Sunday, July 14, 2013

Day 23: Spring Creek Pass to Ruby Creek Cirque

I woke to the sound of thunder slowly lumbering across the sky, punctuated with quick, bright flashes of lightning. Secured a few hints and zipped up the tent flap just as the first drops of rain began to rhythmically tapping the tent.

It rains in Colorado. A lot. Most of our days on the trail have been marked by some sort of rain. With Colorado's monsoon season just beginning, I know there will be a lot more rain to come.

We returned to Spring Creek Pass and started hiking on soggy Jeep track, stepping over the many large puddles in our path. Maaaaa! Maaaaa! Maaaaaa! As we slowly climbed to the top of Jarosa Mesa, we began to hear sheep. Rounding a bend, we saw a huge flock spread across the hillside, grazing on and near the trail. The sheep quickly scattered, darting nervously out of our path.

A solitary man strode down from the Jarosa Mesa following the sheep, a simple rifle casually swung over one shoulder, two sheepdogs bounding down the hillside in front of him. The Peruvian shepherd spoke to us in a mixture of halting English and Spanish. Then, with a shrill whistle he quickly called the frenzied flock back to order, his hardy sheepdogs darting down the hill to round up the stragglers.

Reaching Jarosa Mesa, we began moving from rock cairn to rock cairn as the trail petered out. From time to time we briefly rediscovered the trail only to have it peter out again. Grazing sheep have created a myriad of tracks across the rocky mesa, more or less obliterating the track of the Colorado Trail, which has faded into the rocky meadow.

A mass of black clouds tethered ahead. Thunder rumbled in the next valley as we climbed above treeline onto a high ridge. Bright flashes of lightning danced nearby. Feeling a gust of wind, I realized the storm was heading our way. With many miles of high, exposed trail ahead, I started looking for an escape route.

A sharp bolt of lightning touched down near the trail, less than a mile ahead. Spotting a grove of trees near a rock outcropping a few hundred feet below the ridge, we left the trail and headed down to shelter amid regular rumbles of thunder and bright flashes of light.

We quickly set up the tent, nestling it in the grove of trees, and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon of reading and napping while the storm raged on. When the storm stopped, we scampered up the colorful, lichen-covered rock outcropping. We surveyed the Ruby Creek Cirque and valley below. Bright colors lit the evening sky as the sun faded into the distance.


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