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Archive for June, 2016

**From September 2015**

The wind howled that night even more than the people howled at the moon. As I attempted to sleepily chug some granola with coconut milk powder, I knew I’d have trouble getting out of the tent that morning. Gusts of wind hit my tent and all I just wanted was to pull my sleeping bag over my head. Eventually, my mind won and I put on almost all of my layers, packed up quickly, and started hiking. Impervious to the weather, Memphis headed off first as usual. E.D. poked her head out of her tent as I shivered stuffing my tent into my backpack.

9:30am – puffy still on.

New in the past few years, this stretch of trail stayed above treeline on a beautiful ridge for about 14 miles. I kept my puffy on as I hiked uphill, higher on the ridge. This ridge was by no means flat. They almost never are. This particular ridge had quite a few ups and downs. The trail shifted sides of the ridge a few times and did not duck far enough down to water for at least seven miles. I did not remove my puffy until 11am and never removed my trusty Melanzana.

The alternative to this ridgeline went over Tincup Pass on a dirt road and remained a route option for bad weather. With the amount of ATVs out and lack of thunderstorms in the foreseeable future, we had opted for the ridge.

CDT ridge walking.

Eventually, later in the day, we finally began descending in an epic plunge through trees and switchbacks. At the bottom, the dirt road from Tincup Pass linked back to the trail. Guthook showed some PUDs coming up which did not sound very exciting. However, Ley had mentioned a ghost town called St. Elmo down the dirt road the opposite way of Tincup Pass. About the same mileage without the PUDs, E.D. and I decided to explore.

Sometimes, walking down the dirt roads is a refreshing break because it requires less mental effort in navigation if the body or mind is tired. Plus, there’s a ghost town. That we’d hit at night. Perfect!

About four miles of wandering down the dirt road, we hit St. Elmo and it was, indeed, creepy. We had passed plenty of campsites on the way in with fires burning and cars pulled off to the side of the road, but no one in the “town” itself. The buildings had a stock, old feel to them and when we peered inside with headlamps, the wallpaper which was on only half on the walls moved in the breeze.

The town hosted several large signs dictating the illegality of camping within the “town” limits—not that anyone would sleep well there. We found an old sign that had lots of pictures of previous residents and a little information on who kept up the “town’s” current appearance.

It was too dark to take pictures of St. Elmo, but this was nearby at dawn.

We had to switch dirt roads in town and we had slight difficulties with this at night while simultaneously trying to not get freaked out. This road hosted some interesting cliffs and not nearly the camping opportunities that the previous road had. We ended up finding a side road toward a broken bridge to camp on. We went around the large stone blockades figuring that was for cars and not people on foot and camped. We did not notice the RV on the other side of the broken bridge until it’s generator came on mysteriously later.

We skedaddled just before dawn to try and catch Memphis, who would doubtless be confused. We jumped back on trail at the Hancock trailhead and went around a beautiful lake on the way to Chalk Creek Pass. We still hadn’t seen Memphis. We didn’t find him on the long descent down either where we’d usually catch him.

Right as we were about to head up to another ridge toward Monarch Pass, we thought we might pull a fast one on Memphis if we took a dirt road over to the main road and walked that up to Monarch Pass and beat him to town.

It worked. Right as we got to Monarch Pass, immediately after taking our headphones out a Subaru of two ultra runners playing Eddie Vedder pulled over and asked if we needed a ride into Salida. Why yes, yes please!

We found the hostel and a pizza place while we texted Memphis the plan. Halfway through a pizza, Inspector Gadget and Last on the Bus messaged us asking where we were and how long we’d be in town. They said they’d meet us tomorrow for breakfast. Memphis got to the hostel right as we had finished a pizza each and we began the laundry process.

Gadget and LB did find us in the morning as we found Axel, who we’d been following about a day or two behind for almost two thousand miles. In my resupply box, my Mom’s friend Kathy had included an amazing array of temporary tattoos. While we decided on a breakfast location, I convinced everyone in the immediate vicinity that they needed to put on a temporary tattoo. Then, we set a few aside with Gadget and LB to get Mellow Yellow one at their next stop. With thru-hikers, hostel guests, and hostel staff fully equipped with at least one temporary tattoo each, we created a breakfast plan.

Axel had contacted Karla, an amazing trail angel in South Fork, Colorado who was passing through the area. They had planned on breakfast at a specific restaurant, which I later learned was the only good breakfast place in town. While she drove in, LB, Gadget, E.D., Memphis, and I hopped in LB’s car and got on the table wait list, so they could roll right into a table, which turned into a fantastic time.

After breakfast, we went back to the hostel to pack up slowly. So slowly, in fact, we decided we needed lunch before heading to the trail. LB suggested we go to Midnight Pizza and Brewery, so we enjoyed two pizza locations in Salida. That was an awesome suggestion.

We did finally get back up to Monarch Pass that afternoon where we dallied more at the small store there because we searched the register to see how far ahead others had gotten from us in the meantime. Finally, we said goodbye to LB and Gadget and tried to get a few miles in before dark.

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**From September 2015**

Eventually, we managed to extract ourselves from the vortex of Leadville and made our way back to the Trail with a ride from a former thru-hiker in a Subaru. She dropped us off at Tennessee Pass where we moved sluggishly down the trail and quickly encountered a cooler further distracting us from Mexico.

Once we extracted ourselves from the cooler, we proceeded along the trail. Eventually, we paused and ate the subs we packed out for dinner and debated about a campsite location. The three of us came up with an “ideal” spot and a “probably spot.” I then came to the dilemma of how much of the sub to eat. I ate half just fine and wanted more, but sometimes, the other half can be too much, especially going uphill. My stomach overruled my rational brain and I ate the other half.

About a quarter mile later I regretted that as we plugged away uphill. If I was sluggish before, I became more so. Memphis had shot ahead uphill like usual and E.D. was not too far ahead of me having the same problem. When we got to the top of the climb, I noticed E.D. had found a campsite and was ready to fall asleep to digest the subway. I wanted to go a little further, but a raindrop hit my face and it was dark, so we set up tents and figured we’d find Memphis in the morning. Just as we got tents up, it began to rain and it continued most of the night.

The aspens on the way down to Twin Lakes.

The next day, we eventually got high enough to send Memphis a text. He replied that he was almost to Twin Lakes and heard about a hiker cabin available for dirt cheap by the store that Yogi slammed in her town guide. I had skipped Twin Lakes on the Colorado Trail four years prior, so I was curious. Since the weather fell into the “less than ideal” category, we wanted to see if we could snag said cabin. We had camped at about 11,000 feet and the snow line in the morning only fell about five hundred feet above us.

Memphis got into town before the store closed, rented the cabin for $30 total for all three of us and told us the location before heading to the only restaurant in the nearby hotel. With the weather turning worse in the evening, we found the cabin most comfortable and it even came with a TV/DVD set up. We had a choice between three DVDs.

When the store opened in the morning they could not have been nicer. Don’t listen to Yogi on this one. They rocked.

Leaving Twin Lakes included an adventure of its own. Ley had a dotted route cutting off about a mile, but potentially went through some swampy stuff around one of the lakes. There was a longer route with a bridge and an easier graded trail up to the steeper stuff. Memphis chose the wet feet route, I chose the dry feet route, and E.D. delayed deciding by making a phone call.

On the way up toward Hope Pass, I ran into six older women who wanted to chat. They had known each other for awhile and several had on Melanzanas.

Hope Pass was marked by a cairn with prayer flags.

Hope Pass seemed to go on forever on an overstuffed stomach, however, the storms abated. Right before the pass, I could hear the wind howling, but didn’t quite grasp the extent until I stood on top of the pass clamping my hand on my head to keep possession of my hat. I did manage to take a few timed photos and hung out there until my face felt sufficiently battered by the wind.

Descending Hope Pass was the first time in a long time that my knees began hurting. The south side had a very steep grade. I had to stop and stretch the muscles around my knees a few times.

I ran into Memphis at a stream toward the bottom. There was an opportunity to see some historic building that he was very excited about and a dirt road alternate parallel to the trail.

I continued on the trail and eventually stopped to sit at the junction of the trail and the end of the dirt road alternate in a I-have-to-eat-now moment. Just as I finished chomping an unappetizing, but effective cliff bar, E.D. and Memphis appeared and wanted to camp early. I threw my pack on and we agreed to stop for the first decent campsite we saw.

Surprisingly, that was not far down the trail. It even boasted a fire pit and a stream. We all set up and Memphis immediately set about to make a fire for the early stop. We all cooked, chatted, and slept an extra hour or two that night.

Lake Ann Pass seemed like the top of the world.

In the morning, we charged uphill to Lake Ann Pass. It was another long, steady climb with nothing but rocks toward the end. We definitely had stopped at the best campsite on the way up, which made all of us pleased. Lake Ann Pass gave us a whole new valley of scenery to stare at in awe.

The rest of the day, we spent descending and meandering around in large aspen groves. We passed one strange individual. He was obviously a hunter and not very chatty, although not threatening under what appeared to be segments of an elk he had shot and compartmentalized in large bags on his external frame pack.

We wanted to get up toward Cottonwood Pass to better get across 14 miles above treeline the next morning. This meant that we had to climb 2,000 ft at the end of the day into the waning sunlight. We managed to finish the climb and find a not so great campsite right off the road. A large group of loud people came up to park and look at the brilliant array of stars. They howled at the moon.

Coming up to Cottonwood Pass and the view of the next day’s ridgeline.

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**From September 2015**

After I consumed one large Chipotle burrito, two orders of chips and four refills of soda, we found Savannah, a friend of mine from Vail and we meandered around town and landed at the Dillon Dam Brewery where we consumed more food. Specifically, food not in our backpacks.

By that time, we knew we’d be looking for a stealth campsite after dark and waking up early to avoid detection. We got a little turned around in town, but eventually went in the right direction and right past a burger king where Memphis bought at least six $1 burgers for later that night and the next morning.

We ended up finding some trees off the bike path near the dam and managed to hide enough. It was not the most stealth location, however, no one bothered us.

Dillon Reservoir

In the morning, we continued up the bike path and waived to walkers, bikers, skateboarders, and other extraneous people somehow located on a bike path. I called my boss in Vail to make sure I had a job for the winter and when I said I was between Frisco and Copper he asked if I wanted a shift that day.

I found Andy, a SUOCer in Copper for lunch and we caught up enjoying the sun and a nice long lunch break. We also found a giant chair which both of us could stand on.

From Copper Mountain, we picked up the Colorado Trail, which I hiked in the summer of 2011 and our navigation worries were over for a few hundred miles! Not only did the Colorado Trail boast an actual trail, it included wooden signs and frequent trail markers! What luxury!

Where two trails join.

We set out late in the afternoon and hiked up the trail until we found a suitable campsite. The CDT combining with the CT also meant better trail grades which made the several thousand foot climb not as arduous.

In the morning, we had a chunk of trail above treeline with spectacular views. We leapfrogged each other and bumped into a trail runner about twelve miles from the last parking lot for a training run.

Trail Runner: Are you three hiking the Colorado Trail?

Me: No, we’re on the Continental Divide Trail, but they are the same for a few hundred miles.

Trail Runner: You all are insane.

Me: You ran up here and you’re running back…you’re insane.

Trail Runner: But you guys have backpacks and you’re out for a long time…

Me: You’re…running…

After discussing each other’s sanity, E.D., Memphis and I went downhill until we came upon Camp Hale. While Camp Hale is full of history, it seems a little on the creepy side to me. The old bunkers are pretty crazy.

Camp Hale Bunkers

Not long after Camp Hale, we hit Tennessee Pass and hitched into Leadville, one of my favorite Colorado Towns. The weather had begun to turn and I wanted either a puffy skirt or a Melanzana skirt to keep my butt warm in the mornings. After a thorough contemplation, I decided that I would use the Melanzana skirt more, so I went over there and got myself one. I also convinced E.D. that it was a good idea. Memphis did not join on that mission.

We had an epic Disney VHS watching event at my cousin David’s amazing little cabin that he was gracious enough to let us stay in.  Last on the Bus (LB) showed up with none other than Jeff! Jeff was quite a bit ahead of us because he had already done the basin in his flip, so he skipped around it on his way south. The five of us had an awesome time.

In the morning, LB took Jeff back to the trail so he could get even further ahead of us. While, we continued to watch Disney VHS movies, another Vail friend of mine, Allie came to see us and brought Annie the all amazing dog.

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**From September 2015**

Reluctantly, we left the warm hut at Berthoud Pass and headed out into the bitingly cold Colorado morning wind. Of course, we had to begin going uphill in the shade and we all had quite a few layers on to begin with despite knowing we’d all have to stop in half an hour or less to remove a layer.

Memphis, in his unending ability to shoot straight uphill went for it first while Sleepwalker hitched into Winter Park, E.D. huddled in her puffy and I mentally convinced myself to get battered by the wind. As usual, about halfway up the climb, I had to stop and take my puffy off, but kept my trusty Melanzana layer, hat, scarf, and gloves on against the wind. Most of the day, we spent high on ridgelines and I felt grateful that our main obstacle was only wind. Plus, the wind wasn’t that bad – I could still walk straight.

The Silverthorne Alternate Split

These were the kind of ridge walks that all the pictures highlight of long-distance trails but so rarely come. Offering 360-degree views, an actual trail to follow, a few cairns here and there, and the feeling that you’re on top of the world. This is not to say that they are flat up there. There were several large ups and downs to get between ridges along with a mine sight that we pondered during a break.

After twelve miles of relentless wind, but stunning views, we opted for the Silverthorne route over the Greys/Torreys route. My personal reasons went as follows for making that route choice:

  • I’ve already climbed Greys and Torreys in 2013.
  • It’s forty extra miles and therefore approximately a day and a half longer.
  • I’d rather spend that extra time in the San Juans.
  • There’s a Chipotle in Silverthorne.
  • I like Dillon Dam Brewery more than Breckinridge Brewery.

When we got to the route split, Memphis, E.D., and I took a break and looked at both routes from high above treeline. Then we enjoyed a 2,000 foot plunge back into the thick lodgepole pines on a dirt road on the Silverthorne route. We mindlessly followed the switchbacks down, enjoying a reprieve from the wind until we found the end of the road. Switching Guthook to the Silverthorne route and examining Ley’s map notes, we found the slightly obscured and overgrown trail which distracted our attention with a one log bridge over the creek. We mistakenly felt excited that we might not have to worry about navigation as much if we didn’t have to get our feet wet immediately.

E.D. and I forged ahead of Memphis a bit following the trail which became less prominent the further we hiked away from the road (classic). We saw a very large bull moose strutting his exceedingly gigantic rack around the wildflowers east of the trail. We proceeded with caution and hiked around him going further up the next valley. I paused and E.D. went ahead.

I was then looking for a sharp right turn, which I assumed should be marked somehow. This was kind of wrong. I realized I had probably passed the turn about 200 feet or so into this thinking and backtracked to find a small cairn that stood probably eight inches tall under at least a foot of wild grasses which marked a significantly less trod trail to the right. Because if you’re on a well-marked trail, you’re probably not on the CDT.

I found E.D. by the water just down the trail. As we got water, we saw Memphis passing by the same small cairn I missed and we yelled until he saw us and walked over. There wasn’t really any good camping by the water and we knew we’d wake up covered in cold frost if we stayed, so we decided to venture up to the ridges and see if we could find anything up there.

The climb that ensued from that water source immediately fell into bursts of bushwhacking. We could clearly see some trail up but nothing leading to it. E.D. tried to go where the map said it was and ended up in large patches of brush while I was too tired to try that, so I went straight up the hill through the burs until I hit one of the switchbacks two hundred feet up or so. Memphis watched from the creek. I yelled to E.D. to bushwhack over and picked the burs off of my knee braces and socks.

We had switchbacks for the middle portion of the climb out of the valley, but as we climbed higher, the “trail” became a twisting mess of game trails that looked like it could have been an actual trail at some point. In the end, we just picked between the most trodden path and the most direct path when either seemed like the best idea. Memphis was catching up as we reached this point and we hit the ridge roughly at the same time.

At this point, Ley left a large note on the map saying that going southbound, it would appear that we’d need to hike off a cliff…but don’t worry…it’s only very steep for about ten feet, then we’ll see switchbacks. Right. The three of us peered over the other side of the ridge were the trail seemed to disappear. We had hit this point before sunset, which was our goal so we did not have to navigate that with headlamps. We could see some switchbacks, but they were definitely twenty or thirty feet down. And every way to it included loose gravel.

We each found our own ways to the switchbacks which lead to a contour trail around the side of the ridge to another ridge. We walked in the dying sunlight catching views of the sunset each time we crested a different part of the steep ridges. Right as we needed to actually turn our headlamps on, we came to a steeper section with lots of loose footing. We slowed down and hiked on, eventually hitting a wide ridge.

It’s a cold sunrise at 12,000ft.

Having just squeaked through navigating the footing on the previous section in the dark, we did not feel like descending, so we camped on the ridge at 12,000+ ft. We figured that way, we’d have better star viewing opportunities as well as a good sunrise.

The ridge did not disappoint for either. While cold, we did not wake up covered in frost and we only had 14 miles to Silverthorne and, therefore, Chipotle. Of course, we all had our orders in mind already.

Well before sunrise, I heard Memphis deflate his sleeping pad and start shaking things. We had agreed a long time previously that since Memphis is a natural early alarm clock, he should not try to be quiet because it was easier to wake up to a tent being packed up than an actual alarm clock.

I ate breakfast in my sleeping bag as Memphis walked between both my tent and E.D.’s tent shaking his tent. He said, “Good morning” to which I replied “morning” through bites of granola and E.D. made a sound. It was a typical morning.

Memphis left and I managed to pack up my stuff in almost all of my layers and wave to E.D. when I finally got moving. Going downhill did not warm me up. I cursed as I hit the frost line and went down into the valley, which managed to freeze my feet further.

After plunging through the creek at the bottom of the valley, I paused in the sun to finally take off a layer and grab a quick bite to eat. The trail on that side of the creek had significantly better maintenance, so I checked Guthook. Still on trail. Sharp left turn coming up though.

I did find the left turn which, in true CDT fashion turned onto a “trail” which did not appear for twenty feet (around the corner behind the large shrubs) and had a sign that laid on the ground in dense ground vegetation. I paused to verify that I did have to leave the very well maintained trail for the turn when Memphis appeared walking toward me from the well maintained trail. He had apparently walked almost a mile down the trail before noticing he missed the turn. He took it out on the climb by shaking his head and climbing quickly. When I made it to the top, he was already there and had been for a bit.

After a snack, both of us wondered why E.D. hadn’t caught up yet when we heard someone walking up. However, much to our surprise, it was Shortstack and Action! We hadn’t seen them since Lima, Montana. The four of us chatted while looking at Silverthorne, Colorado, three thousand feet below us.

Eventually, motivated by Chipotle, we wandered down three thousand feet and directly into air conditioned burrito land with unlimited soda refills where E.D. found us a bit later.

One of the better sunsets in this stretch

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My attempt to back-blog the CDT while trying to beat the snow through Colorado and then writing my Master’s thesis failed (obviously). Now that I’ve finished that and school (!!!) I’m finally trying to finish the story before the next one begins.

Yes, you heard. Or read. I’ll be hitting the Pacific Northwest Trail in the upcoming weeks and have begun preparing for that with some much needed gear updates and whittling down my “post-thesis to-do list.”

The most common conversation I’ve had since finishing my thesis with friends, family, and random people met along the way, has gone along the lines of this:

Someone: Now that you’re finished with grad school, what are you going to do?

Me: I just moved back into my car and I’m going to go hiking.

Someone: So, you have a job lined up for after your hike?

Me: No. I haven’t thought about what I want to do after hiking.

Someone: Where do you want to go to get a job?

Me: I just bought a van to live in when I’m not hiking. I’ll figure it out when I get there.

Someone: So…no job?

It’s really getting close to being as old as the “are-you-going-to-carry-a-gun-when-you-go-hiking?” conversation. (The answer to that is no, by the way.)

Until the next adventure begins, please enjoy and/or comment on the story continued from last fall where I left off in North/Central Colorado to the Mexican border.

The San Juan Mountains: coming up!

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