Day 47: June 9, 2019
Destination: Great Divide Alternate Mile 73.2
Today’s Miles: 27.7
Start Location: Great Divide Alternate Mile 45.5
Trip Miles: 737.7
It didn’t feel as cold as it was in the morning. It must have been just a few degrees above freezing - maybe 36.
The condensation on the inside of my tent was frozen in places. I woke up a few minutes after five and made a cup of coffee while I tended to packing up the inside of my tent.
When it’s cold, my morning routine is somewhat comical. I want to be ready and already hiking, but getting there is the painful part. The thing is, once the sun is up in full force, it will be fairly warm while I am moving. I don’t like to stop and strip off more layers than my rain jacket. Therefore, I usually start the day hiking in shorts and just my rain jacket over my hiking shirt. The toughest part is when it is time to leave my tent and pack it up. Pulling my tent stakes up feels like I am yanking icicles out of the ground!
Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I do have trouble getting going when it is cold. I will brush my teeth while I am still under my quilt, eat breakfast in my quilt, and generally organize whatever I can while I am still in my quilt before shedding layers and going outside my tent.
Speaking of cold mornings, so far the CDT is definitely a colder trail than I expected. I have enough clothes, but it still surprises me sometimes how cold it can get at night when it is already almost mid June! It reminds me a little of when I first felt the water in the Pacific Ocean in July - freezing! Aside from the cold morning starts, though, temperatures have been fairly nice during the day when it’s not raining.
I got hiking by ten past six. The lake in front of my tent was definitely more frozen over this morning. I started what would be a long morning of climbing, and I was quickly glad I had camped where I did. The snow really started to get more continuous and there weren’t many swaths of dry land on which to pitch a tent as I moved north.
Soon the forest road was gone and I was just walking on snow. The road was there, of course, but I only knew that because I had walked on it until it disappeared. There was a nice firmness to the snow, the result of last night’s chill, which made it pretty easy to walk on - no snowshoes needed!
I climbed and climbed into a winter wonderland. The scenery was postcard spectacular! As I got up above 11,000 feet and walked by Elwood Pass, I couldn’t stop taking photos. There was even a little cabin in a sea of white that the Forest Service rents out all the way up there. It was, fittingly, called Elwood Cabin.
After Elwood Pass, I climbed even higher. I had seen a hiker in front of me and wondered who it was. I assumed it was someone who had bailed off of the high route and was going to take the Elwood Pass Alternate. It was not; it was Mouse! I was baffled as to how she made it in front of me. She must have passed by my tent super early in the morning while I was still in it.
We walked a bit together past the cabin and then down to the Summitville superfund mining site. This site is one of the reasons we couldn’t drink from streams for a 20 mile stretch. I absolutely hate mines like this! They destroy the mountain and the surrounding environment and leave it toxic. This is reminiscent of the zinc superfund site north of Lehigh Gap in Pennsylvania on the Appalachian Trail.
We watched some marmots chase each other near the dam discharge area at the site. If those marmots knew what was good for them they would run to another mountain!
I pulled ahead and then stopped to eat and hang my gear to dry. The one benefit of the superfund site was that the roads leading to it and shortly after it were clear. Now that I had traveled far enough north, the snow was returning to the road. After lunch, I climbed higher and the snow again became more consistent.
Today’s high point was just a tad below 12,000 feet. The snow wasn’t too bad and I never put my snowshoes on. I was able to walk on it with minimal post holing, even in the afternoon. I wanted to get as close to Del Norte as I could so that I would arrive in the morning with time to do town chores.
I pushed on, and right before I left the mountains behind, I loaded up five liters of snow melt so that I would have plenty of water for the rest of the day and tomorrow. Just before this snowmelt creek, I saw what I am fairly sure was a mountain lion print and took a picture.
When I left the forest road for the dirt CO14, the scenery really started to change. I descended in elevation. It got hotter. Whaddya know, but Joe Pesci the cactus showed back up! It almost felt more like New Mexico than Colorado. An older man stopped to ask if I needed anything, which was really nice.
The views on the walk down did not disappoint and were quite diverse. Aspen forests, conifer-speckled valleys, snow peaked mountains in the background, and eventually desert canyon rock formations.
I had decided to walk 30 miles to keep my morning jaunt into town under 10; however, I ran into a snag. The road left the Rio Grande National Forest, became a paved road, and all of a sudden everything was private property. I’m pretty good at finding stealth camp spots, but I also didn’t want to push my luck over a mile or so. The left side of the road was my only choice. It backed up to national forest, but there was still private property in between. The left side was also quite high with canyon cliffs and steep rolling hills, but I finally found a chink in the armor. There was a small seam leading up the hill, so I ducked over and scrambled up it, careful to make sure no locals were gawking at me. I wasn’t sure whether this was private property, but there was no fence, so I went for it. If you remember, I pulled a similar stealth camping tactic hiking the Bonita-Zuni alternate into Grants.
There was a beautiful spot at the top with a view, but cacti everywhere! I settled for an awkward, slanted spot on the edge of a small ravine with a creek running below it. It was just big enough for my tent. I’m lying here with my feet sloping down at a 25ish degree angle. It could be worse though! I was grateful to find a place to sneaky camp, and I managed to walk quite a few miles today.
I’m looking forward to Del Norte tomorrow! I am not sure what is there, though I know they have a hostel. I need to make a plan to hike the 118 miles to Monarch Pass, my gateway to Salida. A little less than half of that (about 56 miles) is back on the CDT regular route and up over 11,000 and 12,000 feet. I am dying to get rid of my snowshoes!!!! They are so heavy and I’m not using them a lot. BUT, I am not sure what the section leading to Monarch Pass will be like. My gut says that I should save the weight and just posthole. I could mail them to Salida. I’ll probably end up carrying them though, and then if I don’t really need them, ditch them in Salida and hang onto my microspikes. It will feel soooooo good to get the snowshoe monkeys off my back!