We paused, looking forward into segment 21 and were in awe of the trail as it climbed straight up the other side of the valley as if a stairway to heaven. We had arrived, we were in the San Juan Mountains. We pushed on in silence.
Colorado Trail Segment 20 of 28
Start: Eddiesville TH
End: San Luis Pass
Distance: 12.7 Miles
Segment 20 was a long awaited destination for us, from here the Colorado Trail begins a steady climb into the alpine region where it stays for some time. In and out of treeline for a majority of the trail from this point onward. The beginning of this segment is the lowest altitude we would be at until late in segment 24, but only briefly, and then again at the end, when we would make our final descent into Durango to finish our hike. Often staying between 11,000′ – 12,000′ and touching as high as 13,271′ at the highest point of the Colorado Trail. Apart from our desire to complete the trail as a thru-hike end to end, this is what we came for, the high alpine regions of the San Juan Mountains. Our climb to the saddle of San Luis Peak was one of excitement, a gateway to the high frontier and the coming days of walking across the top of the world. This is a magical place, a place where the stars disappear below you at night and the sun’s rays begin before the valley below is awake. The alpine world is unique, challenging, but oh so rewarding to the traveler who is stubborn enough to venture here. Walk lightly and leave no trace in the alpine, we are merely visitors.
We camped early that evening beside a creek with other hikers we had met on the trail several segments before. We traded stories of our adventures and expressed excitement for the days ahead. The night would be calm deep in the valley, a frost would settle in and welcome us all in the morning as we emerged from our tents. A reminder of the region we were entering and the many cold nights and mornings to come as we traveled into the high country. There is no better reminder of the gain in altitude like the drop in temperatures. We would again see frost many more times for the remainder of our hike. It was getting real, we knew it, our bodies knew it. The energy of the trail had changed, an energy to respect and acknowledge. The weather in these parts is 50 – 50 on any given day. The mountains create their own reality and we would have to stay on alert for storms that could form in minutes above our heads. Wind is a constant. Cold mornings are a fact. The sun is intense. The blue sky is mesmerizing. The stars innumerable. The clouds seem to hug the earth here.
We slowly made our way up to the saddle below San Luis Peak among the fading alpenglow. We arrived early, adorned our down jackets and embraced the views all around. We imagined the climb from our vantage point of 12,612′ up to the summit of San Luis Peak some 1,400 feet above standing tall over us at 14,014′ and thought, about a summit attempt, for a mere second. We had many miles to go, and several big climbs coming, perhaps another day. We moved on, turning away as we were heading off towards our next pass and climb. There are so many inviting side trips along the Colorado Trail, it would take a long time to explore them all. We had a determined plan to hike the CT through, end to end, the extra side trips would be for another time. If the 500 miles of the CT and all of its climbs were not enough for us, well, we would need to examine ourselves further, the CT is full of incredible adventure in and of itself. We crossed up and over another small saddle at 12,366′ and crossed an alpine bench as the end of the segment came into view. We paused, looking forward into segment 21 and were in awe of the trail as it climbed straight up the other side of the valley as if a stairway to heaven. We had arrived, we were in the San Juan Mountains. We pushed on in silence.