Surviving the Storm

Guthook CDT mile 829.4 to mile 844.6
(15.2 miles, +1,700/-2,300 feet).

I slept surprisingly well last night.  In the past I have always looked for dead flat places to camp, but in a wet environment like this good drainage is key, and good drainage usually means a bit of a slope.

Around 6am I jumped out of the tent to explore the area a bit.

Hello sunshine!
Snowy ridge below us
Snowy ridge above us

By 8am we were packed up and back on trail.  It was easy walking through rolling fields and past more tarns.  We saw (and heard!) a huge herd of elk in the distance, but alas they were too far away for good pictures.

Tarny reflection
This one’s a beauty
Tarn companion
Lovely cairn
This is beautiful!

Snow fields still sat above some of the tarns.

Snow-fed tarn
Vogue heads for the mountains
Take it in!

Soon we had to cross our first snow field.  There was nothing particularly difficult or scary today, but these are still new for me and it was a great opportunity to learn technique from Vogue.

JimmyJam on the snowy slope
View below
Vogue climbs down from the snow

After the snow we encountered a pretty swampy section that kept our feet good and wet.

Swampy trail
Another nice tarn
Break time!

After the swampy part we hit a traverse that made for wonderful hiking, duffy and fast.

Beautiful springy trail
View from the traverse

Soon we were back in rolling fields.

Vogue takes a picture
More lovely trail
Silver and gold

Vogue’s experience with monsoon storms on the CDT was great for this trip.  He could read the sky and he knew that most days rain would start around 3pm and last a couple of hours so we could plan around it.  But today there seemed to be more activity earlier in the day.  We kept watching the sky for signs that we should set up our tents for shelter.

Looming storm clouds

The dramatic sky made Blue Lake even more beautiful as we circumnavigated it.

Blue (gray?) Lake
We are in the right place
Sunlight on the Blue Lake shore

Thunder started to crack all around us, but when we counted the seconds between flash and crash it seemed the storms were still a few miles away.

Stormy reflection

We thought we had more time before we would need to shelter, but about 1pm it suddenly started hailing and pouring.  Vogue ducked into a dense patch of trees.

Lightning safety

My umbrella was actually doing a great job keeping me dry, but I worried that it might start getting windy.  I needed to put my raingear on.  I handed my umbrella to Vogue while I quickly added layers.  Then I joined him under it and we waited out the storm.

Smile for the camera
Gathering hail

Vogue was worried about hypothermia, so he pulled out some peanut M&Ms and shared them with me (yum!).  We discussed strategy, but really the best option was for us to wait until the downpour moved on.

It felt like a long time waiting, but the timestamps on my pictures indicate it was probably no more than half an hour.

It was great to get out and start walking again, but my biggest worry was looming above us.  We needed to climb a treeless ridge while we still heard periodic thunder.

I am more afraid of lightning than I should be, and I took this opportunity to learn from Vogue’s experience.  We stopped at the last group of trees to assess the situation, and it looked like the storms producing the lightning were far to our east and north, so we decided to go for it.

Not surprisingly, I have no pictures of that part of the hike!

But once we got down on the other side a ways, I was able to breathe easier and enjoy the incredible views of the Middle Fork of the Conejos River.

Vogue, with rabbits
Snow fields below the ridge
Heading lower
View down from a snowfield we crossed
View towards Gunsight Pass
Voguing across the snow
Voguing across the stream

We got back down to the treeline and the trail promptly disappeared in undergrowth.

The trail is in there somewhere
Voguing through the plants
Spectacular flowers everywhere

We had a bit of a tough time finding a campsite as we got closer to the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Conejos since everything was so wet.  But we passed a short trail that ran 30 feet above the CDT and discovered a well-drained place to set up for the night.

No camping here
This is much better

I was really surprised.  We were no more than 100 feet from what was surely a very buggy campsite right by the river, but our well-drained spot was almost bug-free.

I set my tent up in a spot that is about three times more inclined than last night’s site.  I’m hopeful I don’t slide down the mountain in my sleep!


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