Friday, July 12, 2013

Day 21: Saddle to Stream Beyond San Luis Peak Ridge

A few dark clouds hovered near San Luis Peak. Overhead, wispy white clouds dotted a deep, blue sky. The first golden rays of sun transformed the fading meadow into a rich, golden field.

After a brief stop at a natural seesaw deep in the aspen forest, we continued down the Colorado Trail to the lush, green Cochetopa Valley. The Cochetopa Creek meandered lazily through the valley choosing the path of least resistance. Wildflowers dotted the grassy meadows lining the creek, including a new variety of white lily we had not seen before. Anxious pocket gophers scurried into waiting trailside holes as we passed by.

Beaver dams choked the creek at frequent intervals, forming swampy ponds stretching across the valley floor. Large beaver lodges or mansions evidenced a thriving beaver population, as did the many gnawed aspen trees lining the trail. No beavers were in evidence as we passes through.

Dark, angry clouds gathered overhead by 10, and within the hour the sky opened up and it began to pour. Thinking the storm would pass through quickly, we casually tossed on our pack covers and rain jackets and hiked on. Twenty minutes later the rain had soaked through our him nylon hiking pants and showed signs of abating. Water squished in our shoes with every step. Thunder rolled slowly across the sky.

Stopping under the shelter of a dry pine tree, we pulled on our dry rain pants over our already soaked hiking pants, knowing our body heat would dry them out in time. Although pine and fir trees tend to provide better shelter in storms than aspens, many of the fir and pine trees in the Cochetopa Valley have fallen victim to bark beetles. We hiked well past our usual lunch time before finding another large pine tree with long, full branches to provide shelter from the storm.

We reached the Cochetopa Creek crossing in late afternoon, but with the Data Book stashed away in a dry spot, I wasn't sure if it was the right one. Nevertheless, I started looking for camping because we hoped to climb San Luis Peak the next morning. Although the Data Book indicated there should be camping nearby, we could not find any. Before we knew it we had reached the saddle on the San Luis Peak ridge.

With the threat of thunderstorms, we did not want to camp on the ridge. But as we continued on the other side, my heart sank. The trail traversed a steep, grassy hillside, high above treeline with no camping in sight.

Two miles later, we finally found camp in a small stand of scrubby, beetle-killed pines. Peeling off our wet, cold outer layers we slowly recovered feeling in our frigid extremities. Warm dry socks soon covered toes wrinkled like raisins from a day in sopping wet shoes. Tomorrow we will brave the storm again, but for now, warm, dry sleeping bags have never felt so good.

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