CDT 2021: Day 97, Diablo Cañón to Creede

Put me in coach, I'm ready to play today

Top O' walking to San Luis Pass

Last night's campsite was located where Diablo Cañón intersected with a canyon formed by Cochetopa Creek. Closed in by steep walls at the confluence of two streams, we expected to wake up this morning with a lot of condensation inside our tents.

This assumption was correct, though I was still surprised by how damp everything was when I woke up. Keeping the doors of my vestibule open didn't help at all.

DateMonday, July 19, 2021
WeatherClear, then becoming partly cloudy; temperatures from the upper-40s to upper-70s
Trail ConditionsBig climbs and descents, then a long and sometimes steep downhill on a gravel road
Today's Miles17.9
Trip Miles1366.9

We planned to leave the main CDT trail today and follow an alternate called the Creede Cutoff. This route began at San Luis Pass and went south through the town of Creede.

If Top O', OldTimer, and I hadn't decided to flip north to allow more time for heavy snow to melt, we would have come north on this alternate. Although there wasn't much snow left now in the mountains, we still wanted to follow the cutoff because we intended to reconnect with where we left the trail before our flip. We didn't want a gap in our footsteps.

In the canyon of Cochetopa Creek

After leaving our campsite this morning, we began a climb toward a saddle extending from the top of San Luis Peak. I got wet whenever I brushed against shrubs. They were even wetter than my tent from condensation.

Judging from the profile shown in the Guthook app, it looked like the 1,700-foot climb in a little more than four miles was going to be steep.

Mountains flanking the valley

The look of a profile can be deceptive, however. In this case, the climb wasn't as difficult as I expected. Still, it was steep enough to keep my pace a little slower than usual.

Dead trees near Cochetopa Creek

As the trail continued to follow Cochetopa Creek upstream, the canyon widened. The trail veered away from the creek a couple of times. We didn't see much of it until the trail crossed it one last time.

Approaching a saddle near San Luis Peak

After crossing the creek, we began an 850-foot climb that covered the last 1.3 miles to the top of the saddle. I first saw the saddle at about 8 a.m.

From my viewpoint on the trail, San Luis Peak was to the right of the saddle. Its summit is 14,019 feet high.

The mountain has a relatively easy approach to the summit, but it is considered to be the most difficult of Colorado's 14ers to get to because of the remote location of the trailhead climbers use as a starting point.

Top O' and OldTimer spread out gear at the top of the saddle

The top of the saddle was at 12,618 feet. By the time I reached it, OldTimer and Top O' had already started to spread out their gear in yard sale fashion to dry it in the sun. This was a perfect day for that because the sky was clear.

Some other hikers arrived at about the same time, including a couple of day-hikers on their way to the summit of San Luis Peak.

Top O' and OT leave the saddle

We stayed at the top of the saddle for nearly 30 minutes, which was plenty of time for our tents and sleeping bags to dry. I stayed a little longer than Top O' and OldTimer so I could finish a second breakfast.

Looking back into the valley

Looking back from the saddle toward the canyon where we camped last night, I could see on my left Organ Mountain. This peak gets its name from a distinctive rock feature at the top, which is said to resemble the pipes of an organ. The top is at 13,801 feet above sea level.

Walking along the slope of a ridge

When I left the saddle, the trail made a gradual descent along a slope of a ridge. Near the end of this 1.3-mile traverse was a short climb to another saddle on the ridge, then another descent.

A view of San Luis Peak

This route remained above the treeline, so San Luis Peak was visible the whole way. We passed three valleys, which merged below the ridge to form Spring Creek.

The trail gradually descended 450 feet in a distance of 1.4 miles from the second saddle. A stream flowed there, which was part of the headwaters of Spring Creek, and we stopped to collect water.

Just as we were about to leave, a couple of Colorado Trail hikers arrived, and one of them was a friend Top O' knew from his PCT thru-hike.

OT and I left to start a steep climb to the next saddle, while Top O' stayed behind to talk to his friend.

A post marks the trail

The trail descended again after the saddle, with just .7 miles remaining before we reached San Luis Pass and the start of the Creede Cutoff Alternate.

San Luis Pass

OT and I arrived at the pass at noon, so we stopped there to eat lunch and wait for Top O' to catch up.

The pass was at 11,935 feet. From here, nearly every step we took for the rest of today and tomorrow would be a step downhill.

Leaving San Luis Pass on the Creede Cutoff

The cutoff followed a narrow footpath from San Luis Pass down a wide valley. The route was sometimes steep.

Before we dropped below the treeline, some sections were overgrown with bushes. Thankfully, these were dry.

Top O' and OldTimer walk on a gravel road

The trail led to a narrow and sometimes steep gravel road. This was the route climbers must take when they want to hike to the top of San Luis Peak. Seeing how remote the trailhead was helped me understand why that mountain is considered so difficult to summit.

Midwest Mine

The gravel road eventually widened. Before long, we began to see people in vehicles. Some were in pickup trucks and others in UTVs.

About this same time, we began to pass gold, silver, and lead mines. A couple of these looked as if they were still in operation, though most were abandoned.

The road was part of the Bachelor Historic Loop. This 17-mile route in the mountains above Creede offers visitors a chance to see remnants of the area's mining history.

One of the first mines we passed was called Midwest Mine. Prospecting may have begun here as early as 1899. Large mining operations started in the 1910s or 1920s to extract high-grade silver. Gold was also mined here in the 1960s.

Mining activity diminished by the 1970s, and Midwest Mine was abandoned because of the owner's old age and failing health. There is no official record of how much precious ore was extracted from the mine because the owner failed to file reports. He later admitted he did this to avoid paying taxes and dodge regulatory oversight.

A major land reclamation effort was begun in 2003 to provide environmental protection from mining waste leaching into streams and groundwater.

The road passes through a narrow gorge

Farther down the road, it narrowed to one lane again. There was barely enough room to pass through a gorge with steep rock walls and West Willow Creek.

Nelson Tunnel

Where the road widened again, it entered the Commodore Mining District and passed Nelson Tunnel. Commodore Level 5 Tunnel was above the other tunnel, though not visible from the road.

Silver, lead, and zinc were extracted from these and other mines in the district starting in 1891. Nelson Tunnel was dug the following year. Valuable ore was mined here continuously through the 1970s, with the last mine closing in 1985.

This area is also known today as the Nelson Tunnel/Commodore Waste Rock Pile Superfund Site. High levels of contaminants that kill fish, namely cadmium and zinc, were left behind. State and federal authorities began looking for ways to remediate this pollution because of the threat to Willow Creek, which flows into the Rio Grande.

Initial attempts by a grass roots organization to remove and isolate the contamination proved inadequate, especially after a flood in 2005 damaged a drainage system constructed around a waste pile. Then in September 2008, the site was placed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List.

Commodore Mine ore house

Just down from Nelson Tunnel was a massive wooden ore house that was also part of the Commodore Mine complex. It towered high above the road as we passed by. We were now only about a mile outside of town, though I had fallen behind Top O' and OT because I stopped several times to take photos.

Mineral County Volunteer Fire Department

As I entered Creede, one of the first things I noticed was a door to the Mineral County Volunteer Fire Department's station. It was the entrance of a cave.

Locals claim this is the only underground fire station in the world.

As I walked by, I wondered if the cave was a former mine, but later learned it wasn't. The rooms for the fire station were blasted and drilled into the mountainside rock in the 1980s.

I soon caught up to Top O' a few blocks past the fire station, but we lost track of OT. Many businesses were closing around this time, which was after 5 p.m. on a Sunday. We were hungry, so we decided to stop at a mom-and-pop diner before it closed and order cheeseburgers. OT arrived a short time later.

As we walked through town after dinner, we ran into a hiker named Wandering Pro. This was the first time I had met him, though we followed each other on Instagram. He started the CDT two days after Top O' and I did. I asked him if he had flipped to Wyoming as we did. No, he answered. He admitted to walking extremely slowly and taking his time going north.

A dugout in Creede's baseball field

OT, Top O', and I still didn't have a plan for where to stay tonight, and now our options were limited and the time was getting late. Chances of finding a place to pitch our tents outside of town seemed doubtful.

Finally, after a short stop at a convenience store to purchase a few snacks, we decided to sleep at Creede's ballpark. The town allowed thru-hikers to camp there overnight, and restrooms were kept open.

A couple of comments in the Guthook app warned hikers to not camp on the ballfield's grass because sprinklers turn on at 5:30 a.m. This was a little disappointing. The infield's thick grass was in good condition and would have been a comfortable place to pitch a tent.

We decided to sleep in one of the dugouts. The benches were a little too narrow for sleeping, so we slept on the gravel floor. OT set up his free-standing tent inside. Top O' and I didn't have tents like that and just put our sleep pads on ground sheets.

I felt impatient while sitting in the dugout. I knew tomorrow would be a big day. Assuming we were successful, it would be our last day on the trail in Colorado.

After we connect our footsteps with where we began our flip, we will begin to make our way back to Wyoming. We have no idea how or when that will happen.

I know we will eventually figure out these details. They are part of the game, and I am anxious to start the next inning.

You got a beat-up glove, a homemade bat
And a brand new pair of shoes
You know I think it's time to give this game a ride
Just to hit the ball an' touch 'em all a moment in the sun
It's-a gone and you can tell that one goodbye

Oh, put me in coach, I'm ready to play today
Put me in coach, I'm ready to play today
Look at me, I can be centerfield

Oh, put me in coach, I'm ready to play today
Put me in coach, I'm ready to play today
Look at me, gotta be centerfield


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