SOUTHERN SAN JUAN WILDERNESS
CDT Day 143: 24 miles /38.5 km
CDT SOBO: Mile 2173.0 – 2197.0
Friday September 6, 2019
Camp (12,050′) – Montezuma Peak (12,500′) – Summit Peak (12,659′ ) – Adams Fork Conejos River (11,300′) – Pass (12,150′ ) – Camp (11,650′)
We were much mistaken in thinking that the rest of this hike will be through gentle cattle grazing country.
We left our campsite in the dark and hiked on the open ridge. It was a warm morning, perfectly silent and still. Only the occasional distant hoot of what sounded like an owl broke the silence of the predawn.
There wasn’t much visible foot tread marking the trail. It was the occasional cairn we sighted marking the way that gave me confidence we were heading in the right direction, without the constant recourse to the map.
As the sunrise lit up the landscape, in front of us were dark rugged peaks, conical shaped mountains and volcanic dykes. It was a joy to hike just after sunrise with the suns rays lighting up the surrounding peaks in brilliant red hues, all framed by an impossibly blue sky.
Just after passing a sign for the Southern San Juan Wilderness area we stopped for breakfast on top of Adams Fork Conejos River valley. After breakfast we followed this river downstream for a few miles. The geology of this valley was incredible. A wide open green valley surrounded by shear rock walls eroded into hoodoos by wind and rain.
From here we ascended and descended through several creek valleys. At some stage in the afternoon I’m guessing we must have exited the wilderness area. Around the Middle Fork Conejos River basin we started seeing lots of fresh cow dung and the beautiful clear mountain streams we’ve see up to this point were trampled by cow hooves into a quagmire.
By mid-afternoon dark clouds had gathered and rumbling of thunder could be heard in the distance. Rain had been threatening but it was in the distance. We were climbing towards a mountain pass when the sky opened and we were pelted by hail. We were not as well prepared this time. Rain had been threatening for some time but seem to miss us so we thought we would be spared today. We shelter under the groundsheet for about half an hour waiting for the hail and rain to stop.
Finally the sun came out and we resumed our hike up the pass. My feet were soaked and cold and I had hoped for sunshine to dry everything out. But the brief sunny spell didn’t last. We made it over the pass and started to descend towards Blue Lake when the thunder and rain returned, this time with lightening. We had thoughts of stopping to camp but decided to descend a bit further. It was raining when we passed Blue Lake. We couldn’t camp there as there was a large group of hunters with a pack of horses already established.
We hiked on for another couple of miles before we found a spot to camp. We were wet and cold so it was such a relief to get the tent up and be undercover before more rain returned.