2011/08/13-14
Colorado Trail Segments 25 – 28. Molas Pass to Junction Creek TH.
72.4 miles, 9640 ft
Me, Jason Halladay, Bill Geist, Tom Stockton

Day 1: Molas Pass to Cumberland Basin. 51 miles, 8240ft. 16hrs.
Day 2: Cumberland Basin to Junction Creek TH. 21.4 miles, 1400ft. 5hrs.

Link to pictures:
Colorado Trail segments 25-28. August 2011

 

Whose idea was this?! Aaahhhh, crap…. It was mine. In an effort to someday complete the Colorado Trail, I threw out an idea to the finest runners in Los Alamos and they immediately bit. A date was set, maps copied, light packs packed, and we met at Pagosa Springs brewery Friday night. Shortly after, we left my car at Junction Creek TH just outside of Durango and hopped in Jason’s shiny new 4Runner (equipped with “party mode” sound system) for the shuttle up to Molas Pass. We set up camp right in the parking lot as a lost horse came running through looking awfully confused. Luckily it decided not to stay in our tents.
5:15am wake up call Saturday morning had us quickly getting ready and taking care of business and on the trail at 6:10am. We each had a pack weighing in at around 15lbs with food/water, enough gear for two days and an overnight…. a little challenging to run with, but we got by. In typical “ultra” fashion, we hiked all the uphills and jogged the flats and downhills. It wasn’t long before the sun was coming up on Engineer Mtn in the distance and lighting up the endless field of wildflowers while traversing below the cliffs of West Turkshead Peak. I’m not really into flowers, but holy crap… amazing! Often the flowers and vegetation was waist high. Rolling highlands of peaks and lush green valley’s one after another. The miles ticked away and in the distance we could see hundreds of sheep near the cutoff for Engineer Mtn Trail. Around mile 10 on a pass near Rollings Mtn, Tom decided he didn’t have 50miles in the tank for the day and turned around with plans to meet us at Cumberland Basin, later I was wishing I went with him. Sweet singletrack lead us down into the trees and across the appropriately named White Creek and Cascade Creek dropping down into a canyon. Above timberline again around mile 18 with distant views of Lizard Head and the San Miguel Mtns. A couple miles of steady downhill brought us to the end of segment 25, with it taking us about 5.5hrs to cover the 20miles and 3120ft gain. All I kept thinking was “oh dear God we have a long way to go!” Jason broke out the pepperoni here before our next big push.
Celebration Lake marks the start of segment 26 and immediately goes uphill towards Hermosa Peak. We crossed over to the north side and started descending coming across a gurgling spring which had the most delicious cold mtn water that I’ve ever tasted. I certainly wasn’t drinking enough and a belly full of cold water felt awesome. Discussing all things under the sun while going through another basin full of wildflowers before climbing towards Blackhawk Pass. This was about the halfway point for the day and the views were outstanding. It was tempting to “borrow” a couple mtn bikes at the top for a fast cruise down. Fast and easy running down the other side of the pass with a stop at Straight Creek for an informal bath and our last water stop for ~20miles. Back up towards the divide with gentle ups and downs along the ridge crest that Bill was running way too much of. After 9hrs total for the day, we dropped onto FS550 in Hotel Draw for the end of segment 26, 11miles and 1480ft.
Another decent break while I informed the guys of all the latest Dora the Explorer kids songs before we journeyed into what would become our hell for the day. More time along the Animas-Delores divide with plenty of short ups and down, great views all around, and watching storms build over the surrounding mountains. It was here that our previous question as to whether bears were around was answered… as Bill rounded a corner and saw one running across the trail then standing on a log. Sweet! Kinda strange how the trail kept dipping onto the road for a couple hundred feet then back into the woods while following the old Highline Trail. We also soon found out that the water we filled up on at Straight Creek wouldn’t nearly be enough. My mouth and lips were so dry that I wanted to drink my remaining water, yet I was trying to ration it for the big climb still to come. Clouds built overhead and the distant rumbling of thunder got closer and closer. Unfortunately we were steadily climbing right towards it, fortunately it never amounted into anything more than a few sprinkles. With “only a half marathon to go”, then came tree-covered Orphan Butte which possibly had a spring around the other side, but we decided the potential of it not being there outweighed the time and effort of looking for it. Things started going downhill for me here, my stomach was churning so I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t drinking enough, and started to feel like puking was inevitable while running empty on energy. One foot in front of the other, keep moving. Fortunately Bill found a trickle of water across the trail and followed to it a seep coming out of the ground. Despite all the mosquitoes we chugged a ton of water and filled up for the remaining distance and most torturous eight miles of my life. With still a couple thousand feet of gain to go and the sun disappearing quickly all we could do was keep going. Rounding the Cape of Good Hope and heading above treeline each step was closer to the end. Darkness, headlamps, rocky trail, several false summits which apparently have great views. The wind picked up and the drizzle started. Bill kept saying “bring it on”, Jason kept saying “I hope this is another false summit”, and I could barely muster the occasional grunt or snort while holding back puking. Finally we hit Pt 12,258 along Indian Trail Ridge, but the trail drops then climbs another couple hundred feet before heading towards Taylor Lake. I would imagine this would be a great hike during the day given the huge drop-off from the white cliffs on both side and expansive views. It seemed like it was taking hours to descend, then of course when we got close to the lake we still had another 2 miles to go. The best thing in the world was seeing Jason’s truck with Tom sleeping in it. 16 hrs total for the day with the last 20 miles taking nearly 7hrs. It was a brutal and well earned 3640ft during segment 27. The leftover pizza Tom had was amazing. We set up tents in the lot and spent most of the night listening to the wind and rain trying to tear apart the tents.
At some point in the early morning the rain and wind took a break and we started moving around 6am. Thankfully Tom was there or else it would’ve been a totally sleepless and miserable night under Jason’s Mega-mid. Hot drinks and clean socks were welcomed. The bacon I was carrying the entire day before was delicious. Leaving sleeping bags/pad and stove/pot in the truck for a light day was god-sent. At 7:30am we were on the trail with Tom running today while Bill drove since his ankle was really sore. A slight climb up to 11,760ft Kennebec Pass under overcast skies to warm up for the morning then endless descending. Tons more wildflowers and lower in the Junction Creek basin was like a rain forest. Red rock cliffs and dozens of water crossing were the theme of the day. After many miles of descending the trail climbs in and out of several gullies passing a 50ft waterfall in Gaines Gulch while working its way up to Sliderock Canyon while contouring the slopes. Tom and Jason sped ahead while I tried to run as much as I could. The miles quickly ticked away and seeing people more often on day trips. Down down down down back towards civilization and through a ponderosa forest. Gudy’s Rest (appropriately named for Gudy Gaskill, the builder of the Colo Trail) was a great stop for a quick rest and re-fuel. The trail is in great shape along here and I’d love to come back and mtn bike it. Crossing Junction Creek and the last few miles seemed to take awhile, but the end was in sight. More hikers, bikers, and dogs then finally the road right above Junction Creek TH. I got conned into taking a “San Juan Forest use survey” here, but it was a good excuse to catch my breath before the last mile to the car where Tom, Bill, and Jason were already diving into beers. Took me 5hrs 15mins for this 21.4 mile and 1400ft section, while Tom and Jason finished about 40 minutes before. Nearly 6000ft loss during those 21.4 miles too. Beer, Pringles, laughs, and a dip in the river before an awesome lunch at Steamworks brewery and the long drive home.