18.6 miles hiked, camping @ 11667ft
It’s a coffee kinda morning. Despite our beautiful surroundings, our campsite was not a great one and we spent much of the night adjusting sliding sleeping pads on the not-so-flat ground. It’s a stunning day though, and we climb out of camp, across to the other side of the meadow and begin climbing up and over the pass. I take my time and stop a lot along the way, because sometimes one just needs to put daisies in one’s hair. With each braid suitably adorned, I climb up up up and reach the flat meadow at the top. Well, flat-ish; I’m not sure there is anything flat in the San Juans. The trail winds down into the next valley, where we stop for water and a snack before climbing onwards and upwards. Across valleys, up a pass, down the otherside -this is the pattern in this section.
After a lunch taken by the Adams fork of the Conejos river we have a big climb over another pass which takes us up over 12600ft in altitude. The wide plateau at the top is stunning. Being so high we are no longer looking up at mountains, but across at their peaks. We pass little patches of snow that are stiĺl lingering, and not for the first time I think how happy I am to be hiking this section at this time of year. Postholing to my waist, and missing out on the flowers and the beautiful blues and greens stretching out all around me, does not sound appealing. Although a white-covered snowy world is stunning, we’ve definitely hiked some sketchy stretches of trail since Chama that I do not envy the early Nobos navigating in the snow. Tigerlilly is stopped in the trail looking at the top of the red rocky ridgeline, where a herd of deer are running across the top. I count 9 deer prancing across to a little gap then disappearing on the otherside.
We catch up to Grizzly, and moments later are treated to a spectacular sight in the lush green valley below. The plateau falls away sharply to a wide shelf, which then drops off in a wide gradual steps to the valley floor. Making their way up these grass and pine covered steps is about 40 elk! We stand mesmerized. They are too far away to be worried by us, but close enough that we can count them. Amazing!
We finally tear our eyes away, and are next treated to 3 mule deer staring down at us from a grey rocky peak above. I’m amazed at how well they blend in. A falcon is chasing a little bird above the deer. A little more hiking and we get to see a coyote in hunting mode; he pounces unsuccessfully on a late lunch, while another deer with beautiful antlers looks on. The wind is in our favour as it blows towards us and we get to watch for a while. So much wildlife today! This is where all the animals have been hiding – above 12000ft!
Another little climb and then we descend towards the trailhead where we have decided to camp tonight.
An absolutely spectacular day. Amazing scenery, beautiful animals, gorgeous weather. Yep – this is what hiking these trails is all about!