CDT 2021: Day 85, Guller Creek to Tennessee Pass

But I always thought that I'd see you again

Morning sun over Guller Creek on the CDT

When I think about the differences between the AT, the PCT, and the CDT, I don't think so much about the footpaths or the mountains.

Sure, there are differences between them. The mountains of the PCT and CDT are much higher. The AT's climbs tend to be steeper, however, especially in New Hampshire and Maine. The AT's footpath is also more rugged, with long stretches covered in roots and rocks.

Instead of those things, I mostly think about the differences in the water. The climate in western states is much drier. That includes more than just the deserts of California and New Mexico.

One indicator of this for me is the number of water sources. They are fewer and farther apart on the PCT and CDT than on the AT. Another indicator is rain. Though some precipitation fell on parts of the PCT and CDT, I experienced many more wet days on the AT.

DateTuesday, July 6, 2021
WeatherClear early, becoming partly cloudy; temperatures from the mid-40s to upper-70s
Trail ConditionsA long climb and descent, followed by a steady climb
Today's Miles17.6
Trip Miles1163.1

I don't say this because I took a deep dive into comparing averages for relative humidity, dewpoint, and rainfall. I'm only going on what I experienced. I remember too well putting on wet socks day after day on the AT. Sweat dripping from my soaked hat was another regular occurrence.

These almost never happened on the other two trails. The key here is that if something got wet on the other trails, it usually dried within an hour. That even included times when I walked through a stream wearing my shoes and socks.

A view of Guller Creek

The air was refreshingly cool and dry this morning when I awoke. My tent and quilt were still a little damp because of yesterday's rain, but the rainclouds had moved out hours ago.

There was hardly a cloud in the sky when I began to walk. I had been getting weary of constantly staying alert to thunderstorms. Seeing the sky this morning made me happy. This looked like a good day for a yard sale, I thought.

Wildflowers on the slopes along Guller Creek

The sun was shining brightly on the red and yellow wildflowers dotting the slopes along Guller Creek.

Climbing in Gore Range

After climbing for about an hour, the trail left the creek and took me above the treeline. I continued up to the southern ridge of Gore Range. Included in the ascent were two wide switchbacks on the way to Searle Pass.

The mountain range was named for an Irish nobleman, Lord St. George Gore. It's odd that the range was given the name of an aristocrat who only spent three years in the U.S. and never set foot on these mountains. Worse than that, the reason he was here makes the honor confounding and offensive.

When Gore came to this country in 1854, he hired one of the west's most famous mountain men, Jim Bridger. They assembled enough guns, ammo, wagons, and horses to outfit a small army. About 40 servants were hired to handle cooking and hunting, and to tend Gore's dogs. Then for the next three years, Gore went on a "safari" through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas. A better word for it might be "rampage" because his goal was to kill as many wild animals as possible.

No one knows for sure how many animals Gore slaughtered, but he estimated he killed 2,000 buffalo, 1,600 deer and elk, and 105 bears. In many cases, their carcasses were left to rot where they died.

Native Americans and white settlers complained to the U.S. government about Gore's bloodlust, but no action was taken against him before he returned to Ireland. There is now an effort underway to change the name of the mountain range to Nuchu Range to honor the tribes that lived in these mountains. Some local government officials are resisting the name change.

OldTimer dries his tent at Searle Pass

I passed some northbound CT hikers on the last part of the way up. The climb included only a couple of short steep sections, and I arrived at Searle Pass at 8:30 a.m. The pass was at an elevation of 12,045 feet.

As I hoped, this was a good spot to spread out my gear and let it dry in the sun. Top O' and OT had already started doing that when I arrived. The conditions were a little breezy but otherwise perfect for quickly drying our tents and sleeping bags.

Everything was dry in about 15 minutes, which was much faster than it normally took on the AT. In fact, I rarely stopped to dry my gear on the AT, either because it took too long or the continuous shade from trees made the effort ineffective.

A view of Mosquito Range

The view looking south from Searle Pass included three 14ers: Mount Lincoln (14, 291 feet), Mount Cameron (14,232 feet), and Mount Democrat (14,154 feet). They were all between 9.5 and 9.7 miles away.

When I learned that range of mountains was called the Mosquito Range, I was glad the CDT didn't go in that direction.

As I often do when I'm above the treeline, I took a look at the sky. I only saw scattered cirrus clouds, and that was a good sign. The weather could always change, of course, but there was no chance of rain in the near future.

I don't know how or why it happens, but there are some hikers you meet on the trail and only give a polite greeting, while with others you strike up a conversation. When some hikers arrived while I was repacking my gear, I stayed to talk to them. That led to the discovery of a surprising coincidence. They told me they were from Shipshewana, Indiana, which is about 20 miles from where I grew up.

A large cairn on Elk Ridge

Instead of dropping into the gulch below the pass, the trail remained high on a slope of Elk Ridge, which included two 12,000-foot mountains, Elk Mountain and Corbett Peak.

The CDT and CT near Kokomo Pass

After passing by Corbett Peak, the trail made a sharp right turn at the end of Elk Ridge and headed to Kokomo Pass. The elevation of this pass was nearly identical to Searle Pass.

A view of Climax Mine

When I made the turn, Climax Mine came into view. This was a molybdenum mine like the one we passed after leaving Berthoud Pass on Day 79. Both mines are owned by the same company.

Molybdenum was first discovered here in 1879, but the prospector who owned the claim, Charles Senter, was looking for gold or silver. He didn't know what the mineral was. He just knew there was a lot of it on this spot.

When Senter finally hired a chemist in 1895 to determine what kind of ore he had, there was no market for it. He sold his claim for $40,000 in 1915 and retired comfortably in Denver.

For many years, Climax Mine claimed to be the largest molybdenum mine in the world, supplying 75 percent of the world's supply of molybdenum.

A marmot enjoys sitting in the sun

Just before arriving at Kokomo Pass, I noticed a marmot sitting among some rocks on the slope of the mountain. It appeared to be living the good life in the sunshine. This wasn't a surprise, considering how pleasant the weather was.

Looking toward Cataract Creek

The trail continued on a long descent that had begun before Kokomo Pass. In 5.5 miles, the trail dropped nearly 3,000 feet.

At first, the route doubled back toward Corbett Peak and then turned again to gradually go down its slope. From there, the trail followed the drainage of Cataract Creek.

The descent became steeper near the end. By the time I got near the bottom, I was relieved I didn't have to hike this trail in the other direction.

I had fallen behind Top O' and OldTimer when I stopped to talk to the hikers from Indiana. I caught up to them at 12:30 p.m. where they stopped for lunch.

Top O' and OldTimer

We made another stop when we got near the bottom of the descent and collected water from Cataract Creek. After that, the trail then led us toward a wide, nearly flat valley.

We met two NOBO hikers near the bottom. I had not known Smurf before, but the hiker with him was Plant. Zigzag and I camped with him on Day 10 when we knew him as Joe. He was so personable when I first met him that liked him immediately. The last time I saw him was a few days later in Pie Town, when he told me he now had a trail name.

Plant told me today that he was no longer attempting a thru-hike but was trying to add a few more miles before heading home to Michigan. I said I was sorry to see he was leaving the trail but wished him well and hoped he would be able to return. He promised he would.

Top O' and OldTimer

Top O', OldTimer, and I next had to walk on a gravel road. This area had been the location of Camp Hale, which was home to the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division during World War II. Because the facility was above 9,000 feet in elevation, it was a suitable training ground for mountain climbing, skiing, cold-weather survival, and weapons firing in winter and mountainous weather conditions.

Camp Hale was also used as a prisoner of war camp for 300-400 captured German soldiers. The entire installation was closed and dismantled shortly after the war ended in 1945.

Crossing U.S. Highway 24

The trail turned to run parallel with U.S. Highway 24, though we didn't see the highway much until the trail dropped to cross it.

A wide valley at Mitchell Creek

After the road, the trail went along a wide valley formed by Mitchell Creek. More clouds appeared in the sky above us and now they were a little puffy. They never became a threat for wet weather, thankfully.

We knew we were approaching Tennessee Pass. This was where the trail would cross the highway again and where we could hitch a ride into the town of Leadville. It didn't seem feasible or necessary to try to go there tonight, so we made a plan to stop short of the road.

No streams or springs were shown on the map near Tennessee Pass. We stopped to collect water from Mitchell Creek, and I carried two liters the rest of the way to our campsite.

Smooth trail

The trail was smooth and gentle for most of the rest of the way. We met a few more mountain bikers, section hikers, and CT hikers but no CDT thru-hikers.

Climbing a dirt road near Tennessee Pass

The final distance was on a broad path that appeared to have been an abandoned forest road. We found a spot just off the trail at 5:15 p.m. that had plenty of room for our tents. It was just six-tenths of a mile from the road, which meant we will be able to get into Leadville quickly tomorrow.

We agreed we didn't need to stay overnight in town. After losing time and miles because of bad weather, we wanted to make up some of it now. We decided to only stay long enough to resupply, then get back on the trail tomorrow afternoon.

As I was preparing for bed, I realized how wonderful the weather had been today. Not only did it never rain on us, we never even felt a chance of that. It was a good day and was made more so by seeing a friend I hadn't seen in several weeks.

This trail report must end with a sad postscript. Soon after I met Plant today, he went back to Michigan to resume his job as a high school science teacher and coach. He told his family he loved the trail and hoped to return to complete it. He never got the chance.

Joe "Plant" Schuler died of natural causes less than eight months later. He was just 23 years old.

Plant was bright, warm, and generous. Knowing him, if ever so briefly, was a blessing. Memories of him are treasures to keep.

I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.