This trip report is long overdue. In 2011, a friend and I hiked 600 miles from Durango to Estes Park. We had the time of our lives. We made up our own route, stringing together trails, ridges, roads and the occasional miserable bushwhack. Along the way we climbed 50 peaks including 17 fourteeners. We wanted to share it with the world but life gets in the way. So now 2 years later I’m finally getting it done, one segment at a time.
(see 'Segment 2: Silverton to Lake City, here)
Segment 3: Lake City to Salida
San Luis Peak
Long Branch Baldy
Our route from the San Juans to the Sawatch. It mostly followed the CT/CDT. Mostly.
After some rest in Lake City we were ready to start our longest segment (by miles). It was a long way to Salida but luckily the route was almost entirely along the Colorado Trail. We were looking forward to some easy hiking even if the days were long. The peaks wouldn't be quite as exciting but we'd still get a few more under our belts.
It turned out to be one of the toughest leg of the trip.
Day 15 Started well enough. We weren't too sure of our route up to the Divide. I wanted to avoid hiking the road all the way to Spring Creek Pass so we picked our way up some BLM roads, passing Lake San Cristobal on the way. By afternoon we were on the CT and heading east (funny note: the only other time we had been on the CT so far we were heading the opposite direction). The views from the divide were great, especially looking back at what we'd done already. We could see Rio Grande Pyramid (our first peak) and Wetterhorn & Uncompahgre once again looking stormy. We saw a pair of moose; our second moose sighting--first was on day 2 along Pine Creek. The day ended in rain at spring creek pass. There was a "no camping" sign at the picnic area so we camped across the creek along the side of a diversion channel that carried water from the Pacific side of the divide to the Atlantic. So began my introduction to water being moved around Colorado. We'd pass many more such structures between there and Estes Park.
Lake San Cristobal
Back on the Divide . . . much tamer than it was a week ago.
Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre in the clouds again.
Signing the log book at Jarosa Mesa . . .probably writing "Do it, say you did it!" or "facebook.com/hikeacrosscolorado"
Not many people visit Jarosa Mesa. The actual summit is kind of hard to find. It had some relics at the summit.
Running with the Mooses; it's time for us to go
Day 16 was when things started to get rough. We started with a side-hike up Baldy Cinco which really killed our buzz. Baldy Cinco was our least favorite peak of the trip. It looked close and easy but it was oddly exhausting getting to the top, which was swarming with flies. We didn't enjoy it much and moved on quickly. The rest of the day was just long. We wanted to get to a good place to climb San Luis the following morning. We ended up camping at San Luis Pass and having mac-n-cheese for dinner. Despite our hunger from the long day we dumped most of dinner because it was so awful. Tough day but we had reached our goal. Tomorrow would be better.
Our crappy campsite near Spring Creek Pass. Everything got soaked in the rain.
A herd of deer spotted on Baldy Cinco - that peak's ONLY redeeming factor.
We got an alpine start to get to San Luis. As we came down from the ridge above San Luis Pass, though, Whit started having knee problems--his knee had bothered him off an on throughout the trip but here it turned from ignorable to hike-stopping. With San Luis in sight it seemed we wouldn't get there today and would again fall behind. Maybe Whit wouldn't be able to finish. I was starting to feel the trip coming apart. We rested for over an hour. Between glances at my watch I spent the time reading an awful book I had picked up in Lake City.
Our last 14er (and last peak) in the San Juans. That morning it felt so close yet so far.
With some pain medicine and rest, in time Whit was ready to give it a go. The sky looked alright so we made for the peak. We reached San Luis shortly before the skies darkened again. We met a poor man with his son at the top. They weren't prepared for the wilderness at all (gym shoes, cotton, only one bottle of water between them--you've all seen it before) and they had to hike all the way back to the trailhead near Equity Mine. I guess someone told them San Luis was the "easiest" 14er. We gave them some water and snacks and wished them luck before heading down into Stewart Creek.
Whit got over his knee problems quick and beat me to the summit of San Luis
The summit of San Luis Peak, and Whit
An unusual bit of forestry . . . are those Limber Pines?
Who needs Reclamation when you've got beavers!
We set up camp at the Stewart Creek Trailhead. We were a few miles behind where I had hoped to reach but our spirits were up a bit. We set camp up right before the rain and then managed to build a fire afterward. Dinner was much better that the night before and we got to bed early to rest up for our first 20-miler.
Beautiful Cochetopa Creek
Day 17 was brutal. Our first taste of 20-mile days. We knew it would be long and hot and that there wouldn't be any water all day once we left Cochetopa Creek. There really isn't much to tell though. Lots of dirt roads and lots of cows. LOTS of cows. At one point we saw a sign for the CT coming up a different road. Meaning we had deviated from the trail without noticing and luckily met back up with it. That was a little spooky. Eventually we made it to Los Creek where we could finally pump water - from a shallow, black-colored stream. The only place it was deep enough for the pump intake was in one of many hoof-prints in the mud. Yum. (our pump broke again shortly thereafter).
A typical moment on Day 17
I don't remember this fella's name but I sure remember his backpack.
The next day (18) we got a great pick-me-up. Some CT hikers heading the other direction let us know about "Apple" a little further on. We had heard about Apple a few times now and weren't really sure what to think. We finally met Apple at his camp at a pass just north of North Pass. (Apple was a trail angel for the CT. He was set up there all summer to provide food, drinks and shelter to hikers during the roughest part of the trail. Turns out he was from Cincinnati just like us. We spent a couple hours there sitting out the rain and chatting with Apple and passing CT hikers. He really turned our spirits around when we needed it. When there was a break in the weather we carried on. The good feeling didn't last long though--leg pain caused me to call a halt before we reached our goal once again. Apple still stands out as one of a handful of people that made our trip possible.
Whit, Apple and I at his tent. What a hero!
Whit standing on the "Rock of Immaculate Reception". Arrow points the direction you should stand to get service.
Razor Park was beautiful.
Day 19 we had to make good time. Other than a brief stopover at the summit of Long Branch Baldy and a fill-up at Baldy Lake, we just hauled it as fast as we could. We mostly hiked separate today and I think that was good. It gave me time to reflect on how lucky we were to be out here and recharge my mood from the last few days. We tagged the summit of Sargents Mesa along the way and visited the veterans memorial in the meadow nearby. By the time we got to our dry camp on the ridge above Tank 7 Creek we were both feeling much better. We enjoyed the sunset there and got rest for another big day: We hoped to make it all the way to the summit of Mount Ouray tomorrow.
Mount Ouray. In about 24 hours we'd be at the summit.
Veteran's memorial near Sargents Mesa. Oddly placed but very well done.
We knew ahead of time that Day 20 would be tough and we would be pushing the limits of time and energy so we got an early start. We walked right past easy chances at summits of Windy Peak and Headwaters Hill and went straight for the goal. A quick lunch at Marshall Pass was really the only stop we made. We ran into a guy we called "Batsh!t Crazy Guy" who told us of a shortcut up Ouray that would save us from hiking all the way to junction of Tr 4849 and the CT. He drew a map (we think it was supposed to be a map) in the dirt to illustrate and promised it was there and we would save lots of time. We were feeling a little desperate so when we got to the mine that he promised was the start of the shortcut we Paper-Rock-Scissored to decide: I won, that meant we try the shortcut. It worked! There was a feint trail going up to treeline then a bunch of useless cairns scattered about. We made it to the top of Ouray just in time for a lightning show in the Collegiate Peaks to the North. We had officially reached the Sawatch! It was so exciting. Now we just had to drop down to Little Cochetopa Creek, camp and head into Salida the next day. The hike down was actually pretty brutal and we lost the trail once. It was overall a fantastic, uplifting day.
Making our way up Ouray. The sky wasn't as bad as it looks here. Still, we were a bit nervous.
We reached the Sawatch! So many great mountains ahead.
Not a friendly welcome from the mountain range we would spend the next 2 weeks in.
Let's pretend there aren't enough pictures of Columbines on this site already.
The biggest herd of Elk I've ever seen was hanging out in Little Cochetopa Basin.
21 days into our trip we reached Salida. Walking on the pavement of US-50 was so painful after so many miles. We were relieved when someone picked us up (after only about 1.5 miles of hiking on the road) and drove us to town. Our support team at home had already booked us at the Simple Lodge and Hostel (great place!) and mailed me a new pack (my old pack, actually) to replace my broken one.
Thumbing our way to Salida. We're so thankful for the rides to and from town.
Simple Lodge & Hostel. Jon, the proprietor, was awesome. The hostel was awesome. Really, stay here if you're in Salida.
Dinner and drinks at Amicas followed by hitting the town with a trail crew--a great way to end a segment and rest up for a traverse of the Sawatch: Ouray to Holy Cross!