NM – San Pedro Parks Wilderness

I couldn’t believe my luck. Joan decided to take a slight detour into New Mexico as she began her relocation travels from Moab to Atlanta. I’m all about opportunities and there was no way I was giving up this one. I may have said my goodbyes a month earlier after our week in Capitol Reef and the Henry Mountains, but I was more than ready to say HELLO again, lets play! I’d stopped at the Ranger Station in Cuba looking for ideas and thus learned about San Pedro. When you want to play, how can you say no to a park? San Pedro Parks Wilderness is known for high, moist, rolling mountaintops with numerous meadows and large grassy “parks.” Source: USFS 

My readers and friends know I don’t enjoy planning or rigid itineraries. I love that Joan embraces this philosophy. We prepared by downloading maps to our Gaia phone apps, which would supplement our paper map and trail descriptions. I thought this quote in a book I was recently reading was quite appropriate for this adventure as we had no destination in mind; how much food we carried would determine the maximum length of our journey.

We began our hike from the San Gregorio trailhead located in the southern part of the wilderness. I don’t have a photo at the trailhead so I’m assuming there wasn’t any signage. About a mile from the parking lot is San Gregorio Reservoir. I couldn’t talk Joan into going for a swim. Maybe on our exit? 

Time to find the parks. Will there be swing sets and slides? Maybe we’ll find ziplines and a concession stand with rootbeer floats.

At the first junction we decide to stay on the Las Vacas trail, saving the Damian for our return. 

We stay the course at the next junction also. I love having so many options for loops and variety. 

I loved this trail. Weather and temperatures were perfect. This was Jan’s definition of flat strolling trail; no bushwhacking required. 

We were soon reminded late April is early spring at 10,000 feet. 

We were excited to be on the CDT. “The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail climbs to the beautiful San Pedro Parks Wilderness area from Cuba, NM and then heads northeast to the Chama River and Carson National Forest. The CDT route follows the Los Pinos, Las Vacas, Penas Negras and Rio Capulin trails through the Wilderness.” Source: Continental Divide Trail Coalition

Well since we didn’t find any fun toys in the park, we decided napping in the grass (imagine it’s green with plentiful wildflowers and butterflies) would be an acceptable substitute. 

Of course we needed to summit nearby San Pedro Peak (10,952′).

Hey look, peak #2, Ped Peak at 10,523′.

Signage was inconsistent and confusing within the wilderness. We were glad we had multiple resources. 

Trail 31 is also known as Rio Capulin Trail. 

It’s wise to come prepared for rain. 

Umbrellas make such a difference, especially during hail storms. 

The next few miles on the CDT/Rio Capulin was trail in need of some maintenance with lots of deadfall. This sign represented the junction of trail #31 (Rio Capulin) with trail #30 (Rio Gallina) were we planned to begin the next leg of our loop. It was getting late so we decided to continue a bit further north on the trail and find a place to camp.

We slept on options. I wasn’t thrilled with our choices.

  1. Reverse direction on trail #31 back through known deadfall jungle gym
  2. Continue hiking north until the trail crosses Highway 96 or Road 103 and try hitching back to the trailhead
  3. Attempt unmaintained trail #30

Known or unknown? Joan left the decision up to me.

My ultimate decision was to give trail #30 five minutes. How much worse can it be than what we’d already hiked?

Soon 5 minutes turned into 15, 30, 60, 90 . . . there was no evidence of old trail. But by now it seemed better to continue forward.

Are we having fun yet? Well Joan loves this stuff, Jan not so much. 

See that smile? Yep Joan kind of fun. She’s even more relaxed since I made the decision to take this route. Oh Jan, what were you thinking?

We quickly gave up on trying to stay on course with our digital map and instead decided to visit a couple of interesting points of interest marked on the map like Red Rock Cliff.  Compass navigation was very helpful at keeping us moving in the right direction. This is Joan’s specialty; I have room for improvement.

Look we found ourselves some red rocks. 

Along the way we found some interesting sights. 

1930 graffiti

1937 cursive writing graffiti

At four hours in, I’m happy for breaks and butterfly distractions. 

We can’t believe our eyes. Someone else has been this way in the not so distant past. 

We see a cave on our map so once we locate on the ground, Joan goes in to explore. 

Then it was time to find the path of least resistance. 

The happy smile of finding our way out of the deadfall . . . ONLY eight hours into this day’s obstacle course adventure.

YES, the trail is in sight. Excellent job expert navigator Joan!

Yippee! Lets find a place to camp! 

Jan was plenty tuckered after this 9-hour day of off-trail, log hopping, bushwhacking fun. That was a long 6-mile day!

Why is Jan tuckered? Joan did a fine job capturing my challenges. 

Any regrets? Not when I’m sharing it with my friend. She makes me giggle, laugh and enjoy the crazy situations we find ourselves in. 

It’s a new day. Our plan is to complete a figure eight loop but after our experience with the non-existent Gallina Trail, we had low expectations of trail conditions. We camped near the junction of San Jose, Las Vacas and Los Pinos Trails. 

On the Los Pinos and Anastacio Trails, we found a mix of nice surface, snow covered surface, well-trodden trail, and post/cairn-marked trail. 

We liked the looks of the Palomas Trail. 

How does the Damian Trail look? 

Ha, I guess we might as well end this loop with more obstacles. 

Back at San Gregorio Reservoir I still couldn’t talk Joan into a swim. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 28-30, 2018

Tips:

  • Carry a paper map. Although it was dated 2006, it was a necessary supplement to our digital versions. 
  • Obtain trail conditions reports from both the Cuba and Coyote Ranger Stations.
  • Prepare for weather. Temperatures dropped to high 30’s both nights, plus we had heavy rain and hail.

Resources:

Links:

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WY – Hikin’ the CDT with Team Buddy Backpacker

Where do most kids want to go during their spring break? I’m fairly certain few would say “let’s hike!” But Christian aka Buddy is not an ordinary kid. At 5 years old he hiked the Appalachian Trail; at 6 he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. Since then he’s been working toward completion of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). 

I first met Team Buddy Backpacker (Andrea, Dion and Christian) in 2014 when they were hiking the PCT. I had the opportunity to host them and provide a little magic. 

Luck would have it that I was in the right place at the right time to join them for this short section hike. Although the sun was in our faces, it was a nippy mid 20-degree morning. Photo credit: Dion 

We began our hike at South Pass City. 

It’s been partially restored and open for visitation in tours during the summer months (link). 

And so begins our hike. 

Although a crappy photo, I was excited to see this ermine (aka weasel). A friend who lives in Teton Valley had been posted really cute photos all winter. It was my first in person sighting . . . well except for the dead one we found on my recent ski-to-cabin adventure. 

We also saw big herds of pronghorn aka antelope. They run really fast, like up to 55 mph. I was happy to capture these images a couple days after our hike.

With the mostly flat topography, we were able to hike big miles.

The snow enhanced this normally bland landscape.

This section includes significant time wandering through the tufted grass.

Dion was chief navigator. Notice the all important water! I really dislike carrying excess water. 

You might have thought Dion led us a bit more than a few miles off trail.

“The California Trail was an emigrant trail of about 3,000 miles (4,800 km) across the western half of the North American continent from Missouri River towns to what is now the state of California. After it was established, the first half of the California Trail followed the same corridor of networked river valley trails as the Oregon Trail and the Mormon Trail, namely the valleys of the Platte, North Platte and Sweetwater rivers to Wyoming. In the present states of Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah, the California and Oregon trails split into several different trails or cutoffs.” Source: Wikipedia

We found a campsite near water, and got settled in just before sunset. My notes say it was a cold windy 28 at 9pm. Thankfully the wind stopped during the night and overnight temps settled at 18F in my tent.

The next day was Easter! Buddy has the best parents. 

Road walking was much preferable to picking my way through the ankle-twisting tufts. 

With thousands of miles under his feet, Buddy is a pro at stream crossings. 

Ever wonder how Buddy entertains himself over thousands of miles? He listens to music and podcasts. I  loved watching him playing orchestra director, hearing him singing or sharing newfound knowledge. As I learned during his visit in 2014, he’s also a proficient map and app reader.

We ended our hike with this hysterical hitch from a local rancher who drove his truck like we were on the Indy 500. 

Dion put together this awesome video of our hike. Let me know if you have trouble accessing as it’s a facebook link.

 

I previously posted about the ALDHA-West gathering (link) in which Buddy received his Triple Crown award for having completed all three long trails (AT, PCT, CDT). Below is the video of his speech. I loved that he thanked chocolate and Pooh. Once again it’s a facebook link, so let me know if problems. Video credit: Andrea

 

Buddy became the youngest at 9-years old to earn his Triple Crown. His efforts have been recognized by many news sources including:

I’ve really enjoyed spending time with this incredible family. They didn’t start hiking to set records or even complete long trails, it all started as a two-week vacation. To learn more about them and follow their story:

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: April 15-16, 2017

Links:

Resources:

CO – Crested Butte, Twin Lakes and Mt Elbert

After spending a day spent exploring the Silver Thread Scenic Highway (link to related post), I found myself headed northeast on US-50 and on to CO-135 where I was meeting a friend in Crested Butte. 

Back on US-50, I stopped at Monarch Pass, another crossing of the Continental Divide.

I turned north on US-285 to US-24 making my way to Twin Lakes for the night. 

I was grateful for the shelter of my car as I watched the storm. 

The next morning brought pink skies. 

And an opportunity for a little hiking.

A preview of a future date I’m sure I’ll have with the Colorado Trail. 

Those are some impressive mountains. The clouds played hide n’ seek keeping me busy with my camera, trying to capture a clear view.

I finally ceded defeat and headed back down the trail. 

That’s ice in the foreground. 

My little blue friend wanted a portrait. 

A view of the peninsula between the Twin Lakes. 

Back on the road I continued north on US-24.

 

I was excited to visit Melanzana, although I was disappointed they were out of stock of most clothing items. It was cool to see the sewing room and store front. I did snag this souvenir hat!

Leaving Leadville I traveled northeast connecting to I-70 and then continued on CO-9 north to Kremmling where I planned to skirt east on US-40 to US-34. Sadly I made an amateur move and didn’t double check road conditions. A friend recommended the route, but I later learned US-34 was closed for the winter. I grabbed this room with a view in Kremmling so I could rest up before reversing my route. 

What is weather like in early April? 

Leaving Kremmling, I drove US-40 east to Granby and south to I-70. From there I took CO-119 north to CO-72 to Co-7. Hello Rocky Mountain National Park!

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 8-10, 2017

Links:

CO – North Clear Creek Falls and the Silver Thread Scenic Byway

My body was busy acclimating to Colorado elevation and temperatures. The previous day I felt that 11,000′ as I snowshoed from Wolf Creek Pass to the Lobo Overlook on the Continental Divide (link to related post). I continued my travels northeast on CO-160 to South Fork, then turned northwest on CO-149 to Creede, after which I came upon this sign. 

Who cares that it’s 27F and 8am, it’s just a short jaunt. What’s an Observation Site? It’s a viewpoint or overlook.

According to signage, it’s a drop of more than a 100 feet off the edge of the rock shelf that creates North Clear Creek Falls. The rock shelf, called the Nelson Mountain Tuff, was formed out of ash flows from an enormous volcanic eruption about 27 millions years ago.

That’s some icy water. 

Yaktraks made for safe walking across this icy tundra. They aren’t nearly as aggressive as microspikes but served the purpose on this day. The Altra Lone Peak Neoshell shoes keep my feet toasty warm and dry during the winter.

Another short jaunt I’d taken the previous date was to Treasure Falls, near Pagosa Springs off CO-160. 

It’s a 105 foot drop. Too bad I didn’t pull out my camera, so the best I have is this stinkin’ phone photo. 

When traveling through new areas I like to stop at the scenic byway posters to gain perspective and find short jaunts like the two mentioned above. 

I’m always drawn to high points. 

Travel days are a good way to build miles though a series of mini jaunts. 

Views from the Continental Divide from Slumgullion Summit (love the word).

Just a bit west of Slumgullion Pass.

Further west on CO-149.

Check out this private bridge on Lake San Cristobal. 

A view of the bridge from the other side of the lake. Must have cost a pretty penny! 

The geology changed as I got nearer Lake City. 

Self discovery is the best. I’d driven down this road in Lake Fork Canyon to find a campsite. 

Lake Fork of the Gunnison would provide nature’s lullaby. 

The gift however was this discovery as I took a short jaunt. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 6-7, 2017

Tips:

Links:

Resources:

CO – Highlands Mary Lakes Lollipop Loop – Weminuche Wilderness, San Juan NF

The access road to this trailhead near Silverton makes this hike a bit less popular than the one to Ice Lakes. The first couple miles are mostly through forest interspersed with waterfalls. 

After climbing 1,300′, I found the first lake and wandered around two more while enjoying open alpine tundra views. I wasn’t as awestruck as I’d been when I saw Upper Ice Lake but found it enjoyable none the less.

I continued to follow the trail and/or markers up to the Verde Lakes viewpoint. 

I got teaser views of the Grenadier Range. Now those look like my kind of mountains! 

And found the Verde Lakes. I think I might like to visit the high lake to the left in photo. The topography is interesting and makes for easy off-trail exploration.

I continued climbing to connect the Highland Mary Lakes Trail #606 to the Colorado Trail (CT) / Continental Divide Trail (CDT) #813. There were occasional markers and tread but nothing clearly marked. The views became more and more WOW as I climbed. 

It’s always fun to be back on trail after spending time route finding. The CT/CDT was smooth sailing! 

Notice the HUGE cairn on the top right side of photo. I saw several along the CT/CDT. It appears these are a popular way to mark the CT although unnecessary except in snow, which can be long-lasting in the San Juans. 

To complete my loop, I transitioned from the CT/CDT to the Cunningham Gulch Trail #502

As I drove back to the main road from the trailhead, I noticed this  . . . looks to me like an old glacier???? 

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: September 20, 2017
  • Mileage (per ViewRanger): 7.5-8 miles
  • Elevation Gain/Loss (per ViewRanger): 2,400′
  • Elevation Low/High (per ViewRanger): 10,800′-12,900′
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: minimal
    • Overgrowth: minimal
    • Signage: moderate
    • Terrain: a few steep spots but mostly well graded switchbacks on actual trail otherwise fairly easy alpine tundra off-trail hiking; some wet and muddy sections.
  • Navigation Skills: minimal for trail sections, moderate for off-trail sections
  • Water availability: plentiful below tree line
  • Camping availability: moderate below tree line
  • Solitude: I only saw one individual fishing at one of the Highland Mary Lakes; otherwise it seemed I had the entire area to myself on the day I was there.
  • Bugs: None
  • Wildlife: None
  • Precip: None this date, but pretty windy
  • Temp: Unknown but would guess 40-50
  • LNT: Mostly excellent except at trailhead. I found a PB jar near the top of a bald.
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4+ cherries (out of 5)

Tips:

  • Dispersed camping available near trailhead, but beware of mice problems.

Links:

Resources: