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Posts Tagged ‘Colorado Trail’

Since we had woken up at 4am and hiked all day, we planned to stop at sunset again to allow ourselves to catch up on sleep again. We had seen another spot around 11,000 feet on the map and were aiming for that before we soared up to another set of ridgelines. At that point, 11,000 feet had begun to seem low.

All four of us hiked slightly different paces toward the end of the day and had spread out a bit before camp. About a mile before the spot we wanted to check out for campsites, I saw a trail split. Remembering that we no longer had the Colorado Trail with it’s signs, wide trail, and easy grades, I stopped and checked Guthook to make sure. A well trod path extended slightly to the right and a spur broke off the to left and looked distinctly less traveled. I knew we were supposed to stay contouring for a bit and the well traveled path looked like it went straight down into the valley. Sure enough, Guthook noted a junction and that we needed to stay left on the less noticeable trail.

I plodded along and found Crosby sitting on his pack by a water source reading a book. I sat for a bit and we found ED, but no Memphis. Continuing to the spot we thought about camping, we found good spots and set up. Still no Memphis.

E.D.: Do you think he took the wrong turn back there?

Me: Maybe, that was not an easy one to catch.

Crosby: Memphis would like sitting down at a fire if he did take the wrong turn. Let’s get one going.

Campfire

We set about doing so, got it going and began eating when we saw his blaze orange hunting vest draped over his pack. We “cooed” to get his attention and he beelined for the fire. He plopped down.

Memphis: I went down that horse trail back there. I went…down. About 1,000 feet down.

The sky changed colors as the sun went down over the ridge and we eventually migrated to our tents and I convinced everyone to get up early again to make the miles we needed to get to the road at a decent time. We had contacted Karla, per Karma’s recommendation, and given her a day that we should get to Wolf Creek Pass, but we hadn’t had any cell service to give a more accurate ETA.

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The other side of the sunset from the campfire.

In the morning, we all got up a little slower, but started hiking upward immediately again. We hiked along a ridge and crept up to the highest point left in this section and sat to watch the sunrise. The whole sky and tree cover below had an orange glow. It seemed magical. It got more magical when we noticed we had several bars of cell service and LTE.

Good morning!

Right as I was wondering if 6:15 am was too early to message Karla, she messaged me. We gave her an ETA at the pass and she said either she or Mark would be there and to keep her updated.

We also got an email from Frodo who was organizing a finishing party for Scout in Chama the following evening. She said she’d be willing to come get us from Pagosa Springs and drop us back off. We responded back with a “yes, please!”

Last but not least, I found texts from The Darkness. It read:

The Darkness: I’m Creede Cut-Offing for you all. See you somewhere around Wolf Creek Pass or Chama at the latest.

We texted back our plan while we let the sunrise warm us. The trail meandered down and all around smaller ridges, a few lakes, and then went tantalizingly close to the road, but not down to Wolf Creek Pass for several miles.

At the bottom of the pass, we found a cooler with sodas. We had one while we waited for Mark to pick us up. We did not have to wait long and Mark didn’t even seem to mind our smell! He knew we would want food first and suggested the Mexican restaurant in town. Karla met us there and we all ate plenty of delicious food.

They took us home and let us shower and helped us with laundry. It was such a nice change to be in a house instead of our go to cheap motels. It was topped off by sleeping in the man-cave and some a-mazing pancakes in the morning! It’d be hard to beat the trail magic from Karla and Mark.

Karla brought us over to Riff Raff Brewery where we found Axel and Let It Be having a beer. We joined while we waited for Frodo. After a group picture and big hugs from Karla, we all jumped in Benny, the van Frodo was using up and down the CDT.

Photo Credit: Axel

She brought us to a motel in Chama where we found Scout, Whistle (who we hadn’t seen since Lincoln, MT around mile 300), Guy-on-a-buffalo, Apache, and Wonderer. So much of Scout and Frodo’s family joined and it was a fantastically supportive group of people. We were later joined by Ridgerunner and K2 as well who had finished their flip a few days prior.

There was dinner, cake, root beer floats, and some beer. Scout and Frodo were so gracious to come get us, too. A lot of us stayed up late talking and were a little slow to move in the morning. We did eventually figure out rides for who needed to get where and were unsuccessful at convincing Whistle to take several zeros and wait for us.

When we got dropped off back at Wolf Creek Pass, we realized The Darkness had skipped town there and had gotten about 5-7 miles ahead of us. After some quick texting back and forth with a horrible picture of a dead creature on the side of the trail, we had a plan.

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**From September 2015**

While we all enjoyed the lunar eclipse and the stars, none of us had slept well. It was definitely a two caffeine packet type of day. The first of which occurred as soon as we all had walked sufficiently to warm ourselves up. We crossed a high plateau full of little pools of water.

Bye, Colorado Trail.

At the end of the plateau, the trail split. To the right: the Colorado Trail full of nicely groomed and maintained switchbacks which make for a very elegant photo. To the left: the CDT where the trail immediately becomes less trodden, signage goes away, and the trail goes straight down, not bothering with switchbacks. Alas, the CDT’s fling with the CT had ended and we were back to navigating again.

We came across a remote trailhead with a register. Axel was still ahead of us. We saw that Whistle, Scout, Guy-on-a-buffalo, Apache, and Wonderer were not too far ahead of us. Probably about four days ahead.

The San Juans were really too beautiful to put into words, so some of these posts will be shorter with more pictures, however, even the pictures don’t always give them the justice they deserve. Everywhere, we saw a view. Everywhere, new peaks arose. Everywhere, alpine flowers still held blossoms. Herds of elk roamed about. If we couldn’t see them, we heard them bugling at night.

We saw one of the best sunsets on trail from a crazy cool ridge that had a beautiful trail carved in it. After we snacked and watch the sun set, we meandered on top of the ridge to a saddle which we called home for a night.

No explanation needed.

The morning brought a cold climb up to a ridge with neat rock formations. One of which was labeled as “the window” on the map whereby Ley had a sketchy dotted line through it if you wanted an extra adventure.

The “window” from the south side.

We had along decent after the window to a stream which forced some noise out of each of us as we walked through. It was cold. On the other side, we found an amazing campsite with seats! Unfortunately, we found it around 10am and had to keep hiking away from its epicness.

For the next move through the San Juans, we had to cross an unassuming valley floor with knee high grasses and a trail that disappeared into them. This seemed completely normal until we reached a stream channel in the middle which did not look jumpable. We spent too much time analyzing how to get across this channel and all took slightly different routes. Memphis and ED went for the throwing of packs to the other side with running leaps after scouting close to a quarter mile of its length. I decided to watch Crosby try and cross without a pack to see how deep it actually was. He ferried his pack and my pack across and it was mid-thigh on him, so about waist deep for me. Brown cow water channel. At least we hit it in the morning where the sun could easily dry us off over the course of the day.

We began climbing back up to more ridgelines and started noticing thunder clouds forming. The weather forecast from lake city did not include thunderstorms. I managed to scan my weather app quickly from the top with the barest hint of 3G and glean that isolated afternoon thunderstorms had entered the forecast for the next two days. We escaped that day with only a few sprinkles and watched the rain pass over adjacent ridges.

One of many isolated storm pockets.

That night, we camped below 12,000 feet for the first time in three nights. We purposely chose a lower elevation for a change to see if we’d sleep a little better. Memphis wanted to stop early and have a fire and had found a potential campsite. It had plenty of room once we flung the horse shit out of the flat spots with our trekking poles.

Memphis started a fire and we sat around it to eat dinner. Crosby recited the longest poem I’ve ever heard someone recite. Some ghost stories occurred and I convinced everyone to get up at 4am and morning night hike to get more miles in before any potential thunderstorms. That way, if we did have to hunker down, we’d have already hiked enough miles to not run out of food.

It was a fun morning night hike several thousand feet uphill first thing. Through denser forest to shrubs, to ridgeline. We got to see the sunrise and have second breakfast while we watched it. That day, we got to hike the famous “knife’s edge,” which had some amazing trail construction and offered swift, gallant views.

The knife’s edge.

The trail dropped down to a valley shelf then up onto bare, gravel ridges that had sparse vegetation in the saddles. We watched various storms from the ridge pass over adjacent ridges, but only heard a little bit of thunder. None of us saw lightening and none of the storms passed over the ridges we walked.

Some of the ridges after the knife’s edge.

 

 

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**From September 2015**

Naturally, we stood on the side of the road sipping beers trying to hitch a ride at dark. When cars came by, we hid the beers behind our backs. In twenty minutes, two cars passed. Both had Texas plates. A work van passed. The work van turned around. We turn, chug the rest of the beer, and shove the cans in our pack side pockets.

Guys: No one else is going to pick you guys up. Can you squish?

Memphis: Yup!

We had a good ride down to Lake City where the guys dropped us off and we found Axel who had gotten about five miles ahead of us from Salida. We dropped our packs and immediately went for food and beer. Showers could wait. For us at least.

When we got back to the hostel, Alix was there to take money and show us the ropes. We met Lucky and chilled around an indoor picnic table somewhat thinking of the chore order for the next day. ED hadn’t been feeling well, so she was finally planning on going to a clinic.

The next day, while we were making a laundry plan, Crosby caught up and walked into the hostel. He looked like he wanted to stay the night, but we weren’t looking for a zero until ED came back with giardia meds looking miserable and curled up in a ball on her bunk. We zeroed. Axel left, planning to hike eight miles to a yurt.

The zero day became a lazy laundry, chatting, wandering around town day and catching up on phone calls to the other world. We asked Alix if she’d be willing to drive us up to the pass the next morning if we tossed her some gas money and she agreed. We got some San Juan’s updates from Jeff who had decided to slow to ten miles a day with a book to finish his flip in Chama. He was still laying in his bed giving us the beta for the next section at 10am.

The next morning, Alix drove us out of Lake City and we hit the trail anew, ready for the San Juan loop that we had anxiously been awaiting for pretty much the entire trail. Big thanks to Alix! She also has a really cool blog here.

Just past the yurt looking down into the valley.

We hiked over toward the yurt for a lunch break since it had a water source nearby and who doesn’t want to check out a yurt? Memphis beat us there and we eventually caught up and checked it out. It was the same one I’d stayed in on the Colorado Trail four years before.

The trail then climbs to the high point for the Colorado Trail at 13,000 and change. This also began the 40 mile or so section above 12,000ft entirely. Nothing but sweet, beautiful ridges with solidly built trail. We had the Colorado Trail for just a bit more before it split off toward Durango and we went toward Wolf Creek Pass.

The nicely signed Colorado Trail which we were about to leave.

We camped fairly high that night in a hidden spot that Memphis and Crosby found as the sun had just finished setting. At first with the low light, I thought instantly, “oh shit, a moose” until I heard the sound of someone blowing up a Thermarest. All of us had begun to notice the shorter daylight marked by decreases in mileage and colder temperatures. The weather report we saw gave us a six day window of awesomeness—exactly what we needed.

Good morning, Mr. Moose.

In the morning, we woke up to Memphis deflating his pad as usual and we had another glorious day. It was nice having Crosby along to mix up the conversations a bit during breaks. We wanted to stop frequently because each high point brought about a different view and usually none of us had tired of the previous view.

Continuing past the dirt road which would eventually lead to Silverton, Crosby reminded us that we could watch a lunar eclipse tonight. We knew we had to get higher for a better, unobstructed view. Part way up the climb my stomach forced me to sit and eat before dinner. I’d gotten to the point where I couldn’t ignore my stomach anymore. I impatiently ate a cliff bar and some chocolate to fuel me up the last climb of the night. ED, Crosby, and Memphis passed me while I ate.

The iPhone’s attempt at capturing the lunar eclipse.

They had found a good spot on a ridge around 12,600ft where we could see the moon and the stars. We set about cooking dinner and waiting for the eclipse. The temperature began dropping and we put on layers sequentially. Even with the full moon, we could see a brilliant amount of stars and no light pollution. We watched almost the full eclipse when a few clouds blocked the last bit.

At that point, we gave up on hiking more and laid down in a line to cowboy camp and watch the shooting stars on the other side. We listened to some tunes and tried to pick out the constellations we all knew. Memphis strategically placed himself out of punching range so he could snore uninterrupted.

That night was cold. So cold, in fact, that we woke up with the sunrise completely covered in thick frost.

Shaking off the frost and watching the sunrise.

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**From September 2015**

Despite a very late start, we managed to get a few miles in before dark. Sometimes just getting back on trail, even a few miles helps immensely the next day. We found a pathetic looking shelter without a floor that we paused to see. It included quite a bit of graffiti, including a tag from Yogi and Worldwide.

We got distracted reading it all and ended up staying there instead of trying to reach a hunting cabin four miles further. Memphis played some comedy from his phone while we ate dinner. Then, I read theSkimm’s summary of the upcoming republican debate as a drinking game.

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My spoon 😦

In the morning, we passed the hunting cabin, which boasted several hunters clad head-to-toe in…you guessed it…cammo. This stretch had more mellow ups and downs full of aspens changing colors for the fall. With the Colorado Trail and the CDT combined, we had no trouble with navigation following the well-defined trail. We cruised, chatted, meandered, and admired the array of aspen leaf colors on the ground and on the trees.

One of those lunches, I went to make the classically old peanut butter tortilla when tragedy struck. My Sea to Summit titanium spoon BROKE in my peanut butter. I held up the handle and peered into the jar.

Memphis: What just happened?

Me: My spoon…

E.D.: In the peanut butter?

Me: I hate peanut butter.

Memphis: Is that titanium?

Me: Yes…

E.D.: You can use my spoon if you need it.

Memphis: You just broke a titanium spoon with peanut butter?

Me: I got this spoon in Daleville on the AT five years ago.

E.D.: Damn.

My favorite spoon was no more. It finished the Appalachian Trail with me. Then it survived a winter of the 46ers I had left to climb in the Adirondacks, it hiked the Colorado Trail with me, it went to New Zealand with me, the spoon survived three ski seasons stuffed into my jacket pocket, it hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, it survived a year of grad school in my backpack, and it went two thousand miles down the CDT.

I retrieved it from my peanut butter jar, licked it clean, and saw that it broke in a spot that neither duct tape nor superglue could fix. I immediately looked for cell service to send my trusty resupply Mother a picture, but none existed. I sadly put the spoon in my bag and thought about all of our times together.

The rolling hills.

The trail continued further through fields and more aspens until a bit before the Creede Cut-Off. On the Colorado Trail, I went into Creede and it was one of my favorite trail towns. This go-round, we would continue to Lake City instead.

Before the cut-off, we camped at the last water before San Luis Pass. Having already climbed San Luis on the Colorado Trail, I did not feel particularly inclined to do it again in interest of getting closer to the road into Lake City, knowing that would be a hard hitch. As per usual, Memphis got up the earliest and high tailed it uphill. It was cold that night and the tents stood rigid with frost. Stuffing a frosty tent into a stuff sack absolutely annihilates the comfort of one’s hands. I usually remedy this by putting my hands inside my puffy afterward.

After San Luis Pass, the trail winds around up and down the high ridges and contours around others passing large volcanic rock structures that always look like sand drip castles on the beach.

On one of the passes, I sat and laid out my tent still complete with frost in the sun and wind to dry while eating some lunch with my poor broken spoon. E.D. came up and did the same and we speculated about the whereabouts of Memphis when he popped up behind us.

Not a bad nap spot.

E.D.: What?

Me: Where’d you go?

Memphis: *smirking* San Luis Peak! My first 14er!

E.D.: Congrats!

Me: Whoa!

Memphis: Yeah! And Action, Shortstack, and Crosby are coming up!

We hadn’t seen Action or Shortstack since Dillon and we hadn’t seen Crosby since Lemhi Pass before Leadore, Idaho! We continued, aiming for the road into Lake City, when Action and Shortstack caught us and told us they were going to take the Creede Cut-Off. They did say that Crosby was planning on going the San Juan route. After catching up, standing, with our packs on, they speed toward the Cut-off and we continued toward the road.

We doubted we’d get a ride around 8pm as the sunset sunk below the ridge, however, we hit the road anyway.

Memphis: WOOHOO!!

E.D.: Something happened.

Me: A ride?

Memphis: BEER!

We hurried down to a wonderful cooler of cold beers. Thank you to the person who left some cold ones by the road!

The sunset going down to the road.

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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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