Four 12,000 ft. passes

Day 24, 7/31
Miles: 14.7
Mileage: 331.9 – 346.6

After yesterday’s long day, we’ve decided to let ourselves sleep in a bit today. We’re only walking 14 miles, so it shouldn’t take too long anyway. I wake up around 8 and leisurely start to put my stuff away, talking and moseying around, taking way too long to pack up. It’s 9:30 when we start walking. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and beautiful, the cows are out making noise and eating grass, the landscape is bright and alive.

Only a few minutes into our walk I notice the clouds are starting to build.

“The clouds are already getting thicker”, I comment to Squat and Bibbs.

We walk slowly up the trail, making our way through overgrown brush and grass, up a wet, muddy path where the creek has leaked onto the trail, making for occasional water flow down the center of the path. We have a lot of climbing to do today- one pass plus three more “up and overs”, as we call them, which are basically the same as passes, as they are all over 12,000 feet. As we continue to walk up, the clouds continue to build. It takes several hours to get to the first high point, at just over 12,000 feet, and when I crest the top I am suddenly fearful and hurried. The clouds on the other side are dark. Very, very dark. They loom just barely over the mountains next to us, threatening to strike at any time. The storms really shouldn’t be here yet, it’s not even noon.

Bibbs and I yell down to Squat for her to hurry up so we can get a move on it. When she makes it to the top she stops just long enough for us all to put our rain jackets and pack covers on, and we’re off. As I look for the trail ahead in the distance, I realize it doesn’t go down for a while and the thought scares me. We are up high, above tree line, and these mean, angry clouds are just above us, just barely hanging higher than the mountain peaks we are ascending and descending. The trail leads us around the edge of one ridge line just below and between two peaks. Squat is in front of me, Bibbs behind. All three of us run fast, very fast, down the steep, rocky terrain that looks like it’s not bringing us to safety anytime soon. I’m amazed at how fast Squat is running. I’ve never seen her legs move this fast, and for the first time I’m having a hard time keeping up with her. I’m happy about this actually- proud of her. It’s times like these, when you don’t have an option and are possibly even running for your life, that you realize the power of your own strength. You realize there’s nothing you CAN’T do if it really comes down to it.

The dark clouds above us are giving us their warnings, but we haven’t seen any lightening yet which is a relief. Still we press on, making our way around the rim of these mountains, still exposed and afraid of what could happen with one second of bad luck. I don’t know why I decide to do this, but I suddenly need to take a picture of the landscape. I stop and pull out my phone, take a pano, and the whole time I’m thinking, you are so stupid, why would you stop right now? But I do it anyways.

Finally, we are lowering down towards some clumps of trees, and we see some tents set up ahead of us. We find out it’s a young life camp- there are like 20 of them- and they direct us to a “good” camp site just up ahead. I feel safer here. There are a few trees around, providing some level of protection from the storm above me. We are not the tallest things around anymore. I plop down against a tree and start snacking.

“I never knew my body could move so fast”, Squat says.

Within 5 minutes it starts raining, and then hailing. We are just below our next pass- San Louis Pass- and we are not able keep walking until the storm clears up. Bibbs decides to set up her shelter and she kindly invites us inside, and gets out her sleeping bag. So here we are, three girls smashed into a one person shelter, all squished tightly together so we all fit under one sleeping bag. We sit. We wait. We laugh. We talk. I snap a picture. I share my Cheetos. We occasionally peak outside to check the weather. We wait some more. Almost two hours passes before I take a peak and for the first time I see a small patch of blue. Blue sky! That’s a very good sign! We stare at the sky for a few minutes longer and start to see a couple more small patches of blue peaking through the clouds which are slowly turning a shade of light grey or white, rather than dark blackish grey. We decide to make a run for it.

It’s 3pm at this point, and we haven’t even walked 10 miles. We have just over 5 miles left, but in those
5 miles we need to go up and over one 13,000ft. pass and two more 12,000ft. passes. We discuss the possibility of not even making it to our destination for the night. Where will we camp? Possibly above tree line, or, possibly we might have to walk straight down off of the trail, down into the trees if the weather gets bad again. We hope for the best and walk fast towards the top of San Luis Pass.

The weather clears up for us and we are so thankful. We do manage to make it over all three passes. It is hard going up a steep set of switchbacks or just directly up the slope for a mile or so, then walking steeply back down the other side, and finally steeply back up the next slope, three times. My body doesn’t like what I’m doing to it- I’m still not fully recovered from our 30 mile day yesterday, joints are still sore, and now I’m not giving it a break. I think about how much more I like having one solid steady climb up for miles and then back down for miles, rather than this up, down, up, down stuff- how much easier it is on my body.

The scenery throughout the whole day is absolutely breathtaking. I decide that it’s the most beautiful we’ve had on the trail yet. All I can see in all directions as far as my eyes will take me is mountain peaks by the hundreds. I wonder how many are 13’ers and how many are 14’ers. I learned from someone a while ago that Colorado has over 700 13,000 ft. peaks, and I think about this on days like today when I see so many of them at once. I stop many times on the way up the 13,000ft. pass to take pictures and pano’s with my phone and camera. I wish pictures would do justice, but they just don’t. No picture will ever capture what I’m seeing right now as I make my way high into the sky in the middle of Colorado’s mountains. I want to capture these moments forever, so I try, but I’m just not sure how good they really will be. Not good enough, that’s for sure.

We finally reach the creek where we will camp at around 6:30. Today was a very long day, for only a short mileage day. We’ve decided that the fear of thunder storms also zaps the energy out of you, and today is no exception at all. I review the series of events that today gave us- one long 8 mile climb over the first pass, getting stuck in the storm, hunkering down in Bibbs’ tent for two hours praying the storm will pass, walking over three more passes and high points, feeling the energy slowly drain from my body, and now here- at camp, eating mac n cheese and a snickers, falling into bed as soon as chores are done, allowing myself to drift off to sleepy land almost instantly. My body lies in this cozy cocoon of feathers, my mind floats around in another world, one in which it will find the energy and strength to get me up in the morn and deliver me to town.

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