CDT 2021: Day 96, Los Creek to Diablo Cañón

Wildflower seed on the sand and stone

A marker shows the footpath of the Colorado and Continental Divide trails

After a couple of long descents yesterday, it seemed unavoidable that the trail would include some long climbs today. Looking at the trail profile, I could see that was true. Two were gradually stretched over many miles.

I also could see that these climbs never went above 11,000 feet. That made me hopeful today would be our easiest in Colorado.

DateSaturday, July 17, 2021
WeatherPartly cloudy to cloudy with temperatures from the upper-40s to mid-70s
Trail ConditionsLong and gradual climbs and descents, sometimes on gravel roads
Today's Miles21.9
Trip Miles1349.0

When we stopped yesterday, we were a couple of miles short of our goal for the day of 20 miles. The conditions for today looked like we should be able to make up those lost miles.

Now that my pack was another day's worth of food lighter, I figured I could complete the miles in under 10 hours. That turned out to be overly optimistic.

A partly cloudy sky in the morning

The morning certainly started well to make that happen. The trail followed the same two-track road we walked yesterday after we left the trail magic stop. We were on our way before 6:30 a.m.

The first .75 miles went over a short rise before beginning a traverse along the edge of a broad, grassy valley.

blackfoot daisies

I wasn't on the trail long before I passed some small tufts of blackfoot daisies. These are known to be hardy, drought-tolerant wildflowers, and the dry and open space seemed like an ideal spot for them.

A calf hides behind a tree

There might have been more wildflowers to see here, but some cattle were grazing in this grassy expanse. They tend to eat a lot of wildflowers.

Cochetopa Park

The CDT and CT followed the jeep trail on the south edge of what was called Cochetopa Park. It looked like a large meadow, but the area was geologically more significant. This was a caldera, a collapsed volcano that was formed about 27 million years ago. From the middle of this flatland rose Cochetopa Dome.

The names of these features, as well as the nearby Cochetopa Pass, come from a Ute Indian word for "pass of the buffalo." The Ute were an indigenous tribe that settled in Colorado about 1,000 years ago.

The pass was where we found trail magic yesterday. It was surveyed in 1853 by Capt. John W. Gunnison during a search for a route to build the transcontinental railroad. Gunnison and several men in his expedition were later killed by Paiute Indians when they continued from here into Utah.

Rolling terrain in Cochetopa Park

Where the trail left the jeep road, it began a gradual climb away from Cochetopa Park, going at first over rolling hills. Someone had left some gallon jugs of water at the junction. I had plenty of water and figured more was ahead, so I didn't take any from the jugs.

An extensive study about this area was released in 1904 by the U.S. Bureau of Forestry, now known as the Forest Service, to consider the establishment of a proposed Cochetopa Forest Reserve. The area was protected a year later when President Theodore Roosevelt issued a proclamation. The land today is part of Gunnison National Forest, which has since been expanded to cover 1,672,136 acres across five Colorado counties.

Gunnison's mariposa lily

I passed another variety of wildflowers on the climb. This one was called Gunnison's mariposa lily, which was named in honor of Capt. Gunnison.

The wildflower and national forest are just two of many things in Colorado that have been named for the explorer. Among them are a river, a city, and a county, as well as a grouse.

A road through a forest of aspen trees

As the trail approached the top of the climb, it began to follow another jeep road and entered an aspen forest. This was a pleasant stroll, with bright sun and a light breeze filtering through the trees.

The trail gently descended into a valley

After cresting the climb and making a turn to go around instead of over a ridge, the trail gently descended into a valley where Cochetopa Creek flowed. The trail left the road near the bottom and began a gradual ascent, going upstream along the creek.

This was a continuous climb for the next 14.8 miles. We would only have to climb the first 10.5 miles today. The remainder, which will also be the steepest section, will wait until tomorrow.

A meadow in a valley

The valley was bordered on both sides by trees but was treeless at the bottom where the stream flowed. This left us no shade as we continued along the trail.

I caught up to OldTimer and Top O' where they were relaxing under the only shade tree to be found near the trail in the valley. When they were ready to leave, I decided to stay and enjoy the shade a little longer.

common yellow swallowtail butterfly

I then forded the creek and continued the gradual climb.

I paused for several minutes to watch a common yellow swallowtail butterfly feeding on nectar from wildflowers near the creek. These butterflies are especially attracted to pink, mauve, and purple flowers.

The sky becomes cloudy

The trail left the creek as it climbed one side of the valley, then remained high above the stream for a few miles.

The footpath was still exposed, but by this time, the temperature was a little cooler. The sky had shifted from partly cloudy to mostly cloudy. And while it seemed that rain might fall and maybe was falling in the distance, the clouds didn't look like they would produce a storm.

I was less preoccupied with watching the sky as I was trying to take photos of wildlife. My first attempt was to capture a shot of antelope, but they didn't want to cooperate. Later, I tried to photograph a couple of garter snakes and some marmots. They slithered or skittered away, as the case may be, and I was unable to snap a picture before they disappeared.

Approaching Eddiesville Trailhead

When I came to a trailhead called Eddiesville, I was ready for another break. I said to myself, "I can't believe I'm so tired," which in retrospect was a slightly foolish thought. Of course I was tired! By this time I had already walked nearly 18 miles.

Ignoring that I had at least two more hours of walking to get where we agreed to stop for the night, I found a log at the trailhead and sat there for as long as I needed. I wasn't going to be bothered by falling farther behind Top O' and OT.

The trail goes along Cochetopa Creek

After leaving Eddiesville, the trail rejoined Cochetopa Creek. The valley began to narrow here and gradually became a canyon.

At the same time, the clouds began to break up. No rain had fallen on me, and by now, it was obvious none would today.

A rocky section of trail

The last mile before arriving at our campsite was the most rugged section of the trail since it joined the Colorado Trail. There were large boulders to navigate around, and the footpath was muddy in several sections.

I noticed on the map that our campsite was close to the creek, but seeing how rugged the canyon had become made me wonder how close we would be to the water. It seemed likely that reaching it from the campsite might be a challenge, so when I found a spring about a half-mile before the site that wasn't marked on the map, I decided to collect water there.

When I arrived at camp, Top O' and OT seemed surprised I took so long to get there. I didn't care, though. I stretched this long-mileage day longer by making several stops to take photos and take resting breaks.

The day didn't turn out to be as easy as I hoped, but by going at my own pace, I enjoyed the hike and arrived at camp without feeling drained of energy.

The old thru-hiker expression, "Hike your own hike," was a perfect definition of my day.

In another time's forgotten space
Your eyes looked from your mother's face
Wildflower seed on the sand and stone
May the four winds blow you safely home

Roll away the dew
Roll away the dew
Roll away the dew
Roll away the dew

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