Day 35: Start of the Horseshoe
Sunday, June 5, 2022 8:18 pm
Location: Piedra Pass (498.2 miles)

Today brought me into the beginning of “the horseshoe” as I slowly continued through the San Juan mountains.

Overnight, it was cool, but there was very little wind, so it felt a lot warmer than it had previous nights. It didn’t seem like it dropped below freezing overnight, but just because water inside my tent didn’t freeze doesn’t mean it wasn’t freezing outside.

This morning, it was still cool, and overcast, with little to no wind.

Leaving camp first, naturally, was Mr. Freeze, with Boss right behind her. Normally, Patches would have been right behind her, but he was unusually lethargic this morning, probably from last night’s wine.

As I left camp, high on the ridge behind the lake we camped near, a lone deer (or possibly elk) stood watch.

The day began with a steep climb up from Spotted Lake to the trail to Archuleta Lake, which was in another basin. Leaving out a bit as it curved around the inside of the mountain, above the lake, the trail then quite steeply ascended to the ridge.

On the way up, I saw a pika, which was hard to photograph well, since from a distance it blended into the rocks very well. (And up close, it refused to pose, instead scurrying under a rock.) I think I also saw two marmots; rather, I saw two brown furry scurrying things, and there’s not much else they were likely to be.

Although I was feeling better than yesterday, the climb uphill still took a lot of effort, and I was pretty out of breath for most of it. About three quarters of the way up, the K2s passed me, though I caught up with them at the top. Not quite the top of a mountain (Mount Hope), this was as high as the trail climbed this particular mountain, and it still afforded wide views of the area.

View from Trail High Point on Mount Hope
View from Trail High Point on Mount Hope

I took a very brief break at the trail’s local high point on the ridge, before beginning a long descent.

Longstride at Trail Ridge Crest
Longstride at Trail Ridge Crest

As the trail descended, less steeply than it climbed, it continued its general northward trend. With fewer trees, the landscape opened up a bit. The occasional splotch of snow covered the trail, but there was rather little snow to worry about this morning.

Wide Open Trail
Wide Open TrailView west, deeper into the San Juan Mountains.

After four miles, I stopped for a break, catching up with the K2s, who had passed me on the way down. Kiernan had placed his white pack on the trail, and with him and Kite hidden behind the hill, his pack looked like a very curious-looking chunk of snow (especially since there was snow on the trail right before).

The trail turned west, beginning a 115-mile “horseshoe” through the San Juans. The 37.5-mile Creede Cutoff, named for the town it crosses through, forms a low-route alternate.

Tired from the uphills and the cold (or covid) I had, I briefly considered taking the Creede Cutoff, especially since Dog Bite and Plus One had mentioned how nice they thought the town was. But the mountains were why I was here; I just needed to moderate my pace more appropriately.

View towards Creede
View towards CreedeThe Creede Cutoff travels down this valley, forming a low route alternate to the high altitude mountains along the main CDT route.

The trees below the ridge the trail now followed were burned, the result of some past forest fire. Between fires and bark beetles, it’s a little surprising there are even any live pine trees at all in the forests.

About half an hour before noon, the sun came out, and it quickly warmed up. As if to counterbalance the sun’s heat, the wind picked up as well.

Now that we’re on the “horseshoe” section of the Colorado CDT, horseshoes have been appearing on the trail. Af first, I thought it was someone saying “good luck”, but then I remembered the shape of the trail, and the horseshoes made a lot more sense.

CDT Marker and Horseshoe
CDT Marker and HorseshoeNow that I am on the “horseshoe” section of the CDT in the San Juans, horseshoes have been appearing on the trail.

Around noon, as I was slowly trudging through a short uphill, Dog Bite, Plus One, and Patches caught up, but I left them behind while they took a break. An hour later, I stopped for my own break. Tired, I wanted to take a nap, but there was no shade, and I didn’t really bother to get into a comfortable position to rest my head. So, while I got a little bit of shut-eye, and it was somewhat restful, I didn’t really nap. Plus One and Dog Bite caught up to me while I was packing up from my break. They said Patches was stopping to take a nap back where I saw them last, but he’d probably catch up with us later.

The spot I stopped at was at the bottom of the second major climb of the day, so once I got started again, I began another slow slog up a mountain.

Both Dog Bite and Plus One were faster than me up the mountain, but Dog Bite was the faster of the two, and he climbed the switchbacks with relative ease. On the way up Dog Bite twice dropped his pack and went back to get Plus One’s pack so they could go up the mountain faster.

View west from the top of a narrow ridge.

From the top, there was a long descent, which I was able to do much faster than the ascent. After going through fairly open area, the trail entered a light forest.

Piedra Pass
Piedra PassView west towards Piedra Pass.

I stopped at Piedra Pass, which split between two small lake basins. I picked one, which seemed to have a large flat area in the middle, a bit uphill from the lake. It turned out that there really wasn’t much flat area at all. Once I got closer, it became clear that what I thought was flat was actually churned up soil freeze-thaw cycles. I managed to find a spot nestled in a fold next to a small hill. It was a little slanted, and not quite flat, but it worked well enough.

Dog Bite and Plus One arrived shortly later, setting up their tent on the hill between the two lakes, and then joined me for dinner.

Today was a rough day; despite having all day to hike, rather than just a half day yesterday, and also generally feeling better, I only managed an extra three miles. With two big climbs and one really big descent today in only 12 miles, I was pretty tired and exhausted. I was slow on all the uphills, and I couldn’t go very far without stopping to rest. It felt a bit demoralizing. Hopefully, tomorrow will be better.