Friday, December 1, 2017

Day 22: Moose!

September 15: I slept poorly during the night--cold and wet are not conducive to sleeping well. And the fact that I didn't actually get to sleep until about 2:00 that morning, I woke up feeling pretty lousy.

It was another beautiful morning!

However, the morning was absolutely beautiful. Sunny and clear! You'd never imagine the horrid weather that swept through just a few hours earlier. The sun rose and with the warm glow of the sun, I threw off my tarp and started to dry out. Or rather, I tried to throw off my tarp. The rain that had fallen the night before had frozen solid and the tarp had the consistency of glass rather than flexible fabric. It even crinkled and cracked, but the sheets of ice wouldn't come off the tarp. It was as if it was glued to the tarp.

I set out the tarp next to me on the ground, letting the sun warm it up while I warmed up and spread out my other gear to dry.

I grabbed my camera to take a photo of the rising sun, but the viewfinder showed a white screen and nothing else. It was broken. I'm not sure why it stopped working--it didn't get wet. I had it in a bag during the night to keep it dry, but whatever the reason, it stopped working. Maybe a little rain had gotten in during the hike yesterday and froze during the night? Maybe it would start working again if it had time to warm up and whatever residual water in it dried out?

In any case, it had stopped working, so I set it aside and pulled out my backup camera that I always carried for situations such as this. It's the camera I first picked up while thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail seven years earlier, and I've carried it on every trail since. I used in place of a broken camera on the Arizona Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and the C&O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage. Now, it would add the Colorado Trail to its list of accomplishments.

Some of the higher peaks had a fresh dusting of snow.
I ate breakfast, brushed my teeth, and then--instead of packing up and hitting the trail like I usually did, I pulled out my Kindle and started reading. My gear needed time to dry out in the sun. I could have packed it up and pulled it out to dry later in the day during a lunch break, for instance, but I worried that afternoon thunderstorms might already be blowing in and I wouldn't be able to dry the gear later in the day. Nope, I needed the sun's solar power while it was available!

So I stayed in my sleeping bag--the sopping mess that it was--but hopefully my body heat would also help accelerate its drying time. I wondered how other people did on the trail last night. It was hands down the worst night of the trail for me. One my worst nights ever, in fact.

About an hour later, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye and looked up to see a large animal up the trail. I thought it was a deer--it was in the shade and quite a distance away making it hard to see clearly, but it followed alongside the edge of the meadow, hiking towards Denver, and eventually stepped out of the shade into full daylight and I could tell--it was a moose! I'm seeing a moose!

I was absolutely ecstatic! I whipped out my fancy camera--the one with the 300mm zoom lens. I didn't even have to drop my pack to pull it out. It was sitting out already! I picked up the camera, aimed and the moose and started shooting. Click! Click! Click!

The moose continued down the trail, approaching closer and closer to me. Click! Click! Click! With every step closer, the moose got larger and larger.

The moose paused for a moment, looking at me, checking me out and deciding if I was a threat or not, then continued moseying along at a slow pace. I was camped maybe 30 feet off the trail, so as long as the moose stayed by the trail I wasn't too worried, but the moose veered closer to the edge of the forest on the other side of the trail. Even better. It's a beautiful, awkward animal, but all things considered, it's enormous and wild and not the type of thing that you want getting too close to you! Click! Click! Click!

The photos were gorgeous! I knew it while taking the photos. It filled up the while photo, and I had to zoom out to keep the moose in the photo. The detail was amazing! It was fantastic that the moose was walking along in broad daylight rather than in the deep shadows of a forest. He was walking slowly and calmly so I could frame the photo well. He was walking towards me, then around me so it wasn't just a photo of his butt. (Most of my bear pictures are bear butts.) I couldn't have asked for better conditions. Click! Click! Click! I took a lot of photos of this moose!

The moose is coming!!!! What a magnificent creature!

The moose passed, and still I kept clicking. Now the photos were turning largely into butt photos, but still I clicked. Click! Click! Click! I knew those weren't going to be the best shots, but I wanted to capture the entire encounter from start to finish.

The moose finally passed over a small ridge and out of view. Wow. I could count on one hand the number of times I've seen a moose, but this was the closest, longest and best conditions I'd ever seen one. It was magnificent!

The thought crossed my mind that I'd have missed this moose had it not been for that storm last night. If it was a normal morning, I'd have packed up my gear and left camp an hour earlier, so if there was one good thing that came out of the storm, it was seeing this moose. It almost seemed worth it! Actually, no, it totally wasn't worth it, but I was still ecstatic about the moose encounter.

I continued reading my Kindle for another hour, killing time as the temperatures warmed and my gear dried out, but I started growing a little stir-crazy after a couple of hours and finally decided enough was enough. It was time to hit the trail again!

My gear hadn't fully dried out, but it was much improved. Hopefully I could set it out again during lunch and continue drying it. The ice on my tarp had melted so I could finally fold it up and stuff it into its stuff sack, but it was quite wet and needed further drying.

The day's hike was largely miserable. The trail became a little more rugged and filled with slippery mud and was severely overgrown in parts. It must have been awhile since a trail crew last came out to this section. And as the trail ascended further, the bitterly cold wind picked up. The air temperature was cold but tolerable, but the wind-chill was absolutely miserable.

The higher mountain peaks gleamed with a fresh dusting of snow, and I hoped the trail wouldn't be going into it. Fortunately, it was just a dusting so I didn't worry about losing the trail, but it would be annoying to have to trudge through the snow.

I passed by a canyon called Diablo Canyon leading up to San Luis Peak and started questioning what state I was actually in. Near my hometown of San Luis Obispo, there's a Diablo Canyon (home of a nuclear power plant) and a San Luis Peak (although technically, it's called Cerro San Luis Obispo, but people do refer to it at times as San Luis Peak).

But I saw no nuclear power plants down Diablo Canyon, and San Luis Peak towered above the trail at over 14,000 feet. Definitely not like the California versions! But I kept waiting for Paso Robles right around the next turn--which never materialized.

I took a lunch break shortly before the San Luis Pass Saddle. The sun was out, but it was partly cloudy at this point and the sun would often hide behind the clouds. In directly sunlight, temperatures were chilly but comfortable. When it hid behind the clouds, it was uncomfortably cold. There was a break in the clouds and the sun came out, so I decided to take advantage of it with a lunch break.

I pulled out my wet gear to continue drying in the sun, but I had to weigh down all the items so the strong wind gusts didn't blow anything away.

Drying out my gear during lunch. I had to weigh down the tarp and my ground sheet so they wouldn't blow away in the strong winds!

I spent about a half hour there before another cloud blocked the sun. Without the heat of the sun, the the bone-chilling wind seeped into me and I figured it was a good time to get going again. At this point, most of my gear was finally dry. I tried the broken camera, but it still didn't work. And my sleeping bag was mostly dry, except by the feet where it was a bit damp. Everything else was in tip-top shape.

The top of San Luis Pass Saddle funneled the wind and whipped over the top at near hurricane-force speeds. It's also where I finally reached the snow level, and the cold snow seemed to make the air temperatures colder--so I didn't linger at the pass and pushed onward. The wind came from the far side of the pass, then down through the valley I had just climbed up. The strong winds I felt in the first half of the day were nothing compared to the second half of the day when I didn't have a ridge of mountains protecting me from the direct onslaught!

So friggin' cold..... Normally the day gets warmer as it progresses, but it just seemed to be getting colder and colder.

Heading in the opposite direction, I passed three hikers who warned me not to camp at Mineral Creek because they had camped there the night before and--after suffering all night from the storm--an aggressive moose chased them out of camp at 2:00 in the morning. Maybe I had a miserable night last night, but the only thing that would have been even more miserable would have been to pack up camp at 2:00 IN THE MORNING and hike on. Their night sounded worse than mine!

I had considered stopping there for the night--the site had a lot going for it such as a nearby water source and (relatively) low elevation of 11,630'. The next time the elevation would drop that low was more than 10 miles beyond it and there was absolutely zero chance of my making it to Spring Creek trailhead that day. So Mineral Creek had definitely been on my shortlist of possible places to stop for the night, but ultimately settled on a goal a mile or two beyond it. It wasn't near water, and didn't look more than a couple of hundred feet higher than Mineral Creek, but it would even out the miles I wanted to do today and tomorrow a bit more so I could hit my goal for tomorrow. Knowing that there was an aggressive moose at Mineral Creek, however, sealed the decision.

I was a little surprised to learn that the three hikers were thru-hiking the Colorado Trail, heading all of the way to Denver. I hadn't seen any northbound thru-hikers in several days and thought maybe the last of them had passed. It was getting late in the hiking season, and after the previous night, they expressed concerns that they might not make it to Denver before winter weather pushed them off the trail. I was kind of feeling the same way, but at least I was already about 70% done with the trail with 30% left to finish. They still had 70% of it left to finish and I too wondered if they would make it to the end before the first winter storm.

I stopped at Mineral Creek to fill up with water, then pushed on another mile or so to the campsite just behind it. It never rained and didn't appear as if it would, and even the wind seemed to die down a bit once I got deeper down the valley, but the occasional strong gust still blew through so I set up my tarp to protect against the wind gusts. If it later rained--which I didn't expect it to--I'd be ready for that too.

The beetle infestation continues.... That's not a healthy-looking forest!

San Luis Pass Saddle is that low point on the horizon. San Luis Peak is off the photo on the right.
The snow is getting closer! (That's still San Luis Pass Saddle at the low point on the horizon, which is where the trail goes.)
Looking back from San Luis Pass Saddle
Heading up to another pass--this one doesn't have a name as far as I know.

A vole on the trail! I've never gotten a photo of one of these creatures before, so I was pretty excited about that. Not as magnificent as a moose, but this guy was adorably cute. =)

Home, sweet home!


Anonymous said...

Sorry so cold and wet, but the moose is incredible!

Mary said...

Fabulous photos! That moose was gorgeous but looked like he could use more meat on his bones to get through the winter.

Ryan said...

Yeah, I thought he looked a little thin myself, but I'm not really an expert on moose. For all I know, that could be a perfectly normal-looking moose.

Mary said...

I consider myself a moose expert. I've seen 2 moose in person. One was alongside the Trans-Canadian Highway and one was in Yellowstone. Neither one had visible ribs like this poor guy.

Mary said...

I googled this and a big killer of moose is a winter tick. The ticks can number 30,000 to 160,000 on one moose and make the moose miserable, deplete his blood, make it so he can't rest and that affects the immune system. What a sad life! Poor moose!