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Archive for December, 2015

In true Colorado fashion, the weather report from the night before had completely changed and the new forecast basically stated that we were going to get shit on all day. The clouds covered the sky in a thick, dark layer.

I procrastinated on getting ready, figuring I could get to treeline and decide from there what I wanted to do. From looking at the maps, I saw three options: continue on the trail above treeline for about fourteen miles; go above treeline for three miles, then bail down an old dirt road straight into Winter Park; or bail back down the Devil’s Thumb Trail to a small parking lot, down a dirt road into the town of Frasier.

Right as I picked my pack up, Memphis walked up saying he camped a mile back and he had lost E.D. in the afternoon.

Me: “So, how’d you guys get behind?”

Memphis: “Remember when I tried to take a shortcut around the edge of the lake?”

Me: “Yeah…”

Memphis: “Not a shortcut.  Took me an extra half hour to scramble around the boulders.  I found E.D. at the campground and she was having an off day, so we went to find the Ranch Store.”

Me: “The closed one?”

Memphis: “Well…it was closed for a mini burning man festival they titled ‘Burning Ham’ and I waived a lady over.  Her boobs were popping out of her shirt and she convinced the manager to let us in, and let us buy some food.”

Me: “That’s why you all didn’t catch me when I took a long ass lunch.”

Memphis: “It was cool, but everyone was really hungover, so we eventually continued on to Monarch Lake where E.D. laid down to take a nap.”

Me: “Wow.”

Memphis: “Then I tried to catch you, but couldn’t make it last night.  I did pass Hiker Box and Heartbreaker though.”

We had no idea how far back E.D. was and we debated about leaving a note somewhere for her.  Since the weather didn’t seem completely shitty yet, we decided to hike upward to treeline and decide there which option to take.

About a thousand feet higher at the last group of trees, the rain had turned to sideways sleet and we still had another 900 feet to the top of the ridge. We looked back at the forecast and it had not gotten any better.

We opted to backtrack down, hopefully running into E.D. and if not, leaving her a note at the trail junction toward the parking lot. We decided to wait out the sleet and rain in a bar in Frasier, which we could hit in about 8ish miles by our estimates of the dirt roads on Gaia.

However, instead of running into E.D., we ran into Hiker Box and Heartbreaker.  Hiker Box found it hilarious that we were backtracking.  Heartbreaker was just a wee bit behind and when she caught up, Hiker Box filled her in on why were were heading down.

Hiker Box: “Look who I found going north!”

We showed them the forecast and they came with us.  At the junction, we wrote E.D. a note, put it in an extra ziplock, and placed a rock on it to keep it in place.

On our way down the dirt road, a car pulled over and offered us a ride.  Heartbreaker and Hiker Box took them up on it saying that they were open ended section hikers, so they could skip road walks.

Memphis and I continued downhill through various rain storms getting glimpses of the mountains above socked into the clouds.

Eventually, we came to civilization and made our way to the main road until we found a bar.  Cheerfully, we went in and the bar had both veggie burgers and a PBR happy hour.  Awesome.  Love Colorado.

We ate and drank PBR watching it rain outside as the gutters flooded and giant puddles grew relatively quickly.

Then we got a call from E.D.. She had gotten our note and was asking which bar we’d found.  She knew us well enough to know we would try to wait out the grossest part and have an entertaining time waiting.

She came in with Hiker Box and Heartbreaker and the five of us waited out the last of the storms which stopped sometime between five and six in the afternoon.

Finally, we decided to migrate.  Conveniently, a bike path linked Frasier and Winter Park, which made avoiding fast moving vehicles easier for a time.  We planned to head to a car camping campground about seven miles down the road, but then we decided that we smelled awful and needed laundry badly from the lack of laundry in Grand Lake.

The rooms were expensive, but Memphis volunteered to do laundry, so the three of us caved and got a room to dry out and restore some less repulsive scents to our minimal clothing.

In the morning after free hotel breakfast and a foot-long sub for each of us, we followed the bike path until it finished, followed the road, then found an old, unmaintained ski trail which turned into an interesting several mile bushwhack next to the road, then the road to the top of Berthoud Pass.  We ate dinner in a warming hut made for backcountry skiers.

On every wall, there were two signs: “No camping” and “No pets.” They clearly foresaw what we intended.  There was no one there after the construction workers left and the tourists who felt bad and gave us oranges.

While we debated about ignoring the signs, a dude who was clearly a thru-hiker in a dirty, bright t-shirt, and large beard walked toward the hut and appeared to recognize us through the window.

When he got closer, we realized it was Sleepwalker! We hadn’t seen him since Lincoln, about two months earlier. We caught up and all decided to camp in the trees outside the hut, which also had a “No camping” sign near it, but it was partially hidden by a tree and there was only one of them.  Much easier to ignore.

 

Someone sharpied something clever…

 

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Getting to the hostel in Grand Lake, we had to sign the most peculiar waiver which all of us found most amusing.

The waiver made sure we understood that the hostel sat at 8,500ft above sea level and potential health risks exist such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, etc. We had not been below 10,000ft in quite some time…at least 100 miles, so 8,500ft felt like a break where we could all breathe better!

We found Heartbreaker, Hiker Box, Flip, and Wide Angle at the hostel as well and it was nice to see a few other faces. Stereotypically, we all checked out of the hostel, but lounged in their reception area on the couches for another hour using the wifi and chatting about shoes, the Silverthorne vs. Breckenridge routes, and what we planned on eating next.

Meandering downtown, which conveniently, was also the trail, we went straight for the Fat Cat Café and their AYCE buffet. Since we came into town late the night before, we decided that we required beer before leaving town. Surprisingly, downtown Grand Lake does not have a large selection of bars like other small Colorado towns. Finally, we found an establishment called, “Grumpies,” which all of us deduced could not be anything except a bar. One beer, of course, turned into three before we decided that we needed to get at least seven miles out of town to get out of the National Park.

Following some roads out of town, we reached the trailhead where a large sign informed us that we could follow the Continental Divide Trail by following trail markers. I found that so hilarious that I took a picture of the sign. Trail markers! The thought! Maybe eventually.

 

Some slightly blurry bull moose.

We took the route that followed the lake closely at a fork and headed toward a dam near a campground filled with glampers (glamor campers). At the dam, we saw the glampers in their jeans with bikes and strollers and large amounts of stuff all gathering with cameras raised. Wildlife. Poking our way through the crowd, parting people with our wonderful smell, we saw two bull moose munching on some nearby willows.

Of course, the moose were slowly moving and munching in the direction that the trail went, so we hiked on, trying to get around them before they inevitably planted themselves in the middle of the trail.

Continuing along the lake, we saw all kinds of people illegally camping, so as we got tired, we decided to stealth camp as well. Right before finding a spot, we ran into a group of people who had put very large tents directly in the middle of the trail. They had a large fire and plenty of lanterns.

Camper: “Hey there!”

E.D.: “Hi”

Camper: “Do you guys need a flashlight…you don’t have one?”

Me: “It’s on my head…it’s just not on yet.”

Camper: “Why?”

E.D. and I exchange glances.

Me: “Because we can still see ok…”

Camper: “So, do you need a flashlight?”

IMG_1708We kept hiking and saw a few river otters splashing in the water at dusk, being able to see plenty with the light from their fire even half a mile later.

The trail then proceeded to go up on Knight’s Ridge the next morning which our map warned could be impassable due to blowdowns. We found another tid-bit of information online that the blowdowns had mostly been cleared. They were indeed and we only had to go over about a dozen or so before dropping down to a popular camping and day hiking area.

Supposedly, there was a tiny general store somewhere in the car mess, but I couldn’t find it. Memphis and E.D. were slightly behind me. I asked a few glampers where it was and discovered that it had closed, but sometimes the ranch down the way had sodas.

The ranch was closed for a private party. I gazed at the sign for a long moment before hiking on looking dejected. I didn’t *need* anything. I just wanted a non-crystal-light-energy caffeine boost.

As I passed a long fence covered in private property signs, I heard someone yell, “Hey hiker!” from the other side.

I turned and saw an old man walking up to the fence. We chatted for a bit and I learned of his grandkids, the campground, and the reasons why the general store closed. He saw that I was bummed it had closed and asked if I needed anything. I said no, I had just wanted a soda to give me some energy and he miraculously produced a coke from a nearby car trunk and handed it to me.

Delighted, I got to walk the dirt road stretch with a soda in hand which made the morning much better. I thought I would wait by Monarch Lake for E.D. and Memphis, so I tossed the can in the dumpster and went to walk past a man sitting on a beach chair near the lake entrance area.

Man: “Do you have your parking pass visible?”

Me: “I don’t have a car…”

Man: “You need a parking pass for anywhere you park around here.”

Me: “I walked here.”

Man: “There’s no place to walk from with free parking.”

Me: “Dude. My car is in Seattle at my Mom’s house.”

Man: “So you got dropped off somewhere?”

Me: “In Canada.”

Dumbfounded, I decided to ignore further questioning and simply walk past him to take a break. I found out from another person asking me to sign into the wilderness area that they were part of the wilderness society and were volunteering. They said that I had to get a permit to camp in the wilderness area and did not seem to understand that I could walk into the wilderness area and out the other side in the span of an afternoon.

Lady: Steps in front of my path, “You’ll need a permit to camp.”

Me: “I’m going past the wilderness area tonight.”

Lady: “That’s at least eight more miles and a lot of elevation gain.”

Me: “It’s about 2,000 feet of gain…and I’ve only hiked nine miles today…”

Lady: “They’re hard miles.”

I hiked half-way up the climb to a stream, laid my tent out to dry, and ate lunch wondering where E.D. and Memphis were.

The climb was well graded and had a trail the whole way, so I didn’t understand what the lady was talking about exactly.

With still no sign of E.D. or Memphis, I continued on, trying to get near Devil’s Thumb pass to camp. I got to within a mile before treeline and camped around 11,000ft in a spot just flat enough to fit my tent. The terrain had become increasingly rocky and I thought if I did not take what I could find then, I found I have to settle for a shittier spot later.

I had gained enough elevation that I could get enough internet to check the weather after hearing some of the day hikers mention something about a storm. Indeed, a large storm system was supposed to hit in the early afternoon and continue until about 8pm the next night. I was about to hit a 14 mile waterless stretch above treeline in the morning and pondered my options as I loaded up on water.

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