Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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  CT SEGMENT 14-15:



Today's miles: 20.2                                Cumulative miles: 420.4
Approx. elevation gain: 1,600 feet           Bonus Miles: probably
"This segment of the CT has the only wooden shelter for the benefit of hikers and it predates the CT. At one time, the Colorado Trail Foundation considered a system of shelters along the trail but finally decided, given the high quality of modern backpacking gear, that these were not needed or even desired."
- The Colorado Trail Official Guidebook, 7th Edition, p. 149


It sounded like a good idea last year: leave the southernmost six miles of Segment 14 to run with the 14.2 miles in Segment 15, making for a nice 20-mile run. The mileages also worked out best that way for the segments before and after these two.

At 1:40 PM today, however, I was crossing US 50 west of Poncha Springs and wishing I didn't have those last six miles to go! Since I went "backwards" (northbound) today, that partial segment came last and it was the least interesting and hottest part of the run.

Make that "hike." I did more walking than running today, despite a net elevation loss of about 3,700 feet. Those 20.2 miles took me 7:35 hours with all my various stops, 146 photos (37 of them here), and navigating through the snow.

Snow?? Yes, I had more problems with snow today despite the best laid plans. But let's begin at the beginning . . .


This morning, Jim, Cody, and I started up the trail from Marshall Pass (elev. 10,842 feet) at 8 AM in bright sunshine with temperatures in the 50s - 60s. I should have shed my zip-off pants legs and jacket long before we reached the high point at 6.4 miles, but I didn't want to take the time to stop until then.

This first section was my favorite part today. The trail was good, the pine and fir forest was lovely, and the views above tree line were very nice.

Signage at trail intersections was good and volunteers had recently been up this way doing trail work:

We encountered increasing amounts of snow as we ascended to 11,978 feet but we could skirt around most of the drifts on the trail. The ones we had to walk through weren't an issue (except for one steep, slippery snow cornice) and we could easily follow the trail. Not a problem!

Cody loved the drifts and did his comical wallowing around in several of them, making us laugh. He definitely needs more practice catching the snowballs Jim throws to him, though.

Me and my shadow, literally and figuratively

Through and above the trees we had great views of snow-topped mountains to the north, west, and south as we hiked and ran in a mostly-northward direction. We got our first glimpses of the lofty San Juans to the southwest, our next major destination.

Above tree line and about a mile from the high point we reached an scenic plateau with a pool of water and the biggest patch of snow yet:

Cody loved splashing around in that. We had good views up the NW slope of Mt. Ouray and in all the other directions. It was more flat and runnable on this high plateau and we started seeing more flowers than there were below tree line.

We dropped back down through an odd area with trees down (avalanches?) and back into the trees. Note the line of snow to the left in the distance. That's a big snow cornice we came to a little while later:

Down in the trees we found the shelter mentioned at the beginning of this entry at the intersection with the Greens Creek Trail. It didn't look very accommodating to overnight guests, but would be shelter from a storm or cold winds. There was one "floor" board to step over at the front of the three-sided wooden building, but no other floor boards, just bare dirt inside. Makes even the most rudimentary shelters on the Appalachian Trail look positively posh in comparison!

The next couple of miles to the highest ridge (Peel Point) were fun and scenic. We were in and out of snow the rest of the way:


We could see a large area of snow up ahead, which we thought might be our high point, and several tiny figures rapidly descending the slope. We'd already seen bike tire tracks the whole way in. This is a popular section, combined with the Monarch Crest bike trail, for cyclists, so we weren't surprised to see nine cyclists coming toward us in short order.

Looking back to the south at Mt. Ouray and other peaks as we got past all the cyclists:

When we got to the snowy area we could see it was a thick cornice. We knew from out GPS distance elapsed that it was NOT our high point. We wondered how bad the snow was going to get even higher up!

We could NOT see up and over it to the trail on the other side, but followed the footprints (and buttprints!) to the right and steeply UP.

Ah, there's the trail pretty close by. It was mostly clear of snow on top this ridge (still not our high point yet) and the panoramic views were terrific. How those cyclists carried their bikes down that slippery twenty-foot drop is beyond me!

I loved this area with all of its colorful alpine wildflowers and interesting white crystalline rocks.

I felt like I was on top of the world. I'm so glad Jim got to see it, too. I kept stopping to take pictures, then running to catch back up to Jim.

As we gradually climbed I could run parts of this section for short stints (we were close to 12,000 feet, remember):

I know what Jim's thinking (below); he wasn't supposed to see me taking another picture!


So far, we'd also been following the Continental Divide Trail. Once up to Peel Point (elev. 11,978 feet), the CDT veered off to the NW and the CT took a precipitous dive a bit NE into the Fooses Creek drainage area.

I was initially concerned about the snow cornice on the side where I was heading (very bottom of next photo), but on closer inspection realized the trail was almost completely snow-free down to the tree line.

It looked steep and muddy, but I could see it snake down the slope to the trees:

Going northbound, the trail drops about 3,200 feet in eight miles to US 50. One thousand feet of that is in less than two miles from this ridge, one of the steeper descents (or ascents, going southbound) on the CT. Here's a photo looking back up. As usual, it doesn't look all that steep in a photo!

Jim and I surveyed the trail before us and decided it looked just fine for Cody and me to proceed northbound to the Angel of Shivano trail head. We could see some snow down in the trees but it didn't look bad from our vantage point. I was comfortable going forward.

Naive optimist!

We took about a ten-minute break here to take off excess clothing, give Cody some water, swap the GPS, put on sunscreen, etc. We kissed goodbye and I gave Jim an estimate of 3PM at the rendezvous point. I was hoping to be there much faster, but thought that'd be more realistic if I ran into any problems like snow or rocks. Jim ran back down to the truck at a quick pace and Cody and I headed out for more adventure than I wanted.


It was a fun free-fall to tree line. I would have enjoyed it even more if I hadn't stressed my knees at Bighorn in the long descent from Horse Creek Ridge to the road. My knees definitely hurt on this steep grade, but the footing was pretty good.

Uh, oh. What's all this SNOW that we couldn't see from the ridge?? And where the heck is the trail???

The snow was much worse on this side of the ridge, of course, now that I had only one brain to use for navigation! Cody wasn't any help because absolutely NO ONE had been up this side. There were no footprints or bike tire tracks to follow through the snow. I didn't start seeing footprints and tire tracks until the snow had mostly petered out. Weenies! They saw the snow and turned around.

The snow was not as deep in most places as it was in Segment 4, but it covered more of the trail and I simply couldn't see where it went for most of the first mile.

And there were no CT markers either, by the way. Although we saw signs and markers on the southern part of this section and I saw more the last couple miles, there weren't any where I really needed them.

I didn't panic, but I was definitely concerned about getting through this section. I relied on the GPS and creek(s) to get me down below the snow at about 10,800 feet, a distance of about two miles. It took me well over an hour to accomplish that little feat.

I knew that I'd be following S. Fooses Creek most of the way down to US 50. So I kept the first little creek in view when I couldn't find the trail. I'd find a short piece of trail that wasn't covered with snow and follow it until it disappeared again. Then I'd look ahead to see where it was most likely the trail went through the trees. If that wasn't obvious, I'd pick my way through the snow the easiest path near the creek. I'm not sure if that first creek I followed was Fooses or a tributary, but it worked. See, there it is:

I kept my sense of humor and wonder. The woods and creeks and flowers and, yes, even the snow, were beautiful through this difficult section. I knew I'd eventually find the real trail, and I did. Meanwhile, Cody had a blast in all the snow and water the next few miles. I finally passed the last remnants of snow around 10,800 feet and then needed the GPS only for distance.

I was able to run most of the trail the last six miles down to US 50, although sometimes it was too rocky or wet. I cannot tell you how many times I crossed that creek!

There were several very nice wooden bridges across it as it gained depth and momentum farther and farther down the mountain, so I didn't get as wet as I did crossing it umpteen times closer to its headwaters.

Gravity wasn't as helpful the last six miles because the next 2,000-foot drop was so spread out. Even going downhill gradually was work at this altitude. Someone more acclimated could run this section northbound very quickly. I passed through several eco-zones with different types of trees and flowers as I descended:


I began seeing dark clouds to the north -- my direction of travel -- about 11:30 but it remained sunny to the south the entire afternoon.

Some sprinkles came down around noon as I dropped lower and lower through the pines and aspens. I didn't even get wet. Jim got into heavier rain as he drove back to the camper. There were severe storm warnings for the entire southwestern part of the state. By the time I reached the end of Segment 15 at US 50, it was sunny and hot -- too hot.

My least favorite part of Segment 15 is the last two miles before the highway when the trail follows a dirt road through a logged area and under some power lines. I much preferred the shady single-track south of there. We passed a tiny reservoir (below) and forest service potty and eventually reached US 50.

Labs cannot pass by a pond without jumping in! I almost did, too.



I tried to call Jim from the trail head at the highway. It was 1:40 PM and I knew I couldn't do the next six miles in Segment 14 uphill by 3 PM. But there was no signal so Cody and I carefully crossed the busy highway and trudged up the rocky, exposed trail under the power lines (yuck!) to the top of the next hill, about a 600-foot climb.

On the way up the first hill it was interesting to look back to the Fooses Creek valley I'd just come down. I could even see the snowy ridge where Jim turned around:

Very cool. Glad I wasn't aware of those two power line cuts until I got near the bottom.

I didn't take many photos through the southern six miles of Segment 14. I was hot and tired and just wanted to be done. There weren't very many good views, and by then all the forest eco-systems started looking alike -- even the beautiful aspen groves:

Fortunately, there were more CT markers in the first five miles than the entire length of Segment 15, so I didn't have to use the GPS or even my brain to figure out where to go. That wouldn't last, however.

The most interesting part of this section was the "goat waddi" halfway through:

The what?? Gotta admit, I've never heard of a goat waddi before. It's a large circular meadow where goat herders used to hold annual reunions. I have no idea what they actually did there and not enough internet time to investigate it further.

I was happy to see Mt. Shivano getting closer and closer because that meant my trail head was pretty close now:

The last mile down to the Angel of Shivano campground and trail head was fun to run. The trail was pretty smooth and I could let gravity carry me down. Unfortunately, there weren't any markers through here and I initially took the wrong trail at the bottom when I crossed the north fork of the Arkansas River. I found my way back to it with directions from the campground host, and finally found the trail head (and Jim!) where I stopped last year in this section:

It was good to be done today! Only four more segments to go . . .


Jim had a good run back down to the truck from Peel Point. It took us 2:20 hours to get up there and only 1:30 hours by himself to get down. He was happy to have found a pretty runnable section of trail. He talked with two CDT section-hikers, "Nemo" and "Pouch," and one other CT day-hiker. He also saw several more cyclists.

Nemo and Pouch did the New Mexico portion of the CDT last year and are tackling Colorado this year. Somehow David Horton's name came up in their conversation. They know of his 2005 speed record on the PCT, another trail they've hiked.

If you're in the area and want an interesting day-hike or run, I can enthusiastically recommend the southern 6.4 miles of Segment 15 from Marshall Pass to Peel Point and back for almost thirteen miles of beautiful forest and panoramic views. I probably would have appreciated the eight northern miles if I hadn't had so much trouble with the snow -- in a few weeks it will be nice, too.

The footing on the southern half is better than the northern portion of the segment. However, there aren't as many water sources on the southern side, so carry plenty for yourself and any four-legged buddies. The only places I had to give Cody water were on the high ridge when we were above all the water sources and in the middle of the dry six-mile section of Segment 14.

If there's anything I learned today, it's that I'm NOT going to do Segments 16-17 this week! Because of a near-inaccessible trail head between them at Sargent's Mesa, I intend to do both segments the same day -- a total of 35.6 miles, the longest run I'll have done on the whole CT. Twenty-one of those miles ride the Divide between 11,000 and 12,000 feet. That's really tempting fate.

I'll have to save that run for another three weeks -- after Hardrock and before Leadville. By then the snow should be all or mostly gone and I'll be better acclimated to the elevation so I can run more and get 'er done within daylight hours.

Now it's on to Gunnison and Segments 18 and 19 after a day of rest . . .

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

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil