This past Saturday morning I parked my truck on main street in Silverton, CO and hiked to the Continental Divide Trail. For the next three days I followed this trail 100 miles south through the heart of the Weminuche Wilderness to Wolf Creek Pass. This is one of the most remote and unspoiled places you can find in this part of the country. It was a truly amazing experience that included a lot of hiking, a little running, a few too many lightning storms, endless views and nonstop smiling.
Packing for trips of this sort usually starts fairly easy. I need sleeping equipment, cooking equipment, food and expected layers for rain and cold. Once everything is rounded up the real decision making begins as you begin to question the amount of stuff you have. Am I too heavy? can I get away with not having this? will this be enough food? will I be warm enough at night? Coming from an alpine climbing background I typically tend to lean towards less than more, often regretting it, getting rid of non-essential items, finding ways of replacing gear with lighter options and often convincing myself that a little suffering will make things easier in the long run.
Day one started nice and early on Main Street in downtown Silverton. I parked my truck next to the courthouse and started walking east towards Cunningham Gulch Road. After a couple of hours on paved and dirt roads I arrived at the trailhead and finally began hiking up towards the Continental Divide. The majority of the day was spent up high hiking above treeline through wildflowers on a very well groomed trail. There were occasional thunderstorms throughout the day but I was never forced to head down below treeline for safety. I arrived at my intended campsite for the night at Ute Lake a little earlier than expected and began looking for a good spot to sleep for the night. Without a tent I was hoping to find a boulder to bivy under or some other kind of natural shelter to protect me from the more and more constant rain storms that continued to roll through. Although there were abundant rocks in the area I could not find anything that would work as a shelter for my small bivy setup. After over an hour of searching I was able to find a small hidden spot nestled between some thick pines and a slightly overhanging rock wall. This would work perfectly!
I started day two early and planned to try and cover significantly more mileage than the day before. The day we filled with passing storms, some lasting longer than others but I was usually able to partially dry out between waves. The trail was great with a nice balance of high alpine ridges and lower alpine bowls with amazing blue lakes. Although many of these lower sections were overgrown with bushes the trail was still easy to follow and the miles passed quickly. The plan for the day was to hike until dark and this eventually placed me on a spectacular alpine ridge for an unforgettable sunset. Despite covering more miles than I expected for the day I continued to hike into the night trying to find a suitable campsite that had a water source available. For the majority of the day I had passed creeks regularly to drink from but this new stretch of trail required me to hike well into the night until I found a small trickle of water and a small tree covered area just below treeline to place me sleeping pad. I drink some water, ate some dinner and promptly shivered myself to sleep.
The morning came quick and I was actually eager to get up and start moving around to warm myself up. The sunrise above treeline was equally as impressive the sunset the night before and the trail seemed to contour the mountainsides for miles. What began as a beautiful morning quickly turned into a a cold, windy and rainy day. High above treeline I often found myself taking shelter from the storm behind small features in the mountainsides to rewarm myself before trying to cover another small distance before looking for shelter again. In the early afternoon the rain finally cleared and I was able to again travel at my regular pace and work my way towards Wolf Creek Pass. The majority of this final day consisted of hiking on the crest of one beautiful continuous ridge line on tundra. With miles and miles of the trail laid out before me it was easy to keep my spirits high and continue moving to the end of my goal. After a few more passes and alpine lakes I my first views of the highway heading up and over Wolf Creek Pass. It wasn’t long before I met up with my sweetie Amber King who was out for an afternoon trail run with my favorite pup Jack. We were soon down to the highway and enjoying a beer at the car with my journey completed. After so many years of wanting to complete this route it sure feels good to finally be able to check it off the list. A huge thank you to Amber for meeting me at the finish line with my flipflops, beer and other goodies.