September 11th, 2019
Creede Junction mm 2021.3 to HWY 149 mm 2035.6
Distance in miles: 14.3
I wake with a migraine and the wind is howling…not a great start. But it’s not freezing or raining, so that’s good! It’s going to be a tough-go over the exposed passes and snow mesa but we can do it. Last time, hail and lightning thwarted me and my trail family from continuing on in this section. We had to retreat down to Creede and since there was no accommodation there, we went to Lake City, missing 14 miles of trail. I’m determined to hike them today, even if the weather isn’t perfect. The San Juans rarely have perfect weather…you just have to get out there and keep moving.
We head up over the first ridge in the dim light of the early morning. I start in all my layers but shortly have to shed my puffy. It’s crazy windy, first as a crosswind and then straight in our faces as we crest the saddle. It comes from every direction except at our backs. A running monologue plays in my head: why am I doing this? I feel like I’m stuck on repeat, climbing up a barren steep slope in the dark, being battered by the wind, praying for the sun’s first rays to reach me.
When they finally do, I’m reminded of why I’m doing this. It’s like being reborn each day. A spiritual awakening on the side of an inhospitable mountain…the universe suddenly shows its mercy. This moment when I feel the tiniest bit of warmth never looses its profound effect on me.
We dip down into several valleys and climb back out of them. We’re up so early that we hear the elk calling and then spot the herd. We also see some deer and then a moose with her calf. The trifecta of ungulates all in one morning! I didn’t see one elk or moose when I hiked the CT but that was probably because we didn’t get started until after 7 or 8 am most days. The early bird gets first rays and the animal sightings.Well after 8 am, we pass a NOBO couple and then about 5 tents. It’s in the area I was hoping to make it to the day before so it’s just as well we stopped early. We go up over another pass and the wind begins to shred us again. For a moment, my face starts stinging and then I realize I’m being pelted by tiny bits of hail…horizontal hail. I don all my rain gear and thankfully the squall passes quickly. It’s so raw out, I’m just wishing myself off this mountain.But we still have to cross 6 miles over snow mesa, a notoriously exposed flat stretch through tundra. This is the headwaters of the Rio Grande and a most unusual and spectacular place. The sun comes out again and it’s not so bad. My body starts to relax a bit, not as tense from the cold and wind.We meet a few NOBOs, one of which has set out in shorts and a t-shirt and with lots of attachments hanging off her pack, ready to catch the wind. I also try to hike in as few layers as possible but it’s not a day for that. I hope the weather improves for her.
I’m so glad we’re headed for town. The last 2 miles are all downhill and I run, just to stay warm. There’s not much traffic at the highway. A guy at the parking lot offers to give us a ride if we’re still standing there when he returns in a few hours. Man, I hope not. I’ve already put on all my layers and still I’m cold.
Fortunately a couple from New Mexico arrive, giving a ride to several CT hikers up to the pass and then giving us a ride down. Dick and Sandy are just helping out while they vacation in the area. Trail Angels to our rescue.
As we’re dropped off, we see Sunshine and Sugar Rush trying to hitch out of town. We stop to chat, since we haven’t seen them since Grand Lake. Then we seek out lunch, resupply boxes, and accommodation, the usual town stuff. I take a long hot shower and still feel chilled afterwards. I remember feeling the same way 2 years ago, not wanting to go back into the cold mountains. But the weather forecast is for clear skies and light wind the next 4 days so we should be ok.