Wednesday July 14, 13.5mi/21.7km

Ridge above Junction Creek (472.9/9045ft) to Junction Creek Trailhead (486.4/6995ft) (CO)

We got moving early, excited for a town day in Durango and the FINISH! Our water source was a quarter-mile down the trail, and it was a little hard to get to.

KOKO gets swallowed by bushes.

It had started raining in the first few minutes of hiking, and everything was wet. The trail was pretty well maintained, so it was only a slight “carwash” of wet plants.

The views into the valley were both a little smoky and rainy.

We caught up to Chris and Greg, CT hikers from Arizona. We hiked with them for the rest of the morning. It was great to get to know new people, right up until the end of the hike!

We came to a trail junction where the directions said “bear left”. It was a little disappointing since I saw no ursine creatures, to the left or anywhere.

In the final couple miles of Trail, we passed by Gudy’s rest. She was the “mother of the Colorado Trail”, and someone had installed a nice bench in her honor.

We made our way down some wet switchbacks….

… and arrived to our final crossing of Junction Creek. There was a group of ladies there who were very excited for our imminent finish, and they were also probably highly caffeinated.

Someone had scratched a note into the dirt. That’s today!

We got to the finishing trailhead at 11: 30am, and took some quick photos at the sign.

Me!
KOKO / Erica
Chris and Greg

Chris and Greg had a ride arranged to town, and Erica and I got a ride from a nice woman who had hiked the CT last year. She dropped us at Erica’s friend’s house, and then we walked into Durango to get lunch. The Himalayan Kitchen really hit the spot!

There is a pub in town that gives hikers a free beer, so we walked over to Carver’s. I’m not usually a fan of nut brown ales, but it was pretty tasty.

I also ordered a large warm chocolate chip cookie smothered in ice cream. Bonus calories!

I’ve been to Durango before, but I really got to appreciate it today while exploring it on foot.

The Silverton & Durango scenic railroad was painfully loud. https://youtu.be/VbvxMBe3gqU

We had dinner at Switchback Taco Bar. It wasn’t our plan A, but the first restaurant was very busy, and I wanted tacos way more than I realized. And they had fun t-shirts: “the tacos are calling and I must go” 😂

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We walked back to the house, it wasn’t late but it was well after “hiker midnight”. Getting up early for flights home tomorrow morning!

Tuesday July 13, 25.8mi/41.5km

Overlook near Corral Draw (447.1/10895ft) to Ridge above Junction Creek (472.9/9045ft) (CO)

I was awake at 6am, to get an early start and get over a couple summits before the forecasted afternoon thunderstorms. I caught the sunrise as I was finishing packing.

Morning miles are my favorite, cool temperatures and nice lighting on the hillsides.

The trail followed a ridge for most of the morning, and occasionally merging with a dirt road.

The view down into the valleys looked like the misty southern Appalachians, due to all the wildfire smoke around here.

This section of trail was quite dry, so the few water sources were well marked.

These ridgewalks were flat, easy, and just plain enjoyable.

And sometimes there are random bones by the trail…

The next water source was also marked, on a log!

I put a leaf in the little trickle of water to make a spout.

I took a quick detour down the overlook trail, it definitely lives up to its name.

The nice ridgewalk continued.

I was making good progress! Only 5 more miles to Kennebec Pass, which means only 3 more miles to get over the two high summits, before the thunderstorms started.

This little piece of graffiti was a nice bit of encouragement.

The ridgewalk continued, and climbed up to 12,000ft, above treeline.

Looking back at what I had just hiked up:

The peaks off to the right looked cool, I think they are the La Plata Mountains.

There was a tiny remaining snowfield on the top of the first summit.

Looking back again:

I left the first summit and continued into the second one, only a half-mile away.

From the top of the second summit, I could see down into Taylor Lake basin.

It was 12:30pm, and clouds were starting to gather, so I quickly descended from the summit, and into fields of wildflowers.

I caught up with Koko! Her name means “Keep On Keeping On”. We had a quick lunch near the lake, and we hiked together the rest of the afternoon.

The clouds were really getting busy now, and I was glad to be going downhill so quickly.

KOKO showed me how to identify wild strawberries! They were delicious.

And we went chasin’ waterfalls. This particular waterfall ended on a wet slab, way less fun than a deep splash pool.

The cliffs were full of weird angular rocks. It kinda reminded me of Devil’s Postpile Monument in California.

We finally got down to Junction Creek, and the skies started raining.

We hiked another mile to a campsite on a hillside, and setup our tents quickly in the light rain. It was only 4:30pm, but it was a good time to stop, and each of us had already hiked 20+ miles for the day. We hid in our tents while each successive wave of stormclouds passed by.

I ate dinner early, and then had a second dinner. I can eat all my extra food, because it’s only 13 miles to the finish and Durango tomorrow!

Monday July 12, 24.7mi/39.8km

Engineer Trail Jct (422.4/12126ft) to Overlook near Corral Draw (447.1/10895ft) (CO)

I woke up kinda late, but it was a short hike to the top of the pass, and I stood at the top at 8am. Looking ahead to the valley below:

And nearby Engineer #2 Mountain:

The trail descended into a nice quiet forest.

The were frequent stream crossings, and most had some interesting rocks. This one looked like a big layer cake. Mmm…cake.

“Celebrate with cake!”

At the crossing for Cascade Creek there was this plaque for Gudy Gaskill.

And a huge bridge.

Looking upstream from the bridge:

I hadn’t seen a single person yet. Most days I would see a few other thru-hikers and some dayhikers. The quiet trail continued, climbing out of the forest and into alpine meadows.

Some of the creek crossings had this strange white coating on the rocks. I definitely didn’t drink that water.

At the top of the next pass, I could see across the Dolores River Valley, to El Diente Peak and Mt Wilson.

The trail turned left, and I hiked towards Hermosa Peak.

I stopped for lunch at Celebration Lake. No other hikers here either.

The views heading towards Hermosa Peak were cool.

And around Hermosa Peak as well.

Much of the afternoon I spent hiking through alpine flower meadows.

The trail was easy to follow, haha.

A new alpine flower made an appearance, I’m not sure what the white ones are called.

I started the climb up to Blackhawk Pass, it was a long way up.

There were some drips of water coming off this boulder, and some purple flowers had taken residence atop the rock.

The climb to the top of the pass continued.

Finally, the top of Blackhawk pass.

The mountain to my left (not Blackhawk Mtn) had some cool red and green colors.

I was about to descend into this valley.

I descended down into the Straight Creek Valley. The view from the creek was cool.

The nice quiet trail continued in the forest, and I finally met my first hiker for the day, a solo woman heading north.

An hour later, I stopped at Corral Draw to camp.

I poked around, and found good camping about a quarter mile further. I setup my tent on this ridgetop. Great views to the south!

Tomorrow is the last full day of hiking, and I expect to finish in Durango on Wednesday afternoon!

Sunday July 11, 18.8mi/30.3km

Elk Creek Pond (403.6/9995ft) to Engineer Trail Jct (422.4/12126ft) (CO)

I said goodbye to KOKO (I will try to catch up to her in a couple days), and I was out of camp at 7am, and stopped by the pond to get water. Cool sunrise!

I hiked downhill for an hour along Elk Creek, watching the sunshine light up the hillsides.

Elk Creek joins the Animas River, and the trail takes a right turn at this junction. Apparently there is a train stop in the middle of the forest?!

The CT crosses the Durango & Silverton railway, a historical train line that still runs today as a tourist attraction.

I actually got to walk along the tracks for a quick 100m. It’s neat that it is a narrow gauge railway.

The trail crossed the large Animas River on a huge bridge.

Looking upstream, towards Silverton, which is about 7 miles upriver.

And then the climb began, and lasted for the rest of the day. I left the river, and climbed up 1800ft on dozens of switchbacks to highway 550. Occasionally there were viewpoints on the switchbacks.

Once I was out of the gorge, it was a gradual uphill through meadows to the road.

I got to Molas Pass on highway 550, and quickly got a hitch from a nice Texas couple in a Tacoma. I got to ride in the back, and I got a neat picture of Silverton as we descended from the pass.

It’s a historic town, known for mining and brothels.

I was hungry and went straight to a restaurant for breakfast. The Bent Elbow was an excellent choice.

I devoured a breakfast burrito, and because it was Sunday, I decided to make it feel brunch-y with a Mimosa.

I walked the main street, full of little shops and restaurants.

There were little parks that showcased pieces of the town’s history.

And some houses that did the same thing.

“Home of Russian Princess 1883”

I did my food shopping, and then walked over to The Avon, a hotel & hostel in town.

It’s a beautiful old wooden building with tons of old-timey things.

I signed the guestbook, which took forever because it was a quill pen and ink.

After I took my shower, I left and went back to the main street to get more food. A funnel cake factory? How can I not go!

They also had Cherry limeade, and ice cream, so I got one of each of those too. A nice older couple sitting at the table next to me noticed my backpack, and offered me a ride back up to Molas Pass. Awesome! I was back on trail at 3pm. Back to the scenery!

And back to the gradual uphill climbing. The thousands of corn lilies were a nice touch.

The trail gradually climbed to 12,000ft, and the wildflower meadows seem to love that elevation.

There was a flock of sheep down by those lakes!

More wildflowers!

I walked for hours thru fields of wildflowers, so cool.

I don’t know why it’s called Engineer Mountain, but I like it.

I setup camp near that junction sign, and there was a small pond nearby too.

It was a little windy camping up so high with no trees, but my tent was tucked in next to some bushes, so it will be a quiet night’s sleep.

Saturday July 10, 22.3mi/35.9km

Lake 12200 (380.7/12205ft) to Elk Creek Pond (403.0/9995ft) (CO)

I left camp at 7am, and everyone else was awake and packing up.

I climbed up out of the lake basin, to the first of many passes.

The trail stayed high on the continental divide all day, and the views were endless.

I don’t know the name of these maroon flowers, but they seem to like to grow in big clusters.

Since I’m so far above treeline, I could see many miles of the trail ahead. Here, it drops down to a saddle, and back up the next ridge.

I kept strolling thru the San Juan mountains all morning, engrossed by the scenery.

I crossed a tiny stream, flowing directly out if a snowfield. Now that’s fresh water!

Since there are no trees to put trail markers on, the trail is marked by many Cairns. Some are quite artistic.

The scenery just kept coming.

I could see all the little switchbacks in the trail up ahead, as it climbed the opposite hillside.

Once I climbed the opposite hillside, I could see down into a verdant lush valley.

I descended into that valley, and I crossed another little stream. Except this wasn’t just any stream, it was the headwaters of the Rio Grande!

KOKO caught up to me! We had camped at the same spot last night, and she was fun to talk to. We hiked together for the rest of the day. I had hiked this section before on the CDT, and I enjoyed seeing the same places again in summertime. The old mine at Stony Pass looked much the same.

The old mining cabin looked a little more dilapidated, though.

We spent most of the afternoon up on the divide, hiking thru fields of wildflowers.

And fields of snow.

Finally it was time to depart the continental divide, where the CT continues west, while the CDT goes south.

The initial descent off the divide was quick and steep, using dozens of switchbacks.

Then we followed a steep trail, with Elk Creek on one side and a rock wall on the other.

After going down a couple thousand feet, we were in the Elk Creek Valley. Some of the little streams had this cool hydrophobic green moss. The water would roll right over it, without soaking in.

Over the winter, there was an avalanche, and the snow brought down hundreds of trees, which we had to slowly climb thru.

We arrived at a campsite near a pond, and called it a day. It was almost 6pm.

Across the pond was an amazing view of Arrow Peak and Vestal Peak, which KOKO has been to before, and attempted some of the technical climbing routes. I’ll have to come back!

Our campsite was nice and flat, and sheltered by some trees. It’s nice being below treeline sometimes!

Tomorrow, I’m going into Silverton, my first town in a week! I’m pretty excited about a shower and a breakfast burrito.

Friday July 9, 22.9mi/36.9km

Spring Creek Pass (357.8/10906ft) to Lake 12200 (380.7/12205ft) (CO)

I slept in and got a late start, and enjoyed the relaxing morning cruising on old jeep roads.

The trail is up on the continental divide here, and I could see down into all the little valleys.

The trail was mostly above 12,000ft today, so I was above treeline.

The view ahead was a little interesting…I’m going to climb those things?

I briefly dropped low enough to be in the trees. The morning’s only water source was also at this low point, too.

I had a nice gradual climb back up, the trees disappeared again and I was traveling thru the willows.

Most of the day was ridge walking, with epic views.

The clouds were starting to do their usual thing, and growing as the afternoon heat took hold.

I loved seeing the contrast of the little snow patches on a green grassy hillside.

I stopped to chat with another CT hiker, Luke. He is from Missouri, and doing the trail on his summer break between college semesters. The clouds were turning rumbly, so we made haste moving down the trail. But I still stopped to get a photo of these flowers.

The final, gradual climb up to the Colorado Trail highpoint. The clouds were gathering and becoming thunder-y.

I grabbed a quick photo at the highpoint, 13,271ft, and then quickly moved to lower ground.

The trail descended precipitously on switchbacks down this ridge.

It was cool seeing old vintage signposts for the CDT, carved with “Divide Trail”.

There was an old mine ruins on the way down.

I wanted to poke around and have a look, but there were sinkholes and the ground seemed unstable.

I continued into into the Lost Trail Creek Valley, where there were plentiful water sources once again.

The trail slowly climbed up to the head of the valley, and over the pass.

These rock towers were surprising to see. I think the rock around here is volcanic.

Looking back down at the valley I had just hiked up:

I continued on down from the pass another two miles, to camp at an unnamed lake.

I got down to the lake at 5:30pm and it was really warm.

The little lake above Cataract Lake.

There was already a family of four there, and I setup my tent nearby. A duo of women arrived and setup their tents too, and the final camper arrived and setup her tent next to mine. Six tents, that’s the most I’ve seen yet on this trail!

Heaps of tents!

All are CT thru hikers, except the family. I enjoyed chatting with them over dinner. KOKO (camped next to me) knew BluegrassHopper, small world!

Thursday July 8, 26.1mi/42.0km

Cochetopa Creek (334.7/10830ft) to Spring Creek Pass (357.8/10906ft) (CO) + 3.0mi San Luis Peak

We were awake before sunrise, and on the trail just after 6am. The valley turned orange as the sun came up.

Some of the nearby cliffs had neat formations.

Two hours later, we stood atop San Luis Pass. Looking back down the valley that we just hiked up:

We dropped our packs and took a side hike up nearby San Luis Peak, a 14er. The nice trail climbed steadily up to the summit.

The only thing that seemed to grow up here were these purple flowers.

We arrived at the summit just before 9am.

The views were incredible.

There was a father/son duo up there too, they are doing 5 summits each summer until he goes away to college, neat!

Coming back down the mountain to the Colorado trail.

Hehe

The trail wove it’s way thru alpine meadows and passes all day, everything was so green.

Looking back at San Luis Peak:

On top of a pass, looking down to the next valley:

In one spot we had to cross a tiny snow patch. The cold felt good on my feet.

The constant ups and downs were exhausting, but it was cool to see each new green valley we would traverse.

BluegrassHopper coming up to a pass.

It has been a very wet summer, and the wildflowers are growing like crazy.

After all the climbs and descents over passes, we finally came to Snow Mesa. It is the large flat plateau on the right side of the photo.

We took a break at a nice rocky spot, and a pika came to say hi…or maybe ask for food.

More wildflowers! The deep red ones were a new sight.

The trail slowly made its way down to Snow Mesa.

Once we were on the Mesa we had 5 miles of flat easy walking.

There wasn’t much water up there, but this little lake was nice to look at.

The trail seemed to go on forever in the distance.

Even more wildflowers! These tiny alpine purple ones smelled really good.

Finally at 5pm we came to the edge of the Mesa, and started our descent down to Spring Creek Pass.

Most of the wildflowers we saw on the way down were columbines, Colorado’s state flower.

We got to Spring Creek past just before 6pm, and BluegrassHopper instantly got a hitch down to Lake City.

He is getting off the trail here, as his flight home is tomorrow. I’m camping at the pass and continuing on for a couple more days to Silverton.

Wednesday July 7, 23.8mi/38.3km

Archuleta Creek (310.9/9774ft) to Cochetopa Creek (334.7/10830ft) (CO)

BluegrassHopper and I departed camp pretty early, 7:15am, and enjoyed a wonderful morning of cool temperatures and easy walking.

The trail was on an old 4wd track most of the morning.

We came to a trailhead with one car parked, I loved this bumper sticker. Leg day!

There were plenty of wildflowers growing along the track, but I don’t know any of their names. Yellow, Red, Purple, and white seemed descriptive enough, ha!

We had been seeing cow pies all morning, but didn’t see the culprits until almost 10am. Hi cows!

Someone, probably a CDT northbound hiker, made some stone artwork. These are pretty common on long trails. Apparently this is 1000 miles north of the Mexican border via the CDT.

The 4wd track continued, and turned southward.

We approached Cochetopa Creek and small pond… finally, some water!

The pond was quite gross.

BluegrassHopper in the lead, with the meandering Cochetopa Creek to the right.

We hiked along the creek for a couple miles, and then crossed it. One problem, the bridge wasn’t above the water, but under it.

I forded the creek; it was only knee-deep but flowing fast. We continued south with the meandering Cochetopa Creek now on our left.

A mile later, a nice wooden sign welcomed us to the La Garita Wilderness.

The trail continued on rolling green hills beside the creek.

In the distance I could see a building, which seemed very out of place in the wilderness.

It turns out, there is a very narrow strip of non-wilderness, with a trailhead and a nearby private ranch.

We continued along Cochetopa Creek, and BGH stopped to fly fish, as he is very fond of doing.

And in only 5 minutes, he caught a trout!

We hiked on another couple miles, slowly veering west towards San Luis Peak.

We got to our planned camp at 5pm, and a couple of girls were already there. Casey and Kim were taking a break, and continued on to do a few more miles.

BGH and I setup our tents, and then went down to the creek to get water, rinse out our sweaty shirts, and of course go fishing. It will feel great tomorrow having clean-ish clothes!

Tuesday July 6, 26.2mi/42.2km

Big Bend Trail Jct (284.7/11178ft) to Archuleta Creek (310.9/9774ft) (CO)

We woke up to blue skies and warm temperatures, and got moving down the trail at 7:15am.

After about an hour of walking, we crossed paths with a familiar looking hiker. He said, “hey you guys were going south yesterday, why are you going north now?”. I told him we were indeed still going south, and double checked my GPS to be sure. He was hiking the wrong direction since leaving camp this morning! Oops. After another hour of hiking, we got to Baldy Lake, where he had camped.

It was nice to hike under blue skies all morning.

Occasionally the forest would open up into a meadow, and I could see pretty far.

Looking southwest into the San Juan mountains:

The green grassy fields were quite a change from the wet, hail-covered hillsides from yesterday.

We hiked all morning, only seeing one water source, Razor Creek. I stopped and filled up 2L of water, and dried my tent. The clouds were starting to build, but not much.

Shortly after noon, we crossed into the Gunnison NF, and followed an old dirt road downhill.

A couple of guys were working at a logging site and chatted with us for a couple of minutes. They had a huge pile of logs.

We had lunch in a shady spot on the dirt road, by Lujan Creek. It was only the second water source in 16 miles. The rest of the dirt roadwalk was nice.

And we came to a paved highway, and followed it for 5 minutes, before heading off into the forest again.

The rest of the afternoon we hiked uphill on an old dirt road, and the right back down again. The water was scarce, but the views were plentiful.

We arrived to a campsite at 6:15pm and sat down and ate right away, my feet were tired and I was so hungry.

Good views from the campsite.

Bluegrasshopper had a pretty good looking dinner too.

I ate more food in my tent, and passed out before sunset.

Monday July 5, 24.3mi/39.1km

South Fooses Creek (260.4/11125ft) to Big Bend Trail Jct (284.7/11178ft) (CO)

I had a great night’s sleep at my little trailside camp spot, and I had plenty of energy for the last steep mile to the ridgetop & CDT junction. The view from the ridge:

It was only 8:20, and I had a nice stroll on the ridge.

I saw tons of mountain bikers in this section, like a group every 10 minutes. It was a little much.

Some of last year’s cornices are still melting away. This one must’ve been huge!

After a couple miles, I came to a 3-sided shelter, much like the AT shelters, but without a floor.

I had a snack at the shelter and hiked onward, on the wonderful trail. It felt so nice being back up on the divide, and seeing all the things I missed on the low (Collegiate East) route…like talus!

More bikers came by, and I stepped off the trail to let them by. A couple curious little marmots came out of their rock den to say hi.

I dropped down to Marshall Pass, and explored the area a bit. I found the old snowmobile cabin we stayed at in 2016 on the CDT. It was, of course, surrounded by cows.

As I walked closer the cows begrudgingly moooved out of the way.

The inside, with 3 cots, woodstove, and heaps of wood:

On my departure, one cow was especially friendly.

I met a Russian couple in the Marshall Pass parking lot looking for mushrooms. The woman was very proud of the one she had already found.

I hiked on, away from the crowds of bikers and dayhikers at the pass, and had lunch at this hilarious trail junction. It sounds like either way, I starve??

I ate quickly, as an afternoon thunderstorm was building. The clouds looked ominous.

I met a couple of hikers at the next water source, and BluegrassHopper and I hiked together for the rest of the day.

A few miles later, we found a free ramen on top of a trail junction sign!

A brief walk thru an aspen forest.

The last couple of hours were spent hiking up to Sargent’s Mesa, through alpine fields.

This photo seemed especially interesting, with the clouds and curving trail.

I have no idea why someone fenced off a stump.

As we gained the top of Sargent’s Mesa, it appeared it had recently hailed, and it had accumulated.

We descended the other side, and it got warmer and the fallen hail was mostly melted. Looking behind at Sargent’s Mesa:

BluegrassHopper and I walked the last few miles to our campsite at a flat saddle. He is from North Carolina, and has also hiked the AT, John Muir Trail, and a few others. A very interesting guy to talk to! We setup camp at 6:30 and had dinner in our tents, as the clouds looked threatening again. Tomorrow will be another long mileage day!