40-days & 40-nights fundraiser post hike report

40-days & 40-nights fundraiser post hike report

October 19, 2022 Off By Hawkeye Johnson

When you go backpacking during the monsoon season in Colorado you can expect rain often … a lot of it! It rained almost every day of this hike that began on June 23 at Cumbres Pass on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). Ironically, Deb and I drove to Chama, New Mexico the day before where we discovered the town in a state of emergency. The entire town was without water due to an undiscovered leak and empty holding tanks. Our favorite motel, the Chama Trails Inn, was open with portable bathrooms and bottled drinking water and we made due with deli food from the grocery store.

The next morning saw me setting out on the CDT northbound under dark and threatening skies, beginning the 40-day, 450 mile hike. As usual, Deb joined me for the first few miles but turned back when the wind came up with light rain. I entered the South San Juan Wilderness with a plan to fish some of it’s lakes as I hiked north. At Trail Lake I located the cairns of the Valle Victoria Trail and headed east cross country with no trail tread and followed these occasional cairns. The trail was difficult to follow and the lakes I found were shallow and non-productive. I did find some real trail but it would fade out making it necessary to bushwack by map and compass.

It rained almost continuously over the next couple of days but I stayed dry using the Six Moon Designs (SMD) Rainwalker Umbrella. When I tried to regain the CDT by following the cairns, dense fog moved in and I couldn’t find the next cairn. All I could do was head west using my compass and hope for the best. Even when the fog lifted I couldn’t find a cairn but continued on zig zagging northwest until I finally linked up with the CDT and continued north through the rain and low hanging clouds.

Hawkeye’s photos from the trail

Hawkeye on the trail using his Rainwalker umbrella by Six Moon Designs.

Green lake has good fishing though it was not much fun in the rain. The next day I met a thru hiker ”Shutterbug” drying gear on a rock. We would ”leap frog” each other over the next few days. As I passed Blue Lake, I spied some trout frolicking along the shore and decide to combine a lunch break with some fishing. I caught and released a ten inch cutthroat trout before continuing up the trail, ”one and done.”

It was a partly cloudy day but nasty dark clouds gathered as I made camp and just after dinner the storm hits with heavy winds and hail! The ground turned white and I had to shake my SMD Skyscape Trekker tent several times as the hail piles up and wind distorts its’ shape but was finally able to sleep. The next two days I stayed ahead of the storm clouds and made big miles until north of Elwood pass where I was slowed by large sections of blown down trees. It was hard and slow work climbing over piled up dead trees killed by the pine beetle infestation a few years back and now starting to fall over.

My last campsite before town resupply was a clearing behind the Wolf Creek Ski area and while setting up I get visited by an overly friendly fox. As I got ready to make dinner, it came by again but this time grabbed one of my shoes and took off. I yelled and scrambled out of the tent and luckily it dropped the shoe about twenty yards away. This has never happened before and it scared me so I brought the shoes inside relieved that there is no sign of the fox again. The next day I met Deb on the trail and we headed into Pagosa Springs for a resupply and some time off the trail.

I picked up the CDT again on July 2 and headed into the Weminuche Wilderness on a partly cloudy day. I used a side trail to access Spruce Lakes and found good fishing. Black clouds started brewing so I made my way back to the CDT and sure enough the rain hit and poured the rest of the day and all night long.

During the Monsoon it will often be clear in the morning but then small groups of white clouds will appear to join up and become darker. When you’re above tree line most of the time it’s easy to see this happening so there is time to prepare with my rain suit and umbrella which can attach to my pack. The pack has a lightweight SMD Pack Liner so everything inside stays dry. These downpours typically start with thunder in the distance. Then, lightening, thunder, hail and rain erupt all at once and it can be intense! If it’s earlier in the day I might deploy my shelter and ride it out. Typically the storm will pass through within the hour. Otherwise I keep an eye out for places to hunker down if the lightening gets too close. If the wind gets too high I’ve got to hold the umbrella.

A few days later high winds caught me and spun me around, the umbrella inverted, I freaked and spun the rest of the way around as the umbrella popped back into shape! Incredibly there was no damage and all this in pounding hail.


I reached Squaw Pass and took the Squaw Creek trail down to the Rio Grande Reservoir, leaving the Weminuche Wilderness, where I met the GoHawkeye crew for our annual ”Fish Camp.” They had circled the wagons in a dispersed area for a couple of days of food, fun and fishing with surprisingly clear skies. Deb showed up with my SMD Flex Pack rafting backpack and a 3.8lb raft, a four piece paddle and life vest for the next leg of the hike where I was joined by our friend Tony. I switched out to a lighter tent, the SMD Deschutes Bundle which is a tarp with an interior bug net tent.

We took the Ute Creek trail up to West Ute Lake and camped and fished along the way. Of course the constantly changing weather continued but we had a great time catching and eating some trout. Back at the reservoir I switched to my regular tent and pack. Thanks to the GoHawkeye Crew, it was nice to have these options. Tony also joined me on the next leg of the hike up the Lost Trail to Heart Lake. After a rainy campout with some slow fishing, I left Tony and found the jeep trail which would take me to Carson Pass and rejoined the CDT northbound.

Hawkeye’s morning stretch routine ”Thai Cheesy” out on the trail in the summer of 2022.

I resupplied in Lake City and was able to take advantage of the Sunday free hiker feed sponsored by the local churches of the community. It was a thanksgiving style meal and a great time with some really nice people. I met other hikers and was able to get a ride back to the trail at Spring Creek Pass on July 18. From here, I crossed Snow Mesa and then a hard up and down trail to San Luis Pass and into the La Garita Wilderness.

Long distance hiking requires being able to adapt and make changes. It was hard and slow hiking. At Eddiesville trailhead I stopped and calculated the remaining miles and time I had allowed myself. My original goal meant too many miles remained and not enough time so I changed the plan, turned around and hiked back south. I needed to be back in Telluride by August 4 for a monthlong road trip to Maine and my daily hiking mileage hadn’t been high enough.

Even though the terrain was familiar, it didn’t get any easier. I resupplied in Lake City and continued south with the crazy monsoon weather. I exited the CDT at the Highland Mary Lakes Trail and was able to take in some fishing at Verde lake and Lost lake. I hiked the Whitehead Trail to the Kendall Mountain Jeep trail and resupplied in Silverton, staying at friends John and Samantha’s house. My route from there included bushwacking under Ohio Peak, crossing Mineral Creek and taking the trail up to Columbine Lake then over Bridal Veil Basin to the Wasatch Trail and home on July 29.

So, instead of the original plan of 40-days and 450 miles my hike lasted 36 days and 350 miles. I felt reconnected to the rhythm of nature which is something we all need to do especially those living with a disability. Even though I was tired, with everything damp and smelly, I felt empowered and grateful to raise over $20,000 for adaptive athletes with grants for equipment and experiences through the generous donations to the GoHawkeye Foundation. I will see what future trails have in store for me and the people we help.

“Skinny Water … Fat Fish” – Illustration by Craig Stein.