Colorado Trail Day 29 – San Luis Saddle | Average Hiker
I tossed and turned all night, constantly awakened by the slightest creak, convinced that my poor choice of campsites was going to have me crushed by the heavy, dead wooden skeletons above me. As the sun began to brighten the darkness around me, I woke up unscathed but tired, shivering as I pushed my matted head out from under the quilt. Damn it's cold I thought as I reached out to pull in my previous day's damp hiking clothes under the quilt with me to warm up against my heated skin.
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Hiking fast I made my way up the trail towards the first big saddle of the day. I was surprised to see a shadow of snow along the slopes around me, and I could feel my anxiety increase as winter began it's soft whispering in the back of my mind.
There is always a schedule on the trails if you want to avoid the more extreme seasons. In cases like the CDT, PCT, AZT, etc., you don't want to start too early because there might still be prohibitive snow at the high passes, and you don't want to start too late because the desert sun will roast you alive.
You also want to move fast or winter will catch up with you and end your hike early, and that is heart breaking after thousands of miles with your goal within your grasp. So over time you learn to keep moving, and to listen to the voice that keeps pushing you forward. Hopefully, that voice does not chat with you too often!
Today was a town day, but I forced myself to slow down and enjoy the moments in this valley. The landscape was beautiful and the wet drainage running up the middle of the valley made this prime moose habitat. As I walked in and out of low bushes mule deer leaped through the brush and forests around me. The elusive moose stayed hidden though, and I slowed even more to examine every shadow I passed. There were here somewhere.
Coming over a small rise I saw a far side cartoon taking place. There was a Coleman pop-up tent in a grassy area near the creek in the middle of the valley. Surrounding it were three young bucks, all staring at it. I could only wonder at what they were thinking about the large alien bubble in their territory, or maybe they knew and were just deciding how to screw with it. There has been many a night the deer devils have gathered around to blow at my shelter, awakening me suddenly and abruptly from a deep sleep!
As I stood watching, all three suddenly looked in my direction. They must have caught my scent. Suddenly, the largest buck turned to leap through the bushes behind him, and the two smaller bucks followed quickly. Smiling, I continued up the hill coming around the corner and stopping dead in my tracks.
Lying in the grass next to the bushes by the creek was a massive bull moose. He lay watching me, and I would have mistaken him for a rock if not moving slowly to examine every rock I passed. This was one of those moments that took my breath away out here, and I stopped breathing, praying for him not to move. I think I stood like that for 10 minutes, both of us staring at each other, before taking a quick picture of him and walking on down the trail.
Adrenaline had me stepping lightly as I looked through the trees and saw another moose with her calf. Grinning, I kept hiking, looking back over my shoulder as I made my way past them. This was a wild mother moose that would not tolerate any type of threat to her baby. They studied me closely as I moved away, ears rotating back and forth like warning radar.
The trail continued to weave it's way up towards the obvious saddle above, and as I climbed above tree line I was startled by a flapping noise. I looked over to see a young hiker shaking out her snow covered tent fly. We both smiled and nodded as I passed. It was too early and cold to stop and chat.
Cold, stinging wind pulled at my thin flapping layers as I reached the cusp of the saddle. I stopped to marvel at the views beyond, the frost covered slopes towering over the dark green valleys. Looking back over my shoulder I watched for a moment as the sun touched the tips of the jagged peaks above me. It was a clear, crisp magical morning that was suddenly punctuated by sharp barking!
Turning back to the saddle I saw a coyote and her two pups watching me. They had just come up the other side of the saddle, and as I watched the pups turned and vanished back down the other side of the hill while the mother began trotting towards me.
Mother coyote veered up the slope as she passed me. This was a wide saddle and she had plenty of room to avoid me, but as she passed by she stopped to turn and study me. I was moving towards her young and could see the anxiety in her body language as she tried to figure out how to draw me away from them. Lifting her head she began to sing. Was it a song of warning for me or the pups?
As the coyote paced back and forth between me and her pups barking and singing, I moved on quickly. I did not feel threatened by the scrawny, lone coyote, but I did not want to upset the little family more than was necessary. She was clearly upset, and as I moved closer to where her pups hid she became even more agitated. I began jogging as her frantic cries became more aggressive.
The narrow trail sloped down sharply to the left, and I slowed to place my feet carefully on the snow covered tread as I listened to the distant singing behind me. She was probably telling the kids to get their asses in gear! It was time for the small family to get down into the valley before more Apex predators appeared.
Over the next 4 miles I wound my way down along the barren, cold slopes towards San Luis Pass. I would leave the mountains at this point, and began making my way down towards the Trailhead outside of Creede, Colorado. I had used my InReach to confirm a pick up by a shuttle provider in town.
Many small towns have people that offer shuttle rides to hikers, and today's digital technology makes it much easier to take advantage of these services. I would rather get a quick ride than lose a day walking into town. Most of these trails have websites or Facebook pages where you can get the shuttle information or leave messages with any inquiries.
I did not always walk down to a Pass, but this was the case with the San Luis Pass, where I stopped to check my guide. There was about a 1.2 mile walk down to the Trailhead, and then another 2 miles to the parking area at Equity Mine where Debbie would pick me up.
As I checked my Colorado Trail Databook to make sure I was walking in the right direction, the two hikers I had passed packing up on the slopes this morning walked up. They had no plan for getting into town other than walking, so I told them they could probably ride down with Debbie also, and sent her another message to let her know.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I walked down to the waiting area by myself, and the other young hikers showed up about 15 minutes later, where we waited for Debbie. When she did not show up at the designated time we began walking down the road second guessing where where we were to meet her. About 10 minutes later I saw a small Ford pick-up making it's way up the mountain.
Creede, Colorado is a favorite town of mine. I stayed here when I hiked the CDT, and love the beauty of the mountains surrounding the picturesque little town. The town itself has not exploded like the rest of Colorado, probably due to the waste left behind by all of the mining activity in the area. I was looking forward to a zero day in the small, friendly town.