This is about Plan #6 of "How Shall I Finish My Last Five-Plus
Segments of the Colorado Trail?" and it hatched during our short
stay in Leadville.
Last year I had no problems with snow
because it was a low-snow year in the Colorado Rockies. This year is a different
story, with more normal levels of snow during the winter and more
Snow still lingers in shady and deep spots at around 10,500 feet and
above. I've already encountered significant problems with snowdrifts in Segment 4. Is
it any better farther south near Marshall Pass? Has an appreciable amount of snow melted since
June 4, when I post-holed through Segment 4 west of Denver? The weather has been
unusually hot for the Front Range this week -- triple digits in Denver,
for example -- so maybe more snow is gone
in the mountains. And it didn't look that bad around Leadville, north of
here . . .
Thus my plans re: which segments to do when have been
evolving on a day-by-day basis as I read the descriptions of each
segment, listen to weather reports, and ponder the S-N-O-W situation.
We've been pretty clueless about snow levels on this approximately
between Marshall Pass and Eddiesville. Since it is so remote, it's
next to impossible to find someone who's actually been up there on foot,
bike, or horse. The best I can do is run the lower-elevation segments
first and decide from those whether the higher ones can be done now or
if I'll have to wait a few more weeks.
If I was back-packing and could stay on the trail overnight, the snow wouldn't be
as much of a problem. With Jim crewing for me
and not knowing whether I'm able to go from Point A to Point B, it IS a
problem. Because it's wilderness, there is no cell service. I can't
just call him if I reach an impassable area and have to turn around and
go back too Point A.
Meanwhile, he's expecting me at Point B. How long should he wait for me
before he goes back to Point A?
Could be a
real nightmare, you know?
My last plan was to do the two lowest of the five sections first.
That would be Segments 18 and 19 from CO 114 to Eddiesville. Although
the trail follows the Continental Divide there, elevations range from
only 9,500-10,400 feet -- the chance of snow problems would be about
nil. I could knock out those two segments, go on to Silverton for three
weeks, and catch Segments 15-17 (plus six pesky miles left to do in
Segment 14) on our way back to Leadville.
But I really, really wanted to do more of the Colorado Trail NOW.
Those un-done sections have been bugging me for a year! Yesterday in
Leadville I got another bright idea:. perhaps I could do Segments
14-15 first -- since we'd come to them first -- with a little bit of
ingenuity. If snow wasn't a problem there, maybe I could do Segments
16-17 next, then 18-19, and I'd be done!
But how do I deal with the inevitable snow in a section that reaches
almost 12,000 feet for a little while??
One way to help determine the snow situation for Segment 15 was to
drive as high on the course as possible. That would be Marshall Pass
(elev. 10,842 feet), the trail head between Segs 15 and 16. I hoped we could assess the snow situation better
at the pass than we could down in
the valley. Our plan was to park the camper somewhere in Poncha Springs
and take the truck up to the pass, a drive of about eighteen miles. That
couldn't take very long, could it? And if the snow looked too high
there, we'd hitch the camper back up and move on to Gunnison today and
I'd do Segments 18-19 tomorrow.
On our way from Leadville to Poncha Springs this morning we took a
little detour to the Clear Creek Reservoir national forest camping area
where we stayed last year for a couple weeks before moving to Jack's
property closer to town. It's still our first choice of a place to stay
initially for Part 3 of this year's odyssey, although a third of the
space is occupied this summer by Colorado Trail work crews, below:
They have to relocate several miles of the CT and build a major
bridge over Clear Creek to take the trail off private property that
changed hands last year. The new owners don't want the legal liability
of having trail users on their land. I want to re-run the new parts of
those two CT sections in August if
the work has been done, and offer my help if they still need it then.
The camping area is so large that it shouldn't affect our plans to stay
there for several days.
SCOPING OUT MARSHALL PASS
As soon as we got to Poncha Springs, Jim spotted the visitors center
and its large, unoccupied parking lot. The center was closed. You know
the saying: It's easier to ask for forgiveness than
permission. We un-hitched the camper and took off for Marshall Pass
with the dogs. It shouldn't be a problem to park there for just a couple
hours, should it?
It was a beautiful drive to Marshall Pass, but those eighteen miles
took at least 45 minutes. That's a big problem for crewed runners,
hikers, cyclists, or equestrians in this remote area -- long drives to
trail heads. And this is nothing compared to the Eddiesville
The road passes high over scenic Lake O'Haver Campground
(a national forest CG) on the way to Marshall Pass:
The road is pretty smooth and passable in a 2WD vehicle, although it
gets narrow in some places.
We saw only minimal amounts of snow on the way up to Marshall Pass
except for lingering patches on almost-14,000 foot Mt. Ouray:
Of course, you can't see if any snow remains in the dense forest
until you enter it! I'd re-discover that in the morning.
There is a big parking lot and toilet at the trail head, which is
2/10ths of a mile from the pass. It was nearly snow-free here:
And the trail head looked fine going northbound:
This was looking good for my new plan!
Segment 15 flanks the west side of Mt. Ouray for several miles,
topping out at just below 12,000 feet on a ridge 6.4 miles into
the segment. My brilliant idea was to go northbound from Marshall Pass
and tackle the highest part of the course first. Jim would hike in with
me to the high point and we'd know by then if I could do the entire
segment or have to turn around. If it looked OK, I'd continue on with
Cody another fourteen miles to the Angel of Shivano campground trail head
in Segment 14, where I ended last year. It sounded like a fast, scenic
eight-mile 3,200-foot drop down to US 50 in the Fooses Creek drainage
area, then just six miles up to the rendezvous
point. Jim would return to the truck for a nice 13-mile training run at
altitude, clean up at the camper, get Tater, and drive about nine miles
to pick me up at Point B.
Sounds reasonable, eh? Jim agreed. We drove back down to Poncha Springs,
pondering which of two private campgrounds we'd use that night. Three public national forest
campgrounds in the area, including O'Haver Lake, could accommodate rigs
up to only 22 feet long, so our
options were limited.
When we got back to the visitors' center, a man named Ray pulled in
and unlocked the door to the building. Hmmm. Jim had already mentioned
how nice it would be to just boon-dock in the parking lot, but we'd
already seen a sign that said no overnight parking. It was the most
convenient place to park for both trail heads of this segment. Better
yet, it'd be free. Did we dare ask?
Jim went in to talk with Ray. When he asked him if he worked
there, Ray joked that he "owned the place," and yes, it'd be fine
(despite the sign) for us to stay overnight -- or longer, if needed.
Yes!! I'd call him a Trail Angel. Other than some road noise, we had a pleasant night. We were both
looking forward to new adventures on the Colorado Trail in the morning.