Gunnison to Monarch Pass

6/21-24 72 miles

It’s a sort of solitude when you’re holed up in a motel room with a Do Not Disturb sign hanging off the door but with all the human noise penetrating through the walls, people walking down the hall, doors slamming shut, the murmur of a TV, traffic noise. Solitude of a sort I guess.

And then there’s the quiet solitude when you’re in your little tent beneath a Douglas Fir, the only human in the quiet of a wild place. I lay in my tent the first night out after spending so many days sick in town, utterly giddy as the wind died down and the birds twittered their good nights to each other. I actually feel better, after a round of antibiotics, than I’ve felt in weeks.

I did manage to get information about shuttles out of Gunny to the trail. It cost some money and took nearly 2 hours, but Kenny got me back to Eddiesville Trailhead and I started hiking about noon on a perfect day, the cold and rain I’d been in a few days before, resolved. Summer Solstice! Hike Naked Day! I didn’t! I carried enough food for 3 or 4 nights in case I needed extra time to make the miles after being ill.

The second day the trail went from broad brown rangeland, spooking antelope as I walked, to lots of slow uphill and increasing wind. If I hike uphill for 20 miles, how come I never run out of ground? I saw 9 people hiking SOBO on the Colorado Trail (CT) including 1 guy pushing his bike uphill at about 7pm who greeted me with ” I need to sleep”. To get over the last of the climbs so I didn’t have to do them the next day I hiked about 24 miles and camped in a dumb, damp little tent site near a creek. My sleeping pad didn’t insulate me very well from the cold ground. Going to switch it out for my heavier, less comfortable, but always warm NeoAir Xtherm at the first opportunity.

The scenery was a tad tedious the third day, too much second growth, so I listened to an audiobook for a few hours. Today I saw 10 people including 3 dudes in assorted neon outfits on dirt bikes. Sigh. Colorado has a lot of multi-use sections on their National Scenic Trail, only authentic ” Wilderness Areas” are closed to wheels. The dirt bikes churn up the rocks and gouge the ruts deeper. A pain to walk on. But I had another perfect campsite.

Day 4 there wasn’t any reason not to make the 18 miles to Monarch Pass and the completion, at last, of the Colorado CDT. The day’s hiking was a mixed bag. Trail to dirt road with zillions of mountain bikers, then another dirt road and more mountain bikers and dirt bikers to single track. I KNOW I have the right-of-way, and posted signage at trailheads even has simple graphics illustrating that, but it doesn’t work out that way. If I don’t crawl out of the ruts to let the bikes go by, I will get run over. Annoying. The last few hours the trail ran high on the ridges and at altitude, it was gorgeous but the howling wind was cold. Sometime in the morning a hiker, trailname Sahib, caught up to me. French, my age, hiked the PCT in 2016. We got to Monarch Pass at the same time, witnessing the aftermath of a horrendous traffic accident with cars backed up for miles in both directions and a Medevac helicopter arriving after the ambulances. Not good. After a while, the helo left, the pilot masterfully wobbling in the high winds, and we got a ride the 20 miles to Salida from a couple returning home from the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

Salida is a sweet little town and I’m staying at the same hostel as last year, Salida Hostel, a little away from town and clean, bright and spacious. Next phase of my hike is a bus ride to Denver and hiking the first 100 miles of the Colorado Trail (CT) with Burning Calves and Nuthatch (she was SOBO PCT 2016 when I was and on the CDT last year too!). Hopefully I can keep up with them.

Colorado Hates Me

6/15-16

I walked through the town of Creede and up through the historic mining district on a dirt road. There was a lot of road, a lot of elevation gain, a storm forming for tomorrow and I figured on a low mileage day, a campsite was listed on the far side of San Luis Peak for about 15 miles. It was a brutal day for me. There was no juice in my legs, my stomach hurt and I had no appetite. I climbed slowly from 8:30 to 3, had a brief respite, then climbed some more, getting to nearly 13,000′ more than once, stopping frequently and wondering if my problem was the altitude, the zero days, or what. But I was acclimated to altitude by now and in excellent trail shape.

Even though I intended to camp earlier than most thru hikers, I could see another tent in the not-so-flat little campsite near a creek. I just couldn’t go any further, so I asked the hiker, new to me, if he would mind sharing. Bark Eater was fine with it and we chatted a bit as I set up camp. I forced down my dinner. Two or three CDT alternates have kind of led to a bit of a traffic jam on this stretch. Because of the San Juan National Forest closure, there were hikers on the official longer CDT San Juan route already, there were hikers on the shorter Creede Route and there are hikers rerouted off both of those from Woof Creek Pass. Not to mention hikers rerouted from further behind from Cumbres Pass. Anyway a bunch of unknown hikers walked past as the evening wore on and 3 others crowded in with us in 2 more tents. Dark fell and all was quiet.

I woke the next morning and packed with the others. They headed out. I followed, unable to eat breakfast. I puked up my protein powder enriched morning coffee. My legs were weak. Not good. It was a beautiful gentle downhill as rain started spitting off and on. On my map, a trailhead was listed in a few miles. Here’s what I thought: “I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to call Search and Rescue. If I’m at a road access trailhead and I get sicker I can figure out how to call the Forest Service or someone with a truck. I’ll just pitch my tent and see if I feel better with a little rest first before I decide.” I satellite texted Dan telling him my situation and asking for input.

I got there, a wonderful clean vault toilet and a single car in the tiny dirt parking lot. I felt pretty puny and put on some layers against the cool and damp and leaned against my pack to think about things. A couple hikers went by. 20 minutes later a guy walked in from a slightly different direction. “Is that your car?” I asked. “Yes.” “Can you give me a ride to whatever town you’re going to?” “Yes.” I am so very lucky. So very lucky that Chris, hiking Colorado peaks on vacation from teaching Chemistry at a Kansas college, didn’t hesitate to help. He didn’t hesitate when I said I was not feeling well. He didn’t hesitate when I asked him to pull over and I got out and puked some more. It was an hour and a half to Gunnison where he was going. I’ll never be able to hitch back to that obscure trailhead. But I am so lucky to lay in a hotel bed for 18 hours, feverish but comfortable inside instead of in a tent in a rainstorm. Some people have the impression we spend 100% of our time camping, but it’s not true. For every 100 or so miles, you have to go to a town and resupply with more food. And I think towns are where you get your dose of germs too.

Cumbres Pass to Wolf Creek Pass

6/9-12 70 miles

The dumbest things get stuck in your brain when you’re walking 12 hours a day. How do you say wolf? People here say “woof” dropping any indication that there’s an L in the word. Since I never notice how we say it up north, we probably don’t say “woof.” I avoid saying this section’s destination out loud because I think it makes me look weird that I giggle every time someone says “Woof Creek Pass.”

Laura!

Laura gave me a ride back to Cumbres Pass, since she was going to hike out to meet Dave as he hiked in. I only hiked 16 miles the first day, 12 of them uphill and in the wind around 10,000′. For once the Guthook app called out a tent site by a lake, so when I got there I camped and left room for all the other hikers I just knew would be arriving after a later start. Nope, just me and the mosquitoes trying to get in around my binder clipped bug screen.

Miles and miles of beetle kill

On the morning of Day 2, Ripples and Clouds, a Brit couple I’d met in Cuba, passed me. I should have got a photo! They’re quicker but take longer breaks so we played tag. We figured out we had the same goal in mind, a listed tent site after a couple big climbs and drops, about 21 miles for me. It was a tiny flat spot and when I got there, they had scrunched their tent to one side so I could camp too, almost touching. Between the wind and the nearby stream, there was enough white noise to neutralize the squeakiness of my sleeping pad as I tossed and turned all night. And since the zipper is broken on my tent, no worries about that noise when I had to get up in the middle of the night.

Day 3 was challenging. I think I got to 13,000′ a couple times and never below 11,500′. Every uphill that is more than about 4% grade (treadmill stuff) at this elevation is killer. The air is so dry and so thin that my legs are just oxygen starved. I huff and puff while my heart rate ratchets up, breathing so loudly that chipmunks and birds pour off the trail as I approach. This is a very low snow year but the skinny little slanted tread traverses on extremely sloping mountain sides are sketchy, whether just gravelly or snowy. I have micro spikes which are fine for snow but not so much for gravel. Ripples and Clouds did use their ice axes on one terrifying pitch, the consequences of a slip and fall down 500′ made us all extra cautious. We found ourselves once again with the same goal, Bonito Pass just past a stream should maybe be flat enough to camp. We camped far enough part in the woods to have privacy. I turned off airplane mode and found I had a cell signal which led me to the FB CDT 18 page and the news that the San Juan National Forest was being closed for the safety of everyone due to fire and the extreme potential of more fires. We would get to Woof Creek Pass the next day, and I had to hitch to Pagosa Springs to get boxes. My plan had been to then hike the 45 miles on trail to Creede, then to Monarch Pass.

Day 4, I shared the news. Ripples and Clouds didn’t have a box in Pagosa, although they’d originally intended to hitch in for a night. Instead, they decided to hike the 12.7 to the Pass then continue hiking the highway to South Fork, etc. Maybe I’ll see them again, I really like them!

Snow Cat at Woof Creek Ski Resort

Even though it was less than 13 miles to the highway, it took me a long time to get there, 1:30. Definitely time for a day off.

I stuck out my thumb and got a ride to Pagosa Springs, checked in a motel and got my replacement tent and shoes at the PO. Jesus was there picking up his box. I just love that sentence. I had dinner and a beer at Riff Raff Brewing which uses spring-fed geothermal heating for its beers. How cool is that?

Decisions, decisions. The new alternate (cause the entire San Juan National Forest is closed and the trail cuts in and out of it) for the CDT is pretty straightforward. From Woof Creek Pass take the highway to South Fork, turn left and take another highway to Creede, a total of about 45 road miles. From Creede it’s about 10 miles on a county road to rejoin the CDT.

I woke up and got a ride to South Fork, a highway town with shuttered businesses, For Sale signs and at least 3 realty companies. The Wolf Creek Ski Lodge was clean, comfy and affordable. OK, OK, I’m going to have to come back and actually hike this section because once again I stuck out my thumb and got a ride to Creede. This is an interesting place with a bunch of mining history and famous figures from “The West” including Soapy Smith who finally got his due in Skagway, Alaska. I toured the mining museum and walked through town. The postal service has lost my box, the first time in 6 years of long hikes. Tracking shows it bouncing from Seattle to Denver to Seattle to Denver possibly for all eternity. So I went shopping, yum Idahoan Potatoes till Monarch Pass. And weather is coming in, I hope it rains and clears the air and helps the firefighters control all the fires. Meanwhile, another comfy bed indoors at the Snowshoe Inn where John Wayne used to stay. Plus Johnny Depp filmed The Lone Ranger here.

Bear, Wolf, Deer, Elk, Dog, Kitten and Kind Humans

Ghost Ranch to Chama 6/4-6/8 95 miles

“Aaackkk, get outta here!” I roared, surprising me as much as the bear with the volume my damaged voice produced. I’d just put up my tent the first night after a 20 mile hike from Ghost Ranch. I was laying on the hard ground inside with my head on my stuff sacked sleeping bag listening to the birds while waiting for the back pain to subside for a few minutes. Footsteps. There weren’t any hikers behind me all day. Wait, they’re coming from the wrong direction. I looked through the screen. Bear! Just strolling down the trail sniffing the air. I scared the snot out of him, small latte colored guy, graceful until I yelled and his head shot up and he skedaddled uphill as fast as he could go. Few better sights than the backside of a bear gallumphing away. I repacked my pack and skedaddled myself up the trail another hour just in case he decided to come back and give me a scolding. For a 22.2 mile day.

Sometime the next day, another 22 miler, I saw a wolf, lush brown and alert, look at me from the trail, and then dash uphill quietly, stealthily. So much less noise than all the hoof noise deer and elk make when they spot me. New Mexico is paradise for wildlife, I’m so happy to be walking through it.

I finished Stephen King’s Dark Tower series today, after reading 6 of 7 books, Book 7 I listened to, all 28 hours of it over the last 2 weeks. Say ya true Stephen, Roland and his Ka-tet should have let you die. Actually a great series, whether you’re a King fan or not. I read Book 1 a million years ago when it first came out. And then my son Glen somehow inspired me to read the lot, it’s taken 6 months of intermittent attention.

This was a new stretch for me with lots of new hikers and weird misdirects on the route. Some awesome hikers were Clean Sweep, Root Beer, Brian, Dixie and Aaron, and there were others whose name I didn’t get including a group of 3 humans and 2 dogs and a couple who hammocked instead of tented. Brian hiked the Colorado Trail (CT) with his wife last year when they moved from Michigan to Farmington, NM. She has a strict work schedule so he’s off to thru hike the CDT, doing big miles happily and quickly. Super nice guy, I don’t know, but really every single person I’ve ever met from Michigan? I adore. All Brian needs is a trail name, he refuses to name himself, so please any hiker up the trail, watch for this dude. He’s a good one.

The third day I did another 22, and I’m generally happy and plan for 20 miles, but finding campsites is tough on this bugger.

My fourth and could have easily been my last day before the trailhead to Chama, I came on Dixie and Aaron at a creek. When I said I was named Catwater because I drank water on the PCT with a dead cat in it, not only did Dixie describe that particular cistern, she asked if I’d had to fish water out of it with a long line. Wow! She hiked and fished water there in 2017. Whoa! They’re doing modest miles currently after taking time off from the CDT for assorted reasons. Wow!

I crossed the barbed wire fence marking the New Mexico/Colorado border and camped the fourth night, with just a few miles left. Rather than paying for a motel, I’ll get to town tomorrow morning, get all the chores done: pick up resupply box, laundry, food shop, etc spend a night in a bed and head back to the trail. The zipper on my bug screen has failed so I’ll get some binder clips in town to jury rig it until I can get the backup I’ve had Dan mail me to the next stop up the trail.

I walked from the trail to the trailhead at 8am. A woman was just parking her Subaru. She stepped out and asked me “Are you Catwater?” I was gobsmacked. Turns out Laura’s husband Dave, who I had a great talk with last year at Pie Town, was just a day behind me and guessed where I was because he reads my blog. Laura was staying in Chama while providing support and resupply for this section. She was out for a day hike but we exchanged phone numbers and got together for dinner later that day.

Meanwhile I stuck out my thumb, got a ride instantly from Rick who stopped the car just before the post office to say hi to a friend who showed him a tiny rescued kitten she had wrapped in a blanket to take home and feed with a syringe. I got my mail, walked to the laundromat, washed clothes, called a motel and was settled in a spacious kitchenette with 3 beds for $70 at Cumbres Inn, with continental breakfast!

Grants to Cuba

Water

I drove from Grants to Albuquerque, an easy posted 75 MPH (!) on some highway. I dropped off the car and Google mapped the 5 mile walk to the Greyhound station. I kind of like walking through other people’s cities, plus I had plenty of time to catch the bus back to Grants.

5/27 20 miles

Starting from the motel at 6400′ I walked through town, up a paved road, then to the trail. I camped at 9300′, the same place where the Ravens and I camped last year for the same reason: too much uphill. Along the way Curt and Ryan blasted by me. Curt started at the border 550 miles ago and his friend Ryan just joined him for a couple of weeks.

5/28 22.2 miles

I really enjoyed the trail today until the last 5 miles after I picked up 3L (6.6 lbs) of water. The additional weight killed my neck as I continued up, a steady, not steep, climb. It’s windy and hot, so dry that even breathing through your nose can’t stop the desiccation of throat and lungs. I get a dry cough, gritty eyes and a feverish feeling. So I camped in a soft, flat little spot, hidden from view with my camo-colored Altaplex. Just before camping I went by 2 guys just waking up from naps to hike in the cool of dusk and evening. I hate hiking in the dark, mostly because, duh, I can’t see, even with a headlamp, and then there’s the glowing eyeballs the headlamp picks up next to the trail.

5/29 21.7 miles

Camped in a cattle corral with Ryan and Curt! Nice to have company, however briefly. Also this is the place the Deputy Sheriff rolled up on me last year, lights whirling madly. “Mrs Sterley? You OK?” A little joke with the guys, Ryan says, “How does it feel out walking a 30 year old guy?” He’s suffering from bad blisters and a flare up of runner’s knee. I give him a bunch of ibuprofen since they’re running short.

5/30 20-ish miles, maybe 19

Tremendously beautiful country, pillars of eroded rock, the trail goes up escarpments with views forever. Jack rabbits and greenish lizard things. And the human element, “Pretty good job whacking Ryan in the knee, eh?” I joke with Curt when I catch up to him where he’s been waiting an hour for Ryan.

Ryan, Curt, Enigma

At the wonderful Trujillo Family water cache, Ryan decides to hitch the nearby highway to Cuba to get a cortisone shot and a rest while Curt hikes on another night. Bummer. A while later, both Enigma and Curt pass me and I camp on one of those escarpments, moonlit all night.

View from the tent

5/31 26 long miles

Today was incredibly beautiful again, I stopped again and again to admire the rocks, the gigantic scale of tumbled boulders rolled and halted in the flatlands below me, the tiny little marble rocks under my feet, the scoured, run-off shaped towers and pillars, and the sandstone fractal mosaic mounds. And adolescent rabbits hopping everywhere.

I really, really believed that when I hit the highway about 4 miles before town, I would be able to hitch a ride. Not only would it be a long day, but I’ve already done this road walk, no need to link footsteps for a thru-hike. There was plenty of traffic but 100 cars later, not a single one slowed or offered water or anything. Exhausted and disappointed in local humanity, I finally made it to the Del Prado Motel. So it’s a puzzle to me. Is there no awareness of CDT hikers here? Compassion for the obviously overheated and struggling? Respect for women who could be your mom or grandma, for elders? Get over it, Catwater, you don’t need no stinking ride.

Spring

For you, Chris Sterley

There is a trail closure from Cuba to Ghost Ranch because of severe fire danger. The CDTC posted an alternate to the 45 mile trail, a 60 mile road walk, I’m not going to do it, but there are no buses out of here and, umm, hitching doesn’t bode well. In an update, the CDTC reported the USFS didn’t want hikers on the highways. CDTC has scrambled and found someone willing to shuttle hikers to Ghost Ranch, woohoo, thank you all!