September 13th, 2019
Near High Point on the Colorado Trail mm 2051.5 to West Ute Lake mm 2082.4
Distance in miles: 30.9
The weather and mountain gods are merciful and only send a few breezes that ruffle out tents all night. It’s enough to create a cold draft, though. I struggle to keep warm in the early hours of the morning, all my layers on. But we make it through and somehow find the courage to depart our semi-warm cocoons, hiking at first light. It’s just Relentless and me, since Sugar Rush and Sunshine prefer a later start.
Even up here, it’s too dark to walk without a headlamp until 0620! Oh these short days. For once we get to walk downhill and our early start rewards us with sightings of many deer, including a fine alpine buck at 20 yards. Lucky for him we have no intentions to hurt him.The day will consist of many ups and downs, none of them pointless since it is one of the finest days on the Colorado Trail. This is a long stretch leading through exposed tundra, all over 11,000′ to 12,000′. It’s so incredibly scenic that one forgets they are climbing most of the day. My app isn’t working properly so I can’t calculate total loss and gain in elevation but it’s a LOT.
Leading up a valley and to a lake on the other side, we pass several tents. Then there are quite a few people on the trail. This is a popular section and with a perfect fall weather day, lots are out. Northeast of Stony Pass road, bikes are allowed, so we even see several bikepackers. They mostly have to push their bikes uphill but the downhills are fast.I remember this section well from 2 years ago, which provides a nice contrast for today. In early August, everything was bright green. In mid September, the tundra has turned many shades of red and orange, interspersed with some lingering green. It’s a profound mix of colors and the mountains look so dramatic with even a few snow patches left.This day is a gift since there are so few of them like this in the San Juans. There is not one cloud in the sky all day. We get to bask in the sunlight in a vast playground of alpine tundra from dawn to dusk. We are blessed.
Although it’s not exactly play. We are trying to get 30 miles hiked through one of the hardest stretches. I don’t even know if I can do it but I can try. I feel that we should take advantage of the good weather to hike as long as we can. So I just hike all day, like I always do, with one break to get water and eat lunch.At 3:30 pm, I say goodby to the Colorado Trail. The CDT splits here, after 300 miles together. It was a great run and I’m sad. It means there will be hardly anymore hikers and the trail will probably be very crappy again. It doesn’t take long to realize this. There is trail but it’s badly eroded. Then the willow tunnels start. In some places they are over my head and I have to push through with all my weight. I feel like I’m going through a car wash with those brushes that spin. Only the willow branches scratch and slap me in the face. Oh boy, only 80 more miles of this until our next resupply.I wind into a valley that suddenly looks very familiar. I backpacked in the San Juans in my early 20s and it’s possible that I hiked this same trail then. Little did I know I’d be back after hiking the whole divide. I remember how bad I got altitude sickness then, plus close run-ins with lightning.
The last climb of the day guts me. I have to stop frequently and my stomach hurts. I need to eat more. At last I get to a lake but have to search around awhile for a good, protected campsite. It’s a drastic difference from the night before. Relentless arrives and offers to make a fire. We sit outside and watch the moon rise over the ridge. It’s a nice ending to a long day.