I had 7.5 miles to hike before I would reach the 12,600 foot saddle from which I could climb San Luis peak, so I had to get up as early as possible. For me, that was 5:30 am. (I really don’t like to get up when it is dark out!). When the first light showed around 6am, I noticed how cloudy the sky was, which was a very strange occurrence. Mornings in Colorado are always sunny! I wondered what this meant for my chances of summitting San Luis in the afternoon. The squirrels once again let me know that they did not appreciate me inhabiting their territory (either that, or they were really excited to start a new day!). I told them that I would be leaving soon and they would have the area all to themselves again. I packed up, said goodbye to my home for the night, and headed off around 6:30, passing through the gate, and then through fairly flat meadows with morning dew on the grass.
Then, I started uphill, passing by some really nice campsites that I wish I had known about! I peeled off some layers and prepared myself for the steeper climbs. The clouds remained in the sky, and I was unsure if I would get the chance to climb another 14,000 footer on this hike. Around 8am, it started to sprinkle! I put on my pack cover, and it stopped soon after. I saw some nice yellow flowers on the way up. Because of the dry summer, there hadn’t been nearly as many wildflowers as usual.
I then saw a horse and two men in their campsite to my left. The horse saw me, but the men didn’t. I had to say “hi” several times before they noticed me. I wanted to ask them what they thought this weather meant. They said they were from Texas and weren’t experts. I explained that I was trying to decide if I should climb San Luis or not. The older one said that there were 2 parts and that the second peak was hard. The younger one advised me not to do it. “We got hailed on,” he said. (‘If getting hailed on is the worst of it, I’m definitely doing it!’ I thought to myself… I had already been hailed on several times before…)
I continued on, making it to the final stream before the peak. I stopped to collect and filter water and noticed that one of my collecting bags had a leak. My pack and water bottles got very dirty and muddy in this spot. I continued the climb. The sky was still very cloudy.
As I approached the saddle, the climb got much steeper, and I had to stop several times. There was a party of 4 at the top, looking down at me. I finally made it up to them. It was windy and cold, and I was hungry, but I had to hurry to climb the peak! I put on some warmer clothes, grabbed a snickers bar to put in my pocket, put my rain cover over my pack, and stashed it in a little ditch with the day hikers’ packs. Before I was ready, the other hikers headed for the peak and told me to enjoy my hike. “I’m coming with you!” I said. (The Colorado trail continued in the opposite direction of the peak). The girl told her father what I said and he responded, “She’s serious!”. (Yeah, she is…!)
I had my fleece jacket and rain gear on. The wind was strong and cold and struck the skin on my face hard. I hiked as quickly as I could with the steepness, very high altitude, and strong wind.
The path was gravelly and I dug my poles into the dirt and leaned all of my weight on them to take a step. Still, I started sliding down the path! I became worried about the descent, having this much trouble ascending! I dug in and tried again, glad that no one was around me to see this, once again…! Still, I managed to gain distance on the party ahead of me.
I climbed false summit after false summit. I had 1,400 feet to climb, and couldn’t understand why it could be taking so long! Where was the top? It seemed much farther than 1.25 miles away! I saw the tiny shapes of people standing on the ridge like ants. I passed the two girls and closed in on the father and son. I kept climbing and stopping to take pictures.
The wind struck my face with every step. It was not an enjoyable climb in any way. Finally, I reached the summit and joined the ant-like shapes. The two girls and a guy were getting ready to descend. Thunder rumbled and one of the girls jumped. “We better go now!” she said. I didn’t feel so great. I had cramps, my nose was running, and I was hungry and cold. I took some pictures and watched the dark clouds. I could see rain in the distance. The day hikers reached the summit and asked me to take their photograph. (I wasn’t sure why they had picked this day to hike if they lived so close and could come any day…)
I ate my snickers bar and decided to descend. I said goodbye to the group and told them that I would see them in a few minutes, knowing they would pass me on the downhill.
About halfway through, one of the girls and the son, passed me. They were descending easily without poles and weren’t slipping. I wondered why I couldn’t glide as easily as them. Why was I slipping so much while digging my poles into the ground? Rain began to fall and a feeling of slight panic and certainly pressure filled the air. As the father and daughter came closer to me, I half-fell, but managed to save myself. Then, I really fell (for the first time on this hike) when they were steps behind me. One of the girls who was in the first group to descend was stopped on the trail. Her boyfriend was helping her with her rain gear. I passed them. As the father and daughter passed me, he asked if I was okay descending alone. I thought that was kind of funny, as I had hiked the entire Appalachian Trail and now 340 miles of the Colorado Trail alone… If I had voluntarily climbed this peak and couldn’t descend on my own, that would be a big problem!)
It began to hail. My gloves were soaked. I hadn’t even put a ziplock bag around my camera! My pace quickened as the steepness lightened up. I could see the other girl from the first party waiting for her friends along the ridge. The girl and son from the second party had headed toward their gear and then disappeared. I thought they had continued on and were now out of sight.
Once on flat ground, I could almost start running. I passed the daughter (the father had stopped to see if he could help the girl from the first party who seemed to be struggling). As I got closer to my pack, the rain and hail stopped and it looked like two (large) birds were emerging from their nest, stretching out their wings, and opening up to the sun! One was yellow. It was the girl, who had put on a yellow poncho, and the son, who had nestled into the ditch with the gear. (Rather cute!)
Once making it to our gear, we all quickly collected our things. The struggling girl and her boyfriend ran past us down the trail, calling out thank yous to the father for offering his help. I walked quickly and assumed the middle position between the two groups. The landscape was beautiful, but it had begun to rain again, and we all hiked as quickly as we could. The first group was definitely on a mission to get out of this weather as fast as humanly possible. The second group took their time, talking amongst one another. I noticed some interesting rock formations that looked like sculptures of people. I kept stopping to take out my camera, and then stashing it away again. The openness of the landscape reminded me of Switzerland and I felt happy when not rushing to escape the lightning.
I had planned on collecting water at the next source, but when I reached the stream, the rain was still coming down, and I didn’t feel like stopping to filter it. I still had visions of reaching a road crossing and having “my friend” from home come meet me. Where could he find me? I would be reaching an intersection later on that day with a 10 mile path toward Creede. The first two miles weren’t accessible by vehicles, so if he met me there, I would have to hike an additional 4 miles. I still had no reception…
The rain continued to fall. It would occasionally stop for a couple of minutes, but start right back up again. I was growing tired of it. My energy was beginning to sag. I needed food. I saw a plastic gallon jug of water in a patch of grass along the trail and wondered if it was trail magic. Who would have left it there and why? I didn’t trust it, so I passed it by. I saw the first party marching up the switchbacks in the rain. The sight didn’t look very appealing. I saw a couple of pine trees with a dry patch underneath them, so I decided to sit there and eat my lunch. As I was finishing, the party of four came along, looking wet and downtrodden. The father picked up the jug of water (that was who had left it there!) and they headed to a clearing nearby to eat their lunch, sitting on logs and stumps. The rain eased up, and as they enjoyed their food, I could see the improvement in their moods! I packed up and wished them a good meal. The father offered me some water from his plastic jug. He said he was just going to dump it out if I didn’t want it, so I filled up.
I got hot climbing, so I had to stop to strip off some layers. Within minutes, the rain commenced again!
I climbed a hill, descended the other side, and then could see the intersection to Creede!
I crossed it, continuing on the CT, and as I headed up the next hill, I saw lightning flash to my right! I had just come out of miles of exposed terrain, was just entering a krumholz region, and was about to ascend to completely exposed terrain again. Danger! What should I do…? Should I remain in this area with the low bushes until the lightning stopped? I decided that since the lightning wasn’t right over me, I would keep going. I turned on my phone and stuck it in my rain jacket pocket. A minute later, I heard it make a noise! Reception! A got a text from my “friend”, but all it said was “hey”. I hurried to write him back, telling him I was in the middle of a storm on an exposed ridge. It took me several minutes to send it out, because I would only intermittently get a half bar of service (it must have been coming 11 miles away from Creede). I waited a bit, but got no response… I continued to climb up the mountain, back into completely exposed terrain.
As I looked down, I saw in the distance some elk or deer passing by! I was getting hot and wanted to take off my rain pants. I saw a vehicle on a ridge well above me. Again, it started to rain. Better put the rain pants back on… I kept moving. I crossed one saddle and headed for the next. I decided that I was either going to camp 2 or 4 miles into the next segment. Everything was wet! I bypassed the first possible place to camp, crossed a stream, and came to a huge pile of rocks, where I heard the sound of pikas again! The rain had stopped and the sun had finally come out! I stopped to take a little power bar break. I took off my shirt for a second. It felt so good to have sun on my body for that moment! Then, I continued on. The pikas slowed me down, though! I saw them pulling bunches of leaves out of their nest, and racing back to their nest with them in their mouths! Others were playing, chasing each other around. Finally, I continued on through a pine forest, where I saw some pretty yellow flowers again. Then, the rain started once again! I was getting so tired of this! I found another tree to rest under while the thunder rumbled and lightning struck. I had only made it a couple of hundred yards from the rocks with the pikas. Then, I noticed a patch of blue sky to my left. I decided it was best to head towards the blue sky! I still had one more saddle to climb to.
I made it to the top and started my final descent of the day. As I got closer to treeline, I saw a deer!
Finally, I found a spot in the middle of some pine trees to camp. I set my things down and then heard a voice below! Someone else was camped there. I decided to go say hi, so as not to scare them. It turned out to be a nice couple (Laurie and John, or Holly and Buzz, as they were known on the trail). They were the first thru-hikers I had met on the trail! They were taking it slow, only hiking 10 miles a day, and taking seven weeks to complete. I had hiked 19.5 miles today, through a tremendous amount of exposed terrain at very high altitude in the storms, and they were thoroughly impressed. They said I was much tougher than them! I told them I better go set up my tent and they agreed “before it starts raining again.” As soon as I started taking the contents out of my pack, the rain started coming down again! (God!! Can’t I get a break?!) I tried to set it up as quickly as I could, but my tent zipper was stuck (just as it had been in the morning)! While trying to get it to open, the mesh ripped! My $365 tent that was meant for my PCT hike was now already damaged! The only thing that made me feel better about the rip, was that it had torn into the shape of a heart!
I put a piece of duct tape over it to try to contain the damage. I brought everything inside my tent, and set up my stove right outside my tent door to cook dinner. The rain let up enough for me to go outside to pee and brush my teeth. Then, it started coming down even more heavily! Lightning was striking everywhere around me! It continued for a couple of hours, and my adrenaline was on alert. So much for a good night’s rest after a long, hard day…