July 17, 2020
Destination: Mineral Creek Today's Miles: 17.50
Start Location: La Garita Wilderness Trip Miles: 343.30
When the alarm went off at 3 am the tent was very wet. This is the fourth day in a row and I am beginning to sense a pattern.
It was a little after 4 when we hit the trail donning full rain gear. It had stopped raining but everything around us was wet.
Today we would climb above 12,000 feet several times, hoping to do so before the growing threat of lightning and storms. We maneuvered down the trail, headlamps slicing through what remained of the night as we hiked deeper into the La Garita Wilderness.
With dark fading to dawn obscure shapes were now coming into focus. We could make out the willow choked creek bottom of the Cochetopa to our left and craggy cliffs rising sharply to our right. As if on cue a large mountain directly ahead became ablaze with the first rays of sun as we passed beneath. Mesmerized by the unearthly glow we continued onward towards even higher peaks behind.
There was no other trail traffic yet although we passed several tents whose occupants had not yet risen to greet the day. We wound our way up the gradually narrowing creek bottom and in a couple of hours were marveling at San Luis Peak above at over 14,000 feet.
Here’s where the hiking got serious. The saddle above was over 12,600 feet and the climb was steep with a few but not many switchbacks. I have really come to appreciate switchbacks.
Wet feet are not a hiker’s greatest joy and we both had them. Aaron’s Altra Timp mesh trail runners were totally soaked. My Solomon X Ultra mid hiking boots fared only slightly better. They are supposed to be waterproof - and usually are - except the water from the rain pants ended up making its way down into the boots.
Up and up we went and when we got to the saddle below San Luis Peak we noticed two distinctly human shapes working their way towards the summit above. We watched only briefly before dropping down the other side. Our view of the climbers remained good as we made a big looping drop and climb into another slightly lower saddle.
This section of the trial had sharp, spiky rock jutting into the sky above a narrow trail just barley etched into the mountainside with a long steep drop below. It’s the kind of trail that tends to hold your attention.
When we weren’t fighting the wind to stay on the mountain we would check on the progress of the climbers, their tiny ant-like profiles were silhouetted against the blue sky as they claimed the summit. Good for them, our hearts were with them as they bagged a 14’er!
Dropping down once again we began climbing to yet another saddle, and did this a couple more times today - each time surrounded by big peaks and big views. Today's change from cow poop water and the road-walking of yesterday felt transformative. What a difference a day can make.
Clouds were building as we began the last big ascent of the day at just under 12,900 feet. Crossing San Luis Pass it had started raining before we reached the summit and with more than a little concern we scurried quickly down the other side, rain pouring on us and thunder clapping all around us.
One remaining climb and we would drop down into the last sheltered area before crossing Snow Mesa tomorrow. Because we got an early start today it was mid afternoon when we arrived at the beaver pond. There are several camp spots here and we found a nice level spot set to itself above the others.
It’s comfortable (although the numerous dead standing beetle-kill trees nearby do have me a bit nervous) and as the evening progressed more hikers filtered in staging for the trek tomorrow across the open, exposed terrain.
As I close for the day it is once again to the splatter of rain assaulting our tent - and just after we’d gotten it dried out too. Looks like another wet morning tomorrow.