Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Colorado Trail

This post outlines the backpacking trip Kristi and I took along the Colorado Trail just out side of Durango, Co. All the photos taken here were from my Canon S80. We got up not extrordinarily early, and it was already raining. We had breakfast, which consisted of left overs from dinner the night before and the remaining hard-boiled eggs we still had. We drove up the short rough road to the trail-head parking, then locked up the Bus. It was still raining, but shortly after we started hiking the sun came out, and we started a game of hide and seek. This game consisted of not only rain and the sun hiding but a constant rotation of clothing trying to keep up with the moisture and temperatures. We passed a couple of lite hikers and exchanged iteneraries. They appeared to have spent the night in thier clothes and ate grubs or something. They each had a small day pack and crocs. I could see no sleeping bag, tent, or food per se. I personally would like to pack some comforts, even if it takes longer to get to a destination. They were bushed, and still had to hike to Silverton. They were considering hitch-hiking the rest of the way. We told them where we were headed, and they grunted a little and said "big climb." We parted ways and continued down the trail. The sun came out to display beautiful wild flowers, then hid again behind rain clouds. After about a mile the trail came to a deep canyon. We could see the Animas river below backed by tall 14k peaks surrounded by swirling rain clouds. Every so often we could catch a glimpse of the Durango-Silverton railroad tracks as it paralleled the river. The rush of the surrounding cascading water falls permiated the still forest. It was the relaxing soundtrack as we zig-zagged on the innumerable switchbacks 4 miles to the bottom. Just as we reached the canyon floor we heard a whistle. It was the Durango-Silverton train. We rushed across the bridge over the raging Animas. It was the same bridge the forest service built in the 70s for hikers. Story goes, it was built in response to a backpacker who drowned trying to cross. Krisiti and I agreed that neither of us would have wanted to cross that river, no matter what the conditions. We could see the plume of black smoke progressing closer, then the chug a chuga, and around the bend we could see the head- light shining brightly. I quickly got out the camera and shot as many pics I could get. We waved at the passengers who looked at us like we were interesting wildlife. Then it was gone. Black smoke and the smell of burnt coal still lingering in the air. Cool stuff. From here on it would be up hill the rest of the way to camp. We moseyed up the trail a piece more and came upon some Boy Scouts who were determined to get to an old mining camp just below the pass. They were impressed with the dog's saddlebags and were even more impressed that they were carying the wine. Again I reiterate the necessity of the simple comforts in life, especially if I don't have to carry them. We stopped at a nice rest stop next to Elk Creek, a tributary of the Animas, for lunch. The trail will now parrallel Elk Creek up to the contintental divide topping off at about 11,480 feet. The trail follows the along the canyon passing talus slopes and glacial boulders, as Elk Creek rushes below. At times the trail becomes steep in all directions, not forgiving any mis-steps. According to the trail guide there would be a few level campsites below the treeline. One such place was located just below a boulder field, and on the other side of some beaver ponds. After some wet rock-hopping with backpacks we came upon a camp that was left by mountain climbers who used it as a base camp for some nearby peaks. Protected by trees somewhat, we arrived and sat in the rain shadow of the bigger trees, admiring the view of the near-by peaks. The large can opener looking rock formations were creatively named peak one and peak two. Anyway we arrived about 4 pm and leisurely set up the tent, started a fire, and cooked dinner. We had packed in some Mahi, and seared it in a wasabi-teriyaki sauce. Yum. The dogs suddenly started barking, and looking around a hill I noticed we had neighbors in the less desirable camsite next to ours. A couple of other campers just arrived. We dried out our wet pants and socks, ate some smores and went to bed shortly after sunset. Then it rained. And rained. And rained. And rained. Oh did I mention it rained. Yes until 6 am it rained. Fortunately, I had brought some other creature comforts for occasions just like these. No not an instant hotel room, ear plugs. Something you wouldn't think you would need when you are away from traffic, train horns and children. Well, when large rain drops are pummeling the tent for 10 hours you can see how hard it would be to sleep. That was the problem our neighbours had. I don't think ear plugs made it to thier list.
We woke up the next morning not too sore. We ate oatmeal for breakfast and prepared our day-packs and dog's saddle bags, ready to leave Extreme Base Camp and push for the Summit. The rain had lightened to a faint mist as we left camp. As we were passing our neighbours camp, Kristi asked how their night had been. He muttered some expletives ranting about how he and his wife had to be camping through the worst thunderstorm all year, and couldn't get any sleep. I don't think Kristi knew how to respond to his rants, all she could have said was "earplugs." For fear of any repercussions she just continued smiling. The first couple of miles were really relaxing. The soft forest floor padded the sound of our footsteps. We passed a camp, and had to grab the dogs so they wouldn't spook their horses. After we passed over a couple of creeks, we heard the pounding of water. We followed the sound and came upon a beautiful waterfall. At the waterfall we took some pics and discovered a really pretty flower. I will have to look up what kind it was. Soon the trail became steep and passed through more talus and glacial remains. After the recent rains the canyon was now cascading with little waterfalls all around. Soon we met up with more Boy Scouts at a deep creek crossing. They had their boots off and were trying to wade through. Kristi and I didn't pause and trudged right through, hoping our Gore-Tex boots would live up to their name. For the most part they did. The trail squeezed through a notch dripping with seep springs, then came to an old mining camp. An old cabin sat dilapidated with wall boards strewn about. Since it was above the treeline some campers tried to use the boards for campfires. With out adequate kindling it would be tough to get it going. Judging from the number of unconsumed boards burnt on one end laying around they weren't entirely successful. Luckily we arrived at the cabin before the Boy Scouts did. I was able to get some great pics. After leaving the cabin the trail continued along the now dwindling Elk Creek. The trail then took a turn straight up. Then another turn. It continued to switch back about 30 times. We actually counted. There was some debate where we were counting from, however. Either the corner, or the entire tier. Since Kristi was the one keeping count, she decided to count the corners. Eventually Elk Creek disappeared into the mountain. Talk about headwaters. The trail continued to switch back all the way to the top. I always love coming to the top of mountain passes. The anticipation of what awaits is always worth the climb. Sure enough there was no disappointment. There were a couple more cabins down a thousand feet on the other side. The sun was out and we were surrounded by hills of wild flowers and snowy mountain peaks. Time to collapse and eat lunch. I think I heard Kristi snoring. She was feeling a little light headed. We were right up there at 13,000 ft with the 14,000 peaks surrounding us. Clouds swirling around, and distant rumbles of thunder. At the top we had some choices to make. There were trails going off in many different directions. The guide book steered us toward a couple of high altitude lakes. After some more climbing we reached a ridge, then followed it past Lake El Dorado. The trail kept going along the continental divide, so since it wasn't raining we thought we had better look to see what was around the corner. Another mile or so and we reached what seemed the end of the world. With clouds below us swirling around we were awe stricken. We spent two hours exploring the various trails, careful not to loose too much elevation. Alas, it was getting late and the clouds were closing in. As we started to leave the Boy Scouts were just arriving. They remarked that we were like a couple of jack rabbits for having gotten up there so fast. It makes a huge difference if you don't have an extra 40 lbs on your back. We were actually thinking how hard it would have been to summit with our packs, not to mention not having any shelter away from the thunderstorms. The decent back to base camp seemed to take forever, and the adrenaline faded fast. Our feet were pounding by the time we got to camp, and I could feel my blood sugar level falling. We quickly made an Indian Tofu dish, with fresh vegetables and wolfed it down. Bellies full, we crawled into bed. Then it started raining again. It was a replay from the night before. The dogs curled up at our feet and we slept.
We woke up late the next morning, and leisurely made breakfast. We drank a few extra cups of coffee, with our neat coffee press that fits inside a Nalgene bottle. Since we only had to hike 8 miles that day we just hung out at the campsite. The weather was nice, the view spectacular. A little creek dribbled by. The dogs were entertained by ground squirrels. We didn't want to leave. Food was running low, and we were out of dog food too, although they would have loved squirrel fricassee. Oh well. All good things must come to an end. Slowly packing, we bid farewell to our base camp. We hiked to the train crossing again, calves sore from the previous 12 mile day. It was lunch time, and starting to rain. Just as we got grumpy about having to eat lunch in the pouring rain, we discovered a huge spruce tree. It made a perfect shelter. We watched the train pass by again, with the little chase cars behind (I'll fill you in later). The camping party with the horses passed by. Now for the 4 mile climb up the switchbacks. We didn't count the switchbacks this time. We did pass by some campers with a 2 way radio. They had two parties of parading ponchos. Must have been a sale on ponchos. It never quit raining. It was pouring buckets by the time we got to the van. We were ready to get dry by this time. Off to Silverton. As were were driving down the hill we could see a campground. That's where we would be headed. As we pulled in, the sign said no vacancy. Kristi went inside, and no one came to help her. We left, and pulled around the corner to find 3 more campgrounds. We chose the farthest one away. It was the emptiest. I went to the mobile home office and inquired within. They were practically empty and I chose a spot with a great view, and no campers blocking it. They had a jacuzzi, showers, and a sauna. And the sun came out. With our site secured, we drove to the brewery to get dinner. It was closed. So we went next door. They had a nicer place than the brewery, it looked like an old time bar. I ordered an interesting looking taco. It had home smoked pork, smoked on the premises by the proprietor, using apple wood. It was so yummy. We returned to our site, with beer in hand. We laid out our gear to dry, showered and relaxed in the jacuzzi, then dried off in the sauna. Then we snoozed.

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