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Split & Two Step
Begins: Aug 9, 2019
Date: Fri, Aug 9th, 2019
Start: Wolf Creek Pass, CDT mile 961.8
End: Just north of Creede Cutoff, CDT mile 976.9
Daily Distance: 15.1
Trip Distance: 15.1
Hours Hiked: 7.4
Daily Ascent: 3250
Daily Descent: 2385
Max Elevation: 7200
Entry Visits: 128
Journal Visits: 1,763
Guestbook Views: 24
Guestbook Entrys: 1
Entering New Territory
Entering New Territory
We woke to a 6:00am alarm in our cozy cabin, and began final preparations for our hike. I put on my hiking clothes, which had been laid out the night before. Two Step went over her final list of items to put in her pack, and then we sat down to a microwaved breakfast burrito that we purchased last night.
It was a typical leaving town morning.
We finished packing the car and the backpacks a few minutes before Debbie arrived to give us a ride back to Wolf Creek Pass. The hour drive gave us time to answer some burning questions about Creede. First, about 500 people remain in Creede throughout the winter, although many of the hotels, restaurants and other tourist businesses close down. The main road through town is regularly plowed and remains open throughout the winter. There is a local K-12 school that graduates a few students every year. Finally, local politics is tricky in this small town, just as it is in most places. As tourists, we certainly have found it to be an enjoyable and scenic place to visit.
We emerged from the truck at the crest of Wolf Creek Pass, and found the morning sun and cool temperature to be nearly ideal for a big uphill start to our reentry of the CDT. Starting at 10,853 feet, the initial climb up a perhaps 8% grade did not seem too difficult, but after fifteen minutes of climbing, the effect of the almost 2-mile high altitude became at first noticeable, and then a significant drag. We muttered our mantra to our bone marrow stem cells to make more red corpuscles, and toiled upwards at a more moderate pace.
We were excited to be greeted by a plentiful constant covering of wild flowers with blue mountain bluebells, yellow daisies, and bright red and orange Indian paintbrush decorating our path. Giant fields of budding cornflowers were only now coming into their glory. The largest winter snowfall in fifteen years in Colorado had left the undercover green, lush, and verdant.
The snow had also filled all the streams and ponds. Our navigation app lists water sources along the CDT, and previous hikers had left notes indicating that this late in the year one could expect mostly dry or poorly flowing sources, but this year everything seemed to be running strongly. Unfortunately, this included the trails, where water often flowed down the trail for a hundred feet before diverting off the side, and we slowly rock hopped and stepped nimbly in order to minimize wet feet.
One unfortunate feature is the devastation the pine bark beetle has inflicted on the vast pine forests. In 2015 on the Colorado Trail we commented on large but occasional tracks of dying fir trees. In 2017 when we last hiked this trail, the dead trees were visible nearly everywhere. Now, the devastation extends as far as the eye can see. Every pine tree over about twelve feet tall is either dead or dying. Only as one approaches tree line is it possible to forget this blight.
We saw only one other group on the trail today. We followed tracks for a short time and caught up with a father out with his young son who looked to be around eight years old. We discovered they were planning a weekend stay at a nearby lake, and anticipated some good catch and release fishing.
Once we reached 11,500 feet, we proceeded to first climb and then descend a few hundred feet at a time. At the three-hour mark we stopped for a snack, but the mosquitos were so plentiful, that our stop was only five minutes in duration. An hour later and 9.4 miles into our day, we came to the last sure water source of the day, and stopped to filter water. We were about to climb over 1000 feet to the high point of the day of 12,500 feet, so we discussed taking a lunch break. But clouds gathering about the peak, and a sudden rumble of thunder quickly changed our mind. We started immediately uphill in hopes of beating the storm over the top. As we climbed we circled a large body of water named Archuleta Lake. I clearly remembered this climb from 2017, and hoped to find pictures from that earlier date to compare with todays.
We reached the top of the pass and clearly saw rain and lightning in the distance. So far above tree line, we were the tallest objects in sight, and taking a lunch break was untenable. We plunged downhill but soon were walking on long exposed ridges with snow below us (although not on the trail!) and an increasingly chill wind. We breathed a sigh of relief when we reached a small forest of pygmy trees, stunted by the harsh climate on these exposed ridges, and since it was well past 2:15pm, we ate our lunch as we walked.
The sky continued to cloud up, and the distant rain slowly moved overhead. We donned our rain jackets and rain skirts as the first few drops turned into a light drizzle. As we walked, the drizzle became a steady rain.
The moment we had been waiting for came as expected, just beyond the 14 mile marker. We passed the junction to the Creede Cutoff CDT alternate trail that we had taken in 2017 to avoid the high snow level in the San Juan range. But the rain was increasing, and we were anxious to find a location out of the wind and off the ridge to shelter for the night. We plunged downhill about 400 feet for 0.9 miles and found a small basin with far from ideal sites for renting. But the next likely spot was an hour or two away, so we found the best spot available and pitched our tent in the steady downpour.
We spent the next hour mopping out our tent with our bandanas, donning warmer clothes and hoping for a break in the weather. By 5:00pm the rain stopped, and we emerged to dry off our rain clothes as well as possible, given only the briefest appearance of the sun, and finally cook dinner, put on dry, warm, sleep clothes, and turn in early. As I write, a light rain has resumed, but we are snug in our new tent for the night.
From the CDT,
Split and Two Step
Split And Two Step's 2019 CDT Journey
The Continental Divide Trail is a national scenic trail that runs from Mexico to Canada via New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. This unfinished trail can potentially span up to 3,100 miles. Learn more: www.continentaldividetrail.org
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