Heartache and Healing in the San Juans

Okay, that title is a bit dramatic.  But it was the best I could come up with, so I used it.  Anyway…

For any of my regular readers (do I actually have any of those? No?  I don’t blame you.  I admittedly am not a blog reader myself.), you probably could read between the lines in my other blogs.  My relationship with the boy was coming to an end, in a way that was slow and then abrupt.  I’m not going to share the details here.  But with any breakup comes the need for healing, though this time through my healing was more for my soul than for my heart.  In some form of luck, I was already planning on heading to the San Juans, aka Heaven, for my last big adventure of the summer.  Because of the circumstance I was in, I just had to bump up my leave time…which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing!


Pacer and I actually started our trip with a hike up the backside of Mt. Massive.  We did this 1) because Sandi had told us how beautiful it was when she did it earlier in the summer and 2) the drive from Estes Park to Ouray is LONG and I wanted to break it up.  It was also nice to start somewhere fairly familiar.

(Favorite radio station that come in in Leadville: 92.7)

From Leadville, we headed to Ouray and camped at Thistledown Campground…not the free dispersed camping we prefer, but it was the shortest drive and had good trail access for the morning.  Day 2 was supposed to be an easy day as I wanted to attempt Wilson Peak the next day, which would be mine and Pacer’s 40th 14er together.  Except I picked the road/trail leading up Imogene Pass.  And then I didn’t want to turn until we reached the top of the pass.  And then when we reached a pass a mountain (Telluride Peak) was right there with a nice trail going up!  And then I missed the turn on the way down to where we parked, and we added on an extra (few) miles and several hundred feet of elevation gain to get back to our car.  And so our easy day turned into 4.5ish hours.  Pacer hadn’t been feeling up for long back to back days, so I knew we still needed to take an easy day…so off to Telluride it was!

(Favorite Ouray/Montrose radio station: 103.7)

I was hoping to stop at the Ouray Hot Springs on the way to Telluride to shower as it’s the cheapest in the area and doesn’t have a time limit, but the skies that afternoon were bluebird and it was 75ish degrees out, so that was out of the question with Pacer in the car.  I did, however, stop at the mountain shop in Ouray to get a new headlamp (mine died) and a new running leash for Pacer, as I forgot hers and it’s so much easier to climb up a mountain and have my hands free.  After the unplanned shopping spree, we headed over to camp at Alta Lakes near Telluride.  To be honest, I don’t really like Alta Lakes.  I had camped there with my twin a few years before, so remembered it being free.  However, a lot of the lower campsites now had signs up for restoration, so I had to drive all the way up the rocky road to the campground, which was free, but nearer to other people and buggy because of the lakes.  Yes, it was pretty.  My mind just wasn’t in it, and I was thinking how far I had to drive back down the road to actually get to Telluride in the morning.


In the morning, we woke up early and I realized I was being a bit dramatic about the camping space.  Still, we hustled down because I had work to do on the computer and I knew it would be cool in the morning and safe to leave Pacer in the car with the windows partially open (40ish degrees).  I drove to the only bakery/coffee shop I knew in town that wasn’t on the main street and I could park outside the doors.  I was slightly dismayed there was no vegan bakery items, so settled for a coffee and settled in to a spot with a charger and got most of my work done (when I have a time limit, it’s pretty impressive how much I can accomplish!).  I also met a local trail runner, who gave me a recommendation for a quiet trail for a true easy day that I could hike with Pacer later on.  Except it was still overcast when I finished my work, and I knew it was my chance to shower.  We headed down to the Telluride Pool/Camping area and I paid for a shower…$3 (in quarters) for 5 minutes.  Not exactly ideal, but eco-friendly I suppose.  And then we hiked for about 2hrs on the Deep Creek trail, which to be honest I didn’t really love, but it was quiet and at least easy to turn around, unlike the day before.  After lunch near the waterfall, we headed to the Lizard Head Wilderness Area and the Navajo Lakes Trailhead, the start of the route to Wilson Peak!

(Ooo, I also found a chocolate bar in my car…which is amazing that I actually forgot I had chocolate in my car!)

Okay, so actually, I wasn’t a total exclamation mark, at least at first.  As I mentioned before, Pacer and I were finishing up our list of the 14ers I thought a dog could do.  And the past few had been hard.  Mostly class 2+, but I knew this would have some class 3.  Could we do it?  Was I pushing Pacer too much?  On 8/29, I wrote in my journal:

“Currently at the only campsite by the Navajo Lake Trailhead.  A little nervous about Pacer (aren’t I always?) but excited for tomorrow’s attempt up Wilson Peak.  (I was nervous but was able to switch it around.  Biggest worry is Pace stopping in the middle of it, but I have booties!). ”

My prayer was “Mother Nature, grant us safe passage and give me the courage to turn if needed” and “watch over Pacer.”

The next evening, I was busy getting Thai Pie from Avalanche Brewing in Silverton, so it wasn’t until 8/31 that I wrote in my journal again:

“Supergirl submitted Wilson Peak!  In combo of the distance and technical terrain (class 3) it was our hardest.”  Our 14er project was a fun goal to have, but truly, I think I can speak for me and Pacer (not that I don’t always) when I say that we are excited to repeat our favorite 14ers next year with class 1 & 2 terrain.  (The only 14er we attempted but did not summit was Challenger, as there was too much loose rock.  We were slightly off route when we tried because of snow, so there is a tiny chance we will try again, but after reading other’s reports, it seems the terrain stinks regardless.)

I’ve also had to admit to myself that Pacer doesn’t love going over 8 hours anymore, or long back to back days.  She is NOT getting old…truly, she is 7 going on 3 (slightly maturing from last year when she was 6 going on 2), I just think she is a cuddle bug and sometimes rather be on a comfy bed sleeping…and she knows she can get her way.  So, I may just have to adapt and there may be more hotels interspersed with camping trips next year.

(On Saturday, we did a short hike by Paradise Basin…and then Pacer sat down in the middle of the trail, so we turned around and she started walking again.)

On Sunday morning, still in Silverton,  I woke up early, much earlier than I wanted, to run up the road and then up the trail to Ice Lake Basin, so I could let Pacer sleep in the car while it was still cool out (I was back before it hit 60 degrees and the windows were open. The sky window is one of the best features on my 2002 Subaru!)  I wasn’t able to make it up to the lakes, but I was so joyful on that run and had the biggest (and probably goofiest) smile on my face because it was so beautiful and the trail was so awesome.  After breakfast at the campsite, I headed into town to call my dad and wish him a happy birthday. (He treated himself by sleeping in until 9:30…he’s been waking up before 5 a.m. since he was a little boy.).  After driving around the mines a bit, getting a Thai wrap to go at Avalanche Brewing (Saturday I had the Thai salad) and completing the Thai triad, we started the drive towards Durango, where we had a hotel for the night so Pacer could rest and I could get some work done not sitting in the car, getting wifi from the visitor center.  Back to my journal:

“Almost instantly I was sad to be leaving.  I had forgotten how far away Durango is (50+ miles).  It’s like leaving Heaven, knowing you’ll be back when its your time, but still sad you can’t stay longer at present.  (I have thought about moving closer, but I couldn’t do the winters in the San Juans, and the nearby towns of Montrose and Durango don’t do it for me.). Budget Inn in Durango was a little creepy and old, but Pacer was super happy to have a bed and I was happy to have a shower and not to have to work from my car.”

I was also able to get our grocery shopping done and pick Pacey up some treats and wipes from Pet Haus.  I made dinner from the motel and half-watched a Hallmark movie, then Monster-in-Law.  In the morning, I was happy to awake to a spry Pacey.  We walked to the Animas Mountain trailhead and not much farther.  The trailhead sign says dogs must be leashed, but of course they weren’t.  A woman pulled up in her truck and let her energetic dogs out and they ran right towards us—they stopped short, but poor Pacer!  (I love dogs, its just Pacer and I have been attacked by off-leash dogs several times, and its not fair when Pacer has a leash and muzzle on, which I do for extra safety as she is reactive/sensitive). Another reason not to move to Durango!

Anyway, I then walked over to the rec center ($6.50 for the day) and ended up taking a spin class from Rock N’ Roll Bob.  Afterwards, I headed over to the thrift store for a book (I picked up The Ten Trusts by Jane Goodall and Marc Beckoff) (super nice store owner) and the The Coffee House (hotel only had a coffee pot in the lobby) and spoke to a friendly guy there as well.  Actually, almost everyone I talked to was friendly besides the woman from spin class who was annoyed with me for rolling my bike backwards to put it away (I stand at almost 5’4″, so the bike was nearly as big as me).  And then it was off to Creede with Pacer, rather than back to Silverton.  I felt like I had enough heartbreak the first time leaving the San Juans, but I still nearly cried leaving Durango.  I know the sadness comes from being blessed enough to have been there, which takes a bit of the edge off, but still hurts.

(Every time I enter Durango, I look for the Siesta Motel sign for a good laugh.)

In the end, I think heading to Creede was the right choice.  Pacer and I got to re-summit San Luis Peak, the first time we did it having been a side trip on our Colorado Trail thru hike in 2015.  It was slightly disorienting for me to do it from the opposite direction, but still felt good to be back and be on a trail that was mostly runnable.  My proverbial cup felt pretty full after that.

(September 2019, August 2015—Im so grateful to the guy who took our picture, as it too a bit of maneuvering with reactive pup, but he could’ve waited until Pacer closed her mouth! lol)

From there, we headed to Salida, first getting my favorite bottle of wine from Vino Salida, and then heading to our regular spot near the Shavano Trailhead.   “Am I ready to go back?” I journaled. “Good question.  Part of me wants to keep adventuring from trailhead to trailhead and part of me wants to shower and start my practice (Wanderlust Counseling).  I know I’ll be back.  And I want to explore my backyard more (Rocky Mountain National Park/Indian Peaks).  But I’ve been so far away from the rest of it.  Hopefully all goes smoothly tomorrow afternoon and getting my stuff.”

(Fav. BV/Salida radio station: 92.3…actually, this is one of my favorite stations period. I didn’t shower in Salida, but if I do when camping its usually at the Salida Hots Springs Aquatic Center, and in BV its back by the river park, again where you have to start with shampoo in your hands because it’s a few quarters for a few minutes.)

We finished up our trip with a 7ish mile run/hike to Ptarmigan Lake near Buena Vista, which was just as glorious as expected.  Then it was time to face what laid ahead, trying up a few loose ends that we had left behind.

At this moment, all is well.  I got to play in my backyard yesterday and run up to Odessa Lake in RMNP.  Girls on the Run starts today, and we had enough girls sign up for two teams!  I’m debating if we’ll stay and play near home this weekend, or head back out to the Sawatch Range one more time.  No wrong decision there.  Fall, change, is coming.

(Pace “helping” me prepare for Girls on the Run)

Perhaps the main reason I love the San Juan mountains is that they have this way of breaking you open.  They wrench at your heart, tear you down, and build you back up.  They’ve been doing this for decades (and probably much longer), from the Native Americans traveling through the hills, the mining families who dug for a better life, the mountaineers who’ve climbed the majestic peaks, the runners who’ve attempted Hardrock 100, the backpackers finishing their Colorado Trail thru-hike. There’s loss, but if you keep the hole open, you end up receiving so much more light and beauty than you could have ever expected.


(Over looking the Colorado Trail and San Juans on one of my first trips to the area, near Molas Pass.  The first time I stoop at this spot, I fell in love.)

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


Ray & Pacer

5 Replies to “Heartache and Healing in the San Juans”

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