Cumbres Pass (Guthook CDT mile 811.7) to mile 829.4
(17.7 miles, +3,800/-1,700 feet).
I was very fortunate to learn recently that one of the people I work with (trailname: Vogue) is a thru-hiking machine! He has done the AT, the CDT, the PCT (twice!), the CT, and even the GHT (Grand Himalayan Trail).
So when he suggested a hike together, I jumped at the chance.
On Vogue’s southbound CDT thru-hike several years ago, he got forced off trail by a storm that dumped two feet of powdery snow on the Weminuche and South San Juan Wilderness areas in remote southern Colorado. He did a 100 mile road walk around the trail to keep continuous footsteps for his thru-hike, but he always wanted to go back and see these beautiful places.
So we decided to start at Cumbres Pass and head north for a few days.
It was a long drive from San Diego to get to the trail, with an overnight in Chama, New Mexico, but by 8:30am we were on trail and ready to go!
I immediately noticed how crazy green everything is compared to the Sierra, SoCal, and the desert areas I’ve hiked so far. It was especially surprising to me because we were already quite high at 10,000 feet or so.
There was water everywhere, which was great for our backs (I hardly every carried water) but not so great for our feet (soggy).
The wildflowers were crazy beautiful.
Mid-morning we took a break and met a CDT section hiker named Purple Pants (alas, he was not wearing them!). We leapfrogged with him for a few hours after that.
Soon we left the forest and began to climb up a grassy ridge.
On the Guthook app for the CDT, many of the waypoints are cairns. I had never seen that before and thought it was silly until I actually got on trail.
In some places the trail has good, visible tread. But in many other places water has washed the trail away, overgrowth has obscured it, or a general lack of usage has made it so faint that the path can be hard to follow.
As a result, I grew to love cairns. They were sometimes the only way for us to be sure we were headed in the right direction.
As we climbed higher the trail got a little rockier here and there, making for some beautiful contrasts in the scenery.
Once we made the ridge at about 12,000 feet we took a nice long break for lunch.
In spite of an ominous warning sign, the hiking was really easy after lunch, mostly flat and above tree line as we walked the crest between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
I got a little emotional looking at the spectacular views of the valley below.
We left the ridge for a bit to cross what I called “tarnlandia” — a high flat area with many little ponds (tarns) and lakes.
We were really surprised that the weather held up in the afternoon. It rains a lot here and there were definitely storms around us, so we got very lucky on our first day out.
After tarnlandia we dropped down to the Dipping Lakes, which we avoided dipping in since they were buzzing with mosquitoes.
Above the lakes we started seeing our first columbines.
And before we knew it, it was 8pm and time to call it a day. We found a well-drained and just-a-teeny-bit-slope-y place to camp at 12,000 feet in the krummholz (new vocab word for me — it means stunted trees).
The sunset was spectacular.
While I retired to my tent, Vogue remained outside long after dark to watch the light show of numerous lightning storms in the distance and an emerging Milky Way….