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CDT: Gunnison National Forest (Monarch Pass to Spring Creek Pass)

September 12 — A Walk in the Clouds

The rain continued on and off all night, and was still falling when I woke up, making this morning the first I had to break camp in the rain. Staying in the cabin at Marshall Pass would have been ideal last night, but there was no room in the inn.

Visibility was low and rain kept falling throughout most of the day. The clouds lifted occasionally, but a low ceiling hung over me all day. The unending rain became unpleasant, but as with any relationship you have to take the good and the bad. Today was my first day of nonstop rain since Glacier, so I could not complain too much. Although if it stayed damp for several more days my attitude would probably sour. Perhaps backpackers in the Pacific Northwest could teach me something, but with twenty-four hours of straight rain and no direct sun, my strategy was no longer about staying dry, but managing dampness. Nothing I carried was perfectly dry anymore, just a degree of its moisture. Perhaps if I could figure waterproofing better, backpacking in the rain would not be as bad. At least despite the rain I was able to find a campsite with dry ground under some trees, which was a great help since the sun had not been out all day, and I never had an opportunity to properly dry my tent.

I did not catch her name, but today I met a 71 year old woman section hiking the CDT. She had already done 500 miles in New Mexico this spring and was getting in a couple more hundred in Colorado now. How amazing that she was out there, able and willing to hike such great lengths.

The trail mostly followed the divide today, but always stayed within tree line. I was still around 10-11,000 feet, but the terrain never seemed that high. The divide was a gently rounded mountain that lacked steep cliffs or soaring peaks. There were no major climbs either, but just an unending series of small ups and downs along the divide, which still wore me out as the day progressed.

September 13 — What a Difference a Day Makes

A slight bit of frost was on the ground in the morning, but the sky was blue above. I was able to fully dry everything, which was a relief. I also got my first glimpse of the San Juan Mountains. They looked mightily impressive, but more pertinent to my expedition was they already had snow. While I hiked through the rain yesterday, the high mountains received snow. To improve my mood through the damp weather, I had even joked with myself that at least it was not snowing. I did not imagine it really was higher up!

I did not know if the powder might melt before I got there, or if it would last until next May. I had a very nice day at around 10,000 feet, but that did not necessarily mean much several thousand feet straight up. I also did not know how deep the snow was or at what elevation it started. I still had a couple days before I reached the high mountains though and should be able to get a weather report and expert advice in Lake City. The prospects of being caught in a snow storm had me more worried than walking across existing snow. I do not want to take the Creede Cutoff but will have to respect the weather. [Ed. Note: In my thorough planning I failed to notice the turnoff for Creede actually occurred before Spring Creek Pass and Lake City. I only discovered this information while on the trail and having already mailed supplies to Lake City.]

On a more immediate note, the trail relented slightly and followed relatively level, old forest roads which helped me get miles in to hit Lake City on Saturday for lunch.

Open plains
Near sunset, the 4WD trail leading into trees changing color

September 14

Frost caked my tent but I half expected that due to my choice of a campsite in a valley by a stream. I needed the water for dinner though and ran out of daylight to find another camping spot. The morning did not seem overly chilly though, so maybe I was getting used to the weather.

The trail was back to single track, climbing up and down passes all day. The weather was nice though, and most of the snow in the mountains, even atop San Juan Mountain — a 14ner — melted. So for existing snow, I might be okay. I still had about two weeks left in the mountains though, so there was plenty of time for new powder to fall. I would just have to see what Mother Nature dished out and take it responsibly one day at a time.

I hiked late and hard again, since where I wanted to rest had a several mile dearth of viable places to camp. I finally stopped on the ominously named Snow Mesa, and found an okay campsite above 12,000 ft.

Looking at high peaks with fresh snow
More mountains

September 15 — Lake City

The night was chilly, but I was snug and comfortable inside my sleeping bag. A couple hour walk brought me to Spring Creek Pass, and I held out my thumb to the little traffic before getting a ride into Lake City. The Raven’s Rest Hostel was awesome, run by thru hikers. The town was even having its wine and music festival, which I could listen to from the hostel. That might be a slight issue when I want to go to sleep though.

I spent the day relaxing in town, figuring out a few logistics for the weeks ahead, making supply drops, and getting ready for the last push through the mountains.

My hitch hiking setup, trying not to look too trashy
Bear warning sign on the trail. I still slept in my tent, although a few miles down trail.