Colorado Trail Hike 2011

The owner of the San Juan Sports, Creede’s outfitter showed up in his Land Rover at the hotel. He’d definitely be able to get us up over the rough road to the trail head in that vehicle. We said our thanks, paid our shuttle fee and said farewell to him and we were on our way – back up a 1.5 mile side trail to meet the CT at San Luis Pass. At the trail intersection we found a note on a post saying “Absolutely no slackpacking, NFS. – Mike & Austin” Funny.

Half the hike was PUDs – pointless ups and downs – with beautiful views and the other half was crossing Snow Mesa…in the rain. We got to the trailhead at the other end of the segment by 4:40, just in time for our 5:00 shuttle and who do we run into but Mike and Austin. We harassed them about doing the segment with their full pack when they could have slacked and tried to talk them into going back into Creede with us. Still the diehards, they declined and took off to get another 5 miles in.

We sat waiting for the shuttle. 5:00 came and went. 33 miles to Creede. We discussed our options and I headed out to the road to try to hitch us a ride while Keith headed over to a guy with a van in the parking area. No-go on the van guy. About a dozen cars later a truck pulled over. Trey could take us about 10 miles. We climbed in. Better than nothing. At least we’d be closer to Creede. They dropped us off at the Rio Grande Reservoir where there’s a lot of traffic coming out to the main road. Soon, 2 bright yellow jeeps and a run down pickup truck come to the intersection and all but run us off the side of the road in their haste to not have to talk to us. Keith got a ride with a couple who only had room for one person. Bill and I got a ride about 20 minutes later from a couple from Nebraska vacationing in Creede.

We were all finally back at the hotel a little after 7. I was immensely annoyed. I hadn’t eaten a thing since lunch and I had a ton of things to do yet – including finding a place to set up my tent in town since all the hotels were full. As we arrived, the hotel owner met us in the parking log, already knowing about our shuttle fiasco. I voiced my frustration and the owner offered her side yard for my tent. One problem solved. We all got showers and headed across the street for supper. Not 20 minutes later, our would-be shuttle driver showed up at our table in the restaurant and apologized profusely and explained what happened and also offered to put me up at a friend’s house. I felt a font better just knowing that she cared about the mishap. She left, promising to pick us up at 9 am the next morning.

We ate and headed back to the hotel and set up my tent in the yard by flash light and I finished the remaining things to be done – double checked food, sent emails, etc.

Hiked up San Luis with Keith. It was his first 14er. Then on to San Luis Pass and down the trail into Creede. 1.5 miles later we reached the trail head parking lot. Only one truck parked there. Guess we were walking down the forest service road a ways. There was supposed to be traffic on the road because of workers from a mine traveling it. We got to the mines. Three freaking trucks parked in the lot. And they weren’t likely to leave until the end of their work day. Grrr. It was 10 miles into Creede. I was going to be in a really bad mood if my 7.6 mile day became a 17.6 mile day.

I got my iPod out, slapped the ear buds in, cranked up the music, pulled up the hood or my rain jacket, and pushed on. Did I mention that it was also raining and my rain jacket was dead? A mile later a little ATV rolled past in the opposite direction followed by a huge SUV. We stuck our thumbs out anyway. The SUV kept rolling. We looked at the license plate. Texas. Figured. Texans were notorious snobs in Colorado. I rolled my eyes and continued fiddling with my pack. I looked over at the SUV and the break lights were on. They were stopping! They backed up and put the window down. Keith told them our situation. They offered to take us a mile or two down the road to the old town of Bachelor. They drove off to catch their nieces on the little ATV’s in front of them to tell them what was up and came back in a few minutes and we hopped in. They ended up taking us all the way into Creede to Kips where we ate lunch, a greasy spoon that serves mainly burgers but no french fries. What? We discussed the possibility of slackpacking the next segment the next day and staying in Creede the following night too.

Then off to the hotel to dump our packs, post office for my mail drop, outfitter for a new rain jacket, and the beloved grocery store. We met back at the hotel to go for supper where we ran into Mike and Austin who were just passing through – getting a shower at the hotel and resupplying. We tried to talk them into staying in town and slackpacking with us. I even offered to share my room with them. They would have none of it. They were hardcore and pushing on. We went to supper and made arrangements for our slackpack then back to my room to figure out food for the next leg then off to sleep for an early morning shuttle.

Woke up to a coating of frost on everything and the water bottles just starting to freeze. It was a bit of a surprise since I was nice and warm all night.

Spent all day hiking up a valley – fortunately a nice, gradual ascent. Very pleasant as far as ascents go. My pack was light. Water was plentiful and I saw 2 moose. The perfect hike. Set up camp with Keith, Bill, Homestead, and a section hiking jerk with a dog about a mile below a trail head to San Luis Peak – a 14er, which we all planned to do in the morning. Really ready for a zero day in Creede.

Today was the big day. 19 miles between water sources so I’d have to carry enough water to last a long walk through meadows in the hot sun. And Cassie would have to carry enough for herself too.

I drank the Coke and ate a Clif Bar while packing up camp and set off. 5 miles in 2 hours. Not bad. I stopped and made a trail shake and fed Cassie. Set off again. 4.5 miles in 2 hours. Still not bad but I was getting tired so I slapped the headphones in and cranked up the tunes and sang along as I followed a dry creek bed along a long valley. As I turned and started heading up out of the valley I saw Bill and Keith coming toward me. Uh oh. What’s wrong? They’d gotten turned around and were lost. They’d missed the second turn and ended up hiking up a mountain unnecessarily adding another mile or so to their already long day. We hiked together the rest of the day.

Coming down into the first real water we’d seen in 2 days created quite a site. Three hot, smelly people waded into the fast flowing stream and got a hiker bath – a wash and wear bath. As Bill and Keith were setting up camp Austin and Mike showed up. They’d been hiking 20+ days to catch up. I had been planning to continue on a few miles for privacy so I could get a real bath but decided to stay and enjoy the party. We chatted, joked, took pictures, and planned the next couple days of miles.

Long day. Hiking was made difficult by dirt bikes being allowed on the trail in these sections. They really chew up the trail and it becomes a gully of loose, ankle-busting rocks. Not to mention them barreling down the trail and throwing dust all over you.

Stopped for lunch about 2 pm in a valley. Got about halfway through and thunder started rumbling and it started spritzing. Packed up and by the time I got to the ridge I was being pelted with hail that turned back to rain as I descended down the other side of the ridge. Most importantly, I discovered that my rain jacket no longer repelled water. I had the hood up and rain was running down my forehead and back and I was freezing from it!

Back down in the next valley I discovered some pleasant trail magic. just as it stopped raining I turned a corner and came upon this canopy with huge containers of food and drinks. I grabbed a couple bags of Doritos and a beer. Mmmmm. A couple guys came out of the tent next to the canopy and joined me and explained that they’d been there awhile but hadn’t seen the trail angel, Apple, yet. I grabbed a couple candy bars – Twix and Snickers – and chowed down while we talked. Perry and Garrett were out on a section hike carrying 17 days worth of food with them. They weren’t planning to go into any towns to resupply. Holy $%^#!!! I thought my 7 days of was bad enough. I usually figure 1.5 lbs of food per day. That means they were carrying about 25 lbs of food on top of their base pack weight (pack and gear without food and water). My base pack weight for this trip was about 20 lbs. So they were probably carrying 45-50 lb packs. Ouch!

We chatted for a bit but apparently my reputation preceded me. They knew all about me – my bear story, that I’d been sick, that I was from PA. Geez, the trail grapevine works.

I checked out the trail register. Bill and Keith had been through only 45 minutes before. I planned to stay at the same campsite and still had several miles to go so I decided to make supper while I was taking my break. A Lipton side packet and Clif bar later, I grabbed a soda for the morning and continued on. Got to camp just in time to get set up before the lights went out.

Cows, cows, and more cows. The day was littered with cow manure that washes into the streams when it rains. Lovely. Thank goodness for a filter.

Dry day – only one water source en route. Had to carry 5 lbs of water which makes for a heavy pack. Dry camped for the first time in my life. Finally starting to get beautiful views again. Yeayy! And Nutella and Clif Bars rock – separate and together.

Up at 5:15 to finish packing and head to breakfast at a pancake restaurant at 5:45. We (Bill, Keith, and me) shared a shuttle back to the trail and started a long 8 mile uphill slog. We crested the saddle by noon and were treated to beautiful views. We continued the 2 miles down the trail as storms materialized to the south. Shotrly after we reached the only shelter on the trail (Green Creek Shelter) it started pouring down rain. Other hikers and a biker straggled in soggy. We all ate lunch and waited around for the rain to stop. An hour and a half later, I was again pushing through the last 4 miles with tired hips and legs. By 6 pm, all the hikers (not the biker) that were in the shelter were at the campsite setting up tents and making supper.

Town chores today. Resupply, post office, grocery store, lumber store for denatured alcohol for my stove (which they gave to me for free), and a haircut. Met Paul (my trail angel from Buena Vista) for a walk around the Salida Arts Festival. Then out to supper with Bill and Keith, fellow thru-hikers. Then one more chore to do – head to Walmart for Nutella. I was NOT getting back on the trail for 7 days without my Nutella. And Safeway didn’t have it. It could only be procured from the Walmart on the other side of town.

With storms brewing, I tied Cassie on the back porch of the hostel, grabbed a rickety bike the hostel made available, and headed the 2 miles to Walmart. It was worth every pedal and every raindrop.

Returned to the hostel and got a shower to get the itchiness off of me from the haircut, did wash again to get the hair off my clothes so I wouldn’t itch all week, and headed to bed for an early start in the morning.

When I got up at 6:30, Tyler was already gone, planning to do 25 miles to the only shelter on the trail. That was the last I’d be seeing of him! My goal was just to get to the Salida Hostel where I could get a shower, wash my clothes, and celebrate the halfway point with pizza, Ben & Jerry’s, a haircut, and a zero day and recover for a 7 day push to Creede.

More hot, dry terrain. Put my head down and daydreamed my way to the end of the 15 miles since my iPod battery died. By 3 o’clock I’d reached the main road and was thumbing it for a ride to Salida. Within 15 minutes a 17 year old girl stopped and picked me up. She seemed sweet. She dropped me off at a McDonalds on the outskirts of town where I couldn’t resist a mango smoothie. Sipping my smoothie and getting brain freeze, I walked the last mile to the hostel.

First thing first after getting checked in….PIZZA! Then back tot he hostel for a shower, don my rain gear, and do laundry. I was really styling for about an hour. I met up with Keith and Bill. Bill and I walked to Safeway for my Ben & Jerry’s. Then off to bed in a co-ed dorm room with 8 bunks.

Slept in. Only had a 4 mile hike into Mt. Princeton Hot Springs for a resupply. So with a light pack and an easy walk mostly on paved and dirt roads, I practically floated into town. Just as I got to the lodge, Mike and Austin caught up with me. They were planning to get breakfast at the restaurant. RESTAURANT??? I invited myself to join them for breakfast. Filled French toast with blueberries and cream cheese. Yum!!!

I headed over to the country store to get my mail drop. Clearly too much stuff for just one day so I picked out what I needed and gave the rest to Austin and Mike and put a few things in the hiker box for whoever wanted them. Till I got back to the lodge, Mike and Austin were talking with another thru-hiker they just ran into – Tyler, from Illinois….who was hiking 20+ miles per day. Ouch!

I took my leave and headed down the road onto Mosquito Alley. OMG. About a mile in, I was swarmed by mosquitoes ALL OVER ME!!! I wriggled out of my pack as fast as I possibly could, got the bug spray out and lathered deet all over every inch of exposed skin. Cancer be damned.

From the mosquito patch to the furnace…

The rest of the day was spent hiking through the foothills of the high desert. Hot, dry, not much shade. I jammed the earphones in and put it on autopilot, planning to hike to Sands Creek – the halfway point of the trail. Shortly after, I met some dayhikers who mentioned that two other thru-hikers were aiming for the same campsite. So much for that plan. I scaled back one water source, 3.5 miles before the halfway poitn and by the time I got there it was thundering and starting to rain. I started pitching my tent when Tyler showed up. he pitched his tarp. Shortly after, Mike and Austin showed up and pitched their tent in the last remaining level spot. It turned out to be quite the party – comparing gear, then suppers, then sharing stories of others we’d met on the trail so far – around a campfire. Mike and Austin told of their “Shroom girls”, I of my “weed man” and “UFO guy” and Tyler’s “gear guru with the bear canister, 4lb sleeping mat, and 5-person tent”. Then the halfway point celebration started with Mike and Austin’s 24oz Pepsi and Tyler with a 24oz beer they’d been carrying all day for the occasion. I’d be celebrating in Salida with a pizza, pint of Ben & Jerry’s, and a haircut.

We talked and joked until well past trail midnight (7pm) when the fire was dying out and there was no more wood to throw on the fire and too dark to go searching for more. We retreated to our tents by the glow of the coals.

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