CDT Day 111: somewhere else near the Divide to Rio Grande Pyramid – the San Juans Are Alright Camp to Finallysickoframen Camp
Miles hiked: 23
Total miles: 1925.7
The San Juans made us work. But I almost didn’t even notice. SpiceRack and I covered a bunch of ground, the sharp peaks from the horizon of yesterday were scraping our noses this morning, and the big pyramid on the horizon of this morning turned into our backrest for the evening. I think that’s what I enjoyed most about the day, and perhaps the San Juans in general. The views are wide, and I am filled with the sense of undeniable movement, progress. The lack of trees means that we see everything coming from a long way away. The wide open nature of this range helps us to cover those distances in surprisingly little time. Straight across a wide plateau, a long traverse around the slopes of a wide basin. There have not been a lot of switchbacks out here so far. Every step is getting us somewhere else. And that ‘somewhere else’ is a cool place to be.
It was windy at times last night, but a party of willows bushes surrounding us kept the tent flapping to a minimum. I slept great. I was hiking at 7:30ish, just at sunrise, optimistically not wearing any jacket. I gasped due to the effort and altitude between mouthfuls of granola on the short climb to the top of a massive grassy plateau. I had to blow air into my fists occasionally to keep my fingers warm, but pushing hard through the wind kept the rest of me comfortably luke warm. I saw a moose before I saw Spice, her trekking poles glinting about a mile ahead. The steepest and sharpest peaks seen since the Winds huddled together like teeth on the horizon. Dark stone. Menacing.
I caught Spice at her sunscreen break then we turned east. I was happy to put the wind at our backs. There was a big pile of crusty old snow, then the junction where the CDT leaves the Colorado Trail. Durango for it, more mountains for us. The trail condition didn’t get immediately worse from there, just steeper.
At a remote trailhead, a note on a scrap of paper let us know that Rooster and Crunchberry were only two hours ahead of us. The hunt begins. Up and over Hunchback Pass (12,500ft), then down a sketchy slope to a mostly frozen creek. The water had a funky flavor that I didn’t care for at all. Like someone had dumped a bag of sour patch kids upstream. I left it for the elk, Spice took two liters.
Steep down, then a battle through thick willows on the climb to the next pass. Views of the Grenadier Range, as I found out those sharp peaks were called, were ever present and superb. Up to 12,477ft, then down. And then up again. More willows trying to rip off my clothes. Down again to lunch. A wide basin ahead with a big pyramid peak on the other side. Good looking.
I hiked heavy away from lunch. I ate way too much. Willows again battled with my clothing, poking and whipping. A climb passed Ute Lake (pronounced OO-dee), then another slog up a sandy slope. Then I was on the ridge, amazed to be there, looking at the pyramid from much closer than I thought I’d get. The evening sun flickered in my vision as the trail took me around the lip of a basin, just below the rim. Up ahead, I looked for Spice in her new pink (not her favorite color) shirt on two huge switchbacks still glowing in the sun.
Eventually I did see her, much smaller and slower than I expected. 15 minutes later I was right there, being chased by shadows up to yet another pass. Spice was waiting for me at 12,628ft and I threw on layers as the sun disappeared behind distant, yet now familiar ridges. It was cold on the shady side, but smooth trail. Surprising to both of us was how close the we were to the pyramid now. We were on the pyramid. Lower slopes, sure, but on it for sure. How did we get all the way over here? It lent some legitimacy to the fatigue in my legs.
Numb fingers getting water, then down by headlamp into the trees. We called it a day at the first flat spot in the trees we found. The trees might be dead, but so far not too much wind tonight. Cowboy camping and ice cold ramen for dinner. Nasty. Huh? Am I finally over eating ramen for dinner? Interesting. Maybe it’s just a big letdown after such an awesome day.