Silverton to Gunnison: Exposure and Adaptation

After a long zero-day-and-a-half, we were back on the trail and in the middle of another hail storm. This time we were prepared. Zach and I both bought rain pants in town. We also added an emergency blanket to Leah’s kit, just in case we were faced with another wet and cold night.

This time, the hail didn’t last long. We were dry by the time we got to our campsite, and thankful for it. Leah still had plenty of energy and was zooming around the site, continually thwarting our efforts to set up the tent.

The Animas River through the storm

The next day, we climbed up to 12,000 feet and stayed there. All day. And all night. It was completely exposed and we were surrounded by incredible views the whole time. Luckily for us, the sun was shining all day. Being up on that section in a storm could be hella dangerous. We picked our campsite carefully, finding a place that was on the lee side of a saddle in the ridge. It was about as sheltered as we could get, but I wasn’t complaining. Great views, and my two favorite beings resting next to me. That’s all I need.

Our exposed camp
The San Juan Mountains

The wind died out overnight, but without the sun we were chilly. Zach and I both started in base layers and full rain gear the next day to get warm. I was still riding the stoke of being up there and practically skipped along the ridgeline that morning. Around noon the trail met up with a 4×4 road and led us to the highest point on the CT (13,259 feet). All downhill from here!

She’s not impressed

Finally, we descended below the treeline, but the trees were mostly all dead. There were some very young ones, not yet taller than I am, starting to grow again, but a beetle had decimated the older trees.

Shortly after returning to the shelter of the trees, we met up with another 4×4 road and followed it a short distance to a yurt built by the friends of the Colorado Trail. Two other southbound hikers were staying there. As soon as Leah decided that she liked them, she went right to sleep for the night. The yurt would be our temporary home.

Friends of the Colorado Trail yurt

Getting the chance to hang out and chat with other hikers was so much fun. Previously, we had to leave campsites because Leah couldn’t get along with the other hikers. So having her be so calm around these two gave me some hope for the future.

The next day was a short (9 miles) day to Spring Creek Pass. During our zero day, Zach and I had shuttled the bus up to this point. We’d be able to rest and resupply without ever going into town. I was grateful for the short day. Leah was wasted after the four-day stretch, even though the miles hadn’t been particularly difficult. Having an opportunity for her to recover before we headed out again was key.

Anything looks like a pillow when you’re dog tired

Unfortunately, the next morning came and Leah still didn’t have her energy back. It wasn’t until we were on our way back to the trailhead that I spoke up to Zach. “I think she needs a zero,” I told him. We pulled over and tried to figure out a way for us to all zero and still have a shuttle back to Spring Creek Pass to get the bus. Nothing worked. The only option was for Leah and me to skip the next section while Zach continued on.

It wasn’t an easy choice to make, even though I knew when I brought her out here that it might come to this. Really though, it was just one zero-day. It was just one 55-mile section that we’d be missing. We could come back and get it once we had finished. No big deal, right? I had to adapt to my dog’s needs, I had to put her before my hike.

Bye for now Zach!

Leah slept the whole day. I drove some hikers into Lake City and then continued on to Gunnison. I was able to get some writing done and wash our town clothes. Gunnison has pretty much anything you could need. There was even a huge park where I could walk Leah if she ever wanted to get up.

I drove the bus out to the parking area on route 114 where the trail crosses and we slept there that night. In the morning, Leah and I started hiking south. She was so excited to be back on the trail that she was doing zoomies all morning. Puppy energy restored, I figured we could hike about 15 miles. I wasn’t sure when we’d see Zach, but I wasn’t expecting it to be at noon that first day. Turns out he had pulled a 30-mile day out of Spring Creek Pass. We turned around with him and headed back to the bus.

Segment 19 is all road

The hike out wasn’t anything special, but the way back was brutal. It was exposed, but not up on a ridge walking-in-the-sky hiking we had been doing. Instead, we were walking through cow pastures, which meant all of our water sources had cow shit in them. Sure, we could filter it, but even then the few sources we came across were entirely unappealing. We ran out of water about 5 miles from the bus.

About 2 miles from the bus, we found water again. Between the three of us, a liter and a half was gone in seconds. When we finally did make it back to 114, we all collapsed in the bus, thankful that the next day would be a town day. We would rehydrate and recover in Gunnison before striking out again on our way to Monarch Pass, the entrance of the Collegiate Peaks.

Cecile at our campsite the Cochetopa Canyon area