After hiking the Triple Crown, many people invariably ask What’s next?
I think of all the trails out there. Places that go through the southern Appalachian and deep into the woods. Or wind through the canyon country. Trails that go far north into the Canadian Rockies.
But the truth of the matter is that what next for me is often in my backyard. Simply put, I love where I live. Be it a hike in the local foothills where I can gaze upon the Continental Divide. Mountains where I can tramp among a riot of colorful wildflowers. Places where I can sit by an alpine lake and gaze at the pass above me.
This past weekend, I went to one such place “in my backyard”. (Albeit a 4 hr drive away). The rugged, isolated and remote Sangre De Cristo range.
A comparatively little used range, it holds quite a few “14ers”. The part where I was going to hike does not have the 14ers. Besides making it easier to connect loops, it means this already little used range would have few people where we would be hiking.
Leading the charge for this hike would be my buddy d-low. Meeting up with us would be my fellow CDT06ers (and newly engaged couple!) POD and
We all met up in Salida, drove to the trailhead at the edge of the San Luis Valley and began our trek.
The first part of our hike was along rolling trail to the beautiful Cotton Lake. We were surprised to see people camped out there. No matter. We found a good spot, relaxed and enjoyed the view towards the pass above us.
The following morning, we were on the last of our real trail at 7am and quickly gained an unnamed saddle. From this saddle, we would be off-trail for almost the entire day (and the “trail” was remnants of an unmaintained trail this shown as a dotted brown line on the map!), being out of the trees at 12k+ feet and summit three 13ers. Phew!
D-low pointing toward Mt. Marcy
Most of the day we’d be walking the crest of the Sangres. Truly a difficult, but wonderful, backpacking experience.
On our last 13er (De Anza peak), we took a well deserved break and gazed at the ridge we just hiked.
On De Anza Peak, 13362′. I kept on calling it “Tony Danza” peak.
We worked our way down (steeply!) to Banjo Lake, hiked in a valley and then camped near South Branch lake. Tired, but exhilarated, we made camp for the evening at an obvious, but very lightly used and old, campsite. Around the campfire we recounted our hard day. It took us nearly 12.5 hrs to cover 12.5 miles. A pace none of us were not used to. But more than being tired, we reveled in how spectacular of a day we had just experienced. A place where few people go and where few people would enjoy.
After a sounds night’s sleep, we departed again and made the last push to another saddle on the flank of Electric Peak.
Our last trail-less climb for the day. Another brief sit down and we proceeded on “real’ trail. Or so we thought!
The trail was mainly obliterated by a mudslide that had occurred fairly recently. Maps were pulled out, we did a little scouting and just decided to follow the slide down the drainage. It was the logical path of the trail…which was probably under said mudslide!
After finally hooking up to definite trail, we started to leave the alpine area behind and descend into aspen groves quickly followed by the high desert country of the San Luis valley.
We came to a fork in the trail, consulted our maps again, avoided the private property and took the trail that stayed on public land. Neither the detailed 7.5″ quads nor the overall hiking map however showed the fairly newly constructed trail. This new trail had MANY switchbacks that took us on one last uphill push!
We reached the trailhead, put on some cotton, grabbed a camp chair and pulled out a cache of chilled beers we had stashed in the stream 48 hrs ago.
Setting in the shade, drinking a beer and talking to friends was perhaps the perfect way to end the trip. I think we all came to the same conclusion that weekend. The long trails are nice…but we all need the wilderness not just for a few months every couple of years or so. We need it as part of our lives. To see the mountains where the trails don’t go. To appreciate these rugged mountains with like-minded souls. We are not thru-hikers or triple crowners. We are outdoors people first. And this love of of the outdoors has shaped our lives.