Pie on the Continental Divide Trail – Getting real in Colorado
Day 86 I awoke super rested and ready to go.
We had a nice day of rolling terrain that made for a smooth day. We dealt with grey patchy skies all day that gave us a little light rain and a good amount of small hail. We reached the general store at twin lake by about 3pm and grabbed our packages and some snacks. We sat out front in a dilemma, at this point it was just myself and Cheesebeard. A few people were in front of us and others behind or off trail for a couple of days. Both of us were having a bad moment and only red wine and cheap beer were helping. We forced ourselves back out on trail even though neither of us wanted it. We found a spot to camp after a river crossing and a little climbing. We exchanged red wine and dinner before bed. Falling asleep knowing that each other felt over this trail but confident that we would finish this fucking thing.
Day 87 started out moist and cold.
It had rained in the night and I’d not woken up from the noise until my shoes were already pretty wet. We immediately began a 2600 foot climb from camp up to a pass. The climb was tiring and there was a light dusting of snow on the ground. We reached the top after an hour and a half of climbing and were blasted by powerful cold wind. It was all we could do to stand at the pass without being blown over and we quickly started making our way down the other side. The climb had made us sweaty and our clothes were damp, the icy wind bit right through us. We were glad to get to lower elevations and put on some layers out of the wind. Doug caught up with us and we pushed on, aware of the storm clouds on the horizon. We got to the bottom of the next pass and the heavens opened. We donned rain gear and continued, listening out for thunder that never really came. We got half way up the climb and the rain turned to snow and hail. Before long we were in the clouds and battling more cold wind and snow. We reached the pass exhausted but still had to descend the other side in snow and wind lashing our faces. By this point I felt cold and quite scared. We decided to get down low, find water and setup our tents and get warm. We setup our already soaked tents from the night before and crawled into our sleeping bags. Probably the hardest and most emotionally draining day of the CDT thus far.
Day 88. The evening between day 87 and day 88 was a tough one.
I managed to warm up enough to sleep only to be awoken loudly by a moose stomping through camp and grunting aggressively. This happened a couple of times in the night and mr or mrs moose would only leave when we shouted at it and shone headlamps in its direction. We estimate it got down to about 15f and so all the wet clothing and the tent was frozen solid. So all in all not the best way to wake up. Luckily the day was filled with clear skies and sunshine, giving us a much needed opportunity to defrost and dry gear during an early lunch break. We had two passes to conquer for the day which were both decent climbs but despite some nagging back pain I felt good. We hiked the second pass by headlamp and settled into camp by about 8:30. We went to bed hoping for good weather and no moose.
Day 89 we got lucky again with the weather and had just 17 miles to go to town. The sun shone brightly despite cold temperatures and frozen water bottles in the morning. We met with the film crew unexpectedly in the morning and filmed some shots of us going up towards our final pass of the day. We got down into Salida after just a few minutes of hitching at the road. I was excited to be in Salida as it was the one town on the CDT that I’d visited before. It was just as cool as I remembered, small restaurants and art galleries everywhere. We found some great Mexican food and relaxed in our hotel room for the rest of the day.
Day 90 and 91 we took a double zero.
The first one was planned but the second less so. We got all packed up and checked out of our motel only to decide as a group to go back to the same motel and wait out the rain. The group was split on what we were to do next. Myself, Cheesebeard and Doug decided to take the Creede Alternate as there was already a good amount of snow falling in the area. Oilcan, Trevor and Rusty decided to go ahead and tackle the San Juans. The zeros were a great chance to rest up and handle chores, plus Salida itself was a great little town to explore.
Day 92 we got back on trail.
We ate food and got a out of town at a semi reasonable hour. We hitched up to Monarch Pass and as we got higher and higher we saw the snow. About 4 or 5 inches had fallen and settled but we were completely unaware down in town. We geared up for the snow and fortunately the weather stayed good for us all day. The sun was bright and reflecting back up off the sun so that I was glad I had my sunglasses. The snow was slushy enough to soak our socks immediately and never gave them a chance to dry, making for painfully cold feet. I wish I’d bought neoprene socks in town. We did about 18 for the day and for the first time in a while all of the hikers camped together. It was fun to hang out and eat dinner before crawling into our bags, hoping for good weather the next day.
Day 93 started super foggy and humid with some rain falling during the night.
The sun kept on trying to come out throughout the day but only managing it for brief periods. We were however treated to rain, hail and snow all in one day, a trifecta of precipitation. The terrain leant itself to good miles so we stopped infrequently (mainly due to the rain and cold) and made a 30 mile day of it. We were treated to one or two good views but were mainly in the trees, thick fog obscuring more views. Despite the conditions I felt strong and enjoyed listening to podcasts and audio books for most of the day. A tasty dinner of rice and beans with cheese and Fritos warmed me before I climbed into my wet ass tent.
Everything was frozen on the morning of day 94.
Fortunately I was warm enough to sleep really well but it was oh so hard to get up and out of a wet, frozen tent. We all got super excited because the first couple of hours out of camp were sunny with blue sky’s. We thought we’d have an opportunity to dry out our gear, we thought wrong. By mid morning it was overcast and the heavens opened. It got cold and with the rain hitting me in the face I wondered why I was doing this. We had planned to do another 30 mile day but after 25 miles we were done. We arrived at a parking lot with a large toilet, we had found our shelter for the evening. With the rain still falling we decided to sleep in the toilet and avoid setting up our tents in the rain. To our defense it was the cleanest of toilets I’d ever seen on trail and was much warmer inside than out. It was one of the cosiest nights on trail we had.
Waking up inside a toilet building on the morning of day 95 is not an experience I’ll forget anytime soon.
The alarm woke us at 5am, we were trying to get an early start to get to town as early as possible. We started to hike in the dark and slowly the sun rose. We climbed up to over 12000 feet and started getting into deep snow. Over the pass we were in a winter wonderland, on the 1st of October…! After post holeing in shin deep snow we eventually got to lower elevations and the Creede cutoff. We made our way down the 10 mile trail/road into Creede, surprised by the abandoned mining infrastructure and jagged red cliffs. Creede was completely abandoned when we arrived as it was late on a Sunday afternoon. We managed to find some food before heading to a nearby RV park for hot showers and a good nights sleep.
We headed back into downtown Creede on the morning of day 96.
A quick stop off at the outfitter and then the grocery store saw us all prepared for the miles ahead. Then we bumped into the the rest of our hiking crew. Everyone had decided to do the Creede cut-off due to the snowy and dangerous conditions in the San Juans. We decided to grab a quick beer and then head out. One beer lead to two, then four and then we decided to zero. We spent the majority of the day and night In the bar and all crashed a hotel room nearby. Although we didn’t do our miles for the day we had a great time. That’s what we’re all out here for after all.
With a slightly sore head I awoke from a restless nights sleep on the morning of day 97.
After a gas station burrito and a little reorganization of my pack I headed out on my own. I wanted to get a little alone time out on the trail and knew the guys wouldn’t be far behind. It was some of the nicest weather we’d had for a long time and I hiked slowly and stopped often to enjoy the suns rays. We got up high and into a dusting of snow. After a very chilled 16 we setup camp near an old cabin on a stream. It seams it was setup to pan for gold and had some strange filtering contraptions. Pretty cool. After some chatting at dinner we all went to bed early under a bright full moon.
We had a dry night and awoke at 6 on day 98.
We were low enough to not be in snow for the first half of the day but it was slow going. Me and Cheesebeard heard lots of elk calls and spotted a group of nine up on a hillside looking down at us. We were being rained on and hailed on now and started climbing upwards towards the CDT. A steep final climb and we were back up on the Divide, wind and storm clouds around us. Eventually we were post holeing through shin deep snow and had wet, cold feet. Then the thunder and lightning started. We were now high up on the ridge and super exposed, lightning struck really nearby and thunder boomed. We ran up and over the peak, not knowing what else to do. We got down the other side quickly and in one peace, scared but ok. We decided to do just eighteen that day and do five the following morning into Pagosa. It was nice to stop early and get into dry clothes, knowing we would be in town the following morning for bacon.
Day 99 I got my bacon.
We woke fairly early and despite the wet, muddy conditions we got into town around 10:30. I got a huge plate of eggs, bacon and biscuits. Very happy. We wandered through Pagosa before booking a room and settling in for the rest of the day. Ben and Jerrys and a bed were my best buds for the best part of the day. Chill hard.
Day 100 we awoke to the majesty and glory that is a cheap motel breakfast.
We maximized our time in the room before checkout, watching daytime tv and laying in bed. We packed our gear and headed to KFC for some crispy chicken. After a satisfying lunch we grabbed the local bus to the other side of town, nearer to trail. We stood on the side of the road for an hour before getting a ride and decided to just camp at the trailhead as it was getting late. We had a great spot and made a fire whilst passing around some whiskey.
On the morning of day 101 we all slept in and didn’t leave camp until 9am.
The sky was bright blue all day and I felt good. Mid morning I came around the corner and five large crows flapped up past me. I looked where they’d just been and saw movement, a large black bear was looking at me. For a second it was running right at me before veering off in a different direction. It scared the hell out of me, my adrenaline roaring immediately. The bear and crows were feeding on a huge dead elk with prominent antlers. The rest of the guys caught up and I explained what happened, calming down eventually. The rest of the day went by smoothly. We did only 17 miles as otherwise we would be camping at almost 13,000 feet. Going to bed early to hopefully rise a little earlier the next day.
We woke earlier the morning of day 102, it was cold but not too bad once we got into the bright sunshine.
It was an easy day of hiking with blue sky’s again, urging us to do a bigger mileage day. Mid morning again, me and cheesey came face to face with a black bear. He was walking casually towards us until we noticed each other and he ran off after we said hi to him. He was a chubby little guy who looked healthy and happy. We stopped by the nearly abandoned town of Platoro, a tasty cheeseburger and some friendly owners greeted us in the cafe. After filling out faces we continued along our way, the miles coming along nicely until we’d done 28 for the day. We decided to setup, feeling good knowing we only had to do 22 the following day to Cumbres Pass and the hitch to Chama, our last town before crossing into New Mexico.
We went to sleep feeling pretty warm but the morning of day 103 was super cold.
We packed up in the cold and got on the road. At some point we thought we’d caught up with rusty and the others but it ended up being three other south bounders. We’d not met them previously so it was good to meet some other crazy people walking from Canada to Mexico. As we hiked a long stretch of highway the snow started to fall. We braced ourselves against cold winds and climbed the highway up to Cumbres Pass. We stuck out a thumb and got a ride down to Chama. The snow was still falling so it was nice to sleep indoors after a hot shower and some town food.
Day 104 we enjoyed our time in the hotel before checkout, grabbing a hot breakfast at the Chama Grill.
We hitched back up to the trailhead at Cumbres Pass around mid day. We were all pretty excited as just 2.5 miles from the pass was the New Mexican border. The film crew were already setup to capture us leaving Colorado and entering the final state on the trail. It felt like such a landmark and everyone was in good spirits. The trail in New Mexico is famous for being badly marked and hard to follow and within 10 minutes I’d taken a wrong turn. I was forced to bushwhack uphill and eventually got back to trail. We did just 10 miles and found a stand of trees to camp in. It got super cold and everything froze during the night.
The cold and a lack of sleep in town meant we all woke up later than we’d like on day 105.
We’d planned to do 30 miles and so got on the move. The terrain was noticeably easier in New Mexico but we still got lost at least five times throughout the day. We were graced with beautiful weather again although it didn’t get super warm until mid day. The water situation also deteriorated quite quickly. We had plenty of water but a lot of the sources were green and cloudy and some of them were just down right gross. A sign of things to come. We hiked on until after dark, our trekking poles clanging on rocks the only sound around. Just shy of 30 Miles we stopped for the day, weary but happier it was a warmer night.
We awoke earlier on the morning of day 106, the warmer temperatures easing us out of our sleeping bags.
We had another 30 mile day ahead of us and I felt game for it, happy to build some momentum. I was so eager to do miles I went the wrong way, again. The official CDT had been re rerouted but before I realized what had happened I had taken the old route. Guthooks app hadnt been updated so I had no chance to take the longer harder route even though the rest of the crew were on the new route. I spent the majority of the afternoon by myself, working hard to do big miles and try to rendezvous with the crew. To my luck and surprise I caught them just as the sun was setting. It was a total mileage of give or take 30 Miles and I felt ready to crush the last 700 Miles of the trail. I finished off the day shooting some night photography after dinner. The stars were shining bright and it felt like New Mexico.
Day 107, Friday the 13th of October, possibly my favorite day on trail.
Starting out the day was more or less like the previous few weeks on trail in terms of the flora and scenery. Then it transitioned, abruptly. All of a sudden we were in desert. Red sand, red rocks, slot canyons and cactus. As we made our way down to Ghost Ranch all of us were shocked at how beautiful the area was, something we weren’t expecting. It was weird to have to contend with sunburn and cactus spines rather than snow and wet feet. We came down to Ghost Ranch and collected packages, sorting through our food to get us to the two more days to Cuba. We then headed to a nearby national forest camp site and enjoyed a campfire under the stars.
We slept in on the morning of day 108, shocked by how warm it was down in the desert.
We slowly organized our gear before heading back to Ghost Ranch for coffee and WiFi. With the lure of an all you can eat buffet we stayed for the excellent lunch. We explored the archaeology and paleontology exhibit and highly recommend stopping in if you’re nearby. We left the ranch in the mid afternoon and walked the flat desert southwards, chatting and in high spirits. We followed the huge Chama river for a long while before finding a cow trough with good looking water flowing in from a spring. Our spot for the night.
Day 109 started out at 22f/- 6c.
Cold, way colder than the previous night. A lot of the guys had gotten rid of their winter layers and sleeping bag liners, only to be cold in the night. I had slept fine but the morning cold made it really hard to get out of the sleeping bag, meaning we didn’t start hiking until 8am. The start of the day was quite beautiful as we passed through valleys of colorful red rock cliffs. We started to climb and did so for the majority of the day, over 5000 feet throughout our 25 mile day. We climbed back up to 10,000 feet plus and so the desert cactuses turned into pine trees. By midday it was up to 80f/26c, crazy the swing in temperatures the desert can have. We moved casually throughout the day, me enjoying audiobooks and music. The end of our day was a gradual but never ending 2600 foot climb to our campsite for the evening. It was cold at the top and the sun had set by the time our tents were up, my hands freezing until after dinner. Sleep came easily as I thought of the chores I had to do in Cuba the following day. (I dreamt of Mexican food)
It was great to have done the big climb the previous day, it meant that day 110 was flat and downhill all the way to town.
We started early, eager for town and good food. We got into Cuba around 1pm and headed straight to the Vince’s place, Rebel’s Roost. A new spot on the CDT, Vince let’s hikers stay on a donation basis. It’s a super cool setup with a couple of rooms inside the house and plenty of camping, hot showers and laundry. After settling in we headed to town and enjoyed great Mexican food before we ressuplied at the grocery store. It was a small town but the ressuply was ok, I was happy to find the ingredients for my favorite trail meal, dehydrated beans and rice with cheese and fritos. We chilled the rest of the day, doing laundry whilst sipping beer and chatting.
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