Colorado Trail Day 31 – Snow Mesa | Average Hiker

first saddle after san luis pass

I’m pretty organized, so was a little frustrated as I threw everything into my backpack this morning. I had been assured that Debbie (the shuttle operator) was always late, and damnit if she wasn’t right on time! I leaned out the door and yelled “I just need 5 minutes!” as the motel owner shrugged with a sheepish grin while he stood at her truck window chatting. I really liked the friendly motel owners, so was not all that frustrated.

Any lingering frustration immediately disappeared as I climbed into the front seat of the truck and was overwhelmed by a 12 week old Catahoula Leopard Puppy named Bo. I squealed like a little girl as I pushed his frantic licking head away and then scooped him into my arms. He was beautiful!

Debbie was socializing Bo for her daughter, so she kept him during the day and let him ride with her as she worked. Socializing, baby sitting – same thing. I would have volunteered for whatever reason!

As we drove up into the Mountains, Debbie and I chatted while Bo settled into my arms. Within a few minutes he started moaning and whining to get down, and I told him “no” in a firm tone. He stopped and turned to stare at me. I could literally see the bright intelligence in those cattle puppy eyes. Debbie was going to have her hands full if she did not work with him.

Bo gave me one last glance and sat down for the ride up the mountain. He was a very composed and deliberate puppy. I could only imagine the mischief this young dog was going to raise.

road to san luis pass trailhead near colorado trail on day 31
climbing up to san luis pass on colorado trail
san luis pass trail sign

My goal for the day was the edge of Snow Mesa, but I had to get over a few steep climbs before reaching the mesa. The day was beautiful, and I knew every climb would be worth the effort with panoramic views provided just for me!

Leaving San Luis Pass, I began the first steep 800 foot climb, and could immediately feel my breathing straining after a full day off in town. My legs had no issues. They were now strong, and town food had given them enough energy to tackle anything coming my way today.

I lowered my head and began the climb, stopping once to suck in a few breaths before continuing. This far into the hike I should have been acclimated and in better shape, but I could still feel the elevation.

There could be any number of reasons – the week off in Salida recovering, being older since hiking the Continental Divide Trail, or just living on the East Coast. I don’t really know, but my lungs screamed for more oxygen as I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.

I paused at the top of the climb before beginning my 1,000′ descent. The views on this trail are amazing, some of the best I’ve ever seen, and this climb was no exception. But winter was coming and I needed to make miles so quickly began my steep descent.

backpacking down saddle on colorado trail
hike above creek drainage on colorado trail

The slope was steep, so I was moving slowly and focused on the trail right in front of me. When I finally glanced up I paused, watching a brightly colored hiker climbing towards me. She was going faster up than I was going down!

Sparkles was hiking north, probably around 22 years old, and on a mission to complete about 30 miles a day. On top of all that she bubbled over with exuberant energy. Ah to be that young again. As we stood chatting, a string of horseback riders made their way down the mountain slowly moving our way. We both turned to watch them, and as they moved closer we walked away from the trail.

All the horses make their way towards us in a line, except for the last horse. That horse appeared to be on it’s own trail ride as it weaved across the slope before turning and heading back up the mountain. The rider just appeared happy to hang on. The horse finally seemed to realize it’s herd was moving in the opposite direction and turned to weave it’s way back down the mountain – never following the clear trail.

Sparkles and I were watching from about 15 yards off the trail, and looked at each other before starting to laugh. We both appreciated that the horse was “hiking it’s own hike.” Chatting about 5 minutes longer we bid each other a good hike and headed our separate ways.

horseback riders on colorado trail
beetle kill in colorado

I moved pretty quickly up the next 500 feet before beginning the steep hike down to Middle Mineral Creek. Hopefully there was water since I had forgotten to get some when I hurriedly gathered my gear this morning.

Middle Mineral was flowing well as I dropped down the bank to the water. I drank a liter and filled up my two water bottles. I had a big climb up to Snow Mesa and knew water up there might be a harder to find. I could have looked at comment’s on my Guthook App., but I’ve found I use it less and less.

Technology is something I use on my hikes – phone and InReach, but not knowing what is coming up opens up the adventures for me. It may mean I carry some more water or have to figure out directions sometimes, but knowing what is always just ahead narrows the hike, at least for me. It is because of this rogue streak that I preceded to drink a liter of Beaver Pond Water.

Since getting sick near Cottonwood Pass, and having to sit out a week in Salida, I had filtered everything, but I was well over 11,000 feet and this mountain stream looked pristine (don’t mention the horses). Thus, I did not filter.

I was checking out all of the fantastic campsites as I climbed up away from Middle creek and as I looked back over my shoulder I spotted the small pond. The pond from which the pristine creek flowed. Heading over to take a closer look I spotted a large beaver dam and groaned loudly to myself. Ah well, the dice had been rolled and hopefully they landed in my favor.

The 1,200′ climb up to Snow Mesa was not all that tough. My legs were warm and my breathing was adjusting as I climbed. Coming out of the climb I again marveled at the wide open views. The mountains drew me in, but there was something about the wide open spaces that I really connected with, so mesas were a favorite of mine.

I would camp at the edge of the Snow Mesa before starting the hike down to Spring Creek Pass tomorrow morning, so I grabbed water at Willow Creek and hiked another mile or so before setting up my Altaplex. It was going to be a cold night up here over 12,000 feet, but so far my Katabatic Flex quilt had held it’s own.

After setting up camp I pulled out my quilt, leaned back against my pack, and watched the sun set while listening to the far away cry of coyotes. Colorado really was a stunningly beautiful state.

climb up to saddle after san luis pass
beaver dam near middle creek
drainage after snow messa with chalk cliffs
camp at sunset on snow mesa
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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.