2018 GoHawkeye San Juan Trail Hike JournalMay 22, 2019
The GoHawkeye San Juan Trail(GST) is loop trail around the San Juan volcanic field in the San Juan mountains of southwest Colorado. It is currently 300 miles in length, has a challenging vertical gain and loss of 66,000 feet with an average elevation of 10,400 feet. The trail contains 9 fourteener mountains and 8 resupply opportunities in the towns of Telluride, Durango, Bayfield, Pagosa Springs, Creede, Lake City, Silverton, and Ouray. This route is made up from established trails (some of which are not maintained), forest service roads and some bushwacking is necessary for a few places. This was a 36-day fundraiser hike for the GoHawkeye Foundation. Here is my daily journal.
Thursday, July 19- A group hike kicked off this year’s fundraiser hike on the GoHawkeye San Juan Trail(GST). Sunshine Mesa TH East was the starting point for the 9.25-mile hike on the Lizard Head Trail and the Cross Mountain Trail to our camp at the head of the East Fork Trail. Bill and Barbara, Rube, Bailey, Jess, Kacey, Pam, and Craig joined me today on all or part of this hike. When we all reached the camp, Craig whipped up a delicious BBQ for 12. Only 290.75 miles to go!
Friday, July 20- What a fun party and fundraiser kickoff yesterday. I started at 10 am on the East Fork trail with Deb and Craig who are hiking out and back. I’m also hiking with Matt who intends to hike with me for a few days. There are several creek crossings before reaching Bolum Pass and at one of these, I discover my Steripen is not holding a charge and I will have to resort to using bleach drops to purify my drinking water until I can replace it. As we approach the pass, the trail gets confusing and it starts to thunderstorm. I get turned around and follow Forest Service road #579 in the wrong direction but quickly realize my mistake. As we descend #579, begin looking for a campsite but none to be found for a few more miles. I’m somewhat sore and glad to be off my feet. Nice to carry only snacks here because I’ll resupply in Durango tomorrow.
Saturday, July 21- We’re hiking by 9 am on a glorious morning and it’s starting to get hot! Take a break at Upper Hermosa Creek CG and FS #578. The route now heads east on Hermosa Park Road(578) to RT. 550 and the Durango Mountain Resort. Matt decides to rest more and catch up later. It’s a dusty gravel road walk but I eventually reach a spot above the resort and contact Paul Bikis who will be off work soon and will pick me up. We drive to Durango for the gear store to replace the Steripen, Old Timers Cafe for great burgers and beer, City Market to buy provisions, then to Paul’s parents’ house for the night. Eric and Linda are very nice with a beautiful home, hot shower, and laundry and a very comfortable bed.
Sunday, July 22- We are up at 7 am for breakfast then head out for a photo shoot on our way to the trailhead. Paul hopes to make a documentary film about me hiking and the formation of GoHawkeye and the work we do for adaptive sports. He will be camping overnight with me. Purgatory Flats Trail in more uphill than the name suggests. It follows a tributary to the Animas River Trail #675. We film some short segments of me walking by and while I do some fishing along the river too. We reach camp for the night and film an interview segment for his movie.
Monday, July 23- Break camp and fish this morning. The trout are checking out my fly but not biting so I head up the trail with my rod in hand. Find another stretch of good water and catch a small rainbow trout. Paul gets more photos and video then turns back at Needle Creek. I climb the 6.5 mile Needle Creek Trail #504 to Chicago Basin. There are quite a few campers here as this is base camp for 4 different 14’ers but I manage to find a flat spot. The usual evening rain comes through. I met a Wilderness Ranger today who said there is private land nearby so don’t be surprised to hear a chainsaw. Sure enough, when it stops raining, I hear chainsawing. There are a lot of white mountain goats in this area sure to chew on your gear if not careful. The GoHawkeye trail from here goes up to Columbine Pass
Tuesday, July 24- Packed and hiking by 8 am up to Twin Lakes and attempt Windom Peak. There is no camping up at Twin Lakes Basin so I’ll have to take my pack with me because there is not a good place to leave it or hang in a tree. The trail up to Twin Lakes below Needle Ridge is a couple of miles long with a lot of steps. From here follow rock cairns up to Windom Peak. I bury my pack in the rocks and disguise it pretty well and then continue on following the cairns up. I need to get back in time to stop Marmots or Goats from finding my pack and chewing on the straps. The route to Windom is harder than I thought it would be including some hand over hand climbing in one spot. There are even white goats with horse-like faces up here too! I reach the top and see dark clouds moving this way so I don’t linger long. Retrieve my pack and continue down as a serious storm hits but luckily I’m below tree line, have good rain gear and find a nice flat spot in the base camp area.
Wednesday, July 25- I’m hiking by 8:30 am because today I need to hike 3.5 miles with a 1,500 foot gain to reach 12,680 foot Columbine Pass before noon. I reach the upper basin in 2 hours and from here the pass looks imposing but I soon reach the top at 11:00 am. The view down to nearby Columbine Lake is awesome and I soon reach the shore for some lunch. Notice clouds are starting to build and as I descend, begin to meet hikers going up. Johnson Creek Trail #504 is very popular and I continue to meet hikers going up but with these darkening skies, I’ll bet they have to lay up before the pass. I’m glad I’m heading down on the nice trail. Oops, I spoke too soon and run into many blown down trees as I approach Vallecito Creek and my campsite for tonight.
Thursday, July 26- Beautiful morning as I hike south on the Vallecito Trail #529 which parallels Vallecito Creek. I meet a Moose who poses for some pictures. This too is a popular trail and I meet several groups bunched at the river ford trying to keep their shoes dry. I just plunge right across as the lightweight shoes I’m wearing will dry out soon. Further down the trail, I find a great spot to bathe, wash clothes, fish and hang out. I’m expecting to meet Craig, Tony, and Pablo who will hike in from the camp they have at Vallecito Camp Ground. The trout fishing is excellent as I hit another productive spot down the trail. I somehow miss the others but find a high spot to get cell service. I receive a text with the campsite number. There is nobody here but I do find a bottle of Irish whiskey and a few beers so life is good! The boys roll in after fishing and we enjoy a great meal cooked by chef Craig.
Friday, July 27- This day off the trail included a great breakfast, fishing on Vallecito Reservoir and bear shenanigans. Craig is a great cook and we’re treated to an awesome breakfast. The reservoir is very low and the fishing is very slow. We troll around in Tony’s inflatable boat, Pablo is paddling a one-man float and Craig is on a paddleboard. After fishing and only catching a few, Craig drives me into Bayfield, CO to resupply for the next leg of the journey and I leave a message for Matt. Back at camp, Craig whips up another scrumptious supper. We haven’t seen Matt yet so we eat his share lol. Shortly after we go to bed, I’m awakened by a bear and friends rummaging through our camp. Pablo and I are in tents and Craig and Tony are in campers. Craig hits his porch light and we yell out, scaring the bears off. They don’t bother us the rest of the night but we can hear them ransacking sites in the campground throughout the night.
Saturday, July 28- This morning we discover bear bite marks in Tony’s small beer cooler. After a light breakfast, we break camp, load up and head out for fishing on the lake. We will be camping in another place tonight. Slow fishing on the reservoir and we even try the outlet below the dam but there is a lot of people here. We pack up the boats and drive over to the Pine River Campground. The Vallecito River and the Pine River feed the Vallecito Reservoir. The GC is small and lame the way it’s laid out. We plan on hiking in 3 miles and fishing the Pine River early tomorrow. I will continue on, solo, from there. I just settled in when I hear a car and voices. Matt has shown up with a uber driver from Durango. He wanted to catch us and explain that he is having problems with the altitude and will meet me next week after trying some treatments. We catch up about his attempt in Chicago basin last week then heads back to Durango.
Sunday, July 29- We have to hike 3 miles northeast on the Pine River Trail #523 to reach public fishing because a private ranch owns all the river and land around here. The public area sees many fishermen so the fish are wary here however the fishing improves the more miles you hike up the trail. When we reach the Emerald Lake Trail junction, I say goodbye to the boys. They will hike back to the cars and I will continue up the trail. I plan on meeting Deb in 5 days at Wolf Creek but also want to enjoy this river too. I hike and fish in a few spots until I make camp at the junction with the Flint Creek Trail.
Monday, July 30- I’m hiking along the upper Pine river today on trail # 523 until I reach the Continental Divide Trail(CDT) #813. I look over and spot some fish so I drop my pack and rig up my fly rod and catch a rainbow trout on the first cast. Next, I spot one resting in the shade of a big willow bush so I float a big fly by his nose a couple of times. Boom! He can’t resist, puts up a good fight and is a nice big rainbow that I release. I move over to another pool and toss the line a few times then land another rainbow. I’m satisfied here, pack up the gear, grab a snack and I’m hiking again all within this hour break. Later in the afternoon reach the CDT and turn southbound. This stretch of the trail climbs along the North Fork of the Pine River and I decide to camp on the edge of a clearing where the trail leaves the river now a small creek.
Tuesday, July 31- I start out climbing this morning, soon reach tree line and now hiking up high in brushy willows. I spot two moose in a small pond and move on pretty much high cruising today. I keep bumping another southbound hiker “Greenlight” who is covered from head to toe to avoid the sun. I need to complete 14 miles today over pretty hard terrain. I get careless and gouge my leg good on a deadfall crossing Ouch! It’s late in the afternoon when I reach Squaw Pass where a group of campers offers to make room for me but there is still a couple of hours of hiking and I move on. I keep leapfrogging Greenlight on this uphill climb to reach a saddle with water near the Williams Creek Trail #587.
Wednesday, August 1- Greenlight passes by this morning as I’m breaking camp. My goal today is to hike another 14 rugged miles to reach Piedra Pass. I catch up to Greenlight for my mid-morning break and get to know him better. He is from Montana and has been hiking the Colorado Trail(CT). He decided to take a side trip through the spectacular Weminuche Wilderness and eventually return to the CT to finish in Durango. He is also headed for Piedra Pass. This next stretch of trail is pretty impressive with some exposed hiking along a narrow ledge high on a cliff called “The Knife Edge”. After a few miles, I reach familiar terrain from last year and meet some horse packers who are skeptical that I will reach my goal today. Ha! I push on through the afternoon with only a small cloudburst. Meet a southbound long-distance hiker “Symbiosis” who I met on the PCT in 2009. We hang out and catch up. He knows Francis Tapon(mutual friend) and hiked with him in Madagascar. I reach the Piedra Pass around 7 pm and camp near some church people. Curtis walks over. He is with a mixed age group of men called “Voices in the Wilderness”. Luckily they don’t start singing and I get a good nights sleep.
Thursday, August 2- I’m hiking by 8 am but soon see Greenlight hiking towards me. He is lost and soon so are we. This is not familiar from last year! We hike up the right side of this drainage and I spot trail on the other side. We hike down and across to it and soon we are at the true Piedra Pass. I leave Greenlight here. He is continuing on the CDT and I’m taking the West Fork “Rainbow” trail to meet Deb. I climb for a while then it’s downhill for 12 miles. In 2007, this trail was lush and beautiful however a fire in 2012 has made this a charred mess. Overgrown with fireweed and blow downs on a steep sided trail, nobody is maintaining this. It’s slow going and with no shade it’e very hot. I stop for lunch in the blazing sun. Yuck! I switchback down a steep stretch and all at once the trail has been maintained. Rainbow Hot Springs is in this area but I don’t linger eager to meet Deb. Five agonizing downhill miles to go and my feet are killing me. I meet fly fisherman Alex from Pagosa Springs and we hike along to the same trailhead. With less than a mile to go, I hear a vehicle pull in somewhere and when I see a glint of yellow through the trees I know it’s Deb. What timing! Naturally, she has cold beer so we invite Alex to enjoy one. I will leave the trail for a family reunion in Fort Collins over the weekend. We drive to South Fork and the Quality Inn. It’s good to be off my feet!
Friday, August 3 to Sunday, August 5- We drive to Fort Collins via Elsenburg, CO and I-25 north. We have a condo rented and meet my brother Kevin from Seattle, sister Kim with daughters Hayley and Caitlin from Indiana. Brother Greg and 94 yo mom Alice from Maine are flight delayed and will not arrive until tomorrow. Pizza, salad, and beer for dinner. On Saturday we go to the Briggsdale, CO Friends and Family annual reunion located 65 miles east of Fort Collins. My mother, Alice, was born in a two-room house here. We dine and drink at the New Belgium Brewery. On Sunday we attend the Jones Family reunion at City Park in Fort Collins and in the afternoon Deb and I head south on I-25. We check into the Days Inn of Colorado City and have a very nice supper at the 3 Sisters Grill.
Monday, August 6- After breakfast we hit the road and stop for resupply in Alamosa, CO. then drive on to Wolf Creek Pass. I pack up and hike north on the CDT by 11:30 am. Take it slow as the trail climbs to the Continental Divide. The last time I hiked this stretch was in 2003 and it seems more uphill and even harder now but that just could be all the food and drink I consumed over the weekend. I meet a few people on the trail today and I find a stealth campsite above Rock Lake.
Tuesday, August 7- I typically have coffee in bed at 6:30 am then it usually takes me 1.5 hours to break camp. Today I’m hiking by 8:30 am. Cruising high on the divide and it’s blustery too. I typically hike for two hours then rest and snack for one-half hour. Repeat. I stop for my mid-morning rest along the shore of Spotted Lake. There is a lot of small trout here playing hide and seek in the weeds. Push on above Archuleta Lake because I’m curious to meet with Sawtooth Trail(828) in a few miles. I arrive at where it is supposed to be on the map but it’s nowhere to be found. It looks like I will bushwack from here. I can find traces of trail but the land is eroded and overgrown traversing through a burnt forest. It turns out the Forest Service has closed the trail for these reasons and it’s possible to continue on the CDT to Upper Goose Lake then drop down to the Goose Creek Trail. This route I’m taking is much shorter and direct. Virtually all the trail is gone, so it takes reading the signs like old sawed logs and animal trails. The travel is slow but finally, I reach Goose Creek Trail(828) and a nice camp a mile down this trail.
Wednesday, August 8- This is familiar territory from my hike last summer when I was going in the opposite direction. Much of this trail has burned as well but not all. I’m heading downstream and pass my camp spot from last year. The trail becomes easier to follow and there are some nice fishing spots. I take the Roaring Fork Trail #807 and meet some horse packers coming down. It’ a steep climb through the trees that turns to dry sage thru rolling terrain. Plenty of water along the way to stay hydrated as I leave the Weminuche Wilderness and turn north on Forest Service Road #528. I’ll stay on this gradually climbing dirt road for 4 miles until I reach the trailhead for Deep Creek Trail # 806. From here, I hike a mile or so down to where I camped last summer.
Thursday, August 9- I had to pack up a wet tent this morning due to the dew, lol, however, I’m cruising by the usual 8:30 am a casual start. This is a great trail with lots of wild strawberries. It’s in good shape with a gentle grade. I’m making good time and decide to try and reach Creede today! Lower down the trail I find red raspberries so I graze as I hike. When I meet some day hikers, I know the TH is near. I walk across the valley toward Creede however the last half mile is narrow and dangerous with traffic. I hitch a ride with a local character who drops me at the “famous” Creede Hotel. Luckily they have one vacancy, the Soapy Smith room for $145 incl breakfast. Soapy was a con artist and gangster in the old west so I know they won’t mind an old pirate staying here. The kitchen serves up a good Cubano for lunch. The local laundry is located in Kip’s Grill, a bar/restaurant that has machines. Great to have a beer while waiting for your clothes! I visited Tommy Knockers Tavern, one of my favorites and my dinner at Arps was an excellent shrimp scampi.
Friday, August 10- I slept well last night in a fluffy bed on a quiet night at the hotel. It’s another beautiful morning and I have breakfast in the outdoor dining area before mailing a package from the post office down the block. I resupplied yesterday at the grocery store so I’m hiking out of town by 10:00 am. The “trail” is a gravel road heading up to the mines and eventually the Continental Divide. After a few miles, a guy stops and offers a ride up to the equity mine in the back of his truck. Once at the mine, I hike a couple of miles and meet Sophie, 81-year-old from Creede out for a hike and we have a nice chat. When I finally reach the TH, I decide to camp here and wait to see if Matt Sweeney shows up. I talked with him last night and he said he would try and make it. A guy drops his girlfriend off. She is hiking her first solo thru-hike to Durango on the Colorado Trail and is starting in the rain. Good Luck. It starts to hail hard then rains through the night.
Saturday, August 11- I woke in a frozen tent and the sounds of nearby camper and hikers slamming car doors and heading out to hike 14’er San Luis Peak. It’s cold and I pack up, hiking by 6:45 am. It’s about 6 miles from here to the summit of the peak. The day dawns clear and I make pretty good time but these miles have many ups and downs. When I reach the saddle to the summit, I bury my pack in the rocks and continue up. On the way, I meet a couple of hikers who are hiking the Colorado Trail as well as a 7-year-old and his dad. He finished his first 14’er today. As I approach the top there are 3 guys yelling and flying a drone taking pictures of their antics. Luckily they shut it off as I arrive. It’s almost 11:45 am and after a short break, head back down to retrieve my pack and retrace the miles to where I met the Divide this morning. Hiking south on the CDT, It takes a while to find the East Fork of Mineral Creek Trail #593. It’s overgrown and tricky to follow with some bushwacking. You can’t be in too much of a hurry here and need to cast around a little bit to find the trail on the east side of the meadow. It becomes easier to follow as I descend. This has been a long day and I’m pretty beat. I’ll camp at the first good spot I can find but that doesn’t happen for a couple of miles. It must be a good one because I’ve got to scare three good size bucks out of there first.
Sunday, August 12- Hiking by the usual 8:30 am sunny morning and I want to fish the creek but it’s small and narrow and the trail doesn’t come near it that often. The east fork meets the west and the Mineral Creek Trail #466. In a few miles, there are some nice trout holes and I spot some fish. I have one on but can’t land it and this spooks the rest of the fish. I hike downstream and try to sneak up on them to no avail. Dark clouds are brewing so I pack up and head down the trail and onto some private land. It gets stormy as I reach FS 788 and Cibello Creek. Locate the Powderhorn Park Trail #462, collect water and pitch the tent a half mile up the trail as it starts to rain.
Monday, August 13- I’m hiking by 8 am and climb up to Powderhorn Park in the Powderhorn Wilderness. I find the unsigned North Calf Creek Trail that climbs steadily up to the Calf Creek Plateau. It is above treeline here and finding the trail is a matter of locating cairns with tall poles in this expanse of scrub willows and rock. Some of these get knocked over by the elements and I soon lose the trail and have to bushwack. I’m looking for Devil’s Lake and then connect into the Devil’s Creek trail. I see storm clouds building as I descend toward Rt. 149 and the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. I reach the highway as it starts to rain but luckily a pick-up stops and the Driver recognizes me from previous visits to Lake City.
Tuesday, August 14- Day off in Lake city with Aussie Matt Sweeney. Matt has a 2-bed motel room and we spend the day catching up, bathroom laundry, resupply, and eating/drinking our way through Lake City.
Wednesday, August 15- After a hearty breakfast and goodbyes to Matt, I head north out of town and locate the TH for the Crystal Lake Trail. It’s a steep climb up the road past the cemetery and continues to climb all the way to Crystal Lake. Once up here, the trail levels out and it’s smooth going. I leave the trail at Elk Creek and bushwack west. I’m headed up to the Ridge Stock Trail tomorrow morning.
Thursday, August 16- I’m up early and bushwacking west trying to link up with the Ridge Stock Trail to eventually reach Uncompahgre Peak. Nice morning but I can see clouds building. It’s my hope to get there and climb this fourteener today. Wow, it takes a while to reach the base of the mountain and it’s starting to rain. I find some water from a small spring and set up the tarp tent. It rains on and off and blows pretty hard at times but I’m snug.
Friday, August 17- I’m up early to climb Uncompahgre Peak and it looks like I’ll be the first person up there. It’s fairly nice right now but I can see there will be rain later. People start to arrive at the summit so I have someone take a picture and start hiking down. I carried my pack this whole time because of the number of marmots along the way and I didn’t want to leave it somewhere have them chewing holes in it. Sure enough, it’s raining by late afternoon. I reach the end of a road that is a shortcut and surprised to see no trespassing signs. Decide to take my chances and press on and of course, I hear a vehicle approaching. Rather than hide I ask for permission to cross their land to reach the trail. The father and sons are nice, give permission and even directions for reaching the trail. It stops raining long enough to make camp but continues to rain all night.
Saturday, August 18- I get a late start today because I hate packing up in the rain. I don’t have far to go and I will be meeting Deb today to spend the night in Ouray. Hike past American Lake then starts a steep descent down the Bear Creek National Trail. This trail has been carved out on the side of a cliff and is washed out in a couple of places. I don’t think a horse could do this trail but it’s supposedly allowed. It’s pretty hairy in some places and I’m glad to finish it. I meet Deb who is right on time and we go into Ouray for a bite to eat. We’re staying at our friends, the Tisdale’s, who I met on the Appalachian Trail in 1998.
Sunday, August 19- We had a great night catching up with Francie, Samantha and Ben Tisdale. Debbie heads back to Telluride and Ben returns me to the trail. I meet up with Craig and Paul Bikis who are going to climb Mt. Sneffles with me and do some filming. We make camp in the trees near the base of the mountain in order to make an early start to the summit. It’s usually pretty busy with hikers on the weekend and we expect some tomorrow.
Monday, August 20- We’re up early and hiking for the summit. I’m carrying my full pack and will stash it before our final push to the top. I’ll be leaving these guys and hiking over the ridge toward Telluride when we’re finished here. The sky is pretty dramatic so that should scare off some hikers. It’s a rock scramble to the top so I stash my pack in the rocks and continue on with a light bag containing snacks and warm clothes. Luckily there are only 2 people on the summit when we arrive and they leave shortly giving us time to film and take pictures. Only when we’re done and descending do we pass other hikers on their climb to the summit. I reach the spot where I stashed my pack but can’t find it! On no, I search around then realize I’m standing right on top of it. Good camo… a little too good. I leave Craig and Paul to hike over the ridge to Blue Lakes. On the way, I meet another hiker named Joy and we hang out having a good conversation and lunch by one of the lakes. Later, I make camp by the largest of the Blue lakes and try some fishing but no luck.
Tuesday, August 21- I wake up to a dreary and foggy cold day but try a little fishing after I break camp. Again, no bites even though I can see fish jumping out in the lake. It starts raining so I head down the Blue lakes trail to link up with the Dallas Trail #200. It finally stops raining and begins to clear. The Dallas trail is very well known to me and I make good time. In the late afternoon, I reach a campsite I used before and set up. If all goes well, I may be finished this fundraiser hike tomorrow.
Wednesday, August 22- I’m up early and hiking on a nice sunny morning. I’d like to finish today but it means hiking 17 miles. Lucky for me this portion is fairly easy and flat but later I will have to climb over Whipple Mountain. When I reach the top, I can see Mountain Village in the distance with about 5 miles to go. I call Deb and ask her to meet me at the Deep Creek trailhead in a couple of hours. Wow, these last five miles are agonizingly slow and my feet hurt. It’s going to take longer than I thought but happily, I see Deb waiting with the van and I know I’ve finished the GoHawkeye San Juan Trail again for another successful fundraiser hike. Thanks for all the support! There is a Welcome Back party at Tracks Bar and Cafe in Mountain Village tomorrow at 4 pm. I’m glad to be home!