Big Climbs and Endless Views in the San Juan's

July 20, 2020

Destination: Lost Trail Creek Today's Miles: 18.90

Start Location: Lake City Trip Miles: 371.80

Morning came early but that’s OK, it’s parting with the soft sweetness of bed I will miss. Stretching my legs and flexing my feet against the sheets one last time, my muscles protested the movement.

It's not surprising. We’ve been on the trail for 30 days now and climbing mountains day after day after day is physically demanding.

Today’s going to be extra hard. It’s resupply day and we’ll be loaded down with food. On top of that we will be approaching the high point of the Colorado Trail at 13,271 feet so there’s plenty of climbing to do. Despite (and because of) this we’ve been looking forward to this San Juan portion of the trail since the day we started. We’re in God’s country now.

I was hoping to get more journal entries online before getting back on the trail but there was no time. Nick arrived right at 6 to shuttle us up to Spring Creek Pass - which is an adventure in itself.

It was a beautiful day and on the way to the trail we saw our second moose of the trip and a deer with two of the cutest little spotted fawns I’ve ever seen. Nick told us a couple weeks back a man on a motorcycle riding through here was run down and killed by a big bull moose, how sad.

Kudos to Lake City Sportsman for being so good to hikers , we very much appreciate them. We were on the trail a little after 6:30 and it was chilly. We welcomed the heat we were generating from the gradual uphill climb. Not far along we met Ryan, or Ryno he said his trail name was. He’s living in Breckenridge and also hiking the CT through to Durango. After an enjoyable conversation we said goodbye knowing we will most likely see him later in the day down the trail.

We weren’t sure how far we would get today because of the weather. High elevations and lack of water were also driving factors so when we reached our first water and camping opportunity at about the 8 ½ mile mark we had a decision to make. It was either stay here or spend the rest of the day over 12,000 feet. Rhino had passed us a couple miles back but we met up with him again here contemplating the same decision.

The weather forecast made the final determination for us. With the Garmin InReach (ours is the mini) we got detailed weather for our GPS coordinates and the forecast was favorable with a 10% chance of precipitation. Skies around us looked good so we continued on. Ryno did the same, once again taking the lead.

It took the better part of the day to get the job done and several times we thought we were making the final ascent to the high point only to learn there was another one around the bend. The views were remarkable in every way; depth, breadth, size, and scope. We were mesmerized.

We spent the entire day above tree line with the wind blowing hard, viciously threatening to tear us off our feet. One particular climb was steeply carved into the side of the mountain, the trail disappearing above into a staircase of large rock.

There were quite a few other people on the trail sharing our adventure, we were just passed by two twenty-something men, first one had colorful tattoos on his legs and the second shorter and slighter in stature.

Above us, working their way to the top of this particularly difficult section, was an older couple moving slow. Cresting the summit when we were perhaps half way up we watched their laborious climb. We caught and passed them a half mile or so from that summit and marveled at their determination. They were much older than anyone else we’ve seen on the trail, their packs large and bulging under their rain covers. Their gait was hitched and slow and I was concerned for them. They did not fit the mold of your typical thru hiker.

Not far down the trail we passed a second couple, friends of the older couple they said. All four were just starting the trail at Spring Creek Pass they told us and still getting their hiking legs under them. We wished them well and continued on, we were approaching the final big climb of the day.

The high point came and went unceremoniously, the trail immediately beginning a steep descent to Carson Saddle. Down and down we went, feet slapping the jeep road beneath us as we quickly lost the elevation we spent the day gaining. We passed a historic mining area and decided one day it would be fun to come back and explore the area.

Leaving the road the trail drops into the next drainage where the Guthook app told us there would be water and a protected place to camp. We were still above the tree line, having been fortunate to hike all day without any rain, black clouds were now boiling angrily above. It was time to find a place to camp.

We filled up all 3 of our Cnoc bags on the way to camp since the water source came first. It wasn’t too far of a carry, better do it now than backtrack. Most of the hikers that passed us today were now camped on the grassy sloped hillside. It wasn’t flat and there were no trees but it was receded into a basin in the mountain and felt protected.

Ryno already had his tent set up and greeted us with a friendly smile, it was good to see our new friend. He and Aaron spoke briefly about tent spots, there was an area not far from Ryno’s tent (separated by a few willows) that was a little flatter than other options so we hurried and got the tent put up.

It was far from flat but we were happy to be done hiking for the day. We cooked up the Ramen and noticed a few other hikers come straggling in. There were 5 or 6 tents cozily dotting the hillside by now, fortunately when you’re hiking you don’t meet strangers.

I noticed the elderly couple had not arrived yet. Their friends had but there was still no sign of the others. It was hard to not worry about them so I was relieved to see them come dragging in. They looked completely knackered.

My favorite part about today was the views, they were so impressive. I will never forget the feeling of looking off endlessly in every direction, it makes you feel close to God. Now we’re tucked in our sleeping bags perched on the side of a hill. It won’t be our most comfortable night’s sleep but we plan to get up early because we have about a 25 mile day to get off the top of the mountain.

We’re going to try to beat the storms as we continue our adventure along the Continental Divide.