07-Aug-2010 -- "I love it when a plan comes together."
A popular quote from a well-known 80's show...and definitely our sentiment on this confluence.
We had been talking about 38N 107W for over two years. At the beginning of this summer we set a weekend that we might all be able to make.
Shawn had scouted out Creede, Colorado, ahead of time..."I stopped in Creede and spoke to the volunteers at the Ranger Station. You can travel to the beginning of the San Luis Pass Trail (where West Willow Creek Road turns 90 degrees to the left and heads west) in a 4wd vehicle. I purchased the National Geographic La Garita Cochetopa Hills Trails Illustrated map #139 that depicts this area."
Shawn started out from Arizona on Thursday and arrived in Creede just after dinner time. We were tracking his northward progress (and visit to 37N-108W enroute) online using tracking messages sent from his Spot GPS Satellite Messenger. He had sent us a URL for this and once on the adventure of hiking to the confluence, all of our families could track our progress in real time.
We arrived in Creede just about midnight as Friday turned to Saturday and met up with Shawn, who had graciously gotten a motel room for all of us. We discussed the route and got about 4 hours of sleep.
We woke up around 5 o'clock and set out in the Tahoe up forest roads to near San Luis Pass. We had passed numerous mining operations and the large Emerald Ranch.
At 6:20am we reached a point on Forest Road 503 where we thought the San Luis Pass Trail started. After treading through grass, we determined that the trailhead was another 1/2 mile up the forest road along West Willow Creek. We found an RV parked at the trailhead. It took us 60 minutes to travel the 1.8 miles (2.9 km) to San Luis Pass, an elevation gain of 561ft (171m). Halfway up to the Pass we passed the treeline. The creek was running briskly and the temperature was in the low 60F. We rested at the Pass, which crosses the Continental Divide and the boundary between Mineral and Gunnison Counties and La Garita Wilderness, and took some "hamming it up" pictures. The Pass is mainly in short grass with excellent views.
Part of what we discussed on the way up was memories of confluence treks. Between the three of us, we had tackled nearly 400 confluence points.
We continued onto the Cascade Creek Trail down the other side of the Continental Divide and quickly got into coniferous tree cover. The trail was decidedly steeper and mostly followed Cascade Creek. We were utilizing the exit route of Dale Stahlecker, the previous visitor who Shawn had been in contact with, to reach the confluence. Many thanks to Dale for his insight and responses to Shawn’s questions!
After 62 minutes and 2.0 miles (3.2 km), we left the trail and headed west. We crossed the creek and found ourselves at the bottom of a very steep slope that was heavily forested. The biggest obstacle on this leg were the fallen trees. Huge pines lay on their sides. We had to duck under and climb over many of these...while dealing with steep terrain. Toward the end of this bush-wacking leg of our journey, while Shawn was trying to get through a bunch of fallen trees, a pencil diameter stick managed to impale itself halfway underneath his right thumbnail. He pulled it out and was not happy. A band aid from his first aid kit managed to protect it for the rest of our hike.
After about 46 minutes and 0.42 mile (672m) of bush-wacking we came to a smaller tributary. We crossed it and then a steep embankment. This is where I must have hurt my knee. It started as a slight discomfort in my left knee. We found ourselves walking up a deceptively steep valley. Being devoid of trees, it might be an area prone to frequent snowslides. As we were ascending, some fairly dark clouds rolled in, and though we had a bit of sprinkle coming down about 2 hours later, the area was blissfully free of thunderstorms that day. It was not too hot or too cold--about 75F (24C) degrees throughout the day. It was medium grass and lined with trees. Going up the valley it looked less steep than coming down it. Shawn had to stop to inspect and redress his wound. He was painfully unsuccessful in his attempt to remove tree debris from underneath his thumbnail with tweezers. We veered to the north through some woods. By now my knee was throbbing in pain. Crossed a scree field and found ourselves looking across a steep slope to the east that we had to traverse laterally along the contour. The last 1/4 mile was the slowest going and most painful part of the journey for me. Joseph made the confluence first, then Shawn, and then me some 15 minutes later. By the time I reached it, the technology was starting to pile up.
It took us 95 minutes and 1.2 miles (1.9 km) to make the final climb. The confluence lies in a gully that runs from the ridge to the west all the way to Cascade Creek; well above tree-line. Covered in short grass, small to medium-sized rocks most of which were covered in lichen. The rock cairn shown in Stahlecker's visit was still there (the dead-wood was knocked over and some of the rocks moved a bit) and it was at our zero point. To the east, San Luis Peak could be seen; a magnificent Colorado Fourteener. We laid all the GPS units, and technology that we brought in and around the rock cairn. Technology included: Ashtech Z-Xtreme dual-frequency GPS unit, survey-grade GPS antenna, survey GPS controller, Garmin eMap, Canon Rebel XSi (took the pic), GPS 76 Map, Garmin GPS-76CS, Garmin Forerunner 305, Trimble GeoXT (L1 only), Suunto Tandem compass and inclinometer, TruPulse 200B laser rangefinder, Brunton Sherpa, Qualcomm Globalstar Satellite Phone, Spot Satellite GPS Messenger, Motorola FRS radios, Sony Digital Voice Recorder, and lots of batteries.
The views were magnificent in all directions, even the relatively short view up the ridge to the west. According to Shawn's laser range finder, the bluffs to the northeast were 800 feet away.
We spent about 80 minutes at the confluence. We each made a satellite phone call home to our family declaring success and Shawn used one of the custom message buttons on his Spot to send an email to several email addresses (previously loaded on the Spot website) One of these on his list was Dale Stahlecker and another was Terje Mathisen who would later process this narrative. I wonder what they thought when they received this unusual notification of our visit?
Here's the technical data:
Shawn's 1st reading(GeoXT):
Lat: 37° 59' 59.95252"N
Long: 107° 00' 00.03772"W
Elev: 12364.16ft (3768.605m)
Hor.Prec: 3.3ft (1.0m)
Dir. to 38-107: 32°09'11"AZM 5.673ft (1.729m)
Shawn's 2nd reading(GeoXT):
Lat: 37° 59' 59.94370"N
Long: 107° 00' 00.03841"W
Elev: 12361.68ft (3767.847m)
Hor.Prec: 3.0ft (0.9m)
Dir. to 38-107: 28° 21' 53"AZM 6.472ft (1.973m)
Shawn's solutions were postprocessed using Trimble Pathfinder Office software using data from the CORS (Continually Operating Reference Station) UNAVCO, Montrose, Colorado.
My reading was done on the Ashtech:
Lat: 37° 59' 59.92636"N (accuracy=0.026ft/0.008m)
Long: 106° 59' 59.97805"W (accuracy=0.030ft/0.009m)
Ground Elevation NAVD88(Geoid09): 12361.931ft/3767.924m (accuracy=0.072ft/0.022m)
Observations Used: 4383/4383 (100%) - indicates very "clean" data.
Dir. to 38-107:North 12°21'06" West, a distance of 7.653 ft (2.333 m)
OPUS (NGS) solution based upon CORS used: Crawford, Mesa County 05, Nucla, Aztec, Carbondale, Collbran, Mesa County 02, TresPiedraNM2006, Rifle_GCL_CO2006.
We achieved a "survey quality" observation...If I was a Professional Land Surveyor registered in Colorado (which I am not, yet), I could have set a survey monument and it would be acceptable. I wonder if this is the first confluence to be determined at sub-centimeter accuracy?
We arrived around 11am and left just after noon. Using Shawn's telescopic walking stick, I hobbled back the way we came. Both my knee and Shawn's thumb were throbbing all the way.
During the hike we saw 2 moose on the ascent to the continental divide, which are rarely seen in Colorado and therefore quite a treat, and at the confluence,
we saw some Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.
As we left the confluence and were hiking on an animal trail, we briefly considered following that contour all the way back to the continental divide. We decided to go with the known route that we had already blazed. Upon descending to the creek, and looking to the rocky ridge to the west, we all agreed that we had made the best choice. We took 103 minutes to get back down to the thick of the forest...52 minutes to bushwack the trees...116 minutes back up to the Pass. We took mini-breaks on the way back and my limp was becoming more pronounced. At the Pass we stopped for awhile. In the distance, we saw two hikers on the Continental Divide Trail. Oddly, my knee stopped throbbing and didn't hurt. So, we kept going and I was feeling good. We made it back to the Tahoe after the 10.8 mi (17.4 km)/11 hour and 20 minute hike. We refreshed ourselves and loaded up the Tahoe. We drove back down to Creede and went our ways home. Each of us was proud of the collective teamwork that had made this a safe and successful confluence visit.
This outstanding and extremely worthy adventure required 12:49 total time to and from Creede. The drive to the trailhead was approximately 45 minutes and 14.1 km each way.
On arriving home, I found the reason why my knee stopped hurting. It was entirely swollen and had almost no definition. It's been two weeks and I'm still recovering.
This confluence is the second highest in the United States.
If you would like to view Joseph's video: Rocky Mountain High: The Rocky Mountains: Geographic Perspectives Click here
This is in memory of my son, Peter Simpson Gallucci, born July 30, 2010. +RIP
Coordinator's Note: There has been at least one previous visit with survey-grade GPS gear, in Sep 2003 in Sweden to 56°N 13°E. That visit used a base+rover realtime kinematic (RTK) setup which enabled mm-level accuracy during the visit, with no need for post-processing.