July 10 thru 11, 2018 It was an interesting night, considering my brain opted to kick-up the ol’ imagination a few notches; chipmunks or ground squirrels sounded HUGE and visions of Jennifer-hungry bears danced through my head. Also, smells from the vault toilet not so gently drifted through my tent, so this particular sunrise brought on a giddiness.
The whacky night was totally worth waking up surrounded in gorgeous; super grateful I wasn’t eaten! Washed up in the river, took a mini hike, then loaded up. I felt great and timed my exit perfectly. On the way out, two trucks with fishing gear pulled in. I will definitely be back!
The same gentleman who referred the Rio Grande campground also recommended Freemons General Store for great food. I got there by 8a, ordered and poured myself a coffee. With the help of my Atlas, I decided to continue to Lake City. Talked with senior locals at the table next to me, who I initially thought were just hanging out like me; they actually run the store. My breakfast sandwich of sausage, egg and cheese on a toasted English muffin was delicious.
They were prepping a huge amount of onions. Apparently, they’re super popular for lunch, serving about 300 burgers daily. They also sell ice cream, general supplies and souvenirs. I loved the people and place!
Continued on the breathtaking Silver Thread Scenic Byway (149), driving along the Rio Grande River, with the Weminuche Wilderness and Rio Grande National Forest on either side.
~~Weminuche is Colorado’s largest wilderness, spanning almost 500,000 acres. It was established in 1975 by Congress, named after the band of Ute Indians who inhabited southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.~~
I set my sights on South Clear Creek Falls. A short, scenic hike, about 900′ from the parking area, leads to the Falls’ hidden location. Just me and a couple with expensive camera gear were the Falls’ visitors. I appreciated their offer to take my photo.
The countryside here is so insanely gorgeous it’s almost indescribable. I feel like the luckiest person alive to be here. Ok, maybe corny, but so real.
Not far up the road, is North Clear Creek Falls. The road in is long, beautiful and winding. I thought for sure there’d be more people checking out the larger of the Falls, but was happily surprised to see only a few cars.
~~The rock shelf, the Nelson Mountain Ruff, was formed from ash flows of an enormous volcanic eruption about 27 million years ago, and it’s about a 100′ drop from the shelf that creates North Clear Creek Falls. This is a nesting site for the rare black swift (bird) that sometimes build their nests behind the waterfall, so parents must fly through the falling water to reach their babes.~~
Spring Creek Pass crosses two long-distance trails, the Continental Divide Trail and Colorado Trail. With a foot on each side of the Divide, one essentially straddles the spine of the Western Hemisphere. Being here reminded me of my experience 34 years earlier at the Equator, with my high school Foreign Travel group. Something kind of funny is I recently learned the yellow painted Equator line I straddled then was proven via GPS-technology to be off-mark by several hundred feet. Trees are scarce along the drive, devastated by beetles I think, but wild flowers add incredible color here and there.
~~Streams to the north and west of this Pass drain into the Colorado River on a 1,250 mile path to the Pacific; streams to the south and east drain into the Rio Grande on a 1,885 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic.~~
I couldn’t get enough of the mountains and Slumgullion Pass was impressive. I stopped every chance possible.
I followed the marker entitled, Alferd Packer Massacre Site. In a nutshell, Mr. Packer, also known as the “Colorado Cannibal”, was a prospector who killed and ate his five companions in 1874 to survive a winter death in the San Juan Mountains.
The drive toward and around Lake San Cristobal is breathtaking. This is the second largest natural lake in Colorado that was formed about 850 years ago when the Slumgullion Earth-flow dammed the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River.
Driving into Lake City, a small town bustling with big tourist appeal, my focus was to find a campsite. It didn’t matter that I really didn’t want to land in the middle of RVs at a town campground because they were all full. I turned around and took the Lake Cristobal turn off I’d passed on the way in.
I pulled into what I thought was a parking lot by the water, but turned out to be Wupperman Campground. Almost immediately, I met Chris, diligently guarding the spot I pulled into for her sister. I shifted one spot over and set up camp; once again, the only tenter. Ha!
I was craving a friend and it felt amazing talking with Chris! She asked me what I was doing the next day. I had no clue, so no plan, but I was sure I wanted to stay put for a couple days. She invited me to join her family to climb a 14-ER, which turned out to be Uncompahgre Peak, a mountain with an elevation of more than 14,300 feet. She, her two sisters, their spouses, a nephew and her dad were there to climb it in celebration of her dad’s birthday (80’s). I felt super special about the invite and immediately accepted (inner peeps screamed WooHoo! and ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDIN ME?!). I was so excited to do anything with others, but so very glad it wasn’t hand gliding or parachuting!
The lake was very cold, but sat in my bungee, in the water, and washed up. Met her family members and her father who graciously shared a beer with me. Chris said head-out time would be about 5:30a. Prepped my pack with snacks, plenty of water, chapstick, extra socks, insect spray, sunscreen and rain gear. Hit the vault potty and called it a night.
Up early and ready to go – popped IBU to fend-off dull ache working its way around my skull, then enjoyed coffee with Andrea and Fred. With two vehicles, the eight of us and two dogs (Sophie and Roscoe) headed out. When we got to the Nellie Creek Trail sign on Henson Creek Road, the SUV was parked and everyone climbed in ‘Dad’s’ high-clearance 4WD truck for the 4 mile ascent to the trail head. Chris and I rode in the cab with her Dad.
It was a rough and narrow climb up the dirt road, across beasty boulders and creeks, but their Dad navigated it expertly! Although the views would be better from the bed, I was very appreciative to be in the truck, on a cushion.
Glad I layered because it was early and chilly. A few of us visited the vault toilet, then we signed in at the trailhead. My backpack wasn’t very heavy, with the two water bottles and misc. supplies, but I definitely want to buy one with a water bladder, to get of the bottles altogether. Absolutely perfect day for a hike!
Wild flowers made an outstanding appearance throughout the hike, despite the serious snow shortage.
Stopped fairly often for pitiful attempts to catch my breath, soak in the view, eat a snack and stay hydrated. I also hung back a bit to keep Chris’ older sister company, not that she asked, who was struggling with her foot or ankle. Boulders work for semi-private potty breaks and, later determined, there’s no need for a boulder when wearing a big poncho. Oh, I also learned that groundhogs are referred to as whistle-pigs and marmots.
The closer I got to the ridge, the faster my heart beat; maybe the elevation was taking its toll. Ha! Passed a snow cap on the way up; it looked lonely.
Once I made the ridge, the view and feeling I had was beyond anything I could experience driving through the mountains. Uncompahgre rose above others and all I could see for miles was mountains and sky. BREATHTAKING! Grass and weeds covered large areas across the ridge. I figured it’d be mostly rock at such a high elevation. Not much farther and I’d summit. As much as I wanted to, there was no fucking way I was going any farther. Seriously, I pushed and struggled my ass off to get where I was. Definitely learned a limitation about myself and it was ok. Next time I come, I’ll be in better shape. Outrageously awesome!
Only one of us, Chris’ oldest brother in law, had continued past us to the top. Wind, a bit of hail and rain joined just after noon; we descended. Everything, everywhere looked even better, brighter. I took over the poles for Chris’ nephew who sheltered one of the poopers under his poncho. Discovered I love the poles and will definitely get my own!
Once back at the trail head, we relaxed and snacked while waiting for others, then loaded up to head down Nellie. Those adorable pups were pooped and so was I!
On the way down Nellie it started raining again, harder, so the dirt road with big boulders and narrow, rough path was even slicker than hours earlier. Me, Chris and her Dad were in the cab, with others in the truck bed covered with a tarp, when we met an SUV heading, for whatever reason, up. This is not a road wide enough for two, full-size vehicles. Chris’ Dad told the other driver what to do and then we basically hugged the wall, while slowly passing within an inch of the SUV. Seriously, my hands were clinched and I held my breath. Impressive driving skill to say the least!
Still raining when we got into town, we ran into the Lake City Brewing Company for drinks. Here are Andrea and their Dad. Cheers!
This is the beautiful bracelet Andrea made and gave to me. So sweet! She creates and sells beautiful jewelry art.
Collected contact information and Chris made several suggestions of amazing places for me to check out. She highly recommended I try sweet corn and Palisade peaches.
I managed to wash my hair and body a bit in the cold ass lake water and without screaming even one obscenity (very impressive). Dressed in a knit cap, few layered shirts, jeans and warm socks. Updated journal and boiled water to cook the instant soup Mardell gave me.
Huge THANK YOU to Chris and her family for letting me join such a special event in their lives. They’ll never know how mind-blowing fantastic it was for me. I’ll definitely keep in touch with Chris; look forward to planning future hikes together.