CDT CO Section 9

Day 16: Above Middle Fork Conejos

A long brutal day.

I got started hiking a little after 7:30, which somehow felt like a late, slow start.

To start, I was going downhill, and I soon found myself passing lots of ponds or lakes, a trend that would continue all day.

I stopped at a nicely flowing stream to get water, thinking for a moment I had the urge to move bowels, but it went away.

It came back with an emergency vengeance a mile away, where the only places to stop were in a constant wind. I lost my first doggie bag to the wind entirely, even while trying to tuck it under a rock. It ran away faster than I could chase it. My attempt to keep the wilderness clean has slightly polluted it. An apathetic marmot watched the whole affair indifferently.

I stopped for lunch just far enough away that the marmot wouldn’t be involved, where there was a bit more wind protection. I noted that it was already early afternoon and I had only been 6 miles. I vowed to reach Blue Lake by dinner time.

While there weren’t that many climbs or downed trees across the trail in the next section, there were certainly tons of snow drifts. Sometimes, I had to improvise parallel routes to avoid the snow and maintain speed. I couldn’t always do that.

But I did reach Blue Lake by 6. There were some people camping on the south side, but I didn’t go near them, figuring chatting with people would slow me down. After 11 hours, I had only gone 13.9 miles. What a miserable pace. So I cooked and ate supper, a giant chicken pad thai, in record time. I skipped dessert and was ready to go in around 30 minutes.

After yet more climbing around and dodging snow banks getting away from the lake, I entered the longest, steepest climb of the day. As the sun’s light disappeared, I entered yet another climb, this one requiring some snow bank avoidance.

At the apparent top of the climb, with night truly started and working on by headlamp, the trail appeared to dead end into a glacier of sorts. It was easy enough to walk on the high-friction crusty surface of the snow, but there was no way to follow the trail, and it was easier to go up. When the ice got steep, I found a spot to put on my traction, and that bit like no one’s business. After continuing across, I soon found myself way above the trail where it had started descending again, and though I could scoot down among some moguls, the way below was too steep for safety, so I backtracked. I worked diagonally down across the ice until I could spot the trail again.

I continued on in the trail in the dark, pausing to pull off the spikes, but not to put them up. I had decided a mile ago I would stop at the next available tentsite, but that was already more than an hour ago with all the detouring, and by the time I did reach such a place, after another forced ice crossing, it had been more than 3 hours since dinner and I was feeling weak and maybe a bit dehydrated.

The spot was just a clearing among some trees up a short rise at the bottom of the ice. Trees didn’t grow in it because it was too rocky, but that also meant stakes wouldn’t go. The tent had to be held up by rocks and trees. Luckily, those abounded. Coyotes howling together in the distance kept me company through the process.

It was slow-going at the end of a 17-hour day with a sinking feeling in my stomach. Once I got in the tent and started changing my wet dirty clothes for some warm sleeping clothes, it was still a struggle. I got a cramp in my abs while trying to sit and pull on a sock. I was used up. I went to sleep as soon as I had brushed my teeth and tucked in, saving all other chores for the morning, which was not so far away.

Trail miles: 17.2

Distance to Wolf Creek Pass: 36.4 miles

One reply on “Day 16: Above Middle Fork Conejos”

You are stronger than any human I know. I do not know how you survive days like this. I would just sit down in the snow and cry.

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