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Archive for the ‘The Colorado Trail 2011’ Category

The final segments!

I left Silverton around 10 am after getting a ride in a beat up, red pick up with an old geezer who answered everything I said with “Right on.”  His story goes like this: he got to Silverton 18 years ago on his motorcycle with just the clothes on his back and “not quite three dollars in my pocket.”  Now, he has twelve more motorcycles, owns a house and a kid.

I hiked from the road to Little Molas Lake and hit a trailhead (which was not in the guidebook) and read a sign warning about sheep dogs.  Fantastic.  Just what I need to worry about right now.  Moving slowly with a full food bag, I hiked awhile and stopped for lunch where I still had a good view, but past where all the day hikers went from Little Molas.  I went in very small ups and downs and near beautiful wild flower fields of yellows and pinks and reds and purples.  Passing far more water sources than mentioned in the guidebook, I got some when I needed it and only carried about a liter with me.

That evening, I stopped between a pond and a small stream which ran into a cave.  I could hear sheep not far off and I had no desire or patience to deal with them that night.  I figured 10 miles was enough for a day out of town anyway.  In the morning, I got moving in good time until I hit the sheep.  I passed the sheep dude sitting over on another hill in the distance.  We waved to each other, but were out of earshot.

The first sheep moved away with no problem when I walked through.  They didn’t want to deal with me and I didn’t want to deal with them.  Our agreement worked just fine until the sheep dogs discovered me and decided that I was not cool.  Thanks growling and barking dogs.  One in particular, would not leave me alone.  It ended up taking me an hour to get about a third of a mile because he growled and showed his rather sharp-looking teeth constantly.  After about 5-10 minutes, he would decide that I was ok, but lay about 10 feet in front of me in the middle of the trail.  I would walk around him in a semi-circle and he would be fine until I was 10 feet on the other side.  He would then begin barking and growling again and I would wait until he would lay ahead in the trail again.  Repeat process for 1 hour.  Fuuuuuuuuuuck.

That surprisingly drained a good deal of energy making sure it didn’t bite me.  My appetite began to rage!  It has rarely done this the whole trail.  Now, almost finished, it decides to be hungry?  Hmmmm.  I paced myself on meals and bars by distracting myself with the new geologic formations that surrounded me.  I wished Amanda was there to tell me what they all were, how they got there and the inevitable super sarcastically awesome comment.  I trucked down until crossing Cascade Creek, which was beautiful and did cascade, but it was also infested with bugs and I had to keep going to get away from them.

The sky looked like something might come in soon, but didn’t until about mile 3 of segment 26 where I found myself getting pelted with hail.  Hail hurts when you have just a tank top and running shorts on.  I dashed until a tree and hid while a hail storm moved and dropped an enormous amount of hail for half an hour.  It entertained me quite well and was much more pleasant than rain.  I watched it bounce as it hit the ground.  This time, it only got up to marble size though.

When enough of the sky turned blue again, I hiked on to get to the last water source before a 21 mile dry stretch, according to the guidebook.  It had a fantastic campsite right before treeline…literally.  I got in right as it got dark and cooked dinner, hung my food and almost fell fast asleep until I heard a mountain lion off in the distance.

The next morning took some motivating to get moving.  Once I did, I managed to bash my shin across a large blowdown which gave me a small surge of pain, which I ignored until I felt blood dipping down my shin and staining my socks.  Then, I took care of it and covered it up.  I think my lack of motivation came from the 3.5 liters of water I was carrying in case I didn’t feel like doing 21 miles (which I didn’t).  Right before hitting segment 27, I saw a large black bear running away.  Glad I hung my food…

The first 10 miles of segment 27 confused the hell out of me because they were a maze of logging roads, some still functioning.  It was so confusing that I ripped the instructions out of the guidebook and put them in the waistband pocket because I couldn’t keep the turns straight in my head.  Then I ran into a super cheery group of people with day packs.  I suspected that they had some caffeine in one of their two trucks that was there and lightly alluded to my desire in hopes of yogiing a soda to wake myself up and hike more motivated.  They did not have any there, but did five miles further in their camp and told me to meet them there.  Three of them were trail running the five miles and the other two were hiking it.  Apparently, after chatting with them, they were with an “expedition” group that had everything already figured out and set up camp and tents for them.  All they had to do was carry a day pack and hike together.  Sounded like a sweet deal to me.

I did end up having lunch with them because they were great company and I talked with them for a little over an hour, all those at the camp.  They generously did have some mountain dew there, a pb&j, and a beer they gave me to pack out.  I talked a great deal with Julia who seemed to be the only person under 40 there.  I did the sleeping bag trick to keep it cold.  After that hearty lunch, I hiked another 9 miles to the beginning of Indian Trail Ridge, the last above treeline 4 mile sha-bang.  There were a few clouds, but I did not expect them to turn into anything.  Yet, I just camped near the last trees anyway since I had the water and a beer!

The next morning, I noticed I had lost my knife and searched around my immediate area.  Nothing.  Bummer.  I hiked up and over all the bumps on Indian Trail Ridge and down to Taylor Lake (the next water) and got a liter.  After a snack, I went up to Kennebec Pass and went down the other side saying goodbye to the exposed hiking.  I saw a small dark cloud, but thought nothing of it because it was super small and the rest of the sky was pretty blue.  Then, a few miles later in the trees, as I was rocking out to some tunes, I felt a big rain drop on my head.  I looked around, glancing through the trees and noticed that very little blue was left in the sky.  Hmmm.  I found a good tree and sat under its protecting branches as it began to rain.  I ate lunch.  Then I read.  Then I read some more.  Still raining.  Still dark grey.  Then it paused.  I hiked about a quarter-mile before it began raining again.  This time harder.  I ducked under another tree.  Lightning and thunder started spinning out and the thunder had an eerie sound like a car racing through a tunnel and then crashing into a cement wall.  The lightning was only a mile or two away.  The rain was a bit too much to read.  An hour later it stopped raining and I hiked another quarter-mile before it downpoured again and I went under a third tree.  I looked around.  The whole area was super green with loads and loads of vegetation.  It must just get slammed with rain.

Eventually, it stopped raining, but as I hiked, the vegetation brushing against my legs got me all wet.  When I got to the bottom, I saw nice campsites near the creek and thought about staying, but decided to get a bit further to have a shorter last day.  I figured my legs were already wet, so it didn’t matter.  As I went up the last climb, I found a few small streams and got a liter out of one.  That allowed me to dry camp near the top of the climb.  Then I discovered that my pocket rocket did not work.  The rungs had been completely stripped out and it wouldn’t screw onto the canister.  I ate peanut butter for dinner.

On the menu for breakfast: cold oatmeal.  Disgusting.  The weather didn’t look too much better, yet I walked on passing a few large cow pies and cursing them because I thought I had left the damned cows behind.  Before long, I found myself having an early lunch at Gudy’s rest, four miles from the end.  I was joined by two mountain bikers, one of whom stopped just so he could talk on his cell phone for ten minutes.  Yup.  Back to civilization.  Fantastic.

The last four miles just went downhill past one parking lot and ended in the second.  It felt good to finish and even better to have a free Colorado Trail Nut Brown Ale from the Carver’s Brewery in my stomach when I got into Durango.  I figured if I texted all those I knew behind me and I drank beer long enough, someone would show up.  Then everybody showed up: Hop-A-Long, Cookie Monster, No Amp, Phil, Doug, John, and eventually Justin and Andy.

The next day, we continued the celebration after we managed to rent a minivan for the next day to drive back to Denver.  We might have celebrated a little too much and the scenic curvy route proved a little difficult.  All 7 of us fit with all our packs into a Kia minivan and road tripped back to where we started.  We made it back to Denver to visit Stick Man and then crash on Phil’s couch for a night.

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After the party in the yurt, a vibrating alarm clock woke everyone up at 6am.  Only Sandy got up.  She buzzed all around, packing up relatively quietly, boiling water,  trying not to trip on all the stuff strewn everywhere.  I managed to sit up at 6:30am and then she began talking to me, but I was still too tired to listen well, so I smiled and nodded.  She had made extra hot water, so I grabbed some for my oatmeal and sat watching the sunrise out the window.  It seemed like such a novel concept to have a window and very odd to be gazing through one at the red mountains in the distance.  Sandy amazed me when she gave away her “extra” water, so she would only carry half of a liter.  That would make me far too nervous going 7 or 8 miles with half a liter of water over several climbs including the high point of the whole trail (not including the five 14ers that I added on).  She left first, right as everyone was starting to wake up.  Justin and John who slept outside on the deck (to star gaze) came back in and then it was an interesting calm scramble to pick out everyone’s socks and belongings.

I left around 8:15, knowing that the others would catch up to me sooner or later since the rest of the segment seemed to gain far more elevation than it lost, until the very end of it.  I ran into two Germans who planned a nobo hike, but weren’t sure if they would make it the whole way due to time constraints.  They seemed very methodical and only asked pertinent questions…all about water sources.  Then they pressed on in some kind of hurry.

The first climb after a few miles was the steepest even with switchbacks over thick layers of fist to head sized rocks that all seemed to move slightly under my feet.  This is where Doug, Phil, Justin, and Andy began to catch up and pass me.  Eventually John would as well on the second climb, but we all ended up leap-frogging each other due to callous chaffing, blisters, or the good old trying to figure out where we were.  The high point at 13,271 ft near Coney Summit is now the highest that I’ve carried a full pack, but did not seem all too special although the views around were fantastic.  However, those same views, I had all morning.  I felt a little jaded to the sea of mountains floating in all directions in a blanket of light fog.

From there, the trail shot downward very steeply near, and eventually on, a jeep road.  Gudy dutifully reminded us in her “tips” section of the guidebook that if the treads on your boots are worn, you will slip and slide down this part.  Gee…NO SHIT SHERLOCK.  I was very displeased with bothering to read that and wondering why it was possibly worthy of putting in there.  It’s just like they waited until segment 12 to tell you that you could pitch your tent anywhere that it didn’t have a no camping sign.  Hmmmm.  Great job guidebook…

Anyway, Phil, Doug, John, Justin, Andy, and I took lunch by a small stream a little over a mile into segment 23 where we were apparently camping a few hundred yards above Sandy, who was further down in the valley near more flat ground.  From there we got to climb another 1,000 ft where I noted the trend of entering a new segment and then suddenly climbing a 1,000 ft.  It seemed a little suspicious.  This time, we climbed up the valley to an “unnamed saddle” and then dropped down the other side to a small pond and a lake where we camped that night around 12,200ft.

In the morning, the sun hit the mountains just right to make a large reflection in the pond and provided the opportunity to take some really crazy looking pictures.  I left early-ish after the sun warmed me up enough and headed out for another bumby day.  The segment did not have any drastic climbs, but rather a lot of smaller climbs from 300-600 feet up and down, up and down.  It crossed from one ridge line to another by shooting down a bit into the valleys and then right back up again.  Each valley looked different, all overflowing with water, some of which was still melt water.  There were various small steep sections in which I was surprised that I didn’t eat shit and fall on my face as the gravel-y footing tried to give way from under me.

At lunch, a mountain biker passed me and warned me of weather coming in that evening and all through the next day.  As usual, it seemed fine during lunch, just a few puffy clouds in the distance, but nothing super dark yet.  I trudged on and Justin and Andy caught up eventually, after I passed the super chill dude looking for mushrooms.  They caught me about two and a half miles into segment 24 where we all filled up at small stream and examined the impending dark clouds of doom that were creeping up from behind us rather steadily with soft thunder still in the distance.  It seemed to have mushroomed out in about half an hour to cover a fairly large portion of the sky behind us.  In front of us, the sky was also turning a darker shade of grey that didn’t look too inviting either, but we hadn’t seen any lightning or heard close thunder, so we kept going to get a better view.  We’d been above treeline for about 30 or 40 miles and we had about 4 more to go above treeline, so we kinda just had to play the wait-and-see game.  That is, until we got to a small pond at mile 3 and the dark clouds of impending doom in front of us got super dark and thunder boomed loudly.  There was no where really to go from where we were except to set up our tents and hope for the best, so that’s what we did.  Nothing like setting up a tent really quickly as two large thunderstorms began to darken the entire sky and they moved toward each other at 12,500ft.

About five minutes after jumping in the tent, boom boom boom! Flashes of light!  The storms seemed to crash together producing loud thunder.  Luckily, I had Kurt Vonnegut to read!  I found myself distracted by a story of when people had big brains a million years ago in 1986 while I hoped that lightning didn’t hit my tent.  I didn’t set everything up inside because I had the great idea of waiting the storm out, then hiking another few miles to make the hike into Silverton shorter the next day.  That is, until about 8:30pm when the sky was still really overcast and light showers came down sporadically.

As I pondered, I heard voices.  I poked my head out and John, Doug, and Phil came up in full rain gear and set up camp.  They had apparently been a little further out, waiting the storm out in a ditch.  Somehow, reading in my tent…dry…seemed more appealing.  I ended up setting up my stuff and going to bed early, ready for a 17 mile day into town with almost 4000 feet of elevation loss (in one go), followed directly by a 2,000 ft climb.

Beer motivated me to get my ass hiking at 6:15am the following day and not reset my alarm.  I stood and watched the beet red sunrise that faded before I had time to wake the others up to see it.  I knew the clouds, which oddly hadn’t gone away, wouldn’t at that point and I was in for more shitty weather.  Red at night, sailors delight; red in the morning, sailors take warning.  I wanted to get the last 3-4 miles of exposed, above treeline hiking out-of-the-way before I had nothing to hide in and a storm came through.  I did, just fine, and realized just how good of a campsite we had.

Dropping off the divide, we took a sharp right to hike down Elk Creek all the way to the Animas River.  The initial drop down amazed me at the switchback construction.  It had tight switchback after switchback like I had never seen before.  Yet, as I went down, I have no idea still how I did not eat shit.  They slopped so only one foot really had support and the other tended to slide off on the narrow…8-10 inch path.  Once through with those gnarly switchbacks, it just went straight down, east coast style on a mixture of loose gravel and large rocks.  A little after I reached treeline, I ran into the first group of people who asked questions about protection up on the divide which I assumed they meant as trees and I talked to them for a few.  Then I saw trees again and it started to drizzle/mist on me, which the branches caught most of and it ended in about twenty minutes.  The whole way down, I tried to take many breaks to give my knees resting time and they pulled through, right down to the bottom just fine.

I crossed the Silverton-Durango train tracks and had a chilling memory of the Mt. Washington cog road and it’s awful noise pollution.  This train not only made obnoxious noise pollution, it also ran on coal.  Yes, that’s right…coal.  I ate lunch near the bridge over the Animas River and then set out grumpy to climb 2000 ft…to a road.  The climbing part didn’t really bother me…except that I was climbing to a road.  One climbs away from roads…not to roads.  The concept just did not seem right in my head and it boggled my mind as I climbed.

The first two-thirds of it was actually quite pleasant, giving lofty views back of the Elk Creek Canyon, the river, and had a steady grade consisting of wide switchbacks.  I rocked out to some music, trying to forget about the absurdity of climbing to a road.  Then I came across a trailhead, which of course was not mentioned by the guidebook and I got confused.  A nice older woman named Linda was there and she set me straight.  She offered me a ride from there but I still had 1.2 miles left to the actual pass.  I thanked her, and continued.  Now, this mile was super pointless.  It went from being 50 ft from the road, to a quarter mile-ish away, back to near the road, away again, and then to the pass.  Before I could get annoyed at it, Linda pulled up and told me to hop in.

She drove me down into town where I found the hostel, laundry, and a bar.

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Getting into Creede was so easy that I didn’t think much of getting out of Creede.  That is, until I tried hitching out for 45 minutes and everyone waved to me.  If you’re not going to pick me up, DONT WAVE!  I ended up calling Debbie from the Chamber of Commerce for a shuttle which I split with Justin and Andy.  She got us to right before that big hole that scared the daylights out of me the day before, which is to say, further than I thought that she would drop us.  Then came the mile and a half hike back to the trail, which did not thrill me too much, but luckily it wasn’t steep and the town was really fun and inviting.  At the junction with the CT, Justin, Andy, and I met a few older folks out for a day hike and we chatted with them for a few minutes before beginning segment 21.

The beginning of the new segment went like this: GO UP 1000 FT NOW!  Since we had all just filled our packs up with the resupply and had just eaten lunch in town, it was a great way to start the second half of the day.  The large amount of french fries sitting in my stomach seemed to find this amusing.  The trail shot up to a really pretty saddle and then swooped back down into the valley below, all above treeline still.  At least if the trail is going to go up and down that much without reaching the top of anything, the entire climb and descent has magnificent views in all directions.  The views make the complaining very trivial, although the thoughts still enter my mind, especially with a full food bag against my back.  Toward the bottom, I ran into three Oakies with extremely large, heavy packs moving at a pace that seemed to be less than half a mile an hour under pain.  The one in the back had a large rope resting under the top loader.  I chatted with them for a bit and walked behind them for five minutes or so while they described their agonies.

Me: So, are you guys going climbing?

Dude: NO! WHY does EVERYONE keep asking me that?!

Me: Well, you have a pretty big rope there.

Dude: We have three.  We take bear bagging very seriously, especially when I was a ranger at Philmont.

Me: Ah.  So,  you guys have gone backpacking before?

Dude: I have the most experience, being a ranger and all, as well as boy scouts.  The guy in the front has gone on a few trips and this is the middle guy’s first trip!

Me: Uh huh. How much are you guys doing of the CT?

Dude: Just segments 21-25.  We heard it has the best views.

Me: So, how are you going to use all three of those ropes to bear bag food above treeline?

Dude: We weren’t sure.

Middle Dude: He had us try to stay awake in shifts and watch it all night last night, but we fell asleep after throwing up from altitude sickness all afternoon.

They provided ample entertainment for about half an hour or so until I decided to move on.  I almost camped with them to see what else they had in their overstuffed 60 something pound packs, but I resisted and trudged up to the next saddle while they camped in the valley by a scattered bunch of trees, presumably so they could make some complex bear bag.  I found myself taking far too many pictures of the sweeping views that spanned miles as the sun began to set and I seemed to continually be walking up to various small saddles.  I played “find the pica” a few times and won each time.  That game is far easier than “find the woodpecker.”  The picas sound like dog squeak toys and look like overgrown mice.

As the sun started to set, I saw the pond I aimed for at the beginning of Snow Mesa.  It was the next water source after the creek that the Oakies camped by and I was running low on water and down to about 200ml…oops.  When I got there, the sun had set, but the moon lit the way as the dusk began to fade.  I set up my tent in the flattest place I could find which somehow still had an interesting array of grass climbs to sleep around.  I grabbed a liter of water from the pond, dip-cup style because it was too shallow for a whole nalgene, then went and cooked dinner.  I barely managed to eat half of it, then said screw it and covered it to place it near my food bag, which I left in the vestibule because there were no trees.

When I awoke, I found frost on the rain fly again and I took it off and set it up in the sun to dry while I ate breakfast and gathered up my stuff.  Justin and Andy were tented on the other side of the pond while an older guy and his ugly poodle were camping close-ish to me .  I ate the unfinished, cold couscous from the night before and snacked on some cashews until I packed everything up.  The older guy started to come over while I was stuffing my tent and began a conversation.  A few of his comments stuck out in my mind very clearly, his opening statement being, “You’re the fourth solo female thru-hiker I’ve seen on this trip!”  I only knew one ahead of me and one he could have mistaken for solo, but I didn’t question him.  He went on talking about how the next backpacking trip he went on, he would not go on the CT because there were too many thru-hikers.  A.) Dude, you shouldn’t have picked a popular spot, and B.) You started talking to me, not the other way around, all I did was wave in acknowledgement, sorry for disrupting your solitude.

The morning miles were nice and relaxing with the small ups and downs on the Snow Mesa and the San Juans shooting up in front of me.  I saw some sheep off in the distance to the left, but they were nowhere near the trail, but I could hear them baaaaahing.  On the way down to the road and the end of the segment, I found the loose gravel a pain.  I did some snowshoe skiing moves and managed not to eat shit somehow.  When I got to the road, I took a break seeing if I could yogi any beer or soda off of someone in the parking lot, yet no one was forthcoming.  Justin and Andy caught up and the three of us looked pathetic together, but still nothing.  Then a guy came trotting down and began talking to us.  He claimed to have thru-hiked last year and pulled something or another in his leg, so he was going to hitch to Durango and didn’t need his food.  He emptied his food bag contents out for our picking.  I took a few crystal light packets and Justin packed out the rest to my amazement considering it included four dinnesr, a large ziplock of Nutrigrain bars, and another large ziplock of cheese crackers.

I decided to walk 2.5 more miles to the stream to eat lunch since I got a late start, which I managed to do, just before the storm hit.  I snagged a liter of water and dashed into the tree groves to the side while impending doom swept over darkening the skies to a deep grey.  The thunder came in while I ate my lunch and put aquamira in the water.  Then came the lightning.  On and on it went.  The different waves of the storm lasted three hours!  When finally enough sky had cleared, I went above treeline to the small mesa and looked back at the storm as it moved away from me.  I stood and watched the lightning strike down and sideways until a rainbow formed while the sun shone ahead of me.

I threw on my iPod to get the last five miles or so, until I ran into more sheep!  Eeeesh!  This time, they ate the grass right next to the trail and a sheep dog decided I was not welcome and began growling at me.  I took off the headphones and tried to shoo it away, but it didn’t want to move.  After a few minutes, the shepperd came down and waved him away.  He was a really nice man from Bolivia trying to make enough money to put his third kid into medical school (two were almost done, but he didn’t have the money to put the third through).  He offered me a soda and let me sit on his couch for an hour while we chatted in Spanish and he fixed a transistor radio.  Then he walked up the hill with me for a bit so the sheep dogs wouldn’t bother me.

From there, I only had a mile and a half to the yurt which I had heard was open to hikers.  I got there in no time, grabbed some water from the stream not too far from it and headed inside to find Justin, Andy, Phil, Doug, John, and Sandy.  Phil, Doug, and John were old camp counselor buddies from Denver and Sandy was a 62 yr old woman hiking about 10 miles a day with her husband supporting her through the towns and whatnot.  We all had a blast eating dinner, playing the SET card game, and hanging out for a night.  All of us had apparently asked the Oakies if they were going climbing that day, which explained why they seemed so irritated at my question.  We definitely stayed up past hiker midnight.

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Segment 18 began with the last water at mile 1.7 and then the “wonderful” guidebook said that I would find no water for 21 miles until I reached Cochetopa Creek.  In my head, I planned on getting up early so I would have more time to do the long day, but when I awoke, I found my tent covered in frost and the air seemed like an icebox!  It seemed as if I had just stepped into a large refrigerated beer room, but no beer.  Managing to motivate myself to moving at 8am, I dutifully filled up all my water for the day and set out for the next creek to camp near.  Everything seemed to take longer due to having to warm my fingers up under my armpits after doing any menial morning task.

While getting water, I found Wooly and the Drake or TJ and Andrea, the two who had Sarah supporting them (the one who gave Gismo, Napper, and I trail magic beer at route 50 to Salida).  They were trying to do the whole trail in 24 days.  Continuing on, I found myself pausing in the sun to warm up and laughing because usually I pause in the shade to cool down.  After an unexpected sharp 300 foot increase that was not included in the elevation profile, I took a sun break to un-frost my rain fly and let it dry.  It took longer than normal because first the frost had to melt, then it had to dry.

I followed Cochetopa Creek for miles on the side of the ridge looking down at it snake its way through the valley.  When I came close to the end of the segment, where I planned a second break, mostly because my feet were overheating in my boots, I ran into three people going fishing.  It seemed as if the guy was taking the two women fishing and teaching them because they all had matchy matchy gear and they looked like they put on way too much make up for a fishing trip.

“Where did you hike from?” One asked.

“Today? Or in general?” I asked, not knowing what she meant.

“Oh, umm in general I guess,” she said.

“Denver.”

“WHOA!” she seemed astounded, “I thought the hike in to this creek was far!”

I think she was half a mile from the parking lot.  I just shrugged and continued on hoping to yogi some food from other fisherfolk.  I did find four more in a huge white truck, but they seemed also on a fishing tour type thing and seemed unsure of why anyone would want to hike there from Denver, much less further on.  After my feet dried off, I went onward to lunch, where Justin and Andy passed me sitting under a tree for shade.  The trail then made a long, but not very steep ascent to the saddle of San Luis Peak at 12,600ft.  Once again, I ended up becoming bored of the climb because it went on and on and on for so many miles, but did not really go up fast.  On a snack break, two women passed me with only day packs on going at a quick pace – so quick, they only really managed a “hi, how are you” without stopping.  My first reaction afterwards was to shake my head and think ohhh day hikers.  To keep myself from getting too bored of climbing, I took lots of pictures of the valley and wildflowers.

Then, I heard something behind me.  I stopped and got out-of-the-way because it sounded large and a forest ranger passed on horseback guiding two other horses with stuff loaded all over them.

“You see two girls pass you?” he asked.

“Yeah, about an hour ago or so.  They walked pretty fast and didn’t talk much,” I answered.

“Yup.  I got their stuff,” he grunted tossing his head to look at the overloaded horses.

I laughed, “Can I throw mine on there too?” I said jokingly.

He laughed, “I don’t think these horses could hold a soda more!”

Justin and Andy came up behind him and passed me too and the three of us met up at the “last” water.  I loaded up because I wanted to drycamp in the saddle and get up early to climb the last 1,400 ft to the summit of San Luis.  It was only a mile to the saddle, but with 3.5 liters of water, I was not to pleased to slug my way up there.  Especially when I found a running creek about half way through it.  Thanks for failing to mention that, creek guidebook.  When I reached the saddle, I saw most of Justin and Andy’s stuff in a hole and saw they had already started climbing the peak.  Since the sun shone brightly with hardly a cloud left in the sky, even at 6pm, it seemed like a good time to go up…if you had energy.  After back-to-back 20 mile days, I decided to set up my tent, cook dinner, and watch the sunset and the changing shadows cast by the sun.  They came back down eventually, just as I was thinking of trying to race up for the sunset with dinner food energy.  Having not carried up much water, they decided to hike to the next water, which shouldn’t be too far and we said bye temporarily.

In the morning, I had this bright idea of waking up at 4:30am and hiking up for the sunrise, but I reset my alarm because I was super tired and it was cold and windy out.  Around 5:15am, I heard people walking by my tent.  I managed to wake up enough to open the rain fly and lay there watching the sunrise, about half awake.  The wind still whipped about and I didn’t have any desire to leave my warm sleeping bag yet.  I think I managed to sit up and cook breakfast around 6am and began hiking by 6:40am.

The trail shot up very steeply on loose gravel, so loose that I was slipping around hiking up it.  Usually, I have issues going down it, but not up.  About half a mile in, the two guys I heard in the morning passed by on their way down and they commented on the wind at the top.  I hiked on, passing several false summits and took loads of pictures since I was on the highest thing around for a while.  After that steep part, the cairns ended and it was a small maze of herd paths up to the top.  I followed the one that followed the ridge the most closely until I saw a better one and switched to that one until I reached the top.  I had the summit to myself, the sun had warmed things up a bit and the wind had died.  It was super cool.  Then I laughed when I saw that it was 8am on the dot.  The guidebook claimed it would be a 4-5 hour round trip.  It took me an hour and twenty minutes to the top, with plenty of picture stops.  I spent about 10 minutes on top, then headed down, which took me just over an hour.  Thanks for the inaccurate time-table, guidebook.  At the bottom, I saw the two women “day hikers” and I stopped to chat with them.  They were actually forest rangers as well who were trying to reroute the San Luis peak trail away from the super unstable portion to the better part of the ridge.  I picked their brains for a bit and it was quite intriguing information.

When I got back to my tent, I packed everything up, threw on the ipod and headed out the last four miles of the segment.  The trail crossed two more saddles, each of which gave incredible views of San Luis and just how massive it really is.  This whole section stayed above treeline and the weather was on my side.

Getting to the pass, I sighed as I made a hard left down a trail to get to the town of Creede where my next resupply was.  I was not too keen on the idea of hiking a mile and a half down a trail to get to a mile and a half long dirt jeep road which would get me to a dirt forest service road into down.  The roads portion of which was 10 miles.  I was mentally preparing myself to walk to 10 miles into town because I doubted that I would catch a hitch and I knew Justin and Andy were ahead of me.

Then, right as I was almost done with the trail portion, I see a few jeeps coming down from the divide on the jeep road and I start running.  A thru-hiker running with a pack is just as awkward and uncomfortable as you can imagine, but can be done.  The last quarter-mile, I ran and managed to flag down the last jeep of a group of five.  Out of breath from running with a pack above 11,500ft, I asked if they had any room.  The driver, in a thick Texas accent laughed and said they didn’t, but they radioed ahead to friends of theirs that had the back seat open and they stopped ahead.

In the thick Texas accent the man said, “Just jump right there on the step up bar and hold on to the window here and we’ll take you to them.”

I obliged, albeit a bit unsure.  It was actually super fun until we had to go around this HUGE hole and I thought the jeep would roll over onto me and I prepared to jump and run while it rolled.  Luckily it didn’t and I stayed on, even with my pack hanging off.  Getting to the jeep, I jumped in and talked to a really nice retired couple from Minnesota who had more of a Texas accent.  They were up in Colorado for the summer and had joined the Texas/Kansas/Oklahoma jeep crew that also stayed at the same camp ground.  When we got to the forest service road, a radio call came in that two more hikers needed rides and I laughed, knowing that it was Justin and Andy.  Andy jumped in the back of the Kansas Jeep and had to sit up because an old dog couldn’t be moved too much in the back seat, and Justin jumped in the back with me and we both sat with our packs on our laps.

As we came into town, we got dropped off at the Post Office to grab our mail drops, sort through those, then we headed to the Tommy Knocker bar for beer and food.  After having our fill, we went to try to find a room to split, only to find that the whole town was booked except for two suites ranging in price from $135-$155.  As we passed the motel, we saw Cookie Monster, Hop-A-Long, and No Amp all waiting for a shuttle back to the trail and we chatted for a few minutes with them.  Then we went to the rafting place to see if we could buy a raft guide beer to tent in his or her yard or sleep on the floor, but all of them lived in South Fork, about twenty miles away.  The desk lady, JoAnn, helped us by trying to call around, but found nothing.  As we left, she drove by and said to go back a few blocks and find Nancy who said we could camp in her yard…or a friend of her’s yard who was in Denver.  So, that’s what we did.  The entire town of Creede was filled with the nicest people on the whole trail.  No matter where we went, there were nice and super helpful people.  They definitely should get the best trail town award.

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Sorry for the lack of updates; I have now finished and am back at sea level, but will finish the story over the next few days, so stay tuned!  From where I left off in Salida:

I had a very relaxing half-day in the awesome small town of Salida which included laundry at the hostel (which was a fantastic one!), a clean sleeping bag, beer and pizza at Amica’s Micro Brew, and a charged ipod.  An interesting bunch of people inhabited the hostel when I got there including a trail crew, a motorcycle enthusiast named Scott, two older hikers who were just about to start their second section of the CT, and a rather pretentious super skinny dude with the most complicated coffee-making process I have ever seen.  The two other thru-hiker’s I hitched in with, Cookie Monster and Hop-A-Long, had gone back to hike a few more miles that evening.

The next morning, I woke up early unintentionally and got up to eat breakfast and get back to the trail since I wanted to do a full day and thought the usual afternoon storm would roll in.  I was quite peacefully chatting with Scott, who had also not slept well, when the super skinny guy began about a 40 minute coffee-making excursion on the table.  I’m pretty sure I could have passed a course in rocket science before learning how he makes coffee.

I gathered my pack up and walked down to route 50 where I got a hitch from a older guy in a large truck who had apparently gone “drivin'” because he didn’t want to watch his younger roommates make “basic life mistakes”.  He didn’t care where he drove, so he drove me to the trailhead and we jammed to some Hank Williams.  I could not quite understand why a 50 or 60 something year old dude had younger roommates and it seemed like a sore subject, so I didn’t ask.  Almost immediately after being dropped off, three mountain bike racers passed me, flying by.

The first three miles of segment 15 were a dirt road walk, which at first bummed me out, but no cars passed at all after the first quarter-mile so I didn’t mind.  At the pond a quarter-mile in, I ran into Justin and Andy who had camped in the area after resupplying in Poncha Springs.  They told me of a guy who told them he believed the world would end in 2012 – but wilderness people would survive.  They hiked quicker than I did for a while and I felt the six-day food baby weighing my pack down significantly against my back which put me in an apathetic mood.  That didn’t bode too well for a slow, eight mile climb up to a super famous mountain bike trail which hit the CDT again and over to Marshall Pass.  Around mile five, I became super unmotivated and threw on the ipod which helped a bit.  The all too terrible guidebook mentioned for a few lines about just how steep the last half-mile before the top of the climb was and I was curious to see what they considered “one of the steepest grades on the Colorado Trail.”  I would love to throw one of them in the Adirondacks or New Hampshire.

The only thing really notable was a bright blue spider that I saw crawl across it.  The last part was steep for the CT standards, but not too bad, and it had awesome views of Shavano and Tabeguache Mountains.  Here’s the fun thing about climbs like these.  The sky looked perfectly fine and dandy while you’re hiking up through the trees and the small chunk above treeline, then you get to the top and see over the other side and all you have to say is, “shit.”  There’s the afternoon’s mountain thunderstorm over there.  And, of course, I had about three more miles above treeline.  Hmmm.  I kept the music on until I almost got run over by two mountain bikers, then I decided that was enough and I probably needed to listen for thunder anyway.  A little later, I saw the only shelter on the whole CT which was super pathetic and didn’t even have a floor, but I took a small snack break by it anyway.

A mountain bike racer passed me and I almost kept up with him for a third of a mile or so while he had to get on and off his bike to push it through parts.  Then I saw some lightening in the distance and hurried back down to the trees on the other side of the rocky bump where I soon came across Paul trying to cook on a fire in the misty rain that now engulfed all the views in a grey white mess.  He had stayed at the hostel in Salida for three days and left the day before I got there and gotten a ride to Monarch Pass (skipping the whole eight mile slow climb…so long you get bored “climbing” it) and taken a connector trail downhill to the CT.  I’m all for the hike your own hike mantra, but you have to actually be hiking it and not driving around it.  He also had a 64 pound pack and wanted to be boiling a liter to a liter and a half of water per night to cook.  I just raised my eyebrows and continued down to Marshall Pass where I found a campsite in some trees.

That night I had a really creepy dream about a vampire version of Cruela Deville.  It creeped me out so much that I didn’t manage to get hiking until almost 8am.  Then I had to deal with cows within the first five minutes of hiking.  Segment 16 wasn’t too notable except the thunderstorms that came in that afternoon and I found some nice tree outcroppings to hide in.  They kept me really dry, but I was bored and didn’t have much to do besides pick at the mosquito bite scabs and have a sing-a-long with me, myself, and trees.  I went from tree outcropping to tree outcropping between waves of the storms until they just went away and it became super sunny again.

I did get to see a mountain biker eat shit just from a rut because he tried to miss the cow pie in the middle of the trail.  He scrambled away before I could ask if he was ok though.  The “easy hiking” through Sargent’s Mesa at the end of the segment was not so easy because I had to look at my feet the whole time so I didn’t step in cow shit.  I had grabbed enough water to last me through the morning since there was an 11 mile dry section and I knew with the thunderstorms that I wouldn’t make Baldy Lake, so I went about a mile into Segment 17 and found a good flat area to camp.

Now, segment 17…talk about up and down! Through trees!  It seemed like I was back on the AT, but with a few more view outlooks because it just seemed to go up a few hundred feet, then down a few hundred etc.  I hit the “half mile” trail to Baldy Lake and went down for agua.  Then, as I continued, a new thing happened.  Dirt bikers.  REALLY?  Now horses and cows don’t even seem annoying.  They made huge muddy ruts in the trail where water puddled and ripped all the rocks out of the dry sections which made me almost twist my ankles a zillion times.  They always expect YOU to get out of THEIR way just because you can hear them, but of course they can’t hear you with their huge gas guzzling bikes.  I know you have beer in those packs…cough it up assholes!  Then you have to smell it for a few minutes afterwards…mountain fresh air? Nope!  ANNNNNNND, they never stop to tell you how many are coming after them…at least mountain bikers will yell that over their shoulder for a heads up.  Bleh!

But then, at the end of the day…trail magic came in droves.  And I pulled a 20 mile day which I was actually trying not to do this trip, but ended up with a few.  Near Lujan Pass, Apple had a massive trail magic tent set up with soda, snacks, water, bug spray, a tent to stay in with a stove, chairs, and one of the only trail register journals!  I snacked on some sun chips and an orange soda and read through the log.  Pretty interesting stuff!  I wanted to get just into segment 18 because in the beginning we would cross a stream which would be the last water source for 21 miles, so I figured it would be smart to get close to it.  On my way down the hill, I then saw an old guy sitting in a camp chair in the middle of the road with a t-shirt that said, “Inside every old man there is a young man wondering what the hell happened.”  I laughed and complimented his shirt and then he started chatting up a storm and tried to give me more food and basically anything.  I asked for some nail clippers which he happened to have and let me borrow and he sent me on with a fresh cucumber which he grew in his garden.

About a mile or so into segment 18, I found Justin and Andy again and camped near them.  We chatted, ate the cucumber, and drank the rest of the whiskey that we had between us.  After seeing the sunset, we all went to sleep at hiker midnight.

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After looking around Buena Vista, horribly pronounced by Colorado Natives, and noticing that all the motels said, “No Vacancy” I looked somewhat puzzled.  Then a truck drove up and a guy got out.

“Hey,” he said, “you look like a hiker!  Need a ride up to the trail?”

Thinking I had nothing else to do, I said sure!  Nice guy, Scott, I think, who was heading further up the road to hike a small loop with his buddy.

I had already resigned myself to not really doing much that afternoon and somewhat wanted a shower and a bed for a night, but if motels have no vacancy, I knew it would be too expensive to stay.  I walked a grand total of maybe a quarter mile to a campsite by the creek.  Unfortunately, I could still hear the road, but I set up my tent and read two chapters of a terrible book which I have kept reading just to tell Tom I read it to the end and did not like it.  It got somewhat better around 240 pages in, but not fantastic.  It’s Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry.  Not a fan.

In the morning, I found myself pretty motivated and went the first 10 miles before lunch when I hit the 4×4 road up to Mt. Princeton.  It was far too late to try to hike it, but I sat there and ate lunch and prepared myself for a 5.7 mile road walk.  Luckily, I had enough iPod battery to just iPod it out and jam to some tunes.  I found myself getting more and more annoyed by the constant jeeps passing me coming down from the mountain.  It was not that I was mad because people were climbing it…I knew these guys weren’t climbing shit by how fat they were!  My favorite was a jeep that had some kind of skill attached to the front grill and had a probably close to 400 pound man driving it who got out and took a picture of the ranch sign below then waddled back in to the jeep to drive off.  Yeah…he climbed a 14er…right.

Irritated, I came upon Princeton Hot Springs three miles into the hike and saw commercialness at it’s peak!  I was particularly intrigued by a 400 foot waterlside into a hot spring pool (that seemed more like a super heated swimming pool) until I learned it was $15 to get in plus $2 for a towel.  Hmmm. Swarming with kids.  NO.  I marched on, walking by all the traffic that seemed to point and wave at me like I was in a zoo.  Jamming to tunes.  Then I spot a general store.  Bingo!  I stopped in and got myself a nice 24oz PBR to hike out and a Snapple to drink in the meantime.

Pleasantly sitting by the curb, drinking my Snapple, a couple came up to me and started chatting.  I was suspicious when the guy had a t-shirt on that said “Property of Jesus” but decided to humor them since they seemed nice.  This happened for five minutes before they started telling me about their pro-life views and how the guy’s mom had wanted him aborted yatta yatta yatta.  I raised my eyebrows.

“So, why did you stop at the store, just the Snapple?”

“Oh, no!  I stopped for beer!  The Snapple is because I wanted to sit and they said I couldn’t drink the beer here!”

Then they seemed less interested and went away.  I then continued the 2.5ish miles to the Chalk Creek Trailhead where I would finally get off the road to camp for the night.  Unfortunately, the last mile the mosquitoes decided to swarm me and I beat off as many as I could but they kept biting and biting!  I put on my bug balm but they didn’t seem to care too much and kept biting, so I kept walking swinging my hiking poles and hands at them.  I figured leaving the guts of their comrades on me would deter a few, but nope!

As soon as I crossed the creek, I found a spot to camp, set up my tent and sat in it drinking the PBR.  It never tasted so good!  I watched as tons of mosquitoes tried to get in and then I smashed them with great pleasure between the screen and the fly.

The mosquitoes were even bad in the morning!  I have never packed up so fast and scrambled out!  I went a little over 12 miles over not too difficult terrain.  The only people I passed were two groups on horseback…neither of which gave me trail magic despite not having to carry anything themselves.  The first group was three fat guys who seemed to have never seen a hiker before and took pictures because they didn’t seem to believe that anyone would want to hike almost 500 miles.  The second group came up and a guy was telling a pre-teen looking girl that the mountain lions only eat dead things, injured things, and little girls from Houston, Texas.  Ha! Sure buddy…

I found a good campsite a little past Squaw Creek and a little before the turn off for Mt. Shavano and Mt. Tabegauche.  I set up my tent just before the rain!  Yes!  I could not find any good bear branches, so I rigged something to at least get it away from the chipmunks and squirrels between two trees…although it only made it about 6 feet off the ground.

The next morning, I got up at 4am and left by 5am with my pack unloaded and filled with two liters of water, extra layers, a few bars, granola, and my camera.  Luckily my dying headlamp worked enough until dawn and I hiked up toward Mt. Shavano.  I had text message service in my tent and my mom had told me that it was 30% chance rain until 11am when it went up to 40% and at 1pm it would go up to 60%, so I got an early start.  The bit through the treeline didn’t seen too hard, but partly because I could see much besides trail trail trail and I really wasn’t thinking about much at 5am.  I took a break at treeline, which was at 12,200ft and saw two people ahead of me.  I began to close the gap toward the saddle, but never quite passed them.  The hiking up to the saddle and a little beyond wasn’t too bad, it was pretty much an uphill slog with super cool views of Salida and the surrounding mountains.  Then a bit past the saddle (which was at 13,400), it became a large pile of large rocks and herd paths split off everywhere.  I just picked the most direct and headed upward.  When I got closer to the other two, we began waving to each other.  Then, “ERRRRRRG” came from above and I knew it must be a false summit.  Surely, it was, but not a bad one.

On top, I got views for the first time on a 14er, albeit cloudy views.  I took pictures and ate a bar while chatting with the other two.  I really just wanted them to do Tabegauche because I wanted someone else there.  If the sky was clearer, I would have gone no problem, but I would feel far more comfortable with someone else there too.  They said they were not going to.  I sat for about 20 minutes enjoying the view until others came up.

Then a guy named Drew came up, followed by Rawd, and a young couple from Colorado Springs and I chatted with them.  We all discovered we were playing the “I’ll go if you go” game for Tabegauche peak which was 1 mile away — 600 ft down and 500 ft up.  When we realized we all badly wanted to go we decided if we were going to do it, we had to leave then, so we did.  Going down was a class 2 scramble that reminded me of New Hampshire, but less steep.  Herd paths zinged everywhere, but it was really follow the ridge to the saddle, then follow the ridge up.  We all made it over an up in about 40 minutes, which was good considering the ridiculously loose footing it was going up Tab.

After a five minute pow wow on top, we looked at the clouds, which had gotten a few shades darker grey and decided to move because the only real way back was up and over Shavano, the way we came.  Going back proved much tougher as we scrambled back up and over Shavano.  On the way down, we went slightly differently, but then merged back toward the main path finding a couple in the saddle still planning to continue up despite the darkening clouds.  Since there was no thunder, they deemed it ok despite it being 12:30 and our weather warning.  Once back to treeline, we slowed a bit and then split ways at the bottom where I saw Justin and Andy who had just done Shavano and were camping just before me, more toward the creek.

I went back to my tent, finished my book — terrible ending, and 15 minutes after I got in, the rain, thunder, and lightening came.  It was pretty intermittent, as in, storming for an hour, off for 15-20 minutes, then storming again.  I relaxed in my tent, while Justin and Andy decided to press on to get closer to the road to stay in Salida.  I decided that I only needed half a day in town and slept.  Right before sleeping, Gismo and Napper came by and chatted for a while, but pressed on three miles.

Quite unmotivated in the morning, I got a late start, almost 7:30am.  Mostly because I had a large hole in my favorite socks and I had to wear my other socks.  I went on and ended up finding Gismo and Napper at their campsite maybe a quarter packed up and I talked to them for quite a bit.  After I climbed the one climb of the day, a mere 700 feet (however, unmotivated), I stopped for a break after I saw a second bear run off.  I dried out my tent in the sun and Gismo and Napper passed me with a mountain biker.  The unsupported mountain bike race was already passing me…they started Monday and already 6 had passed me.

I caught back up to Gismo and Napper while two other bike racers passed us and chatted with them until the road to Salida.  At the bottom, we were chatting and jokingly, Gismo yogied us cold beer from Sarah and her two dogs, Bear and Lexi.  Nice!  Then, as I was trying to hitch out, Cookie Monster and Hop-a-long came out and hitched into town with me with a Texas Hippie.

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I managed to get a ride out of Leadville mid morning Monday from a super nice couple who found it funny that they had taken a vacation from their kids and had picked one up.  They were awesome to still take me since a fundraiser bike race was taking up almost the whole road.

My plan for Monday had been to do the first 10.5 miles of Segment 10 and stop at the base of Mt. Massive.  I didn’t see anyone almost all day once I got on trail…they were probably all out on bikes.  That is, until I hit mile 9.3ish and I saw a familiar looking dude.  We began swapping information since he was going NOBO on the CDT.  He was trying to do 30 miles per day and he seemed annoyed because he had gotten confused around Twin Lakes and ended up putting his pack in a trash bag and swimming across.  He also told me how he sent his tent to Denver and had been sleeping in another trash bag.  For some reason, these shenanigans did not seem to surprise me.  Then he said his name was Duane.  IT WAS INSANE DUANE!  I had met him back outside of Duncannon, PA on the AT.  He had been pulling 30-40 mile days to catch Lint after he hurt his knee.  I distinctly remembered him because I was sitting around a campfire and he stopped to talk to us but wouldn’t sit down or take off his pack and he had seemed like he just wanted to talk to anybody.  We laughed about the AT for a bit until rumble rumble rumble came the thunder and the sky got dark.

I managed to almost jog to the stream and camp spots right by the Mt. Massive junction, set up my tent, grab some water, and jump in it before it rained.  Woohoo!  Other people had a campfire going, but I was not in the mood to get wet, so I went to bed early.

I tried super hard to get up in the early a.m. to begin up Massive, but I didn’t manage to get up until 5 a.m. to start at 6 a.m.  A few people day hiking up passed me and waved while I ate oatmeal from my tent, then I headed up myself.  Since I didn’t have a day pack, I loaded up my pockets, tied extra layers around my waist, cameled half a liter of water and then brought a full liter with me.

The start was rather gradual in the trees and then it broke above treeline and got steeper in spurts.  I followed the trail up, up, up marked well by large cairns.  I could see the two sets of people who had passed me continuing up ahead and I enjoyed the wildflowers.  However, the sky did not look inviting.  Clouds covered the sky in most directions and it had begun to drizzle on me.  A few times going up, I almost turned around because it looked so shitty out.  I ended up keeping going for a few reasons: 1.) there was no thunder, 2.) I could still see 50-60 feet even when it seemed to get worse, and 3.) birds were still chirping all over and they shut up and hide when storms come in.

I made the right decision and summitted just fine.  As I sat to take a picture, out of nowhere some small, old guy comes out from the opposite direction (where there was no marked trail) and says: “I passed the summit!  I got Massive twice!” and laughed heartily.  He then proceeded in eating yogurt and a banana.  Not my choice trail foods, but ok.

When I began to get a little cold, I headed down and ran into three of the four old guy section hikers and they seemed astounded that I had already resupplied and spent the night in Leadville and managed to beat them to the summit.  They said their fourth flatlander friend was not doing well and had stayed at base camp which was at mile 9 into segment 10, right before I had run into Insane Duane.  I warned them about the crazy guy, but then he appeared and then left and they laughed and said I had to deal with him now.

I did run into him before I hit my tent and he proceeded on talking continuously about various side trips I could take from the CT.  I wasn’t sure which was worse, his side trip ideas or the incessant twitter from the 13 year old who was a bit behind me with his 20 year old sister who looked like a 15 year old boy.

When I got to my tent, I ate lunch and packed up to go 4.5 miles to finish segment 10 and into 11 where a side trail went up the northeast ridge of Mt. Elbert.  There, I was not as lucky to find such a good campsite.  The guidebook mentioned a stream a few hundred yards after the junction which I headed for which turned into just over a third of mile.  They need a German to write the book.  It would totally be accurate to the meter if Germans wrote it.

This time, I knew I had to wake up and get up without resetting my alarm 3 times like the day before.  I got up at 4am, left by 5am and actually got to use my headlamp for a change.  By 5:30, the sun had risen enough that I didn’t need it anymore and I watched a bit of it from treeline where I met two older Swiss guys who passed me for a bit until they took a break.

At about 12,500ft, I saw two people coming down already from the cloud that seemed to surround the summit.  It was two section hikers who had camped near me on Massive, Krista and Tim.  They had camped right by treeline and started hiking at 1am, summited by 4:30am and were freezing and going back to their tent to sleep for a few hours.

After I passed the Swiss guys, no one was ahead of me and I continued on the steep, loose rock up, passed a few false summits to the top where I took a 15 minute break and put on all my layers.  A humming-bird flew by me and I sat in a cloud, unable to see anything, but I made it!

Going down was a whole different story.  About 30 minutes down, I ran into the highway.  It seemed like everyone and their brother had decided to climb Elbert on a Wednesday – I would hate to see it on a weekend.  They all asked the same shit: “Am I almost there?”, “How far to the top?”, “Can you see anything?” or some variation of that.  I thoroughly enjoyed being the first one they had all seen who had actually gotten there and I mostly told them the truth except for a few annoying ones.

The most interesting was a guy named Eric who I had seen going up Massive the other day and I stopped to talk with him for quite a bit.  He had stopped me by saying, “You look like a long distance hiker.” It made me laugh as I jumped to the side and chatted about trails with him.

Going down further, I ran into a rather rude guy who had speakers attached to the outside of his pack blasting that new rap chick, nikki something, to the point that people could hear it with a 30 foot radius around him.  Have ya heard of headphones asshole?  I told him it was super hard and a long way up when he really only had maybe .4 of a mile.  Whatever.

After getting to the bottom I ate lunch and the four old section hiker guys came by and stopped to talk.

“Wait,” one started, “Don’t tell me you’ve already been up and down Elbert now before we’ve gone five miles?”

“Mmhmm” I managed through a large bite of peanut butter granola burrito.

I watched a herd of Elk run behind my tent when I packed up and hiked 10 more miles.  They weren’t too hard since about six of them consisted of hiking around Twin Lakes with the collegiate Wilderness in the background.  A long-haired mountain biker passed me on the way down, but that was it for a while.

I cooked dinner and ducked into my tent for a small rain storm that came through where I caught a bug for Allie which I named Geezer because he looked like he had a white beard.  When the sun came back out, I hiked two more miles to get to the other side of the lake where one could actually camp.

In the morning, I realized that the two 14ers were catching up to me as I had little motivation, especially to climb anything.  At my first break, I dried out my rain fly, then as I was packing up a thru-hiker with a bright blue umbrella came up and said, “You’re Mandy!”

Hmmm.  Yes.  How’d he know that?  He waited for me to get going, then we hiked on for a bit.  He had met the four section hiker guys, Krista and Tim, and Insane Duane who he got a kick out of too.  We hiked together until the end of Segment 12 at Clear Creek where we ran into Justin…without Andy.

Justin told us that Andy had to get off in Leadville due to an infected, large foot blister and would meet him at the end of segment 13 at the Princeton Hot Springs.  As we got eaten by mosquitos, we compared bug preventions to no avail and all hiked on.

I was still beat and went super slow up a rather steep, but still switchbacked climb to “gain a ridge” as the guidebook put it, only to go straight back down afterward to Pine Creek.  I used my iPod the whole way up to get myself moving, but it still took me forever.  I ran into six section hiking late teens-early twenties who did not seem to understand my sarcasm, so I let them be.  They also had matching ponchos which made me laugh ridiculously as they strolled by in unison as I leaned up against a large pine tree which prevented me from getting wet during the small shower that passed by.

At the bottom, by the creek, I stopped and chatted with a few members of a Trail Crew who were doing volunteer work and ended up staying there to camp because I didn’t have the energy to climb another 1400 feet or so out from the creek.  I then realized that the long-haired mountain biking guy was camped there too!  He actually worked for the Forest Service and worked mostly on CDT trail maintenance; his name was Luke.

In the morning, I managed the climb up and out to “gain a ridge off Harvard” which, if I had a topo would have been fairly easy to climb from there instead of going the 1000 ft down to the actual trailhead for it.  The rest of segment 12 went mostly down from there to North Cottonwood Creek, with several annoying bumps.  I had to get out of the way for six or seven horses which had produced a large amount of fresh shit exactly where it’s convenient to step in the trail and attracted quite a few more flies.  One of them passed me again half an hour later singing to herself.

Really, now if all the horse riders would just give the thru-hikers a beer every time they saw us, we would really not be so irritated at the amount of shit in the middle of the trail.  It’s not like they have to carry it…the horse does!

When I got to the bottom, I could have hitched into BV from that dirt road, but I figured it would be harder to get a ride out, and I didn’t want to do the next steep, 3000 something foot climb with a full food bag.  This was a job for the iPod!  I got up all but about 800 feet of it when the sky turned very dark and all the blue went away.  I had seen a few storms in the distance all afternoon and had heard it rumble, but now it seemed like it would start soon.  Fantastic.  I found a good campsite, right next to silver creek near a dilapidated old cabin and set up my tent, got some water, and about 10 minutes later ka-boooooom thunder, lightening, and buckets of rain.  Good thing  I didn’t go up to the saddle of Yale like I was planning!

It was freezing up there at 11,100 ft in the early am.  I actually had most of my layers on inside my sleeping bag and was still cold.  It gave me little motivation to get up super early and try to climb the east ridge of Yale.  Plus, my mosquito bites itched and I was out of Benadryl.

Once I got up, I saw the route that had no trail and up close, it looked like a long scramble through a ton of scree, so I took pictures and headed down to rt 306 where I found a bunch of boy scouts in the parking lot.  I asked if any of the older guys with them was heading back into town and one said yes and eventually gave me a ride.  They had waaaaaaaay too much shit and found it amusing to pick up my pack with one hand and then barely manage their own with two hands.  One had even strapped a full-sized guitar to the outside of his pack.

Anyway, managed to make the Post Office’s Saturday hours and have now been sitting at the library.  If there is no storm brewing close by, I will head back to the trail, if not, I will stay here and grab a shower.

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