Our rest up was filled with humongous salads, haircuts, and dessert bars the size of a small dinner plate. New friends and fellow travelers at the Simple Hostel humored us with a good old fashioned game of Cards Against Humanity, and we spent an entire afternoon lazily strolling around the adorable, unadulterated mountain town of Salida. Kid Sister and Fixie, a Colorado Trail duo we befriended in the last sectioned, cooked veggies in the kitchen while we gorged ourselves on tortellini and cheese. We were very proud of their healthy choices...but still: cheese!
By the time we left Salida and all the friendly hiker/biker/traveler/vagabond folks there, summer had finally caught up with us. Even back up at elevation, the breeze was warm and just the lightest brushings of snow remained on the highest peaks. The dark, knotting clouds on the horizon that greeted our return, however, would prove to be a foreshadowing of what else the summer held in store for us.
Descending from Monarch Pass (where we spent a night at the closed down ski lifts and discovered a PBR someone had long since buried in snow and forgotten. And of course drank it), the trail led us not right back up, for once, but down below 10,000' through the foothills of the La Garita Mountains. At this elevation, our surroundings were all of a sudden strikingly reminiscent of the Black Hills: chips of granite and slate crunching underfoot in powdery dust trail, pockets of aspen tucked into sun-warmed conifers, low juniper climbing and clinging to the contours of the hillsides, all together a heady rush of nostalgia on the hot and dry pine-resin air. Unfortunately, the comparison also includes widespread vistas of beetle kill--great swaths of red-grey skeletons haunting the otherwise green expanses. Sadly, we'd see this every day for the remainder of the state. The devastation was hard to overcome and hit home with us, despite the beauty otherwise.
We spent a large portion of this section hiking with Kid Sister and Fixie after catching up to them at a back country yurt. Fixie lured us in with a pot of freshly brewed midday tea, and luckily we accepted! Not moments later, a thunderstorm tore through the valley ahead of our trail and poured rain over everything. But there we were, the four of us: sheltered, toasty, snacking, and happy.
After a few days of relatively easy hiking through flowering sagebrush and cow-tread ruts, the tall peaks beckoned again and up we climbed into the thinning air. One early morning we scaled the sharp rock fortress that is San Luis Peak, looming high above at 14,014 feet and conquered our one and only 14er of the adventure. Trudging up the steep shale climb at sunrise, we could see the clouds and thunderstorms over rows and rows of mountains in the distance. Gorgeous, forbidding, and definitely challenging, the summit rewarded us with the sight of a vertical rainbow spilling out from a cloud to the west. Magical!!
We were exhilarated and high from the altitude, and our days continued to amaze and demand hard, hard work from us. We traced the Divide up and down mountain passes on the way to Lake City. The weather continued to favor us, but each day brought darker afternoon skies and more menacing storms on the horizon. Meanwhile, we found ourselves hiking through peak wildflower season in Colorado; every day more and more hillsides dressed in full regalia of bluebells, fireweed, daisies, lupine and Indian paintbrush of nearly every color dazzled our path.
And then the rain set in. We'd had a handful of very manageable afternoon sprinkles here and there, but the grumbling clouds had grown heavy and impatient and, when finally unleashed, drove down upon us rain like ropes of water and lit up the ridges with electric fury. At one point after a particularly bad hailstorm forced us into wet tents and sleeping bags, we (the two of us, Kid Sister, and Fixie) bailed out into Silverton for an unplanned night off. Silverton was a pleasant surprise of a little mountain town! Surrounded by gold mines and mountainsides carpeted with wildflower blooms, the sleepy little hideaway town would have escaped all of Colorado's infamous touristy influx if our visit hadn't just so happened to correspond with the Hard Rock Hundred. Racers from all over the world had flocked to the quaint but crowded village for the foot race, and it was sheer luck that we found the very last room in the very last hostel in town. Whew! We caught up with LilyWhiskers, who we'd also shared dinner with in Lake City, and once our belongings had more or less dried, strove back out for more epic badassery that is southern Colorado. high low wedding dresses
In between rainshowers we drank unfiltered water from the source of the Rio Grande, cloudwalked up and over the Knife Edge and along the backbone of the San Juans, and caught up with old South Dakota friends, Shawn and Deanna, and their family in Pagosa Springs. Their incredible generosity, home-cooked food and puppies!! were a very welcome respite from the trail. As we neared the end of Colorado, the state seemed to remember it also had an abundance of wildlife to showcase, and we saw coyote, velvet-horned mule deer, families of elk and plenty of marmots (even a baby!). A bear roared at us as we rounded a hillside, but luckily there were no actual encounters...out loud, off-key renditions of old Garth Brooks songs kept the beast at bay!
The weather showed us relative mercy for the final thirty miles of Colorado, and, despite perpetually wet feet (and pant legs. And sometimes just wet everything in general), we marveled at the spectacular sweeping vistas and diminishing peaks as we neared Cumbres Pass, where we had left off nearly two months prior. The thin ribbon of trail that at the time lay obscured in deep snowpack now unfurled visibly ahead of us, down cliffsides and through the trees to the finish line of another state.
Our last day in Colorado ended at the Cumbres-Toltec historical train station at the Pass, and after a 30 mile day and another entire state finished, we were happy to collapse a stone's throw from the highway and get a well earned night's sleep.
Our next adventure? The 700+ mile hitch back to central Wyoming! Stay tuned for that story...
Northbounding and sending love,
Glimmer + Arcade