9/7 to 9/9/2014 – As rafting season was coming to a close, the hustle and bustle of fall travel commenced with an attempted week-long sojourn in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. Grete’s mother, Diane, has been plugging away at the Colorado Trail over the past few years with a stout goal of hiking every section of the trail by her 60th birthday. As a long time Colorado resident and active member in the state’s wildlife conservation effort she has been working on the trail to gain a new perspective on many of the secluded and glorious locations she had long worked to protect. Earlier this summer, she completed her second-to-last section on an 8-day solo excursion with pack llamas (she’s going to be my mother-in-law!). Afterwards, she asked Grete and I to accompany her for the final bit to complete the trail.
Of course we agreed to the idea of another adventure and she set about planning the jaunt into the remote segments 22-24 (Spring Creek Pass to Molas Pass). After months of planning and packing, we hit the road to Lake City to stay a night at the Murphy’s – good friends of Diane’s and long-time outfitters in the area.
We started our hike after being dropped off at Spring Creek Pass and the weather was pretty darn good. The first night we nestled ourselves in the Colorado Trail Friends Memorial Yurt to keep dry with a stormy outlook in the forecast. The next day brought us in-and-out rain storms, the high-point of the trail (13,271′), and a beautiful campsite just at treeline below an unnamed pass. The effects of Hurricane Norbert (raging in the eastern Pacific) began to take hold sometime in the middle of the night.
That night, we mostly stayed up holding the tent down from (literally) hurricane-force winds and heavy rains. It turns out camping at almost 12,000′ in a storm is quite exciting. Once it was light out, we packed up as drily as we could and wandered on. The rain gear could only do so much, heat-production while hiking seems to be minimal (compared to bike-packing and skinning we now know), and the winds were constant and cutting throughout the next day of hiking. By the time we arrived at Cataract Lake, our spirits and our safety was compromised. We set up our tent, boiled water and began the re-warming process while we discussed our options.
Alpine adventures are all about timing. In this instance, mother nature was not giving us clear signals or the obvious opening we needed to continue onwards. As a group, we decided to turn off the Colorado Trail and hike out the Cataract Creek drainage. Although only four(ish) miles by map, this was a challenging bushwhack after the trail disappeared beneath our feet. We wandered down, eventually re-catching the trail, enjoying beautiful views of Sunshine Peak and popped out at the trailhead a bit after sunset and waited for our glorious ride back to Lake City from the Murphy’s. Thankfully, they received our message and had hot-tea waiting upon our return.
Although we didn’t get to complete the segments and finish off the trail with Diane, we had all gained a good bit of respect for each other’s decision making, and had grown closer through the adventure. Well, enough with the words and on with the photos…