Great Western Loop: Day 46-49: Creede to Salida
Day 46: Back to the mountains (26.5miles)
The benefit of Creede being located in a lush valley meant, that a rough climb back into the mountains was waiting for me.
I therefore hit MJ's Cafe at 7am, had a feast on the "old fashioned american breakfast" (bacon, eggs, toast) and an additional two pancakes.
I than quickly resupplied at the local supermarket and started my climb from ~8800ft to 12600ft. A climb of 3800ft (1160m) that followed a dirt road along several old mining sites, before it changed into a self-made snow-covered cross-country route.
Close to the top I was quite baffled to see a person looking into the next valley. A skier, that had hiked up here, but now wasn't sure about moving on. We talked for a while before I moved on.
My cross-country route had lead me to a cornice (overhang of snow), that was difficult to traverse. I searched some 10-15min for a safe place to cross and than decided to glissade down the slope.
The snow was already extremely mushy. Great for slow and safe glissades, but a massive problem for a hiking, even with snowshoes.
(The trail lead through the forest and than back up to the saddle in the middle of the picture)
The hike through a small forest was terrible and extremely exhausting.
Upon reaching that saddle in the above picture, I made a navigational mistake.
Looking at my maps, I saw that the trail would continue north and drop down into the snow again, before climbing up to the next saddle. Taking a quick look at my compass I decided to leave the trail and instead of climbing down into the snow, I stayed on the snow-free ridge to the east. That way I tried to save some elevation and time. Unfortunately my bearing was slightly off and I ended up further east than expected. This brought me to a steep gravel slope, that I now had to scramble down. Instead of saving time, I probably lost 45mins on this detour.
Making it to the final saddle at 12600ft I gained some nice and promising views.
From here on, I had to hike mostly downhill, leaving the snow behind for a day or two.
(Promising views, no snow further down the valley)
It felt great to leave the snow behind and make some easy progress, through a quite beautiful valley.
I felt really strong and happy that day and even my shoes and feet dried out...until I reached a bridge that...didn't exist. Usually I need some 1.5-2l for camping, I therefore decided to hike on, until I came to a nearby river crossing, that should have had a bridge. Unfortunately that bridge was under water and so I had to get my feet wet, just before setting up camp. 😢
Day 47: Worst 3 miles ever (32.5miles)
Day 47 started easy. A well maintained trail and some dirt roads allowed great progress. I really enjoyed a leisurely hike, but was slightly concerned about the weather, as rain was predicted.
A few hours into the day clouds started to build up and i saw a distant thunderstorm. Luckily the storm never made it to my location.
Along the way I met two bikers with a chainsaw, who were just clearing parts of the trail from blowdowns. I would meet them three times that day.
My goal for the day was CDT Mile 1020 (Razor Peak), which I reached at 4pm. I was quite happy about that progress and decided to add another 5-7 miles.
Exactly here ended the section that was maintained by those bikers, and shortly after I found myself on the worst possible trail ever.
Back at some 11.000ft and on a northern slope with dense forest, the snow built up quickly again. Unfortunately it was also accompanied by an endless amount of massive blowdowns.
I struggled over massive trees and through mushy snow. Never sure, whether to use my snowshoes or hiking shoes. Postholing was intense, even with my snowshoes and I ended up crawling over some patches of snow. It was awful and the most exhausting experience I've ever had. I was totally burned out, when I finally made it to a creek, that would provide water for the night. These last 3miles had cost me more than 3hours and a lot of energy.
For the first time on trail, I even made a fire to dry out my shoes and socks.
(Always a great idea, to leave the gas container next to the fire...)
Day 48: Bail out (26miles)
Getting up at 5:30am, I was hoping for much better snow conditions in the morning. Usually the snow freezes over night and allows great progress until noon. Not this day...
Immediately after leaving camp I started to posthole. My snowshoes helped, but I still regularly fell or got swallowed by the snow. Oftentimes the snow was so mushy, that it was hard to get up again. At times I even had to dig out my snowshoes.
My progress was as slow as on those last 3 miles the day before.
(San Juan Mountain Range in the background)
After struggling for some 2hours, I came to the Baldly Lake Junction and realised, that this trail could get me off the mountain and into a small village called Sargents. Knowing, that I was too exhausted to posthole all day, I decide to take that trail. Some 2-3miles later, I was out of the snow and on a nice trail and dirt road.
Another 8miles later, I saw the first buildings of Sargents. My expectations were low, but I was hoping for a restaurant or at least gas station. My hopes dropped upon seeing a completely rundown village. I could hardly believe that anyone was living here.
As I entered Highway 50, which would take me to Monarch Pass in 11miles, I looked to my right and the very last building of Sargents, was indeed a gas station, with little Cafe. I immediately stopped here for a burger and than hiked up the Highway to Monarch Pass
Looking back, I saw a bad storm exactly where I would have been, if I hadn't left the mountains earlier.
From Monarch Pass I could take a ride into Salida, without breaking my continuous footprint, as I would come back here, after resting and resupplying.
The guy that gave me a ride looked like Santa Clause. He had just bought 8acres of land for 1,000 USD via an government auction and was now going to have a look, at what he actually had won.
The drive was the most scary thing so far. The driver constantly looked at his phone, as he had no idea where he had to go, to find his land. At times he used both hands to scroll through his phone, while driving 50miles on a curvy mountain road. We were all over the road, until I finally took his phone, pretending to look where his land was. I was actually able to direct him onto the right road, when we arrived in Pocho Springs. Here our ways parted and I was quite happy about it. Salida was only 5 miles away and just a few minutes later, a young man with his dog gave me a ride into Salida. After getting a room in a nearby motel, I went to Verizon to finally get my phone/ contact fixed, which hadnt been properly working for the last 45 days.
Day 49: Zero day in Salida (0miles)
The last days had really burned me out and more bad weather was approaching. I therefore stayed in town, resting and thinking about how to move on. I'll probably take the Eastern Collegiate Loop to Twin Lakes, which doesn't go as high into the mountains as the Western Collegiate Loop. I really don't wanna be stuck on one of the high mountain passes in a thunderstorm. Unfortunately, taking the eastern route means missing out on some epic views.