Dyer and Riches: CDT Thru-Hikers

Wolf Creek Pass

June 10, 2000—Day 39, 637 Miles—Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado— Hi, this is Mark. The boys have given me the honour of writing the report this week, as I undoubtedly got the most out of it(!?).

Leaving Chama saw us hiking the highway parallel to the Cumbres-Toltec Historic Railroad, gradually ascending into the foothills of the San Juan Mountains. Our first night we camped in the shadow of Cumbres Pass, a railroad water tower standing sentry as we slept.

The ascent into the wilderness proved arduous, the steadily climbing altitude increasing the exertion required. The lack of oxygen seemed to bring on bouts of euphoria and giggling. As the day progressed, the clear blue skies gradually filled with clouds and a mid-afternoon storm forced us to seek cover away from the ridge we were walking on. This event turned into almost a daily routine as we planned our hiking around the inevitability of an afternoon storm. We have heard that several hundred people are struck by lightning in America each year, and a mountain ridge is not the place to be when a storm comes.

Perhaps the most striking (!) aspect of the San Juans is the vast range of scenery and climate that presents itself to the hiker; everything from dense forest to alpine meadows to high windy plateaus that reminded us of the harshness of the Scottish Highlands. The wildlife on display was equally diverse, with numerous elk, yellow-bellied marmots, pikas and other animals sharing the trail.

This 74-mile section of trail is not for the faint-hearted; the hiking was very tough in places, with numerous snow-banks to cross, steep climbs, and scree slopes to tackle. Another important factor is the weather: The altitude increases the severity of the sun considerably, and the storm cycle constrains the hiking schedule. However, the effort is well rewarded, as the land is some of the most rugged and beautiful in America...the awful beauty of the mountains never failing to humble, inspiring reverence and awe, along with a feeling of incredulity as you look back and think 'I hiked that!?!...I hiked that!!'

Anyway, I'm going back to England now, a land that seems padded by comparison. Simon and Darryl walked me into the ground, and I am not yet sure if I forgive them yet. I am nursing awful blisters and several other injuries exacted as payment by the San Juan mountains for the privilege of crossing them. However, I feel like I got a good deal. If you want to experience the beauty of a truly untamed land, barely touched by man or time, the San Juan Wilderness will deliver. Do it.


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