SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS
CDT Day 136: 22.5 miles /36 km
CDT SOBO: Mile 2054.5 – 2075.0 + 2 dufus miles
Friday August 30, 2019
Camp (11,950′ ) – High Passes (12,600′- 13,000′) – Stony Pass Trailhead (12,520′) – Camp (11,920′)
This morning was one of those few occasions that neither of us wanted to wake early. It wasn’t overly cold maybe just accumulated fatigue. But knowing that we wanted to be in Pagosa Springs by Tuesday was enough to rouse us to wakefulness. Thunderstorms are predicted for Tuesday and Wednesday next week and we wanted to be off the high peaks by then. The star studded night sky promised a clear sky day. We broke camp and headed up the to the first of todays 7 passes or high points. The passes were between 12,600ft and 13,000ft and we aimed to get over Hunchback Pass before the end of the day.
It was beautiful hiking up to the first pass as the sunrise started to illuminate the surrounding peaks. We were heading towards what looked like an ancient glacier with a filled in cirque lake at the base.
From this pass we gradually descended into a wide valley of eroded jagged buttes and peaks. It was peaceful and still. As the sunrise started to fill this valley, framed by bright clear blue sky it was simply beautiful. I marvelled at the forces of nature that have shaped this landscape.
We soon dropped down towards a series of magnificent tarn lakes being illuminated by the sunrise. Several tents were up around the lake closest to us, one tent had bikes nearby. Hammer thought it may have been Betsy and Andy. On the descent towards the lake we met our first equestrian on the CDT, turns out she was Australian. Jody, from Melbourne, was doing sections of the trail on her horse. The horse was a bit skittish due to an encounter with a large bull moose earlier. She went uphill and we continued on downhill.
We soon met Denali, a feisty small woman who is hiking the CT southbound. We chatted to her for a bit. The ground was covered in a thick layer of frost and my feet were getting cold. I don’t think these Salewa shoes have the insulation in the soles that the Salomons did. We said goodby and continued on, losing the sunlight behind a mountain. It was very cold now, the ground was very boggy and it was hard to keep dry feet. We descended through this cold, wet boggy ground for about half an hour before I realised that we should not have descended so far. We were on the wrong trail. So we backtracked and got more wet feet on our return.
Rejoining the CDT, we found the trail marker was right where we stopped to talk to Denali. Back on trail, we passed the campsites we saw earlier. Andy and Becky were the campers with the bikes. Andy showed us some great photos of moose and a badger from yesterday. And Becky gave us a most delicious zucchini – chocolate chip slice. Such beautiful and generous people. That sweet treat made the extra hour of hiking in the wrong direction that much more bearable.
From Cataract Lake and back on trail we continued to climb towards another pass followed by a long descent. Then another long climb. The trail surface was very slippery and it was slow going to avoid falling. On a long descent following the third pass we passed a large group of day hikers and then Betsy and Andy came sailing past. They made cycling this tricky trail look so easy. The mountain peaks stretched in all directions. As always, trust in the trail makers to find a route through.
Another roller coaster pass followed. We caught up to Denali who was a little bit surprised to see us. I wondered why she didn’t say anything this morning when we parted company. I also wondered why we didn’t twig to the fact that we were all hiking southbound yet went in opposite directions. I guess I was still a bit upset about the extra mileage.
On the descent we passed a small tarn lake and decided to stop of lunch. The sun was shining and it was a lovely spot. Another CT hiker joined us. Dave is from North Carolina and was section hiking the CT. He had visited Australia earlier in the year. He had an interesting link to the country. His mother lived in Sydney as a child in the 1920’s when her father, and Daves’ grandfather, was transferred from the US to work with Goodyear. Daves’ mother was christened in St Mary’s Cathedral in 1928 when she was 7 years old. He visited the Cathedral to see the place she spoke about. He said he found it quite emotional.
After lunch we had a long descent passing a huge bunch of sheep being closely guarded by sheepdogs. We were joined by Schultzy, a CT hiker with whom we have flip-flopped since Hope Pass near Twin Lakes. He hiked with us, chatting to Hammer most of the afternoon, all the way to the trail junction where the CT and the CDT split. Schultzy found a passionate interest in meteorology when very young and is working in that field in Baltimore now. What a fantastic skill to have out here, an ability to read clouds and know what’s coming. It was sad to be leaving the CT hikers. The CDT will be a little bit lonlier from now on.
Just before the trails separated we hiked for a few miles along a huge open meadow. Ominous dark looking mountain peaks were to our right, maybe the Needle Mountains.
The trails separated soon after we left the meadow. We descended down a narrow gully lined with incredibly dense bright and beautiful wildflowers still blooming in great profusion. We passed two young moose grazing not far off trail. They watched us with an intense gaze as we walked by. Realising that we were not going to make our days destination we stopped at the first suitable campspot and called it a day before the light disappeared.