Monday, 29 June 2009

some south colorado images.........

Martina by some interesting trailside scenery- its her next SEPA car !

Lake City

Because we are now Southbound, we have met lots of CDT hikers who are going North and it has been nice to chat with people about their experience. We've met Ellie, Mike, three young bearded men who do yoga on the trail, St. Gabriel, Out-of-Order, U-Haul, Cruise and Reason, Johnny Storm, Wrongway and Tikka. Wrongway and Tikka we were able to spend some enjoyable time with in Lake City, mostly eating and chatting. Best of luck to all of them!

The last section was quite long (100 miles aprox) and quite high. We saw a mountain goat grazing in the sunset on a slope opposite us when we camped at 12 200 feet below Stan Luis peak, a shale-bing like 14000er Brian bagged since it was right next to the trail. Some fabulouse afternoon thunderstorms were had with hail and torrential downpours that lasted 45 minutes, lightning striking near us and lots of noise. Very little snow in the last section (hurra), but now we are heading for the San Juan mountains which, the reader may recall, were the reason we flip-flopped: to avoid their high and snowbound slopes and give them some melting time. We've seen them from a distance in the last section and they look spectacular!

Lake City is very old by Colorado standards (1877) and has some wonderful gruesome history in that this is where in 1874 (before the town was built) a party of prospectors from Utah got stuck trying to cross the mountains in winter. One of them, Alferd Packer, turned up at the nearby Indian Agency weeks later, claiming the others had left him behind and gone South when he got frost bite. He seemed to have a lot of money on him. This made the locals suspicious and he was arrested. He then confessed to having had to eat some of his companions after they had died of natural causes, but refused to take the authorities back to the last camp to find the bodies. Later that spring, 5 bodies were found, mutiliated and with clear signs of meat having been cut off them. However, they all had their heads smashed in (except for one whose head was missing), 4 of them lying on blankets by the fire pit and a 5th apparently having struggled before being killed. The accusation was then made that Packer had killed all his companions to eat them and take their money. He escaped and was free for 9 years - in the meantime, Lake City was built pretty much next to the spot where the bodies were found. When Packer was recaptured 9 years later, this is where he was brought for trial. In a second confession, he said that another man in the party had gone mad and had killed 4 men while he, Packer, was away routefinding. On his return to the camp, the mad man had attacked Packer and was killed in self-defence. But since the snow still did not allow Packer to leave the place, he then had to consume flesh from all the dead men. He stuck to that story in his trial, was granted a retrial in another county and in the end was found guilty of 5 murders and sentenced to 40 years in prison. He was granted a pardon at the age of 60 but died quite soon - a life-long epileptic (without modern treatment of his conditions), he was not a well man (in many ways).

It seems that Packer the Canibal is good for business here and the local paper (the Silver World, which is still in print!) had made up their mind pretty quickly about the guilt of the man. But I just read a book with transcripts from the court proceedings and there was next to no consideration of forensics and Packer's story seems as good as the accusation. So I'm not convinced he was a murderer. The eating of dead companions is not unique to Packer in these parts. Better make sure I pack enough pasta meals for the next section.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Salida (pronounced like "saliva")

4 days from Leadville over many scenic high passes (with snow) and flowery spring meadows, past beaver dams and through forrests (fir, spruce, the dreaded lodgepole pine - fellow hikers will know what I mean - and sumptuous aspen). We camped in an old mining town called Winfield (now abandoned) and walked an old railway line (now derelict). We had hot and cold weather and even fresh snow. And views to die for! This has been a good section on the CDT!

Wildlife bag: squirrels, ground squirrels & chipmunks (not that exciting though cute), marmots, pikas, ptarmigan, an owl out on a flap in the daytime, deer & elk, beaver dams (no sighting of a beaver) and a PORCUPINE ! No trace of sign of bear.

Funniest moment of the section:
After 3 hours in pouring rain we get to a high point called Tincup Pass where the rain turns into sleat and snow. We are soaked thru and thru. The snow patches are melting furiously and the trail has turned into a river, joining all the other rivers gushing forth from the hill side, making crossings difficult. Below us a jeep road climbs the pass. On it are two jeeps which have stopped on account of having reached an old snowbank. It is Friday - tourist time! As we walk down, people get out wearing shorts and t-shirts, looking clean, dry and well fed (very much in contrast to us). They have with them a small child wearing a pink bathrobe and sandals and two overweight dogs. We descend and they take pictures of eachother next to the snow bank. Not in a mood for chatting, we tuck our heads deeper into our waterproofes and just mutter "hello" as we trudge past them downhill. Five minutes later the jeeps catch up with us on their way valley wards. One of them slows down as he passes and winds down the window. We are getting hopefull: are they going to offer us assistance in our wet and cold state? We wouldn't accept a lift, but we'd plump for chocolate bars, sandwiches or a sip from their thermos. And the driver leans over and asks Brian in all seriousness:
"Are you guys all right for water?"

We spent some time after debating whether that was just the best line ever to mock the afflicted or whether the guy really meant to imply that we would be struggling for water (given the deluge from the skies and the melting snow all around!!!). Possibly the guy was a towny for whom the only drinkable water comes out of plastic bottle ... who knows. We thought is was hillarious.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Leadville - those damn bikes again!

Sooooo, just to summarise: we have travelled by Greyhound Bus (always an experience!) from Pagosa Springs in the South of Colorado to Dillon Lakes/Silverthorn in the middle of Colorado and started walking SOUTH on the CDT from there back towards Pagosa Springs to give the snow in the San Juan Mountains some more time to melt.

So after 3 days of following the trail SOUTH, we are now in Leadville - as the name suggests, this is an old mining town full of charm. However, just as in Silver City (New Mexico) we are sharing the town with hords of bikers! This time we are witnessing a stage of an "Across the Rockies" road bike event. Staying in a lovely lush hostel with lots and lots of bikers!

The last three days have been easy in terms of trail finding as we are now on the same route as the "Colorado Trail" which is very VERY well marked and made. Still some snow as soon as we get above aprox 10 500 feet and in the forrests (of which there has been quite a lot - lodgepole pine). It's been warmer, which means that instead of slipping around on top of the old snow, we post-hole into it - sometimes up to our hips which is very amusing to the onlooker. But the longest we've been thus entertained has been one morning (South of Copper Mountain) so it's been ok.

But a lower elevation we are walking through lush green aspen and fresh flowers. Still very cold and night and ice on the tent most mornings. Because of that, our routine has changes quite a bit and we no longer get up early (it is just too cold) but tend to wait till the sun hits the tent at about 7:00. Instead we hike later - it is light till 20:45 (which, given that we are approaching the longest day of the year is still a pretty short day if one is - as we are - used to long Scottish summer days with hardly any darkness!).

Met fellow CDT hikers Ellie and Mike who have been going North , bypassing the San Juans. Very nice talking to nutters like ourselves. Happy trails to them!

Heading off tomorrow towards Salida, our next stop. Weather still unsettled and we've had some form of rain every day since leaving Silverthorn.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Southern Colorado Rockies photo

Brian in typical rockies scenery that we walked across in southern Colorado. lovely and quite a change from New Mexico !

Pagosa Springs - no spring!

The last 65 miles of the trail took us into spectacular high mountain scenery at between 12000 and 12600 feet. Finally we are in what us Europeans would understand to be the Rocky Mountains (though technically the next stretch is called the San Juans)!
The downside is that this high up, spring is only just thinking about springing and there is still a lot of old snow (which we gingerly tip-toed along for many miles) and fallen trees (which we sprackled and clambered over as best we could). These impediments meant that we only progressed about 15 miles per day (as supposed to our "normal" 20 mile days) and that it was rather hard going. After 4 days of struggling among spectacular scenery (well, except maybe the last day which was really all about fallen trees and gratuitous slippy snow slopes amongst the spruce forrests), we made it to Wolf Creek Pass and got a lift (from an RV!!) into Pagosa Springs in the evening.
We are now in Colorado which means that for dinner that night we had vegetarian choices other than bean burrito or vegetable tostada (hurra!) AND we could have a wine and a beer respectively with our greek salad and houmous platter (licensed restaurants are rather few and far between in rural New Mexico!). The hotel had a jacuzzi and the town has a wonderfull natural hot spring spa pool with over 20 small basins to sit in, right next to the roaring San Juan river!
Yesterday, our first rest day, it rained all nighte and rained and rained untill 14:00. All of this would have fallen as snow on the hills where the trail is!
The next section of the trail is higher, longer and reputedly tougher. Because of the snows, we have therefore come up with a plan to "flip-flop" about 300 trail miles ahead to a place called Silverthorn and walk South from there, back to Pagosa Springs. This will hopefully allow spring to progress on the hills and will mean less old snow when we finally get to the San Juan mountains! That plan needs fleshed out, but we know that dear old Greyhound can take us from Durango (next town over) to our destination. Will report back when we get somewhere! For now the hot springs beckon again!

Friday, 5 June 2009

Northern New Mexico photos

Following on from the previous update here are a random set of photos of Northern New Mexico......

Approaching the Chama River and Ghost Ranch in pink rock sedimentary mesa with sagebrush below.

A close up of what we think is the delightfully termed skunk cabbage. Anyway they are nice plants and grow in wet meadows so are a good water indicator for us!

Martina camped in a stand of aspen at 9,500 feet in the morning sun.

We are in rolling hill country here in northern New Mexico at about 10,300ft and beginning to see more snow.

We meet up again with Ted and Richard after we all took different routes through the forest. An opportunity to dry everything out again before the rains start in the afternoon. Our walking is typically on old disused jeep roads as seen here.

Colorado border at last- now to camp before the thunderstorms hail on us again!

Good Bye New Mexico, Hello Colorado !

Ghost Ranch and its beautifull sandstone cliffs was our last look at the desert. Since then, we have been in cool green aspen, pine and spruce forrest and rolling alpine meadows. Depending on altitude, spring is only just beginning to think about springing ! Some meadows are already busy with blue iris, yellow lillies, purple lupins, red columbines and indigo delphiniums - as well as the less exotic (to the European eye) dandilion. A few hundred feet higher, the snow has only just gone and the flowers are not out yet. The omnipresent lizards have been replaced by stripy chipmunks. Still lots of humming birds around though and lots of ravens (caw caw!)

It has been easy walking (with tricky navigations since there are many old and new trails up here). We are told that the weather we are having is unusal for this time of year: it has been thundering (sometimes for hours) and raining out of static clouds (no winds!) every day for a couple of weeks now. Above 10 000 feet (3300 m), the nights have been very cold indeed with lots of condensation and frost on the tent (inner!).

Two days ago in the afternoon, we crossed the state border into Colorado (with fellow hikers Ted and Richard, who joined up with us again in Ghost Rhanch). We made a celebratory fire at our campsite that night and Ted burnt his last New Mexico maps. We've come 650 miles (1080 km) since the border!

Chama, where we are now, is in New Mexico again - we had to hitch-hike from a pass on the road in Colorado back into New Mexico! Chama's main attraction is a narrow gauge steam train and we are in a charming 1930's hotel next to the "station" and can hear the train hooting! Lots of knick-knack shops, nice cafees and very friendly people!

The next section is appartently quite snowy. A few other hikers have already opted to walk on the road to the next resupply town rather than flogg trough the snows. Mary-Joy, our supporting trail-witch in Montrose,CO (I'm sure she'd rather be called that, than being called a "trail-angel") has sent us ice axes and bigger boots as well as some extra clothes. So we are now in a position to go and have a look at how much snow there is. It's only 65 miles to the next resupply town - there will be hot springs there! Great incentive to plod on!

Brian is away to try and find somewhere in Chama where he can download photos from the last section.