Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Day 36: Cumbres Pass to Dipping Vat Lakes

After a delicious breakfast at the Boxcar Cafe, we headed back up to Cumbres Pass, elevation 9,980 feet.  We passed under the railroad tracks and began to climb. We will be above 10,000 feet for the remainder of the trail, a disconcerting thought during monsoon season. 

"Where's my phone?" Sierra asked, panicked. And thus began a 1-2 mile trek back to the trailhead to ascertain the whereabouts of the missing phone. Several phone calls later we determine that the phone had fallen out of a pack pocket on the ride up to the trailhead. 

Phone finally in hand, we again began our hike, albeit much later than planned. The passenger train clicked up the tracks amid a cloud of smoke and steam, loud whistles filling the valley as the train crossed the highway.  Two pairs of day hikers met us as they hiked back down to the trailhead, one pair heading to the train, the other back to a car. 

Dark clouds gathered. We heard the first rumble of thunder as we reached Mountain Pass.  But when we saw lightning on Flat Top Mountain, just ahead along the trail, we knew we needed to take action. Scuttling off the ridge, we ducked below treeline and followed elk trails parallel to our route. A large bull elk stared at us as his herd thundered away, down to a nearby meadow. 

The storm passed, and we scrambled back up to the ridge. A marmot chirped as we approached, then scampered over the rocks up the ridge.  Two small pikas played peek-a-boo, tentatively edging out from behind a rock, peering at us, then scrambling back to safety. Fields of small yellow sunflowers and bright white daisies lined the trail, with smaller purple and white columbine, red paintbrush, and other wildflowers to add color. 

Dipping Vat Lakes beautifully reflected the rocky cliffs and grey clouds in their still waters. We found camp by the last lake, poised to begin climbing tomorrow. As we huddled in the tent to dry out and warm up, we marveled at how, just a few short days ago, we were struggling to cope with the heat.

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