With hindsight, we should have never left Silverton. I knew this about 15 minutes into our pedal, but by that time, I felt like it was maybe too late to say, “I really don’t want to climb Stony Pass today.” So I kept pedaling. But I was pooped. Turns out, 74 miles of CT singletrack will do that to you. And pooped meant that each hill was approached with a “really?”. Not a great attitude to have when climbing into the San Juans.
Up until then, it was a nice morning. We definitely woke up tired, something that I remedied with several cups of coffee at the Black Bear Cafe. It’s funny, we’d gotten firmly into tour mode before getting to Durango. Leaving town was never a hurry, town chores were never rushed.
But somehow, being back on the Colorado Trail, a route that we’ve both raced in the past, I found it hard not to be in race mode. Hurry up and eat breakfast, hurry up and pack, hurry up and shop for supplies. Luckily, we’d decided that we’re going to Lake City, so we didn’t have to shop for all the way to Salida.
Scott, probably still being tired without the aid of more than a cup of coffee, slowed me down. We dug through the hiker box at the hostel, newly restocked by Team Blueberry with two peoples’ dinner worth of mac and cheese, endless trailmix, a two pound jar of Nutella, a jar of peanut butter, more noodles, and what we guessed were grits. We took some mac and cheese and two bags of trailmix.
We drank juice and ate apples (and ice cream sandwiches) at the general store. We went back to the hostel to reheat our dinner leftovers and talk to the new owners some more. Then at noon, we pedaled. We should have just gone back to our room and napped.
But there we were at the base of Stony Pass. 4 miles of dirt road, nearly 3,000 feet of vertical.
“I think I need music.”
“I think you’re letting this climb mentally defeat you before we even start,” was Scott’s reply. We weren’t on speaking terms for the next three miles.
Then the trees started to clear and the top came into view. Things always look better above treeline.
Section 22 and 23 on the Colorado Trail are something special. So high that you can’t even see trees in the valleys below you. Sometimes good trail…sometimes not so good.
We hit snow and muck pretty early and I started to get frustrated with the wet feet and the incessant on again off again. This trail is so much better later in the year, I thought. But that’s the thing with long-distance trails, there’s no perfect way to time it. Hit CO trails perfect, you’ll be in the snow in Montana, and probably roasting in NM. So you take what you can get, when you can get it.
Anyhow, it was so stinkin’ beautiful out there, even with a solid level of cloud cover.
We caught Team Blueberry at the base of a long stretch of snowfields. They were working on their CT thru-hike. Hailing from Boone, NC, they were pretty impressed by the San Juans, quite possibly the most majestic mountains in CO. They informed us that they’d packed another 2 lb jar of Nutella for Durango -> Silverton and now couldn’t even look at the stuff.
Our pace was slower than them on the uphills, but then we got a solid stretch of snow-free downhill and soon they were out of sight. Bikes are fun.
We pedaled to Cataract Lake, filling up on water and finding a semi-sheltered camp spot behind some shrubs, the only plants more than 2 inches high that we’d seen all afternoon.
It was a cold and windy night, not high on the quality sleep meter, but again, the view totally made it worth it. And it was the lowest spot we’d been since Silverton, so that sort of qualifies as quality camping. I think