Part 2 Salida to Durango.
Salida hostel is very different from Leadville hostel. The facilities are more basic. The dormitory was closely packed with bunks and mixed gender. Hikers used their sleeping bags in the bunks. It was however every bit as friendly and helpful but I had one idea only burnt into my brain at this point and that was PIZZA.
I got checked in, got my laundry on and headed out with RJ and three other hikers to a pizzeria. It was a great pizza and I even had some left over to take back for lunch the next day.
I had my first zero day in Salida. A few of my days had been short but this was the first that I did no miles on the trail.
Salida is a small town (pop. 5000) on the Arkansas river and about 7000' above sea level, lower than I had been for 3 weeks. It is overlooked by Tenderfoot Hill (a mere pimple) which has a radio mast on top and a large letter S should anyone forget where they are. Salida has many historically significant buildings. The river is popular with white water rafters. It has a Safeway and a petrol station so I could buy the essentials. It also has a decent outdoor shop, where I got more chlorine tabs, and two pizzerias.
Next morning we went for breakfast to a restaurant by the river with a young man who was staying in the hostel and working at the restaurant. He told us an amazing story about how his home had been destroyed by forest fire and how the local community had generously helped him and his family. He was lucky to be alive. On previous walks particularly in Spain, I had become hyper conscious of how fast a fire can devour dry woodland. I could easily relate to how frightening an experience he had.
A Christian youth group were staying at the hostel. They were combining good works with enjoyable activities and went white water rafting on the river. I managed to get a sing song going with my whistle. If that wasn't enough music, in the evening a band was playing on a bandstand by the river. I went to see them and get some photographs. However shortly after the playing started so did the rain and heavily. The band invited the audience onto the bandstand for shelter and the session turned into a much more sociable event than it would have been with people spread out on the grass.
Also in Salida I went to see an exhibition of photographs by a Belfast photojournalist, Sean Mc Kernan showing at the community centre.
An interesting thing happened a few days previously. I met a guy coming the other way who told me he was photographing hikers on the trail and asked if he could take my picture. I agreed and later saw the picture on the CTF Facebook page. The photographer was Dean Krakel who is a Pulitzer prize winning photographer whose most famous picture is in the Marlboro Country cigarette advertisement series.
I had been told I could get a lift from the hostel to the trail but it didn't happen. By about 10-00am I got fed up waiting and walked out of town to hitch a lift. My pack was now heavier than at any time previously on the trail as I was carrying about 6 days food to get me to Lake City 100 miles further along the trail. At least my pack would get lighter each day as I ate my way through but right now it must have been close to 50 pounds. Other hikers were travelling a bit more lightly. When one hiker commented on the weight I was carrying I joked that my insurance insisted I carry a defibrillator. He believed me.
|East meets West|
It took two lifts to get back to Monarch Crest. The first was from a woman who told me of her experience volunteering on the trail gangs that maintain the trail. She dropped me on the highway at a point where hitching should be easy. Lots of RVs were using the road and many of these had smaller vehicles in tow. But I was picked up by a couple who had friends staying at the hostel and heard about my whistle playing. They were planning a day walk at Monarch.
When we got to Monarch Crest at 11,100' we were in the clouds and the day was looking cold wet and miserable. My helpers decided to turn around and find a lower level walk. I had all I needed so didn't visit the store which many hikers use for resupply and even as a maildrop. I was very pleased to be back walking and nearing the end of the Collegiate West section. I was now more than half way to Durango, and although I might have thought 'I have finished the hard bit' there was a lot of wonderful mountain country, and interesting people, in front of me.
Despite a slow start and a heavy pack and lousy weather I walked 15 miles that day. I met a solo woman hiker at the junction with the the Collegiate East route. I stopped there to mark finishing Collegiate West.
Further on I met three of the hikers I'd had a pizza with in Salida. They had left Salida the night before but hadn't made much progress. I passed them here but they soon overtook me and I didn't see them again.
The skies had cleared by this time so I wasn't expecting the hail storm when it hit. The track turned into a river in minutes but I was near Marshall Pass trailhead where there was some shelter.
There was camping at the trailhead but the rain cleared and I wanted to carry on. The path was rising but not steeply though it eventually led to a deeply rutted on forest track. There I met Bill and Robert, two Coloradoans out for a weekend hike. Robert was about my age and Bill maybe 10 years older.
I was getting to a point where I planned to camp just off the track near some water. Bill and Robert were carrying on. I would have also except my trusty data book was telling me there was another 7 miles to the next reliable water supply.
I found the water source near Silver Creek. I was glad I didn't have to drop right down to the creek itself and set up camp among a small group of pines. It was nice to be alone but if a bear had come along I would have invited it into the tent to keep me warm. Brrrrrr!
A wonderful bright sunny morning. Bill and Robert hadn't actually gone much further the night before and I must have passed their camp because they caught me up when I stopped for a break. I walked the rest of the day with them. They were fascinating company and I learned a lot from them.
Robert was a lawyer who had taken over a family firm from his late father. He explained to me the system of 'legal aid' (as we call it in Britain) in Colorado. Lawyers have a lot of other peoples' money sitting in their bank accounts that is deposited with them for different reasons, maybe house purchase, maybe security against a lawsuit settlement. The interest on these deposits is used to fund the defence in criminal cases where the accused has no means of paying for a defence lawyer. I think they call it the public defender system.
Bill is a forestry economist and knows an awful lot about trees. He also knows an awful lot about China. He is the author of 'China's Forests: Global Lessons from Market Reforms' and many other texts on forestry. I could have listened to him for days but that wasn't going to happen.
We stopped at Tank Seven Creek for a long lunch as tutorial on Chinese politics and then up over the Sargents Mesa.
We found a campspot near the forest track. There was no water in the vicinity but we knew we didn't have far to go the next day to fill up at Baldy Lake.
Bill was tired and I needed to move a bit more quickly. We were all planning to get to Hwy 114 by the end of the day where Bill and Robert had left a car. I was hoping to get a bit further. On the map this doesn't look like a difficult section but it was a long ridge walk with frequent sharp little inclines on a fairly rough track.
We got to Baldy Lake and walked down the side trail to the lake to fill up. It was a gorgeous place in a wide open vista of scree slopes, though Bill started counting leeches in the water so any thought of a paddle evaporated. Bill was using a Steripen to sterilise water. I had read about them but not seen one used before and was impressed. He was the only person I met who was using one. Maybe his scientific training gave him the confidence needed to believe in them.
When we got back up to the trail I said my farewells and pushed on. If I had realised what a difficult path lay ahead I might have stayed with Bill and Robert as I started to worry they wouldn't be able to get to their car by nightfall. I have no way of knowing whether they did or not.
The weather was generally fine though a nasty afternoon thunderstorm caught me on the ridge. Once again I had the unnerving experience of lightning strikes occurring simultaneously with the thunder-crack telling me it was to damn close for comfort.
I made it to the highway and crossed into segment 18. The path followed the edge of the wood but soon turned to follow a streambed uphill. I stopped to camp here for the night having completed 20 miles and more if you count the decent to Baldy Lake and back. It was a pleasant place to camp, near Lujan creek, though a bit exposed should the weather turn nasty.
In the morning I found myself in the shade of the rising sun and dragged my tent and sleeping bag to a better place to dry out. I planned to walk 20 miles to Cochetopa Creek. Much of the route was dry though there were no big uphill climbs. Through the woods life was fairly abundant and I saw jays and woodpeckers. I sat for a while and a moth settled on my nose. I let it sit.
Walking further on I could smell smoke and became a little anxious. I traced it to an abandoned camp-fire. This must have been a big fire which was still going at 11-00am. I doused it as best I could and, nervously, judged it safe to leave.
A few miles further on I came upon two hikers I had met before. I'd noticed their fondness for large camp-fires. They were having lunch and I stopped to chat for a while but soon left them.
As I was approaching high flat ground I could see a vehicle parked beside 'something'. I was greeted by a man offering refreshments. This was Apple, the trail angel of trail angels. He staffs a geodesic dome on the trail offering coffee and biscuits to all hikers passing through. He keeps a register of names and dates which I signed but also was able to look at to see who had passed through recently.
I sat for an hour, talking politics and other stuff. As I was leaving the two hikers I had met at lunchtime were arriving. They were a bit uncertain about stopping until I used the magic words, 'free chocolate'
Apple's dome is supposed to be lightning proof, being well earthed. He has the dome and a horsebox which can be used as sleeping accommodation also for passing hikers.
I headed on. During the afternoon I could see massive storm clouds building to the west. These eventually turned into storms which I could see and hear in the distance but which never threatened me. For most of the afternoon I was dry.
I was coming into cattle country. Up to now I had seen very little live stock. As opposed to hiking in Britain I rarely saw fences or walked through gates and never saw any styles. This was open country.
But close to where I planned to camp heavy rain started to fall. I was at Cochetopa Creek but decided to shelter until the rain stopped before putting up my tent. It rained hard for two hours. Eventually I decided to just get my tent up and as I was doing it the rain cleared. The creek at this point is a fast flowing stream which I wouldn't be able to cross though I knew I was going to have to cross it at a point where a bridge had been washed away.
A lone bull was grazing about 100 yards from where I camped. I wanted it to maintain that sort of distance. It rained again during the night. I got up in the dark to pee and heard flapping in the creek which I feared was the bull slipping in off the steep muddy bank. I worried that my getting up had spooked it at a bad moment but I realised later that it was probably beavers I heard. The bull was still there in the morning.
On the steep slopes on the other side of the creek I could see paths that I assumed were the regular trails used my animals to come down to drink.
Everything was wet. The cloud was low and little hope of sunshine to start drying things out. The bull was now being a bit more attentive and I managed to get a decent portrait shot. I realised when I took my tent down that I had erected it on his trail. When the tent was down he immediately headed through the spot and into another pasture. I was trespassing on his patch, not he on mine.
The walk up along the creek was pleasant. The trees became scarce and the vista opened. I met a woman hiker coming the other way. She had just crossed the creek where once a bridge had been and reassured me it wouldn't be to difficult. She was also full of praise for Lake City and told me if I got to the trailhead at Spring Creek Pass by 12-00am I could catch a free shuttle into Lake City. That was still a couple of days away.
I crossed the creek in bare feet. One of my golden rules is don't cross rivers barefoot. The risks to your feet are to great. It is harder to repair a broken tow or ankle than dry out a pair of boots. I can't have been thinking straight as I had a pair of crocs tied onto my rucsac for use around camp. Anyway I got away with it.
This was beaver country. The next stretch of the creek is a case study on how beavers sculpt a landscape. The river meanders in great loops to find its way around dam after dam. What might be a narrow fast flowing stream spreads out, splits around islands and becomes a wetland dense with willow scrub.
I rise into more cattle country. And the trail starts to be damaged by cattle tracks and cowdung become a minor hazard. This is more like home so I'm not bothered but I found other hikers to be upset by it telling me cattle should not be grazing in wilderness areas.
I reached Eddiesville trailhead and stopped for lunch. And the rain poured down.
As I was dining Geoff, another hiker, turned up. We chatted and set off together but he strode ahead. Next to catch me was David who asked 'have you seen Geoff?' We were all going to the same spot above the treeline where the creek crosses the path again below San Luis Peak.
The trail was wet and overgrown in places and there always seemed to be just a little further to go but eventually Geoff, David and I had our tents up and watched a glorious sunset spoiled only by the knowledge that all those trees we could see along the valley were dead.
This was to be another 20 miler with the added charm of a couple of brutal climbs. Getting away early was easy as it was the only way to get warm. Everything was frozen. David was away first though I would catch him. Geoff was taking another route to climb San Luis peak and bag a 14er.
It was going to be a very interesting day with more than 5000' of climbing which would end at a pizzeria a short distance from Lake City hostel.
The first thousand feet took me over San Luis Pass where I met David again. The next four miles undulated towards the turn off for Creede but instead we were faced with what I think is the shortest sharpest 1000' climb on the CT.
David was going ahead here and I could see him talking to a group coming down the other way. When I reached them, a group of teenagers on an organised hike, they were in a state of excitement. David had told them I was an Irishman who played the flute and would play them a tune. I was having difficulty breathing at nearly 13000'. Anyway it was one of the girl's birthday and she had been to Ireland and was very keen to meet me.
So I played a few tunes and passed my hat around for chocolate. I got a couple of snickers bars. They all took photographs and promised to email me some. Did they heck?
After a long decent we were climbing again with David going ahead. He was a mischievous chap. I stopped to soak my feet at a stream and was surprised by a woman hiker coming the other way who addressed me by my name. David had told her I would play her a tune. This turned out to be the Princess of Darkness, a well known hiking blogger and triple crowner (someone who has completed the three great American long distance hikes, The Continental Divide, The Pacific Crest and the Appalachian). She recorded me playing a tune and said she would put it up on her blog. Did she heck? Though she is now a Facebook friend.
Next was a long 1500' ascent which would lead eventually to the snow mesa. I could see David again ahead of me. He was talking to a group of young people. I guessed what was coming. When I reached them I got a sense of what celebrity feels like. They to were in a state of excited anticipation at meeting an Irishman with a flute and offered me chocolate to play a couple of tunes.
They were with the same organisation as the earlier group. They had come out from Lake City and told me the best place to get a pizza, a place called Poker Alice, they weren't wrong. The group coincidentally had come from Texas and lived not far from David who was also Texan. You could almost think it had been planned. They promised to email me photographs. Did they heck?
I still had nearly 10 miles to go most of them up on the wide open mesa above 12000'. Not a place to catch a storm.
But at last I am down on the highway looking for a lift and so is David. And the road is quiet. One way led into Lake City where I was set on going. The other way went to Creede. We took a side each. After about 45mins a 4 wheel drive comes along going to Lake City and offers us a lift.
The two young Texan men in the vehicle were working with a youth organisation that was taking young people into the hills. We told them we had met their groups. Nicholas, the driver, agreed to introduce us to Poker Alice.
At the hostel I met RJ again who joined us for pizza.
The Raven's Rest hostel in Lake City is a very pleasant place to stay with a relaxed and informal atmosphere. There was no briefing on the rules or guided tour. I found my way around talking to other hikers. Neither does it have a laundry but there is one very close, less than 100 yards. The coffee shop next door is an easily recognisable landmark making it easy to find the hostel. It is also a damn good coffee shop.
I stayed three nights in Lake City. I needed to rest my legs and get everything washed and dried out. But it was no hardship resting in such a lovely town, there were new bars and beers to try out. Tom, a geologist from New Zealand staying there was great company not least because he let me use his laptop. Also there was a group from Hawaii who were very anxiously watching news of a major storm that was threatening their homes.
Had a great evening at 'The Depot' playing pool with RJ and drinking Fat Tire. It felt like a real western bar and not some mock up for the tourists.
Tom wanted to know why his pictures weren't sharp so I showed him how I keep my camera steady. He came back that evening with 6 lovely sharp pictures of a bear. When he showed them to locals in the bar we were swamped with stories of bears and mountain lions and lucky escapes.
In the UK ATM machines usually free to use and easy to find. I was shocked to have to pay at least $3 to use an ATM and aghast that the only ATM in Lake City charge $5. It was also interesting that in shops (sorry 'stores') I almost never needed to use a pin number. When I was asked for it in Lake City I was caught off guard and couldn't remember it.
One my second day there Macbeth turned up. I hadn't heard from him for weeks and assumed he had finished the walk by now but he had stopped at Twin Lakes for a week. By the time he arrived I had sufficient local knowledge to show him around.
The hostel is near the library and although the hostel has wifi it is sometimes easier to pick up the signal from the library. Groceries in town were expensive but the selection excellent. This is a town that thrives on tourism.
The Tic Toc diner is a great place to have breakfast. I wasn't familiar with the custom of going to a restaurant for breakfast or restaurants that seem to only open in the morning but for a meal that break a mules back for not much more that the cost of using an ATM machine the Tic Toc is hard to beat.
|Macbeth at Tic Toc diner|
I dislike the American custom of tipping. Waiters never leave you in peace to enjoy your meal, they see it as part of their role to keep you entertained and join in your conversations, working the tip. I can't overstate how much I dislike this. I always tipped because I recognise that employers refuse to pay decent wages. It puts me in the position of wanting to tell waiters to piss off.
So, for fear of getting anyone into trouble with Officer Dibble, I am unable to comment on how I got back to the trail.
What I can say is that I set off with Ted, a cartographer. Ted hadn't been staying at the hostel but had come into check the hiker box looking for Heet. Hiker boxes are a great custom. This is where hikers drop off surplus stuff that they don't want to carry. They might have food, maps or other useful stuff. I thought Ted a bit cheeky, as I considered the hiker box was for the benefit of hostel users.
As we were leaving town about mid day a theatre group were preparing for a shoot out on main st.