CDT Days 35-38: Pagosa Springs to Creede Cutoff
We rolled out of town at 9am, catching a truck back up to Wolf Creek Pass without sticking a thumb out.
Loaded down with 5 days of food, we began the climb up above treeline again. It was 13 miles to the Creede Cutoff, a low route alternate to the official CDT route, known by hikers as the redline, marked in red on the far-out app. Purists proudly boast the redliner name, but any route within 50 miles of it is considered fair game on the journey between Mexico and Canada.
The trail was littered with thigh scratching, pants ripping blowdowns, beetle-killed spruces, turning hiking into an acrobatic event. As we climbed, the trees grew fewer, the snow more frequent, and the air thinner. It was slow going.
When we reached the trail junction, Grand Parambulator, Bonanza Jellybean, Gunga Din, and myself decided we had had our fun in the snow and would drop down on the cutoff. Mummy and Numbers would continue on the redline another 100 miles above treeline to Lake City.
We followed the alternate down through a dead forest, scrambling over the brambles of fallen trees and branches, reaching a river with an open meadow on the other side. It looked like a nice place to camp, the only spot we had seen in miles without widowmakers looming over it. Endeavoring to avoid the misery of cold, wet feet before bedtime, we found a burnt log across the stream upriver and scooted across it, covering ourselves with soot in the process.
We picked wild onions from the marshy meadow and felt rather gourmet adding them to our instant mashed potatoes and ramen.
It was a beautiful day of cruisey hiking, mostly downhill following increasingly large creeks, until we crossed the Rio Grande into the outskirts of Creede. After several miles on the road, we located the town baseball diamond, where we were fixing to stay the night, eager for affordable accommodations after spending memorial day weekend in Pagosa.
Not 100 paces into our final push to the local brew house, a car pulled over next to us. A grey-haired woman rolled down the window, “Do you want somewhere to stay tonight? I have a place. You can sleep on my porch and I’ve got food”
Bonanza and I hopped in with the woman, who introduced herself as Janet and promised to come back for the guys. “I don’t normally do this”, she said. “I don’t know what has gotten into me but I saw you walking and thought ‘I bet they could use a shower and a mom'”.
At the house, she showed us the two showers and ten beds. “I’m not rich,” she said, “I just drove crappy cars all my life. Take any bed you like, and here, put these beers in the freezer to get cold. I will be back in a minute, make yourselves at home.”
While we all showered up and got our clothes in the washer, Janet, who is 77 and says she is still young, made us bangers and mash for dinner.
After making us breakfast, Janet dropped us off at the grocery store in downtown Creede and set us loose. After resupplying, the cashier, who was a former thru hiker, loitered outside with us for a long while, swapping stories until the manager kindly asked her to resume her post in the small town market. We spent the midmorning eating $13 bread from the farmers market and ice cream sandwiches in the public park until we finally worked up the energy to mosey on, but not before taking goofy pictures in the middle of the road and briefly sightseeing the town’s underground fire department and mining museum.
It was a long and grueling uphill roadwalk out of town past many abandoned mines. At one point a car pulled over and a woman with perfectly done-up hair leaned out the window, “It’s pretty steep.”
“Oh, dang. I’m turning around then.” I said, pretending to head back towards town, only half kidding. She laughed and they drove away.
Thanks a lot, lady. We all grumbled a bit and continued on. Sometimes it feels like the whole trail is uphill, and I really hate walking uphill. When I finished hiking the Appalachian Trail, I was proud of my accomplishment, but mostly I was just happy that I didn’t have to walk uphill anymore. The next day, though, I was already planning my CDT thru-hike. It’s amazing how quickly I forget the pain and begin to miss trail life.
After 10 miles, the gravel road turned into an even smaller, steeper gravel road when an ATV came down the hill towards us and stopped. A man got out and opened up the cooler in the back. “You guys want a beer?” Ah, the simple pleasures that make it all worth it.
About five minutes after hitting the single track again we spotted two bull moose on the other side of a creek. Another trail blessing. As we say out here, the trail giveth and the trail taketh away.
Well, the trail was about to taketh away once again. Surprise, more climbing, now even steeper for another four miles, up to a saddle at 12,600 feet, 4,000 feet higher than where we had set off that afternoon.
I was riding the struggle bus all the way to the top and was elated when the last few miles of the day were downhill, despite the ruthless wind and thick flakes of snow falling.
While some days seem to be entirely uphill, and some consist entirely of PUDs (pointless up and downs), this day was one of the glorious few that was mostly downhill or flattish, and any uphills were at a grade that was barely noticeable.
We followed the majestical Cochetopa Creek for the majority of the day. I listened to episodes 28 and 29 of the Our Numinous Nature podcast, my new obsession to pass the hours. The first was about the Hudson River School of painters. I pretended I was an artist exploring the West, creating renderings of the divine in nature. The second was about life before European contact for the native peoples in the Chesapeake Bay and I imagined how people might have lived in this river valley hundreds of years ago. It was a beautiful melding of the auditory and visual, of history and the current day. A good podcast or audiobook is priceless on the trail.
At lunch, I sat by the river and drank the beer I got from the ATVer the day before. The afternoon was spent mostly on dirt roads passing through massive meadows with high mountains all around.
We passed the 1000-mile mark of the official CDT. Having skipped the fire closure in New Mexico and taking shorter alternates, I’m not exactly sure how many miles I’ve hiked, but I estimate it’s closer to 700. There was a time in my life when that would have seemed like an impossibly large number, but it has become so normalized that I don’t give it much thought anymore. It is incredible how time is simultaneously slow and fast out here. On one hand, it is difficult to believe that we are nearly a third of the way done with the trail. On the other, because there are so many new experiences every single day, it feels as if I have spent a lifetime out here, and with 2,000 miles to go, nearly the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, that I will be on the CDT for eternity.
In the last hour of hiking, we were still on a forest road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere when a 4runner passed us and pulled over.
The driver was a former hiker and treated us to some backcountry trail magic. Beer #2 of the day and snacks. It was a great day all around. The kind of day that makes the soreness, fatigue, sickness, heat, cold, bugs, hunger, and every other discomfort worth it.
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