Spring Creek Pass to Monarch Pass:
Leaving Lake City I felt a bit of yearning to go back and do the part of the San Juans that we missed by taking the Creede Route, though I knew it was still too early and covered in too much snow. I was happy to at least be getting back on trail at Spring Creek Pass.
We climbed up to Snow Mesa. It was sunny and I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. Patches of cold, wet, deep, snow reminded us that it was not yet summer. The miles went by much faster than they had in awhile and by the end of the day we were rewarded with a golden orange sunset high up on the divide.
After a couple of days of snow and cross-country travel, to avoid traversing steep snowy slopes, we made it to the headwaters of the Cochetopa River, where we happily walked at lower elevations. The Cochetopa River was completely terraced by beavers: dam after dam, for about twenty miles, thousands of beaver dams. It was every bit as amazing as taking a tour through Mesa Verde.
For an entire day we walked along the river amazed by how much work these beavers had done, and I wondered how many generations of beavers had been transforming this landscape. As I continued to examine the river I noticed old dams that had silted in and were now a shelf of earth growing grass, irises, and trees. The Cochetopa, with its twisting and turning oxbow curves, was the kind of river you’d see pictured in a textbook to illustrate what a natural river looks like, or at least a river shaped by beavers.
By the end of the day the CDT crossed the Cochetopa River. Our map said to cross the Cochetopa on “a bridge”. I wondered what kind of bridge would span this river? By this time it was at least fifty feet wide at its narrowest expanse and more than a hundred feet wide in some places. I pictured a suspension bridge, a nice one, like the one the spans the Carbon River near Carbon River Glacier on the east side of Mt Rainier. As we got closer to where said bridge was supposed to be, it was looking less and less promising. We climbed steeply down a rocky slope where we finally caught sight of the “bridge”. It looked like a tiny stick. It was made of two log boards, maybe 8 feet long, and barely overhung the edge of the river, which was 50-60 feet wide at this point. Obviously, the river had swollen with snowmelt to many times its summer width.
Neon quickly assessed the options and said, “over here.” “Over there?” I thought, “This is crazy!” Once again I packed my camera in a dry bag and prepared myself for a surge of fear chemicals. Neon took his pack across and then came back for my pack and me.
I couldn’t even get in the water. Every time I tried to put my leg in it slid down and away on a shelf of mud. Finally, I managed to get in. Hanging onto Neon’s arm, one step and then another, I listened to Neon saying, “ready” as I carefully tried to take each step. The water was hip deep. I leaned hard into its fast current. We reached the edge where the water met a midway beaver dam. I heard Neon saying, “ok, take another step.” “Ya, take another step, wouldn’t that be nice,” I thought. “Sure, I’d like to take another step.” His ability to stand up in these waters with what seems like little effort always amazes me. He’s just standing there like he’s about to cross the street, saying “Take another step”, while I’m leaning as hard as I can into the current. I can feel the mud and gravel slowly moving out from under my footing. “Take another step–it’s just preposterous!” I try lifting my left leg. It immediately swings out high into the current. Damn, I wish I had his legs right now. I leaned forward into the bank and used the current to help me lift my leg higher and out of the water. I looked like a whale finally landing on the beach as I rolled onto the muddy bank, but I was out! I took my pack and we finished the next half of the river crossing on a beaver dam.
The next day was warm, easy walking, over rolling hills and through green valleys. I was feeling tired, electrolyte depleted, and very hungry by the end of the day. As we approached Colorado hwy-114 I felt a surge of emotions. Every time I saw a car pass I felt as though I might cry. Was I that hungry? What is all this emotion about, I wondered. I swallowed hard as we crossed the highway, and we hiked on into higher elevations where the snow reminded us again that summer had still not yet arrived.