More Miles on the Trail, More Chapters

Catching up on last month’s trip.  In late September, the weather was turning cold and crisp, and we knew that the hiking season would soon draw to a close.  Time enough, though, for one last overnight expedition to hike a section in the Colorado Trail.  I was nearly finished with dictating my chapters in The Sisterhood of Dune, and I looked forward to a long drive and plenty of hours on the trail so that I could have some real creative time to finish my writing.

The Colorado Trail is 483 miles long, divided into 28 segments, and runs from Denver to Durango through some of the most spectacular scenery in the state.  With my brother- and sister-in-law Tim and Diane, I have so far hiked 367 miles, 21 sections.  We take two vehicles—generally, I park at one end of a segment, they park at the other, and we hike in opposite directions, then drive the other car home.

Our next target was Segment 20, which runs from Gunnison to Creede over the La Garita Mountains.  Even though the trail segment is only fourteen miles long, the *road distance* from one trailhead to the other is 160 miles, thanks to the rugged mountain range in the way.  Obviously, this required some significant logistical planning.

We drove both vehicles to Gunnison (in pouring rain and miserable weather), then down a 19-mile dirt road to reach the northern end of the trail segment.  At the trailhead, I parked my car, then ran through the rain to throw my pack, trekking pole, suitcase, and laptop in the back of Tim and Diane’s car, and climbed aboard.  We drove back out the 19-mile dirt (mud) road—an hour each way—then reached the highway and drove 140 miles around the mountains to the small, historic mining town of Creede, where we had lodging reservations.  We arrived long after nightfall, and much of the sleepy town was dark and empty; after checking into our rooms we found a small bar/barbecue place for dinner, then went to bed for an early hike.

Next morning, the sky was clear, no sign of clouds; the temperature was chilly, but we had warm clothes.  We drove out of town up a box canyon filled with mining ruins, winding higher up the 4WD road above treeline.  Still more mining ruins, and then within a mile of the southern trailhead at 11,500 ft, the sky suddenly thickened with clouds.  We parked.  It snowed.  It snowed a lot, nearly white-out conditions.

This was very discouraging, but we had spent eleven hours the previous day just getting the cars into position, and we weren’t going to turn back now.  In the back of the vehicle, we pulled on extra jackets, fleeces, gloves, stocking caps…and within fifteen minutes the storm had passed, leaving the mountains and trail covered with more than an inch of fresh snow.

Time to go.  We headed out, following the path, which was like a line of white high-lighter, and climbed up to breathtaking San Luis Pass, then over the mountains.  Clouds came and went; the wind picked up, then faded.  We reached the high-point (and coldest point) of the trail and began to descend on the Gunnison side of the La Garita range.

The trail was well marked and made for excellent hiking—i.e., excellent writing and concentration time.  I walked a few minutes ahead of Tim and Diane, so I could talk to myself.  Over the eight-hours, I pulled out my notes for Sisterhood of Dune chapters, completing a total of five chapters during the hike.  Hour by hour, I took off the gloves and stocking cap, then fleece, then sweatshirt.  The aspens were amazing, at the peak of their color.  Off in the forest nearby, we heard a bull elk bugling—a very distinctive call that sounds more like a rusty hinge than a mating call (but I guess the female elks like it).

Finally, in late afternoon, we reached my car, which had been sitting overnight at the northern trailhead.  Then the 19-mile drive down the dirt road (again) to Gunnison, where we ate a large dinner at a steak house, aptly named The Trough, and drove nearly three hours back to Creede and our hotel.  I edited some chapters on my laptop before going to sleep.

Next day, Tim and I drove up past the mining ruins again to retrieve the other car (which was covered with frost and ice after sitting overnight at 11,500 ft).  For a lighter hiking day, we decided to try a nearby trail, Shallow Creek, up into the aspen-covered hills, during which I dictated two more Sisterhood chapters.  That afternoon we also spent some time exploring Creede, a very quaint town with a lot of history.

Now that we had our separate vehicles back, we drove home the next morning on our own schedules.

This was only our second Colorado Trail segment for the season, but it’s not likely we’ll get a chance to do another before next summer.  It was a marvelous trip, one of the most beautiful sections we had seen so far, and on the drive home I did finish dictating my last chapters in Sisterhood of Dune, ten total during the hiking trip.  And I had done a great deal of mental recharging—that’s the best benefit of the trail.

All photos by T. Durren Jones or Kevin J. Anderson