Continental Divide Trail 2016: first couple days

This was our first ascent of a big pass after starting our hike north from Wolf Creek Pass the afternoon before.  This was a continuation of a section of the Continental Divide Trail in the San Juan Mountains of Southern Colorado that my brothers and I had begun the year before. 

As we struggled up our first large pass, laden with 120 miles worth of food for our trip ahead to Spring Creek Pass, I remember having the hardest time catching my breath as our bodies were still acclimating to being over 11,000 feet.  

My bro Richard takes a break where we soon spotted a herd of elk down below.  Unfortunately, the oldest bro backed out of our trip at the last minute due to a leg injury.

See that speck of my brother on the diagonal horizon?  And below?

Yellow indian paint brushes...

And other flowers dotted the landscape...Today was our first introduction to the usual cold evening rainstorms that would hit as we were exhaustedly trying to rock out a few more miles before finding a campsite and crashing for the night.

Continental Divide Trail 2016: day 3

Brad kept cruising despite his blisters.
On the evening of day 3, we began a traverse across a long winding ridgeline: the divide.  And as the night approached - so did the black storm clouds...

Sky is getting darker, clouds are approaching and lightning is getting closer!

As soon as we got across the dangerously exposed ridgeline, the sky darkened and the thunder and lightning neared as the rain began pelleting us and propelled us forward in hopes of finding someplace relatively unexposed from the storm...However, this storm contained a certain fury and our forward march brought us to trail along a mountainside with a vertical drop too steep to stop anywhere.  And so we hurried forward in the dark - now soaking wet in the powerful storm, and unable to see our surroundings as our headlamps just illuminated the downward driving rain.  We tried to see our surroundings when lightning flashed through the pouring rain.  It was, at one of these moments, that I decided to urge the others to descend down from the trail to a relatively flat area, where we were able to stop for a moment.  At this point, the eye of the storm was upon us and thunder struck so close and so intensely loud, we all threw ourselves flat onto the ground in instinctive fear.  But with sideways rain and dropping temperatures, it was the most intense tent pitching we had ever engaged in.  It took tremendous effort to put it together and keep the tent pieces from blowing away.  I ended up staying in Richard and Brad's tent - helping by wiping up pools of water on the inside with my dirty socks and assisting my brother until his body temperature got back up and he stopped shaking from the cold.  When the sun came out the following morning, it felt like a miracle and we felt lucky to have survived and weather such a storm.  We were beginning to understand the motto of the CDT: Embrace the Brutality.

Continental Divide Trail 2016: days 4-6

Brad trucks along as ominous clouds approach.

Moon sets at the beginning of our day.  Somehow - five days in - and about a week at elevations mostly above 11K feet, I started getting altitude headaches - mostly in the mornings and evenings - and especially when I was hungry.

Sometimes, it felt like we were walking towards and into great fluffy clouds.

First glimpse of "The Window," a square piece missing from the mountain's ridge that we could see from various vantage points for days.

Crossing Weminuche Pass...the lowest point in our hike at 10,530 feet

On the evenings when it wasn't raining on us, Richard was our firestarter with his dryer lint, which enabled us to warm up some and dry our footwear.  And this was a fire with a view of lightning flashing in the distance beyond the distant ridge.

View across a sketchy traverse I completed after passing through The Window a little bit off the CDT trail.

Double Rainbow! What does it mean?! Daily thunderstorms bring frequent rainbows.

Looking at the window again from the Northside

When dusk descended, we were usually scrambling to cover a few more miles in our effort to hike at least 12 miles each day, but because we usually were behind schedule, I had opportunities to snap photos during sunset if it wasn't raining yet. But sometimes, like this particular night, as soon as it became dark, the rains started and we had to find and set up a camp in the rain.  This was maybe the fourth night of setting up camp in the rain in the dark but the first of these that Brad and Richard managed to at least cook something warm and eat dinner before crashing out in their tent.


Continental Divide Trail 2016: day 7

Check out this magical dreamland of colorful wildflowers!

My brother and I spent most of the day wondering if Brad really did take the wrong turn going down the mountain...after six hours of searching and wondering we found out that he did indeed walk the wrong trail and wrong direction most of the day.  The upside was that we hit this gorgeous valley of flowers in the evening, when the light was sweet...

And all at once the CDT joined up with the Colorado Trail to become on trail and we started seeing fancy new trail markers and other humans.

Nearing our evening camping place.