Although one of my distant goals is to climb all fifty-four
of the 14ers in Colorado eventually, I had quite enough mileage to do today to
not be tempted to climb San Luis Peak while I was so close. It was
tempting because it was a mere 1,400-foot rise in a little over a mile from the
CT, and I could have "bagged" another one (so far, I've climbed only Mts. Elbert
and Massive and Pikes Peak).
Another good reason to not climb Sam Luis today was safety.
There were storms hovering over the mountain most of the time it was in my view
today, which was a long time. It is notorious for its high incidence of
lightning storms. And I had quite enough of that on Tuesday, thank you.
To help simplify (?) trail head access today, I again went
north. Jim dropped me off at the Hwy. 149 Spring Creek Pass location where I
ended Tuesday, moved the camper north and east to the Gunnison area, and drove
almost sixty miles (two hours) from there to the Eddiesville trail head. The
dirt roads to access this location are not bad, just slow. You don't need 4WD.
The moving process and getting to Eddiesville consumed as
much of Jim's time as it took me to run and walk this high-altitude section of
the CT (about 11 hours again).
The run almost didn't happen today. It was raining at our
campground near Lake City when the alarm went off at 5 AM. I just didn't want to
be above treeline so many miles again in the rain. We got up anyway and debated
for an hour about whether to go ahead and try it.
We finally decided to drive to the trail head and see what
the weather was doing higher up. It looked more promising at 11,000 feet, so we
hit the trail at 7 AM with our fingers crossed for decent weather. The mist soon
lifted, and even though I could see storms in the vicinity of San Luis Peak for
several hours, the only precip I encountered was a bit of sleet for a couple
minutes on a pass between the peak and the saddle that serves as a trail head
between Segments 20 and 21. That was it. No rain, no
Meanwhile, Jim got into hard rain in both Lake City and
Gunnison. Weather in the mountains is funny like that.
Jim ran/hiked the first five miles with Cody and me, then
turned back. Going northbound from Spring Creek Pass we had a 1,400-foot climb
up to beautiful Snow Mesa, a three-mile plateau that gently undulated and
offered some fine views and smooth trails.
This is the only snow we saw on Snow
Mesa, in a little shaded area at the south end as we approached the top:
Snow Mesa is a fairly flat, natural pasture at 12,300 feet
in elevation. Large cairns mark the route of the old La Garita stock trail and
the current Colorado Trail. This mesa was a pleasure to travel, as opposed to
the rocky, ill-defined Jarosa Mesa.
This mesa is not somewhere you'd want to be in a
thunderstorm, however. It's another one of those "nowhere to hide" spots. On
this sunny morning, however, it was a great place to run and acclimate.
PAPA HUSKER AND FRIENDS
On the mesa we met an affable hiker (Dave) whose trail name
is "Papa Husker." He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2002 and is thru-hiking
the CT southbound now. Dave is retired from the Air National Guard and lives in
Nebraska. He was at the trail head trying to find a ride into Lake City when Jim
returned to the truck. He gave Dave a ride to an outdoor store where he could
replace a broken tent pole before resuming his hike. Jim and Dave found plenty
of things in common to talk about on the ride to town.
This was a good day to see hikers. I met about twenty of
them heading southbound. If I'd been going the same direction, I wouldn't have
seen nearly as many people.
About seven miles into the run, after Jim had turned
around, I ran into Mattie and Clint, the young couple we met in Section 2 near
Denver. They recognized Cody and me before I could see who they were. They've
had a great thru-hike so far and intend to finish in eight days. They commented
that they were pleased to find such great trails and scenery "in our back yard"
(they live in Gunnison).
The photo below is about where I saw the couple. Check out that nice, smooth trail!
I had a lot of runnable trail today. The
highest peak toward the right is San Luis, which I could see off and
on for much of today's run.
A few miles later I saw two young men running down the
trail as I was laboring uphill through one of the three Mineral Creek drainages
in the northern half of Segment 21. I asked a very surprised Jonathan Basham,
"Is one of you JB?"
"Yes," one of the runners replied. "How did you
"Horton posted to the ultra list about your record
attempt. Since I'm taking days off between segments, I didn't know if I'd see
you out here. How's it going?"
Thus began a ten-minute conversation with JB and his friend*
(my CRS syndrome prevents me from remembering his name). Since I'd already
completed the segments from here to Durango, they had lots of questions about
trail head access their last two days. Last year, JB crewed for Andrew Thompson as he set a new
speed record on the Appalachian Trail. This summer, Andrew is returning the
favor and crewing for JB on the Colorado Trail.
[* I got an e-mail from a fella named Mark on 11-27-06. He
identified the friend as Travis Wildeboer, who ran with JB the last couple
segments of the CT. Thank you, Mark!]
Sounds like Andrew got the better deal, right (since the CT
is only 22% as long)? Not exactly. Except for Maine, accessing trail heads on
the AT is a whole lot easier than it is on the CT!
JB intends to finish the CT on Saturday, taking about a day
off the current speed record held by Hal Koerner (Betsy Kalmeyer's short-lived
record from the same summer is just a few hours longer than Hal's
nine-days-and-some-hours record). JB should finish in eight days and change. I
think he said he's doing 54 miles today. He starts every morning about 4 AM and
usually finishes around dark. That doesn't allow much time to sleep! We also
talked about the Hardrock results, as JB knows some of the runners there.
About a hundred feet up the trail, I realized I hadn't
taken a picture of JB, Travis, or Miles the dog. Duh. I decided not to call out
to them to stop for another minute. They had a long way to go, and I was
surprised they'd spent that much time talking with me already. At least they got
some useful information out of me.
WORDS OF THE DAY:
"CONTOUR" AND "SADDLE"
Over half of the trail today was over 12,000 feet, meaning
a lot of it was above timberline. I like that because there are more views and
today I was able to dodge all the storms around me. The highest point was 12,895
feet on a ridge south of San Luis Pass. The CT follows close to the Continental
Divide for much of these two segments.
Going north, total elevation gain for Segments 20 and 21 is
about 5,000 feet and loss is about 5,900 feet. Trail surfaces ranged from smooth
dirt and pine needles through wooded areas to gritty sand and gravel as I
contoured around several large bowls/basins between saddles (low points between
two mountains, similar to passes) to rocky, wet spots through the Cochetopa
The photo below is at the NE end of Snow Mesa just after
Jim turned back. Cody and I passed two women in a tent on the saddle, then
arced ("contoured") around the inside curve of the mountain on the left . . .
. . . and came to the pass/saddle between these two mountains,
then continued contouring around the inside of the mountain on the right, first
through large rocks and then grass.
This was the beginning of the three major Mineral Creek drainage areas. The next
three photos are from this hilly and scenic section:
(Cody is soooo patient when Mommy takes pictures!)
After coming out of the various Mineral Creek drainages, there is good climb
going northbound to the highest point (12,895 feet) in Segment 21, a ridge just
before the trail head at San Luis Pass. As with several of the other climbs
today, someone forgot the switchbacks!!
Cody and I spent a few minutes taking in the magnificent scenery at the top:
There was another saddle to climb after San Luis Pass (several, in
fact). It was on this one (12,409 feet in elevation) that we got into a
couple minutes of sleet:
The dark mountain in the background is San Luis Peak with one of today's storms
above it. There was a nice switch-backing descent off the pass, across a creek,
and then more contouring through a large basin and up to a saddle where peak-baggers
can easily climb to the summit of San Luis.
These photos show parts of the route we took to get to that last saddle:
About a quarter of a mile before the saddle I spotted an interesting feature the
guidebook pointed out, unusual rock formations called
"hoodoos." If you're going south, as most folks do, they are high on your left as you drop down from the
saddle below San Luis Peak.
OK, almost to the saddle now . . .
Made it! We were at our last saddle of the day, at an
elevation of 12,600 feet. Folks who want to summit San Luis Peak can do it most
easily from this ridge:
Cody and I spent a couple minutes enjoying the
views in all directions. I really enjoyed running down the long hill from the saddle
going northeast toward the Eddiesville trail head.
The first two or three miles were very runnable on a gritty surface. This is a
view looking north into the verdant Cochetopa Creek drainage area:
The trail follows the creek for about nine miles as it
tumbles and meanders its way downhill. There are numerous little ponds that look
like perfect moose habitat, but even though I passed through the area in the
late afternoon, I didn't see any moose, elk, or deer in this area.
I did see three elk about six miles into the run today, as
I contoured around the second mountain north of Snow Mesa.
The Cochetopa valley widened and became more marshy and
rocky as I got lower in elevation. It was difficult to run parts of it, but I
liked the scenery.
The CT follows another old stock road, the Skyline Trail,
for two or three miles through the LaGarita Wilderness near Eddiesville. Cody
and I were most surprised when we came to a valley FULL of cows. I've never seen
so many cows in one place before!
We literally went through a mile of cows, many of them
right on the trail. I went around a bend in the trail and surprised these guys
as much as they surprised me!
Most of the time the path went through meadows, however.
Even when I walked the bovines were in distress, running and warning their
buddies about the trespassers. (Cody was very good, simply walking behind me as
Although the last part of the trail passed by a private
ranch inholding within the wilderness area, these cows were grazing loose in the
wilderness area. It's kinda cool to share the space with livestock!
Cody and I were happy to see Jim and Tater at the end of a
long day. As usual, Cody could detect Jim's presence from half a mile away or
more. It's simply amazing how he does this! When we're getting close to a trail
head, he just takes off ahead of me in search of the truck. I don't give him any
clues, either, unless he's learned what "we're almost there, buddy"
It was a long drive home on the dirt forest service roads
between Eddiesville (not a town, by the way) to paved Hwy. 114 and up to our new
campsite north of Gunnison. We checked out a couple free camping areas, but
decided it'd be better to stay another few nights at the Tall Texan campground
while I do the next few segments. The campground is one of the nicest we've ever
stayed in and the cost is reasonable ($25 a night for full hook-ups). We've
really saved a bundle of money this summer by staying free in Silverton and very
inexpensively in the Big Horns.
Next up: Alferd Packer and other miscellaneous tidbits from
this week in Colorado.