[Note: there are 30 photos here, and
they make take a while to load on your computer. Be patient. Go do something
else for a little while, then come back. I think you'll be glad you did.]
Jim and I have a favorite saying when we're in the midst of
great scenery and perfect weather on a run or drive: it just doesn't
get any better than this!
Well, we've said that a lot this summer, first in the
Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, and now in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. I
hope we never get so jaded that we can't appreciate all the beauty surrounding
And I hope I can continue to appreciate how fortunate I am
to be out here if the scenery is a little less stunning on other parts of the
Colorado Trail. A forest service guy told Jim recently that the
segments of the CT near Silverton are the best on the whole trail.
I hope he's just biased because he lives here!
Segment 25 just about blew us away, figuratively. It's a
wonder I finished it in the time I did (about 8 hours) because I took a whopping
272 photos on Sunday in twenty miles!! That's definitely a photo PR! I couldn't
believe it when I downloaded them.
Jim and Cody ran the first eleven miles of this section
yesterday as part of a 20-mile partial loop from Molas Pass back to our
campground. They veered off the CT near the high pass on Rolling Mountain,
dropped over 2,000 feet on the Mineral Creek Trail, and returned down South
Mineral Creek Road to the camper. Jim's description about the CT part of the loop was
so glowing that I could hardly wait to run it myself today.
Tater and I did the first mile with Jim and Cody yesterday
so we could get a little exercise on my "rest" day.
At 8:30 AM (a rather late start) we began at Molas Pass, which is on paved Hwy.
550 about seven miles south of Silverton - the easiest trail head to reach in
this vicinity. The trail winds around pretty Little Molas Lake and through the
free national forest campground in the first mile:
This is a nice campground but the road is too rough for our
camper (we have enough loose screws as it is!). Several Hardrock runners are
staying here. There is also a National Forest Service campground at
the larger Molas Lake nearby that charges about $16 a day.
As I was running back to the truck with Tater yesterday, I
realized I didn't have to do that mile again! It would make the section a little
bit shorter the next day if I just started in the campground where I turned
around on Saturday.
JIM'S RUN ON SATURDAY
This is a popular section for both hikers and cyclists. On
this sunny weekend day Jim saw a total of fourteen hikers on the eleven-mile
segment of the CT that he ran, and two Hardrock runners out training for their
race. Jim was again amazed at the number and variety of flowers, as well as the
splendid views from meadows and ridge tops. He didn't carry a camera, so the
photos below are ones I took when I ran the same segment on Sunday.
A thunderstorm blew in about 11:45 AM, just as Jim and Cody
were nearing the turnoff for the Mineral Creek Trail. I could see the clouds and
hear the thunder down in the campground even before that (I was maybe five miles
away, as the crow flies) and I was concerned about him.
Jim and Cody were well above treeline at 12,300+ feet on
Rolling Mountain as the thunder and lightning began. Fortunately, they were near
the ONLY rock ledge in this area, shown below:
Jim and Cody spent 40 minutes sitting under that rock while
sleet fell and lightning struck in every direction around them! How they stayed
dry under that thing is beyond me. It didn't look like enough room to sit
upright, but Jim said he did. Cody snoozed behind him.
Jim was able to stay warm during the storm except for his
hands. He put on his waterproof Marmot jacket, pants, thin gloves, and a fleece
hat. Next time he'll carry fleece gloves, too. I mentioned earlier about CT
users having to be prepared for any kind of weather in these mountains. When we
began running yesterday, the sun was so warm I was in a singlet and shorts at
11,000 feet. Things can change quickly, however, and we have to carry clothes
and emergency supplies to be prepared for the worst that Mother Nature throws at
After the storm blew over, the sun came out again and Jim
and Cody proceeded on their way. The trail intersection for Mineral Creek is not
marked, but the GPS helped Jim determine that following the cairns going down
into a huge gulch was the proper way to go. This view of the valley is near the
That red iron oxide is what gives South Mineral Creek its
color (I'll show you a photo of the "red" water in the next entry). The
headwaters for the creek are in this valley.
Jim and Cody dropped from over 12,300 feet to about 10,000 feet in
five miles. Near the road, they had to ford Mineral Creek several times. Then
they ran the gradual downhill on South Mineral Creek Road for about four miles
back to the camper. Jim called about twenty minutes out to let me know he was
coming. I warmed up come chili for him and turned the water heater on so he
could have a hot shower. He appreciated both! He was tired but very happy with
SUE'S RUN ON SUNDAY
Cody was bouncing around this morning, raring to go
again. Our sturdy little ultra Lab ended up doing more mileage this week than
either Jim or I did - 69 miles, plus several walks around the campground each
day to potty! And Tater did a 16-mile run with Jim today, the farthest she's
gone in a couple years or more. She still had energy at the end, too. They're
adapting to the high altitude faster than Jim and I are!
At 6:30 AM Jim dropped Cody and me off at the Little Molas
campground where I turned around yesterday. Three hikers were just starting up
the trail. I later caught up to them and talked about Segment 24, which they did
yesterday. That's the one where I'll be fording the Rio Grande River and
tackling some major elevation gain and loss. They loved the section, so I'm
really looking forward to it.
I quickly stripped off the extra shirt and long pants I was
wearing. Even that early, the sun was hot on the open meadows through which I
hiked and ran the first hour or more. The section south of Molas Pass, the upper
Lime Creek drainage area, was heavily forested until a fire decimated it
in 1879. Even after 127 years, the trees have not returned. The upside is that
the views are quite nice in every direction and there are scads of wildflowers
The CT traverses the upper reaches of this drainage area to
the pass over Rolling Mountain at elevations ranging from 10,845 feet (Cascade
Creek) to 12,520 feet on the pass. Total elevation gain is about 3,120 feet
going southbound. Loss was about the same, as I ended at Celebration Lake at
nearly the same elevation as I began. There wasn't much flat trail today;
I was always going up or down.
"Drainage area" means lots of streams and wet areas. The
only place Cody needed water from his pack today was at the Rolling Mountain
Pass, where we were above the water sources (except for the patches of snow he
dug around in up there).
The trail surface was mostly very runnable today. The
rockiest section was the "hanging alpine valley," i.e., marshy alpine terrain,
from nine to ten miles into this section at an elevation of 11,500 to 12,000
feet. I loved all the Marsh Marigolds, Parry's Primrose, and Alpine Avens in
this beautiful area. Cody and I climbed gradually through this Garden of Eden
(the first two pictures are looking backwards):
As we climbed above 12,000 feet it felt like we were on top
of the world. Over half a mile of trail crosses the high plateau where we
encountered several patches of snow covering the trail, frosty ponds filled with
snowmelt, and two new flowers I hadn't yet seen, white Indian Paintbrush and
perky yellow Alpine Sunflowers:
I saw a total of eleven cyclists on the trail today, four
of them negotiating this snow patch on Rolling Mountain (they came over the hill
and stopped dead in the mushy snow!):
The views from the plateau and up to the pass at 12,520
feet were just awesome. Two photos are near the top of this page. Here is
one more from this side of the mountain, looking back down at the plateau
from Rolling Mountain Pass:
Cody had to check out the snow again on top of the pass:
Uh, oh. Are those gray clouds approaching from the
west?? Better get back down to tree line as quickly as possible. It's windy up
But no, the views were too incredible to hurry down the
wonderful switchbacks as I dropped 1,657 feet in the next three miles. What
views looking south . . .
. . . and west from the pass:
I dropped down a little ways to get out of the wind and
found some rocks where Cody and I could rest a bit and get some fluids and
nourishment. I just soaked in the beauty.
This is one of those mental images I will retain forever, a
place to "go" when I need to chill out from one of life's stresses.
It was great running down that mountain on the fairly
smooth, switch-backing trail, but I was constantly side-tracked by the numerous
flowers and changing scenery as I descended.
I met two of the seven hikers I saw today as they were
going up. I was happy to be going down, as this side was steeper than the other
(but still not "steep" in comparison to the Appalachian Trail).
After descending into a forest, Cody and I came to White
Creek, which was wide and rocky but very shallow. Between the rock ledges, I
could see a high waterfalls. It's easy to miss unless you stop mid-stream and
look right (if you're going south). I got a better picture of it around the bend
from another angle:
We continued to drop down through trees and interesting rock formations. Less
than a mile later, I came to the nice bridge across Cascade Creek.
Even at "low tide," it's a pretty active creek with a falls just below it, so I
was grateful for the bridge.
I knew Jim must be nearby because Cody acted like he could smell him (that dog
has a fantastic nose for Jim and me when we've been on a trail before him). Sure
enough, there were Jim and Tater taking a nap above the bridge, waiting for Cody
I'm always really happy to see Jim when he comes in to meet
me. He was able to get in about sixteen miles today by driving all the way up
that awful Bolam Pass Road again, parking at Celebration Lake, and going north
on the trail toward me. He got in about four bonus miles when he went
accidentally got off the trail (I had the GPS today).
I felt strong until we began the long climb back out from
Cascade Creek and up again to 11,760 feet. Going uphill at that altitude just
drained me. Jim was moving slowly, too, but felt better than I did. We got into
some sporadic sleet and light rain, enough to break out our jackets twice, then
take them off when the sun came back out.
As we climbed to the ridge I kept looking to the side for the pass over Rolling Mountain.
Finally it came into view. There it is!
My finger is pin-pointing it exactly. That
shot was Jim's idea, and is much better than putting an arrow onto the photo.
Gosh, it looks so far away! No wonder this second long climb was draining me.
Four cyclists caught up to us at the top of
the ridge and stopped to rest. We got a quick view of Lizard Head in the
distance and kept going because it was sprinkling again
and we had a couple miles left to get to the truck. The cyclists went zooming past
us on a long, descending double-track half a mile later. I felt much better
running down those trails and jeep roads than I did going uphill. We ended at
Celebration Lake (11,090 feet), still pretty high up.
The physical effort wasn't over. Jim still had
to maneuver down skinny, rocky, tight-switch-backy Bolam Pass Road. This was my
first time going DOWN that road through the worst part. Let me tell ya, it's
scarier than going up because you can't see anything over the hood of the truck
for a few seconds around those tight curves! Jim had to be extra careful putting
the gears in reverse - and not neutral or forward - when he had to back up the
truck to make the curves. Although we have to go back up Hotel Draw Road one
more time, at least we don't have to continue on to Bolam Pass any more.
Next entry: exploring the Mineral Creek area -
photos from a training run on South Mineral Creek Road, an interesting drive near our campground
to Clear Lake, and Hardrockers putting up a rope at the Mineral Creek crossing
for the upcoming 100-mile foot race.