Trip Reports: Continental Divide Trail Through The South San Juans, Colorado - August 2008

This last week I hiked the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) through the South San Juan Wilderness with two of my friends. It’s a 60+ mile trek from Cumbres Pass near Chama, New Mexico to Wolf Creek Pass near Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Although we initially planned for 6 days out there, we ended up hiking an average of 13 miles per day, finishing in 5 days.

This hike was the longest distance backpacking trek I’ve done so far, and the first time in a long time that I’ve gone on a trip where the priority for me was the hiking itself, rather than the photography. We had a lot of ground to cover and we spent a good portion of each day just hiking. The photography was mostly unplanned, take-what-you-can-get shots along the way.

It’s pretty amazing to hike so far, basin after basin, each day looking back at distant mountains on the horizon and knowing that you just walked all the way from there, step by step. Although I usually prefer to hike shorter distances each day (to have more time to relax at each camp spot and concentrate more on photography), the South San Juans are well-suited for this style of long multi-day trekking. The mountains are remote with poor access, and the trail is fairly flat and mostly on high tundra with the logical camping spots being few and far between.

sunset, reflection, tundra, Flat Mountain, photo

Flat Mountain Sunset

Sunset reflection in one of the numerous lakes on the broad tundra highlands near Flat Mountain.

hiking, Continental Divide Trail, South San Juans, Colorado, photo

Aimee and Parker hike past a small tarn along the Continental Divide Trail. During the first few days, the trail passes over several huge, broad, flat plateaus spotted with hundreds of little lakes. Off in the distance in this photo, you can see the higher peaks of the northern South San Juans, which we would soon be hiking through.

Blue Lake, Conejos Peak, South San Juans, Colorado, photo

Conejos Sunset

Sunset above Blue Lake, with Conejos Peak in the distance.

Blue Lake, South San Juans, Colorado, photo

Cloud Ripples

Strange "rippled" clouds reflected in Blue Lake.

wildflowers, Middle Fork Conejos River, South San Juans, Colorado, photo

Middle Fork Wildflowers

Alpine wildflowers in the lush basin of the Middle Fork Conejos River. In the background you can see the broad lush green alpine valley characteristic of this part of the range.

tundra, clouds, Summit Peak, Elwood Pass, South San Juans, Colorado, photo

Cloudy Tundra

A threatening dark cloud chased us for ten adrenaline-fueled miles across the exposed high tundra section from Summit Peak to Elwood Pass. Luckily we made it to the safety of the trees near Elwood Pass before the clouds unloaded their rain and lightning.

ominous cloud, South San Juans, Colorado, photo

Ominous Cloud

An ominous cloud hovers above the mountains near Summit Pass. It rained heavily this entire night.

sunrise, Rio Grande National Forest, Colorado, photo

Summit Pass Sunrise #2

Morning in the Rio Grande National Forest.

Silver Creek, South San Juans, Colorado, photo

Silver Creek Vista

Looking back at the South San Juans from the high ridgeline above Silver Creek.