Saturday, July 13, 2013

Day 22: Stream to Spring Creek Pass

Crash, crack, crash! We woke to the sound of rocks tumbling down the steep hillside above, a low rumble punctuated by crashes, scrapes, and cracks of rock hitting rock. As the rock settled, I became aware of other sounds, the steady clipping of deer or elk moving across rocky ground. 4:00 am.

Not long afterward, I heard the gentle pitter patter of rain on the tent and relaxed back into sleep. Although we had wanted to climb San Luis Peak, we would not climb if there was any chance of inclement weather because the guidebook warns that San Luis Peak is notoriously prone to thunder storms and lightning strikes.

Birds warbled a morning greeting as I woke again. Dark clouds already gathered near San Luis Peak, but the warm rays of the early morning sun illuminated the rocky hillside above our camp. Although both hiking poles had been securely stowed underneath a tent flap, I found one slightly gnawed pole lying across the trail.

We climbed up the grassy hillside covered with wildflowers up to the Continental Divide, a grassy ridge surrounded by taller, rugged ridges and mountains. We stayed high, imbuing and traversing through alpine meadows strewn with soft, fuzzy white beargrass, pink paintbrush, yellow daisies, thistles, and a riotous variety of colorful wildflowers.

Pikas chirped angrily, then darted into rocky holes as we passed by. Marmots waddled up the trail. Rat-a-tat-a-tat! A chorus of woodpeckers echoed throughout the valley as they jackhammered into the large stands of beetle-killed pines.

A few warning spits of rain quickly transitioned into a torrential downpour. Thunder rumbled overhead. Then, just as we reached treeline, we felt sharp stings as pea-sized pellets of hail pelted our bodies. With lightning touching down on the exposed ridge ahead, we quickly retreated below treeline.

When the downpour slowed to a drizzle, we climbed back onto the ridge. Streams of water coursed down the rocky trail like the headwaters of an infant creek. Water seeped into our shoes and squished out with every soggy step.

From the high point, we descended to the grassy expanse of Snow Mesa. Over 12,000 feet in elevation, the Mesa is bordered by lofty mountains and deeply carved canyons. We passed through meadows strewn with wildflowers, past a large pond, and across several streams trickling down from the mountains. The gassy expanse seemed to go on forever, and we walked several miles before making any noticeable progress.

Dropping off the Mesa, we descended into a canyon to the trailhead at Spring Creek Pass on Highway 149 near Lake City. We will resupply and return to the trail tomorrow.

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