The GoHawkeye San Juan Trail is a route I invented last summer through the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. It began in 2016 as a 140 mile loop that combined trails, forest roads and included some bushwacking. I decided to expand the trail this year by extending it 250 miles through the San Juan Volcanic field and reversing the direction from last year. Once again, this was a fundraising hike to provide adaptive sports opportunities and equipment to adaptive athletes through the GoHawkeye Foundation. This is my daily journal of the 32 day, 250 mile high altitude adventure.
Sunday July 23, 2017- I started this 250 mile adventure today. My wife Debbie and good friend Rube hiked with me for the first hour and a half from the Deep Creek TH under blue skies. The weather started to cloud up as I climbed Whipple Mountain and when I topped out, thunder and rain greeted me. It’s not long before my feet are wet while I’m hiking on the Alder Creek Trail for the rest of the day. I camped in a familiar spot along Alder Creek under overcast sky.
Monday July 24- It’s dry this morning for packing up. Today I’m hiking on the Dallas Trail along the northern edge of the Mt. Sneffles Wilderness. Up and down rolling hill with many blow downs across the trail and stream crossings under overcast skies but I manage to stay one step ahead of the rain. My campsite at Blue Lakes tonight is one I used last year.
Tuesday July 25- It rained all night but I slept pretty good. I decide to have coffee in bed and charge my devices. I get hiking by 8:30am in the drizzle. I take the Basin Trail to the Wilson Creek Trail. Meet Montrose EMT Rick and his son hiking the San Juan hut system along this killer uphill to a saddle below Mt. Ridgway. The mud is really slick along this trail as evidenced by an abandon truck stuck in the mud. Pick up the Dallas Trail continuing to the TH at Rt. 550. I reach the home of Francie Tisdel on Dexter Creek rd. in Ouray, Colorado. We met on the AT in 1998. Resupplied at Ducketts Market and “Frank” treats dinner at Outlaws Restaurant. It’s still raining during my hot tub soak but I sleep in a comfortable bed tonight. It looks like Mavis the dog has been in my stuff but everything appears ok.
Wednesday July 26- I woke up feeling sore so decided to take another soak. Francie made a great breakfast and after packing up, we head for the trailhead just up the road. Frank, Mavis and I hike to the start of the Horsethief Trail then I continue on. This trail climbs to above tree line so you want to watch out for fast moving storms with lightning. So far the weather looks promising. I meet a local coming down, it’s Mary Whitt and we have a nice chat. When I mention that I’m raising money for adaptive sports, she tells me that her husband, Bill, is a below the knee amputee. At the top of this climb is a spot named “Bridge of Heaven” so I dedicate this hike to some friends and family, in heaven, who lived their lives to the fullest. Rich Tisdel, Glider Bob, Steve Hodges, Felix Snow and my sister Connie Jo. The weather remains good so I continue on above tree line past Difficulty Creek, Wildhorse Creek and then go east on the Ridge Stock Trail to American Lake. I see a shepherd and 2 dogs as I pass his tent and camp over by the lake. One dog doesn’t appreciate me being there.
Thursday July 27- It is so exposed up here that my tent is covered inside and out with dew. Finished packing, I spend a few minutes “speaking” with the shepherd in spanish and broken english. I hear first then see his sheep covering the high mountainside. Continue on the Ridge Stock Trail which drops down to a forest road. While I’m sitting at lunch a group of ATV’s stop to make sure I’m ok. Nobody had a beer. I climb Matterhorn Creek to above tree line as ugly black clouds roll in. Decide to pass on climbing 14’er Matterhorn Peak because of the weather and continuing on with hope to climb 14’er Uncompahgre Peak tomorrow. Meet up with another Shepherd on horse back, 3 dogs and a large flock of sheep. I make a high camp on a flank of Uncompahgre as the weather clears for a nice sunset.
Friday July 28- I carry my pack up the trail to Uncompahgre Peak because I don’t want to leave it for any marmots to get into. Up high near the top, I reach a steep rock scramble and stash my pack in the rocks where I think it’s safe. I reach the summit at 9:30am. After retrieving my pack I hike down and link back up with the Ridge Stock Trail over to Blue Creek. Above Blue Creek the trail disappears and it’s cross country(x/c) across the mesa. I can see rain clouds all around and hurry on. I don’t want to camp up here in bad weather. Now the rain is coming down in the distance so I bushwack off the mesa to hopefully find the next trail that I need. As I get toward the bottom the rain hits hard. I hunker under a tree for awhile but this rain is not going to let up. I race to set up the tent nearby on the “flattest” spot I can find. It rains all night.
Saturday July 29- Raining and very low clouds this morning. Search upstream and find the Larson Lakes Trail which leads up and over another mesa. Completely flat terrain on top and in the fog and drizzle, I have to be alert for the spot where this trail drops off of the mesa. Sure enough, it’s a little hard to find but I locate it and continue on a long descent to finally reach the junction with Crystal Lakes and the Independence Trails. It is still raining with a long downhill to go. I lose the trail in the area where Crystal Lakes Trail and Independence trail split. I search around but its really overgrown here and finally take a calculated guess and find it…briefly. It leads to an overgrown stream crossing and thats it, no further trail. I flounder along the stream then decide to climb to the highest point and luckily stumble on the trail, now much easier to follow because it runs along a underground irrigation pipe. The trail is wet with slick mud and slow going. My plan is to hitchhike 5 miles into Lake City when I reach Rt.149 and call my friends Ken and Cindy but as I approach the highway from switchbacks above, I see their FJ Cruiser parked below. They are nowhere around however a note on the driver’s seat says to drive it to their house!
Sunday July 30- Awesome day fishing Continental Divide Lake with Ken and Cindy and the first day off on this hike. I’m well fed from a fish dinner last night and a big breakfast this morning. We catch our limit of 12 big ones, mostly rainbow trout and a couple splake. We head over to Packers for pizza and a few beers with friends. Back home, we filet all the fish and store in the freezer. It’s been a long productive fun day so it’s off to bed early. I met Ken and Cindy in 1999 when we were hikers on the Colorado Trail.
Monday July 31- Ken with his dogs take me to the trailhead to begin the Devil’s Creek Trail. They hike for awhile with me on this trail that is a steady climb before turning back. The trail becomes overgrown and hard to follow as it nears the top. Now, above treeline, I continue on cross country with no trail to follow. Lo and behold I finally reach Devil’s Lake, a lonely windswept place in the Powderhorn Mountains. I try fishing with no results and make camp behind a brush wind break. Later, a group of fathers and son show up on a outfitter guided backpacking trip and camp nearby.
Tuesday August 1- I’m bushwacking and route finding right away, up here in the high alpine, on a second day in a row with no rain. I’m navigating by map and experience as I descend in search of a trail. By following a stream, I’m able to link up with the Inferno Canyon Trail and eventually the Cibolla Creek forest road. I follow this dirt road north, with my fly rod in hand, for 4 miles fishing along the way and catch 1 brook trout. I locate the Rough Creek Trail and stow my rod. This trail is in nice shape until I reach a stream crossing that is too wide to rock hop so I cross and get wet feet. It’s time to make camp on the only “flat” spot available.
Wednesday August 2- Long slow climb on the Rough Creek Trail which is in good condition to reach a saddle on the continental divide and join up with the Colorado Trail. Southbound CT hiker Todd is here so I join him for a break. Along comes CT hiker “UV” and offers to sing a song playing her ukelele. She asks what genre would we like and Todd says rock. Original or cover? We both want original. She sings this cool song about a kitty cat she wrote while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail last year. She is very pretty and has a fantastic voice. Naturally I get distracted, forget to check my phone or maps and hike off only to somehow miss the next trail I’m looking for. I have to bushwack down the Miners Creek drainage until I find the trail. The weather has been threatening but so far the rain has held off. I find a good camp spot among some interesting boulders.
Thursday August 3- I break camp on a partly cloudy morning but it’s not long before drizzle becomes a steady downpour. This Miners Creek Trail is long and goes on forever. It’s aptly named as well with far too many swollen creek crossings then I like. It rains hard for a few hours, I’m hiking in full rain gear and my feet are soaked. Finally it lets up as I reach Miners Creek Road, a dirt road that will lead me towards Creede, Colorado where I will meet Fred Winston. Find some cell phone reception so I call Deb who is coming to Creede but is spending the night in Lake City with Ken and Cindy. Check in with Fred who is in route from Montrose. We will meet at TommyKnockers Bar in town today after a few more miles on FS roads. After a couple of beers, we drive 9 miles east to the 4UR ranch(owned by Fred’s family) where we will meet our friends Quintin,Cole,Ron and Paul known as the “Dirty Roller Posse”. We enjoy lazagna dinner at Fred’s house on the ranch.
Friday August 4- This group is known as dirty rollers because they are all paralyzed with the exception of Quintin’s son Cole. Their gloves are dirty from pushing wheelchairs and they’re always moving. They access the backcountry with the use of ATVs and Razor 4×4. Deb arrives and a plan is made to drive dirt roads and jeep trails to visit the Wheeler Geological Site, a significant feature in the San Juan Volcanic Field. This area is part of the LaGarita Caldera, site of the largest known volcanic eruption in the world. Deb and I ride with Fred in the Razor while the rest ride their own atvs and Cole on his motorcycle. Zipping along dirt roads then on a trail with mud puddles as the sky grows dark. The Wheeler Site offer some unique and colorful erosion features that can be viewed from an overlook. It starts to rain and it’s a long cold haul back to the ranch not enjoyed very much by Deb who would rather be walking. We all warm up on a dinner is grilled brats and good beer.
Saturday August 5- Todays adventure is to go fishing at the 4UR’s private lake, part of Lost Lakes, above the Rio Grande Reservoir. This involves an hour drive and then a long muddy trail to reach the lake. Deb decides to remain behind and hike some trails around the ranch. It’s pretty amazing to watch these guys load and unload atvs, motorcycle and razor from trailers while in wheelchairs. They even have an extra atv for me! The trail into the lake is muddy and blocked in a couple of places by downed trees. We suspected this so we’re packing a chainsaw. The pristine lake has a comfortable fishing camp on the shore and handy when we take refuge from the approaching downpour. When the rain stops, Cole and I fish the lake along the bank while the others go explore around the property led by Fred. The fishing is good and I catch a couple of large brook trout and a cutthroat trout. We return to Creede for a Mexican Dinner then back to the ranch. Today marks two weeks on the trail.
Sunday August 6- After breakfast and packing up, we say goodbye until next time to the guys and Deb drives me to the Deep Creek Trailhead. She hikes for awhile with me before turning back and tackling the long drive back to Telluride. I hike on and meet several groups of hikers returning to the TH. Chat with John and Sally, day hikers from Austin TX. Make camp just short of the Seven Parks area in a high alpine meadow.
Monday August 7- I reach Seven Parks by “2nd breakfast” aka my mid morning break. Here, I pick up a dirt road for several, mostly downhill, miles until reaching the Roaring Fork/Seven Parks TH. I attempt the Fisher Mountain Trail but after a couple miles and entering a reclaimed pine beetle kill area, the trail becomes impossible to follow. The terrain ahead looks extremely rugged so I decide on plan B and retreat back to the TH and another trail option. It’s good to have a plan B. I meet a couple of horse-packers who confirm good trail to the Goose Creek Trail. Find a potential camp but there are too many flies and when the horse packers show up they confirm it’s popular with the riding community. That explains the flies so I’m ready to move on. A couple of miles up the trail I spy a high flat spot above the creek then spot a moose. This looks like a good place to camp,the weather is moving in and sure enough it starts to rain just as I finish setting up the tarptent.
Tuesday August 8- The trail becomes faint and hard to follow so I have to keep my eyes open. It’s a sunny morning and I stop to fish a nice looking stretch of creek but no luck or even see a fish. Keep trucking up this drainage that never seems to end. I’m looking for a trail that cuts left but find nothing so continue on. I’m bushwacking cross country now and getting up into the high basin. Pine Beetle have killed all the larger pine trees up here. It’s a guess finding the trail so I’m checking the map and having a drink of water when I see rain coming in fast! I quickly scramble to a flat spot and set up the tarp, diving in just as hard rain hits. Now, I’ve realized that my last pair of reading glasses are missing. When the storm passes, I look all around for them but to no avail. Bummer. I still have my 2.75 fishing glasses however they hurt my eyes if used too long. Oh well. It’s only 5pm so I break camp and scramble higher up toward a distant saddle. Finally reaching the top, I see Little Goose Lake and then the lower Goose Lake. Little Goose is my destination and I pick up a faint trail over to it. After collecting water, scout around until finding a nice campsite with a view of the Goose Lakes. Today kicked my butt!
Wednesday August 9- I’m climbing right away on this sunny morning and soon reach the Continental Divide. Here I enter the heart of the Weminuche Wilderness and the views are breathtaking! When I reach the Continental Divide Trail(CDT), turn west into a jumble of mountains. There is no predicting where the trail might lead through this terrain, it appears to lead in every direction. I meet a southbound CDT section hiker named Brown Bag. He is headed for Wolf Creek Pass and resupply in Pagosa Springs. I see rain clouds approaching so decide to take a break under the tarp and avoid a drenching. The storm moves on after about an hour and so do I. Move off the trail when a mule pack train passes headed for Wolf Creek Pass, a wrangler says the side trail that I will be looking for may not exist anymore. There are a couple more options if this is true and sure enough when I reach the vicinity the Middle Fork of the Piedra River Trail #588 is not to be found. It has been dry of water sources all day and the weather is closing in again. I’m forced to tarp to avoid the storm then eat a no-cook dinner due to lack of water.
Thursday August 10- My plan for today is to take a series of trails that descend south and out of the wilderness in order to reach Williams Reservoir where I will meet Tony and Craig. They have driven in dirt roads and will bring all kinds of goodies. However right now I’m still climbing along the divide unable to find one trail and looking for another numbered 651. I reach a unsigned trail that heads south and has good tread. This has to be it. There are many down trees I have to scramble over or around and at times the going is slow. I reach Palisade Meadows and enjoy lunch and good water. Scout around then pick up the Indian Creek Trail which will take me to the Williams Creek Trail. When I get to the junction there they are! We have a trailside picnic before heading down a few more miles to reach the trailhead. Tony’s truck is waiting to take us over to the Teal Campground at the reservoir.
Friday August 11- I’m looking forward to two days off here! After a hearty breakfast we go fishing, Craig on a paddleboard and me and Tony in his inflatable boat. The fishing is slow with only a few kokanee and trout caught. After a excellent lunch we try again in different spots with the same success. The rain moves in on and off throughout the afternoon. Craig is our chef and there isn’t anything he can’t do in the well stocked kitchen of his camp trailer.
Saturday August 12- Today was spent much like yesterday. Fishing, eating and relaxing then repeat. Typically it’s sunny in the morning then the clouds will build up and then it rains in the afternoon and evening. The early morning fishing on the lake is slow again so back in camp, I wash my clothes in a bucket and spread them to dry in between rain showers. In the afternoon, we fish the outlet below the dam however that too is slow and there is a lot of pressure on the trout from many anglers. Tony has brought a box of trail food, seven days worth, that Deb and I packed before the start of this hike. This resupply will last me until Silverton, Colorado. This is my last night in camp so after an excellent meal we tie one on!
Sunday August 13- After coffee club and breakfast, we begin breaking camp. The boys are hitting the road and eventually heading to Wyoming to watch the eclipse in a week or so. Tony drive me to the nearby Poison Park Trailhead and I’m hiking by 9:30am on the Weminuche Trail #592. Several miles down the trail I realize I forgot to get my meats and cheese out of Tony’s cooler. Bummer! I’ll have to get along without much protein this week. This portion of the trail has seen a lot of traffic and is relatively easy with short climbs. When the trail forks below Granite Peak the going gets tougher. The left goes to Divide Lakes but I decide to go right to Granite Lake. Soon this trail becomes overgrown and hard to follow. It’s getting late and I somehow find the lake by following my map. It’s impossible to reach the other side due to impassable granite cliffs and I find a nice campsite on this side. I don’t fish and jump in the tent as the rain arrives.
Monday August 14- Granite Lake is very pretty this morning. I take the trail out that I came in on yesterday and sure enough can’t find the trail north. I resort to bushwacking, map reading and looking out for trail indicators. I locate it by hiking higher and continue on and reaching the Los Pinos River. I follow this down river until locating the CDT and turn west on good trail. This trail is pretty rugged and climbs frequently. I camp beneath The Window on the high alpine tundra in the butt brush
Tuesday August 15- The mornings are usually clear and sunny and then the thunderclouds come in. The hiking is strenuous but the trail is easy to follow. I reach Ute Lake and catch 4 good size brook trout and release them. Hike towards Twin Lakes and meet a couple Forest Service workers headed south to Ute Lake to take water samples. Spend some time scouting Twin Lakes for fishing and camping but nothing appeals to me so decide to push on to Middle Ute Lake. At a trail junction, I talk to another FS water sampler. He confirms a decent campsite near Middle Ute and warns the area around the lake is wet and swampy. His info is correct and I find a spot to camp. It actually starts to snow with flurries and rain mix and I’m glad to retreat from the wind to my steadfast shelter.
Wednesday August 16- Clear and sunny this morning and after a few miles I reach West Ute Lake where I stop to fish and lunch. I catch a nice cutthroat trout and release it. I can’t bring myself to kill these small high alpine trout. I’ve got adequate food supplies so it’s no big deal. Shortly after leaving West Ute Lake, I realize this CDT trail is not the one on my old map but a not so recent reroute. It is kicking my butt and when I reach Nebo Creek Junction, discover I have to hike over 12,493ft. Hunchback Pass. I continue on this trail until descending into the Beartown site and camping in some willows with a nearby stream.
Thursday August 17- I’ve got another sunny morning to climb up to the Divide tablelands. It’s really nice up here, the high plateau is rocky with low ridges at first then changes to tundra. I start meeting Colorado Trail southbound hikers and stop to talk to Scott from Grand Junction and Jim from WA. They are boyhood friends who started hiking in this area as kids and meet often to hike trails around the country. I take an unsigned trail junction over to Verde Lakes and camp on the east side of the east lake. I catch a couple of brook trout before bedtime.
Friday August 18- I fished all morning on the Verde Lakes then hiked over to Highland Mary Lakes and fished the rest of the day catching and releasing many rainbow and brook trout. I camped and fished in this area last year with Craig and Tony who hiked in with supplies for me. Find a nice campsite for the night.
Saturday August 19- I break camp early because I expect to see many day hikers today. I catch two rainbow trout then begin hiking down to the trailhead. This is a popular place and I soon meet many hikers on the trail. The parking lot is packed with cars and I expect to walk the 3 mile dirt road to Silverton. There is one person leaving and Kevin from Grand Junction, CO. offers a ride. He takes me to the Funnel Cake Restaurant and recommends the Mexican Funnel Cake. Awesome! I know some people in town and poke around unsure if I’m staying. Walking in an alley, I notice a blue neon vacancy sign at the rear of the Blair Street Hostel. Jan Sweet is the owner/operator of this pretty “sweet” 420 friendly hostel. I take a $30 shared room figuring no one will want to share with me. Laundry is $5 and the showers are clean and hot. Mexican and Margs for dinner tonight!
Sunday August 20- I cure my hangover with breakfast at the Brown Bear Restaurant before checking out of the hostel. I walk out of town and up RT. 550 to reach South Mineral Creek. Fish and hike the next 5 miles but no fish in hand only a couple of nibbles. Just past the Campground I catch one below the culvert just like last year. It might even be the same fish! I hike a short ways down river to a campsite I spied on the way up. After setting up the tent, I fish for a while longer catching 2 Brook Trout.
Monday August 21- Many people drove in to the campground throughout the night and to the Trailhead early this morning in order to view the Solar Eclipse. It is supposed to be full at 11:00am but I’m not packing the special eyeglasses to view it. When a dark cloud covers the sun you can see the eclipse taking place through this filter. There have been many people on the trail and when I reach Ice Lake, there are many people hanging out around the lake. I reach Fuller Lake which is about a half mile above Ice Lake around 11:30am. No people up here and I fish until late afternoon catching 8 Cutthroat and Brook trout. Thick dark clouds roll in threatening rain so I make camp and hunker down. It rains on and off for the rest of the evening and throughout the night.
Tuesday August 22- Grey skies this morning however the tent is dry. I pack up then fish until 9:30am catching a nice cutthroat and a couple of brook trout. Pleasant hiking down to Ice Lake then up to Island lake. Climbing the ridge above Island Lake is a bit slick and steep then over the top into Swamp Canyon. The descent is a very slippery scree and small talus rock field. Halfway down, I slip and fall, sliding for a bit, but luckily no injuries except for a couple of scrapes on my palm. The trail starts to flatten out and from here down to East Ophir is easy to follow. I camp in the same spot as I did last year.
Wednesday August 23- I’m up early to climb the 3 mile Blixt trail rising from 9,800 ft to 12,000 feet. It’s a beautiful day so I relax and enjoy the climb. When I reach Oscar’s Pass at the top of the climb, the plan is to hike several more miles to Columbine lake and spend the night. If I hike left at the pass and hike several miles, I could be home. Hmmmm, I change the plan and hike home because Debbie, a hot shower and a good meal sound a lot better after a 32 day journey. No need to stretch it to 33 days, I’m heading home! The route to follow is the Wasatch Trail down to Lena Basin then pick up the Wasatch Connection Trail and hike up to the top of the ski area. I reach the ridgeline and pick up the See Forever ski run that is a hiking trail in the summer. Now that I’m headed for home I’ve been hiking faster and making good time. I start passing ski lifts that are waiting for snow and winter to start turning.
I reach the Gondola which serves as free public transportation between Telluride and Mt. Village and jump on board. Heading down to MV I call Deb and ask her to meet me at the end of the Gondola line and who should just happen to be there? None other than our dear friend Rube. These two hiked with me on the first day of this journey. It’s good to be home!
This 250 fundraiser hike raised $10,000 the GoHawkeye Foundation programs. Supporters donated per mile from 5 cents to 10 dollars. This past year(2017), we helped 13 adaptive athletes and three adaptive organizations with$45,000 for equipment and unique experiences. We want to do more in 2018 but we need your help! Please donate here and follow my next fundraiser hike this summer on our website banner: Where in the world is Hawkeye?