Miles hiked: 18.8
Total trip miles: 445.1
There’s something I forgot to mention in the last post. Guess who I ran into in the parking lot of the Prospector in Silverton yesterday, right before Rob rode up? Tortuga, the solo hiker who camped above us at Pine Creek and then again along Moose creek! I’d been feeilng bad, because I only belatedly realized he must have been low on food if he needed to hitch down from Stony Pass to Silverton. He mentioned he was depleted, and I had thought he meant he was tired. That is, until the next day, when my brain was functioning properly again.
We should have shared our dinner with you, I say. In fact, our dinner that night had been more than we could eat. Dehydrated quinoa has a way of sucking up copious quantities of water and expanding into a gargantuan mass. A mass so enormous that even Marc cannot pack it all away. (I know! Impossible!)
It’s okay, he says. I should be better at asking for help.
It’s worth mentioning, I think, because we would have loved it if he had asked. Next time I’ll try to pay closer attention. If in doubt, ask other hikers if they’re okay on food. It’s lonely and long out there if you’re on your own.
Anyway, back to today. Andy drives us up to the pass and lets us off at the trailhead. Rob is riding his bike up the pass, so we get a head start. We’re quickly heading uphill once again. Funny, now, how I’m paying such close attention to the surface of the trail. How is this going to be for Rob? I imagine myself on a mountain bike, and it seems like the singletrack from heaven, at least right here.
We pass a group of dayhikers and of course stop for a little chat — when we tell them we’re from Vancouver, one of them launches into a political debate with Marc about Stephen Harper and the upcoming elections. Who would have guessed?
When we’ve had wifi connections in towns, I’ve posted some of my photos on Facebook. My sister Sandy, a botanist, wondered where all the flower pictures were, so I try to correct the record by snapping this picture of a green gentian. With Sandy, it’s not so much how pretty the flower is, but how weird or rare.
I’ve no sooner done my botanizing for the day when Rob rides up behind us. He’s loving this trail after all the mud he endured getting into Silverton. He carries on in front of us, claiming we’ll catch up to him at the pass. Hmmm. Why am I carrying his freeze-dried dinners, again?
We hike steadily along: the trail is great, the weather is perfect, there are huge stands of purple larkspur, yellow daisies (okay, I know, they’re probably something else, but they look like daisies) and white lacy flowers. As we climb up to a saddle at 12,500′ I’m pinching myself because the flowers — pink, fuschia and white paintbrush and some yellow buttercuppy things — are so vibrant and colorful. I’m so happy my brother is getting to ride on this awesome trail and it’s such a perfect day!
The trail gets pretty rocky near the top, slowing Rob down a bit, and he waits for us at the saddle. Here’s a picture of him way up above us climbing up the last bit.
In the next few miles we cross a number of side streams; the rocks are all coated in yellowish-white sediment and the water isn’t all that clear. I think it’s stuff leaching out of old mines up above, and I’m happy we got water down below. I wouldn’t want to drink this stuff.
After a few more miles, we round a corner and Rob is waiting. The trail has been pretty tough here for him, lots of steep, rocky sections. His bike is fully loaded and the balance is hard to handle. His biking map rates the various sections in terms of difficulty, and it seems to have it wrong a lot of the time. He’s a little tired, and so are we.
We decide to stop and camp somewhere between here and Bolam Lake, since the guidebook says there are good campsites at seasonal streams in this area, and that the campsites at Bolam Lake are hard-packed dirt, which sounds unappealing. I give Rob the task of finding the perfect campsite. No pressure.
We don’t find any of these supposed good campsites. There are a couple what I consider “potential” sites, and we finally settle on a place next to the trail with two reasonably flat tent-sized spots. As we’re cooking dinner two guys pass us going in our direction; they’re planning to camp farther up the trail.
I’m a little disappointed in our site. I want everything to be perfect for our adventure with Rob. I’m tired, but I haul a bunch of rocks into a circle anyway, trying to make a fire pit. But we can’t get a fire started. I fret over whether we should have carried on. If we want to get to Durango as planned, we’re going to have a long day tomorrow.
Miles hiked: 25.3
Total trip miles: 470.4
You’re probably wondering about blisters. Why doesn’t she write about all the blisters? Turns out, I still don’t have any. The corn that tends to develop between the big toe and its neighbor on my left foot isn’t bothering me, either, a happy fact I attribute to wearing Injinji toe socks. They smell really bad, but once they’re in my shoes it doesn’t matter. At night I put on a different pair of socks so my toxic feet don’t contaminate my sleeping bag. Marc, however, has a couple of big, persistent blisters on the outside edge of his left heel, from that day outside of Lake City that he hiked so far with wet feet. I put duct tape on them every morning and he claims they don’t hurt. I think he’s just jealous I have better shoes than he does.
This morning as we hike down to Bolam pass road we see a van and some tents— looks like a mountain biking tour of some sort. The dry-packed campsites at the lake actually look quite nice. Oh well.
We run into the two guys again — and of course chat for a while. They mention how they’ve gotten a little lost a couple of times, and I show them the awesome GPS feature of our trail app, which you can use to make sure you’re on the trail if you haven’t seen a trail marker for a while. They thought it wouldn’t work when there wasn’t cell coverage. It does, though. It involves satellites, not cell phone towers. This is actually the first time I’ve hiked without a physical map in hand. I am appreciating the opportunity to just hike without worrying about navigating from a piece of paper. The combination of the app, my phone’s GPS and the trail markers is perfectly adequate.
Rob is worried about Blackhawk Pass, since his paper map tells him it’s black-diamond difficult, so he rides on ahead, expecting us to catch up with him. The ride up the pass isn’t all that difficult, though, and when we finally get up there, we see his bike but not his body.
Sitting atop the pass are also the three college girls we encountered just before Lake City. One of them is wearing Crocs, with bandaging around her foot. She’s sprained her ankle, and asks me for spare tape. I roll a length of tape onto my advil bottle to keep in case we need it, and then give her the rest of the roll. They’re planning to get to Durango the day after we are. We try to chat with them, but don’t get very far. I get the feeling that as oldies, we’re not particularly interesting to them.
Marc and I sit down to have our snack (Kind bars, nuts, dried fruit) and wait for Rob to reappear, which he soon does. He’s climbed the peak next to the pass, and claims the view is great from up there. I’ll take his word for it.
This section doesn’t have a lot of water, so on the way down we all refill at Straight Creek, which truth be told is much more of a stream than a creek. The definitions are probably somewhat fluid. So to speak.
The encounter with the college girls has unsettled me a little bit. Everyone else we’ve encountered on this hike has been friendly, polite, interested and interesting. Inside I still feel like I’m in my 20s, and seeing myself through their eyes – I could be their mom! – I’m reminded that I’m actually 50. How often do we look at a person and do the easy thing, judge them by what they look like, instead of taking a little effort to find out a little more about who they are? Maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe they’re just tired, or sick of this hike. It’s probably not about you, Mary. We pass them again at the Scotch Creek Trailhead a few miles further on, where they’re sitting next to the trail and eating fresh veggies (how much do those weigh?!), and I just smile and carry on. They’re just kids.
This next section of the trail climbs up a ridge and then follows it for miles. There are loads of nice campsites, but no water. We are going to carry on until just before Indian Ridge, where the guidebook says there is a “seasonal spring” and good camping. No way of knowing if there’s water in it or not, but it’s worth a try. Marc says he has enough water for dinner and breakfast, as long as Rob has some still in his bottles.I hike along and worry about water. Why do I always find something to worry about? I had planned on this hike curing me of that. I suppose old habits die hard.
A thunderstorm brews off to our left, but we’re spared the drama and the rain. We hike and hike and hike, not seeing Rob for ages. I’m checking the GPS on the app all the time today, tracking our progress as we approach and then hike around a big bump called Orphan Butte.
In the last mile the trail climbs about 500 feet, switchback-and-forth-ing. We’re so tired! Marc’s powering ahead of me, as he tends to do on the uphills. I’m better at hopping rocks on the descent. When we get to the Overlook trail, which is where the campsites are, he keeps on going! Could it be he doesn’t know this is where we’re going? I yell, and he turns back. Rob is down there with his bike; he’s found a couple flat spots next to the trail. The really nice campsite is occupied by a single, zipped-up tent with a bear bag hanging in a nearby tree. A couple other campsites further on are similarly occupied.
Marc and Rob go to check out the water situation a quarter mile down the trail, and I set up our tent. They come back successful — the spring is running! Oh happy day, there’s enough for breakfast. My worry was for naught, and I let it evaporate. We’re sitting on the ground, cooking dinner and talking in that enthusiastic, slightly loud way you do when everything is going right, and a person emerges from the zipped-up tent, comes over to us and says, Do you mind? We’re trying to sleep. We’ll be considerate in the morning when we leave.
Of course we apologize and try to keep our voices down. But it still pops the bubble of our evening. I wonder what kind of huge hike they have planned for tomorrow, to be going to sleep at 6:30 in the evening! Rob says when he got there shortly before we did, there was a woman sitting outside the tent with a mosquito net over her head. Hmm. The mozzies are out in force, but rain gear and a bit of deet on the feet keep them at bay for the most part.
We turn in early, too, — Rob’s GPS says we’ve climbed 6,000+ feet today and we can feel it — thinking we’ll get up and get an early start ourselves tomorrow. There’s that lightning-attracting ridge to get over, and then the guidebook (why are we still relying on it, again?) says there aren’t very many good campsites in this last section, and that hikers should plan to camp early. There’s supposedly a “great” one at Junction Creek, about fifteen miles from here. That seems like a short day, but why not? After that it will only be another 14 miles into Durango!
Miles hiked: 16.3
Total trip miles: 486.7
Grumpy girl and her cohort are long gone when we emerge from our tents, so we go over and appropriate their campsite to eat our breakfast. Three hikers from Kansas —two men and one woman, the folks who were camped a little further down the overlook trail — stop to chat as they head up the trail. We tell them about our encounter the evening before, and say we hope we hadn’t been bothering them, too. They’re surprised. Of course not, it was early!
We pack up and go by about 8:00 —not as early as we planned, but it’s not a long day today. There’s a nice flat section in the trees, and then a lot of up-and down, climbing up to about 12,250′. The day is perfect for this hike. Not a single cloud in the sky!
The slopes heading up to Indian Ridge are covered with Indian Paintbrush —how appropriate!— and the ridge itself is a wide rocky path with dropoffs on either side. Today I’m ahead of Marc due to my superior rockhopping skills, and I briefly consider waiting to see if he’s okay — he doesn’t tend to like this kind of stuff. But I don’t, because I know he’ll be fine. We have poles and 27 days of hiking under our belts. And there’s nothing that irritates him more than me asking if he’s okay.
I see something in the distance that looks like a person or a cairn on a pass, so I’m surprised when we come over a rise and see the lake below us. We’re done climbing! The trail descends steeply, and there are some pretty gnarly, rocky spots. I don’t see any bodies on the rocks below, a good sign that Rob has made it intact to the lake. It’s Sunday, and there are several groups of dayhikers climbing up the pass, taking advantage of the beautiful weather.
We catch up to Rob at the lake and take a break.
There are tons of hikers out today —there’s a decent road and parking area about 2 miles away from the lake, making a great weekend destination for families with young kids. It reminds me of all the times we took Brendan and Luc out hiking. I have to go to the bathroom really badly — but with all these people, I don’t know what to do, as there’s very little cover. Finally, there are some thick bushes on the far side of the parking area and I can get out my deuce of spades. Phew. TMI? Sorry.
We go over a pass of sorts, traverse an impressive rock slide, and start the long descent towards Junction Creek. It’s right about now that I get a bee in my bonnet. I really want to get that “great campsite” described in the guidebook for our last night on the trail. I hike, faster and faster, picturing it in my mind. The sky, so clear this morning, has clouded up. We don’t get rained on, but the trail in front of us is wet, so it has been raining here earlier.
Finally, after what seems like forever, we’re there. And so is the orange tent that was parked next to us last night. It’s smack in the middle of an awesome campsite, right next to the creek, with nice logs to sit on, the whole nine yards. I knew it! They had to get up at the buttcrack of dawn just to be sure to nab this campsite! They’re zipped up in the tent, presumably to get out of the rain that has just been falling. We stop on the bridge across Junction Creek to reconnoiter.
There are a few rocky-looking spots near the creek, but I’m feeling steamed. I don’t want to camp next to this couple. I don’t want to have to whisper after 6:00 pm. They emerge from the tent; he’s shirtless, heading down to the creek for a wade. They look young and fit. They don’t look like people who need 11+ hours of sleep.
The guidebook mentioned another “dry” site a mile up the trail, and so we head up that way. It’s quite a climb, and by the time we reach it we’re more than ready to stop. Funny, today has been less than 17 miles but it seems much longer than that to me. Maybe because I was in such a hurry. Note to self: chill…
This site is fine. Rob finds a flat spot right next to a cliff for his tent. Don’t roll over in your sleep! Marc and I find another one. There’s a stream a flat quarter of a mile away, which is a piece of cake. I wonder why this is even called a dry campsite with water so close by? We sponge bathe in the stream, get water, and then get busy building an awesome campfire.
Did I already mention how much I love campfires? I love playing with the coals, rearranging the sticks, burning every little bit of every little branch. Rob takes it upon himself to burn all kinds of partially-burnt firewod left by previous campers. A pyromaniacal clean-up operation. We’re totally in our element, trained by the pro, our dad.
One of the Kansas hikers rounds the bend, looking tired, asking if we think they could camp here, too. We commiserate about the great campsite down at the creek and its occupants, and say that of course they should camp here with us. It’ll be a party!
The other two arrive after a while, and we have a fun time comparing stories about our hikes and lives. One of them served time in the army in Afghanistan, and tells us about the mountains there, and how you had to always be looking out for danger. He did this hike, he said, partly just to learn to love being in the mountains again without the constant threat of death.
They hit the sack early, and so does Marc, but Rob and I stay up, playing with the fire, enjoying this last night. I’m ready to sleep in a bed again, I think. I’m ready to be done with this hike, to do something else all day long. Aren’t I? I can’t believe tomorrow at this time it will all be over, we’ll be on our way back to our regular lives.
Miles hiked: 13.3
Total trip miles: 500
We poke out heads out of the tent this morning just in time to see our Kansas friends chatting with the Competitive Campsite Couple, who are (of course) already on the trail. Before they take off, our friends come over to tell us that the couple had a rough morning — their tent was soaked in condensation down by the creek. We laugh together. Now that’s karma, I say. We’ve been dry and comfy up here on the hillside.
It turns out the two guys we met near Bolam Pass had camped down by Junction Creek last night, too, in the rocks, and we greet them as they pass and wish them well. And then, coup de grace, who should we see but the three mountain biking boys we last saw just outside of Lake City! I almost didn’t recognize them, but for the Tibetan flag on a couple of their frame packs. They look much more experienced now. Perhaps trail-hardened is the word. Rob has a chance to talk with them about their ride, and it turns out one of them was riding a fixed-gear bike! Imagine doing all that altitude using a single gear!
Today is short — a little over 13 miles — and the plan is to meet Mom and Sandy at the end around 12:30. Rob wants us to time it because he thinks Mom will want to hike up the trail a little ways to meet us. He has to ride his bike ahead of us, back to where he parked the car, which is several extra miles out of the way.
We start with a gentle climb, encountering some cows along the way. This is surprising, to find cattle in this forested, steep terrain. They almost look lost, bellowing at each other from amongst the trees. At two points there are cows facing us in the trail, but in both instances they crash off into the trees, saving us the job of clambering around them.
The clouds are gathering, and by 9:00 we hear thunder rolling. Good thing we did Indian Ridge yesterday, and not today! After about 6 miles, we stop to take a break, and are joined by a young guy named John, who has hiked the entire trail solo. He’s lovely, and we’re disappointed we didn’t run into him earlier. He’s carrying a fishing pole and tells us about some good fishing, particularly in Cochetopa Creek. He takes this picture of us on the trail:
It starts raining on us right after we start hiking again, but the lightning isn’t too close, we’re safe down here in the ponderosas, and the rain is releasing such a pleasant smell from the earth. It calls up memories of hiking in the hills around Los Alamos, making me think of Dad, and I’m positive with this storm he’s communing with us one last time on this hike. We get to come down into Durango on a cool, fresh, pine-scented path. What could be better? Thanks, Dad!
We pass the Kansas trio taking a break and stop to discuss the merits of hiking with umbrellas. One of them swears he wouldn’t hike without one. I almost brought one, but I’m glad I didn’t. I would only have used it about twice, at most, more likely I’d have abandoned it long since.
Marc and I carry on, hiking fast. I worry that we should slow down, that we’re ahead of schedule, but it’s raining and thundering, so I text down to Sandy and Rob from my phone. I look up and see the most amazing mammatus clouds I’ve ever seen. What a sky show!
Now it’s only one mile to go. The trail is rocky, but flat. This trip is almost over. And then we round a bend and I see Mom’s white sun hat. There’s Sandy, taking a picture of some plant or other. It’s so good to see them! We’re here!
Rob arrives in his car, and we of course pose for the obligatory end of the trail photo with him. Then with Mom, with Sandy, everyone hugging and happy. The Kansas trio, then John appear, and John joins us for a ride into Durango, where we immediately hit the brewpub where they give free beers to CT finishers. Even though Mom and Sandy had already eaten lunch, they don’t mind as we order lots and lots of food.
We drive partway back to Santa Fe, to Pagosa Springs, have a lovely dinner and a long soak in the hotel hot tub. During dinner the skies open up again, but we’re under cover and it feels so safe! Mom and Sandy had seen a massive storm on the drive up, and hoped we weren’t caught in it.
And that’s the end of our adventure! Showers, fresh food, solid shelter, wifi … We’re back in civilization, at least until the next big hike. I can’t believe we actually did it!! The sexy sock tans and the vanished pounds are temporary proof, but the memories are permanent, and they’ll stay with us forever.
NOTE: You’ll have noticed that the total trip mileage turned out to be exactly 500 miles. I swear upon all that is hiker holy that this was not engineered. I simply did the mileage calculations for every day’s hike based on where we camped, adding in 12 miles for Mount Elbert and subtracting the bit we chopped off the Collegiate West, and when I did the final day’s addition, that 500 appeared on the calculator. I’m as surprised as you are!
NOTE #2: I’m planning to do a gear list, if people are interested. Drop a comment if you’d like to know what was in our packs.