Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Colorado Trail: Reflections on a 500-mile Adventure (Part 3)

Today we began our ascent to Hope Pass, and we’re now camped in a glacial cirque.  The high meadow is scattered with wildflowers, and our tent is near a cold, clear pond.  We found a great bathing hole, got out the Dr. Bronners and jumped in for a chilly, hoot-hollering scrub.  It was overdue.

A short time ago an inquisitive marmot ventured into our camp.  He rummaged around outside our tent, playing with the zippers and trying to peek inside.  Then he started to approach us.  Several times he came within five feet then appeared nervous and walked in circles.  Eventually he would get spooked and run away, only to come back a few minutes later and do it all over again.

The sun is setting now, alpenglow lingering on the snowy peaks.  The air is calm, everything peaceful.

We’re camped near a large beaver pond.  It rained this afternoon, so we put on our rain jackets and went fishing.  But there are so many trout in the pond that we seemed to catch something with every cast.  We had five fish in no time, and we fried them with breadcrumbs for dinner.

We spotted the beaver while cleaning our fish.  He swam really close to us and repeatedly swatted the water with his tail.  I think he was trying to scare us away.

Yesterday we left our camp at Angel of Shavano and climbed through a forest dominated by lodgepole pine.  The air felt cool and fresh, and wildflowers were everywhere.  We ate lunch on the Continental Divide then crossed onto the western slope again, spending the night in an old log shelter on the edge of an alpine meadow.

Today we hiked 17 miles and ran short on water.  By the time we reached Seven Tank Creek (named for an old railroad water stop), I was parched and feeling clumsy.  We filtered two bottles of water and sat by the creek sipping them until we felt alive again.

After dinner I sewed several patches on my shorts…  I hope they last until Durango.

It started raining in the early morning and continued until late afternoon.  We spent the day hiking up Cochetopa Creek into the La Garita Wilderness Area.  Cochetopa is a Ute word meaning buffalo crossing.  Unfortunately, both the buffalo and the Ute are now gone from these mountains.

It was a spectacular hike, eventually leading us above timberline, along a ridge below San Louis Peak.  Mist hung in the air like an army of forgotten spirits, and everything felt mystical.

About 6:00 we reached the dirt road to Creede and started for town to pick up our resupply package of food.  Before long we stumbled across a man on horseback, wearing chaps, boots and a worn, brown Stetson.  He introduced himself as Sheriff Bill Fairchild.  His face was hidden by a bushy red beard, and he cussed a lot, laughed a lot, and talked about women a lot.  He’d blown a tire on his horse trailer after a search and rescue effort, so Richard and I helped him lead his horses to an aspen grove, tied them, and then helped him jack up the trailer and change his tire.

A short while later, his partner Sheriff Phil Leggit turned up and offered us a ride into town.  On our way down the bumpy dirt road Sheriff Leggit authorized us to “sleep anywhere you damn well please in town.”  Then he added, “If you wake in the night and need to piss, then you boys can piss all over the damn place.” 

We’re camped behind a saloon called the Mucker’s Bucket, and a rangy sheepdog has settled in with us.  I like Creede.

Up next:  Coyote, deer and the end of a great adventure.

Read the whole series:  Part 1  -  Part 2  -  Part 3  -  Part 4

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.