Great Western Loop: Day 44-45: Pagosa Springs to Creede
Day 44: Reunion (13miles)
Golden and I hadn't heard from Sky and Hummingbird since I lost them. This wasn't yet concerning, but the recent storm in the mountains and their lack of snowshoes was still on our mind.
(My winter gear; also got some long gaiters from Golden, which help a lot to keep my feet dry and "warm")
The previous section and weather conditions lead to my decision of taking the Creede shortcut. That shortcut skips 3-5 days in the famous San Juan Mountains and stays on a lower elevation until it reconnects after 40miles with the CDT.
On day 44 i got up early and headed to Rose's Restaurant for breakfast.
While enjoying a Denver Omelette and a Pancake, Hummingbird and Sky showed up, with a story to tell.
They were half a day behind, when they got hit by the same storm, but they decided to bail. While scouting for a route over some cliffs, Sky lost his backpack and all his gear. Both made it down safely and stayed with a nice lady in a safe place, but couldn't retrieve his gear.
Overall, I felt quite reassured with my decision of skipping the San Juan's.
I accompanied them to the Post Office and than returned to my room, to get my pack and head for the trail.
It was probably 10:45am, when I got a hitch from a former US Air force member and his dog, who climbed back and forth between the two front seats, to cuddle either with me, or his owner.
At 11:15-11:30am I finally started my hike. The section to Creede was only 40miles, but I expected heavy snow on the first 13miles and I was right.
The snow started immediately after Wolf Creek Pass. The trail followed the highway for some time on a mountain slope, with several steeper sections. My feet were angled all the time and I realised that my left foots big toe, was in more pain than I'd like to admit. The straps of my snowshoes pushed against the toe, that had been hurting for a few days and made my footing a little bit insecure. I fell 1 or 2 times, but never got hurt.
The trail than quickly changed again into a winter wonderland, where I had to constantly check my GPS position. Trailmarkers, or a trail were not to be seen. For most of the time I just went cross-country, choosing the route I liked most. Relying on my compass and my understanding of the terrain ahead.
(Way up between those trees I decided to glissade down into the valley. Controlled glissading seemed to be the safest option, as it was to steep to simply walk down.)
After 10 miles I climbed up to Mt. Hope and was lucky to find the ridge mostly free of snow.
(I came from the left side of this picture, following the treeline)
(That's the ridge I followed, to stay out of the snow)
Just before reaching the junction to the Creede Alternate, I had to cross some snowfields again. By now, the snow was extremely mushy and hard to cross, even with snowshoes. I made it to the junction by 7:30pm and decided to stay just there for the night.
The decision was rather risky, as this tentsite wasn't sheltered at all, and I had to expect some strong winds at night. So I put in some extra effort, to secure my tent to the best of my ability.
Around midnight I experienced some strong gusts that shook my tent, but yet again the tent performed well and showed no sign of breaking down.
Day 45: Escape from the snow (27miles)
I had a hard time getting into my frozen shoes this morning, but the prospect of making it to Creede somehow forced my feet into the shoes.
After descending from the junction, i ended up near Goose Creek and in a nice and lush valley with no snow. For the first 3-4 miles I had to climb over quite a few blowdowns, but the trail conditions continuously improved.
Coming around a corner, I saw to elk directly on the trail ahead of me. The juvenile elk immediately ran away, but the elder one showed no sign of leaving.
(Two elks in the middle of the pic)
I got a bit closer and started yelling at the elk, but he just stood up and looked at me for a minute or two.
There wasn't much space to get around the elk, so I yelled a bit more and the elk finally decided to move out of the way.
Three miles before the Deep Creek Trailhead (3miles from Creede), the trail was in a really good condition and easy to hike.
Creede itself is an old and historical mining town. Upon arrival I went to the first restaurant to get a burger. The waitress was rather suprised to see me with my pack, as hikers usually show up here a month later. Afterwards I tried to find a place to stay and found three motels still closed for the season. Just before 5pm I arrived at the Snowshoe motel and also found a notice, that services start on May 17th, 3 days from today. Luckily the manager Lacey was around and called the owner if they'd make an exception for me. That way I got a room for the night and was also able to do my laundry.
Overall it was a good decision to take that route to Creede. It felt great to make some progress and to mentally relax. Not being able to see the trail in the snow is mentally and physically very demanding and stressful.
This day was a nice break. However, I'll be back in the mountains soon, and the forecast for the upcoming week is terrible. Rain and thunderstorms are forecasted. I'd love to wait it out, but I think I have no choice but to move on...