| A Fine Three Days
Tuesday, 26 June—Approximately 13 hours to Salida via Farmington, Jicarilla Reservation (road work there causing delays, watch out) and then to the wonderful little village of Chama and down the green pass that leads to Conejos. Sure the long way but interesting. One of these days I will have to actually stop in Chama and the surrounding area to explore a bit more. If anyone knows something about that area I would appreciate some info.
After a quick bite in Salida, I headed out to the Shavano Trailhead (rapidly becoming a favorite spot—quiet and green amongst the aspens) and set both a small campfire and my tent. I ran across an "oldies" station that I could get on the "crank" radio I have been playing with and listened in as their broadcast was joined by high jetliners and possibly elk (too high-pitched for cows).
Wednesday, 27 June—
Got up early enough but fooled around and did not get started until 0520, introducing myself to a treo of gals up for the same hike (one local). At 0625 I stopped in the trees for a "breakfast" (Cliff Bar) near someone who decided to bring their camp a little higher up. I reached the treeline at 0730. There was a slight breeze and the clear skies made me regret not checking for sunglasses before I started so I grabbed a burnt piece of wood and added a little "eye-liner". I hit the saddle with the ladies at 0940 and took a break. I hit the summit of Shavano (for the second time) at 0955 and moved out with the local gal for the attempt on Tabeguache. The weather was very clear and I could see that I could not see much of a path to "T" but I wanted to finish this combo off. We descended and then ascending, picking our way up the rocks and bigger rocks and across a bit of snow and hit the summit but in the excitement of the moment, I did not note the time. We took pics and then headed back down but "El Viejo" could not keep up with the local gal so I picked my way back up to Shavano and then back down to the treeline by 1330 with clouds following me. Well, the gals had a phone call to make apparently and they moved out ahead and as I had made my first combo for the week, I did not feel the need for speed and I ambled down and out by 1500. Next stop, Mt. Princeton.
Well, after getting to the lower trailhead, I did not see any place to set up for the night but noticed around fifteen cars parked and I wondered why there were so many people finishing so late (later I surmised that they must have parked there for another reason). Given that the prospects for camping low appeared non-existent, I went for broke and took by 2wd RAV up the winding road counting the places that appeared to be places that I could easily turn around on one hand. I wondered too about the return trip and hoped that I would have the road to myself heading back down. I set camp just beyond the radio towers on a nice ridge thinking that it might be cooler tonight. I started to try to wind myself down as darkness fell but kept hearing music and other sounds that inexplicably carried from the valley below. It did cool down after dark as I could see my breath and actually had to zip up the sleeping bag, something that actually would have consequences the next morning.
Thursday, 28 June—I "under-slept", waking at 0300 and then overslept due to an alarm failure and woke at 0500. It was a cool, quiet morning until I started to slap myself more awake ala the Three Stooges; which was answered by some bizarre moan-growl not that far off down to the east. Anyway, at 0540 I was off and made it to the steps that amount to the trailhead at 0621. I turned several corners, I was greeted by the boulder/rock-hopping portion of the journey and also discovered that at least one route had been closed off, suggesting we ascend a little earlier to the ridgeline via another set of switchbacks. I then followed a CMU guy along the boulders and rocks, thanking the choice of lighter boots and happy too that I did not make a mis-step in that section. At 0810 I found myself just below the summit ridge at the rock fingers that form the gateway. I reached the top at 0915 and celebrated with a dad and his 11-year old son in wonderfully sunny weather. I started back at 0945 and hit the steps at 1130, glad to be rid of the rocks. Sure this is Class 2 and just over 6.25 miles round trip but for an old guy coming from the "flat", it was a worthy way to celebrate a birthday!
Once I had broken camp, I began the winding descent down the mountain road, apparently picking the right time to come down as I did not encounter anyone coming up. I then turned toward Mt. Princeton Hot Springs with the hope of getting a shower, soak and massage all for $40. Alas, the massage calendar was full till much later and my soak was shortened when they called us out as the afternoon storm came in. However, I did manage to get pruny in the hot water and showered up nicely too ($10).
After a checking with the home front via phone in Buena Vista, I headed out for the Belmont-Oxford TH. This year I actually thought about packing a few things and heading up to the treeline in order to shorten the next day's hike but I just did not want to haul a load up those initial switchbacks so I set up about a mile from the TH and eventually got myself to sleep. Sometime later (11 pm it turned out), I awoke to noise and light—too much light for the full moon. I dropped the window flap of my tent to find my "neighbor" sitting in his car practically nose-to-nose with the RAV, headlines illuminating the area. A few seconds later I saw his companion/wife/girlfriend leading him on foot off for their neck of the woods. I had a thought or two about returning the favor the next morning but decided against it and went back to sleep.
Friday, 29 June—I got up in the cold darkness at 0445 and found that I did get a little frost on this last day of hiking. As usual, I putzed around getting ready and having something to drink and eat so I did not get started until 0450, moving across the bridge still in the dark. I wondered whether I should have started out earlier but did not like the idea of walking through the woods before dawn that much. I hit the treeline at 0607 and found three tents there with climbing helmets scattered about as if a party had just dropped them and dove into tents. The wind was blowing down the valley and daylight was following it. At 0626, I hit the trail junction and was passed by a solo female hiker (quite young actually). It was then that I finally resolved to, once again, head up the "belly" of Belmont; that steep ascent where I learned to love switchbacks two years ago.
I hit the summit of Belmont for the third time at 0900 and was off in clear whether towards Oxford at 0907. The descent is actually quite steep in parts and I was not looking forward to coming back that way, even if I turned off towards Elkhead Pass. At 1015 I finally, after two other tries in two separate years, got to the top of Oxfords and was quite happy. I took right back off in spite of what appeared to be good whether (there were fluffy clouds to the west and north that were starting to gather) but stopped just below the summit and sort of mentally slapped myself. I had not savored this enough! I took in some deep breaths and thought that the air would stay here, I could not bottle this thinner cool mixture and it made me sad. Still, I had a long way to go so I moved out.
I hit Elkhead Pass at 1158 with clouds coming in. This was the spot I came up to from the south last year after the slide/tumble down Missouri Mountain and I was glad that I was turning north now towards the trailhead, instead of contemplating an attempt on Oxford late in the day. As expected, this route was longer but flatter and greener. I hit the junction (Belmont-Missouri Gulch) at 1320 and was starting to get uncomfortably warm. The treeline came at 1335, followed shortly thereafter by the "bridge over the River Ah"—those three logs over the stream. Once across the stream I met two very hot dogs and three backpackers who made me glad I was coming out. Speaking of that, I finished up at 1430, catching a glimpse of another solo female hiker I had encountered cooling in the stream below.
Once out I packed up, sticking my own head in the stream at one point due to the heat and headed for Leadville and my favorite hostel. I had been told I got the last bunk ($19) and indeed it seemed crowded. I was early for the marathon this year but there was a group of ultra-marathoners staying at the hostel so they could train at altitude. There was also a group of teenagers with some sort of church group that piled in later in the evening and a couple who had been hiking the length of the Continental Divide this year, starting in Mexico earlier in the spring and logging over 800 miles thus far!
All in all it was a fine three straight days of hiking, with three new peaks to my bag and two combinations. By my count, only forty more peaks to go!!!!!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):