CDT 2021: Day 75, Coyote Park to Jasper Lake

Did it matter? Does it now?

Clouds surround Coyote Park

More rain fell from time to time overnight. Though it stopped by sunrise, water droplets continued to fall from the trees around our campsite. The sky remained overcast.

A small amount of water had leaked into my tent during the night. I figured this was because I pitched it on a slope. Considering how difficult it had been to find a spot for our tents, I was satisfied that my gear wasn't more soaked.

DateSaturday, June 26, 2021
WeatherMostly cloudy, with several periods of rain, sleet, and thunderstorms; temperatures from low-40s to mid-50s
Trail ConditionsLong and sometimes steep climbs and descents; not as many blowdowns as yesterday
Today's Miles9.2
Trip Miles1047.2

Top O', OldTimer, and I took our time preparing to leave. Packing tends to take longer when everything is wet.

I also suspect we were moving slowly because yesterday's hike drained our energy. We ended the day with a continuous climb of 2,000 feet. The last two or three miles of that required clawing our way over and around downed tree after downed tree. It was exhausting to do that, and I'm certain we hadn't yet fully recovered.

We also didn't have much enthusiasm about our hike today because we were unsure how many more blowdowns we would have to cross. For all we knew, many more lay ahead until we climbed out of the canyon formed by Arapaho Creek.

Coyote Park

We didn't have to walk far before discovering a surprising answer to that uncertainty. After climbing over only a few more downed trees, the trail began to remain clear. We soon realized that where we stopped last night was beyond the worst of the blowdowns.

Walking around a blowdown

Of the few downed trees that remained, most could be walked around. We had camped at the edge of Coyote Park, and this turned out to be the end of our hellish trail section.

Coyote Park

Coyote Park was wide and lush with wildflowers. Hints of blue sky appeared in the clouds, and I hoped we would soon get enough sun to dry out our gear.

That never happened, unfortunately, but I didn't complain. The day was already better than yesterday.

Top O' pauses to view the mountains ahead

We hadn't walked far before realizing we were in a gorgeous part of Indian Peaks Wilderness. The last few hours of yesterday may have been tough, but all of that trouble was erased by the beautiful scenery unfolding ahead of us.

Arapaho Creek

The trail led us to the headwaters of Arapaho Creek in a cirque. I could see Arapaho Pass looming ahead. A sheer wall of mountains stood in front of me, and I knew the climb to the pass would be steep.

Looking ahead toward Arapaho Pass

I wasn't concerned about the difficulty of the climb, however. I was happy because stunning views were a payoff for going this way.

OT walks across the cirque

A long, flat section of trail led us across the cirque and past Caribou Lake to the foot of the climb.

The name of the lake is odd, considering the last time a herd of caribou was found in Colorado was probably more than 12,000 years ago. Perhaps the name was taken from the Caribou Mine, which is a now-abandoned silver mine and ghost town located about six miles away.

Flowers in the cirque at Arapaho Creek

The cloud conditions were constantly changing this morning. Although patches of blue continued to appear above at times, we were sometimes also surrounded by low-hanging clouds.

Climbing toward Arapaho Pass

The ever-changing clouds added to the scenery and made me want to make frequent stops to appreciate the views.

Top O' walks ahead

The first 1.5 miles of today's hike climbed about 800 feet to the cirque. The next mile climbed another 800 feet to the top of the pass with the help of several switchbacks.

Clouds close in on Caribou Lake

About halfway up, I stopped to look back toward Caribou Lake. Low clouds were quickly moving in, and within minutes, I could no longer see the lake.

OT follows the ridge toward Arapaho Pass

The top of the climb didn't go directly to Arapaho Pass, which was at 11,906 feet. Instead, the trail went to the top of the ridge, then followed it for nearly a quarter of a mile to the pass.

Clouds pour up

By now, the whole ridge was awash in clouds pouring up from below.

Top O' descends from Arapaho Pass

The descent from the pass followed a rugged, wide trail that long ago had been a road cut with dynamite.

I began to pass hikers coming up the trail. Some were weekend backpackers, but most were day hikers carrying fly fishing gear. They were on their way to Dorothy Lake, which was past Arapaho Pass.

The site of 4th of July Mine

We followed the trail down to the site of 4th of July Mine. All that remained from the mine was a pit and a few pieces of rusted equipment. A log building used to stand here to cover the equipment, but it rotted away long ago.

The site was given its name by prospectors who staked their claim here on Independence Day in 1872. Although attempts to extract gold were made here into the 1940s, no miners ever struck a rich vein.

North Fork Middle Boulder Creek

A misty rain began to fall as I was leaving the mine. It continued sporadically for the rest of the day.

Near the bottom of the 2.8-mile descent from Arapaho Pass, the trail crossed the north fork of Middle Boulder Creek. From there, it began a climb toward Diamond Lake.

Near Diamond Lake

We stopped near the lake for lunch, and for a moment or two, it looked like the sun would come out and give us a chance to dry our gear. As soon as we got our hopes up for that, more clouds moved in.

Top O' and OT check the snow bridge

We hadn't crossed much snow so far today, which was unexpected considering we had already climbed to nearly 12,000 feet. After lunch, however, we began to find some snow crossing the trail.

One patch of snow posed a particular dilemma. It formed a large snow bridge over a wide creek that we needed to cross. Although the bridge looked stable, we were unsure if it was wise to cross here.

After scouting around, though, we found some rocks on the other side that could be used instead to hop across the stream.

Rolling terrain in Indian Peaks Wilderness

The trail transitioned a series of several climbs and descents. I became separated from OT and Top O' on this section, though I wasn't far behind them.

I met some weekend backpackers coming from the other direction on one of the descents. Because OT, Top O', and I had talked about stopping tonight at Devil's Thumb Lake, I asked them if they had seen any camping spots near there. They asked if I thought I was headed that way because if I did, I was going the wrong way.

This confused me because I thought I was on the correct trail. And if I was going the wrong way, Top O' and OT were too.

We weren't back on the CDT yet, so the Guthook Guide wouldn't be useful for me to check my location. I pulled out my Ley maps. I don't know where those backpackers thought they were, but I was exactly where I thought I should be.

Low visibility above treeline

I caught up to OT and Top O' soon afterward. The weather had made a turn for the worse by now. Rain was steady and a little heavier. Low clouds made visibility poor.

We climbed to about 11,500 feet, which put us above the treeline again for a couple of miles.

Jasper Creek

The trail then dropped to 10,700 feet before making a short climb to Jasper Creek, which spilled from Jasper Lake.

We knew that camping was restricted in this area to control overuse, but we also were beginning to think we should look for a camping spot. The weather was becoming unpleasant and wasn't likely to get better if we climbed to Devil's Thumb Lake. That would put us back above 11,000 feet.

Jasper Lake

After walking past Jasper Lake, we found a place to camp that was out of the restricted area. The time was now 4:30 p.m., earlier than we would normally wish to stop. Considering the weather conditions, though, we didn't see a point in going farther today. We also couldn't be sure we'd find any camping spots farther up the trail.

We now have about two miles to go before we return to the CDT. I wondered earlier if we made the right choice to follow the Arapaho Pass Trail, but that decision doesn't seem now to matter. There's no way to tell if the difficult trail conditions we found yesterday were as bad or worse than we would have found on the CDT.

Still, it's hard to imagine how we could have found scenery more spectacular than what we saw today. I don't regret following this alternate one bit.

Saint Stephen with a rose
In and out of the garden he goes
Country garland in the wind and the rain
Wherever he goes the people all complain

Stephen prosper in his time
Well he may, and he may decline
Did it matter? Does it now?
Stephen would answer if he only knew how

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