Colorado Trail Segment 21 of 28
Start: San Luis Pass
End: Spring Creek Pass TH
Distance: 14.8 miles
We were in the thick of the alpine now. The beauty and remoteness of the high country is exhilarating, granted it is highly exposed to the elements and difficult physically to travel through at times, it is what we had spent the first 350 miles working toward. This is not the first time we touched the higher terrain on the CT, it does travel this region several times prior, but not to this degree, not long duration. After the saddle at the base of San Luis Peak, the alpine becomes the new norm. We were in our happy place and excited for the rest of the trail and the endless views.
After coming off segment 20, down from a ridge along the Continental Divide to the end of the segment at San Luis Pass, we had dropped nearly 500 feet and were now staring up at our first climb of segment 21, almost 1,000 feet in 1.3 miles. Consider we had already had several gains and losses on trail that day. Our legs and lungs were feeling the burn. The mental challenge of willing ourselves up and over the next ridge was daunting. With San Luis Peak still in our rear view mirror, we began, yet, another climb. Our heads down, trekking poles digging in and pushing us forward with each step, we slowly made positive ground on the top of the ridge. As we crossed a snowfield near the top of the climb, the marmots and pikas seemed to cheer us on, chirping and whistling with each breath and step we took. We now had endless views all around.
After we caught our breath, it was straight back down on the other side. Just as the climb was short and steep, so too would be the decent, nearly 1000 feet in a little over a mile. A reverse workout for our tired legs. At least our hearts and lungs would get a break on the downhill. But, we weren't complaining, breathing hard but not complaining. This was alpine hiking at its finest. Snowfields scattered just underneath the ridgelines, wildflowers chasing the sun and long mountain grasses flowing with the breeze. Each climb revealing new territory to be explored, we embraced the uphill challenges and accepted the reward for our labor, commanding views of the San Juan Mountains.
The only negative was having to stay on schedule. We needed to make a certain amount of miles to place ourselves logistically to the end of the segment the next day where a scheduled shuttle would be to take us into Lake City for our resupply. Knowing someone would be there was a great feeling, though hindsight would have been to plan a slower pace and more time on trail exploring the area more. We will be returning in the future, to this segment and others.
We had planned camping further along the trail than we did that night. As we walked we came upon some of our tramily members who waved us down and into what would be camp for the night. We thankfully accepted the invitation. After we had set up camp, we were blessed to be an audience to four moose grazing in and around a beaver pond. The beaver would also make an appearance, as we all enjoyed the wild kingdom before heading off to our tents. We did hear a very large splash later that night and wondered who fell in! The rushing waters of a nearby creek lulled us back to sleep soon enough. We would wake before the sunrise and be on trail, hiking in the dark, so as to keep us on track to get to our shuttle later that afternoon.
We put on our headlamps and began our day in the dark. Snickers, cold coffee and careful hiking. We neared a known avalanche debris field and began a tedious game of "where is the trail" in the dark. Our headlamps allowed us to see only so far. We guessed as best we could based on the terrain and soon found the trail again after having climbed up, over and around the mess of fallen trees and debris that covered the ground. We would begin climbing again, watching for the sun to come over the far ridge on the other side of the valley. An event horizon on trail followed by alpenglow on the surrounding peaks is something not to be missed. The warmth of the sun still escaped us as we climbed over our next saddle and into the cold morning shadows again. We navigated around a steep snowfield iced over from the cold overnight temperatures. Another ridge and our climbs for the day would be over.
Only one thing stood in our way now, Snow Mesa. Some 3.3 miles across a flat, expansive and rather unique landscape at just over 12,000 feet. Endless views, and a seemingly endless trail that went before us and disappeared on the horizon, just below the distant peaks that were calling to us to come explore. We walked and imagined what this place might be like in the dead of winter. Soon we would come to the end of the mesa and would "drop in" to lower terrain on a trail that resembled more of what a rocky ravine might be like on the moon. Everything moved underfoot and we would both enjoy a stumble followed by a graceful fall before finding ourselves back on mild ground heading through the forest and to the end of the segment and our ride into Lake City for our resupply and much needed rest.