to drop off some mountain bikers. Eventually we got a ride with a hiker whose boyfriend came to pick her up. Lucky. The traffic is very fast there and unlikely to stop even with the big pullout. There was a whole dead deer rotting by the side of the embankment.
11:30 a.m. on 8/1. Prickly fragrant juniper bushes next to our snack log. Dense mixed forest. Fooses Creek. Dog walkers. Bikes. J. A scout troop. Flies.
8:30 p.m. on 8/1 Long hard-working day but gorgeous scenery. The walk up through the forest to the Pass with the junction with Collegiate West and the CDT at the top is filled with all different flowers and butterflies. Bees, birds. Climbing was steady but not steep until the very last bit, then definitely intensely steep but for less than 1/2 mile. We were able to talk about this and that most of the way. Many small streams but we didn’t refill our water because we didn’t want the extra weight. Nearing the top, strong winds coming through the pass. Cold. Hard to keep my balance in the wind. Got out my windshirt on top; it was trying to blow away as I put it on. R came up next—I took a photo—but he wisely retreated to nearby trees to add his windshirt. The whole day was hazy and pretty cool. A little sprinkle in the early afternoon about lunchtime but mostly just cloudy. Walking kept us warm. After the pass, high trail along the Divide, broad views. Lots of dead trees though. Then down through lush green valley. We caught up with J at her camp. She invited us to stay but it was only 6:00 so we elected to go on. Made our 14-mile goal. Saw the Green Creek shelter in passing. Ran out of water by Marshall Pass Rd. But that was OK, no need to carry extra with a water source coming soon. Databook indicated camping below, and water.
Marshall Pass Rd. is a gravel forest road. Where the CT crosses, there is a pit toilet and some parking. Some people camped below the road, with a trailer and a horse, down by the swampy creek, very friendly. These folks were telling us about a Forest Service cabin open to the public back up on the other side of the road, where we came down the trail. We thought we would go take a look-see, but going up the road it wasn’t obvious where to go so we came back. They helped us find a camp spot. They are from Missouri. Another older couple, in their 70’s, down the way with a Z-packs Duplex. A popular tent this year. R went for water, which was hard to find in all the brush and swamp, but the Missouri guy showed him how to get through to a spot he had found to water his horse. Two bikepackers rolled in just about dark and camped in the meadow near us. We reviewed tomorrow—15 miles in the plan. The last part going up. R is concerned about that.
We spent 2 nights at the Woodland Motel in Salida. Salida Hostel didn’t work out because they don’t admit until after 4:00 p.m. not even for reservations, and we arrived about 2:30. We did our wash at WM. They helped when my quarters jammed the coin-op washer provided for guests, and ran our load in their machine. I have learned to not put the quarters in too fast. We showered. Felt great. Walked out in the evening for supper. Burgers with breaded deep-fried mushrooms. Tasty but expensive. Downtown Salida is set up to be tourist charming, all eateries and brewpubs and art galleries. Many vacationers and bikes. Recreation on the Arkansas River but low water this year. The next morning we walked to Gathering Grounds Coffeeshop, about halfway between the motel and downtown, where we encountered excellent coffee and a hearty breakfast. Granola Bowl (R) and Egg Bowl (me.) Back at our room I sat down to rework the hiking days to know what to buy. 7 nights is about the maximum for our bear cans. It took a couple of hours to get a plan. Worried about the water carries. I remembered why I picked Lake City over Creede, even though the Guidebook recommends the latter. Creede = 10 mile walk to town, each way, with not enough traffic to hitch. Lake City runs a volunteer shuttle. I checked the website, yes the shuttle is running this season. The trick is, it leaves the trailhead at 12:30 each day, so our plan has to get us there in time.
After getting the plan done, we walked downtown to Salida Mountain Sports. They had some packaged meals but not a lot of options. Before grocery shopping we went to a sandwich deli where I had that excellent mozzarella and vegetable sandwich. To Safeway, got all the fruit and snacks and powdered milk, creamer, coffee, and some lunch items, crackers, granola, a couple of packaged dry soups for suppers, plus a box of squash soup for that night at the motel. R walked back to our room with the heavy grocery pack. Then I went back to SMS for a couple of more suppers, plus 1 dessert and 1 egg breakfast, and a list of additional supplies including that long spoon for R to use instead of the spork, a new fuel canister, another Platy (shouldn’t have sent that one home from BV), and a small tube of aloe vera. We are a little concerned about the dearth of shelf-stable vegetables. Then to the Post Office to mail the first journal and unneeded map and guide pages home. I stopped into Simple Hostel to ask for directions to the PO. J was there. Overall our first experience of shopping for resupply was successful but a lot of work.
At the motel I still needed to repack everything into new ziplocks and get rid of excess packaging. It all just barely fit with some left over to squeeze in tonight. Ultimately worked out OK. Read online news on R’s phone for a while after shower and before sleep. Also made those calls from the list provided by SMS, of volunteers who give rides to the trailhead. That’s how we got the ride with Sheena. In town it is fun to relax, go for a nice coffee in the morning, sleep late, eat out (some—too expensive to do all the time). But also very stressful because of limited time for errands and planning and repacking and wash and contacting home and etc. Nice to be back out on the trail. And today was beautiful and fun. Even if hard.
Mile 252.9 Salida 7/30
Mile 252.9 Salida 7/31
Mile 267.2 Marshall Pass Rd. 8/1
Cold last night. No rain, just chilly in the middle of the night. Took ibuprofen and sleeping stuff which made me sleep but also made me drag most of today. A pretty morning. R re-wrapped his toes. The wraps fell off during the day. We’ll try again in the morning. We got off earlier, about 8:00. Lots of rolling ups and downs, following the Divide. Expansive views, flowers, sunshine, birds. Quite enjoyable. Later we got into a section where not just mountain bikes but motorbikes go through. Three passed us today. But the biggest problem was, where the trail goes down steeply, the motorbikes have totally torn up the trail, pulverized it to loose dust and gravel and uprooted rocks. With worn-out tread on his shoes, R fell twice on the way down that section, and slid many times. We had to pick our way so slowly. No foot placement could be assumed to be secure, even for me with my new shoes. The trail eventually leveled out through open forest and across some hilltops.
Later in the afternoon we dropped down to Tank Seven Creek and followed its wide meadow up to Sergeant Mesa. Distances felt longer and longer as we tired. Especially the last couple of miles. We collected three Platys (about 7 liters) of water from the upper reaches of the creek, plus two more liters in our drinking bottles, which took a while with the low flow, through a little culvert pipe under the gravel Forest Road. We saw J taking a supper and yoga break. She was going to collect water too and come on up to the end of the segment, but she hasn’t passed us yet and it’s late. We saw a deer in the creek valley. Much toil climbing up to the Mesa at the end of a long day with that much water. Remember for future reference, try to avoid late in the day water hauling. Right now waiting for supper to soak. Then an early bedtime. Our camp is in the trees about 1/4 mile past the trail junction at the segment end. We saw the metal stock tank and the veterans monument far down at the lower end of the wide meadow, but being burdened with our water load and tired we didn’t want to walk all the way down there. The Guidebook indicates camping at the segment end junction, but it was all exposed and windy so rather than looking there, we went on to where the trees started and found this pretty spot.
Mile 282.6 Sergeants Mesa 8/2
Rained a lot during the night. Awoke early, 5:45 or so. Cold. J went by about 7:00. She was camped nearby but hadn’t seen us. She heard R’s ukulele this morning. She planned on water at Razor Creek and then camping at that dry site in the Databook. Our plans about the same. Cold and cloudy morning, wintry almost all day. Wan sun as we headed out across the vast expanse of Sergeants Mesa. Meadow interlaced with a few bands of trees. Feeling pretty good. Started hiking about 8:00. Flowers in the woods and clearings. More grasses on the meadows. The bits of sun were gone, given up, by mid-morning. Snack as usual. Rain. Rainsuits. Making good time. Hummingbirds buzzing by. We see at least a couple of them each day. A whole bunch of motorbikes. A few bike packers, a couple of other backpackers. Fireweed, asters, daisies. Currants. Later in the day, some blueberries at last! And tons of raspberries near the end of the day.
After lunch things got harder. We had decided not to take the side trip to Baldy Lake for water—1/2 mile one way and 400 ft down means 1/2 mile and 400 ft back up. This would have taken an hour at least. Unfortunately Razor Creek, the marked water source on the trail, was dry. Just a sea of thick black mud, trampled tall grass, and deep cow prints. Not even “burro water.” * And, when we passed by there, it was raining steadily. (Irony.) We used our umbrellas on that a stretch until the rain let up. Still cold and gray and blustery. Some ups and downs but not too intense. Beautiful meadows with many kinds of grasses waving seed-heads in the wind. Clouds of small birds billowed up from the grasses as we passed. Probably feeding on seeds, and our passing was a disturbance. Fun watching them. We saw a hawk, in the top of a dead tree, surveying a small meadow. Late in the afternoon it cleared off and warmed up. I was worried about camp without enough water. It turns out R was more consumed with walking on his injured left pinky toe, the one I wrapped this morning. The wrapping held, but the toe is still raw, making it hard to walk on sometimes. Then the dry camp listed in the Databook didn’t materialize; we had to walk almost an extra half mile straight up a steep hill and switchbacks before finding a small flat spot in the forest at the top. Very slowly. Tiring. But we are comfortably camped now. Might even have enough water in the morning for coffee. J presumably went on to Hwy 114 and Lujan Creek when she found no water at Razor. Beautiful pink skies through the trees at sunset, almost 360º of pink.
Mile 298.2 Hilltop ~ 4 miles before Hwy 114
* A few years ago we backpacked Rancherias Loop in Big Bend Ranch State Park in west Texas. Rancherias Spring is supposed to be one of the water stops. That December the only water we could find at Rancherias Spring was a small spread of standing water about 3” deep with burro prints all through it in the mud. We filtered this water through a bandanna and put in our water bottles with chlorine dioxide tablets to soak overnight. It was fine.
Awoke this morning to clear sky and bikepackers going by. Chilly. We used up the rest of the water on coffee and R’s granola and teeth. I ate a Luna bar, so sugary, ugh. R’s left pinky toe is still sore so rather than unwrapping it and starting over we thought we should add another layer of padding. And he switched the orthotic out and put the Superfeet back in. But basically the shoes are breaking down. Need to see about new ones if possible at the next stop. We also spent some time on that pretty morning hilltop figuring out ways to make R’s pack more compact and balanced for carrying. Put more items inside. Made room for water carry in the long pocket. Less need to excavate for needed items = less chance for accidental loss of items dumped out in the process. He seems to like the result. What with all that, we didn’t leave camp until 9:00. Warm enough to give up all layers at the beginning. Walking barefoot on the sharp pine cones and sticks in camp was a challenge. I think my feet are softening from wearing socks and shoes all day every day.
We had a couple of steep ups and steep downs in the first couple of miles from camp. Passed mile 300 as the trail spilled out of the wooded hill onto the dirt forest road 785 Lujan Creek Rd., which wound around the hills into the valley. We encountered the first crossing of Lujan Creek, with just a trickle of water, which we thirstily pumped and drank all we wanted. After about 2-1/2 miles of dirt road walking, we reached Hwy 114, walked up to the trailhead along the highway verge, and finally got to easy-flowing water at the second Lujan Cr. crossing. We filled our bottles and two Platys. Some other thru-hikers came by, Wonder Woman and Giggles, not carrying much but counting on Los Creek 9 miles ahead for a refill. I had the same Guthook comment information about Los Creek having some water but we felt cautious after the Razor Cr. experience and decided to carry enough water for a dry camp if needed. R and I had also talked about whether to go out on Hwy 114 to seek help for his foot in Gunnison. It didn’t seem practical to go so far (40 miles) even if we could get a ride at all on the fast highway. So we decided to carry on to Lake City.
Even with added water weight the hiking was pretty nice on the open hillside with lots of grasshoppers and birds and sunshine and hardly any ups and downs. Eventually the sun got pretty hot and the trail was climbing more and it started to be work. We took a break in the shade and right after that the thunderstorms blew in. We were walking under our umbrellas in cold hard rain soon after complaining about trudging in the hot sun. The trail through this whole stretch is wide like an old road but nicely forested with a few meadows. We saw some ptarmigan.
Later after the rain, we climbed a steep hill for about 3/4 mile and then stopped for lunch and a rest at the top. Beautiful open forest, quiet and peaceful, with the few sounds—a whirring insect or creaking branch—really standing out. Not like at home where there is so much background noise we don’t even hear the tiny sounds. Lunch of salami and cheese and triscuit, for the fourth day; we used it up. Pretty good. Lunch will be something else tomorrow.
Walking again, downhill but not at all steep, along the abandoned dirt road, R’s pinky toe started hurting so much he was limping. We sat down to investigate. A bikepacker went by, asked if we needed help; we said we were looking at a blistered toe and didn’t need help; he said he got blistered toes too and went on his way. I cut off the wrapping, which had gone all stiff and a little bloody which was worrisome. Cleaned up the toe with iodine. The chafed place on the end had cut deeper below the skin, thus the slight bleeding. I rewrapped it with a bandaid (for the gauze) over the raw place and wrapped moleskin over all. R started off slowly but eventually worked up to normal pace although he said it was still sore. We talked about doing an in-camp zero day tomorrow to give it a longer chance to start healing. Also his shoes are coming apart and the inside seam may be impinging on the toe. 250 miles with no problem for that toe, and suddenly it’s all chewed up. It may have been hit with trail rocks too often the last 3 days. Good to get away from the motorbikes and the torn up trail.
We arrived at Los Creek late this afternoon—yes it has water so our carry wasn’t necessary but was good exercise. We are camped up the hill from the creek, in the forest. I thought we should go on to the campsites near the second encounter with Los Creek about .4 mile ahead but rain was threatening imminently and R wisely wanted to camp at the first spot. We got set up just as the rain began. No one else is around. We see very few people on the trail now, 4 or 5 backpackers and a couple of bikepackers in a day. Everyone we see passes us. So we figure few people are out here. We passed a pasture of cows about an hour before camp, a big pasture by Archuleta Creek, another spot marked as a water source that was completely dry. And a truck went by towing a 4-wheeler on the county road. But that’s all. We cooked and ate in the tent because of this evening’s rain. Mashed potatoes and berry crumble. Too many sweets for me. I guess tomorrow we stay here. I’ll need to go do some detailed observations or take some photos. R will have to stay off his feet. Ukulele, anyone? Now the rain is gone and a few birds or frogs are peeping. So quiet. 14+ miles today.
Mile 312.0 Los Creek
Mid-afternoon. Raining on and off since late morning. We woke up late, around 8:30 a.m., and had a leisurely breakfast outside with pads and bags to ward off the morning chill. Started out cloudy but later warm sun came out. Ate the egg pack from SMS outfitter, with tortillas and coffee. At least we have extra coffee on this round. R set himself up with his pad and sleeping bag and ukulele and trail books, sunscreened his feet, and put his toe out to air in the sun. It is starting to heal; the raw place is dry and has no sign of infection. The skin is still so thin though. He says it is starting to feel better.
After the usual morning chores I started on wash. Two pairs of R’s socks, one pair of my socks, one each of underpants, and all four bandannas, plus two hankies. Socks hold a lot of dirt. I went down to the creek 1/4 mile away twice, for two full Platys each time, for enough water. Emptied one Bearikade to use as a washtub. First wash with soap and one full Platy and lots of agitating, then about an hour of soaking, then more agitating, wring-out, and rinse.
On the first trip to the creek for wash water, I met a couple there getting water, who were making a youtube video of hiking the CT. They had a huge tripod set up. He said they have lots of trail-tough video equipment. A hobby, making YT videos. They sympathized with R having a hurt toe. They went past our camp a little later. The crossing has a little backed-up pool of still water teeming with mosquitoes and gnats but they weren’t biting. Interesting to watch. There’s a nest of ptarmigan in a tree near our camp, which is up the slope from the creek, sheltered by forest.
Rinsing was the hard part of doing the wash. Four separate rinses and wrings and the water was still coming out gray. But less opaque than at the beginning, so I called it good and spread the items across tree branches to dry. The second trip to the creek, for more rinse water, I went barefoot. Didn’t start out to, just went and forgot about shoes. It was OK though—the path is mainly dirt not sharp stones or stickers. Contrast with R, who always wears shoes. It is hard for him to walk barefoot even on the soft forest floor. Plus he has no practice at foot placement so has more trouble with pine cones.
After lunch we holed up in the tent because it started to rain a lot, on and off of course. R dozed, asked questions about the next few days, read guidebook about the later part of the trip, and dozed some more. I spent a fair amount of time calculating out days, possible camps, water stops, ups and downs, dates, and mileages, for the remainder of the trip. I must save my scribbled notes for Thru-hiking Basics examples. Ha! If the rest of the trip goes as we have been, we should arrive in Durango at the end of the day on 8/21. Five days later than the original plan. We will need to hurry home. Probably best to rent a car in Durango, drive the 6 hours to Denver, get our car, make sure it starts and runs OK, then return the rental. Then Colorado Springs Ute Motel, and long haul home, two drivers, late on 8/23. IF the rest of the hike goes as previously. BIG IF of course. We kicked around the idea of R taking more days in Lake City to heal, finding a ride to Silverton, and me hiking that stretch and meeting him there. Of course he doesn’t like that because he wants to do all the hiking but if he can’t it might be the only way. Obviously he also doesn’t like me going solo, would worry, but really it shouldn’t be more risky than solo in the city.
About 3:00 after dozing myself for awhile the rain let up and the sun is out. R went outside with his pad and rain gear to sun himself. I’ve been writing these notes. The reason my handwriting is so bad is because this pen doesn’t work very well. I have to press hard and sometimes it still doesn’t mark properly and it’s too much hassle to go back and correct. So lazy handwriting. Maybe the sun will finally dry the wash. Today there have been six other people so far—the two video makers, two bikepackers in the late morning, and two other backpackers went by a little bit ago. Not at all like the earlier parts of the Trail. This area is more remote, no nearby population centers, access only by dirt roads or walking.
I am glad at least my own shoes worked out OK. Even though bulkier and more constraining than the trail runners, they fit me well and have performed very well. If I use them for future trips, I want to have lightweight gaiters to keep debris out, since it is more hassle to take these shoes off and empty them.
Now afternoon warm sun with squirrels or chipmunks chattering, flies buzzing in and around the tent. Too much rest today. We get used to passive communication—reading or shows—not active, productive communication like writing. Dozens of tiny flies get trapped between the net tent and the outer tarp, crawling around trying to escape towards the light of the sky. Really large black ants patrol the forest duff just outside. I’ve actually caught a couple of big flies that got into the net. Wilderness flies aren’t as quick. We had refried beans and Fritos for lunch, and dried fruit. Planning on macaroni and cheese for supper. By the end of this leg we will be down to bars, peanuts, and peanut butter. But we should have enough calories with us. Looking out at the quiet forest. Crow calling in the distance. Cloudy again. Keeps changing. Twisted deadfall. I wish I could bring some of these branches and wood joints home to look at every day. All swirls and curves and intricate wood patterns. Maybe I will remember to look for some within reach of home. Start a collection. Become a knurled wood hoarder.
Late afternoon. Stopped writing because I was tired of making this pen work and tired of sitting on my ischial bursitis. Maybe rest on hip or elbow? Not sustainable. Better to be walking. Sometimes on this trip when laboring hard uphill, I long for my porch and hammock at home. I walked around a bit, looking for the source of an apparent chattering multitude. It turned out to be a single squirrel, halfway up a spruce tree, carrying on. The main chatter is a low frantic clucking. But there is a concurrent high-pitched squeaking that accompanies it. And a secondary slower clucking beneath the chatter. All emanating simultaneously from the same animal. And it was flipping its tail around in such a way that the tail appeared to be the animal body and the real body faded, quite still by comparison. Perhaps it was distracting me from a hidden nest. If I were a hawk or a cat maybe I would mistake the tail for the body and miss. It made me think of coyotes. One or two coyotes can sound like a whole mess of coyotes when they get going. I suppose someone out there knows all about squirrel vocalization. Might be something I could look up at home.
R has been still out there on his pad for a long time. Only stirring a little. I’ll have trouble sleeping tonight, too much rest today. Looking forward to walking again tomorrow. Why labor so hard? Urge to move, momentum, hard to begin, hard to stop. Enforced fitness program. Thinking about our Pacific Northwest Trail ambition. This trip has been a good test. We have learned we can keep going for a long way. We have also learned the limits of how long we would like to be away from home, about six weeks or two months. Maybe it is the lack of communication, what with my phone out of commission, but we are too embedded in our home lives to want to be gone more than a couple of months at a time. So probably no 1,200-mile walk. We’ll have to settle for sections. Maybe if we were faster. We can use some time to go hang out with our daughter’s family in Spokane and some time to hike sections. Also I have some ideas about more focus on visiting at home. [But now here I am typing at home instead of visiting.] And projects. Maybe because generally not depressed when hiking, all these things seem more possible. When actually home again, I need to find a way to maintain enough physical exercise to keep all these ambitions possible, and insist on going ahead with them. Should I make a list?
- Fall garden
- Finish the photo project in the cottage.
- Yoga and running.
- Knurled wood hoarding.
- Friend calls and visits.
- Reach out for more interaction with our sons.
- Call our daughter often.
- Drive to Houston to see folks.
- Clean house more! It’s good exercise.
- Write letters to the Editor, not just representatives.
- Winter Holiday setup early.
- Do another Social Lunch. And another.
- Land navigation project.
A hummingbird just buzzed by. Another hiker just clicked by. There is so much to observe and understand about my immediate surroundings. Could keep a mind plenty busy. Sometimes I need to be perfectly still. Feels like hesitation.
The ground has:
Larger pebbles (a few)
Tree pollen cones (many)
Black ants, large
Spruce needles, brown
Short dry twigs
Bits of dry bark
Little rosette plants
Dry spruce seed cones
Dry cone scales
Dry brown aspen leaf
A tiny fern
Some longer dry twigs
Very tiny broken bits of all these things
After 8:00 p.m. Macaroni and cheese for supper. Not all that satisfying. Needs vegetables! After supper and “supper tea” (boiling water in dishes/pot, stir to clean, drink when cooled enough) it occurred to me that it would save a bunch of time tomorrow if we could filter our walking water tonight. So back again to the creek I went, for another load. Barefoot again, since it was OK before. Still OK, but the path is much grittier on my skin. I think the rain washed all that nice soft dust into the interstices, leaving the sharp, coarser material on the surface. Mosquitoes at the creek made a cloud of frenzy in the evening glow. But they didn’t go after me as I filled the Platys, carefully trying to keep the floaties out. R did the pumping back up at camp. We now have 4+ liters of cleaned water. And another Platy of un-cleaned, for morning cooking and washing. I am of course not particularly tired, except my back from sitting without support. Will have to sleep anyway. Beautiful glow before sunset, on the mountainside opposite and in the willows at the creek. Now very quiet, just a background whine of who knows how many insects out there in song. A quiet sound, not loud like insects down south. Kinds of scat observed near camp: Rabbit, horse, cow, elk (?) like deer but too large.
Mile 312.0 Los Creek
Camped in basically a cow pasture. We have been amongst the cows for well over four miles. Beautiful scenery along Cochetopa Creek. But yes the cows are everywhere. Mooing. We didn’t want to look for camping right down in the creek valley—even more cows there, and mosquitoes, and somewhat marshy ground. The Databook says camping there, but we didn’t see it. So we continued on up to Nutra Creek, a tributary about a mile south beyond the Cochetopa Cr. crossing. We are high above both creeks on a bench with views of the hills and forest on both sides. Can hear the water far below. Out in the open, not sheltered by trees, but in the upcoming country, we will need to get used to that.
This morning at Los Cr. we were up early and it was cold again. As it is tonight. We are near 12,000 ft. so not surprising. I am needing all my layers at night. After much foot-taping we got going around 8:45 a.m. Beautiful clear morning, along the FS roads across the vast meadows of Cochetopa Hills. This stretch really is as beautiful as they say. Lots of flowers and birds and grasshoppers. A few RVs camped in the clumps of trees along the way. Outside one, the guy had about 8 dogs and he was throwing them frisbees and they were all running around playing. We could see the tuff geology on the surrounding hills and rock outcrops. Then up Van Tassel Gulch. All the creeks and the spring looked dry. Not sure about the spring—we didn’t investigate in the willows and underbrush—but we saw no water. Fortunately we brought 2 L each from Los Creek.
We had to do a bunch of messing around with R’s feet. He found the pinky toe felt better with no liner in the shoe. But then the bottom of that foot was chafing. Duck tape on the sole of the foot didn’t help, and came off right away. Finally we decided to cut the Superfeet insole so that the pinky would be free of it. I cut that part out and beveled it with the pocket knife. Good thing I learned about beveling Superfeet at REI Gateway or I wouldn’t have thought of doing that. R says he can walk now just fine with the toe having more room. It is still raw on the end but it is looking better. Thank goodness. What would we do if he couldn’t walk?
We only saw two other hikers today, a pair of women going north near the saddle above Van Tassel Gulch. Where are the other 2018 thru-hikers? Sure, the ones we saw earlier in the trip have passed us already, but what about those coming from behind who started after we did? During the four mile walk up the Cochetopa Valley I was starting to drag. Hiking was a chore. The valley beautiful and peaceful and remote, and to me it was fatigue and work. Just happens sometimes I guess. Maybe from ibuprofen and aspirin and sleeping stuff last night.
When we crossed Cochetopa Creek, yes it was a wet crossing with the log bridge broken, as the Guidebook said. About 15 ft. wide, just over ankle deep, cold, round stones on the creekbed. Because R’s feet are injured and generally soft from shoes, we had him cross barefoot without his pack. Barefoot because we can’t afford to have his footwear get wet and make his blisters fester. I took off my shoes and socks too and ferried both packs across. I tested the footing first before either of us went. Not too slippery, little algae, so good. Got a nice photo of R coming up out of the creek valley surrounded by crags.
Images: Coyote crossing the valley through the cows down to the creek. Cows everywhere. Us under the trees by the truck road fixing R’s foot and footwear and eating snacks. Lunch in the cool green shade of aspens after a long hot walk up Van Tassel Gulch. Peanut butter/raisin/salt/tortilla roll-ups for lunch. R playing ukulele now, outside our tent on the grass. So nice. Packaged chili and Fritos for supper. I saved the last bit of cheese for it. This is a good trip even though hard. Hope things are OK at home. Have to try to reach people at the next stop. Just before turning in, saw that we have a neighbor, another backpacker, on the high bench across Nutras Creek. R noticed because he was playing the uke and the guy came and peered across the creek canyon to identify the sound.
Mile 327.6 Nutras Creek
Cold morning. Warmer now that sun has come over the ridge. We had breakfast in bed to stay warm. We will see more mornings like this soon, with more above treeline camps and high elevation. Saw today: A hawk soaring round and round above the valley. Some big animals grazing on the slope way across the wide valley just below San Luis saddle. Hard to see. Too tawny to be bighorns. We decided elk. We saw a deer down valley in the forest. Saw another one yesterday too. Today was 98% climbing up. Gradually at first, traveling up the Cochetopa Creek Valley. Fewer cows as we got higher. Sunny and warm all day, no afternoon rain. (None yesterday either.) Hard work climbing but gorgeous scenery. Creek meandering below, forested hillsides—aspen and conifers—meadows of flowers. Some raspberries, currants, and even a few strawberries. The dead trees—most of the hillsides of spruce are dead—are becoming commonplace to us. Like we hardly seem to notice that swaths of forest are brown. This forest will become something else alive and growing, but we won’t live to see what it becomes. Yesterday there was a cool lengthwise-striped snake slithering in the creek at one of our water stops.
As we got higher up today’s valley, the topography suddenly changed; the rock switched to something hard that made cliffs and a narrow canyon, and the flat meandering creek became a thickly forested cascade of waterfalls barely visible between rock walls and trees. Striking! Later it widened out again, going up. The forest gave way to willow thickets. We loaded up on water at the upper crossing of Cochetopa Creek. Two Platys and two bottles. We saw today’s only other hikers both at once just before the creek. One going our way only faster, and the other coming down. Both young men. We passed the one going our way again as he was filtering water. He said he was planning to camp at the Mt. San Luis saddle, same as we.
After the long, steep, difficult last mile to the saddle, with rocky path and tunnels through the willows, when we finally gained the windy open saddle, we wondered what the Guidebook and Databook had meant by stating that there are campsites up here. Nothing we could see but rocky sloping ground, wind, tundra grass clumps, and other low lumpy plants. Nothing that looked like campsite impacts, or even flat enough to set up on. And of course no other hiker—he presumably going faster and arriving earlier will have headed down towards the next trailhead four miles away. Too late for us to do that. We looked around, dropped back off the windy top the way we came up, and finally located a slightly less lumpy, less vegetated (impact?) spot behind a willow patch sheltered a little bit from the cold wind. Layers first, then shelter, then supper. Cooked in the lee of the tent. View all the way down the upper valley to the east. Western sun on the surrounding mountainsides. Spectacular. But it feels a little “out there” like we are on the edge of where we ought to be. Also we are feeling the altitude even after all these weeks in the mountains. Not enough air up here. It’s going to be another cold night. R’s toe didn’t bother him much today but when I looked at it this evening, it is still staining the bandage. We’ll see how it looks in the morning.
Mile 339.1 San Luis Saddle
OK back to work. Three mornings ago on 8/8 we awoke to an orange ball sun behind misty cloud layers over the mountains and valley we had just walked up the evening before. Cold again, a feature of high altitude. At the saddle, 12,612 ft. Less windy in the morning. Got started about 8:00. Figured we had plenty of time for a 13.7 mile day. Going around that first basin below the saddle, sunlight, then into cold shadow, R disappeared behind, I thought he must be having trouble with the rocky trail surface but it turned out he was taking pictures. Worth doing. More and more big mountains all around. Up another saddle. Another valley. Continental Divide crossing, the last one before San Luis Pass. R made a little video at the Divide. Intensity of a sense of huge mountains, huge valleys, all around, tiny us walking through.
San Luis Pass really is no-vehicle-access, just a trail junction in a valley. We got water a mile or so before the junction. Two other hikers blew by really fast, got water, and passed us. They were talking to some day hikers with dogs just before the SLP junction. Apparently locals because we didn’t see them again. We saw a bunch of 4-wheelers high on a ridge above the trail to the south as we started up the next mountainside. I looked at the map later—that ridge is the wilderness border and there’s a jeep track up there. It was a stiff climb to the top, then down to East Mineral Creek. Mostly up on tundra, then into valleys and forest. The valleys are lush and green with tall grasses and flowers and some trees even alive amidst the whole forests red-brown with beetle kill. Then back up to ridges with grasses dry and most low-growing tundra forbs finished blooming and turning red already. A dry year. By the second creek valley—if I recall correctly we got more water at E. Mineral Creek., the first valley after SLP, which took a while, and then did our lunch at Middle Mineral Creek, the second valley. We were running much later than we had hoped, by then. We ate the peanut butter and raisin rollups I had made at breakfast.
By the time we were up and hiking after lunch it was 4:00 p.m. and we still had 5.6 miles to go, much of it uphill. We became suddenly anxious and worried; because of no campsites in the latter several miles, we had to make it to the end. And we were late because the trail ups and downs were hard already. We spotted that last listed campsite above just past Middle Mineral Cr. but it was miles too soon; if we camped there we would never make the next day’s Spring Creek TH shuttle on time. Three saddles to clear before camp. Vertical exaggeration on the Guthook map made it look worse. We forged ahead above treeline. Mountains bigger and spectacular. I tried to hike faster, since I am usually the slowpoke. After awhile R seemed to feel more optimistic and joined my pace. Wrapping around the high valleys. Through fingers of forests, then back out on alpine slopes. Some switchbacks, some not. It felt very remote.
Coming off the second saddle, we began to see the next valleys laid out to the west. Chalk cirques, deep canyons with green bottoms and bare side slopes, willow thickets. We crossed the upland in willow tunnels. A trail junction sign sported a mystery animal skull on top. Then up again, to the last climb of the day. Wide switchbacks across the open mountainside, then around the end of the ridge. We started a “rule” of stopping to breathe and drink water at each marker post. It was a helpful game. Up to the top on the other side—a huge circular bowl, the trail wrapping all around the side of it, to get to Snow Mesa laid out for miles on the other side of the valley. Stretches of talus, definitely interesting, in a difficult way, to walk on. You never know what the trail will throw at you next. Getting late, sun low, wind coming up, hiking around this enormous basin and then down onto Snow Mesa with the dry pond and, allegedly, campsites. Near the pond and beyond, nothing but sloping or rocky (large rocks!) ground with tufty lumpy tundra clump vegetation.
Past the dry pond, looking for camping, we got to Willow Creek, not dry. A blue double pyramid tarp was out there so we looked nearby and finally found the best we could do, more or less flattish and no rocks, but deep clumps and ridges of tundra vegetation. About 7:30 p.m. Layers first, then shelter. Cold again! Windy. We escaped to our nylon cave. Granola for supper. Sunset. We had to weave our bodies in between the ridges of vegetation to sleep. Interesting, again in a difficult way. But we did sleep.
We woke up early, before 6:00, to the coldest morning yet. Ice in R’s water bottle. Frost all over the ground and the plants and the tarp. The neighbor with the blue tarp was still around but not for long. Catholes had to be done out in the open, with no place to hide on the flat tundra. Sunrise. It warmed up soon but we still had to pack the tent wet. We rewrapped the pinky toe. We were running out of bandaids that stick—in the supply we brought from home, most have turned out to be old and don’t stick. We need to buy new ones. We heard the coyotes in the distance overnight and again in the morning. A beautiful clear morning. We had enough water, having brought an overnight Platy from Middle Mineral Creek not knowing if Willow Creek would be dry or flowing. It was flowing, so we could have skipped the weight, but R pointed out that it would have been miserable scooping water up there in the cold dark of sunset or dawn.
We got going around 8:00 with five miles to the trailhead. Shuttle at 12:30. Should be OK. I had a big headache overnight (took 2 I and 1 A) and was unusually queasy in the morning, presumably from spending two nights in a row at well over 12,000 ft. Even though we’ve been gaining and losing elevation the whole trip, mostly we haven’t been sleeping that high. So off we went, over the undulating Snow Mesa tundra, with me feeling gradually better as we dropped in elevation. After three gorgeous scenic miles we topped a rise and dropped off into a rocky canyon. Filled with chunky talus. And pikas. And marmots and chipmunks. We had to pick our way carefully over the rocks. Pikas everywhere, squeaking, running across the path, sitting up to look around, disappearing into holes. They live under the rocks, but have to venture out to the edges of the talus field to get to the grasses and forbs they eat and store in their burrows for the long snowy cold mountain winter.
The dry canyon eventually opened into the forest below. We passed a huge intact animal backbone lying by the trail, with skull on. Elk? R took a picture. Way back up on Snow Mesa about a mile before the drop-off I saw something orange in the grass a few feet from the trail. It was a GSI insulated cup. I picked it up, since was now litter, and stuffed it into my pack side pocket and forgot about it. So later down in the forest we passed a camp, an older couple with a big TNF tent and lots of equipment. We didn’t greet them because the man was changing clothes outside and I thought to leave him his privacy. But as we passed the woman looked out of the tent and asked if we had seen an orange insulated cup! Which we had. She thought she’d lost it in the talus canyon and was surprised it was way up on the mesa. Later we got to know these folks, D and E, who are from north Houston.
We made the last mile down to the Spring Creek TH by about 11:00 a.m., plenty early. But we hadn’t wanted to be rushing down a rocky trail. A hiker hitching towards Lake City, British accent, told us there was good water in the canal by the road. We got to know him later too. We settled in the shade of the information sign to eat snacks, rest, and R to play the ukulele. We didn’t want to miss the shuttle and didn’t know quite what to expect. Eventually E arrived, with D about 20 minutes behind her. She said he just goes slowly. We all had a nice visit. The British accent guy got a ride eventually.
At 12:30 exactly, a big art-painted Suburban pulled up and disgorged some backpackers and some children—the shuttle, driven by Lucky, the Ravens Rest Hostel owner. Nice! More visiting and farewells and greetings and we loaded up, four riders, with Lucky’s three kids in the back, and wound around the 40 minutes of mountain highway to Lake City. Talked about the dying forests and Lake City and the Trail and other stuff. We arrived tired, in need of rest and laundry and shower. My shower felt great! D and E had their car parked nearby and gave me a ride up through town to the laundromat. The hostel has a loaner clothing box so no need to wear my rainsuit.
Later R and I went to an early supper at the Packers restaurant and stuffed ourselves with a burger and a chicken sandwich, and R had a beer. Back at the hostel—top bunks! a challenge—we sat under the umbrellas in the rain on the courtyard bench and called our older son. He can cover if we are a few days late and the house sitter has to move on. I spent some time with the Databook and maps in the evening, reworking our planned itinerary from here to Silverton to make shorter days since the terrain is getting higher and at times more steep. It feels like the Enforced Fitness Program is simultaneously making me stronger and sapping my reserves. A little worried that I am still fatigued much of the time, and especially when I looked in the mirror after my shower and my lower ribs are showing and my usually round rear looks deflated and saggy. After hiking up mountain and down for five weeks with a full load I’d expect to look less scrawny. I’ve been eating all I want but perhaps it’s not enough. So I’m trying to eat more in town.
This morning we went to the cafe and bar next door for breakfast and coffee. Breakfast generous, coffee weak. We’ll try a different place tomorrow. During the night, had to climb down artificial rock holds from the top bunk to go pee, which was hard while all groggy and wobbly from sleep, but it keeps me functioning, to do hard stuff. D and E packed up their resupply and headed out late morning. We were out shopping, got some fresh peaches and other vegetables at a roadside stall and gave them a couple of peaches as we passed them hitching out. D had some blister covers for R. They will hike back to their car which is still parked here. Nice folks. D turns out to be an affinal cousin to a friend of mine in Austin.
R tried on some Vasque boots at the local outfitter but they were too narrow for his feet and would just make his blisters worse. They had nothing else in his size so his current shoes will have to do. We sampled some jerky at one place, and would have bought a bunch, but it wasn’t very good. We walked all the way up to the other end of town for the larger grocery store, bought our resupply groceries for five days, and carried it all the way back. R made summer-sausage-and-cheese wraps for his lunch; I just finished my huge breakfast burrito and ate peaches. Later I sorted food and repackaged it into the bear cans, visited with other hikers, wrote this journal, read internet on R’s phone when it would load (spotty wifi), and made supper of carrot, onion, and spinach soup and spinach salad with the fresh vegetables we bought. It all came out pretty good. We went over to the village park across the alley to call our younger son and and our daughter because the establishment next door has Friday night live music going. The connection was poor so we texted with her. He called back later and told R about his promotion and other news.
We need to be organized in the morning and packed up and out of the hostel by 10:00 when they close for cleaning. I made a two-night reservation at the hostel in Silverton. A room not bunks this time. For two people, the private room is cheaper. Feeling a bit of trepidation about these last stages of our trip. It is supposed to be wonderful trail but high and hard. But we’ve done OK so far.
Mile 352.9 Willow Creek on Snow Mesa on 8/8
Mile 357.8 Spring Creek Pass/Lake City 8/9
Mile 357.8 Lake City 8/10
Back on the trail! Last night at the hostel I had trouble going to sleep. Trying to read myself to sleep with articles on R’s phone, especially an Atlantic article about the Fifth Extinction. Finally was able to sleep about 11:30. Up at 7:00. R already up. Most folks in the hostel packing for an early hitch and start. We planned on waiting for the shuttle and went for breakfast at Confluence Cafe. The coffee was better but still weak. Maybe just the local custom. I tried to eat plenty, got an Egg Bowl with sweet potatoes, grilled peppers, onions, cheese, and salsa. Plus Cholula (fortunately on the table) because the hot salsa wasn’t hot. We returned to Raven’s Rest to pack up. I made summer sausage and cheese rollups and brought the tomato and cucumber and the last peach. Gave away the milk and the rest of the carrots and onion. Wrapped R’s toes in the courtyard after we vacated at 10:00. A couple of other folks were still around. We went over to the park to await the shuttle volunteer. With almost two hours of down-time, maybe we should have hitched earlier like everybody else but we didn’t. We sat and read and hung out.
The volunteer was a really nice retired woman who’s lived in the area for decades. No other riders on the way up. We had a great conversation in the car about her place in Lake City and another place in Scottsdale, AZ for winter; advocacy against noisy OHV’s, the local economy being hurt by them, beetle kill of the forest, etc. Remember she said a geologist gives local geology field trips out of the Lake City Museum. Look this up when we get home; it would be a good activity for a road trip. When we arrived at Spring Creek Pass there were 7 backpackers waiting for a ride to town! Our volunteer driver only had room for 5 but they must have figured out a way to squeeze in because shortly they were all gone. I ate my lunch (R ate his at the town park earlier) and we decided to bring overnight water, which we got from the canal with the good water across the highway. Just as well we did. All the other water sources today have been dry.
We planned on the 5.6 mile hike to the junction beneath the antenna array mountain, where the Databook says there is a campsite. Started at 1:00 on a Forest Service dirt road. Crossed meadows with expansive views. Uphill but an enjoyable hike. (Except for continuing fatigue but I am ignoring that.) We saw some trucks and jeeps and a popup camper but no other hikers. Cows. Rising above the surrounding area, we could see the Snow Mesa tableland back to the east, and a whole jumble of craggy mountains ahead and to the north. One with red-orange all over its slopes, another made of layers like a towering cake all busted up. A long stretch of mountains in the distance to the west and south. We are headed that way. Gradual up for most of the way today. We made good time. The path was super rocky after we left the jeep road, up and across Jarosa Mesa between willow thickets, following posts and cairns and other hikers’ footprints. The grasses are taller here, and flowers, in the lower areas. Higher up, the grasses dry, a few flowers, mostly yarrow and cinquefoil, lots of sedges still green. Got to the junction at 5.6 miles around 4:30 p.m. Had a snack. Looked over the area. No water. No campsite we could see. Totally exposed. We decided we had enough energy to keep going, and ended up hiking all the way up to the saddle and back down past the Yurt and the “swampy valley,” which looked like its swampiness was a thing of the past—green but dry. We should have investigated the Yurt but since it was listed as “reservation only” we did not. Later when we saw D again she said they had gone up there and spent the night in it anyway, and had left us a note. We re-entered the forest as we came down from the ridge. No campsites on that side, but in the forest just after crossing the valley we found an excellent site.
It feels good to be back in forest. As we approached camp and started setup, we heard voices in the distance. It sounded maybe like a youth group or something. But it continued much longer than kids would, over an hour, drawing closer. Coyotes? Nope. Cows? Maybe, but too high-pitched. R got up and looked through the trees after supper—hundreds of sheep moving up the valley, hollering as they came. It took them over an hour to go by, eating all the way. We saw one rider on horseback with a dog—presumably tending all those sheep. Interesting to see. The broccoli soup and rice supper worked out OK—filling and good-tasting. But so messy with the pot wanting to always boil over. Tomorrow I will try soaking and then just heating, instead of cooking. Spills are risky in bear country. So this afternoon we have come the originally-planned 8.8 miles instead of the abbreviated 5.6. Probably for the best. Tomorrow we climb to 13,271 ft., the highest point on the CT. We have 7 miles to do it in but there are some downs as well as ups. We’ll see how far we get. It only needs to be a 10 mile day. No rain today but some threatening clouds the last couple of miles, some hanging right over our heads as we crossed the hilltop. Cold tonight.
Mile 366.6 Near the Yurt
Dawn. Owl in the early morning. Sheep again, so noisy. Haven’t heard that before, like when driving by pastures of sheep. Maybe they only holler like this when being moved? They sound like they are being moved in a different direction today.
8:15 p.m. Nearly dark. Cold rain sprinkling. All bundled up, still sort of cold. Went out to put bear cans away and pee. Clouds and mist all up and down this valley. We are camped in the minimal shelter of willows next to the small lake on the trail above Cataract Lake. This morning it was chilly but sunny. In the trees we didn’t get the sun’s warmth right away, but it was bright and we were rested. Got off about 8:15. First through the lush forest we camped in. Then after a climb we emerged from treeline onto the tundra again. At the edge of the trees we passed another couple breaking camp, hiking with llamas. Their rented llamas were named Magellan and Drake. Nice people from Kansas, section hiking out and back, out of Silverton. We remarked on the difficulty of the altitude for all us lowlanders, and leapfrogged for a while. Passed the sheep coming up to the high slopes.
This was our gradual, and at some points not so gradual, ascent to the CT high point, 7 miles from camp. Expansive views. The pink mountain was again in sight, from the other direction. Dry gold grasses and seedheads and green sedges. Pikas in rock fields, and lots of marmots today. Wind and sun. Green valleys far, far below. We could see the big lake to the north, San Cristobal, the one formed by the Slumgullion Slide. Photos at the high point. A rest out of the wind behind a rock outcrop. A young woman backpacker from Creede came by going to Durango. Planning to camp at Cataract Lake, she said, but we haven’t seen her this evening.
Coming down from the high point to Carson Saddle, windy and rough trail. Looking across a whole valley of old mines, their yellow and white tailings mounds spilling out from still-extant holes, with log structures crumbling outside. Many dirt roads snaking all around the mines and up the mountainsides, crisscrossing. ATVs visible on some of them. Llama folks and Creede woman were ahead of us, already past the junction. Then we lost sight of them. We stopped for lunch about 2:00 after leaving the jeep road for the footpath again, turning up Lost Trail Creek Valley. It had been all cold wind and bluster coming down. Then bright hot sun and still air at lunch, so we deployed our umbrellas for shade. We used up the last of our water at lunch. Started up Lost Trail Cr. valley about 3:00, got water at the 1.2 mile stream. Looking down into the valley bottom, the main creek was more like a series of ponds, with mine tailings piles on the slopes above. Probably not the best water. Glad for the streams coming from higher up. Many were dry, but the one we needed was flowing fine. I thought the llama folks said they were going to camp just past Carson, but we didn’t see them there. The llama tracks in the trail stopped, though, so maybe they were camped somewhere out of sight. [Later we found out that was the case.] Steep hillside, not a lot of camping options. We decided since the lake camp was only 4 1/2 miles ahead at 3:00 p.m. we could continue on. It was a long climb up the valley. Lots of pikas and marmots and chipmunks and birds, expansive views, craggy ridges above.
About halfway up that valley, storm clouds began to gather behind us and creep over the peaks. Thunder in the distance. Rain on the other side of the ridge. I was glad I had left my woolens on this morning. Nearing the nameless (so denoted in the Guidebook) pass, rain began, and more thunder, and wind and hail. Umbrellas, then the rain stopped. But getting colder. No place to go but up and over. Windshirts. More rain and hail and wind. Rainsuits and keep moving. A non-zero chance of getting struck by lightning out in the open, but a near certainty of hypothermia if we didn’t keep moving. On the steep open slope no place to erect a shelter. So up and over we went, as fast as our poky old legs and lungs could go.
The rain let up as we topped the pass and started down the stark, wide, windswept valley on the other side. It was some distance down in the freezing wind before we dropped to the junction of jeep roads, Pole Creek Rd. to the left, and Cataract Lake came into view down below to our right. A hiker with a German accent greeted us—he was headed UP. And then a bikepacker came from behind. So he had come over the pass after we did. He was cold too. I finally got my gloves out and put them on my freezing hands. I should have done that at the beginning, but they were buried in the liner bag and I didn’t want to open that in the rain. Henceforth they live in the drysack. Bike guy got to the smaller lake by the trail ahead of us—he was able to ride down—and set up in the open space by the shore. We opted for a somewhat lumpy spot in the willows. Still pretty windy in here though.
R got two Platys of murky water from the lake. I had better luck with cooking supper than last night. The minestrone was less prone to boiling over than the broccoli cheese mix. The rain has completely stopped now and it is getting colder so time to stop writing. Tomorrow will bring a decision—camp at 8 miles or go 16 miles. No listed campsites between. Probably all tundra. The weather may be a factor if it doesn’t clear off. I saw what looked like a raccoon zip across the trail part way up Lost Trail Creek valley before the weather started. Ringed tail, about the right size, definitely bigger than a marmot. I didn’t think they lived up this high. But what else could it be? Also when we got down here near the small lake, we saw three young deer, two of them growing new antlers, feeding by the willows below. They let us take their picture.
Mile 380.5 Cataract Gulch Trail Junction
It’s going to take some focus to do two days at once this time. So packed! Yesterday morning we woke up at the little lake to clear sky and more wind. Such a relief from the storm of the afternoon before, but still cold and blustery. I had an altitude headache again. Right across our little lake, there was the moose! Probably the one I saw briefly from above, feeding in Cataract Lake, during the storm. This morning the moose was walking in the water’s edge. I took some photos. Then it walked up onto the bank and went on its way. The bicycle guy was leaving about when we started packing up. I think we got going around 8:30 but I don’t really remember. Because of the sunshine I started without my windshirt. Chilly but OK as long as I kept moving.
Up the Cuba Gulch. We stopped for non-murky water at the little stream in the valley above. Another hiker passed us. He was walking a lot faster than we were but stayed in sight because he kept lingering taking pictures. Understandable! We went over a saddle and above a long deep valley with high mountains across and all around. The trail stayed high on the side of the ridge so we had views. The whole day was like a spectacular tour of one high valley below after another. Sometimes we dropped down a bit, often we climbed up a steep saddle, over to the next valley. There were three separate valleys signed “Maggie Gulch”—I guess they run together below, so far down I couldn’t tell. We met an older couple day hiking from some Maggie Gulch parking. All brown vegetation on the slopes and deep green in the gorge bottoms where there is still some water. The route is marked with cairns. Sometimes it stayed high on the plateau and we could see forever. Mountains all around, some close by with bright colored streaks of red or pink or yellow. Some in long chains in the hazy distance.
Many small lakes in view, in the deep green valley bottoms and up on the divide near the trail. The high ones were mostly dry. Grasses were brown except near water. Sedges green with brown seedheads. Many different flowers, even though most have gone to seed by now. More subtle in color, not as riotous as the bright flowers of July, but I like the textured pastel seedheads and bending golden drying stalks just as much. Many pikas and marmots and chipmunks, and those rock-dwelling birds, when we passed talus. Pikas dragging whole plants bigger than they were, under the rocks, into their tunnels. The cold wind lasted all day. Eventually I put my windshirt back on. But it didn’t rain.
We had a dilemma—camp at a “murky” (according to Guthook comments) lake at about 8 miles or try to get to the next camp listed which would have been 16 miles. When we arrived at the 8 mile lake it was indeed murky and, out in the open in that wind, quite uninviting. We decided to go on and take our chances with finding a place to sleep sooner than the 16 mile spot, since there wasn’t time to get that far. In the late afternoon we came to the stream that is the headwaters of the Rio Grande. It is a pretty creek with brightly colored stones, green grass, flowers, flowing from the slopes of Canby Mountain. Our last couple of miles circled the mountain around to Stony Pass Rd. which is a dirt road graded for cars. We needed water—didn’t fill up before because we didn’t want to carry so much—and got some at a small stream just past the segment trailhead at Stony Pass Rd. It wasn’t all that late, about 5:00, but we decided we were getting tired and the wind would be even stronger the higher back up we went. So about 1/3 mile after the road and soon after the stream we decided to camp. Nothing very flat but we found a lumpy sloped place that would do, above the trail on a rocky meadow amidst the marmots and pikas, who squeaked the news of our arrival all across the hillside.
It was challenging cooking in the vestibule mostly out of the wind with the lumpy ground sloping away and the bear cans rolling out of reach. We had two full Platys so I put them under the edge of the tent floor on my (downhill) side to brace me from rolling down, and similarly put my pack under R’s Ridgerest to keep him from rolling down onto me. It sort of worked. We went to sleep before dark, about 7:30. I meant to write then but my back was tired from sitting sideways to fix supper and when I lay back to rest before writing, I fell asleep! There was some rain after dark but by the time I went out to pee the stars were out. During the night I woke up with an altitude headache and took some ibuprofen, maybe a mistake because I was hung over from it all day today.
This morning we were awake about 6:30. Cold, but the wind had abated. We were on the trail a little after 8:00, after a lopsided breakfast and the usual chores. Another thru-hiker went by just as we were walking down to the trail. We visited a little. Then up, up onto the plateau again, surrounded by high mountains in the distance and dry or drying ponds and lakes here and there close at hand. We encountered a number of other hikers, going our way or the opposite way, many apparently out for a few days. We found out only later what the eastbound ones had to climb to get up to where we were on the Divide. We passed a sheep camp, the sheep just visible way far across the canyon on the opposite slope, hollering faintly.
On some switchbacks before the sheep camp, coming down, I was ahead and R, whose shoes have lost most of their tread, slipped on the loose trail surface. He fell down and had to get out of his pack to stand back up, all without a hand. So after that we agreed to stick closer together. A few more miles of hiking this sky-high plateau after morning snack, and the trail dropped off the edge of the world. A mine and mining cabin from history, in sight below on our left, and a steep escarpment laced with switchbacks and covered with flowers and bees below on our right. R had to tread ever so carefully on those steep switchbacks dropping into Elk Creek Valley, especially at the turns. We passed a dog and its man hiking up.
Down, down we went. The sky clouded over as we reached Elk Creek. Some old mine shafts entered the orange cliffs. Suddenly wind and rain. Rainsuits. Too windy for umbrellas. The gorge narrowed, with high dark walls of striated rock, fascinating and wild, our trail cut right into the cliffside. By whom? Modern trailbuilders for recreation? Or the old mining outfits and their mules? (I am betting on the latter.) We passed another hiker huddled under a tarp. The trail surface was very stony and slippery in places, and steep, with big drop-offs to the creek. We picked our way down in rain and wind. As we crossed the creek at the first crossing, the weather let up and we sat in a streamside grassy nook surrounded by willows to eat lunch. Soon we were under our umbrellas, nibbling wraps and listening to the resuming rain over our heads and the rushing creek below our feet. After sheltering there for some time we were getting cold. So on again with the full rainsuits. We collected and filtered a bottle of water for the trail and resumed our careful walk, past more striped and colored rock, high cliffs on the other side, precipitous trail, roaring creek.
Then into forest for the first time in days, as the creek dropped deep into the canyon and the trail hugged the upper slopes. Forest path, soft spruce needles, so much easier to walk on! Sometimes still rocky and treacherous, but not so much now. Slowly the sun returned, weak and misty at first, then for real. Steamy rainsuits off. Canyon opening wider. Forest trail dropped to creek level, and we could see cascades through the trees. Eventually some meadows, and forest campsites near the creek. Along the creek channel below high water line, many rocks and logs looked coated stark white—some sort of precipitate? I’ll need to ask someone later. Elk Creek is supposed to be good water. Somewhere in this stretch we passed the 400th mile, but it wasn’t marked and we didn’t think about it until later. Lower down, the creek disappeared beneath a huge old rock slide. We met a family with three llamas, two kids, two dogs, two grandparents, and a guide unsuccessfully seeking campsites and water. We told them about a flowing tributary we had crossed, and the sites farther up. We wondered what the kids would be thinking tomorrow. The grandmother said their plan was to hike up to the Divide. That’s a beautiful hike but 2,700 feet up! We just came down it.
We decided to shoot for the campsites by the beaver pond with the view of Arrow and Vestal peaks. Nearing the place, we were both confused by a vast boulder field, maybe 1/4 mile or more in all directions, the trail cutting right through it. How could a pond and campsites be in this enormous mountain of rocks? But just like that, there was the pond through the trees right at the final edge of rocks. It’s like, the pond water must be flowing in from under the rocks. There is an outlet stream but no apparent inlet. It must be underneath the rock field. It looks like an old beaver pond, with the outlet a wide sieve of old branches, now covered with bushes. We got our water there at the outlet, then set up camp back at the head of the pond at a flat site we passed at first. Another tent is in a big easy site further down. We are happy with our spot, with a view of pond and mountains, flat ground, no lumps, not so cold as up above. We could do supper outside and R could play his ukulele and everything. After supper we went for a walk by the pond. Nice mountain and trees reflection in the smooth still water. A couple of young guys from Durango arrived, thru-hiking home. They were at Cataract Lake last night. So they had a long day, one day for our two! They said they saw a couple of river otters today. R says to write that he wanted to hike all the way back looking for river otters but that I put a stop to it. : )
Mile 391.2 Just past Stony Pass Rd.
Mile 402.5 Pond
Got all immersed in other logistics things and forgot to write until now. About 10:00 p.m. second night in Silverton. Most important of course is yesterday, our hiking day from Elk Creek to Molas Pass. That morning I was all kind of spooked about the big climb even though we’ve done bigger ones earlier in the trip. We were up pretty early. The two Durango guys below weren’t up yet. Overcast. Chilly. The sun came out eventually. We were ready to go a little after 8:00 but still needed to get a couple of half-Platys of water at the pond outlet on the way out of camp. R needed more toe taping but the pinky toe is looking ever so much better!
The trail took us through green and moist forest. This whole valley seems a lot wetter than any of the terrain for the last couple of weeks at least. Mostly downhill, following the creek, with a few terrain lumps. Durango guys soon passed us, along with another group of three young guys going fast. Because of R’s shoes we were slowly mincing our way on the steeper downhills. The rocks and geological formations were amazing. All different colors and shapes. One cliff was all overhanging break lines with great fallen chunks below. Some rocks had many closely packed layers. We just kind of looked at rocks all the way down. We met a family—parents from Amarillo and grown daughter from San Marcos—hiking up, from a base camp near the train stop. Very friendly. They were going to see the beaver pond. The dad warned R that the climb up to Molas (which they hiked down) was scary difficult. We reassured ourselves yet again, after we hiked on. Later the trail left the creek and crossed the hillside and we got our first view of the Animas River and the train tracks. The Animas is still stained all orange from the 2015 spill. Not the water anymore, but the riverbank and riverbed and all the rocks. Weird looking.
We walked along the tracks—many campsites by the river in the trees—and then crossed the river on a big hiker bridge. We were ready for morning snack, but the river bottomland on that side was all choked with vegetation so we made our way up the trail a bit and took our break in a small campsite above the trail. The train went by a couple of times. We couldn’t see it through the dense trees but heard it. A number of hikers walked by. This area is used by overnighters and day hikers not just distance hikers. Then it was time to gird ourselves for the big “scary” climb. As we were starting up the sky clouded again and it was looking like rain soon. Switchbacks through the forest, each tier with a little bit different view of the canyon walls and the valley below. Actually not bad—sure, climbing is work—but the exercise and the forest enjoyable. Partway up who should appear coming down but D and E! Going the other way on this segment after shuttling to Silverton. So we visited for a while. This is where they told me that they and some other hikers from Ravens Rest had been talking about what my “trail name” should be. They were trying to come up with something that would combine my name with “minimal” because according to them I am such a minimalist backpacker. Their suggestions were kind of silly-sounding, though, like “Minima” or the like. I demurred.
We took some pictures of a rock wall across from us that looked all bent like soft putty. Up, up, up. Rain began. Rain suits worked for a while but then too hot so we switched to windshirts and umbrellas. Other hikers were leapfrogging us or passing us by. We got to the top of the switchbacks and crossed a long meadow before settling on a log for lunch. Then on up more gradually across drying meadows and hilltops and more meadows. Past the Hwy 550 access, past Molas Campground. In and out of forest. We were doing fine. The last stretch up the wide switchbacks to Molas Pass seemed longer than expected but it had to get all the way up the mountainside to the pass. Finally we came out at the crossing. It wasn’t far at all to the Rest Area. Raining again. All the tourists stopping at the overlook had umbrellas out. No good safe spot to hitchhike so we went and sat under our umbrellas on the bench below the overlook and R started asking people about a ride to Silverton. Not all that long, maybe 20 minutes, and he found a nice young man on a work trip who had plenty of room in his rental car to take us. He works for a federal program that places health care providers in underserved rural clinics. His territory is CO and SD. We talked about his work and his family and he kindly took us all the way to Blair Hostel before continuing on his way to Ouray.
Silverton is smaller than I expected. It is in a valley; you can see the whole town laid out below, from a bend in the highway coming down. It is set up to look like a “historic mining town,” like a movie set, and movies have been made here. But it doesn’t seem to be about mining at all now, just the narrow gauge railroad and the tourists. Kind of limping along. Restaurants close early. Not many people about. Not at all like, for instance, Salida or Buena Vista. The clerk at the outfitter this morning said it’s because the tourist season just ended. The kids go back to school on Monday.
Blair Hostel is super clean and quiet and organized but not social like Ravens Rest. It was nice to get to pay someone to do the wash, until the wash wasn’t returned for 3 hours! We arrived around 5:00. Wanted to go eat but had to wait because their loaner clothes didn’t have pants that fit R. I found an orange 3-tier skirt and a gray sweater I’ve worn our whole time here. We got hungrier and hungrier and I texted the proprietor but she didn’t answer. Finally I went out just about 8:00 p.m. to look for take-out but almost every eatery was already closed. Found one tavern still open and got two burgers and a salad and a fries, to go. On my way back R appeared across the main street. The wash was finally delivered so he came to find me. Miscommunication about the laundry timeline I guess. I assumed when she was putting our wash on right away that it would be done in an hour or so, like at a laundromat. Maybe it was but by that time she had gone out and didn’t bring it until much later. Oh well.
While here I’ve read that book of impressions of the CT, Voices of the Colorado Trail, by David Fanning, very nice. We went to breakfast this morning and bumped into the llama couple from the other day. We all ate and visited together. She is a German teacher and he is some other kind of teacher, both semi-retired. From Lawrence, KS. They said they got a couple of photos of us passing through all those sheep so we gave them our contact information to send. I guess if they do send, we’ll have theirs. Then we went to the outfitter (which did not have hiking or running shoes) for fuel. And to the grocery store for resupply. I worked through our itinerary yet again. If we can manage 14-15 mile days we can get to Durango at the end of the day on 8/21 and only have to do one dry camp. If we have to slow down it gets more difficult. I made lots of notes and double checked the water sources on Guthook.
This afternoon we both had naps. I went back to the grocery later for the ATM (the morning shuttle requires cash) and ice cream. We had a lot of food to eat today. Went to lunch at that pizza and beer place down the block. I still had half my breakfast burrito and then half the lunch wrap. Ate them for afternoon snack and then supper. R ate his leftover lunch pizza for supper. And we didn’t even get to the ice cream! We decided to have that for breakfast tomorrow. I did a bunch of web searching re: transportation from Durango, lodging, water on trail (CT FB group) and other stuff. There might be a FB trail angel for a place to stay—I sent her a PM—but generally it was hard to get the information I was seeking. A rental car may not be available. We might need to take a bus after all. Whatever. Mainly, I am looking forward to getting back out on the trail. Town stops I look forward to, especially the fresh food, but then find stressful and frustrating in practice.
Mile 411.1 Molas Pass/Silverton 8/15
Mile 411.1 Silverton 8/16
Enough fretting about the trail ahead. We’ll find out what it’s like the we get there. The last few hiking days have been full of marmots and pikas and chipmunks and birds inhabiting the talus slopes and other rocky areas. They all make similar calls so we named them collectively the “squeakers.” They always announce our approach. This morning we got up about 6:30 and ate the ice cream for breakfast. Jan the Blair Hostel owner gave us some ground real coffee which we made strong so it was pretty good, even with creamer and white sugar in it. We finished packing, showered, stripped beds, and were all ready for our ride to the trailhead at 8:00. Jan took us up in her old truck for $10 cash. We listened to her fret about a guy who came in late and left early and whose debit card bounced. And her computer wasn’t working right. Etc.
It was a bright morning, partly sunny, partly cloudy. While we were finishing our sunscreen just up the hill from the trailhead, who should arrive but the hikers from the beginning of the trip who would always cry out “It’s REI!” upon my approach. We hadn’t seen them since the first week on the trail. It’s those two and another woman as a group, and then 2 other guys I don’t have names for. We leapfrogged for a few miles and visited a bit in passing. They camped about noon, saying they were taking a half-zero.
The trail going up rose gradually, wrapping around mountains with high cliffs on top. The whole landscape we passed through this morning is “terraced” geology with limestone looking benches. The trees follow the benches. R had fun looking at all the geology. The flowers are giving way to the colors of fall already. Lots of red leaves on the tundra plants, and yellow masses of leaves in the marshier areas. Brown and gold seedheads on the grasses. Still plenty of yarrow and fireweed and gentian. A day hiker asked me if I knew what the blue down-facing ones but I didn’t remember. We are surrounded also by spectacular mountains of rock color—red, green, purple. Some of the rocks are in very thin layers, all stacked. Later we passed into huge slopes and boulders of conglomerate. These are mentioned in the Guidebook. Higher up, the land became pitted with lots of sinkholes, some of them with flowing water. We saw a spring bursting from under the rocks a little way above the trail to our right. This might have been Lime Creek, although I forgot to look for it at the time. A couple of guys backpacking the other way asked how far to Lime Creek. I realized I’d missed looking for it. Anyway it was one of the actively flowing creeks we passed.
At morning snack, we perched on a log a ways above the trail, marveling at the mountainsides across the valley and the ranges beyond. Lunch was in a little hollow protected by willows because a cold wind and thunder were coming up. We had a high pass to cross after lunch, “South of Rolling Mountain” according to the Databook. The storm clouds were gathering and the rain had begun, on and off. We went with wind shirts and umbrellas. For a while the rain came down pretty hard. With small hail. We passed in and out of forest bands, then climbed up towards the pass. I was worried about lightning at the pass but figured it would take us some time to get there and it might be dispersing by then. Up high we saw a shepherd’s shelter up above on the opposite side of the valley, and heard sheep over a ridge, and saw lots of sheep tracks in the mud, but we didn’t see the sheep. There were some dry lakes and one with murky water. And views! High mountains all around, deep valleys going who knows where, into dark green remoteness. How did we get here? Finally over the pass about 3:30 and started down. Thunder was mostly gone by then, but it was still a relief to be heading down. Beautiful valley below. All spread out with mixed forest and meadow and lakes here and there, and rocky outcrops, and red and green and purple and brown mountains beyond. The trail wound around all these things; meanwhile the sun came out but the wind kept blowing and it kept raining on and off the whole time the sun shone.
We passed 3 or 4 backpackers heading up to the pass the other way. Then we descended into the forest below, down, down, towards Cascade Creek. We stopped for water at a Cascade Creek tributary because R was out. The water slides over orange rocks arrayed in flat layers. Luckily R looked up at the right moment as we departed this creek, and we got to see the high waterfall through the trees above. Then just 1/2 mile to Cascade Creek itself, crashing down its deep gorge. The campsites were all occupied but the two men camped by the bridge didn’t mind us squeezing in. A beautiful evening, still partly cloudy. R turned in early—he’d had to take a lot of ibuprofen for his toe with the arthritis. Tomorrow we go back up again. Whee! Nearly 15 miles today. Good for us!
Mile 425.9 Cascade Creek
Today we should have been cruising, but instead it turned out to be pretty challenging. Mainly weather. Rained a lot during the night. Still raining in the morning. And cold. Not frozen like Snow Mesa but cold. We got started about 8:00 but soon stopped to don rain suits, partly because of the intermittent rain, partly for warmth and wind protection. Right off during our climb out of the Cascade Creek canyon, mountain bikes started passing. They said it was an event, a race from Molas Pass to Durango. None had overnight gear. They were planning to do all 75 miles today. They must have started before daylight. About 20 participants they said. So we were needing to move over for all these bikes all morning.
The climb was actually helpful for keeping us warm. The forest is deep and lush in there, and the spruce trees are alive. Maybe it gets colder in winter and that inhibits the beetle generations. Today it was rain and hail and wind most of the morning. Then clearing then storming again. We stopped for snack under some trees on a rise out in a meadow after the saddle above the Cascade Creek valley. A young woman passed us walking fast. At snack we had to put on our puffies and warm hats and everything, like winter. The two guys who were camped next to us went by not bundled up at all, but they too were exercising hard. We were tempted to try hiking in our puffies but realized that would be unworkable. Eventually the day warmed some and the rain was less frequent so we switched to umbrellas and windshirts. We experimented with stowing one pole to make the umbrellas more manageable. That helped. The countryside and scenery are nice in here. Lots of rock color on the mountainsides and huge talus fields, like, half a mountain worth at once. The trail follows the ridges so while there are ups and downs; in general it says high, in forest and out of forest.
I’ve been looking more closely at the yellowing cornhusk lilies. (These we see in New Mexico too.) I think they didn’t flower this year. They look like they put up their vegetative growth, the tall stalks and wide leaves, and then started to die. Maybe from lack of water, since this summer is so dry and the snowmelt was all gone early. None of the yellowing plants has a central flower stalk or a seedhead. Not even a dried up one. So I think they didn’t make it. [At home I looked this up, it is Veratrum californicum, or California False Hellebore; it is a perennial and quite poisonous, found in mass stands at higher elevations in soggy ground. Consistent with where we see it in New Mexico.] We passed through meadows with a lot of those little greenish-gray birds that dart in groups out of the vegetation upon our approach.
During the afternoon the sun came out some and the rain stopped. Still heavy clouds going by, and shrouding the more distant mountains. The approach to Blackhawk Pass—a bigger climb than it looked like on the elevation profile—was sunny. But wind shirts stayed on because we knew as soon as we neared the top we would step into that raging river of air that is always blowing over a pass. And so it was, wind so strong it almost tipped us over. The north side of Blackhawk Pass has some clumps of trees and a lot of tall waving grasses. The south side, where we were headed, is very different, all low-growing grasses and forbs, with no trees until much lower down. Colder? Drier? We crossed stripes on the hillside. The trail was gray for a short distance, then red, then gray, then maybe purple, then red again. Good walking surface. R wasn’t slipping. Over our shoulders we craned our necks to see meadows so high and steep going straight up from the trail, looking up left me dizzy.
The first crossing of Straight Creek, out on the grassy slope, was just a trickle. Then down through the tall forest, upslope from the creek, until the crossing of the main creek channel. They even have a special sign labeling it, unlike with the other creeks. Probably because, it being the last reliable water for 22 miles, they don’t want hikers to miss it. There is a waterfall uphill according to the Guidebook, but what with the Guidebook stowed during hiking, we forgot to look for it. We were busy filtering water into the bottles and filling all three Platys. And it was cold down in that little creek ravine, with the damp air and the sun behind clouds and the mountain. We were shivering when we finally loaded up and ventured on down the trail to look for a camp spot. We found one about 1/4 mile down. Not the flattest but we were tired and cold and overloaded. The third Platy is for this camp so we didn’t want to have to walk too far with it.
Our mood today was mixed. Weather made it hard. I am both settled in a routine of trail life and feeling about done with it for now. Good scenery in this area but less wildlife. Like, the hike is getting old. Just a bit. The next three days are supposed to be really good though. Weather is getting generally colder. At home mid-August is the height of the hot season, but here in the high mountains farther north, it’s already like fall. Also I am starting to worry about the car and all our stuff in it. Was it monumentally stupid to leave it at Waterton Canyon for so long instead of taking it to a storage place? I am putting that out of my mind since here is no way of knowing yet, and certainly nothing to be done about it now. Just turning my attention to breath and steps and waving grasses. Note: Sunscreen chapstick over 15 spf not only tastes bitter all day, it gives me a headache.
Mile 440.6 Below Straight Creek
No special challenges today other than distance. The forecast sunny day came to pass, but it took its time. Our camp in the Straight Creek valley below a high ridge to the east remained in damp and cold shadow. It was hard to get ourselves to peel off layers when we started hiking just after 8:00. Downhill so no warmup workout, except for our packs each being 5 or 6 lbs. heavier with two days of water. Maybe 1/2 hour later we finally got into the sun and warmth.
This wide valley of mature forest and deep ravine was pretty easy hiking. It was mostly hillside though; we didn’t see more campsites until almost the trailhead. So that was a good thing we camped when we did. The trailhead was just a touch to a rutted dirt road, not even a crossing. The next segment began many crossings of Forest Roads, old logging roads, and long-abandoned roadbed. It generally followed the ridgetops and stayed high which was nice for hiking and for views, but also the reason for no water sources. We encountered a couple of car camps, the people out hiking presumably. A couple of pairs of backpackers and a handful of mountain bikers. R remarked not as many folks as he would have expected for such a beautiful area with road access. We remembered the folks in Silverton told us Colorado school starts tomorrow, so the family vacationers are gone. Despite the sunshine the mountains and views were very hazy and smoky. We soon found out the reason when we passed a couple of intersecting trails posted as closed because of active fires. The signposts held copies of an area map showing the whole area closed except for the CT corridor. We are lucky to even be allowed in here, it appears. Farther south the smoke cleared some but then we passed a whole area of mountainsides to the east of us all burned in a spotty patchwork way. Recent. Like, the area that was burning earlier this summer. Sobering.
Mostly the forest in here is so green. In the distance to the south we could see a range of high peaks in the haze. I speculated that would be the area of the western Weminuche northeast of Durango. I think those are the southernmost big mountains in western Colorado. Our snack time and lunch time were both spent perched on the edge of the ridge overlooking expansive green hills and high country beyond. Despite the sun, which was warm in a direct sense, the day remained cool or even chilly in the shade and especially any time we entered a river of wind. Late in the afternoon we passed through a couple of old clearcuts (hence all those fading logging roads) with silver stumps, disturbed ground, a few spruce trees maybe 10-20 years old, and meadow vegetation different from that in the natural meadows. Hard to describe the difference—lumpier, patchier, maybe some different plants. At home I need to get some field guides right away and identify the plants and animals we have been seeing before I forget and fail to recognize them.
This evening we climbed up the ascending trail to the place where the spring water is supposed to be. We found it, and in fact there is water there just like the guy on FB said. Kind of swampy but usable I’m sure. So we could have saved ourselves the water carry. But after Razor Creek we didn’t want to take the chance. Chalk it up to extra exercise. We decided to put in the additional 1/2 mile climb to the Scenic View campsites, to make tomorrow shorter. We are glad we did. The Scenic View is out on a rocky spit of ridgetop with maybe 270º of view, all the mountains behind mountains to the horizon, and the green hills and meadows and forests in the foreground below. Spectacular. No wonder it got its own special trail and sign. With good campsites along the side trail! We are at one of those sites looking west. That older guy from Ravens Rest is down near the junction and a young couple with a small dog are way out at the very end before the rocky catwalk, out there in the cold wind. They seemed to be enjoying it.
When the wind died down tonight it got a little warmer. My insides have gone haywire and I have been gassy and poopy all day. Hope it works its way through by morning. We go up to Indian Trail Ridge in the morning. Fortunately we should be able to traverse it before afternoon thunderstorm time. Tomorrow is slated to be a long one, over 15 miles. R has already gone to sleep. I am sore, especially my upper back and shoulders, from today’s heavy pack. Tomorrow will be lighter. Lips are chapped but I am applying only Badger sunscreen, aloe vera, and this evening, olive oil, to avoid the headache-inducing spf 25 chapstick, which sits rejected in my pocket. Oops. It should be in the bear can. I’ll take it there, go pee, and then hit the sack. This is a comfortable camping spot. We were able to relax over supper, a packaged soup. R even had energy left to play his ukulele for a while before supper.
Mile 455.2 Scenic View
A lot can happen in a day. The trail can have unexpected challenges. This morning was clear and chilly. We are getting a little more efficient in the mornings, and today we were ready to hike in 1 1/2 hours instead of 2. Including foot taping and catholing. I woke up while it was still dark, and went out to pee for the third time, and then didn’t really go back to sleep. But I think it was nearing morning. Anything after about 4:30 or 5:00 gave me 8 hours of sleep. We started out looking forward to the Indian Trail Ridge walk, and didn’t think much about the rest of the day ahead. The first few miles were undulating forest, big trees, sometimes vistas when we came near the edge of the hill, but often walking in the middle of the hilltop, especially in the Cape of Good Hope area.
Next came the climb up onto Indian Trail Ridge. Hazy from fire smoke but still views everywhere, the peaks on either side, two to the west all stripes of different tilted stone layers; deep green forested valleys on both sides, branching into the distance, looking mysterious and untouched. No elk though; maybe they moved away from the nearby fire and firefighting commotion of this summer. Yesterday we saw the burn areas to the east; today there are similar patchy burn areas to the west, snaking around the mountainsides. If there are any fires still burning nearby, we did not see that. The amount of smoky haze makes me think there is still fire burning somewhere in this region.
The walk up Indian Trail Ridge was more work than we expected. Near the hilltops, lots of talus and difficult walking surface. The cliffs just below us, some were all different vertical rock formations. We snacked sheltered from the wind down in a willow thicket looking west. Up on the ridge the wind was strong and cold. Sometimes almost too strong to stand and walk—we would have toppled over without our poles. R took some photos of a guy on a bike and he is to email R for copies. The mountain bikes seem to go everywhere. Lots of birds in the tundra and of course the squeakers, especially pikas, greeted us with their warnings whenever we crossed talus. Finally we dropped out of the river of wind, down, down towards Taylor Lake. Some of that trail is very tricky, steep rocks and big exposure. We picked our way carefully. I slipped and fell once, feet sliding forward out from under me down the trail, but no damage.
Taylor Lake is big and pretty. We got water at a small outlet stream by the trail. Three 20-something backpackers were there. Later they headed to the lake for a swim. Two women on bikes also came by heading for the lake. An older man solo section hiking stopped to visit while we were filtering. He talked nonstop about how light and efficient his kit is and how he hikes very fast and far every day. Then he went on. He used Aqua Mira like we did on the JMT. But you have to carry chemical water for 4 hours before use so not always any lighter than a small filter. When we got to Taylor Lake we had about 1/2 L of water left, so not a bad calculation for 22 miles and a dry camp. On our way out of the lake basin we passed some people with fishing equipment, walking down to the lake from the dirt road parking a mile or so farther up. They said they weren’t sure, with the lower water levels this year, if there would be fish, but they were hoping.
I hadn’t given much thought to Kennebec Pass and the Slickrock Traverse. The climb to Kennebec Pass wasn’t long but felt hard anyway. Fall colors on the meadows. But my guts were becoming more and more agitated like maybe a bug or something, which sapped my energy. Super gassy. Then, right after circling the head of the valley beyond the pass, we found ourselves on the talus slope and the Slickrock Traverse. The slope is steep. The talus is loose. The mountainside is huge. The canyon below is so far down. It was hard to even look. The traverse must be 1/3 mile. Of nothing but loose rocks and air and gravity. I worried about R’s traction. I worried about my traction. We picked our way across, one careful step at a time. So stressful. One of those “What the hell am I doing here?” moments. At last, finally, finally, came the beginning of the trees at the other end. Relief. But now I felt sensitized to the steep gravity aspect of things, which did not let up, although now it was forest floor not loose talus. Being still so high on the steep mountainside was suddenly unnerving. Plus, we were now running late for lunch, meaning running on empty, and there was no place to stop that didn’t involve a high risk of falling or dropping equipment downhill.
We had seen no one else since those fishing people near Taylor Lake. Eventually we found a big log by the trail blocking the fall line, and sat braced on it to eat. Precariously. Just barely not obstructing the trail. When who should appear but the two women on mountain bikes, needing to squeeze by! We asked how they made it through the Slickrock Traverse, and they said by walking. I said we had imagined the bleached bones of cyclists deep in the canyon below. They said they thought perhaps some cyclists do ride across. Sounds suicidal. The three swimmers also passed, as we were finishing lunch. I was feeling discouraged. And concerned that I had brought us here to this, clearly, sometimes dangerous trail, out in the middle of nowhere. Plus I kept dropping things and we were out of the good tortillas and my gut was acting awful. R was super nice and supportive and I felt better.
Down the switchbacks we went. It warmed up. I was able to get partial relief of my intestinal distress and take off layers which felt better. We were tired but carried on, making good time now that the trail surface was more walkable. Down, down, into the jungle. Deep in the canyon, huge trees, rock outcrops, and further down creekside tangle of willows and tall grasses and broadleaf forbs. A high waterfall at Gaines Gulch. Not much water coming down today but the rock formations are wonderful. We were passing many seeps and small streams. Humid. Air starting to feel thick after being so much higher for so long. Crossing and recrossing the Flagler Fork of Junction Creek in the bottom of the narrow brush-choked canyon. Then tall forest again, up on the hillside, as the creek plunged below. We wondered if our goal campsite would be occupied. We came upon the bridge about 6:00 p.m. The three swimmers were here eating but not setting up shelters. The guy from Ravens was squeezed in right below the end of the bridge. We asked the three swimmers if they minded if we camped on a sort of flat spot near them, and they didn’t mind, so that’s what we did. Later they packed up their food bags and departed, apparently planning to use one of the dry camps farther along. Ravens guy came over to visit. He told us about CTF volunteer shuttle drivers in Denver. The creek is big here and makes a comforting song. The moon is more than half now. Tomorrow will be long but is the last day of this hike.
Mile 470.6 Junction Creek
Maybe if I think hard I will remember enough of our last hiking day almost two weeks ago, before regular life crowded back in. I remember we got ready on the morning of 8/21 pretty efficiently. It was unusually difficult to find any place for a proper cathole. We were camped in such a narrow valley with the creek, and steep on both sides. The small platform where the campsites were was right next to the creek. I walked way far back along the Trail seeking a spot less steep, enough to squat without falling, and far enough from the water. Finally found a tree hollow just below the trail, that I could balance on. Not particularly private, but no one much out on that Tuesday morning. At least the ground was friable. Not sure where R went—he needs a log—but he indicated it was too close to the creek. Filter your water! You never know. I think the weather was nice that morning, warmer at lower elevation. I went over and asked Ravens guy about his Z-packs DCF Camo Duplex. He likes it. Roomy. Expensive. More stakes than the Haven to erect it (8 not 6). He likes the camo because, he said, it is darker on a bright moonlit night. A good option for our next tent if we expect to use the floor configuration most of the time? He departed just ahead of us. We didn’t see him again.
The four mile uphill hike felt both long and short. With little food and water in our packs, hiking was easier. But there were those last-day contradictions, feeling impatient for arrival and wanting to savor what remained of our long hike. The canyon wall views opened up as we gained elevation. We left the creek valley to traverse the side of the ridge above, and could see down the valley and the neighboring valley. Green trees in this area. Then, eventually, we topped out and began the long, gradual descent. The trail wasn’t hard to walk on, in this stretch. Lower elevation plants—flowers, oaks, pines, tall grasses. I remember the trail getting wider as we descended. A couple of mountain bikes passed us, heading up. Lots of red rocky geology. Aspens. Ferns. Different rock layers in the cliffs. Tree roots holding the cliff together. We saw the dry campsite the swimmers probably used. The three Forest Service gates noted in the Databook were down and not operational. Maybe there is no active grazing in the area at this time. The first one, the latch post was completely fallen, broken off from its stone foundation. The “cow pond” water source was dry, sporting a nice dense stand of cattails but no open water. Fortunately we weren’t out of water. Coming on down, we saw more signs of heavy use—wider trail, disused jeep tracks, junctions.
We reached Gudy’s Rest about 2:00. Its view goes all the way down the canyon. Junction Creek returns below from the left. We snacked on the bench. And, surprise! got an LTE signal. I sent the FB Trail Angel a message by FBM just before we were ready to go. She responded! We would have a ride waiting. I told her it would take about two hours for us to get the rest of the way down. We began the last leg of our walk. Down seven long switchbacks to rejoin the creek. We could see the Gudy’s Rest outcrop from below. Then following the creek, rock formations by the trail, a couple of washouts, a deer through the trees. That place we stopped when R wanted to filter more water, with all the rock stacks on top of that big boulder. We passed the road junction to the car campground, then the last stretch of flat trail along the creek.
Around a bend, parked cars appeared. And our Angel at the ready with her phone, making a short arrival video for us. We Did It! Amazing. Trailhead photos. She had a cooler of drinks, and even camp chairs. Maybe we should have sat for a bit. But we were a little anxious about our transportation back to Denver, and chose to head to town right away in hopes of finding that imagined rental car before places closed, so we loaded up and Angel drove us to Durango. Her house is just across the river from downtown. She and her husband were super welcoming. She had been a little confused about our arrival date—she mistook my “TH” in my message, “Junction Creek TH” for trailhead—for “Thursday” but then I also said 8/21 so she wasn’t too surprised.
First we did laundry and showers. They had social plans. We saw them off, put up our tent on their postage-stamp of grass (fortunately—it rained later), and after determining there were no rental cars for sure and possibly no bus tickets either, went out on foot to supper. R chose Nayarit, a Mexican place. There’s a nice hike-and-bike trail and a bridge across the Animas River. We feasted on the restaurant patio, and the rain started just as we were finishing up. Fortunately we had our umbrellas; we walked back in a downpour. Later that evening Angel figured out her computer was inexplicably not loading bus tickets but her iPad would, so we quick-like bought tickets straight on through to Denver for 8/22. Better than having to wait an extra day.
Our hosts took us to the bus station early the next morning, for bus departure at 6:40 a.m. This is a bus system that runs all over southwest Colorado so we went west to Cortez first before turning north towards Grand Junction through Telluride. We got a tour of that whole part of the state. Some quick stops, some longer stops for restrooms and snacks. Several other CT thru-hikers were on the bus, including some we met on the trail. R played his ukulele for a while; everyone enjoyed that. After road maintenance delays, we just barely made it to Grand Junction in time for the Bustang/Greyhound bus. Then a long, boring bus ride on I-70 to Denver, with many stops including Vail and Frisco. Lots of scenery though, following the Colorado River upstream towards the Divide, then down into Denver sprawl. Anxious about getting to Waterton Canyon in the evening with no resources for dealing with car trouble, we decided to go to a hostel instead. Found one near downtown Denver in an old SRO hotel, a private room with shower rooms and toilet rooms on the hallway. The old fashioned interior and the tile reminded me of that hotel in Puebla, MX. We got a Lyft to the hostel from Union Station which was a frenetic, confusing, mobbed zoo at rush hour. Shattering our nerves after the peace and quiet of weeks on the trail. We deliberately avoided worrying about the car for one more night.
The hostel room window opened for fresh air. The neighborhood was a mix of avant-garde places and rundown poor places. The beginning of gentrification no doubt. A delusional man paced the courtyard behind the hostel, ranting to himself. We got supper at a craft beer place down on the corner. I slept well, dried out the tent, made morning coffee with the Soto stove on the broad old windowsill. We almost forgot to pick up our deposit on the way out. The staff were so friendly. Diverse. Asian young man the night before. Young black woman in the morning. Middle Eastern manager.
We got another Lyft to Waterton Canyon. Both Lyft drivers, Anglo, said they speak Spanish and that is an advantage. The morning one studies in Spain during the academic year. The moment of truth finally arrived. We turned into the parking lot at Waterton Trailhead. Our car was right where we left it nearly seven weeks before. We asked the driver to wait. I got out my key. The doors unlocked. I put the key in the ignition and turned. Our car fired right up! Looked around at the tires. No flats! Gear totally undisturbed! Woohoo! We can go home! We bid goodbye to the Lyft driver and steered out. First to a tire place to get them checked by an expert. Fine. Asked the tire guy for breakfast restaurants because R wanted a big pancake and bacon feast to celebrate. Turned out this guy had spent many years in the restaurant industry in Denver. Sent us to Snooze, where the service was a bit slow (they were crowded at brunchtime) but the food excellent and voluminous. And then we were on our way.
We slept over at Palo Duro, at the same Fortress Cliff campsite as last fall, and made it home by around 5:00 p.m. the following day. I plunged immediately into re-entry: house accounts, gear cleanup, email cleanup. Unearthed from the box mailed from Buena Vista, my phone came on (surprise!) just long enough for me to transfer the photos and return a couple of important voicemails that came in during the trip. Then it died again. Smartphone Repairz in Austin couldn’t fix it so now I have a new phone and a higher phone bill. We had a week to get ready for our older son’s wedding and our daughter’s visit. Cleared out the yard. Did all the wash. Cleaned house. Vacuumed up dog fur. We are just now winding down from all that and ready to restart our lives. The teacher couple from Lawrence, KS emailed some photos they took of us and the sheep. I replied but still need to send them our photos of them. And sort our photos. And sort out this journal. And write thank-yous to all the folks we can reach, who helped us along the way.
Mile 486 Durango