9/12: 15.4 mi (1914.9 – 1930.3)
We scheduled a ride from Debbie, Salida’s resident Trail Angel back up to Monarch Pass. Turns out, that as she was dropping us off, two more SOBOs needed a ride into Salida.
At the pass, there is a gondola that gives ride to the top for views of the area and it’s local Monarch Ski area.
This particular trail head, and the corresponding 11+ miles of trail just happens to also be THE most popular mountain bike route in the country. It’s not too technical, has great views and nice downhills. We were told that van loads of cyclists get dropped off at hourly intervals, especially on the weekends.
Thankfully, Labor Day had already passed, otherwise I don’t know how a hiker could get anywhere on the trail. As it was, it was Sunday, and we had to step off the trail at regular intervals, hence our low mileage for the day.
The forecast for the day gave us a 3% chance of rain. It turned into 100%, for 40 minutes, just after we took a break for lunch.
Today we met a lot of displaced PCT hikers, whom we called PCT “refugees”. They were, for the most part, PCT SOBOs who had been kicked off the trail when they reached California, because of the fires. They all seemed to head over to the Colorado Trail, en mass, to keep their “trail legs”, in hopes California would “open” by the 17th. It was weird running into so many people in one day. Up to now, the “population” on the trail had been fairly sparse.
9/13: 21.2 mi (1930.3 – 1951.1)
We had a 12 mi and 8 mi water carry today. Luckily the air was crisp and cool for the first half of the day.
The tread was somewhat rocky, but also provided us with fruit salad…of sorts.
I was surprised by how many patches of strawberries, grouse berries and raspberries there were along the trail, this late in the season. This made for a somewhat “distracted” climb, which highly annoyed Paul.
Once again we passed nearly 10+ PCT “refugees” for the day.
Bow hunting season for elk was in full swing. Hunter’s camps punctuated the trail. Towards the end of the day we ran into two young bow hunters. They were hiking back up to their camp, after having packed out an elk the previous day. They asked us questions about the CDT, and had aspirations of thru-hiking a long trail. We told them that their style of hunting would make them easy candidates for a thru-hike.
The end of the day found us arriving later than we preferred (7pm) into camp, but it was thankfully much warmer than our day had started.
9/14: 18.4 mi (1951.1 – 1969.5)
On our way to camp, the evening prior, the water sources up to that point were dry. This made for an 8mile morning hike to water, and an 11am coffee break. Once again we met several PCT “refugees” who were not entirely excited about their pending uphill climb of the CT/CDT. They were complaining about how “rocky” and steep the trail had been so far. “If you think this is bad, wait till you’re JUST on the CDT”, we told them. “This is pretty nice trail tread, namely because it’s also the Colorado Trail”.
They laughed and reluctantly packed up, and began to trudge up the dirt road that ran through a logging area.
We made our intended miles by 5 pm, and, in-between were treated to some trail magic from “String Bean”. He had completed the CT via mountain bike and was parked on the trail/road with his truck handing out beer, soda and snacks. As no one was really choosing the beer, we obliged String Bean and drank a few while we talked and shared stories. Needless to say we rejoined the trail, VERY happy, and with uncomfortably full bladders.
Rather than continue on till our “normal” stopping time, we decided to camp at the first perfectly flat spot we could find, rather than start a climb that may result in a less than desirable spot.
9/15: 22.1 mi (1969.5 – 1991.6)
A little brisk for the morning, with some frost on the vegetation. Jackets and gloves were necessary, as well as an equally brisk pace. After an easy climb, the trail followed a long meadow along a two track road. Once we found full sun, we stopped for coffee and breakfast.
Today was a colorful treat. The Aspens mixed in with the mountainside’s pine forests were now changing color. Golden yellow was the norm with patches of deep red and orange begining to show. One Aspen sported a range of color that reminded us of a “Big Stick” popsicle.
We walked through groves of Aspen that towered over us and littered the ground with discarded yellow leaves.
We had never seen such a show of color, and knew that over the next few weeks would only get better. This, sadly, meant that Fall was here and Winter was coming to Colorado. We needed to pick up our pace even more in order to get out of Colorado before it snowed on us.
The trail continued through a narrow valley with a picturesque crooked river with two guys fly fishing along it’s banks. It was like being in a Field and Stream magazine.
We lunched at the river’s edge and cooled out hot and swollen feet. Lots of mile to be made to day. The terrain demanded it. It was not really that hard.
We got stalled for nearly an hour by cowboys rounding up a wayward and cantankerous herd of cattle. It was amazing to see the cowboys, their horses and dogs work.
More and more PCT “refugees” passed toward the end of our day. “You’ve got big climbs ahead of you”, they cautioned us with a smirk, believing that we were “weekenders”. “Right back at ya”, we replied.
As the sun began to set under the hill behind us, we set up camp. It was going to be a cold night, no doubt about it.
9/16: 14 mi? (1991.6 – Creede)
The morning started out bitter cold. We wore everything we had, and were still cold. It didn’t help that the wind was a little brisk AND we had close to a 2,000 ft climb over two saddles (12674 ft/12374 ft) on our way to the Creede Cut-off, for resupply.
While cold, the route was beautiful. Fall was definitely in the air. Colors were brilliant.
We had breakfast at the first saddle and marveled at the view. We watched as an unsuspecting deer made its way up and over the saddle.
We were in thralled by the hoo-doo type rock structures that towered above us as we made our way down and toward our next saddle.
The next saddle was just as breathtaking both in views and climb.
When we got to the Creede Cut-off, we had a decision to make. Do we resupply in Creede and head back out and try our luck at the San Juan High Route, or do we continue on the remainder of the Creede Cut-off. We are fully aware that this particular section (San Juan High Route) is the “highlight” of Colorado. We considered our luck, and the approaching weather. We really didn’t have a week to spend at over 13,000 ft with the current weather forecast. We opted to take the lower Creede Cut-off alternate, and revisit the San Juans, say late August, of another year, and hike it at our leisure.
Down towards Creede we shuffled. The route itself is beautiful, and water was practically everywhere.
Cars and ATVs dusted us at regular intervals.
An active mine loomed to our left.
Our intent was to walk all the way into the small town of Creede.