Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Vagabond Loop Part 2: Moab to Durango, and the CT

From the end of the Hayduke Trail I will backtrack back to the slick rock town of Moab. Although not quite the halfway point mileage-wise, Moab is a fitting place for me to treat it as such. Moab has been a refuge of some sorts for me through the years. Around my mid-20s I used to venture to Moab and sober up. I would get sick and tired of living and working in L.A. while boozing relentlessly and the wilds would call me. I would quit my job and escape, running away from the troubles I had but never quite solving anything. The pattern persisted and, eventually, Moab became more than just a refuge; it became a place I thought of as a home away from home.

I see Moab as a midway point because of the level of difficulty of the AZT and HT consecutive thru-hikes. I foresee my body being taxed to the limit around this time and Moab will front as a regrouping and replenishing aid station. But, in Moab I am struck with my first major connectivity obstacle of the Vagabond Loop. I must find a way to bridge Moab to Durango, which is the western terminus of the Colorado Trail. And I want the connection to be trail-thick or at least heavily traveled on forest roads if limited trails are available. Those two particular, wanted details made the research even harder as squeezed between the gaps of USFS and BLM land are private property swaths. After scouring maps for routes and finding little, I eventually fell back on the notion passed along to me from a buddy named Larry that supposedly there is a mountain bike trail connecting Moab to Telluride that traverses over the Uncompahgre Plateau. That sounded scenic but the route would make more mileage for me as it takes a more direct easterly course from Moab. I rummaged and rummaged search engines and stumbled upon a hut-to-hut route from Moab to Durango. Reading more about the mountain bike route, I knew it would be pleasingly walkable and though it would not tie together a series of trails the route would follow dirt roads in remote and scenic country. This is exactly what I had been looking for!

The Moab to Durango bike route is 215m long connecting a hut system littered throughout the mountains and valleys. The possibility of staying in a hut each night is a welcomed chance at comfort within the VL. Of course, rather than biking, I will be trekking the route in tying together the mountain bike mecca towns. The route leaves Moab from the popular Sand Flats Road and climbs up into the La Sals Mountains via Geyser Pass to find my first hut. Then the route plunges dramatically down into Paradox Valley via a mix of trail and dirt roads that lead to my second hut. Leaving Paradox Valley and the meandering Dolores River, I will traipse among low-lying mesas and settle in at the Wedding Bell Hut. From there I will scamper across the relatively flat Dry Creek Basin to find the namesake cabin. From Dry Creek Basin I lumber high up into the alpine-lush of the San Miguel Mountains to encounter the Black Mesa Hut. With more hut to attain I will leave the confines of Black Mesa and climb ever higher towards Bolam Pass in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. From Bolam Pass I will follow the Colorado Trail roughly 19m and descend into Durango for a few days rest. The Moab to Durango hut-to-hut hike is not exactly a walk-in-the-park, despite the flat dirt roads and stunning, isolated beauty. The route is ’out there’ but some bed and breakfasts nooks may provide a pivotal re-supply option. I am in the progress of finding that 1 re-supply to split my food load up evenly. More to come on this.

The Colorado Trail wends its way dramatically through picturesque sierra vistas, spiky peaks and spongy, colorful high alpine tundra of the Rocky Mountains for almost 500m. The CT extends from Durango to the outer flanks of southern Denver. The CT is by far the most well-signed, well-maintained, and well-traveled trail I will ramble on in my Vagabond Loop. Though the CT is sought after by many hiking enthusiasts bucket lists, it is by no means an easy task. The CT will punish you, especially in the San Juans, with constant, steep vacillations, numbering 1,000ft. in each up and down, that will try and test your enduring will. The CT is drastically different than the other 3 major trails of the VL in topography. I expect to be on the CT in mid-June, which poses an entirely different obstacle: snow. Lingering snowfields, deep drifts, and frozen water will still be present from the winter stranglehold. In a way, this will be a welcomed change in scenery and topography from the hot and dry desert trails I’ll have trampled by then. I walked about ¾ of the CT last year while trekking north on the CDT. The CDT and CT intersected at Humpback Pass. From that junction to Spring Creek Pass, in which a highway led to the mountain hamlet of Lake City, I relished in the splendor of the beauteous alpine wonder and the physicality exerted on my body. I was the only one amid the malevolent, tall spires and vicious, slender ridgelines. (Journal entry here). I felt the world to be mine alone and a powerful yet spiritually fulfilled surge inside me swelled with the infusion of pink alpenglow from the Gods of the Mountains. I was all Man in his wild and savage form.

[‘…razor-edge butterfly. Don’t kill me because I’m pretty,’ is a phrase that comes to mind of my time in the San Juans.]

The CT leaves Spring Creek Pass and climbs up to perch on the monumentally flat Snow Mesa. San Luis Peak, a low 14,000ft.-er, breaches the Continental Divide and is a short scramble to the top from the CT. The CT traces the Divide until venturing into the low-lying swells of the Cochetopa Hills. Even at 10,000ft., the Cochetopas are mere rolling hills pocked-marked with lush meadows amid the tall, surrounding ranges seen from every vantage point. The CT pushes north into the spectacular Sawatch Range, then heads on a more easterly course into the Ten Mile Range. After a re-supply in Breckinridge, I will follow the tempered Swan River choked with massive red-hued mine tailings and eventually attain the Continental Divide for the last time on the CT. A long steady pine-forested trek continues through the Kenosha and Tarryall Mountains. By the time I reach this area, my eyes will be filled with the height of the alpine wildflower bloom. While visually enamored and my olfactory senses piqued with the colorful floral scene, I will quickly make my way to the eastern terminus of the CT along the South Platte River and have a brief spell in the largest metropolitan area on any trail on the VL.

As stated earlier, the CT is vastly different than the AZT, HT and GET but I feel it does not get lost in my ‘driven wanderer’ theme. These high mountains provided relief from the summer heat for Native Americans, Mexicans, and mountain men. The Rockies stood out like a fortress wall above the Great Plains. In order to get to the vortex of the Four Corners area the Rockies had to be flanked or scaled. Mountain men and scouts, like Kit Carson, led pioneers through this area, Escalante and Dominguez sallied in a lost state for months among the mesas, and the Utes grazed their sheep up in the high meadows. Eventually, in their different times, they ambled down to the red deserts below. The interlinking of the HT to the CT and south to the GET is bridging the gap between cultures, topography, and the wilderness mind of the whole region. The region is vast, so I must connect them all.

Linking the gap south from the Colorado Trail to the Grand Enchantment Trail is next: a route through the Sangre de Cristos.




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