Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Day 61: The Creede Cut-off

June 20: I woke up and hit the trail at an early 6:30am. Wi-fi and Cobra were up but in no rush and still lounging in camp when I left. I wished them good luck and Wi-fi said he hoped to see me again later. I assured him that he would. Less than a mile from our campsite, I planned to take the Creede Cut-off, an alternate that cut a good chunk of the San Juans off from the main route that Wi-fi and Cobra intended to follow. I had had enough of the snow and sketchy areas and decided to cut out that portion. It had the added advantage for me that this low-level route was over 50 miles shorter than the main-line route.


Some of the scenery I'd be missing I knew was amazing. The main line makes something of a horseshoe shape with the ends pointed east and the front of the horseshoe facing west, and the alternate I'd follow just connected the ends of the horseshoe. I was a little disappointed to be missing the spectacular scenery of the high route, but at least I had seen the northern half of that horseshoe when I thru-hiked the Colorado Trail four years earlier. It wasn't worth slogging through snow or risking my life traversing a sketchy snow chute, though. Nope, hard pass for me.

Because this alternate cut out so many miles, I would certainly be days ahead of Wi-fi by the time I rejoined the main route. And the fact that he'd be traveling slowly, postholing through snow, and going slower because of his hurt leg and Cobra being fresh on the trail, Wi-fi was thinking it likely that he'd never catch up to me again. But I didn't buy that for a second. Maybe it would take him a week or two to catch up again, but he'd certainly catch up at some point. He couldn't go slow to save his life. =)

So we parted ways, unsure when or where we would meet again, but certainly not within the next week.

I soon reach the junction for the Creede Cut-off, which immediately headed steeply downhill and into a massive pile of blowdowns. The first couple of hours of the alternate were absolutely horrid and my progress slowed to a crawl. I soon lost the trail completely. Basically, there was no trail anymore. Maybe once upon a time there used to be, but it had long since disappeared in the brush and blowdowns.

The main red-line CDT stayed up near the ridge line there, but I'd be following an alternate route to lower terrain (without the snow) that leads through Creede instead.

Getting lost, however, was never an issue. I just had to head down a canyon and follow the river at the bottom downstream for over a dozen miles. So I always knew I was going in the correct direction, even if there was no trail to follow anymore. It was just slow and difficult.

Eventually the trail cleared up, though, and I made it through the blowdowns. Now that I was back on a proper trail and it wasn't blocked with countless blowdowns, my progress picked up considerably. 

The trail lead through a burn area, however, so there wasn't much shade for long sections and the sun seemed to burn especially hot today. On the plus side, the burned trees allowed me to get more views than I otherwise would have. They weren't spectacular views, but they were pleasant. 

Several hours later, I reached a trailhead at a dirt road and followed the road for a few uneventful miles.

By the time the trail re-entered the woods, it was getting late in the day and I knew I'd have to find a place to camp within the next hour or so. I took a seat on a log at the trailhead, looking over a small meadow and pulled out some snacks to eat.

Munching on the snacks, I pulled out my phone and started zooming into the topo maps and reading Guthook comments looking for a potential place to camp. I was at this for several minutes when I looked up toward the meadow and noticed a bear about 100 feet directly in front of me. I gasped audibly, "Oh my God!" I was shocked. That bear wasn't there when I sat down and I certainly hadn't expected to see one when I looked up.

I wasn't particularly loud in my exclamation. It was barely a whisper, but that was all it took to startle the bear and it immediately ran off into the woods at the edge of the meadow. I tried to grab my camera and get it turned on, fumbled around a bit, but the bear was gone in three seconds flat--long before my camera was ready to take a photo. I missed my opportunity and cursed my knee-jerk reaction that startled the bear.

Thinking back, I'm still surprised to see the bear there. That bear knew I was sitting there. It's not like I was hiding or in the shade, and he was looking right at me when I finally looked up. If I had moved slowly to pull out my camera and turn it on, I think the bear would have just watched me with curiosity and I'd have gotten a great photo given how close the bear was. Curses!

Well, at least I could be happy that I saw my first bear on the trail. Most other thru-hikers I had talked to had yet to see any.

I finished my snacks and figured out a plan. The trail would soon follow a steep and narrow canyon downhill for several miles which likely wouldn't have many places to camp, but according to Guthook comments, there was at least one place suitable for camping maybe halfway down this section. That was my goal. I didn't want to camp at the bottom of the canyon where the trail emerged from the woods again since that's where it appeared I'd be getting into civilization. Nope, I wanted to camp in the woods, not civilization. I had considered the option of hiking the rest of the way into Creede, about 7 miles further, but I couldn't find any lodging online and didn't want to camp in town. Nope, I'd just pass through Creede tomorrow, resupply, then keep on going.

In the meantime, I had a campsite to find. I pushed onward, and reached the designated site about an hour later and set up camp.

I never saw any other hikers all day, except for Wi-fi and Cobra when I left camp in the morning, although I knew Skunkbear and Savage were ahead of me somewhere. Skunkbear had said she planned to take the alternate as well, but I had also seen them logged into the register at the trailhead earlier in the day. They probably weren't more than a half-day ahead of me.

I was camped about 7 miles short of the town of Creede, and I probably could have hiked the rest of the way there tonight if I really wanted to, but I wouldn't have arrived until well after dark. But as far as I could tell, there was no lodging available, and even if there was, it was probably far more expensive than I would have preferred to pay. After missing out on a zero day in Pagosa Springs, I had hoped to make up for it here but that wasn't looking like an option either. Argh!

I had also done more miles both yesterday and today than I initially had planned for so now I was expecting to get into Creede on Monday morning instead of Tuesday like I had originally assumed. The problem was that my laptop wasn't expected to arrive at the post office in Creede until Tuesday, and I found myself kicking myself for trying to send the package ahead such a short distance. I was literally hiking faster than the post office could move my laptop. I'd have to drop into the post office and have them forward it to me to the next post office, but I should have just skipped this post office completely. I can't even say that it was only obvious in hindsight--it should have been obvious to me when I mailed the package just yesterday! It was only going 40 miles up trail!

Anyhow.... now I just had one more task to take care of when I did make it into Creede tomorrow. Oh, well.....

It was sitting on a log with this view that I saw my first bear on the trail, only about 100 feet ahead ahead. But when I finally noticed it and exclaimed with being so startled, it dashed off into the woods on the left in three seconds flat so... no photo of the bear.

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