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Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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CT SEGMENTS 20 & 21:
Today's miles: 27.5                           Cumulative miles: 180.9
 Approx. elevation gain: 5,000 feet      Bonus Miles:  0
"The CT has its closest encounter with a 14er when it passes gentle-giant
San Luis Peak (14,041 feet) at mile 8.8 of Segment 20. As it turns out, of the
54 peaks in Colorado that rise above the altitude of 14,000 feet, nearly
two-thirds are within twenty miles of the course of the CT. They are a
common and an inspiring sight from many a ridgetop on the trail."
- The Colorado Trail Guidebook, Seventh Edition, p. 181


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 hail.

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.


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 know?"

"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.


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 Creek valley.

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 commanded.)

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" means.

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.


"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil