RIDGES OF THE SAN JUANS
CDT Day 139: 20 miles /32 km
CDT SOBO: Mile 2117.5 – 2137.5
Monday September 2, 2019
Cherokee Lake (11,700′) – High Point (12,800′) – Camp (11,650′)
The depth of my despair following the hailstorm yesterday caught me by surprise. Any resilience I may have had at the start of this hike has been stripped away by its sheer brutality. But I woke early again this morning eager to get the day underway. And unlike on the Pacific Crest Trail, where each morning was a sense of excitement about what lay ahead, on this trail at this stage, it’s just about getting it done. At the same time I’m mindful of not wishing the day away and missing the wonder that is around me.
It’s like the finish line of the Boston Marathon. That feeling when you turn left on Boylston Street, the finish line is in sight and you just want it to get closer so that all the pain and suffering will be over, while at the same time wishing for time to slow down so you can fully experience the magic of that last half mile stretch to the finish line and savour what you have achieved.
We left our campsite in the dark and it was almost an hour and half before the sun rose. We walked above Cherokee Lake in the darkness. Two small green lights caught my eye. Hammer thought they looked the same as the arrow we found yesterday. Could it be hunters again? As we hiked away Hammer caught sight of another person walking in front of us in the distance. A green headlamp reflected every now and then. About half an hour along they turned off to a lower trail and we continued our ridgetop traverse. I’m feeling a little nervous about hiking in the dark with hunters around. It feels a little alien to me. Hammer doesn’t think it’s a problem.
It was sensational to be high on the ridge watching the day come alive. We stopped for breakfast above a creek valley. It was perfectly silent and very still. Mountain ranges lined up one after another in the distance as far as the eye could see. Another beautiful spot for breakfast.
From the breakfast ridge we continued rolling up and down the ridgeline for over 10 miles before we stoped for lunch. It was a lovely warm clear sky day, hardly a breath of wind. Perfect conditions to be high up above the treeline. It wasn’t all ridgetop, for sections where the ridge was inaccessible the trail followed around at lower elevations.
We both struggled with energy levels this morning. I just had nothing in my legs and Hammer was his usual slow and steady unwavering rhythm. The descents were almost trickier then the climbs, very steep and slippery in places. We made slow progress.
Stopping for lunch is always the highlight of the day. I was hoping that todays mushroom risotto will give me a bit of a boost for the big climb this afternoon. It was a warm day and by the time we finished lunch and were back on trail clouds had started gathering. We met a northbound flip-flop hiker Bearbait whom we had met earlier in Montana. Always nice to see people out here. He will finish in Rawlins and was a bit over the trail and couldn’t wait to finish. We were happy to be able to give him our roll of toilet paper, which he forgot to buy in Pagosa Springs.
Soon after we started the slow climb towards the High Point on trail. Ominous looking dark clouds were ahead. It was a 2 mile long, 1,600ft climb to a High Point at 12,800ft in elevation. Hammer was gung-ho to keep going despite the building rumble above the mountain we were approaching. Sure enough half way up the mountain, the temperature dropped suddenly and drops of rain fell.
We were a little bit better prepared today. We got warm clothes and wet weather gear on before the rain turned to hail. And we used our groundsheet to wrap around us as the sky opened yet again. Hail pelted the groundsheet for some time before turning to rain. We stayed warm and dry under the cover. Rolling thunder rumbled above the mountain and did not seem to move. The storm lasted an hour, same as yesterday but we fared so much better by being a little bit better prepared. We must have looked a sorry sight, clinging to the side of a mountain under a plastic sheet, but we were warm and dry. And it made it all the difference.
The rain eventually stopped and we could resume our hike up the mountain. By the time we completed the climb the dark clouds had moved on and sun was back out. The sun and dark clouds created a beautiful contrast against the mountains in our immediate vicinity. The geology seems to be changing from volcanic and metamorphic rocks yesterday to more riverine conglomerates.
We realised that we were yet again not going to make our planned mileage for the day. We stopped to camp as soon as we found a suitable spot below the treeline.