Lake City, Professor Fantastic and the Runaway UTV

July 18, 2020

Destination: Lake City Today's Miles: 9.60

Start Location: Mineral Creek Trip Miles: 352.90

Last night I was a little worried about the dead trees falling on us while we slept. I managed to convince myself it was unlikely as long as there was no wind. When we fell asleep it was raining but not windy.

Sometime in the middle of the night the storm front moved out and the wind came blowing in really hard for a while. We lay awake as long as the wind blew wondering if the trees around would remain upright. Fortunately for us they did.

Once again we were up early and on the trail at 4 after getting up at 3. We were enjoying the cool of the day, the plants alongside the trail were glistening from last evening‘s rain and everything looked sparkly and pretty despite being dark out.

Our day started making our way downhill along Mineral Creek for a short while before turning up a side drainage. It was steep and as we climbed and I was glad the dark was cloaking the growing chasm below. I found it a lot less scary that way.

We switched back and forth a number of times, climbing for a better part of the morning, passing through a saddle just as it was cracking daylight. The clouds were turning soft pink and shapes were becoming recognizable features.

Now we could see the trail, a narrow, rocky and precariously carved thread across a long, steep shifting rockslide. What a dramatic way to meet the light of day, it was amazing, layer after layer of steep emerald green hillsides surrounding us.

Topping out in the next saddle we could see the valley far below blanketed with low lying clouds. It was as if we were above the clouds making us feel powerful and insignificant all at the same time.

Soon we were gaining the high point of the day at 12,785’ which was going around the shoulder of the mountain rather than going straight over the top. Snow Mesa was waiting on the other side and the reason for our early start today.

The mesa is over 3 1/2 miles long, every bit of it treeless and exposed above 12,000 feet. Everyone knows how dangerous Snow Mesa is during lightning storms and we wanted no part of it.

It’s amazing how steep and rough the trail is in spots. As we came around into Snow Mesa we had to go across a long, steep hill followed by another sketchy rockslide. Walk with purpose, walk with purpose I kept telling myself, head down, fully focused on each step.

I stopped only long enough to look up and check on my progress and wasn’t expecting the breathtaking view of Matterhorn Peak. For a second I thought I was on the border of Italy and Switzerland. I had no idea such a mountain existed in Colorado. Spectacular.

Reaching Snow Mesa we could let our guard down a little, the trail leveled and we enjoyed rolling across the undulating terrain, several 13,000’ peaks framing the mesa on our right. The views were nothing short of panoramic with peaks rising and falling in every direction, we took a lot of pictures.

Getting to the edge of the mesa we dropped down a rocky chute which was pretty cool - and very steep. Those cute little Pikas were scattered everywhere among the rocks chirping back and forth. They look like a fuzzy little cross between a rabbit and a rodent and are cute as can be. I told Aaron we should make a big rock pile in our front yard and invite a colony of Pikas to live there.

The descent was steep, it didn’t take us long to wind our way down to the bottom of the hill and Spring Creek Pass. We’ve been using the Guthook app (map, compass, guidebook, user updated water reports, elevation profile and more) and learned for $40 Lake City Sportsman will pick us up at the pass and take us to town.

It took a few minutes to hit a cell pocket but it was super easy, after holding for a moment to check availability we were told a driver named Nick would be arriving in about 45 minutes. That couldn’t have worked out any better.

At the top of Spring Creek Pass is a parking area, vault toilet and several picnic tables. We made our way over to the tables where a couple other hikers were drying out their gear. It was still early, before noon.

Striking up a conversation with one of the hikers he asked us if we were heading into Lake City. We said yes and that we had a ride coming. “Lucky you” he said, “I’m going to hitch a ride”. Wishing him luck he set off towards the highway, spinning around to say “my name’s Coco”, we told him ours in return.

Nick arrived right on time and we climbed in. Pulling up to the highway we saw Coco was still hanging out his thumb. “Hey, can we give that guy a ride” we asked - thinking only ‘tramilies’ could shuttle together due to COVID - something we read somewhere - and Nick said sure. Happy day, we waved him over and he jumped in, thanking us profusely.

The ride to town was incredible going over not one but two ultra-high mountain passes, Spring Creek and Slumgullion. Grades on the north side of the pass go up to 9% and is the steepest maintained paved road in Colorado.

Nick was an excellent host telling us of the area’s rich history. He grew up here but is now studying overseas with some global leaders in climatology. He impressed us with his knowledge, both local and global and we enjoyed his company.

Arriving in Lake City Nick gave us a quick tour of the town so we knew where everything was - basically the grocery store, café, convenience store, restaurant ‘The Climb’ and of course the Sportsman - which has an outstanding selection of camping gear. Coco offered to chip in for the shuttle, we refused but agreed to let him buy us a beer later at Lake City Brewery.

We had an enjoyable time sitting outside at a picnic table at the local brewery. Coco shared stories of hiking with the love of his life in South America and we told him of how we fell in love working together on a ranch in Colorado. All agreed we both have awesome love stories!

On the way back to the hotel we ran into a couple friends of Coco’s, Professor Fantastic, Bear Dog and Shawn. Professor Fantastic came to town to attend Saturday evening mass at Saint James. He said he was offered several couches by congregation members, including one from a female med student who he thought he might get “lucky” with. They were traveling with two other girls who were doing their laundry at the moment so we didn’t meet them.

Seems like Professor Fantastic has a way with the women. He was certainly a funny character and had us in tears telling us about being picked up hitchhiking by a couple in a side-by-side UTV. They were heading down a steep pass and the brakes went out. Professor Fantastic rode it out In the back seat with a Scottish terrier under each arm. Flying around a bend there was a young boy playing in the road - they swerved and stopped by running an aspen into the cab. Oh. My. Gosh. You can't make that stuff up!

We left Coco with his old friends (and our new friends) and headed back to the hotel. Lake City has a ton of old buildings, many with historical signs and we learned a small touch of history along the way. There was a band playing behind our hotel so we opened the window to hear them better, they sounded pretty good. We thought about going over there but it was getting late and we weren’t sure where ‘there’ was.

It was time to turn in - as if on cue the music stopped. So far Lake City seems like a pretty cool little town.