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[CDT-L] Colorado - 1997 (part 5)

August 9 - Campsite above Ute Lake - 13.2 miles - Total 112.5

Ginny:  Woke up and the deer was still grazing on the hill across from
us.  I started the day worried about sunburn, ended it worried about
hypothermia.  We made it to a campsite way above Ute Lake, but it wasn't
easy.  The day started warm and sunny as we climbed up to Humpback Pass,
then down the back side with fantastic views of the Grenadiers,
especially the Guardian of the Grenadiers, Mt. Silex and Snow King
Peaks.  Descended along a creek, and then followed the next creek back
up to the Divide at Nebo Pass.  It was another place where we could have
followed the Divide cross country, but we chose to follow the trail
instead since the Divide had a lot of up and down.  I'd rather do that
on trail than cross-country - usually.  We ended up below Mt. Nebo with
a pretty lake with an unusual rock formation in the middle of the lake. 
Then we descended toward the Ute Lakes.  Just before we reached the
first one, West Ute, it began to rain.  So much for lunch.  Over the
next five hours we experienced constant rain, four hail storms and
frequent thunder about one mile away.   We kept going mostly because
there was no good place to stop.  We missed a turn and ended up taking
an alternate route (about the same distance) down and back up to Twin
Lakes.  We missed Middle Ute Lake entirely.  We were following a couple
of horsemen who did the same thing.  When they realized they had missed
the turn and were descending, they tried to go cross-country, but got
caught in the heavy willow growth and the bogs, so they decided to
follow us instead.  We saw a group that looked like scouts near Twin
Lakes.  They turned off before we could say hello. We finally stopped
about 4:00.  We put up the tent and jumped in.  Two hours later I was
still shivering.  The rain had stopped, so I decided to cook dinner and
see if that would help warm me up.  Our sleeping bags are old and worn
and just don't do the job any more.  The sun made a brief appearance,
but quickly disappeared.  There is a small group camped across the
lake.  I went down for water - it was a long way down, especially since
I was trying to avoid getting wet by avoiding going through the willows
around the lake.  I had to do a few detours to avoid the brush. 
Climbing back was harder still.  Soup helped a lot though.  I sure was
getting upset at the trail today.  Eight inches deep in mud, with heavy
willow growth to scratch at the legs.  Jokes about bog monsters help,
but don't make up for the slow going.  They evidently don't trim back
the brush at all.  People that don't want to get scratched by going
through the willows, end up making new trails around them.  A pair of
loppers would do wonders - or even a brush cutter.  It wouldn't help
with the mud though.  

Jim: Another hypothermia day. Our boots are like the tent - they haven't
been dry since the first day on the trail.  The trail itself is a
continual series of mudholes alternating with good dug trail, stock
trail, stream fords and the usual high country stream walks and
footbaths (large unavoidable puddles). Today we had the added pleasure
of a long, cold, soaking rain. By noon we were both soaked to the skin
and by the time we got to Twin Lakes we were both in the first stages of
hypothermia.  The climb up to Ute Lake warmed us up enough to find a
sheltered campsite, and get set up and into the sleeping bags.  The rain
continued intermittently all night along with the lightning. 

August 10 - Campsite at Pinos River ford - 13.5+  - total 126.0

Ginny: Today was a fairly frustrating day.  It rained all night.  We
slept late, but finally decided that the rain wasn't going to stop, so
we might as well get up and deal with it.  We cooked and pumped water
from inside the tent (stove outside).  Finally the moment of truth -
putting on the soaked clothes and rain gear and going outside. 
BRRRRR!!!  It rained steadily until noon.  After slowly crossing a big
snowfield, we sat under the Window (a rock formation near the Rio Grande
Pyramid) and ate some gorp as we watched the clouds flow by - above us,
below us, and all around us.  Nothing like walking the Divide during a
storm. Although the only thunder we heard was far away, it is still
scary to be above treeline like that when it is stormy.  It finally
stopped raining as we descended into the trees about 2:00.  There we ran
into a group of Scouts from Wisconsin on an 80 mile trip along the
Divide.  They were just getting ready to break camp as we left after a
nice chat.  Because of the long stretch above treeline, the leaders
didn't want to take the kids up during the storm.  And they didn't even
know about the snow crossings!  (We had one short steep nasty one, and
one broad but fairly easy one.)

	Then we reached Weminuche Pass - an innocuous looking place, but
deadly.  It's a big meadow about a mile wide and several miles long. 
Posts led us halfway across the meadow, then disappeared.  The meadow
became a bog, about a foot deep in water.  We crossed several streams,
then reached one whose bottom, as far as we could tell, was at least
four feet deep.  You couldn't see it, as it was muddy and surrounded by
heavy grass, but we tested several areas with our ski poles, and they
all disappeared into the murk.  Jim finally noted a dammed area, and we
went way around to cross below the dam.  We looked ahead for the trail
but could see no posts.  It was raining again.  We did see some people
disappear into the forest ahead.  So after crossing a couple more
streams, we reached the woods, but could find no trail, no posts.  We
wandered up and down looking for where the trail entered the woods. 
There were several campsites and small trails, but nothing major. 
Unfortunately, we concentrated on the area where we had seen the people
disappear.  The real trail was half a mile in the other direction.  We
finally found it using a little logic and really looking at the maps,
but crossing the meadow and looking for the trail cost us at least one
and a half hours.  We needed that time to dry things out.  We climbed up
along a pretty stream in the woods to a meadow where we are belatedly
attempting to dry out our gear from last night.  It is 7:30 and the sun
isn't very warm, but it is better than getting into a soaking wet tent. 
At least the sun is out. It stopped raining about 5:00.  Dinner is
finally ready - so enough already.

Jim: Took some pictures of the Window and the Rio Grande Pyramid, but I
don't know how they'll turn out cause it was overcast and foggy.  The
Pyramid was generating its own weather system - makes it hard to get
good pictures that way.  The worst - or at least the scariest part of
the day was crossing the snowpack before we got to the Window.  The
slope was at least 45 degrees with a 400 ft. drop and a couple feet of
snow pack directly across the trail.  We had no rope, no crampons, no
ice axes - and there was no way to get around it by going down.  So we
went up - onto the rocks on an extremely steep and slippery slope.  This
was NOT a "fun" thing to do - the potential for injury was much too
great for comfort.  Once we got past the snowpack, the rest of the day
was a piece of cake - except for Weminuche Pass which turned out to be a
massive bog.  And once again, the directions in both guidebooks sucked
swampwater.  Only a good map, a lot of luck, a lot of dry weather and an
Army Engineer Bridge Company would make this an easy crossing of what
looks to be an innocuous meadow.    

August 11 - campsite on Cimaronna Trail - @ 17.5 miles - total 143.5

Ginny: Today did not go as planned, at all.  We woke to a heavy frost
and rime ice on everything.  Our boots and socks and water were all
frozen.  It showered off and on all day.  Nothing major, but with the
wind it was chilly.  The views when we had them were lovely as we went
around dozens of lakes.  There was a lot of climbing up and around all
the glacial cirques.  The result of all the climbing was a decision to
bail out early.  Jim has had serious trouble breathing, especially when
climbing.  He has developed (we both have actually) a dry cough that is
getting worse.  He started feeling serious constriction in his diaphragm
then pain in his right lung - enough already.  High Altitude Pulmonary
Edema can be fatal.  When he said that it hurt to breathe even on level
trail and not just climbing, we decided that it was time to stop.  We
still have 46 miles to go, and about 10,000' of climbing - too much when
he hurts all the time.  Stubbornness might take us through, but at what
cost?  It isn't fun for him anymore, so it was time to get out.  

	We left at Squaw Pass, which has trails down both sides of the Divide. 
The trail we chose, the Cimarrona, though shorter, starts with a 600'
climb up to the Divide.  So much for getting down to a lower elevation. 
The trail goes up and down and back and forth through spruce forest,
endlessly.  It took us three hours (six miles) to get under 10,000'. 
And we started at 11,200.  By that time we had walked about 17 miles for
the day, and it was past time to stop.  We found a small perch near
water.  There were streams on both edges of the switchbacks, but they
were hard to get at from the trail, so we just kept going.  The few good
campsites were up too high, and we don't know if there is anything below
us, so this little spot will have to do.  We walked through a rock
window.  That was interesting.  It was actually a pretty trail,
switchbacking through the spruce, but we were eager to get lower, and it
was frustrating not being able to descend low enough to do any good. 
Jim is really disappointed - he feels like his body betrayed him.  I'm
sorry we can't do what we set out to do, but we've walked over 140
miles, that isn't bad for 11 days.  It has been beautiful, and difficult
and worth it.

Jim: Enough - I've been developing symptoms of HAPE for the last several
days.  I thought I could hold on for another 3 days, but it ain't gonna
happen.  When every breath is painful, regardless of up, down or level -
it's time to do something else.  I'm operating on about one third lung
capacity.  That one third has become highly efficient at recovering what
oxygen there is in the air - but it still leaves me a long way short of
what I need to finish the next three days.  We've actually accomplished
our primary purpose for this trip (to complete the San Juan loop of the
CDT)  - but we'll fail in our secondary purpose  (to hike the entire
Weminuche).   We're  camped right at 10000 ft. on a small ledge next to
the Cimaronna Trail. We still have a couple miles to drop another 1500
ft. to get to the road tomorrow.    

August 12 - Durango - 5.5 miles - total 149 miles

Jim: We got lucky with hitchhiking - again.  Eric Peers picked us up and
took us all the way to the Durango airport where we rented another car -
well, sort of a car - it's a Geo Metro.  But it'll get us where we're
going.  Found a motel, got a good meal and a shower, did laundry and
picked up our gear from Hermosa Court.  Culture shock. What a difference
from the last few days.  Last night we slept perched on a small ledge
beside the trail, tonight we're in a bed with clean sheets. I don't like
the transition all that much.  

August 13 - Wednesday - South Fork - 

Ginny: We had a good day wandering around Southern Colorado and part of
New Mexico.  Yesterday was spent descending to the trailhead and then
walking three miles on a dirt road past a couple of campgrounds, trying
to hitch a ride to Pagosa Springs.  We lucked out by getting a ride from
a student who was chased out of the mountains by fear of bears. (He ran
into a horse packer who told him all sorts of stories).  He gave us a
ride 25 miles out to the highway, then 60 miles to Durango to the
airport where we were able to rent a car.  We ate lunch, showered, got
our town gear back from the motel where we had left it before we took
off for the mountains, wandered downtown Durango, did laundry, and
finally collapsed.  It was busy, but not much fun.  Still, getting the
ride was incredibly lucky.  Today we explored places where the CDT
passes through northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado, which involved
a big circle drive through mountainous areas, high desert, ranch and
farm country.  We checked out Pagosa Springs (too touristy, and very
spread out), down into Chama NM (another narrow gauge railroad town) -
had a  good  Mexican lunch, went on to Alamosa (nice murals), to South
Fork, to Creede (It was smaller than I expected).  We had dinner (banana
splits) at an expensive ice cream parlor.  The whole town was closed up
at 5:00, presumably to play bingo in the Community Center in one of the
mines), to South Fork again.  We had planned to camp, but it began to
rain (surprise!), so we ended up in a motel in South Fork.  It was a
pretty peaceful wandering sort of day.  Tomorrow is still up in the air,
but today was nice.  Relaxing, despite all the driving. (Jim drove.)

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