Rob and Amy drive over to our motel just before 6:30 this morning. We load our backpacks into their car and walk over to the Brown Bear Cafe for a hearty breakfast before hitting the trail on this last leg of the Colorado Trail from Molas Pass to Durango.
It’s hard to believe that we are coming to the grand finale of this magnificent adventure. We only have about 75 miles left to hike. 75 miles! We already know that they will go by all too quickly. As exciting and satisfying as it is to think about reaching the finish line, we also know all too well that, the very second it’s over, we will miss this trail and all of the precious time we have spent immersed in the rhythms of nature. We try to keep this awareness as we start out this morning on Day 37 of the Colorado Trail.
It turns out that when we hiked into Molas Lake Campground two days ago to pick up our resupply package, we hadn’t quite finished Segment 24 of the trail. We still have about 1.5 miles left to hike to get to the Molas Pass Trailhead. Rob and Amy are kind to indulge us and drop us off at the spur trail from the campground while they drive to the start of Segment 25 and wait for us to hike the missing miles. Skipping a mile and a half may not seem like a big deal, but we want to hike every single step of this trail. So back we go!
The end of Segment 24 is a nice, little section of trail that gently contours the hillside while giving us great views of Grand Turk and Sultan Mountains. The mountains here have a decidedly Southwest feel to them that we haven’t seen on the trail before. The sheer variety of landscapes and terrain that we have hiked through over these past few weeks has been astonishing.
About 45 minutes later, we come to Highway 550, where we find Rob and Amy waiting for us. They hoist their backpacks on, and we all head up the trail toward Little Molas Lake. It’s been a few years since we hiked in Ladakh with these two, and it’s amazing how we just pick up with each other like hardly any time has passed at all. As we make our way along the trail, we chat about all things travel and hiking, two of our very favorite subjects. The miles seem to just fly by as we excitedly jump from one topic to the next.
Rob and Amy have lived in Durango for over 25 years, and they spend all of their free time doing outdoor pursuits, including running, hiking, backpacking and cycling all over the San Juans, that is, when they aren’t taking an active trip in some far flung corner of the world! They love pointing out the different peaks and telling us what we are looking at. We feel like we have personal guides joining us for the next several days.
It doesn’t take long to get above treeline today, and the views of the mountain peaks are phenomenal. It’s already starting to look a little bit like fall in this section of the San Juans. The skunk cabbage is turning from bright green to mustard yellow, and big patches of it color the mountainside attractively from afar.
We take a break at a viewpoint looking down into Bear Creek Canyon before heading on towards Lime Creek, where we plan on topping up our water and having lunch. We cross many dry drainages along the way as we contour along the mountainside. The soil and rocks are a striking color of red, similar to what I imagine you might find in Sedona.
The water is flowing clear at Lime Creek, so we pull off to eat and filter enough water to get us to camp tonight. We still have almost nine miles to go and a lot of elevation to climb before then, making our break a rather quick affair before we are back on the trail.
We press on until we reach the pass just south of Rolling Mountain at 12,500 feet. There are blue skies above, but there also is quite a haze on the horizon (from all the wildfires in California, we are told) limiting our visibility from this vantage point. The wind is blowing strongly, encouraging us to descend a few switchbacks before we take another well-deserved break.
Our intended campsite tonight is at Cascade Creek, which is still 3.6 miles to go. Amy’s shoulder is really bothering her, making us all eager to get to camp, so she can drop the backpack. Before we get there, we still need to descend over 1600 feet. Big descents always feel even more challenging at the end of a long day.
Just before reaching the campsite, we cross a tributary of Cascade Creek with really unique lateral rock formations. It looks like Mother Nature might have had a little inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright when she designed this beauty. We drop our packs and scramble up the red rocks to get a better view of the falls which are most impressive at the top, nearly 100 feet above us.
When we finally arrive at Cascade Creek, it is almost 7 pm, and many hikers have already claimed camping spots here. Juli and Eden are here with the two brothers and father, and they graciously offer to let us camp next to them. We tend to seek a little more privacy when we camp, so we press on to see if there is anything else available nearby. Things are looking pretty grim when we finally spot a potential site on a little peninsula where the creek cuts through a rocky chasm and plummets 40 feet down the canyon. Now, if we could only get there!
We follow a spur trail down to the water, where we cross the creek between two sets of falls and end up in a thicket of willow bushes. From there, we have to bushwhack our way about 20 feet through the tangle of branches, but it’s clear when we finally arrive that the extra effort it took to get to this very cool campsite was totally worth it.
We are able to manufacture two flat spots for our tents, and we have the sound of rushing water all around us, which is so peaceful to sleep to. We enjoy having some time to relax and hang out while we make our dinner.
Just before dark, a doe appears and seems to be attracted to a patch of soil right near Rob and Amy’s tent. We figure it must be a salt lick of some sort, because she keeps coming right back to it even after spooking her when we move about the campsite.
What a wonderful way to spend our first day with our old hiking pals, Rob and Amy, on the CT. This area is their backyard, and we are thrilled that they have joined us on this amazing adventure. As we drift to sleep to the sound of the waterfalls nearby, it is comforting to know we have good friends just a few feet away in the tent next door.
Day 37 Stats
Starting Point: Molas Lake Campground intersection, mile 409.6
End Point: Cascade Creek, mile 425.8
Date on Trail: August 6, 2018