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[CDT-L] Colorado - 1997 (part 1)

We finally found our journal from last year's trip to Colorado, so now
we can annoy everyone with it. :)  It'll come in pieces because it's
BIG.  This first part is all the preliminaries - why? what? how? - and
getting there --- and the first day (or rather partial day) on the
trail. It's all part of the experience - the planning, execution,
problems - all of it. By the time we finish sending the last piece of
last year's fiasco, we should be almost finished writing about this
year. Then we can annoy you some more.  :) 

Have fun with it -- we did.  

Walk softly, 
Jim & Ginny

A Short Tour of the Continental Divide in Southwestern Colorado -

Prelude -

Last spring Ginny and I had to decide what to do with our vacation this
year - and the obvious answer was that we were going to hike -
somewhere.  But where?  Glacier NP was a possibility, as were the John
Muir Trail and the Sierra High Route.  But when push came to shove - it
had to be on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).  And it had to test our
knowledge and abilities at altitude since I've never hiked at 10000+ ft.
altitudes and it's been 7 years since Ginny hiked the JMT.  For a number
of reasons, we finally settled on the San Juan loop of the CDT in
Colorado.  First, because it's reputed to be one of the most scenic and
beautiful parts of the CDT.  Second because it involves distances and
altitudes that would test us physically, mentally and emotionally. 
Third, because this was a test run for our projected '99 CDT thruhike. 
We haven't spent more than 4 days at a time on the trail in over 5 years
now - we needed to know how we'd deal with longer trail time - and with
the CDT itself. And fourth, because of time and weather constraints,
most CDT thruhikers skip this loop and take the Creede cut-off.  And we
recognize that we might end up with the same constraints and take the
cutoff as well.  This way we'll have hiked this section of trail, even
if it's not in the same year as our thruhike.

The original plan was to do the half-loop from San Luis Pass to Squaw
Pass (about 100 miles), but being thruhikers that didn't seem like
enough distance for 2 weeks of hiking.  So we added the 43 miles from
Squaw Pass to Wolf Creek Pass so we could include the entire Weminuche
Wilderness.  That felt better.  But then, between work, school,
snowpack, mosquitos, weather, etc. we couldn't schedule the time we
wanted to go (the end of August), so we had to modify the time frame to
the first 2 weeks in August.  And then we realized that starting with
high mileage days at 10000 to 11000 ft. altitude wasn't really smart -
so we decided to start at North Pass (CO 114) and head south through the
Cochetopa Hills. This would give us 2 extra days at 9000 to 10000 ft. to
acclimatize.  Only we didn't change our end point - we still intended to
finish at Wolf Creek Pass - which increased our projected mileage to 185
miles.  We thought we could do it, but couldn't be sure with only 14
days hiking time, so we made sure we knew where the bailout points and
routes were located.   

One of the problems we encountered was transportation.  There's little
if any public transportation in that part of Colorado that will do a
hiker any good and the road distances are larger than life.  So we went
to the Internet and got very lucky by finding someone who was going to
Colorado the day after we were and was willing to drive us to the
trailhead.  This also gave us an extra day for acclimatization. We flew
into Durango and left our travelling clothes and the duffel bags that we
used for the packs at the motel and rented a car for the drive to the

Resupply was somewhat simpler - starting at North Pass, we planned 5
days to get to CO 149, which runs between Creed and Lake City.  So we
sent a mail drop to Lake City and planned to pick it up on Aug 5.  That
part worked very well.  The second leg of the trip was to be a 9 to 10
day hike into Wolf Creek Pass and then a hitchhike to Durango.  And
most, but not all of that part worked as well.  

The guidebook came from Jim Wolf at the Continental Divide Trail
Society, with the late addition of the newly printed "Official Guidebook
for the CDT in Colorado" which was published in cooperation with the
Colorado-based Continental Divide Trail Association (CDTA).  Of the two,
I personally prefer Jim Wolf's book even though the version we had was
an old one. A new CDT Society guidebook for Southern Colorado will be
published later this year.  The CDTA book has a lot of good information
on trailhead access, off-trail facilities and some alternate routes and
is (mostly) accurate and clear.  The "Official" route follows Jim Wolf's
route for the most part with a few exceptions where they take a lower,
less scenic route. (Jim's route predates the "Official route" by as much
as 20 years.)  Where it deviates from Jim Wolf's route, the "Official"
route is usually a good "bad weather" route.  Each of the guidebooks has
unique information and I'd recommend using both of them in preparing for
the CDT.  To save time and effort, we generally chose to follow existing
trail rather than bushwhack.  When we have a bit more confidence, we'll
probably be more willing to take chances, but as a first encounter with
the Rocky Mountains we felt more secure following trails.  

The maps we used were Trails Illustrated and USFS maps, with the
addition of a couple of USGS topos.  We used the USGS county (1:50,000)
topos and they worked very well even though they don't contain the
detail of the USGS 7.5 series.  None of the maps are entirely accurate
where specific trails are concerned, but they're a necessity if you
don't want to spend a lot of time 'wandering in the wilderness'.  The TI
map #141 (Weminuche Wilderness) is topographic and easy to use, but is
missing one section of trail and has another trail mislabelled as the

Trail Journals - 

July 30 - travel - Washington, D.C. to Durango, CO. 

Jim: Yesterday was a rotten, no-good, very bad day  - I got a dose of
24-hour stomach virus and we weren't sure I'd even make the plane this
morning - but I did.  It was a long flight to Albuquerque, then a 2-hour
layover and a puddlejumper into Durango. Rented a car, dinner in town at
the Old Tymers Cafe, a visit to the outfitter, then out to Hermosa Court
where we crashed.  Not much sleep - I had a little trouble adjusting to
the altitude - heart palpitations, Cheyne-Stokes breathing, etc.    

July 31 - Mesa Verde

Jim: A much better day - in spite of being locked out of the room first
thing in the morning by a malfunctioning door lock.  After breakfast and
fuel stops we went to Mesa Verde and wandered through the Anasazi
ruins.  Lots of questions, very few answers, a very precarious lifestyle
- I'm very glad I didn't live there ----- or did I?  Back to Durango for
dinner, a visit to the bookstore and a short wander through town before
going back to the motel to pack the packs - they're heavier than I care
to think about.  Then back to the airport to pick up Debra at 1045 PM -
a LONG day.  We crashed again when we finally got back to the motel.  
My altitude problems are somewhat better after the mild exercise today,
but Ginny still has a headache and has started taking Diamox.  

August 1 - Campsite on Los Creek @ 9.4 miles Total 9.4

Ginny: We finally made it out on the trail - it was a bit iffy for a
while.  Jim had a horrible stomach virus the day before we were to
leave, but fortunately he recovered quickly.  Our flights were
uneventful (the best kind) from Washington to Albuquerque to Durango. 
We wandered around the Albuquerque airport for a couple of hours,
visiting bookstores and gift shops.  It's amazing how many interesting
things there are to buy when you don't want to buy anything.  Our motel
was ten miles out of town, a bit seedy but clean enough, and the owner
is very friendly and willing to help us out when we return.  Friendly
service is worth a lot.  We're storing some things with him so we'll
have clean clothes when we return, and our duffle bags for our
backpacks.  He even offered to pick us up after we've finished hiking
and to drive us to the airport when we're ready to leave. 

Thursday we ran errands and drove out to Mesa Verde to spend the
afternoon.  It was great.  After a week of rain, the clouds finally
lifted about noon so we had views over the mesas.  We did all the free
exhibits we could find (you have to sign up for the paid tours ahead of
time and the line was too long), wandered around a lot and had a very
enjoyable afternoon, thinking about the ancient ones.  So much about
their culture is unexplained.  At 10:30 we drove out to the airport to
pick up Debra, a woman from Atlanta we met through the Internet who was
coming out to hike the Colorado Trail.  She agreed to drive us up to the
trailhead as she wants a few days of wandering around getting used to
the altitude before she starts her hike.  She has worked on the Colorado
Trail and hiked most of it over the past ten years.  I wish we'd had
more time to acclimatize - one day isn't enough  

The drive to the trailhead was much longer than expected: about six
hours with stops in Silverton for breakfast and Gunnison for ice cream
for lunch.  It was a beautiful drive though.  I oohed and aahhed all day
as we wound our way through the mountains. We hit the trail at 2:00,
walking along a green meadow near the highway then up a side creek, over
a mountain, down to another beautiful meadow and another creek.  Flowers
are abundant: lupine, bluebells, gentians, asters, sunflowers,
paintbrush, etc.  Some I know; many I don't.  The skies were blue in the
morning, threatening in the afternoon, but so far we have avoided rain. 
The altitude has gotten to me, badly.  Jim is just breathing hard, but
I've had the full gamut: headache, heavy breathing, tiredness, etc. 
Climbing a small hill, I feel like I'm running a marathon.  I've started
taking Diamox, which should help.  It made the headache go away anyway. 
Getting energy may take a few more days.  We ended up hiking 9 miles to
a hill above a stream and a stock pond.  It is in sight of two other
campers.  We'll find out who they are when I get the energy to climb
their hill.  I am very happy, despite my physical problems.  It is so
very beautiful.

Jim: The alarm went off at 0500, but we didn't get up until 0630. 
Packed the car, picked up Debra and drove to Silverton for breakfast at
the Brown Bear Cafe.  Beautiful drive through the Uncompaghre, then down
onto the plains to Montrose.  East to Gunnison and a stop at the Sundae
Shop for lunch.  Got gas and film and then out to CO 114.  Found the
trailhead, but went on to Buffalo Creek Campground to use the outhouse,
change into boots, and do a final check on the packs.  Met the
campground host - she's 72 and a delight to talk to.  Wonderful
attitude.  Back to the trailhead where we said goodbye to Debra, took a
couple pictures and finally got on the trail at 2 PM.  The first half
mile was a gentle downhill followed by a 3-mile uphill and then a 0.3
mile bitchkitty of a climb to the top of the first ridge.  I got a
little lightheaded, but no real breathing problems other than sounding
like a steam engine.  A long 3 mile downhill followed by a mile uphill,
then we followed Los Creek for a mile - 9.4 for the day.  Not bad for a
2 PM start and 9600+ ft. altitude all day.  We camped at a water
impoundment - lots of mosquitos.  Another couple is camped across the
way but we haven't met them yet.  Hung the food bags up the hill since
we're still below treeline.
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