. Day- 99
Date- September 26, 2019
Location- Side of trail
Distance Traveled Today- 26.6 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 1,881.9 miles
Weather/Temp- scattered clouds, 50s
Pain level- zero
Spirits/Morale- Fingers and toes crossed
Wildlife encounters- 5 moose, pikas
Days without shower- 3
Days without laundry- 7
Unsurprisingly, I woke up covered in icy frost (including my gear). My sleeping bag was covered in a thin veneer of frost, along with my pack and everything else that was lying out in the open.
I was pretty cold and didn’t start hiking until a little after 8 am – still bundled in most of my clothing. It was another gorgeous day, not a cloud in the sky.
As soon as I ran into the first strong patch of sunlight, I stopped and pulled out every piece of gear that had accumulated frost overnight. I laid it all out to dry while I ate breakfast. I ended up letting this drag out for around 45 minutes; mostly because it just felt good to sit in the sun. However, Toast appeared about half an hour into my drying session and chatted for a bit before moving on. She camped with Swift about a mile behind us last night, mentioning Swift wanted to catch up to say “goodbye” before our two trails went separate ways. I felt bad because I knew there was a very small chance she would catch up before the divergence, and none of us could afford to slow down in this section. In the end, despite a late start and slow morning, she never did catch me (let alone Jetpack and Smiles who were in front of me before the junction).
After packing up all my dried things and moving on, I had less than 3 miles by 10 am. An incredibly slow start to what needed to be a long day over tough terrain. A little disheartening.
I moved slowly over the trail as it ceaselessly wound its way up and down over barren windswept climb… after barren windswept climb. It was spectacular! You could see the trail ahead and behind you for a long distance as long as it didn’t disappear behind another mountain or over/under a rise or depression. I would describe the experience as beautiful monotony.
Almost predictably, no sooner did the CDT and CT diverge, the trail conditions of the CDT went to absolute dog shit. An ode to Colorado Trail crews putting more time and effort into Colorado’s namesake trail. I don’t blame them. I would also guess that bicyclists have something to do with it as well.
Home Sweet Home
The trail became a rocky mess with overgrown scrub bushes clawing at every part of your body for sometimes hundreds of feet at a time. This was the CDT I know and love! And love to hate!
These sorts of conditions prevailed throughout the rest of the day. Finally, within the last 8 miles, the trail descended into some actual forest. Sadly, about 85% of it was beetle kill. Basically the Chinese pine beetle is devastating the forests of the mid-west and west coast. The San Juans have been hit harder than anywhere else I’ve ever seen. However, the new growth is coming in, thankfully.
As I made my way through the sick forest in the early evening, I spotted a bull and cow moose hanging out together about 75 yards off the trail. I whistled at them, and they both ran parallel to the trail for a couple hundred feet before fading into deeper forest.
I pushed up over another climb and descended into another sporadically forested valley. Somewhere on the eventual climb out of this valley is where everyone was planning to camp. It was getting dark when I spotted 3 more moose milling around a pond in a bunch of scrub bushes about 300 yards away. It was too far to get a coherent picture in the current lighting.
With a little over two miles left, I found myself in complete darkness. Since crossing into this valley, elk have been bugling almost nonstop. It was an eerily haunting, yet welcomed noise in the dark. I moved between thick forests, scrub-land, and grassy meadows over the course of those dark miles. At one point, while descending to a creek through scrub bushes as tall as me, something let out a loud snort nearby… giving me pause. My light wasn’t strong enough to spot anything, but I knew it was a moose. I proceeded very slowly and cautiously from then on, until I reached the water. Moose are my biggest fear while night hiking in this part of the country. They’re just too stealthy, abundant, and unpredictable.
I found Jetpack, Toast, and Smiles camped in a maze of scrub bushes around a lake (a little after 8 pm). The place was a wind tunnel, but it was the flattest area they could find. There were clouds in the sky, so I didn’t chance cowboy camping. I set up my tarp using my trekking pole on one end and staking the other end to the ground. Simple and cramped – but effective. I should be safe and dry if it rains. I’ll have the nonstop elk calls to listen to all night.
So far the San Juans are beautiful, but I can’t imagine myself ever coming back here for recreation. There’s no fishing, no good camping areas, and no good cover. It’s a giant exposed wind tunnel. Really, the only thing to do is hike. There’s not much else you can do in the way of relaxing and enjoying other outdoor activities. They are definitely no Wind River Range.
Seems like a good chance the weather might take a turn for the worse tomorrow. I’ve got my fingers crossed…
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