Day 3: Spring Creek hut to Columbine hut

Starting elevation 9,200′
Ending elevation 9,160′
Total ascent for the day 1,800′
Cumulative ascent 6,160′
Total descent for the day 1,840′
Cumulative descent 5,750′
Distance for the day 33.7 miles
Cumulative distance 75.92 miles

At dinner with friends just before I left for Grand Junction, my friend Chris’s sister, Kathleen, in town from Boulder, mentioned a recent mountain lion attack in Colorado. I’m generally not an alarmist sort, but, reminded again that I’d be traveling alone, I did some research and learned that attacks on humans are rare—several a year across the western U.S. and western Canada, including a death every few years. After I started riding, I completely forgot about mountain lions and saw wild animals larger than a ground squirrel only twice. The morning that I left the Spring Creek hut, I saw two deer, one of which disappeared into the underbrush before I got this shot:

Deer at Spring Creek hut

A few minutes later, as I walked to the outhouse, I again saw two deer. And me without my camera.

Sunday, day 3, was marked by endless forest and by interesting clouds. Divide Road, which runs the length of Uncompahgre Plateau, is set far enough back from the western edge of the plateau that I got to see the valley and mountains to the west only twice all day. (While no freeway, Divide Road apparently is the local main drag. Trucks, 4x4s, and sometimes all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, and RVs passed me at 10- or 15-minute intervals all day long.) I knew photos of trees would quickly become indistinguishable from one another, but I stopped time and again for shots of clouds.

Clouds at mile 5

Clouds at mile 5.

Clouds at mile 8

More clouds at mile 8.

Clouds at mile 10

Still more clouds at mile 10.

A rare view on day 3

A western vista at mile 10.

More clouds at mile 10

Another view of the clouds at mile 10.

For the first time since I left Telluride, I got to have a real conversation, not just a quick greeting from a passing driver. A guy who was out for a walk with his wife and two young boys hailed me from the field where the boys were beating the ground with golf clubs. He knew of the SJHS rides in part because he’d rescued a couple of women several years before; they were caught in a rainstorm 15 miles or so from the Columbine hut, and he gave them a ride. We didn’t talk for long, but it was a pleasure nonetheless.

I was starting to get a handle on the amount of climbing involved in a couple of thousand feet of elevation gain each day. A lot. On a 35-mile ride, gently rolling hills won’t get you there. Miles-long inclines took me to over 9,900 feet twice, with a drop to just over 9,400 feet in between. The view at the second, slightly higher peak was little different from most of the views that day, but I took a picture to mark the event anyway:

Maximum elevation for the day: 9929 feet

Early on, I’d started taking a picture of the GPS whenever I stopped to take a picture of anything else, which has proved useful as I’ve written this account, if only as captions for pictures of clouds.

The GPS at 9929 feet

Not long before I reached Columbine hut, another break in the trees, at Tabeguache Overlook, gave me my second western view of the day:

Tabeguache overlook

This was a longer and hillier day than day 2, but I still finished a little after 3:30. Sure, I stopped to take fewer pictures because there was less to see, but I also was breathing easier on uphills, which made me wonder how quickly lungs acclimate to less oxygen at high altitudes.

With the early arrival at the hut, I was able to spend some time rearranging my bags and exploring the area around the hut before dinner. Each hut has a cooler stocked with a small assortment of semi-perishable foods—tortillas, eggs, bacon, cheese—and I made myself a bacon and cheese sandwich, wrote for a while, and then stepped outside to get some photos of the sunset and the moon:

Sunset at Columbine hut

Moon at Columbine hut

On to Day 4: Columbine hut to Graham Ranch hut

Back to Day 2: Last Dollar hut to Spring Creek hut

Back to Mountain biking (and walking) from Telluride to Moab