What a rush. Only 75 miles to go. I cannot wrap my mind around how close I am to the end. As with all things coming to a close, bitter sweet feelings flood the thought process. The last six days below:
Day Twelve: 22 August 2013
Start: 252.5 miles 7AM 60 degrees
End: 289 + 0.5 miles (camp side trip) 7:30PM Baldy Lake (11000′)
Lowest elevation: 8800′
Highest elevation: 12000′
I feel the need to reflect on Salida a bit more. It is actually a neat little town. About 50% of employment is tourism based but a significant part of the rest is self-employed and small business of an eclectic nature. The hostel, Simple Lodge & Hostel, is fantastic! A lot of hikers and cyclists (road and mountain), but also other random travelers looking for a budget option. Hostels are incredibly underrepresented and under appreciated in the US, so it is awesome to find these little gems. I won’t go into detail about the people I met here, but with my zero day I had the opportunity to meet CT nobos and sobos, all with different backgrounds, hiking experience, and stories. There were some Continental Divide riders doing a mountain bike alternative. Other cyclists going cross country. In particular I met a woman named Judy Gross from North Carolina, who owns and runs Light Heart Gear, she hand makes ultra-light backpacking tents. I also met a guy named Venture who stayed the night before with Dirt Monger after we split at my Hwy 50 resupply exit.
As for my leisure time, it was wonderful to do absolutely nothing for a day. I hit several coffee shops, chatted with travelers and locals alike, and tried to have my feet touch the ground as little as possible. I borrowed a large tshirt and some old man shorts from the hostel to wear those two days while I washed my outfit and let it line dry. Interestingly people never realized they weren’t my actual clothes hahaha… I aired out all my gear and repacked my new food and was ready to go.
The hostel owner dropped me off at the trailhead this morning and I cranked out a 37 mile day. The extra rest definitely did wonders for my stamina. Today was quiet and peaceful. I passed two others leaving from my hostel that morning and was passed by a bunch of mtn bikers on a CDT event. I am camping alone at a secluded lake a half mile off trail. Tonight is incredibly windy and rainy. So much for that good weather window.
Day Thirteen: 23 August 2013
Start: 289 + 0.5 (camp sude trip) miles 7AM 45 degrees
End: 318 + 8 (lost) miles 9PM Circle Ranch gate (9500′)
Lowest elevation: 9338′
Highest elevation: 11750′
Over 300 miles traversed and I finally get lost. Not the mile off trail lost either, I was miles off… I am not particularly pleased either. I was following the map and the topo fit as well, and yet I made a seven mile course not on the trail at all. Fortunately I came to a spot towards dark and pulled out my headlamp and could see the reflective flicker of the CT markers in the distance. I ended up back at a point earlier on the trail. I am going to add out of journal here, because I am very concerned over this matter. The place I took a wrong turn is severely under marked. Some maps don’t even mention the turn off I took and my map has it being a superficial off shoot. In reality it is a two-way split off that CTers take the left route while knowing by some divine source that the “insignificant” yet well established farm access route going to the further left is not the appropriate course. I have met two other sobos and one nobo since who went off there this trip. I also happened to meet a guy peak bagging who made the same error last summer. There is a trail marker but it is past this junction and not necessarily easily identified. Of course hundreds of CTers have gone through with no complication, but in my opinion, with all the overuse of signage, this is the one place that an added marker would do wonders to prevent potentially dangerous outcomes. I should mention that this junction happened during a 15 mile no water stretch. 15 miles is nothing without water, but when you add the extra 7 minimum of being lost if you were direct and didn’t wander, well that’s almost two days of hiking for some people. And the side loop fits too well with the topo of the true trail, that is an added factor that makes this not just an issue of poor map reading. Due to that detour, I camped at the entrance gate to a ranch about a mile off trail. I regrouped and got back on track the next morning.
Aside from that …er …delightful addition to my trip, I crossed several people today. There’s a girl and her dog with lots of parental support for resupplies and company which is awesome! There is a guy bringing along a violin to learn how to play along the way. I met a nice couple with three horses riding the CT southbound by doing each segment in the north direction. I crossed two older ladies nobo CT.
Day Fourteen: 24 August 2013
Start: 318 + 1 (lost) miles 8AM 60 degrees
End: 337 miles 7PM Stewart Creek Trail #470 (11758′)
Lowest elevation: 9690′
Highest elevation: 11758′
With the frustration and long day yesterday from getting lost, coupled with the howling wind and rain last night, I slept very little. Optimism not yet dowsed, I made it back on trail and continued forward. I passed the guy with the violin again haha, and met an older guy named Derrick, nobo CDT, who provided some trail beta on water and conditions. I also saw the couple with three horse again. As afternoon set in so did heavy rain. I was on course to head up Cochetopa Creek into San Luis pass during this weather when hail began. Not wanting to deal with that and still a bit frustrated with the previous day’s excursion, I opted to take cover and wait out the storm.
While waiting I met Paul who had taken supplies up on his two horses for a friend up the pass. Later that friend, a nice man named Brian with two friendly Golden Retrievers, came down too. He was setting up a hunting camp higher up the pass to come back the following week. I also watched a moose and her calf in the creek plain. I was on the watch for mountain goats up in the cliffs, but no luck. After almost three hours, the sun finally reappeared long enough to let some things dry before night and cold began to set in. I started up the valley further and met two guys who bagged San Luis Peak. (One of these two is who took the same detour I took the evening before…). These guys had seen the nice man Joe I met in Mt Princeton Hot Springs. They let him use their satellite phone to call the trail angel to get off at Creede. I also saw a couple heading up for a couple days of 13er hiking. I am camped about two miles down from the San Luis Peak saddle in hopes to climb the peak tomorrow and continue forward. Already cold, windy and rainy. Awesome weather…
Day Fifteen: 25 August 2013
Start: 337 + 4 (San Luis Peak) miles 8AM 45 degrees
End: 363 miles 7:30PM Rejoin Road #547 (11726′)
Lowest elevation: 10913′
Highest elevation: 14014′
It was still raining this morning. There was so much wind last night I had to re-secure my tent during the storm last night… Despite the inclement weather, I stubbornly decided to bag the peak anyways. Possibly the worst decision, but I wasn’t going to let a late monsoon season deter my ambitions. I made the treacherous trek up the peak, with cold rain plastering my face and wind trying to rip me off the mountain face the whole way. Despite bagging the peak I am dissatisfied as I had no view and fought to the top merely to avoid the need to give up. Once back on the saddle I set off to head through the pass. Today was almost the last straw of my ability to keep moving forward. The whole day I was battered with cold rain and wind around 12000 feet. Up a saddle, down across the face, up to a pass, down a face. Over and over. Best part was the less than 200 foot view at any given time. Not that I was looking around much with being occupied by trying not to e blown off the mountain, keeping my footing and not losing my poncho to the wind. I came around one of the final passes and ran into Joe, whose trail name is Joe Haz No Horse. What a nice surprise. We made it to Spring Creek Pass which drops down out of the mountains. The wearer finally let up slightly and we intended to camp there. At that TH I met Doug and shortly after his hiking partner Chris with dog Zipper. They met through White Blaze to hike together. What a brilliant idea to find a hiking partner. Anyways, some confusion on where the camp spot was lead to Joe and I stopping at a fairly exposed willow area about 5 miles passed where we meant to be. How glad I am to have company tonight as more wind and rain pounds down on us.
Day Sixteen: 26 August 2013
Start: 363 miles 7:30AM 45 degrees
End: 385.5 miles 5:30PM Small Lake (12904′)
Lowest elevation: 11714′
Highest elevation: 13270′
The last several days have been frustrating, cold, windy, rainy and endless. Today was at last a break in the gloom. It started out cold and foggy. I set a camp spot with Joe the night before. He set out at day break and I slept in. By ten I caught up to him and the sun was out and I could at last take in the incredible scenery surrounding us. I likely took more photos today than the entire rest of the trip. I can only imagine how spectacular yesterday would have been if I had been surrounded in misery haha.
I feel very fortunate to have caught Joe. When things are bringing you down, it is nice having someone to camp with and share sentiments with. We do not actually hike together as we move at different paces, but I don’t mind shorter miles and he has been fine with longer miles, that we pick a camp spot the night before and meet later. He gets going early in the morning and I catch him later. Tonight we are at Small Lake which is at the top of a mountain by a small lake haha, but with stunning views all around. And with the short miles I was there early and actually enjoyed my camp area for once. The sun was out, warm and inviting. Sharing our site for the night were Steve and Tyler, father and son, nobo CT. They likewise were happy to finally have good weather and equally relished in our evening relaxation. The site is exposed, so everything will be covered in cool dew tomorrow, but the pleasantness of tonight truly makes it worth tomorrow’s condensation. And the stars are extra brilliant, possibly because I haven’t seen them in four days!
Day Seventeen: 27 August 2013
Start: 385.5 miles 6:15AM 45 degrees
End:410.5 miles 3:15 PM Silverton (9138′)
Lowest elevation: 8900′
Highest elevation: 12950′
I thought yesterday was stunning until today. Literally the most beautiful day of the whole hike. I was on trail just before daylight and had the opportunity to enjoy sunrise at 12000 feet, with golden rays slowing filling the valleys and streams of light suddenly burst over a distant mountain peak. Of all days, today my camera battery died, and my spare had somehow depleted its charge over the last two weeks. Unfortunate but I have mental images and, equally unfortunate, this is not the first time I have missed out or lost photos. In hindsight, my truly brilliant mother pointed out my access to a phone camera, which I will utilize for the remainder of the trip. My mind was a bit focused on making it to the TH in time to hitch to Silverton and beat the 4:30 PM Postal closing time. I had 25 miles and needed to stay focused if I was going to meet that deadline.
Anyways, yesterday and the remaining 10 miles of high altitude this morning were positively breathtaking, yet the 10 miles down Elk Creek valley today vastly shadowed that in splendor. Dropping from 12690′ to 8920,’ I was surrounded in what I consider the epitome of wild, natural landscape. How spectacular! Rivers actively cutting valleys, water seeping from rock faces creating spontaneous waterfalls, everything fertile and teeming with life. The starkness of sheer cliff faces filled brim to brim with lush greenery and constant energy. Pines thickly gathered with the soft and inviting needle floor, like a soft neat to pitch a tent. The multitude of streams colliding into a roaring river. And the occasional canopy gap revealing sharp spires looming above. And I had this wonderland all to myself. Through that entire ten miles stretch I only encountered three small groups of people. And to top off the spellbound ing beauty, I just zoomed down a scree and rock section that opened up on this pond, which somehow incorporated all the raw wild beauty just described, into a single moment, when less than thirty feet from me where a moose cow and bull (fully antlered) basking in the cool waters from the hot sun. A mental image of a lifetime. They both stared at me for a long time with that knowing that I wasn’t going to interfere with their activities and them not able to care less about my presence. I will definitely need to re-traverse the last 50 miles with more time and extra (actually charged) camera batteries. I still have 75 miles left to go too!
At the end of the valley is a final 5 mile uphill, switchback section before reaching the TH. just at the bottom I ran into three young guys, sobo CT all, who were meeting one’s mother at the top for a ride to Silverton. I quickly acquired a spot in the car and we began the last jaunt up. We made it in just under two hours as it started to rain. But I had my ride and made it to the Post before closing time! Joe was likewise coming to Silverton but not on the deadline I was so I went to the hostel, Silverton Inn & Hostel, and laid out my gear to dry, washed clothes, and took a long relaxing shower. Later the hostel owner, Julian, took me back to the TH to pick up Joe. I had expected long before but he took a mistaken 5 mile side trip to a gorgeous lake that set him back two hours. We enjoyed a wonderful supper and cold beer before bed. What a good day. And now only 75 miles left of my trip.