The Sneffels Traverse – Day 2

Pre-Hike Departure

On our second day of the Sneffels Traverse, a deer made a brief visit to the meadow by our hut as Tina, the first to rise, got the water boiling. Half the group poured their coffee and tea and walked out to the beaver ponds to watch the sunrise while the other half the group packed up and ate breakfast.

deer on the Sneffels Traverse

This is when we faced a minor kerfuffle over a miscommunication.  The previous evening Tanya had asked when people wanted to leave.  Judy suggested 8 am.  Tanya repeated, “8 Ok” and Tina, on the opposite side of the cabin agreed to 8. 

When it was nearing 8 the next morning, I said, “If we are leaving at 8, we should probably wrap things up.”  Unintentionally, my comment wreaked havoc.  At this moment, I learned the proposed time was considered unconfirmed as not everyone responded.  By the same token, no one opposed the time as being too late or too early, nor was an alternative provided.

As a result, half the cabin took 8 to be the confirmed departure time while the other half the cabin planned a leisurely morning as the second day was our shortest, only 7.4 miles. Naturally, one half of the cabin suddenly felt unfairly rushed while the other half the cabin wished they had watched the sunrise.

In an effort to alleviate the tension, I said, “Don’t rush.  We don’t all have to leave at the same time.”  Tanya and I had discussed whether we hike our own hike as long as we are at least in pairs or hike at the pace of the slowest person.  We had mentioned it on the trail the first day too, but I don’t think everyone heard, as while four of us cleared out of the tiny space to make room for others to pack up, the uneasiness continued. 

Ultimately, we split into two groups which is how we hiked most the trail anyway, as some were faster than others. I’m not sure leaving to alleviate any pressure of being rushed worked, but in the end we all delighted in spectacular scenery on our next day’s journey. 

The Hike – Day 2

We began the hike passing by the beaver ponds as we returned a quarter mile back to the Dallas Trail where we headed east and were immediately met by the East Fork of Leopard Creek.  As with the creek crossings yesterday where bridges were few and far between, Leopard Creek was no exception.  In this instance, there wasn’t even a fallen tree or rocks evenly spaced for hopping across the water.

Not willing to get our shoes wet in the first quarter mile, we sat down on the bank, removed our socks and shoes and waded to through the ice-cold water on a not so friendly riverbed.  Tina conveniently had a small camp towel strapped to her pack which we used to dry off our now, pink tootsies and after retying our shoes, we continued through the forest.

After about 1.5 miles, upon exiting an aspen grove, we were treated to lovely views of the Cimarron Mountains before descending to another creek crossing.  Soon we reached an old logging road which we followed to our left through more aspen until we reconnected with the single track to our right.

Sunny Side

The trail led us down a slope called Sunny Side blanketed in thistle and surrounded by granite peaks.  Though thistles are a weed, the colorful clearing was no less than remarkable!  At the bottom of the slope, we crossed the west fork of the West Fork of Dallas Creek (no that’s not a typo) and entered the shade of the forest.

After passing through more aspen groves, we finally descended into Box Factory Park.  All I could think of is how awesome this section of the trail would be during the fall when the leaves are changing.  On a side note, it is reachable by County Road 9 for any leaf peepers who have four wheel drive.

Box Factory Park

We exited a gate, entered the meadow of Box Factory Park which was criss-crossed with dirt roads, and wandered toward the West Fork of Dallas Creek.  This section of the trail directions from San Juan Huts that advised to “enter the meadow” was somewhat confusing as meadows bordered forking roads in both directions, thus our wandering pace.  A few of the blue diamond trail markers would be a nice edition here!

Fortunately, Tina and I ran into a couple and their dog searching for dispersed camping in their pickup truck.  They confirmed seeing a Dallas Trail sign from the direction they came across the creek, so we knew we were headed the right way.  Unfortunately, this creek crossing did not feature a bridge either, and it was a bit too wide to wade “comfortably”.

Dallas Creek Crossing

Fallen trees were both upstream and downstream.  The log downstream slanted down and was cracked at the end, but it was smooth of branches and not too high above the water.  The side by side logs upstream each presented their own challenges.  One log was somewhat high above rushing water and only made it partly across the creek while the other was wet with many protruding branches and had water splashing over it.

I wasn’t keen on any of the options.  It’s funny how as a teenager, I was disappointed when we added bridges in place of fallen trees for creek crossings on our property, and now I was disappointed this trail was virtually bridge free!  In the end, Tina and I opted for the downstream log that crossed a calmer portion of the creek.

Later, after talking to Diana, we learned they chose the log of branches.  Julie, who clearly has no log crossing fears as she didn’t even need poles, stood on the higher log holding a big stick in the creek for others to use as they crossed the other fallen tree.  Upon seeing the pics and watching the video, we gasped.  It looked terrifying!  I’m not sure I would have made it.

Back on the Trail

After crossing the creek, we climbed the road for a quarter mile where we reconnected with the Dallas Trail on the right-hand side and continued east.  The trail climbs steeply to a very wide irrigation ditch.  By this time, about 3.5 miles into our hike for the day, my foot had had enough.  We took a breather in the shade of the pine trees as I taped mole skin around my hot spots.

The next two miles took us through alternating pine and aspen forest with lush vegetation. After crossing Vance Creek, we reached another meadow, this time peppered in what I thought was purple aster. In looking closer at my wildflower book, however, I found the blanket of purple was aspen daisy.  I suppose that would make sense since aspen trees surrounded the meadow.  Regardless of the name, the fields of violet were a sight to be seen.  Breathtaking!

Cocan Flats

I’m thankful we stopped to enjoy this meadow as the trail continues along its edge briefly and then climbs straight up the slope, paralleling a fence, for the next half-mile.  No switchbacks to be had!  Fortunately, there is a reward on the other side of the saddle…Cocan Flats.  This valley, dotted with a with white yarrow, yellow cone flowers, purple harebell, and countless other wildflowers, provided dramatic views of nearby, jagged peaks.  

It may have been my favorite place on the Sneffels Traverse (not counting our side hike to Blue Lakes).  Tina and I must have stopped every 10 feet to snap a photo during this quarter mile stretch! 

The Last Mile

For the last mile of the day, the trail, lined by indian paintbrush, wild rose, wild geranium, larkspur, cone flowers and more led us through yet another amazing stand of aspen before we reached an old logging road that we eventually followed up to the right to Blue Lakes Hut, the second hut in the San Juan Hut System.

Blue Lakes Hut

We arrived at Blue Lakes Hut around noon, turned on the propane, ate lunch, organized our bunks, filtered water, and set up the dish washing station.  The dish washing station included three containers…one for soap, one for rinsing, and one for bleach.  After the first day’s trials and errors, we realized that setting up the stations on arrival for washing as needed would be a smoother process as compared to waiting until the next morning to wash all dishes.

Blue Lakes Trailhead and the Forecast

With the cabin ready to go for the rest of our group, Tina and I walked down to Blue Lakes Trailhead which is at the start of a 6.6 mile roundtrip hike the spectacular lower lake.  This is also the start of the hike to Sneffels, one of Colorado’s 14ers, so there were many outdoor enthusiasts around.

Having limited cell phone service for the past two days, we asked about the forecast.  When we left Ridgway, our second day was to be completely sunny and there was a 40% chance of afternoon thunderstorms on our third and longest day.  According to those with more recent information, the forecast for our third day had changed to “rain all day” and “severe afternoon thunderstorms.”

Armed with this information, we thought it might be good to try for the lower Blue Lake today, despite a rumble of thunder.  We hiked at a fast pace up multiple switchbacks for about 1.5 miles during which the cracking increased and a flash of lightning crossed sky.  This was enough for me to pull the plug.  The sunny forecast the day was not to be.

Relaxing Afternoon with a Surprise

We returned to the cabin beneath a light and refreshing sprinkle to meet the rest of our group who had recently arrived. We all settled in for an afternoon of rain showers, naps and games.  Equipped with both card and dice games brought from home, we found the limited living space without even a table wasn’t terribly conducive to either.

Instead we found a Celebrity Guessing Game in the hut’s small box of goodies. The holder of the card described named celebrities, and we tried to guess who they were.  I’m glad I was never a describer, my famous people knowledge is limited at best.

During the middle of the game, we heard a shriek as men’s, blue Hanes boxer briefs flew from a top bunk to the floor.  Next came a long-sleeved shirt!  Judging by the size of the shirt, in typical teenage boy fashion, the young man had forgotten to shake out the sleeping bag (one of the hut cleaning rules).  I’m glad Tina wanted the top bunk again, or I would have found the pleasant surprise. Fortunately we all brought sleeping bag liners.

It was funny to see everyone’s faces, especially Judy’s when she delicately picked up the undies by the waistband and dumped them into the trash.  Luckily, since this hut was accessible by road, there was a trash can.  Otherwise, every group following us would have enjoyed a nice surprise as well. We certainly weren’t packing them out!

Speaking of forgotten clothing, yesterday I failed to mention that “Dan”, so affectionately named by Danelle, left his T-shirt for us. It turned into a nice rag to mop up the floor as we successfully spilled water by the door on a regular basis. Moving our water filter bags to a different location was another adjustment we made to cabin life to keep it cleaner.

Dan's Shirt
Dan’s Shirt

Dinner and Dessert

After our dried food dinners, we indulged in dessert by Diana and Danelle.  They brought chocolates and homemade brownies.  Hello!  The beauty of hiking an average of 9 miles a day with a 25-pound pack for four days in a row is that we could relish in nightly desserts guilt free.

Based on the weather forecasts we heard from others at the trailhead, and the necessity to hike 11.6 miles our third day (6.6 miles to Blue Lakes and 5 miles to Ridgway Hut), Tina and I proposed a 6 am start time to which everyone agreed. The only caveat: if it was overcast or we couldn’t see the stars, we’d sleep later.  I crossed my fingers as my favorite hikes are to alpine lakes, and I really wanted to go!  To be continued…ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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