Monday, September 30, 2013

105 - Creede Cut-Off by the numbers

Miles hiked on Creede Cut-Off: 45

Miles "saved": 115

Net miles "saved": 70

Sketchy crossings of Goose Creek which required crawling: 2 (1 icy log, 1 burned and bent log)

Trekking poles permanently lost to said sketchy crossings: 1

Blond elk trotting across the trail: 5

Piles of animal scat on trail: 24

Piles of steaming animal scat on trail: 1 (Lynx)

People other than us on trail: 0

Vertical elevation gain: 3,000+

Snowballs found in tent made from last night's frost: 1

Pictures taken by Gangles of the stunning views in the San Juans: 124

Pairs of handwarmers used in past 24 hours: 6

Blowdowns on trail: Hundreds and hundreds

Oreos (Doublestuff, obvi) consumed: 17

Times we cried: 0

Hours lost in woods: 3.5

Miles per hour: ~1 :(

Today on a scale from 1-10 (1=boo, 10=yay!): 10 (surprisingly!)

Mileage: 14mi from past North Lime trailhead to Archuleta Lake

Day 104 - I'm not going to lie, I would have cried

We left town yesterday with nary a cloud int he sky. We went to the Deep Creek trail head and began the ascent back up to the Divide.

Said goodbye to the the Arkansas crew, including the amazing Faye. And saw some interesting sculptures on our way out of town.

Trail was still soggy and slick with rain. Gangles almost wiped out, but caught herself with her poles. She said, "I'm not going to lie, I would have cried if I fell in". Lots of mud.

Mileage: 17mi from Creede to past North Lime trailhead

Day 103 - Hibernation

When I looked at the weather this morning, it was a rain cloud icon for today, then a string of suns for the next week. We decided to preserve the dryness of our gear and our mental sanity, and zero.

We spent the morning chatting with a great crew of other hotel guests visiting from Arkansas. We talked about places they've been, things they've seen, what they've done.

Fascinating anecdote #1: One guy was a college football player, then busted his knee. Since he couldn't play football, he took up the much safer sport of rodeo. Career highlights include broncos, bulls, clown, broken arm, leg, collarbone and neck. Photo attached of said gentleman dressed as a rodeo clown, riding atop a bathtub filled with flour (to resemble smoke) atop a bucking bull.

Fascinating anecdote #2: Same guy, always wanted to be a street busker. While visiting his daughter in the Bay area, he bought a $4 Coke in cup, and went to play at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury. A woman came by and dropped a quarter in his Coke. Net earnings as a musician: -$3.75

Mileage: 0mi, Sanity +3, Gear dryness +0

Friday, September 27, 2013

Day 102b - ...and realizing the wonder of Creede

Probably pathetic fallacy, the weather seemed to match our mood as we descended San Luis Pass to Creede. It was warmer, brighter, less windy. And just as Ruskin described it when he coined the phrase, the pathetic fallacy was that my sense of peace with the decision to take the Creede Cut-Off clarified, simplified and brightened the weather. The hike to Creede was really more of a stroll, through golden aspens, past stark, spectacular mountains.

We were offered a few rides on the way down, but turned them down in the interest of maintaining our continuous footpath from Canada to Mexico. Just two miles from Creede, a pick-up rolled down the window. Al and Jeannie saw us walking down from the Divide, and invited us to lunch at their place, Far Dog.

Lunch was simply a revelation. Everything was fantastic--fresh decor, concise but ample menu, noticeably ingredients. Plus the care taken on all of the little details, like the perfectly curated beverages, like the ginger beer, and quality coffee bean. This has to be the best meal we've had on the trail. Big city sophistication, attentive service, in the small town of Creede. I had the shrimp and grits, which were legit. (As a sort of Southerner (Virginia is for Lovers!), I like to think I know grits). Gangles declared the coconut creme pie to be the best she had ever tasted. Plus the latte was awesome. Thanks to Al, Jeannie, Jess and Erin for the great meal and better hospitality.

After lunch, we went over to chat with the incredibly helpful and friendly ranger. She warned us that snow was coming, maybe tomorrow night. She told us that we were smart to come off the Divide, and that we should be cautious in the San Juans. She had been a backcountry ranger for 10+ years, and warned us that this section was especially unpredictable with the sudden weather changes, dead and falling trees, and exposure. We got a map which plotted our path out of Creede, and back to the CDT, in the South San Juans. I was happy to see that we would still hike ~90mi of the San Juans, just not all of it.

Then off to the post office, where four French people were outside, puzzling over a package they were sending. Near them, someone had dropped off a box of complimentary gourds with a charming hand-written note. I really do love Creede. The Postmaster Sam was also incredibly friendly and hospitable--she gave us the scoop on town and where to stay and eat.

We checked in at the Snowshoe Inn run by Ruth and Stan. Ruth was wonderful, getting us started on laundry, and into a room ASAP. Plus her baked goods are legendary. Seems like everyone in town was talking about her breakfasts.

Even though I was at peace with the idea of the Creede Cut-Off, our unexpected stop here, and the subsequent superlative experience here has reinforced the rightness of the decision. To a person, everyone in Creede has been wonderfully hospitable.

Many thanks to everyone in Creede for making this impromptu visit a wonderful visit.

p.s. Special thanks to Amy Jo at Ravens Rest in Lake City for sending on my mail after the last minute stop in Creede

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

Day 101 - Moo!


The first cry was tentative, almost plaintive. Then followed by a deep, bass one. A comical one, with a high reedy buzz at the upper register, like a kazoo. A goaty, ragged one joined in.

We started with a fluffy auburn steer mooing at us, and soon, every cow was mooing at us as we walked along the Cochetopa Valley. My recall of the cow dialect is rusty, but I think the calls translated to "INTRUDER!".

What could I do, but moo back?

So, there we were, a couple hundred cows and me, all mooing at each other.

I haven't seen cows in a long, long time. Since WY, maybe. I felt bad for spooking them, not for anything I was doing, but for just being there. The valley was lovely, green, warm, sunny, with a scenic creek flowing down the center. Everything a cow (and a hiker) could need.

As we exited the valley, past the cows, we came across several men on horseback, with the obligatory very intelligent, very curious, very fluffy herding dog. The gent in front had a rugged Wilford Brimley air about him. He quizzed us about the location of the cattle, and if they were high up by Van Tassen Gulch. Nope, no cows, but some large cow patties. We apologized for spooking the cows. He chuckled. Made a crack about wishing he had more horses with him so he could put us on payroll and help him round up cows.

The cattlemen went on their way, touching their gloved hands to their hat brims. And then we were alone on the trail again, walking down the Cochetopa Valley. Truly one of the most beautiful days on the trail to date. The sky was perfect, all blue from horizon to horizon.

We had a long climb out of the valley, from 9,500' up to 12,600'. The climb began gradually, gently graded in the trees, then steepened on a tall bald. As we ascended, the wind blew harder and harder, the temperature dropped, and we saw snow at the top of the pass. The snow was left over from two days ago, from that unforgettable nighttime snowstorm where we narrowly missed being crushed by falling trees.

The snow was rapidly melting, with only one set of fresh prints going our direction. Based on the trail register, my guess was Cedric Martin, The French Guy, who passed when we bailed to Gunnison.

The wind was incredibly strong at the top of the pass, so strong I was nearly knocked off balance while walking. I was actively shifting my weight into the wind, and nearly toppled a few times when the wind let up briefly. We were racing the sun, knowing the temperature would drop rapidly once the 7pm sunset came around.

We traversed an icy bowl, the snowiest section of trail for the day. Drifts were 18" at the deepest point, but I could tell some had already melted. Around 6:15pm, we reached San Luis Pass, a local min at just below 12,000' We decided to camp, since we had no guarantee of finding any other kind of tree cover if we continued to ascend the ridge. The wind was absolutely gusting. We went to a low spot on the pass, but still, the wind gusted. We pitched and jumped inside, but still it sounded like a haunted pirate ship.

A few menacing clouds late in the day, but hope the weather holds.

Spring Creek Pass tomorrow! I'm excited to see Snow Mesa. I've seen the photos from other Sobos.

Night, everyone.

Mileage: 21mi from near Cochetopa Creek to San Luis Pass

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Day 100 - San Juans, second try

We left Gunnison this morning, dry and refreshed. I bought a few new items to keep us warm, even in rain or snow. Namely, I now have a longshoreman's cap (just like Maron's), and a pair of neoprene gloves which are meant for deep sea fishing. At least if my hands get wet, they'll still be warm.

Feeling optimistic, we caught two hitches to the trail. The first hitch down US 50 was with a fellow backpacker. The second hitch down CO 114 was with Josh, an elevator repair tech headed to Alamosa. He was very handsome, like a sturdier, X-Games Ethan Hawke. They got us back on trail by 11:45am, and it felt good to be back. There were literally no clouds today, save one tiny patch of puffs, which were burned away by the sun. What a difference a day makes...

The terrain was smooth and gently graded, mostly on old forest service roads. We were in excellent spirits. Good day for our 100th day on the trail.

Happy day, happy hiking. Feeling good again.

p.s., Just poked my head outside the tent, and can see so many stars. Even the Milky Way. No clouds means no rain!

Mileage: 20mi from CO 114 to near Cochetopa Creek

Monday, September 23, 2013

Day 99 - Fear

We almost died last night. I am not exaggerating. In all of my time outdoors--2.5 thruhikes, mountaineering in Ecuador, climbing Kilimanjaro, etc.--this was the most frightened I've ever been outdoors.

Short version: Thunder, lightning, rain, snow and gusting winds. Huge crashing noises near our tent. We were nearly crushed by the full-grown trees falling around our tent. (Mom, Dad, Mary, Todd--don't worry, we are ok. Unsmushed, and in a hotel room tonight)

Long version: After we camped early, the thunderstorm blew in quickly--rain and lightning too close, just 1-3mi away (as estimated based on the highly scientific Mississippi counting method). I wasn't too worried, since we were in a saddle below treeline.

I dozed off, and when I woke up, the lightning and thunder had stopped. It was eerily quiet. No wind, just the tent sagging under 2-3" of snow. Since the rain and wind had stopped, I ventured out. I could see stars. All quiet on the Western front.

A few hours later, I woke to the sound of an enormous crash near the tent. The wind was howling all around us. I really thought something would tear through the tent, and then it would all be over. I started to think seriously about my living will.

Since it was raining and thundering, we were pinned. Our options were to 1) pack and start walking, or 2) stay in the tent and hope for the best. If we left, we would be stumbling down the snowy trail in the dark, and whatever was falling would still be crashing around us. We didn't really have a choice except to stay in the tent and wait for the storm to blow over. At least we were warm, and mostly dry.

By morning, the snow was piled against the tent, covering our shoes and pressing against the doors. No sign of blue sky, just bright white, which meant more rain or snow.

And those terrifying crashing sounds: within 20' of our tent, four fallen trees. The trees were all full-grown, and previously healthy. They had been torn out of the ground, roots upended. Or snapped in two, thick trunks broken off at the base.

The air was still cold and wet. My socks froze overnight, and were sitting upright in a sad little pantomime of real feet. Everything was soaked. I was shivering uncontrollably, and my hands were numb. We opened a few packages of hand warmers. I put on almost all of my clothing.

Within the first mile, we saw ~100 downed trees. The going was slow, difficult to clamber over blowdowns with numb hands and feet. My left hand was the worst. I actually couldn't feel my left thumb for the first hour. I was a little worried I would smash it without realizing it.

Funny enough, when we had descended to 10,000', the air was warm and dry. The hiking was sunny and pleasant, almost beautiful. Alders were snow free, pines were frosted, and the landscape was dappled, green, yellow and white. So different from where we had camped, just 1,000' higher. The snow, lightning and fallen trees were almost unfathomable in bright, dry valley.

We got down to the road, and were debating if we should press on, or regroup in town. There wasn't much traffic. As we discussed, a van was approaching, and we quickly stuck out a thumb. The van pulled right over, which we decided was a sign. We took a ride with four Belgian tourists into Gunnison for the night.

Grateful to be in one piece, drying out our gear. Going to check the weather and plot our next steps. Hope everyone is well.

Mileage: 6mi from just past Lujan Pass to Hwy 114

Day 98 - More rain

Another grey, affectless sky nearly all day. I saw my shadow for maybe 15m, but otherwise, just blank white sky. It was an all day poncho day, with non-stop drizzle. Around 2pm, the rain really started to come down, then switched to snow and thunder. We debated camping early, but decided to press on as the rain let up.

Oddly enough, some kind of yellow jacket or hornet bit Gangles during the snow. Usually you have either bugs or precipitation, not both.

Around 5pm, the rain began again, I worried that this was the big thunderstorm which had been predicted for today. We got lower, around 11,000', below treeline, and camped immediately. Now, listening to rain on the tent.

No photos today, too wet to have the camera out. Sending thoughts and prayers to everyone in CO, hope this one isn't too bad

Mileage: 21mi from beyond Windy Pass to before Lujan Pass

Sent from iPhone

Day 97: Into the San Juans!

Colorado has been a state of extremes: spectacular vistas, terrible wet weather, and some of the best towns on the trail. Yesterday was our only day in CO without rain. Granted, we were in the lowlands in Salida, so it is possible it rained on the Divide. Even so, I'll take it!

Today, we begin the section known as the "San Juans" even though we don't enter for the San Juans for a few days. We started by finishing the last few miles up to Monarch Pass, to connect our footsteps from where we were kicked off by the film crew.

At Monarch Pass, I came across the local Porsche club out on a joyride. Seeing these well-heeled people zipping around in Italian sports cars made me feel extra like a hobo. Then, I really hoboed it up by lingering in the store to warm up from the chilly weather. The store also had a mini-museum with moth-eaten taxidermy animals common in the area.

From Monarch Pass, we set off South, following the Colorado Trail. This is an especially popular section for mountain bikers, as we were warned by Ted, who we met in the Wind River Range. Sobos, be warned, the weekends may be busy with bikes.

The views were lovely today, with clear vistas all around as we traversed the ridge. We saw a few people on foot, most notably a trio of hunters (father, two sons) from Green Bay, WI. The father was agog that we were walking from Canada, and insisted on shaking our hands, and taking both solo photos and photos with his sons. He kept insisting that we would be famous someday. I'm not sure having a blog which my mom reads makes us famous. But he kept saying that it took something to walk across the country, and that something would make us famous.

The day was otherwise uneventful, except that it did seem as though it might not rain! The forecast called for 20% chance, but we were hit with rain in the afternoon, and again as the sun was setting. You win again, Colorado.

However, the worst weather is expected tomorrow, including snow, lightning, and strong gusts. However, the day after is supposed to be sunny and clear. I'm a little worried about tomorrow's storm, but if we make it through that, I think we'll be in fine shape for the rest of the stretch.

p.s., Crossed a lean-to today, reminiscent of an AT shelter. One of the few on the CDT.

Mileage: 21mi from shy of Monarch Pass to beyond Windy Pass

Day 96 - Continuous footpath restored!

It was eating at me, the idea of skipping 2-3mi of continuous footpath. I hated that I wasn't able to walk clear up to Monarch Pass, and had to take a ride from the film crew. Gangles came up the genius idea, to walk that section *before* the film crew arrived.

Last night, at the laundromat, we met a member of the film crew, Joe. He's the pyro guy, and he showed us lots of photos of his work. I don't want to ruin the movie for you, but there are several explosions. He told us that he had a 6:30am call time.

So, we woke this morning at 4am to pack, and were out on the highway by 5:30am to hitch. At this time, it was still pitch black. We half heartedly stuck a thumb out, but within 30 seconds, we both realized this is ridiculous. No one is going to pick us up on a major highway while it is completely dark. And we probably shouldn't get into a car with someone we can't see.

We did the only reasonable thing to do at that hour. Simultaneously, and without verbal acknowledgement, we just walked back into the hotel, and went back to sleep. (After grabbing hot cinnamon rolls in the lobby, of course).

The F&F7 crew takes the weekends off, so we decided to zero today (Friday), and go back tomorrow (Saturday). Btw, for other Sobos, the film crew should be done within the next couple of days, so don't worry about this delay.

And now, a whole, lovely zero stretched in front of us. Our Salida highlights include: bike ride, coffee, art galleries, farmer's market, Cambodian cuisine, micro-brew on the river, mini-golf, and root beer milk.

Mileage: 0. Salida is a wonderful town.