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Posts Tagged ‘the Swiss Couple’

**From October 2015**

Around dusk, we stumbled up to a campfire “cooey-ing” and receiving excited “cooey” responses. We knew we had found The Darkness. Dropping our packs haphazardly we each gave her a big hug and all spoke at the same time with different stories from the past 1,000 miles that she had gotten slightly behind us.

We set up tents and swapped story after story until the weather tried to snow and rain on us. We were glad to have her back, joking that the harem was reunited. Since Scallywag had taken the San Juan’s loop, he was about five to six days behind us and we needed a new bull elk. We decided Crosby was up to that task.

The weather decided not to improve in the morning, so while The Darkness stoked the fire back up, we poked around on maps and Memphis mentioned a tiny “town” called Platoro was where he had gotten off trail going nobo to flip. Taking some dirt roads over that way avoided quite a bit of above treeline in the sleet that started trying to dampen the fire. Plus, then we could catch up more since we had not exhausted our stories the previous night.

Meandering around on the dirt roads, we heard all new tales of hikers a few days behind us like the whereabouts of Lighthouse and Fun Size, Das Boots, and the Swiss Couple. The precipitation shifted switched between rain, sleet, and wisps of potential snow faster than most politicians can change positions. However, with good conversation, we stumbled into the “town” of Platoro, Colorado.

It looked creepy. Everything seemed closed. The weather added to the creepiness. Memphis started to meander away from the group looking for something.

The Darkness: Where’s Memphis going?

E.D.: Not sure.

Me: This is the point in the horror movie where we start getting picked off one by one…

Crosby: Follow?

We followed Memphis though someone’s lawn, whose windows had plywood covering them and we walked past a business of some sort, also with plywood in the windows and went toward an “open” business. It appeared to be a store, restaurant, cabin rental, and RV spot all in one. We looked longingly. We lingered. Memphis returned saying it would open in about half an hour. We wondered if we could linger on the porch out of the rain when a man approached us seemingly out of thin air, who we later learned was Michael.

Michael: You all look cold! Why don’t you come inside and warm up by the fire with tea and coffee until we open.

We gladly took him up on the offer, placed our packs on the porch, and went inside to hover as close as possible to a wood stove. Michael was incredibly hospitable and gracious opening early, putting an extra log on the fire, and letting us do a jigsaw puzzle until the kitchen could be ready again.

All of us scarfed down food as fast as they could crank it out of the kitchen. At that point in the hike, all of us needed to put on weight or at the very minimum, not lose more. The cold had been depleting our calories faster that we were able to replace them with trail food—food that we were all getting tired of.

Memphis disappeared for a bit and came back saying he got the “CDT” cabin for us all for the night because the weather tonight looked bleak. The single room cabin had three beds, an old TV, and a VCR. Naturally, all five of us fit perfectly and watched a George Clooney movie that night while the rain refused to let up. Right as we were trying to fall asleep, huge thunder claps kept us up just long enough to be thankful for the shelter.

We waited for the restaurant to open for breakfast and scarfed down even more food, while we attempted to motivate ourselves back out into the weather that had improved, but not greatly. After we reluctantly finished packing up and thoroughly talking Memphis into a cooler hat, Michael brought us back to the trail, while trying to give us jobs for the following summer.

Out into the misty, cold cloud drenched hills we climbed. We had to cross a large creek to jump back onto the CDT itself which Memphis skillfully hid from E.D. until we got to it.

Memphis: WHOA! This was raging when we had to cross it. This was why we bailed into Platoro.

We all looked at it and managed to rock hop across without our feet getting wet. What a difference snow melt could make.

The misty campsite.

Once we had climbed back up, we found a glorious campsite. Unfortunately, it was only lunchtime. As we all sat there, The Darkness scrambled around and got a small fire going while we ate. She was so excited for people after hiking alone for a week.

On top of the ridge.

It was one of those days where we all had to put on rain gear, then take it off twenty minutes later only to put it on twenty more minutes later. We hiked over one of the last 11,000 foot ridges and dropped down to a campsite by a marshy lake where The Darkness decided we needed more campfire time.

Pitching our tents, we set about helping her gather the driest wood we could find in a largely wet area. With the help of some heet, we had a fire going in no time.

The five us of sat around the fire that whole evening, well past dark talking until we hit hiker midnight (around 9pm) and fell asleep just as another rain shower passed through.

In the morning, we had to climb one more lower ridge and meander along it until we got to Cumbres Pass which we could take into Chama. The rain had ceased, but clouds passed through frequently adding a new texture to the hike. When we looked back at the last ridge over 11,000 feet, we saw the snow line. Had we camped higher, we would have woken up in snow. The top of this lower ridge had a thin layer of snow as well that melted quickly as we hurried south.

I hiked toward the road with Crosby and E.D. and the three of us caught The Darkness right before hitching. However, Memphis was nowhere in sight. We all thought he was in front of us, so we thought that he might have gotten lucky and found a ride. We threw our thumbs out while we tried to look for him coming down off the trail when we found him in the oddest way…

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Leaving Darby with five days of food, we headed back up to Chief Joesph Pass in the back of a pickup truck. The trail followed a dirt four wheel drive track for about five miles of pleasant grades before turning into a trail which The Darkness and I swore was designed by an east coaster. It picked the highest point around, went straight up it, then shot us back down and repeated the process. However, unlike the east coast, most of it was burned and the sun shone bright and hot that day.

On one of those bumps, I met a character named Swanson. He said that he had run into eight or nine other thru hikers that day and regaled me with information on each. I asked him to let Scallywag and E.D know that we were going to try and camp at Big Hole Pass. Scallywag and E.D had to pick up boxes quickly in Sula, so they were a bit behind and we didn’t see them until camp. Swanson mentioned a that there was a guy parked there camping who would talk my ear off.  However, when I got there, it was just after nine and it appeared he was already in bed so my ear did not get talked off.

The Darkness: “Did you talk to that weird dude?”

Me: “Yeah, he told me about the location of the spring and who’s ahead of us, did you?”

The Darkness: “No. I knew you would, so I didn’t bother.”

The spring was beautiful, piped, and not far. The beginning of the side trail to it though was hidden.

In the morning, I left first and headed up the dirt road looking for a tricky trail turn to the left where the side was supposedly hidden. I found it very quickly and began down the trail only to immediately be impaled in the face with a massive cob web. I took a step back and peeled it off, checking to make sure I didn’t have the spider on me. There were about two miles of woods trail before popping out on a closed (and therefore badly maintained) four wheel track. The entire time I pulled an old AT trick of waving one hiking pole up and down in front of me to knock down the cob webs. That only works so well though and I continually found myself peeling them off of my arms and face.

Later on, E.D came trotting down the trail.

E.D.: “Are The Darkness and Scallywag ahead?”

Me: “No…you’re the first person I’ve seen since leaving this morning and I’ve been on trail the whole time.”

 

The cabin and the wheel

We looked at each other and knew that something was wrong. E.D. had left with them, but paused for a morning bathroom break and hadn’t seen them since. We found a dilapidated old cabin, sat in front of it, and threw serotinous cones through the spikes of a rusty old wheel which reminded us of the old computer game about the Oregon Trail. We looked at the maps to see if they took a short cut and somehow got ahead of us. Nothing.

I placed my bet that they continued up the dirt road and missed the left turn.

We kept going, knowing that we had to make miles or face running low on food. A 3,000 ft climb came next which we broke up with lunch in the middle by a messy stream. We didn’t feel like having wet feet, so we found a log that was both several feet higher than the stream and barely the width of our feet. This was advanced stream crossing. E.D went first, stopped in the middle, chucked her poles across and straddled it across using one or two wiggly rocks underneath. As I watched, I extended my hiking poles and managed to walk across. The climb went steeply up for a long time, then finally began to have a better grade toward the top.

E.D. and I continued along the bumpy divide for quite some time until we stopped for dinner in hopes that the other two would catch up. In fact, they did roll up.

The Darkness: “We took the teal route…” (The maps show the actual CDT in red and the alternates in purple)

Me: “So, where did you get off trail?”

Scallywag: “We kept going all the way up Eagle Mountain instead of taking that hidden left turn…and then instead of going back down like smart people, we decided to bushwhack down and scramble down a talus field instead. It took awhile.”

We ended up going another few miles and camping at a lake with the Swiss Couple, Jeanine and Patrick who we hadn’t seen since the day before Lincoln, or about 200 miles. They had a small fire and were roasting marshmallows.

 

The lake campsite

The next morning, we all plodded down the trail and tried to work around the thunderstorms which kept trying to repeatedly explode above our heads right as we were going above treeline.

I kept noticing the thunder when it would appear as a wrong bass line in whatever music that I was trying to jam out to. The thunderstorm that day hit right before noon and was over quickly, but it was enough to push us into some trees to eat lunch.

We had as long decent down to a “parking lot” of a trail-head, which was really just a dirt road that you could move a car to the side of, out of the way. On the way down, we passed two beautifully blue lakes and it was hot out, so I took the opportunity to skinny dip for a moment to cool off.

From the “parking lot,” we had to climb. But this particular climb had recently been redone with wonderful switchbacks making the climb pleasant and not really a kick in the ass.

We kept going and found the last campsite close to Berry Creek. This campsite was not really a campsite, but it was mostly flat and was just wide enough for our tents. We had somehow gotten on a late schedule of leaving camp between 8-9am and camping at dusk, eating dinner at about 10pm. Oops.

From Berry Creek, we had a long climb upward again with something marked as “overlook” on Guthook, which was really just a pass, but it did have a good view. We roller-coastered around high up before dropping lower.

The next day, we had some high and exposed sections to go through as well. And there were…you guessed it, thunderstorms!

 

Right before one storm hit.

From Gibbon’s pass, which had a “spring” a bit off a side road (which was a puddle in the road itself) we went up a very exposed, but awesome peak. When I got to the top and thunder crashed across the sky, I looked at the dark mass of clouds coming my way and made it down as fast as my knees would let me on the loose rocks. I made it down to some trees, put my rain gear on and watched the storm pass. Scallywag and E.D waited with me in the trees, The Darkness had made it over the next exposed bump on the ridge.

That evening, we found a campsite that definitely only thru hikers would call a campsite and threw up our tents in a gap in the rain.

The next morning, we waited until another gap in the rain to pack up quickly and head toward Lemhi Pass. This part was surprisingly easy and we cruised through it to find the Swiss Couple and Crosby sitting there eating lunch.

Crosby had called Sam at Leadore Inn to pick him up there instead of the next, normal pass to get to town on, Bannock Pass. We all chatted and ate while Crosby waited for Sam.

When Sam came, we conveniently asked him if we could reserve two rooms for the next night and get a ride down from Bannock Pass the next day at 4pm. He said that sounded great and would see us then.

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