Waking up in a bed is such a good and strange feeling when thru hiking. The three of us ( Snakebite, Tigerlily, and I ) woke up at 7:30ish and begun packing up our things. Tigerlily had arranged a ride with a local the evening before at 9am so we had no rush to get up and try to hitch out of town. Our ride arrived at about 9:20 and drove us to the pass. The gentlemen’s name was Elliot and had just moved to Chama recently from Hawaii and was very curious about the thru hiker community and how to become more involved. We all chatted with him for about hiking and the community and next thing we knew we had arrived at Cumbres Pass again. It was a slow and steady day of climbing up to over 12k feet. It felt nice to be back in the mountains and at elevation. Our packs were very heavy with full resupplies of food which made the hiking abit tougher. It’s about 70 miles from Cumbres to Wolf Creek Pass which will take us to Pagosa Springs. We could do this over the course of three days but have decided to stretch it out over for days instead. We’ve already booked a room for the three of us in Pagosa Springs for Sunday night. Today we did a measly 15.6 miles at a very relaxed pace. It’s nice to take your time once in awhile rather then rushing along all the time. We had a couple relaxed breaks during the day and hid under a tree for awhile during a heavy thunderstorm. Don’t worry we’re still getting rain now that we’re in Colorado, life can’t be too perfect. We all settled into a nice camp site near Dipping Lakes and had dinner and chatted while sipping on shooters of rum, cinnamon whiskey, and bourbon that Snakebite had been sent in a great resupply box from a friend of hers. Her friend sent her a great package of food items and some luxury items like the shooters and some face, skin, and hair products as well. I need to get on board with this and start asking if any of my friends or family want to send me something like this in the future. The real excitement of the day for me came when we were all getting ready to turn in for the night. I walked off to brush my teeth and go pee alittle way from camp when I saw something moving through the timber. At first I thought it was a mule deer coming out to feed, however at second glance I realized I was very wrong. I took a second look and discovered that the mule deer was actually a large cat. Mountain Lion!!! It was roughly a hundred yards away and moving through the edge of the dead timber near some small live spruce trees. It was unmistakable at second look because of the long tail trailing it. I had never seen a Mountain Lion before and have always wanted to see one. This was a huge rush of adrenaline and fear at the same time. I think I would rather it be Grizzly Bear. I immediately got back to camp at a swift pace and told the others. We’ve all grabbed some rocks and large branches incase it decides to come for a closer look tonight. Sometimes they can be quite curious and harass hikers from outside of their tents at night. I’m praying I don’t see the cat again tonight or tomorrow. I’m alittle surprised at how excited and freaked out I am about the sighting. Hopefully the Advil PM kicks in quickly and helps me sleep. New addition to this evenings notes, Elk. As I was looking at maps for the days ahead in the tent I heard very loud footsteps and crashing through the timber. I quickly opened up the tent to see what the noise was, half expecting to see a cat staring at me in the fading light. To my delight it was instead three bull elk that had come from the forest and into a clearing near my tent. They were beautiful and still in velvet, I love seeing elk. We watched from the open tents for a moment or two before returning to the safety of our portable homes. Today was a very very good day.
Crash, crack, flash!!! These are the sounds that awoke us at around 1am. The clear skies that we had gone to bed with evidently didn’t last and were replaced by a huge thunderstorm. After spending alittle time listening to the chaos outside the tent I went back to sleep. The hike out of camp was abit painful in the morning, the rains had left the meadows near camp waterlogged. Thank god I put dry socks on to hike in today. We climbed quickly above treeline and spent most of the day above it as well. I was feeling terrible today, upset stomach and really no energy at all. I was thankful we were taking it slow this section. The daily routine of drying all our gear remained intact after the rain last night. We took occasional breaks and hiked at a moderate pace all day. During a late afternoon break by the beautiful Blue Lake we were accompanied by two young bull moose. They were beautiful moose who couldn’t care less that were near by. We must have watched them for nearly a half hour as they nibbled on grass and wildflowers. This was such a wonderful experience, it made me feel like I was back in Denali. The rest of the days hiking was beautiful as we climbed high into the subalpine area and drank water from crystal clear run off streams. The San Juans are truly a special place and have reignited the hiking fire inside of me. I’m very thankful for this time in such an amazing place.
It was another relatively leisurely morning, we didn’t depart camp until after 8am. Today we would be climbing to well over 12k and staying up high most of the day. Thankfully the weather was looking good, we were greeted with bright blue skies and light winds this morning. We started climbing right away out of camp. I was feeling alittle better this morning then the day prior, it may just be the elevation bothering me or a lack of food. My energy level seemed to get better as the day went on. The day was spent above treeline with sweeping views of the south San Juans. Animal sightings progressed from normal to more and more interesting as the day went on. The usual suspects at first, pikas, marmots. Then a nice group of mule deer bucks, which strangely were at an elevation of about 12,600 feet. I watched a falcon hunting for a bit as well. Then I spied a group of about 40 or so elk below us making there way up a slow paralleling us. Then a coyote hunting nice or voles in front of us made an unsuccessful pounce into the grass. It was another absolutely beautiful day, the kind of day that makes you so grateful to be out here on the trail. Most of the day while hiking I was listening to an audio book called ” The Quiet World” about the history of Alaskan wildernesses and how they were fought for and the people who fought for them. People like Theodore Roosevelt, Adolph Murie, Bob Marshall, and John Muir all fought hard for the beautiful country of Alaska. No I’m not in Alaska now but others fought for beautiful places like the South San Juan Wilderness that I’ve been traveling through and I’m grateful for that.
It was a cold morning, it must have gotten down near freezing last night. I awoke in the middle of the night for some reason and was lucky enough to hear an owl hooting. It was the first owl I have heard on my hiking trips this year. I love the sound of an owl at night. It’s like hearing the sound of loons calling or a wolf howling, true nature. The miles came very easy this morning, I was following snakebite who was moving at a very quick pace. We had made the decision to head to town today rather then take our time and stay out another night. This would mean we would have a zero day in town since my package was waiting at the post office and we would be arriving on a Saturday afternoon. The weather called for storms today and they would soon show themselves. We were hiking high again today, near 12k. The storms started as snow, in August if you can believe that. The snow quickly changed over to heavy hail, pea sized in diameter. Enough hail fell to cover the trail and the ground. Once it stopped falling we retreated from the shelter of the tarp we were hiding under. The slushy mess froze our feet and legs. I haven’t been this cold since northern Montana. I was now very thankful for the motel room I would be in tonight. Warm shower, a bed (which was not comfortable at all). We will now rest up and prepare for our final leg of this years CDT hike. It’s bittersweet not finishing a trail completely, leaves a bad taste in my mouth and is already pushing me mentally to finish this trail soon. From Pagosa Springs we will get back on the trail at Wolf Creek Pass and hike north to Silverton through some of the highest and most exposed areas of the San Juans. From Silverton I’ll head back to Denver and take a couple week trip to the greater Yellowstone area to see some areas I’ve never seen and do alittle more hiking while I’m in trail shape. I look forward to this last trip into the backcountry this year to be around wolves and grizzly bears. It should be a nice farewell to nature before heading back to work and the real world.