CDT Day 107: Creede Cutoff Junction to Spring Creek Pass (Lake City, CO) – Hoof San Juan Camp to Family Campfire Camp
Miles hiked: 14.4
Total miles: 1866.7
I’m not exactly sure what defines a blizzard, but I’m pretty sure we walked through one today. The predicted bad weather showed up a little earlier than expected, so our half-day into town turned into a freezing slog through true winter conditions. But by days end, the sun was out and so were the smiles. A perfect time to make it to town. Time to regroup after that sobering reminder of just how cold it can get in the mountains.
It started snowing on us around midnight. Not a big deal except that SpiceRack and I were cowboy camping. She woke me up with an urgent call and a shake that can only mean one thing. It’s snowing! Get up! Without thought, or even waking up, I pushed all my gear from on top of the tent, and helped Spice pitch it in record time. Just enough space for us to fit it in the willows. The bright moon illuminated the thinner outlines of high cloud that had just started blowing in a few hours ago. We bundled inside, smoothed out the chaos, the quickly found sleep again. The light scratching sounds of snow on tent died down. Maybe that was it.
Nope. I was woken by the dudes rustling around 5am. In the moonlight I could see a dusting of snow surrounding the tent. It began coming down harder for a short while, hard enough that I started envisioning a winter wonderland outside. We could still take Creede…
Crunchberry was up first and made it sound way worse than it was. He got moving, letting us know that we owed him a six pack each if we went to Creede instead. When I poked my head out, I was surprised and maybe even a little disappointed. There wasn’t even a dusting really. No white hills, no footprints in the snow. Just really cold air, a swirling murk of low cloud, and a hint of fresh snow. Flakes were still falling without regularity, but they weren’t sticking. Packing up was a tough sell, but a warm town was just 14 miles away. Hiking by 7am. 18°F.
We started with a 1,000ft climb up a mountain. A good way to warm up. I churned up, and even got a little sweaty in just my rain jacket and wind pants. My hands went numb as I waited on the blowing ridge waiting for Spice to catch up while eating some bars. Cloud blew across the slope below intermittently, obscuring the saddle and the trail. Blowing warm breath into my fists, I hiked back down a short distance to find Spice who was having difficulty starting her engine in the cold. Still, she was moving in the right direction and almost at the top.
It was blowing hard on the saddle so I boogied down the other side into a round basin. I could see Rooster and Spice coming down behind me. All accounted for. My thermometer now showed around 10°F. I waited for the others when the trail dipped into some trees. We were all cold, but moving. Switchbacks brought us up to another low saddle. It had started snowing for real now, accumulating on the ground, trees, and my pack.
I added my fleece layer at the beginning of the final climb. I poured some slushy water into a small bottle and stashed it in my shirt to keep it from freezing. A long traversing climb across a rocky slope gave us all the winter I’ll ever need on this trip. Snow whipped sideways, filling the valley with gray haze. We pushed forward into the wind. Footprints in the snow and a “WTF” scrawled on a rock let us know that Crunchberry was up ahead somewhere.
And then, it was kinda over. Near the top of the climb, the snow stopped and bright sun shone from a blue sky. There was definitely snow on the mountains now. Perhaps a half an inch. Clouds still surrounded us, but we were in the clear. Despite the persistent wind, it warmed up appreciably and I took my time, snapping photos and standing with arms outstretched, basking in the bright heat.
The three of us continued on two miles further to a high point along a ridge. Cloud blew back in from the valley we escaped from, but the sky was clear to the south and east, the direction we were headed. The San Juan range formed an impressive ridgeling across a see of mesas and plateaus. To think that we would spent the next week walking through those very mountains was an exciting, yet intimidating thought.
It was just about all downhill from there, literally and figuratively. Down to and then across Snow Mesa, four miles of undulating tundra. We stopped at a creek for a mental reset and water fill-up. None of us were properly hydrated. Glad to be done with that snow, but man, that was awesome! I don’t think my enthusiasm was totally matched, but Spice and Rooster were equally happy to be in the sun, just a short distance from town.
I found Crunchberry planning his great rescue attempt at Hwy 149. I assured him that it wasn’t necessary and that he could relax. The others weren’t far behind. And without even trying, we caught a ride down the mountain to Lake City, back into the world of golden aspen and warm buildings. Dropped off at the Raven’s Rest Hostel.
But that’s not where Spice and I ended up. One of her really good friends was in the area, staying on some recently purchased property with her family. She came to collect us, brining with her perhaps the best gift anyone could give Spice, her beloved dog, Tango. Tails were wagged, kisses were given, we were whisked 2 hours away across many landscapes to beautiful piece of land somewhere in the state. Snow is still on the ground here, but the fire is raging and the company is friendly. The enthusiasm of two dogs cannot be contained by this vast landscape. Cinnamon Toast Crunch for dinner, and bed for bedtime. What a day. Freaking winter…