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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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