Thursday, September 26, 2013

Day 102a - Getting to Creede...

We were not supposed to go to Creede. We never discussed the Creede Cut-Off, an option used by some CDT hikers to pare down the miles in the San Juans section of the trail. We sent our mail to Lake City and Pagosa Springs, which are along the San Juans route.

Here's what happened. Last night, before we went to bed, Gangles asked to see the GPS. Odd, but not outrageous. Like most modern economies, we have a sophisticated and well-partitioned division of labor, including navigation. She handles maps, and I handle the GPS. She was fiddling with it, and then made an undecipherable "hmph" noise. Turns out, she confirmed her hunch based on a map we saw ~10mi earlier in the day. We can walk into Creede from San Luis Pass, where we were camped. And this may be the jumping off point for the mysterious Creede Cut-Off which other hikers had mentioned.

I was shocked--we never even talked about doing this with any kind of seriousness. If skies were blue, and forecast to be blue, our plan was to run the San Juans. I had been looking forward to this section of the trail since Canada. Plus, I had had an exhilarating day on the trail--climbing up to that gorgeous, snowy pass, and running the ridge across a few saddles to get to San Luis Pass.

As it turns out, Gangles had an opposite reaction. I always knew her two least favorite parts of hiking are 1) the cold, 2) uphills. The day had both in spades. She was freezing during the gusts, and thought the snow was sketchy--definitely worthy of an ice axe. I thought it was a touch chilly, and worthy of concentration, but not too bad. Tomato. Tomato. (You're supposed to pronounce the word in different ways when you read this in your mind)

Then we went to bed. Or at least, we tried. The wind kept gusting all night. The tent shook violently, vestibules flapping loudly. My normally effective ear plugs were powerless. Plus, in an attempt to find a windbreak, we pitched on a sloped spot in the scrub oak. This sloughed off some of the wind, but I was sliding towards the bottom of the tent all night.

Wind-related insomnia, plus the emotional anvil of missing the San Juans. I hardly slept. I don't think Gangles did, either. At some point, we were both awake, and she dared look at her watch--it was only midnight. At least five more hours in that loud, drafty tent.

By the time morning finally came around, we discussed the Creede Cut-Off again. Our positions had flipped. She didn't want to "wuss out" on the San Juans. And I didn't want to put her through that section of the hike, knowing she wouldn't enjoy it. We finally agreed to hike the remaining 14mi to Spring Creek Pass (road to Lake City), and reassess with the latest weather information. If it looked bad in the slightest, we would skip the San Juans. A glimmer of hope for the San Juans at least.

We packed up, with the wind still gusting in the pass. We started the ascent from San Luis Pass to the next ridge, climbing the next few hundred feet slowly, with Gangles in the lead. She stopped, and asked me to lead, so I pushed on and climbed up to the ridge to wait for her. The wind was blowing fiercely, so fiercely that I waited with my back turned, so I wouldn't get cold. And I was wearing wind-proof clothes.

The sky was perfectly blue again, horizon to horizon. It was our second perfect day in Colorado, after 20+ consecutive days of rain. And this was a stunning section of trail, bald, snow-capped mountains all around. Lovely.

I'm a bit faster than Gangles on uphills, but I was waiting longer than usual. I turned into the wind to watch her laboring up the last 30' or so of the climb. She was moving slowly, deliberately, face taut with concentration. As I walked towards her, I realized that her teeth were chattering. The weather was perfect, she was wearing almost all of her clothes, we were below 13,000', but she was still shivering.

From San Luis Pass to Cumbres Pass (effectively the San Juans), we had ~200mi left, all around 11-13,000' in elevation. We were in conditions as optimal as could be imagined, but Gangles was really suffering. Though the views were beautiful, I couldn't see her enjoying the next week or so. She's a tough woman and not a complainer. She would grit her teeth and bear it until we got to NM.

That's when I decided it wasn't fair of me to ask her to hike the San Juans. The cold weather, high altitude and snowy / rainy conditions would have been tough but bearable for me, and awful for her. She would labor through the days, and just count down the hours and miles until she could get into a tent. It would never be fun for her.

As badly as I wanted to see the San Juans, I wanted just as badly not to see her have to suffer through them. I had been up all night with a heavy heart, turning over the disappointment of missing the San Juans. I woke up in the morning, resigned but still mourning this possibility.

When I saw her come up the mountain, the weight lifted. The answer was quite clear--we had to get down to Creede. We were going to do the Creede Cut-Off.

If this sounds like a rationalization, it is. As "The Big Chill" would remind us, rationalizations are important; most of us can't get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations.

It started off as a rationalization, but ended up as something quite different. Much lighter, clearer, more peaceful. The only humane reaction to this being our CDT hike, and not my CDT hike.

So, we started down the hill towards Creede.

Mileage: 15mi from San Luis Pass to Creede


  1. I spent a month with a friend saying out loud(quoting "Top Gun")at various trail junctions: Don't leave em Maverick, and other less coherent bits of dialog, walking off trail to full fill, or solve various needs/ wants. It kept us moving through a tough trip and it was great. The highest duty of a team is to take care of each other. This morning reading this brought tears to my eyes. You will remember taking care of each other forever.

    1. Kermit, thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful words. It was such an easy decision, and it was just as you said, team. Thank you.