CDT Day 54: choose your own adventure

mile 892.9 to about the junction of the Squaw Creek and Squaw Lake Trail: 14.6 miles

Total miles: 790.2

I normally write the majority of these posts before I fall asleep, but today I was too tired. The day was full of surprises, and at the end of the day I was ready to just crawl into my sleeping bag and fall asleep.

The day started with a ridge walk in the morning. It was windy all day, and we could see Mouse and Shadow a quarter mile in front of us until the stopped for a snack and we joined them. The “knife edge” was coming up, a feature that is sketchy without snow, let alone with. We were all a little unsure about what it would be like, and were anxious to see it in person.

When we arrived, we could see most of the feature in front of us, save for the most shaded spot where the trail tucked into a fold in the mountain. It’s hard to see in the photo below, but the trail traverses the bottom part of those snow fields on a steep slope. Our biggest concern was that if we slipped on the snow, that there wasn’t much snow to self-arrest on below us, and we’d quickly be sliding down steep talus which our ice axes would be little use on.

After much debate, we decided to take a lower route on a little used trail below the knife edge. It was clear, except for a steep snow patch that no one had walked across. It was icy, and Shadow had a hard time kicking steps into the hard snow. We decided to up climb, and scramble across a short path of steep loose rock instead. We were trying to avoid this exact situation, but one short stretch of loose rock was better than multiple. We made it over, and it was smooth sailing from there.

After the excitement of the morning, we all broke early for lunch by a lake. As we ate, soft tendrils of smoke started rolling over the ridge. The CDT is never boring! We climbed up to the ridge, and saw more smoke in the distance. We were able to get a bit of cell service, and learned there was a rapidly spreading fire spreading northwest of Durango. With the fire to the west of us, and the trail heading that direction, we mulled over our options as we continued on the trail.

As the day progressed, the conditions became more hazy, and we could actually smell smoke. The sun filtering through the smoke cast an eerie red glow, and bits of ash started falling from sky and getting in our eyes. We decided that even though it was unlikely the fire would spread to the trail, we decided to be safe and take a different route while we sill could.

Our maps indicated that the Squaw Creek Trail coming up would take us directly north, instead of west toward the smoke, and drop us down into a valley where we’d follow a creek to the Rio Grande Reservoir. From there we could follow a gravel road 7 miles to the Lost Creek Trail, that would intersect with the CDT eventually. Dropping into the valley provided relief from the smoke, and the winds continued to blow the smoke out of the valley.

We crossed through some marshland, and our feet got wet towards the end of the day which is never fun! After a bit of slogging through scratchy bushes, thorns, and wet ground, we found some flat ground near the creek. We ate dinner with Mouse and Shadow, then crawled into the tent. I had to mend Garrett’s pants because he ripped them in the seat, then we mapped out our new route back to the CDT the next day. Finally, chores being done, I drifted off to sleep.