Tuesday, 24-June – Colorado Trail section near Molas Lake, CO
Trip miles: 0 miles
Route taken: campground trail to Colorado Trail
Average Gas mileage: n/a
Weather: cool (40F) in the morning, cool (72F) and cloudy with light breezes in the afternoon
Elevation: From about 10,500 ft to 11,000 ft
- spotting a bobcat during the first 30 minutes of our hike
- hiking a portion of the Colorado Trail
Last night's low temperature was not as cold as we thought it might be – warmer than a few nights in Chaco Culture National Monument – but cold enough to warrant gloves to prepare breakfast. With no driving today we were hiking out of the campground by 7:30 and reached the junction with the Colorado Trail in about 20 minutes. Not long after we headed north (towards Durango), hubby spotted a head movement. He thought it might be a fox or a domestic cat. He had time to snap a “head shot” before the animal stood up and walked behind the rocks. In fact, it was a bobcat! There was no mistaking the strong hind legs and bobbed tail. Later, a couple of hikers from the area told us there had been a young bobcat reported near here. They also said there are mountain goats, sheep and elk to be found. We had seen fresh elk and deer tracks all along the trail but had not spotted the animals that made them. We did see a lovely blue Western Bluebird and many pretty wildflowers. The ground strawberries were only now in bloom so the berries would not be ready to pick for a few weeks still.
When we were planning our trip we chose to hike this section of the Colorado Trail because it was described as a good sampling of environments to be found in other sections along the entire trail. If it seemed interesting enough we would consider coming back to hike in this area again. We were quite pleased with ourselves that we were able to reach the 11,000 ft point of the trail without serious breathing difficulties, although we did not push ourselves to hike quickly. We had the whole day! The hiking was easier with the cooler temperatures and light breezes than on the hot, dry mesas we had left only yesterday. At 11,000 ft there were patches of snow still on the trail. We turned around just as the trail started to descend into a canyon. The return trip, mostly downhill, was much easier. We were back at the campground access trail by 13:30, early enough to tempt us to try a few miles on the southbound section of the Colorado Trail. We were going to see if we could get to the place where the trail crossed the Durango-Silverton Railroad and the Animas River. After about 1.5 miles we got a view of the Animas River, still waaaaaaay down below us. We hiked down two more switchbacks and could tell the trail was going to drop quickly. After doing 10 miles already today, we did not have the legs or feet left to tackle the elevation change down and back up. That hike will have to wait until our return trip. It was humbling to meet a thru-hiker who was keeping about a 14-mile/day hiking pace. He was hiking south to the next campsite after the river so still had that long downhill section and another uphill piece to climb out of the canyon before resting for the night.
We heard from another camper that the area even further north around Ouray was even more spectacular with the mountains looming closer and taller than here. Hikes there will definitely be on our return trip itinerary.
By the time we were sitting in our campsite again we had covered about 12 miles and had been hiking for 8 hours, taking three short snack/lunch breaks. The campground was still quiet so we took a refreshing 'bucket bath' and put on clean clothes. Dinner was deliberately easy: quinoa, lentils and canned spinach, spiced up with two chopped pepperoni sticks and one instant soup cup of dried lentil and couscous. We were finished with our dinner cleanup and were ready to shelter in the tent by 19:00. It felt good to stretch and put my feet over my head after today's hike.
Colorado Trail – This is a 486-mile trail between Denver and Durango. It passes through some challenging high mountain and dry desert terrains. In the section we hiked the trail goes up in elevation for several hours then goes down for another few hours, although it has decent switchbacks to moderate the grade of the ascents/descents. There are some almost flat sections in the transition areas. The environments vary between evergreen forest and open meadow. In general the trail is narrow and dusty but with a good hiking surface, although horses and mountain bikes are allowed on the trail so some parts of the trail are worn into a V-shape or are muddy. There are Colorado Trail post markers and maps at each trailhead, but there are also many side trails with no markers, which could cause a hiker to head off the trail. Along the short section we hiked we did not see distance or mile markers or signs indicating nearby campsites. For more than a day hike a detailed trail map and guide book would be highly recommended.