Free time has become more important. A promotion at work and new responsibility of managing people on a daily basis makes me think about the woods just a bit more as of late. I suppose I’m at that stage of life where my career is becoming a greater centerpiece; that point at which my elders refer to as “when I was young and had all the ambition”.

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Someone forgot how to spell Cotton.

Following weekdays full of overtime shifts, Kelly and I headed south to the Sangre de Cristo for a  quick loop that required road walking between trailheads three miles apart from one another. The road we intended to hike in on – #65-AA proved to be a private road, dead-ended by a gate; not the Cotton Gulch trailhead. Our daylight would be fading quick and our next best option to hike from the Major Creek TH to Cotton was much longer than we had originally anticipated.

We drove back to Major Creek and found a potential solution; ask the one group of people car camping at the trailhead for a ride closer to our official start of Cotton Creek. Kelly put on her charm and it worked.

DSC01358 Two miles of road walking on our approach to the range, from the San Luis Valley.

The crisp air of the evening and the glow of the sky made for a pleasant and peaceful walk, up until we were nearly murdered by mosquitoes. We pitched the tent on uneven ground as we fended to keep our own blood, next to Cotton Gulch trailhead. The sunset outside looked magnificent, but we didn’t care. My mattress pad had a slow leak; must have been from all the cactus that surrounded our hurried tent pad.

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We began early the next morning. I opened up the trail register and began to thumb through older submissions. The last entry had come three days prior. “Impassable due to high water”. For about a span of a month, nearly entry after entry read “impassable”. Although suddenly expecting the worst, we were determined to find out for ourselves. Not 200 feet past the trailhead, shallow water had washed over the single track trail. Water flowed in every direction. We then donned our neo socks and began hiking upstream. Every major water crossing from then on out was manageable. Soon after, “that’s impassable” become the running joke for the remainder of the trip.

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Trail … ?

The junction for trail #856 granted us easy access to Horsethief Basin. We made good time early in the day until we began the ascent on long winding switchbacks, which seemed to criss-cross a larger part of the mountain face than truly required.

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Hiking through Horsethief Basin

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Beginning to climb high above the San Luis Valley and the Cotton Creek drainage

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We vowed to someday hike up into the remainder of Cotton Creek when we came upon this view.

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After reaching the southern shoulder of Electric Peak, we headed north on the “unmaintained” (off) trail towards Banjo Lake.

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Banjo Lake – with the bridge and all

With meticulous steps and deep breaths we descended on sharp and dislodged talus. I imagined if a giant were to look for the perfect shaped rock for skipping stones across Banjo Lake, he’d look to the slope we came down. Each step involved a smooth surfaced rock slipping from under the other.

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Late lunch near the shore of Banjo

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From Banjo Lake we would continue our multi valley tour and drop to the South Branch drainage. We had regained, lost, regained and lost the trail over and over here. As we came to the apex of Electric Peaks eastern shoulder, dark clouds quickly moved in; a bit nervous as we were more than 1200 feet from timberline.

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Lakes Peak above and South Branch Lake below

We moved quickly to timberline as heavy wind crept in.

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Just as soon as we reached South Branch, the storm had broke. Blue skies and white clouds encased the entire horizon. The original plan to climb yet another pass and camp at Brush Lakes seemed less lucrative all of a sudden. We watched as an abundance of cutthroat cruised the shallow water of the clear lake. We had already felt at home for the evening. Closing out a day featuring 6,130′ of elevation gain and 3,230′ of elevation loss over 12.5 miles, we were ready for some relaxing, far away from the grind of profession and “too-busy”.

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Colorful AND tasty

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Morning alpenglow

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Electric Peak from a northern perspective

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A viable trail marker came into view near the headwaters of Major Creek. From this point, and for the remainder of the trip, we had only seen one other person. The switchbacks descending into the valley of Major were more to the point this time than the afternoon before.

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Purple Fringe

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We finished in the early afternoon heat of the day on a dry trail leading to Major trailhead; car waiting patiently. With OLT a mere five minutes away, naturally I offered to give Kel her first taste of Valley View hot springs.