#4 Pacer’s 2022 CDT Thru-Hike: Pagosa Springs, CO to Gunnison, CO

This is update #4.
Chris “Pacer” Ford is attempting to thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) when he began on April 30, 2022. He will keep us updated every week or two with the progress of his adventure with stories and photos from the trail. Follow along with us… get automatic updates by subscribing to this blog.

May 30, 2022

1,015 miles of 3,100…33% complete.

Let It Rip and I decided to duck bad weather, so here’s a shorter, out of sync update. It appears we’ve inadvertently found ourselves near the front of the hiking pack. We’re seeing far fewer hikers these days; we only met three of the hikers below while hiking.

Trail Names:

Car Bomber, Let It Rip, Jacob, The Jesus, Smoky, Tiger Duck, Butterfly.

On The Way To Monarch Pass…Divert To Gunnison:

The next morning, Abby and Dillon drove us back to Pagosa Springs and dropped us off at the Healing Waters Resort where Jamie had sent me a resupply box. Moving quickly across the NM desert on top of the US Forest Service closures in northern NM had put me at the entry of the San Juan mountains 10-14 days early. Some hikers decided to test high elevations; some delayed their hike a week or two; and some chose lower alternate routes. We went with the lower route to keep making forward progress and to let more packed snow melt…we headed for the Creede cutoff. The Creede cutoff actually trimmed off about 3-5 days of high elevation hiking depending on the snow pack. We walked to the edge of town and caught a hitch up to Wolfe Creek Pass. By mid-day we ended up in South Fork…burgers and shakes set us up for the next road walk. A long stretch of highway walking ended up with a stealth camp about 50 yards off the road…private property boundaries kept us pinned close to the road. 

With just an 8 mile walk into Creede, we caught a big breakfast and went by the grocery store to grab a couple things. A local guy named Viron chatted us up outside the grocery store. As the conversation wound down, he insisted on giving us both $20 for lunch…he wouldn’t take no!  As we started out of town, I popped in the outfitter and got a fuel can. We headed out the back of town along a single road channeled into a deep canyon that formed the town’s origin. As we steeply climbed away from town, we passed miles and miles of heavy metal mines that closed many years ago.  

Zoom in to see how high up the mountain the old buildings are. These high structures continued several miles up the canyon.

In all, we climbed about 7,500 feet…the biggest climbing day of the hike so far. We were now above 12,000 feet and started hitting patches of snow pack. Most of it was pretty manageable with just a couple that were sketchy.  

Snow pack…only a couple sets of foot prints had cut across before us. So far, nothing that requires the ice ax.

By the end of the day, we were back down to 10,000 feet…well below the snow line. I took notice of the Aspen trees. In NM, I remember comparing the size of the leaves to my thumb nail, and then watching how quickly they grew. Now, here in CO, they were again the size of my thumb nail. My hiking pace almost perfectly matched the growth rate of the Aspens, I though to myself. Aspens are beautiful in the fall.  It seemed I was in a slow race with the Aspens to the fall…hopefully we both finish gloriously! As we searched for our campsite, I heard Let It Rip nervously say “Oh no!” She spotted a moose about 50 feet away. From behind trees, we watched the moose and took a couple pics as he ate while he watched us.  

A moose near the end of the day…just starting to grow his velvet antlers for the fall competition.  

After packing up the next morning, Let It Rip spotted two more moose. The weather was clear but chilly.  Most of the morning we hiked through a picturesque valley that widened throughout the morning. Before we left Pagosa Springs, we downloaded the weather forecast.  In the back of our minds, we knew rain/snow was supposed to move in. We looked about 30 miles down Trail and saw that we would cross Hwy 114 near the end of the day.  Independently, we saw the town of Gunnison had favorable comments, but it was about a 40 mile hitch on a remote highway…we started dreaming of food, bed, clean clothes, and a shower. Dark clouds hung above us, so we decided to give the hitch a shot…could be a long, cold wet night. We could see the highway in the distance…very few cars passed. Got to the road, put out our thumbs, and the very first car stopped…unbelievable! As we headed for Gunnison on Memorial Day weekend, the reality of zero planning had me a little nervous.  Could we find a place to stay? The couple that picked us up knew Gunnison very well and dropped us off at the only hostel, Wanderlust Hostel.  We were so lucky; they had bunks for us both. We took quick showers, dropped off our dirty clothes for laundry, and headed to Taco Bell. One shouldn’t spend $18 at Taco Bell.  I’m happy to report that I survived without incident.  

Overnight the Memorial Day weather report got a little worse, so we decided to ZERO, giving the bad weather a chance to pass. Kim is a long, long time friend of Jamie and I, going back to the late 80s.  She drove down from Denver to meet for dinner and to catch up. She was also planning to drive us back up to the pass the next morning, but we might have to stay another full day…not sure yet. So, Kim headed back to Denver.  

Trail Tale:

Over night, the temps were supposed to be in the high 20s. I put my Sawyer filter in a Ziploc, and then put that plastic wrapped filter in a sock. Then, I put the double wrapped filter in the bottom of my quilt to prevent it from freezing. I woke the next morning, and checked the water bottle in my tent—it wasn’t frozen. I checked my other water bottle just outside the tent in the vestibule—it wasn’t frozen either. I changed into my hiking clothes, broke down my tent, and packed my gear.  In those 30 minutes or so both bottles started to slush over with ice.  

It was 7:00 on the dot. Let It Rip and I had been hiking about one hour. A stream crossing…I tested the edge of the stream and sure enough there was ice along the rocky bank…grass froze too. There were rocks in place further out in the stream for rock hopping, but were they icy? Good question. I have seen these conditions so many times before…frosted/frozen banks with water lapping over rocks in the deeper water that wasn’t frozen. Yes, you know where this is going, don’t you?  I didn’t have a great way to test those rocks because they were just out of reach. Just a small “leap” of faith…stick the landing on the first rock, and I’ll bounce to the other side. A quick bounce from the bank, and I instantly knew I was in trouble. What looked like just a wet rock was completely frozen over with a thin layer of ice. Slip, slip, try to correct, slip again …every attempt failed…kuuurrplunk. I laid in the cold water with my left side completely submerged. Such a weird vantage point to be laying in water with a 90 degree sideways view back at Let It Rip. She looked stunned, almost like she was saying, “Duh, get out the water dummy,” but without saying a single word…just that stunned look. I stalled getting up because of the awkward weight of my pack holding me down. After thousands of rock hops, the law of big numbers caught up to me…I was way overdue! I finally bounced up and out of the stream. Quick assessment…a snapped hiking pole in two places, my knee was a little banged up, and later, I felt my left ring finger after the adrenaline wore off.  It was bleeding, swollen, and bruised…looks to be a minor jam/sprain.  Off came the wet clothes…dried them completely at lunch. Found a suitable stick the same size as my hiking pole and snapped it to match the length. Thankfully, we could just laugh it off and kept hiking. The first fall of the hike…I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Until Next Time,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s