August 29, 2010
Today’s Miles: 20.5
Total Miles: 404
Breakfast Elevation: Creede
Dinner Elevation: 11,700
High Point: 12,760 ft
My alarm wakes me in the motel room about an hour before the shuttle driver is scheduled to pick me up.
I packed my bag last night, so I simply put on my hiking clothes and walk across the street to a cafe that serves breakfast and lunch. I’m in the door less than ten minutes after it was unlocked at seven, and I’m the third guest of the day. It appears to be a family operation – my server is a young teen, and the lone cook is a woman that I assume only to be his mother. He gets a big tip.
Classic rock tunes play on the radio that put a smile on my face. I get the typical two full plates of breakfast with loads of coffee – the best way to start a day of hiking.
Back outside the front door of my motel room, I sit and wait for the driver in the crisp early morning mountain air. I make small talk with two guys packing up their motorcycles – so many people on motorcycle tours in Colorado in the summertime.
For some reason I expect the shuttle driver to be a yuppified, grizzled Colorado woman that hikes the trails, skis the slopes, and kayaks the rivers like a character out of a tv advertisement, driving a Jeep or Forerunner or Landrover. Instead I meet a middle aged single mom having a tough time with medical problems, in something like a two wheel drive minivan. She’s exceedingly nice and normal, and just making some part time cash giving hikers a ride up the mountain.
Creede is great because it’s not “Colorado.” Creede is real. It’s a trail town, plain and simple, like the corners of the hollows of the Appalachians.
I’m so grateful for the ride. The walk to town was tedious enough the first time, downhill. Doing it again in the uphill direction today would have been something like unbearable.
It’s a rough, tricky ride for any vehicle, but Mary gets her car all the way up to the end of the road at the trailhead. She tells me about other hikers that she’s met, and the local details of Creede. She tells me that the Forest Service doesn’t improve this road, in an effort to intentionally make the trail less accessible. Makes sense to me.
I set foot on the trail amid an unsavory, biting wind with light passing rains.
Swift clouds crown San Luis Pass, just as beautiful as I’d left it.
San Luis Peak rises into view as I climb from the pass.
The world is nothing but a roaring wind in my ears, sailing clouds, and a beautiful landscape.
So this is The Colorado Trail.
I step over a ridge, and once again look west to a horizon that I’ve never seen before.
This sheer wall is hundreds of feet high, and ten times more dramatic in person.
In this area there’s a single unattended backpack, leaning against a tree trunk. It could easily be someone gone on a day hike, or for a simple nature’s call, but something about the scene strikes me as a bit off. My backpacker’s sixth sense says something’s amiss, but the only thing to do is continue about my glorious business.
Such glorious business at this moment consists of a Snickers-with-peanut-butter break at a rock pile near Mineral Creek. The chirps of the pica keep me company. No need to call them and say “Let’s do lunch on Sunday,” they know where and when to meet.
I turn a corner through some trees and instantly recognize the tarp-tent of Ole and Meadow Bruiser… Ole and Meadow Bruiser who I met some 25 days and 350 miles ago. It’s a great reunion since we last saw each other outside Salida. They’re huddled in their sleeping bags, reading a book. The weather truly must appear nasty from within a shelter, with the howling wind and passing rains. They ask what it’s like, and I say that it’s not so bad and appears to be clearing with the fast-moving clouds.
I sit in the grass facing them, and it’s one of those conversations without pause, where it seems as though each person has so many things to say that they’re just waiting for their chance to talk, forced to let items slide as the topics move ahead. I hardly notice when they begin breaking camp, and don’t realize they’re packing until their packs are virtually on their backs.
Ole keeps the conversation going as we walk, despite the wind and uphill grade. We reach the crest of a ridge where the gusts are especially forceful, invigorating, and fun… full of life.
The views are inspiring, and naturally we pause at this place to take it all in.
After a moment, Meadow Bruiser announces “I can’t take this anymore! (Standing still and being blasted by wind)” and launches an assault on the trail ahead.
Ole stays behind for a few minutes, and we play with our cameras. It’s nearly impossible to hold it steady.
Ole soon chases after her, and I choose to linger for a few moments longer.
I won’t catch them for the rest of the day, but they’ll be visible ahead over the open terrain for the next few hours. They’re fast hikers.
The trail winds its way toward a wide, flat landmass that can only be The Snow Mesa. It’s a mammoth, far-reaching plain that sits soundly at an unassuming 12,000 feet above the sea.
The air really whips through this notch in the ridge.
I see Ole and Meadow Bruiser in the distance, and watch as a solo figure on horseback approaches them.
Their silhouettes appear to have a five minute conversation, before parting ways like ants before me. Can you spot them in the image below?
Hearing a strange far-off noise, I soon come within view of a huge herd of sheep!
The figure on horseback now approaches me, with a leashed dog at his side.
“That’s a lot of sheep!” I call out in greeting.
“Bout fifteen hundred head!” is the reply.
And there in front of me is the most genuine cowboy that I’ve ever seen.
I’ve forgotten his name, so let’s call him Blondie.
Blondie lives up here, in a canvas tent alone in the mountains through the summer. His season doesn’t end until late September, with the simple duty of watching over all these sheep.
I get the impression that speaking with passing hikers is a highlight of Blondie’s existence. He’s also a little worse for wear, inquiring of all travelers if they happen to be in possession of a precious substance… nicotine withdrawal. You see, Blondie’s boss keeps forgetting to bring up any chewing tobacco with the regular supplies. How dare he deprive a cowboy of his quintessential muddy spits. Blondie seems young, maybe 20-24 years old.
I learn of all the area’s coming and goings, and all that qualifies as news on The Snow Mesa. The unattended backpack from this morning belongs to a lone old man that had to be rescued, presumably for altitude sickness. A rescuer led him out of the mountains, and he left his pack behind. Carol and Richard and Potter are still not far ahead, as well as some others I don’t recognize by description.
And then there was a lone young man this morning, hiking along at a fast clip. “He was really moving.”
This could be none other then Gil, the Israeli I met in Salida, off on his way to finish the Continental Divide Trail… not to be met again.
“I’ve been a cowboy all my life.”
The Snow Mesa stretches into the late afternoon.
Here it comes to an end, beginning the descent to Spring Creek Pass.
The pass is cut with a paved state highway, CO 149. At the roadside there’s an informative plaque about the CT and CDT.
I don’t see or hear a single vehicle on the highway.
The far side ascends along jeep roads through the woods.
I catch Ole and Meadow Bruiser as they’re setting up camp. We have a brief conversation about the cowboy, the day, the water, and the weather.
“It was a fun day,” I remark. Wind can be fun, like when it’s in your face on a roller-coaster or a motorcycle.
It would be nice to stay with the company of Ole and Meadow Bruiser, but I choose to press on into the evening to find a campsite with water, maybe another half mile or so.
“See you in the morning.”
The trail just pulls me forward, and I keep going and going for almost five more miles. It brings me over Jarosa Mesa in a cold, unsettling darkness. Foul weather appears to be imminent, with a southern wind and flashes of lightning from that direction.
Deep night has fallen when I dive off of the Colorado Trail, north down a drainage. I’m in search of treeline, water, and a campsite.
I find all three, cook dinner by headlamp, and watch the southern stars vanish behind a growing shadow.
Heavy rain, hail, and crashes of lightning are upon me throughout the night.