Colorado Trail Day 23 – Cottonwood Pass Beauty | Average Hiker
There were large, early morning visitors. We had camped along a game trail, and those travelers could have cared less! I'm pretty sure I heard two large moose headed down to get water, and they passed within feet of my thin walled Dyneema shelter! One big hoof….
It was still dark when I woke up and began packing, and would be for at least another hour. I wanted to get up to the saddle for sunrise. Waking up with the world made each day new, all mine. There was rarely anybody else with me at the top of the Passes and Saddles this early.
Pat was still sleeping when I began moving around, but I could see light from Steve's Tarp. He had told Pat that he was leaving at 7:15AM to meet his wife at Cottonwood Pass for a resupply – with or without Pat. Pat liked to sleep a little later so it would have been fun to watch Steve get him up early, but I couldn't wait – winter was whispering. Surprisingly, Pat did say goodbye from inside his tent as I was leaving.
Cold winds ripped through my thin fleece as I strode up to the peak of the saddle. I had worked up a sweat climbing, but the frigid wind would suck the heat away quickly so I pulled on my Puffy to watch the sun rise. There was also a 25 foot spot on the top where I had a cell signal, so I sent home a good morning sunrise pic.
Technology on these journeys is still controversial, but I love to bring along those I care about on these trips. It is also an opportunity to share what I love with those that may not have the ability to do these long hikes. There are still many places in this country that we can only get to on foot.
Descending from Sanford Saddle with a numb face I marveled at the long sweeping views down through the drainage areas – valley that were beginning to lighten up with the morning sun. In a couple of spots along the creek I thought I could see tiny brown dots moving between the creek side bushes. This was prime moose habitat.
The trail traveled along the sides of the towering mountains around me, occasionally rising over saddles and winding it's way across long exposed ridges. This would have definitely not been a fun place to be in a thunderstorm. There were sections that offered minimal tree cover if I ran down the mountain, but for the most part it was wide open, inviting lightning strikes.
The landscape itself was breathtaking. There were times that I stopped to slowly turn and marvel at the amazing views. It was almost other worldly. I have said this so many times already, but this was hands down the most amazing section I had hiked on this trail. It would have been unfortunate to have to rush through it because of thunderstorms. I was glad I had waited.
There were a couple of small climbs before I reached Cottonwood Pass. On the first one I paused behind a stone wind break to have breakfast. The last few miles before heading into a town are normally pretty quick, but I was taking my time today. The weather and scenery were exceptional, and the joy and energy I felt as I sat on top of the world were something I only find in occasional places like this one.
The last mile to Cottonwood Pass was slow. This kind of hiking does not happen often so I was not rushing it. The morning weather was also exceptional, and I just ambled along soaking it all in. I had hoped to see Pat and Steve before I began my hitch back into Salida. They would be hurrying to meet Steve's wife, so I thought they might catch me at my slow pace.
The Cottonwood Pass parking lot was crowded with people here for the views. It had not been paved long, and I imagine that was also drawing a lot of visitors on a day like today. Groups of people were posing and taking pictures in front of the Continental Divide Sign. I stopped near the sign to prop my backpack against a fence while I situated my gear – stashing my hiking poles on the pack, and putting on a “less smelly” jacket.
Slowly, people began to notice me and started asking questions about what I was doing and where I was going. This was all part of the plan. The hope was that someone would offer me a ride to Salida, or at least in that general direction. I had 3 offers of a ride in the opposite direction, but none to Buena Vista or Salida. About 45 minutes later I saw Pat and Steve coming down the hill towards the parking area.
Steve headed towards me and then blasted off across the parking lot. “He gave his wife wrong directions,” Pat said as he came ambling over. “How long have you been here?” “Two hours,” I said grinning at him. “No way” he said before seeing my grin and beginning to laugh.
We walked down to join Steve and discussed hitch hiking techniques. We all sat on a rock by the road for a few minutes before I began wandering back up the edge of the road with my thumb out. I did not want to go too far up, and wanted to give drivers plenty of room to pull over. Suddenly, I heard a shout and looked over to see a woman coming down the trail on the other side of the road waving her arms.
“I'll give you a ride,” Mary said as she walked across the road with her large camera dangling around her neck. She had been taking pictures of Moose, or at least trying. I waved goodbye to Steve and Pat as I followed her to her jeep. “Would you like a Diet Coke?” she offered as we approached the jeep. I grinned – “Sure!” This was the easiest I had gotten in Colorado!
On a side note, my hike around Steve and Pat had been fun. I had enjoyed camping with them at night, and was slightly disappointed not to be hiking with them anymore. I could same the same for Shy and Sam. I've always been a solo hiker, but maybe in my old age I've begun to enjoy the company of other hikers a little more – maybe.
Pat/Steve – If you are reading this, you should come hike the AZT next Spring!!
Mary lived in Buena Vista, but happily offered to take me to where I was staying in Salida. As we drove down from the Pass we discussed Colorado, her interests, my hike, and even politics. Our views were not same, but she was smart, open minded, and I enjoyed the discussion. People are divided right now. It was nice to to discuss different view points and perspectives with no animosity or aggression.
We stopped by Mary's house so she could grab a few things, and I met her husband. I was surprised at how warm it was in Buena Vista. This was one of the things I noticed about Salida also. The days were dry and hot, but cooled off quickly at night, needing no air conditioner. Everyone just opened their windows while they slept. It was no wonder everyone was moving to Colorado.
Finally dropping me off in Salida, I said goodbye to Mary and began my chores. I had some things to wrap up, so we would be in town tomorrow, but time would fly by quickly with everything I needed to get done. Town was far more stressful than any hiking in lightning storms!