Day 48: June 10, 2019
Destination: Great Divide Alternate Mile 83.4 (Del Norte)
Today’s Miles: 10.2
Start Location: Great Divide Alternate Mile 73.2
Trip Miles: 747.9
I woke up at 4:30 to try and get a jump on getting to town. When I only have 10 miles or so to go, I don’t eat breakfast; I just brush my teeth and run!
The temperature dipped overnight into the upper 30s. It’s funny how it will get into the upper 60s during the day and then drop 30 degrees overnight.
I ran down the mountain side away from my overnight hideaway and scampered down the road, feeling somehow like I had gotten away with something. The walk in was on a country road (paved) with a view of the sunrise in the distance. At one point I watched a coyote bounding across a field. I wasn’t sure what it was at first. It crossed the road in front of me and then ran through the opposite field. It was going so fast, almost like a vampire that had just realized the sun was coming up. It paused briefly in the upper field and picked something up in its mouth, then ran on. I couldn’t see what it was - maybe a groundhog or a rabbit. Speaking of rabbits, there were a lot of them hopping about on the walk in.
Right where the trail hits the road, across the street, is a hostel called Divide Riders. It’s awesome! This is part of the CDT mountain bike route, hence the name. For 30 bucks I had a bunk, a shower, WiFi, and a place to store and cook food. Blasphemy and a guy named George were at the hostel, as well as a couple of guys working on a gas pipeline nearby.
I showered, then Blasphemy and I went to a place called Boogies for breakfast. Our waitress, Brandy, was from Texas and was super spunky. So we had Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina (Blasphemy) all talking over breakfast, and then Mouse (Tennessee) showed up. It was like a southeastern conference in the middle of nowhere Colorado! We all had a good time and the food at Boogies was awesome. I had a breakfast burrito, two strips of bacon, and two orders of French toast. I was a little hungry....
After breakfast, I took my laundry a bit less than a mile down the road and did the laundromat thing. The local grocery was next to the laundry, and so I stopped there to get a few things when my getup was all clean, then walked back to the hostel with a visit to Family Dollar along the way. Family Dollar is sooooo cheap! It’s pretty amazing what I can get there. I got most of my resupply items and walked back to the hostel next door.
The hostel owner was next door painting a restaurant that she owns. Her name is Kim Anna (not sure about the spelling it if it is one name or two), and it was her restaurant for years. It was beautifully designed with colored glass integrated into the walls, and lots of custom woodwork in an A-frame setup. Her three little dogs were running around while she painted. One of them, a little chihuahua-like dog, had been bitten by a rattlesnake a week earlier and almost died!
The rest of the day was where the rubber met the trail! Blasphemy and I poured over maps in anticipation of Mouse getting returning from the laundry. Here was the dilemma: the Great Divide Alternate links back up to the CDT two days after Del Norte. It then follows a high route (over 11,000 and 12,000 feet for two stretches, which would require about three days to get through to Monarch Pass to catch the road into Salida. Previously I had thought that this piece of the high route would be safer at this stage and a good litmus year of my tolerance for snow travel. We were now getting reports, however, of some super sketchy terrain.
The data we were getting was from hikers who had passed through. It was information such as: “a crack across the traverse that you have to walk over that looks like the whole wall of snow will break off,” “I had to use my ice axe to pull myself over the lip and not fall - it literally saved me,” and “please don’t try this part - I was using my snowshoes like ice axes in the last mile.” Great right?
There comes a point when thru-hikers can be more in danger than other hikers. Sometimes we tend to think that we can just push through, that we somehow know how to “deal with” hardships more than other hikers because we have to. This is a false assumption, and does not accurately capture what are real risks on the trail. The real art of thru-hiking, and what is required by the CDT, is truly knowing your limits and understanding that the trail will not always be safe to pass, and then being willing to set drive aside, accept and adapt. There is a difference between skill and luck. Skill is knowing when it requires some luck to safely pass. I’m not here to judge others, but I do think a handful of hikers have gotten very lucky this year. Others, not so much, as we have seen.
We sat pouring over maps trying to find other forest roads and trails around the high sections. The best we could do was a junction with the Colorado Trail, which passes at a lower altitude, and one other lesser-known trail. Unfortunately, all of those trails required passage of the first piece of the high route. Further, other things are happening now as a result of extreme snow melt. Flooding is occurring near Creede, and the road at Wolf Creek Pass (the section I skipped with this route) was just closed due to massive mudslides (no hitch to Pagosa Springs for anyone who survives and hiked to the road). The snowpack is becoming more unstable as it melts, so there will be more avalanches.
Anyway, this isn’t fear mongering at work. I cringe when I hear some hikers mention fear mongering. Half the time they don’t even use the term properly. These are real things that are happening, all based on fact. Therefore they are real risks. The tip of the iceberg last night was when we found out our hiker friend, Driver, had pushed his SOS button and search and rescue were looking for him. Some other hikers were inquiring with Blasphemy about his whereabouts. We all loved Driver and were very concerned. He had decided to try the high route with some others and had apparently bailed to a lower route, alone. All we know (found out later last night) is that he is ok, but they will send a swift water rescue team in to get him today. That means that he must be in a bad spot somewhere with a river crossing. This is serious business....
So, with all this going on, and with some weather moving in in about two days, there is only one safe decision - road walk. I hate it, but it is what it is. As with all things, acceptance is the key. I’m leaving today to walk part of the Great Divide Alternate, and then I will switch over to roads to get to Salida. Once there I am not sure of my plan, but it is likely I will walk the Colorado trail for the next leg north. It parallels the CDT at lower elevation, which is quite nice because I won’t have to be on roads.
I wrote an article for The Trek before starting this hike called “Why the CDT is No Country for White Blazers.” It couldn’t have proven to be more true. To be honest, I’m not super thrilled with how Colorado has unfolded, but there is always a silver lining, and at least I am having fun and not stressed about survival. I can’t flip north yet as Wyoming (the Wind River Range) needs to thaw. Hopefully I can keep moving north and have a great experience in the Wyoming mountains. There is no way to see it all this year, absent waiting until early July and hiking fast south, though most Southbounders won’t start at the border monument and will have to start at an alternate location. We will all be robbing Peter to pay Paul. No one is going though the San Juans. Everyone is bailing. It’s a mess, but that’s the CDT. If you are considering hiking this trail, just know that even in a “good” year, adaptation is required.
So today I hike on. The plus is I’m mailing my snowshoes to Salida! That four pound monkey is going via post. In Salida I’ll probably mail them home. I don’t really want to have to use them for their north. But I need to think that through.
To the road I go.... I’m grateful to have options and I really, really hope Driver is OK.