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Archive for November, 2015

Once we got off of the paved roads and the dirt roads, the CDT became its usual self of being a trail then disappearing, then reappearing, then disappearing. It liked to disappear right around dark and Guthook would just have a note that said, “follow cairns.” Easy enough, usually, in daylight. Tougher with headlamps, but do-able for a bit.

 

Sunset

The CDT hit some amazing ridgelines that offered stunning views and even more stunning sunsets and sunrises. The ridges all soared above treeline, except when we needed to get over to another ridge.

On one such ridgeline, we lost the trail in the dark. After having already lost it and found it several times, we decided to just camp and find it in the morning. According to Guthook and Gaia, we were on trail, but there was no tread. Classic. We were supposed to contour down to a saddle, which would be easier if we could see some tread in the daylight.

Conveniently, the top of that ridge had just enough internet to check the weather. Of course, the prediction: severe thunderstorms starting around noon the next day throughout the afternoon.

I checked the elevation profile on Guthook to see how exposed we’d be. Guthook showed a startlingly steep climb up and over Parkview mountain with about five miles totally exposed. Thrilling.

I switched to Ley’s maps to see the bigger area. He noted a forest service road as a “thunderstorm avoidance route” which was nine miles compared to five, but the dirt road would keep us between 10,000 and 10,600 and still below treeline. If the storm became bad, at least we would have somewhere to hunker down.

We had a solid eight miles or so to the junction which would place us there right before the thunderstorms would probably hit.

Ducking down for the road, we stopped and ate an early lunch while it wasn’t raining. Eating lunch in the rain is the worst. While we sat there and moved multiple bars into easy access places for the storm, an ATV roared up. Atop it sat a hunter completely in camo with a gun on his hip belt and a very large bow strapped to the back. He stopped to chat. The same general hunter/hiker conversation began.

Hunter: “See any elk recently?”

Me: “Not since Wyoming.”

Hunter: “You all have hiked here from Wyoming?!”

Me: “We started in Canada, actually.”

E.D.: “We’re thru-hiking the continental divide.”

Hunter: “So…where’d ya’ll park?”

Memphis: “We don’t have a car…we walked.”

Hunter: “From Canada…”

Memphis: “Yeah…”

Hunter: “So you parked in Canada?”

Memphis: “No…”

Hunter: “hmmph. Where ya going?”

Me: “Mexico.”

Hunter: Blank stare. “Huh.”

After lunch, we walked up the rough dirt road and within fifteen minutes, we had to scramble to throw on rain gear. The rain, which came quick and fast, shifted into hail almost as quickly. Thinking it would only last a few minutes then return to rain, we ducked under a conifer tree. A few minutes went by. The hail continued with equal voracity. Damn. We gave up cover and just walked in it, leaning forward and guarding our hands. The hail stings when it hits exposed skin.

 

Some of the hail.

The hail continued for upwards of half an hour while thunder boomed nearby and we caught occasional flashes of lightening when we weren’t staring at our feet to avoid hail to the face. The storm did let up on the hail, but the rain kept up for about five more hours. We had to keep moving to keep warm; if we stopped, we would become too cold. I kept reminding myself that it could be worse…we could be higher and more exposed through the lightening.

We got back to the trail and crossed a road. Memphis decided that we were camping early because it was his birthday. I came to the conclusion that trail birthdays on the CDT were cursed because of the storm that day and the thundersnow on Scallywag’s birthday.

 

The fog after the rain.

I didn’t particularly want to stop early because I wanted to get over Bowen Pass the next day before any more storms invariably came in to drench us, but it’s hard to argue with the birthday line and it did feel good to lay down.

The next morning, we did have to haul ass to get over to and up the pass with storms forming in the distance. It was a long climb, but not horrendously steep, so with some loud electronic music, it went quickly.

E.D. surged ahead and Memphis took awhile on the downhill. I accidentally scared the shit out of some day hikers who didn’t hear me approach until I said, “Hi” behind them in an attempt to pass.

I found E.D. chilling under a privy porch cooking ramen while it misted. The main storm had passed, but a bit continued now and then. After we called the hostel in Grand Lake, to let them know we’d be coming in a bit late, we trudged through the last few miles where we saw about 25 elk in two groups.

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Facebook Messenger:

Last on the Bus (LB): “Are you in Steamboat yet? I’m in the Rabbit Ears Motel!”

Me: “What?? We’re in the Quality Inn.”

LB: “Have you eaten yet?”

Me: “No, you?”

LB: “Meet me and my Dad downtown!”

Steamboat Springs was a spread out town for hikers. With a vehicle, it’s not a big town, but on foot it takes longer. However, because Colorado is awesome, Steamboat Springs had a free bus system that traversed town every twenty minutes or so.

Easily Distracted, Memphis, and I hopped on the free bus and headed downtown to meet up with LB, who I knew from the PCT in 2012. We found him at a bar and we had a few beers to catch up. He and his Dad were on a motorcycle trip around Colorado for a week.

We progressed over to some Mexican food when we realized that we had been chatting, but not eating. How un-thruhiker of us! To make up for it, we all cleaned our plates.

The next day, we slowly got all the chores done, making our way around town slowly. I had called Arc’teryx about my rain shell not being waterproof and leaking through the fabric and found them most unhelpful. I decided that it would be easier to send it home then through their complicated process after the hike. I found a decent enough rain shell at Sports Authority and that seemed to work better, although my less than $1 rain skirt…i.e. trash bag worked better than both jackets ever did.

The ride we obtained out of Steamboat dropped us off a little early, but it would only be an extra mile down to the trail, so not too bad. Naturally, it was raining out when we got dropped off near Rabbit Ears Pass.

 

The found PBRs…

Then, something AMAZING happened. As we walked through a road pull off, we saw an open case of PBR. E.D. went to check it, expecting only trash. Shrieks of delight told us that was not the case. E.D. pulled out five full PBRs and a bottle of almost empty whiskey! We opted against the whiskey, since we already had plenty, but we all found spots to squeeze the PBRs into our packs.

E.D.: “Do PBRs expire?”

Memphis: “I don’t think so…that’s what makes them great!”

Me: “I don’t see an expiration date…”

The “trail” out of Steamboat continued down Hwy 40 for a wee bit, then turned down CO Hwy 14 for quite a few miles. We hoped to make it off the paved stuff onto the dirt road which we suspected would have forest service land on at least one side where we could legally camp.

The sunset, visible from the road, made the whole road experience better with the pinks and oranges melding together over some rolling hills. Plus, once it got dark, E.D. and I popped some PBRs for the last few miles and said cheers to the trail gods.

 

The road sunset.

 

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The border demarcation

Hitting the Wyoming/Colorado border just before sunset, E.D., Memphis, and I ate dinner and celebrated with some Fireball.  We had completed Wyoming in just over three weeks with only one zero in our attempt to speed up and hopefully beat the snow through the San Juans.

The border itself only had a “Wyoming State Line” sign, but other hikers had delineated the border with rocks spelling out “WY” and “CO.”  This also roughly marked our halfway point, which was a scary thought.  We had begun to notice a distinct and steady decrease in daylight already as we headed further south and knew that it would continue the rest of the trip.

We may have hit the Fireball a little hard which decreased our desire to go too much further from the border.  Lucky for us, a great campsite appeared only about 100 ft into Colorado and we dry camped.

In the morning, we happily walked  further into Colorado on the lookout for Frost heading north. We found him not too far into the day and the four of us did the typical stand around and talk number with our packs on. Swapping beta for the next two hundred miles in either direction, we set off toward the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness.

 

Before reaching the wilderness though, we had to walk on some ATV trails on the first day of elk hunting season. I thanked myself for having a blaze orange hiker trash hat and bright orange backpack.

 

Most of the hunters were pretty friendly despite their loud, smelly ATVs.

 

Hunter: “Have you seen any elk lately?”

Me: “In Wyoming…”

Hunter: “My permit doesn’t go that far…and neither does this ATV trail…”

 

I wondered if he’d considered that the elk could probably hear his ATV.

 

Finally, we hit the wilderness boundary and magically, the number of hunters decreased drastically to almost none. Apparently, walking and packing out the rack and meat is too hard for most hunters.

 

As we looked at the wilderness boundary sign, we noticed that there was a mountain named “Big Agnes” and another spot called “Seedhouse.” Thus, we discovered the inspiration for the names of our tents!

 

The Mt. Zirkel Wilderness threw us up quickly toward 12,000 ft near Lost Ranger Peak, then had us stay high above 11,000 ft for quite a few miles. We had gotten a glimpse of the weather forecast part way up and the afternoon showed thunderstorms scheduled to roll in.

 

View from atop Lost Ranger Peak

Making it over Lost Ranger Peak with no storms, we had lunch and kept trucking trying to get over all the 11,000+ ft bumps, but alas, the first storm hit as we were popping over an 11,600 ft bump where there was no cover. Quickly throwing on poor rain gear, we kept going hoping for the best because going back wasn’t any better than going forward.

 

Memphis had gotten ahead of E.D. and I, and we had no idea where he was.

 

The first storm cleared relatively quickly, but others loomed on the horizon as threatening dark blobs of impending discomfort. We began to aim for Buffalo Pass, where we would exit the wilderness and we suspected a privy might exist.

 

About three miles from Buffalo Pass, storms began to merge together blocking out the sun. We found Memphis throwing on rain gear and we all looked warily at the sky. The thunder progressively got louder and the lightening flashes began to get brighter.

 

We were pretty accustomed to getting shit on by the sky, but this storm system seemed to be worse than usual. Needing to get lower, we sped up as we plunged down toward Buffalo Pass, fingers crossed for a privy.

 

About a mile away and the gap between the thunder and the lightening had shortened to about five seconds. E.D. had shot ahead and I began jogging, using my trekking poles to both propel myself forward and also prevent myself from face planting on the rocks.

 

Three second gap from flash to boom.

 

Two second gap.

 

PRIVY! E.D. peered out from the side of it, watching for us. I bee-lined for it and jumped under the covered, overhanging area. Some shelter is better than no shelter. Lightening kept lighting up the sky and the rain began to pour sideways. Memphis popped in and the three of us watched the storm from the privy while cooking dinner.

 

Eventually, the thunder and lightening eased up, but the rain continued in varying amounts and angles.

 

Near the end of our dinner, a large SUV pulled up into the parking lot and four Texans got out. They looked confused and began setting up their tent right next to their massive vehicle on the gravel. But…they didn’t know how to set it up. And…they did not seem too friendly. After an amusing twenty minutes of watching them fail to set up their tent, one walked over to us and scowled.

 

Texan: “What’re y’all doin’?”

Memphis: “Getting out of the storm…”

Texan: “Well, I drove 1,500 miles to get here”

We all exchanged glances.

Memphis: “I walked 2,000 miles…we’re just in the overhang eating dinner.”

Texan: “Well, ya can’t camp in a public shitter!”

 

Riiiight. The Texan subsequently went and took a very loud, twenty minute shit. We stood in the overhang and cleaned out our dinner pots and discussed options for dealing with the rest of the storm that seemed to be subsiding a bit. I took every opportunity to burp while the Texan occupied the privy. Memphis just fumed about.

 

We could all agree that we didn’t want to camp close to those idiots, so we waited for the rain to stop, then went toward the lake and found a spot to camp in the trees.

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Alright! Now that I’ve finished the CDT and had some time to eat (I’ve gained four pounds back!), I’m beginning to write down the last half of the story.  It’s surprisingly easier on a full keyboard than using my phone!

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