Friday, July 22, 2016

Day 38: North Fork Conejo River to Silver Pass

There is one item that doesn't appear on anyone's CDT gear list, yet should be mandatory equipment: a machete. Even in a relatively popular wilderness area like South San Juan Wilderness, the trail is badly overgrown in places. We began our morning pushing through firs and willow that completely obscured the trail. As we focused on keeping the upper branches from stabbing our eyes or scratching our faces, the lower branches grasped our legs as effectively as Devil's Snare in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

After a month of dreaming about icy cold water while hiking in the desert, the southern San Juans are a dream come true. Rivers, creeks, and streams are everywhere. At one, water cascades over the rocks in a beautiful series of waterfalls, the upper falls forming icicles before passing by a melting snow bank, then continuing past the trail and into the valley below. At the Adams Fork of the Conejos, the water tumbles down the mountain into fields of wildflowers.  

Piles of thunderheads greeted us when we climbed onto the ridge. Our hearts sank. The trail would stay above 12,000 feet for more than 6 miles. Oh, Colorado. You lure us in with your lofty peaks, your lush green mountains, your colorful wildflowers, your herds of elk and wildlife, and your icy cold creeks. Then you try to kill us with your endless exposed ridges and your frequent thunderstorms. 

We met a wizened local backpacker high on the ridge. He studied the clouds, then sagely advised us to check the skies and evaluate heading for cover by mid afternoon.  But by mid afternoon we were already below treeline, and the clouds seems to have converged on a ridge some miles away. 

We hiked several sections of beautiful trail recently built or maintained by the Southwest Conservation Corp. Nearby, several rocky, narrow, off-camber sections of trail traversed steep ridges with dangerous drops.  Perhaps the next trail project?

As tempting as it was to head for town, Wolf Creek Pass, the next highway crossing that would take us to our final resupply in South Fork, was just too far away. We camped on a wooded saddle at Silver Pass, and dreamed of the delicious food we would eat the next day. 

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