Day 42: Even The Mightiest Rivers Start Small
Sunday, June 12, 2022 6:47 pm
Location: Cataract Lake (568.9 miles)

Today, I returned to the trail for half a day of hiking towards my next resupply stop in Lake City.

Today started off fairly lazy, but after a shower, and packing everything up, the first order of business was getting a real breakfast. On the north end of town, I found the Kendall Mountain Cafe, and I had blueberry pancakes and eggs.

On the way back to The Avon, I stopped by the hardware store to get a new gas canister, to ensure I’d have enough fuel to make it through to Salida, roughly 120 miles ahead. (Probably I can get more fuel at my next stop, Lake City; but it’s a small town and I didn’t want to risk it.)

Shortly after I got back to The Avon, Rattler came in, having split off from his group (which included Pale Ale, Sprouts, Stumblebee, Tiempo, and Boomerang). Most of them are going in to Lake City, so I may see them; Stumblebee apparently took the Creede Cutoff.

Shortly before noon, my ride back to the trail arrived, and I bid farewell (or rather, until next time) to Dog Bite, Plus One, and Slowpoke. Dog Bite and Plus One will be leaving today to hike back to where they got off the trail, via the railroad line to Durango, and the Colorado Trail to the CDT junction. Slowpoke will be leaving tomorrow for Telluride, to meet a friend at a music festival there. (This will also give him more time to rest his knee, which hasn’t significantly improved since he got to town.)

My ride back to the trail started off in a Jeep towing an ATV. (Off-highway vehicles are not allowed in the town. Apparently, this was a major controversy a few years ago.) The ATV was towed to the far north end of town, unloaded, and then we took it the rest of the way to the trailhead. It was a less nervewracking ride up than my ride into town since the ATV was both considerably smaller (and so more maneuverable) and in general just a more appropriate vehicle for the ride.

On the drive up, it was cold, windy, and very dusty. There was an occasional light rain, and I hoped that it wouldn’t be raining once we got up to the trail head. It hadn’t even occurred to me to check the weather forecast beforehand, but now I was out of cell phone service, and it was no longer possible.

I reached the trail head shortly before one, and was greeted with light rain that quickly turned into snow. I put on my pack cover and rain jacket, which was pretty much sufficient to make the snow stop.

Already at the trail head was Fuck-It, whom I met recovering from an injury at the Toaster House in Pie Town; and Wild Man, whom I don’t think I’d met before. They were waiting for Jules, who’d hitched up to the trail and was dropped off a couple of minutes before I got there, a couple minutes back along the road — I passed him on the way to the trail head.

We all got started at 1 o’clock, heading down the dirt road that we’d been driven up on, away from town. It was a nice gentle downhill, and then the trail turned off the road, heading north on trail along the side of a mountain.

Leaving Stoney Pass, the trail turned eastward, setting me off on the northern limb of the horseshoe through the San Juans. The trail will continue generally east until just before Monarch Pass, which will take me into Salida, the trail town after Lake City, in roughly a week.

The cloud that snowed on me didn’t take long to move out of the way, and the sun came out. Once the sun was out, it didn’t take very long for it to start warming up, and I wound up having to take off my rain jacket far sooner than I expected, so I didn’t overheat.

The first stream crossing of the day wasn’t just any stream. It was the Rio Grande, not very far from its source, just a small thing only a couple of feet wide, fed from snow melt, with flowers alongside. Even the mighty rivers start out humble.

Flowers along the Rio Grande
Flowers along the Rio GrandeEven mighty rivers start small.

Not surprisingly, I was a bit slow on the uphills, though I think at least some of that could be attributed to it being lunchtime, and the last thing I had was breakfast. I stopped for a break after about three miles, at a spot where three hikers were laying down under a propped-up tarp. One of them, I was a little surprised to find, was Tiempo, who explained that they’d attempted to take cover from a rainstorm that never happened. The other two were Almost, and Windchime. Windchime saw me eating a Snickers bar, and mentioned that the last time she’d had one was on the Appalachian Trail. Come to find out, she’d section-hiked the AT, and had finished on Katahdin the same day as I did! We were all also going to the same place, Cataract Lake, in another seven miles.

Climbing up from where we’d stopped, the wind started to blow rather strongly, and it didn’t let up until I crossed the ridge and started going down the other side.

I suspect this part of the trail gets a significant amount of snow; there were quite a few cairns to follow along the trail, and some of them were four or five feet tall. If there were any of that height before, it could only have been a handful; I don’t recall seeing any this tall before.

A Tall Cairn Marks the Trail
A Tall Cairn Marks the Trail

While there were one or two steep sections of the trail today, they were pretty short. For the most part, the trail was relatively gentle today. There wasn’t that much snow, and where there was, it was mostly fairly flat; there was really only one place where I was in any danger of sliding down a hill, and even that wasn’t hardly anything compared to some of the snow traverses I had further south.

I’m not sure I passed any trees today either. The entire day was above the tree line.

Alpine Tundra
Alpine TundraView west (trail south) as the trail cuts through a gently rolling alpine landscape.

I turned off the CDT just before 6:30, heading about a tenth of a mile down the side trail to Cataract Lake. The lake itself is actually much further down the trail, lower in a valley; I’m actually much closer to a smaller, apparently unnamed lake. Tiempo and Almost were already here, and Windchime wasn’t far behind. Also here was Cream, whom I met on the bus to Chama, and a southbound section hiker who is doing the section between Spring Creek Pass (which goes into Lake City), and Wolf Creek Pass (Pagosa Springs).

It had already been windy for a while, and the wind didn’t stop at all while I put up my tent and collected water to filter. The wind really only started to calm slightly after the sun went behind a mountain, and even after that it didn’t really stop.

It feels like it’s going to be rather cool tonight, with gusts of wind. The full moon is hiding most of the stars in the sky, but, I think I might have gotten a glimpse of a shooting star through my open tent door.