Sunday, 30 June 2013
I waited in Pagosa Springs an extra day for my package to arrive at the Post Office and the rest of the crew headed back to trail. I was lucky enough to be hosted by Cameron for the night, a local artist, and he showed me through his extensive mineral collection and we talked about crystals and geology the whole night. The next day I took an early morning soak in the free hot spring in the middle of town commonly known as "the hippie pool". I resupplied for the next 6 days at the gas station to save some time and got a hitch back to Wolf Creek Pass in the afternoon with a colorado hiking guidebook writer.

By the time I got to the pass the west fork wildfire was in full swing and there was a huge plume blowing north toward the part of the trail I would be walking on the next day. I had checked the latest maps of the fire location and was confident I would get past safely. The next day I passed the fire and could see the flames way down the valley to the south when walking across the ridge. 2 days later another CDT hiker Tatu Joe had to race around the same fire as it lapped up against the same ridge i walked over. After the experience of walking into wildfire last year in Washington, I was extremely relieved to have bypassed this one.

The trail for the next 6 days stayed between 11,000 - 13000 ft (3300-3900m) following the Continental Divide directly through the San Juans with continual steep climbs and descents. The elevation initially troubled my legs making them turn to jelly half way up each climb, but I even
acclimatized which made the hiking considerably easier at the end of the stretch. During the 6 days I passed through 2 major afternoon thunderstorms. I stayed off the ridges to let them passed but was still greeted with sideways hail and lightening.

This was my first full stretch hiking solo and I found I hiked a bit slower by myself. I am continually distracted by taking photos and collecting rocks, and sometimes I feel I completely forget about hiking when I find an outcrop with good mineralization. On the positive side - it gave me time to take a couple of great time lapses of the fire, and my collection of a rock per day now has some great agate and open cavity quartz specimens.

I decided to carry extra food and skip the town of Silverton to catch up to the rest of the crew at Lake City. When I reached stony pass I found an old mine and started breaking rocks to find my rock of the day. After half an hour or so I heard a voice above me and saw clutch, Virgo and nicotine who had just been dropped off by wiffer from Silverton. It was great timing and I was stoked to see Virgo again after not having seen him for 500 miles. The 4 of us walked the day and a half to Lake City and west of the the papoose fire which had just started to get big. We later found it grew from 29,000 acres to 40,000 acres on that day.

We all got a hitch in the back of a pickup all the way to town after 10 minutes of waiting. We dropped our bags at the hostel and went straight to the pub for pizza and beer. A great end to a fantastic stretch of trail.

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In Lake City we hurried to get all of our chores done, and we set off early afternoon from san luis pass in the middle of a thick smoky haze. We had a big crew setting off with myself, Virgo, cactus, nicotine, Tatu joe and raisins. I hiked with cactus on the pct for 2000 miles last year and he jumped on trail for a 2 month section hike with us.

The papoose fire was in full swing and we had hazy walking conditions for 2 days. Cactus, Virgo and I camped together on the first night and walked the rest of the way to Salida behind the rest of the group who arrived there a day earlier than us.

The terrain for the first 2 days consisted of steep climbs, river valleys and mesas with beautiful vistas walking over the tundra. The trail turned into dirt road on the third day and sent us over rolling hills through forests and meadows and turned to single track trail over steep forested slopes for the final. Road walking is not so bad in a group and you can make good miles with less physical input.

We were fortunate enough to camp beside a dirt pile next to a highway which may be one of the strangest camp spots I have had. However we were glad to arrive at a flat spot that wasn't soaking wet ground after walking till 930pm. The tourist and dayhiker caught up to us on the second to last day at lunch, and we all walked together to a cabin for the night, 11 miles from monarch pass where we hitch into Salida. It was luxury to sleep in a cabin, and we appreciated our first on trail shelter - especially since it was raining and blowing a gale outside.

Monarch pass is a popular destination for travelers via car as it lies directly on the continental divide on highway 14 at over 10,000ft elevation. Sometimes I think we take it for granted that we are on the divide everyday, whereas for many others the one stop at the divide could be the highlight of their trip. I am truly happy hiking this trail, and have come to embrace the difficulties that with come with sticking to the divide.

940 miles down. Salida, Colorado.

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Saturday, 15 June 2013
Clutch, Dayhiker, Tourist and I got back to trail early afternoon and got a quick 15 miles in up from Cumbres Pass before dark. The elevation and lack of sleep affected our legs as we climbed above 12,000 ft (3660m), but we pushed through it and we're rewarded with great northward to the 10,000 ft plateaus and mountains that we will walk through for the next month or so.

The snow has melted considerably since the early starters walked through 3-4 weeks ago and we were only left with patches of slushy snow, fields of mud and ankle deep water on the first and second days. We saw a lot more wildlife than previous sections, regularly encountering elk and deer, and got to see a pair of grouse sitting right on the trail.

We found a campsite on he north fork of the conejos river - possibly the best camp spot i have ever had hiking. We slept on a terraced slope under pines and faced eastward, looking up to the divide and back down the lush grassed and forested river valley. To the north a crescent moon was setting just after sunset in a deep blue sky against bright red whisps of cirrus cloud. It was surreal.

The next day was the hardest we have had on trail. We started with a steep 1000 ft route finding mission through forest up to the saddle above the fork, followed by a series of snowy side slopes and a couple of passes. A few sections were steep and sketchy walking accross slippery snow, but we shared the lead taking turns kick steps in the snow and went slow across the dangerous sections. I was impressed when thinking about the early starters who had an extra 3-4 feet of snow to walk through on the same section. The whole day we had amazing views of green river valleys and snowy mountains. If this is only the start of Colorado, I can't wait for what is in store for us for the rest of the state.

706 miles and 44 days down. Pagosa Springs, CO.

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Monday, 10 June 2013
Immediately after leaving Cuba we climbed to 10,000 ft and were greeted with lush meadows and aspen/pine forest. We timed the snow melt correctly and had easy walking with plentiful fresh ice cold water. A stark contrast to the previous desert sections.

We enjoyed the cool weather for a few days and eventually dropped down to the desert for 1 more day en route to ghost ranch. The 1 day turned to 3 as we soaked in the atmosphere, landscape and all you can eat meals at the beautiful ghost ranch. It was a great last stop for New Mexico and tourist and I went exploring for dinosaur bones in the Jurassic/Triassic mudstones and sandstones in the area. We were unlucky but it felt good to be hunting for rocks again.

The climb out of Ghost Ranch solidified why we loved New Mexico so much. We took a side trip to a box canyon and then climbed up our final Mesa, with commanding views of where we had come from. We immediately climbed back into Aspen groves and stayed at ~10,000ft for the rest of the way to Chama. We walked along trail and forest service roads, winding through rolling meadows and forest.

As soon as we reached the New Mexico/Colorado border we were greeted with a panoramic view of Cumbres Pass, arguably the best vista of the trail yet. 635 miles down, and now the best mountains await us. Colorado ahoy!

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