September 20th, 2019
Dipping Lakes mm 2206.4 to Cumbres Pass mm 2222.1
Distance in miles: 15.7
It rains and thunders overnight but I sleep through most of it, not too worried. It’s partly cloudy by the time I wake but the wind is howling. We immediately begin climbing to our last point over 12,000′. It’s a gradual ascent as we walk through what looks like a vast prairie. There are many lakes and even some trees, which help to block the wind. It’s quite the transition from the rugged San Juans.
For the first time in over a month, I can’t see any more giant peaks when I look to the south, just a series of rolling hills. To the north, I can just barely make out the peaks we passed 2 days ago. The greater San Juans have disappeared behind the proximate ridges. As we go down from this last mountain, it will be all I can see of Colorado and the high country. What lies to the north will live in my memories.
There’s a little rock wind shelter and registry at the top of Flat Top Mountain. I spend some time reading through all the entries. There are not many NOBO names and even fewer SOBOs…we are of a handful of the first. I see that Vortex and 2 Forks have been through. Vortex is a fast true SOBO (didn’t flip) and may walk the entire CDT in the least amount of time of anybody this year. He walked the PCT in around 100 days last year.
We begin the descent, glad to get some relief from the wind and cold. The wide meadows have sharpened into a steep ridge, falling off into cliffs on either side. The surrounding valleys are full of conifers and aspen, which look quite healthy and lush. The vast beetle-killed forests of the San Juans are transitioning to lower altitude conifers that already had a resistance to the beetles. It will be nice to be amongst live trees once again.
We see several hunters but it’s otherwise quiet. I haven’t seen anymore elk or moose on this stretch but I do come quite close to a deer. As I near the highway, I hear the eerie whistle of the tourist train. I can even smell the coal-fired smoke emanating from it. CDT hikers can get a discount riding it to or from the pass but it only runs once a day and I can’t tolerate the smell of the smoke…it fills the whole valley and town of Chama. A hitch is easy and much preferable.
Near the road is another registry, which I stop to read. This is the finish line for many of the hikers that flipped. It was my planned finish but I didn’t make it this far in the spring. I have to walk until just past Grants, NM to reconnect my footsteps. It’s just as well, as I need time to decompress from Colorado.
Ah Colorado. So much about it was hard. The massive elevation profiles, the high exposed ridges, the battering winds, the cold nights, and a few scary steep rock scrambles and traverses. But all in all, we had brilliant weather and an easy go, compared to most. I was able to walk the entire official CDT route (save for the RMNP loop due to the requirements for a bear canister and permit…I’ll catch it as a day hike sometime).
Being able to walk all the high routes and not have to take any of the low-route cutoffs or alternates is a feat in itself. Either remnant snowpack or bad weather derails a lot of people. Some decide to walk those routes just to avoid all the ups and downs but they miss out on all the fun, too. Walking all of Colorado is a bit of a right of passage on the CDT.
I also got to climb two 14ers on my birthday, 2 more later on, visited family throughout, and saw my homestate from an eagle’s vantage. Thank you for a wonderful time, Colorado, but it’s time to finally wrap things up in New Mexico.
Speaking of which, I won’t officially enter via the trail until tomorrow because the border is 3 miles further south from the highway. But I will hitch to Chama, which lies just across the border from this pass. There isn’t much traffic at the road and even though Relentless hasn’t yet arrived, I feel like trying to hitch. I’m cold and it’s threatening to rain.
I stick my thumb out at the first truck and he pulls over. I wasn’t expecting a ride so soon and I feel bad about ditching my hiking buddy. But here’s a ride to town, food, and warmth. I have to take it. I find out that Mark, the driver, just bought a house in Penrose, which is the next town over from Florence. He and my parents are almost neighbors.
He drops me off at a restaurant in town and I eat a couple of cheese enchiladas smothered in chili. Then I have a coffee at the fancy cafe. Relentless finally shows and we head to the outskirts of town where there’s a cheap hotel, the grocery, and visitors center with bikes for CDT hiker use. We take it easy the rest of the night, getting dinner and resupplies at the store. It’s good to be back in New Mexico.
And did I mention the miniature horse that’s tethered outside the hotel? Finally a miniature horse petting on the CDT (I had like 5 on the TA). I love all animals but seem to find myself in the company of miniature horses a lot. It’s a thing, I guess.