Colorado Trail Day 27 – Cows Everywhere! | Average Hiker

Hiking Views Over Valley on Trail

Mysterious guy sounds better than Creepy guy, so I’ll refer to him as “Mysterious” going forward.

Mysterious is in the first sentence of this post because his shelter was the first thing I saw when I peeked out of my shelter this morning. He had camped just up the hill after coming back from getting his water. He seemed a little closer each day.

There was no water in Razor Creek, but it was still damp and very cold when I got up this morning. I should have hiked up out of the low point in this valley yesterday, but it was late when I set up camp last night. I moved fast once I got out of my quilt and was hiking quickly in the early, grey morning light.

The climb up out of Razor Creek was moderate and a pretty walk up through thick Spruce forest before I began a descent down through Lujan Pass and joined up with a Forest Service Road that ran along Lujan Creek.

Beautiful weather in Section 17
More Great Weather on Section 17
Backpacking on Colorado Trail by Trail Emblem

The road along Lujan Creek was well used, with a lot of turn offs for car camping, and as I looked down along the creek I saw tents set up throughout the bushes along the creek.

These were not typical backpackers. They appeared to be people that had set up permanent campsites and were living in them. A few of them looked up towards me as I walked past them on the road. I waved, but they did not wave back. They gazed back with solemn, grim expressions.

I wondered as I passed these people. They were not the first I had seen camped on public lands, appearing to have settled in for long periods of time. This was the first year that I had seen so many though. Was it because of Covid – either hiding in fear or having lost their jobs? These were crazy times I thought as I lowered my head and picked up my pace.

Reaching Hwy. 114 to Gunnison, I turned right and headed down the road to where the trail picked up across the road about a half mile down the twisting, hard asphalt route. Hot sun beat down on me as I trudged along, while massive RV Trailers roared past me. I had forgotten it was the weekend in Colorado. Camping was in full swing.

Coming around the last curve, I looked up to my left and saw a figure with a black hoodie and a small backpack. His thumb was stuck out in a half hearted pose as he tried to hitch a ride into Gunnison. It was Mysterious. Should I tell him that he would not get a ride looking like the Grim Reaper in his black hoodie pulled down low over his eyes? Probably not…

Heading across a dirt parking area, I let myself through a cattle gate and began hiking across a meadow towards the forest in distance. I could see a a small colored dot as I drew closer to the trees, and as I drew closer I realized it was a woman sitting on the ground.

I said hello as I walked up, and she quickly told me she was trying to decide if she should go into Gunnison or keep hiking. “The Colorado Trail is very lonely” she said. “It’s not like the Appalachian Trail.” Trying to offer encouragement I smiled and nodded, telling her that she should probably keep hiking.

I was almost out of water so moved on after a few minutes. There was supposed to be a good water source in another mile on Pine Creek, or at least one with less cow infiltration. Glancing back over my shoulder I saw the woman hiking behind me.

Water from a culvert pipe is never my favorite, but it was either that or a cow trampled mud hole, so culvert it was. As I sat on the ground filtering, the lonely hiker flopped down beside me, still debating on whether or not she should hitch into Gunnison. I think part of her hesitancy was having to hitch hike. This is sometimes the toughest part of backpacking solo for women. After a few minutes of listening I offered my opinion.

“If you are unsure, I would just hitch into town” I said. She seemed to be doubting her hike and sometimes a night of with town food, a shower, and a warm motel room will change one’s hiking state of mind.

Don’t make any big decisions on your hike until after a night in town. There have been times I was ready to leave the trail, but after a night in town I was ready to get back into the Wilderness. A few minutes later she announced she was going back to the road. I did not see her again.

There was quite a bit of dirt road walking today, and the commonly seen “wildlife” was definitely the cattle. There was not a mile in today’s 22 miles where I did not see at least 2-3 cows. Passively watching and chewing as I passed by, they were pretty indifferent to my presence. I think they were probably pretty indifferent to most things.

Cow on Colorado Trail Backpacking
Average Hiker Hiking by Old Cabin

The dirt road hiking was a little tedious today, but the views at the end of the day were some of my favorite. The terrain reminded me of Montana, and was some of my favorite. I love the long, open high plain views.

Wyoming and the Great Divide Basin is some of my favorite hiking. I always feel like the only human in a massive beautiful endless world. Today was similar with views for miles, surrounded by massive ragged mountain ranges.

The dirt track I was following at the end of the day traveled alongside a barbed wire fence, weaving gently down a wide open valley with fields on both sides. This was obviously cow territory, and I greeted them all as I passed by while watching afternoon shadows stretch across the grasses. It was getting late, and it looked like I would be sleeping with the bovines.

The sun was dropping towards the horizon, and the faint dirt track stretched off into the distance. There seemed to be very little shelter for the night, so when I came upon a cluster of Spruce trees I decided to set up camp for the night. It was pretty windy, and the trees would offer some shelter.

Circling the trees I found a small flat dug out area up under the branches in the back. It was clearly a cow bed, but I just moved the cow patties and set up. This spot offered me better protection from both the wind and anyone passing by on the trail.

As I was setting up, I saw a figure approaching down the hill. As they drew closer I realized it was “Mysterious.” I guess hitching in a grim reaper outfit had not been successful. I had read that Gunnison was already a tough hitch.

I pretended I did not see him and continued to set up my shelter, watching out of the corner of my eye as he paused when he saw me. Turning my back I continued setting up the Altaplex, and when I looked up again he had moved on down the trail. I’m sure he would probably not camp far away.

Average Hiker Hiking by Old Cabin on Colorado Trail

Cows are crazy. With my back turned, I about had a heart attack as something massive came charging through camp. It was a giant black cow that had come around the trees, noticed my tarp, and then freaked out as she tried to charge through the undergrowth (wood pile) beside me, before bouncing off and hurling herself in the other direction!

Finally regaining a normal heart beat, I had just settled into my shelter when it sounded as if someone had dropped a small car next to me. Pulling back my vestibule flap I looked out to see a 1,000 pound beef cow lying about 5 feet away from my front door. We stared at each other until she slowly climbed to her hoofs and ambled away. I must have been in her bed.

Average Hiker Hiking by Old Cabin on Colorado Trail
Colorado Trail Day 27 Backpacking Down from Pass
Altaplex on Colorado Trail Section 18

Just as I was dozing off I heard the oddest slapping noise. Shining my headlamp out of my vestibule again, a small calf quit nursing to turn and stare at me before going back to work on his mother’s udder about 10 feet away. They refused to move, and I had to listen to that slurping, slapping noise for at least a half hour.

Amidst almost constant long, low mooing calls, I finally drifted off to sleep. I don’t think the cows EVER quit their incessant mooing.

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Ellie Thomas

I've hiked thousands of miles and still love the unknown of the journeys. Trails hiked include the AT, PCT, CDT, CT, AZT, NET, BMT White Mountains, and numerous blue-blazed trails around the country.