Friday, August 21st, 2020
We were heading into the San Juans today at last! This was an exciting day! The scenery has been amazing thus far, but from what we’ve heard, they were about to get better! We climbed and climbed before reaching the highest point of the Colorado Trail 13,271 feet (4,045 meters). We hiked to higher elevations on this trip, taking the side trail to Mount Elbert, but this was still an exciting moment.
We skidded down steep, gravel roads. I was amazed I didn’t bust my ass! I had to catch my balance a number of times. We walked by the skeletons of old, mining building. I kept smelling something in the air that reminded me of seafood seasoning, or a crab house. I still don’t know what plant was releasing the odor to this day. I would s mell it several time through the San Juans. We also saw interesting rock formations that made me think of the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.
We met a hiker named Darwin who we chatted with for a while during our break. After letting him hike ahead of us, we saw several glacial lakes, and enjoyed the greenery and wildflowers which covered the surrounding mountains. Most of the snow was melted, but some of the mountains were snow-capped or had clusters of snow near their summits.
Today involved a whole lot of work, but the views surrounding us left me speechless. I found it difficult to wipe the smile from my face. I must have grinned ear to ear the entire time! Photos will never do them justice. The day was long and strenuous, but it was one of my favorite days on trail, hands down! I was in love with the San Juans!
Ahead of us was a flock of sheep and the setting sun. We passed Darwin who was setting up his sleep system by a lake, gave him a wave, then kept moving. Our goal was to tackle at least 30 miles and we were only a mile shy of reaching it. We grabbed water from the snow melt and reached the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and Colorado Trail junction. We’ve been hiking along the CDT most of the time during this journey, and it was time to part ways. Until we meet again, CDT!
I saw one of the most stunning views in my life. Mountains opening up to a canyon with glacial lakes tiered along the edges with the colorful sky as the backdrop. It was also time to head down. Way, way down! What followed was what I’ll call the “Switchbacks of Death.” It was a very steep downhill with very narrow, gravel switchbacks. We skidded every time we made a turn. Skid too far and you might tumble down the mountain. I wound up slipping on my ass in the process. The day started with slippery gravel and it would also come to a close with it.
We decided to camp when we reached the bottom at mile 398.5. We hit our goal and there was a flowing stream nearby to utilize in the morning. Next to us were also several caves. Thanks to the tales from the Babysitter’s Club yesterday, all I could think about was a mountain lion exiting one of them during the night and sniffing my face as I slept. After chasing away those semi-irrational fears, I was able to doze off.
31.2 miles (50.2 km)
Jump Ahead to The Colorado Trail: Part 21
Jump Back to The Colorado Trail: Part 19
Start from the Beginning: The Colorado Trail: Part 1