CT Day 20
Segment 19 Mile 9.7 to start of segment 21
We wake to the false optimism of bluebird skies, but also to tents soaked with last night’s rain from above and condensation from below. The inescapable dampness seems to permeate everything except the warm nest of my quilt so I do as many breakfast and packing and planning tasks as possible from bed, putting off the unpleasantness that is putting on wet socks and shoes. Which is rather ridiculous given I very well know there’s a wet-feet water crossing only minutes down the trail having fetched water there last night.
We ford Cochetopa creek, a very easy crossing and then pause on a lumpy conglomerate of rocks just up the far bank to let some of the water evaporate in the sun before continuing a pleasant walk along the meandering creek before continuing up the next valley.
Sometime around 10 or 11am the first wisps appear, the vanguard of what have become daily storms. Within an hour or two, white clouds will surround us on all sides before turning mean grey and thunderous as they butt up against the divide demanding passage.
The first clouds sometimes gather hours before the deluge. Sometimes the storm miraculously stays off your ridge, rain falling on the net valley over. But not today. Today the angriest bit of sky gathers right on the next pass, undermining any lingering hopes of safely summiting San Luis, the 14er an easy walk off trail.
I summon the courage to dash over the pass during a break in the thunder thinking I will soon reach safety on the other side. But I wasn’t looking far enough ahead where there’s another saddle to cross and then another, with the trail barely dipping below the tree line in between. By the third pass, the spots of dark clouds have congregated into one solidly angry sky, thunder and lighting sneaking up quickly from behind.
I push for one more saddle and BOOM! rattles the sky, turning my hustle into a full-out run across the top and down the other side. I don’t stop until I catch up with another group of hikers, some of whom happen to be taller than me. Steph is behind somewhere though, hopefully taking shelter. But no, I see a telltale blur of pink and purple skirt swishing hurriedly down the same slope, having been right on the ridge in the thick of it.
With heavy rains almost upon us, the now large group of hikers rush to set up tiny tents to share as refuge among the scrubby bushes on lumpy sloping ground. The best of the marginal sites have already been claimed by a trail crew on their last night out. Somehow I manage to pitch my tent and even take a nap curled up in the corner as we wait out the worst of it.
Finally the rain patters to a stop and Steph is faced with the decision to either hike out or set up her own tent on the furrowed, steep slope. With tomorrow a town day, she is lured down the trail, closer to the highway. I decide to stay since my tent is already up and I am dry inside. It’s also dinner time and I know I can fly uphills in the morning. The shuttle to town arrives and noon and the road is 15 miles away. But no problem! Or so I tell myself as I again boil water from the comfort of my quilt.
After dinner I venture outside to find the trail crew, with textbook safety practices, starting a welcoming fire. The sun peeks out just as it sets, as I enjoy good company.
As the night chill begins to compete with the fire’s warmth, I retreat to my tent, uneven ground even more pronounced as I lie down for the night. This has to be the steepest lumpiest place I’ve ever tried to sleep. I stack my food bag and pack under my feet in an attempt to even out my split-level home. The results are more recliner than bed, but at least it will make an early morning extraction easy!