To Creede, or Not to Creede
If you read enough FarOut comments, sooner or later you’ll see one that falls into the “scaremongering” category. In reality, things are rarely as bad as the comment suggests, but a little imagination goes a long way. That’s been my experience, anyway.
So, when I saw FarOut’s “Dangerous Traverse” waypoint at SOBO mile 1,725.9, I wasn’t sure I should take it seriously. The “ABOUT” tab wasn’t much help.
This traverse can be dangerous. Consider a safer alternate path.
If this had been a user comment, I’d have ignored it. It was late August, and snow wasn’t a factor, so my reasoning was simple.
It’s a National Scenic Trail, and they wouldn’t routinely put hikers in danger. Would they?
I started to overthink it. The CDT is not without risk, as I’d discovered just the day before. I decided I’d pushed my luck far enough in the past 24 hours, so I heeded the warning.
Isle of Dogs
The detour isn’t detailed in FarOut, but it’s pretty obvious on the map, and it adds about 3.5 miles. I walked along the dirt road next to Peru Creek until it reached the paved road leading to Montezuma.
When I arrived in town, it was deserted except for three dogs wandering down Main Street. I turned left onto 3rd Street before they had a chance to notice me, but was immediately confronted by another animal. It looked like a Border Collie mixed with a larger, long-haired breed. I’d characterize its behavior as 75% aggression, 25% uncertainty. It definitely wasn’t happy with me, but it wasn’t sure if I was a real threat. My aggressive-dog reflex kicked in: point trekking pole; maintain eye contact; back away carefully.
This was working fine until I passed the next property, and a small, yappy dog ran out to voice its displeasure. Its bark was infinitely worse than its bite, and it stayed well back. However, its effect on dog number one was remarkable. Now that it had backup, number one dialed up its aggression to 100%. It rushed forward, encountered the tip of my trekking pole, darted left and tried again. Then it went right. And repeat. Its behavior was erratic, but no matter which direction it chose, the tip of my trekking pole was there to meet it. The barking and snarling did result in a disgusting amount of saliva hitting my bare arms and legs though.
As I continued backing away up 3rd Street, neither of them would disengage. With its little support animal yapping away from a safe distance, number one seemed determined to bite. Then I remembered my bear spray.
Planning ahead for Cuba, NM, I’d continued carrying bear spray after the Wind River Range. I reached back with my left hand, put my index finger through the handle, and pulled the canister from its holster. Click. Safety off.
In the end, using the bear spray wasn’t necessary. The terrible twosome continued their pursuit until the road turned right and started steeply uphill, then they gradually gave up the chase. Number one’s owner will never know how close they were to an expensive veterinary bill. And I was left wondering if I’d done the right thing.
By the time I rejoined the CDT, I’d concluded that not using my bear spray was a mistake. Most likely, I’d reinforced the dog’s behavior and put future hikers at risk.
Oh, and the “Dangerous Traverse” was snow-free, with several steep-but-easier-looking options nearby.
As expected, I spent most of the day on an exposed ridgeline. I could see for miles in every direction, and although the weather was good, the surface was rough and slow-going. There wasn’t much actual trail between Santa Fe Peak and Webster Pass, and it took a toll on my battle-damaged feet. The blister on my left foot (caused by the traverse to James Peak) was still sore, and my unplanned descent from Mount Edwards had ended with boots full of grit. The abrasive dirt had scoured the skin under both arches, and my right foot was particularly raw.
Mid-afternoon, I stopped for water at a snowbank. While I was filtering, I spotted a shortcut on the map that would take me directly to the valley floor. It would mean skipping more than five miles of ridgeline, but I’d also limit further damage to my feet. I chose the shortcut.
Next morning, I removed my sleep socks, and in response, the blister on my left foot discharged an impressive amount of pus. I squeezed it, cleaned it, and covered it. Then I patched up the arch on my right foot, and decided to take another shortcut.
Instead of following the CDT, I hobbled along the dirt road that parallels the Swan River. After more than 1,500 miles, I wasn’t expecting problems with my feet, and I wondered if I might need to take a zero. When I reached Highway 9, I caught a (free) bus into Breckenridge.
My feet felt much better the next day, and I opted for a lower-mileage day instead of a zero. From the Bivvy Hostel, I took two free buses back to the trailhead, and was on trail by eleven o’clock. Within a few hours, I met my first Colorado Trail (CT) hikers, and discovered that we’d all be sharing the trail for the next two weeks.
Three days later, I noticed a few things had changed.
- More people. Most of them CT hikers – a friendly, interesting bunch.
- Smoother trail. Perhaps due to higher foot traffic and additional maintenance.
- My feet were much improved.
It was the day before Labor Day, and the CDT near Mount Elbert was busy. I encountered more day hikers about five miles later, near Twin Lakes. Instead of taking the loop around the east side of the lakes, I took a direct route to the village and arrived shortly after noon. The place was crowded with drivers, motorcyclists, hikers, and bikers. I ate lunch at Punky’s food truck, visited the general store for a mini resupply, and departed west along the highway. My shortcut required crossing Lake Creek, which was only knee deep, and I was soon back on the CDT.
I found a great campsite halfway up the next climb, and crested Hope Pass early the next morning. It was extremely windy at the top, and extremely windy for most of the next four days. Down among the trees, there was simply a stiff breeze. At higher elevations, I lost more moisture from my runny nose and watery eyes than I did from sweating. And because I was now in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, I spent a lot of time above treeline.
My resupply in Buena Vista was a welcome respite, but the wind was still howling across the ridgelines when I returned. Fortunately, the sun was warm, the climbs were big, and I was rarely cold. And of course, the scenery made everything worthwhile.
On the south side of Marshall Pass, the trail quality nosedived where the CT is open to dirt bikes. I watched one bounce and wheelspin its way up the west side of Windy Peak, producing a rooster-tail of rocks as it went. There was another torn-up section the next day, then the CT returned to its usual high standard at the point where dirt bikes are prohibited.
About five miles north of where the Great Divide Alternate leaves the CDT, I camped in a low spot, and woke to a temperature barely above freezing. Just ten days into September, it was the coldest morning so far, and a reminder that weather in the San Juan Mountains is unpredictable. I’d been on trail less than half an hour when I caught up with a young couple who were thru-hiking the CT. They were in the middle of a discussion and explained their dilemma to me.
They’d checked the weather forecast, and the San Juans were about to get hit by five days of bad weather. There would be significant rain, temperatures about 15 degrees below normal, and snow at higher elevations. It certainly sounded like the next few days would be rough, and their news was concerning.
The couple were on a tight schedule, less than five days from finishing, and simply couldn’t wait that long in the nearest town. One of them wanted to continue, the other wanted to quit. I tried to reassure them that things probably wouldn’t be as bad as they imagined, but it sounded better in my head than it did out loud.
“It might get pretty miserable, but chances are you’ll be fine.”
After that, all I could do was wish them luck, continue the climb, and try to come up with my own contingency plan.
At first, I considered taking the Creede cutoff, but soon scrapped the idea. If the weather system was as large as predicted, the direction I went wouldn’t make a big difference. I decided to continue as planned to Lake City, which was two days away and about the same distance as Creede.
The first rain arrived late afternoon, just as I reached a suitable place to camp, but I managed to put up my tent between showers. It rained, on and off, for the rest of the evening and most of the night.
I never saw the CT couple again. They probably returned to Highway 114 and hitched back to civilization. Five days later, I would wish I’d done the same.
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