CDT CO Section 1

Day 129: Seven Lakes

I woke up a little before five and was on the trail a little after seven, which is shortly after sunrise. When I emerged from my tent, a couple of does were passing through, apparently spooked at first but otherwise not too bothered by my presence.

The first 8+ miles of trail was an ATV track that followed the Continental Divide exactly. It was dirt and big rocks and steep hills up and down and being not infrequently passed by hunters on ATVs or passing parked ATVs. One was parked with a Tupperware full of lunch just sitting out on the front seat for any passing critter to nab if it wanted.

It was just about lunchtime when I reached the Manzanares Cutoff, where I left the CDT for the east side of the Zirkels, a wilderness area no longer affected by the Morgan Creek Fire closure. My aim was to reach the Big Creek campground near the Big Creek lakes. But I stopped halfway down the hill to the valley to eat lunch.

Resuming, at the bottom of the hill, I had to go cross-country a bit to cut across to the trail I wanted where the cutoff had been overgrown. But I eventually connected back up with a clear trail following a tributary of the West Fork. Then the trail disappeared, but I followed where it was supposed to be until it appeared again. Then it was easy to follow all the way down to the Main Fork trail.

It was during this last climb down that the deadfalls over the trail started to get denser. A few started requiring significant workarounds.

Other than a brief confusion involving which direction I needed to turn onto the West Fork trail, it was a lot clearer and the blowdowns were not too dense and easy to avoid. It was just follow the stream up the hill to the lake it flowed out of and then up the hill beyond that to climb over into the valley of the Main Fork to join the Main Fork trail.

This one was even easier to follow than the last, and I could basically zone out for the mile or so I was on it. There were a couple of crossings of the river, but nothing that mandated getting my feet. After my afternoon snack break and the second crossing, I turned off onto the Big Creek Trail.

This was a bit of a nightmare. Right off the bat, I was climbing a steep hill with blowdowns over the trail extremely frequently, some of them requiring long detours or some gymnastics to avoid. Then, about a mile in, the clear trail just disappeared among a hillside of blowdowns. I tried to follow the route on the GPS, but the trail that had been there could not be seen. So, I just started working my way across the blowdowns and climbing higher as I did to try to stay near where the trail was supposed to be. An hour later, I hadn’t even gotten a mile and it was time to stop for dinner. It was clear that Big Creek campground was not going to happen at this point.

I stopped for supper at a random point on the hillside where there was a huge boulder with a rivulet of water running around it. This particular hill was just covered up with springs for some reason, and there were an overabundance of these little streams. In fact, I passed one just after dinner with such good flow I decided to collect from it, having used the last of my water for dinner.

At this point, I saw the light (of the half moon rising, probably) and decided to stop trying to follow the official trail route. I just got as high as I could, up toward the rocky, boulder-strewn cliffs where fewer trees grew and so there were fewer blowdowns. This greatly speeded my progress and I had rejoined the actual trail within a half-hour. It had been climbing too, had caught up to my altitude, and continued climbing. There were still blowdowns across it, but now I was moving quickly and it was getting dark, so I guess I started getting reckless. As always happens on these blowdown-heavy days, I finally scraped and bloodied my knee stepping over a log, but of course it happened at the very end after I’d gotten through all the hard stuff unscathed.

It was only a few more minutes before I arrived at Seven Lakes with not even enough twilight to pitch a tent by. I did it by headlamp light. And I was not the only one there. I saw m more headlamps at another camp a hundred yards away. I heard their voices as I went to bed. I assumed they were hunters as I definitely heard elk bellows in the area. It seemed like a nice place for elk to hang out.

Anyway, the point is that I went almost 7 miles less than I wanted to, partly because I set an unrealistic goal and partly because of all the blowdowns I didn’t realize would get so bad so late in the day. I had enough lunches and dinners for five more days, roughly, but maybe snacks for four at most. I needed the rest of the alternate route to be a much easier time. I didn’t regret going the way I did. It was beautiful and fun. But time and speed would always be important factors.

Trail miles: 14.7 (17.3 actual miles hiked)

Distance to Steamboat Springs: ~71 miles

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