8/24: 13.8 mi (1593.8 – 1607.6)
Three climbs were on the menu for the day. All in all it was a beautiful hike for the day.
Mountain ridges, meadows, springs leaking water all over the ground from the most amazing places.
Best of all scraggly downfalls that required some acrobatics, of which we are becoming quite adept at these days.
Our final pass opened up to a more than picturesque valley below, and eventually led us to the edges of Rocky Mountain National Park, and our first moose encounter.
A cow moose was feeding along the trail, and couldn’t be bothered with getting off trail for us to continue.
She looked at us like, “And you actually expect me to move for you. Have you noticed our size difference?” We were patient and enamored with her, and she finally walked off the trail just below us and continued to much on green growy stuff.
We had decided that once we reach the parking lot at Rocky Mountain NP, that we would try and yogi a ride to Grand Lake, rather than walk the busy highway…during tourist season. We scored a ride the moment we stuck our thumb out. A couple with a toddler picked us up. They were on there way to Grand Lake. They immediately apologized for their child, who had been crying non-stop. We told them we have been there with cranky kids, so it wouldn’t bother us. Ironically, the moment we got into their car, their child stopped crying and began to smile. Did we want to ride with them to Durango, they asked with a chuckle. I happily entertained the cutie, who apparently was enamored by my dirt streaked face, as we drove to Grand Lake.
They dropped us at the post office, per our request. Only problem, it was closed. Figures. The thing about Grand Lake is that the CDT runs the length of the town’s main street. Onward we trekked through town, whose wooden boardwalk “sidewalks” have the CDT emblem embossed on boards periodically. Shops lined the boardwalk with stuff we couldn’t buy, nor carry. We were now in search of adult beverages. We asked a couple who smiled and nodded at us, if they knew a place we could get a cold beer. “End of town. It’s happy hour. Two for one prices”, they responded. Perfect!
As we walked, we also noted the location of “grocery stores”, the outfitters, and lodging. Four beers later, we had lodging, back at the other end of town. The laundry and grocery store were right next door, and our hotel had an 11 am check out. Time enough to get to the post office and then purchase the rest of our resupply.
8/25: 13.8 mi (Grand Lake – 1646)
We have noticed a trend in the small “touristy” towns we come in to. The things we crave the most when we get into town, good coffee and an equally good breakfast place are mostly closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Since we seem to be arriving in towns on either Tuesday or Wednesday, we have been deprived of both. There was, however, an open coffee shop, back at the far (opposite) end of town. With a fully loaded (resupply) we trudged , once again to the opposite end of town. It was worth the walk. Here we met up with “Sprout”, who had previously joined us momentarily on top of the Parkview Lookout. We talked for a moment, as she was going to charge her electronics at the library. We however, were going to hike on.
Today would be a milestone day, of sorts.
- We would walk along the headwaters of the Colorado River
- We would reach 1000 miles walked so far this year on the CDT
- We would complete 1600 miles in total, on the CDT.
- And are now well over halfway. Closer to Mexico than Canada. No turning back now.
More than halfway into our day, we decided to take a swim in the Colorado River. It was hot, and the water beckoned. We sunned ourselves on the sandy bank of the river, as boaters passed by, somewhat perplexed as to how we came to be on the bank of the river…without a boat. Eventually, it was time to continue on. Our plan was a “Nero” walk day, and there was a campground not far from where we were.
When we got to the campground, we walked by an occupied campsite and asked if there was a camp host, and/or if there was a fee to camp there. There was a fee, but we weren’t inclined to pay such a hefty price for a piece of dirt and a picnic table. And with that, we decided to continue on.
But, not before being offered brats, a bag of Dots (best pretzels EVER!), fire grilled ear of corn, beer and water. Fully satisfied, we toddled further down the dirt road, that was now the trail. At the next campground (Big Rock), we found the camphost, who gave us half a bottle of whiskey and the site next to her for $11. Such a deal! Best Nero ever!
8/26: 21.7 mi (1646 – 1667.7)
Today we would climb to over 12,000 ft again after passing by Monarch Lake. The previous year this particular section had been ravaged by a micro wind storm that toppled thousands of trees. The work the trail crews did was monumental.
Climb. Climb. Climb. It was steady ALL day. Not hard, but enough to make you sweat and take a breather from time to time.
Halfway into our climb, while stopped for lunch, Sprout caught up to us. We would walk with her the rest of the day. Just out of college, and having completed the Colorado trail last summer, she was on her first “long” thru-hike, as she described it. Solo, I might add. Although she said she didn’t like people, she was glad have someone to talk to, as she was tired of talking to herself.
At some point during our climbing, we had to decide on whether to camp at mile 1661.5, and save the pass for the morning, or commit to going all the way to the road. At the time, the next water available would be 6.5 more miles, and we had several hours of daylight left. We felt pretty confident we could make the 6.5 miles before dark, and continued on.
Boy did we pay for that decision. While we were rewarded with amazing views, we were, under bright blue skies, blasted by a cold, gusting wind, the entire time.
These were hard miles, with no “opt-out” place to camp, and absolutely NO cover from what appeared to be a quickly approaching storm. This took us by surprise, as according to our weather app, this front was not on the “radar”.
After the ascent of the pass, was a long traverse with stunning and seemingly endless views. With light waining, and after a tedious, rock strewn descent, we made it to the road where a railroad used to be. Water from freshly flowing springs cut rivlets of water in the road, but still no flat or decent place to camp. After another mile or so, we spied Sprout who had secured a descent spot to camp, with room for us as well. Quickly we set up our tent. Severe weather was approaching. Giant bolts of lightning accented the night’s sky on the horizon. We could hear it’s corresponding thunder. When it got to “three one-thousand” it was time to hide in our tent and hope for the best. No doubt, it was going to be a cold and wet night. Snow was not out of the question.
8/27: 12 mi (1667.7 – 1679.7)
Today was a poor mileage day, and hard as hell. It was in fact, almost a game ender day.
Because of the cold, we “slept in” till 6:30am. It had rained most of the night, and lightning had lit up the inside of our tent, like a four year old playing with a light switch for equally as long. We awoke, not well rested to a thin layer of ice coating the inside of our rain fly. Sprout had nearly froze to death. We discussed the value of an air mattress AND a warmer sleeping bag. Sprout was now convinced to borrow the zero degree bag her boyfriend’s mother had offered.
Today was to be the beginning of numerous 13,000 ft ascents/travereses over the next couple hundred miles. First on the menu was Big James Peak at 13309 ft. We would climb from 11400 ft, a nearly 2,000 ft difference…again.
We walked by a delapitated train trestle, where a family had parked to climb Big James Peak as well. We picked up our pace. We were CDT thru-hikers, no way were”day hikers” gonna pass us. Besides, we had to walk ourselves warm. The wind was biting cold.
Just before the middle leg of the ascent (day hikers were way behind us by now) we stopped at/in an rockwall depression that offered some measure of wind block, and made a hot cup of coffee. Sprout caught up to us, amazed at what we were doing. We offered her a cup. She did not hesitate, and joined us.
Once “warmed up”, the wind buffeted climb truly began. Of all the weather types, I can say that I truly, and without question, hate the wind… especially a when it knocks me off my feet. Gusts of 30-50 mph were the norm.
Once we crested Big James Peak, we could see that we weren’t the only ones, a top this peak. Most had come up from our intended descent route, that is the “redline” of the CDT.
The descent is when it got dicey for me. The gusts were blowing across the trail as we made our way down the switchbacks. A hefty gust caught me in mid step, and in an instant I was falling face first into a jagged pile of rocks. Time slowed, and there was no way to arrest my fall. Impact was imminent. My brain concluded that the left side of my face would hit first, with the pointy end of a large rock pushing through the orbit of my eye. This would be an SOS helicopter required kind of injury. “Shit”, was all I could think. “Fuck”, is what I said. Paul and Sprout were 30 yds ahead of me. Paul heard my utterance, and the impact, over the wind. I lay there motionless, doing “inventory”, as he and Sprout made their way back up to me. No one else witnessed the fall. Somehow I was able to see. My face hurt. Was I bleeding?, I asked Paul. Were my sunglasses (now termed “safety glasses”) broken? “No”, was his reply, followed by, “don’t move yet”. He had seen that my sun umbrella that was secured in the side pocket of my pack had been launched forward of me and lie in the rocks below. Obviously it had been a forceful fall. Knees worked. Legs worked. Face was miraculously intact. Gloves were torn and my left wrist however generated a sharp pain. Well, better my wrist than my head, I thought.
But once again, nothing broken. My wrist hurt and was not “useful”(couldn’t hold my trekking pole), for about two days, but definitely not broken.
Because I was so shaken from my fall, and I still wasn’t really sure about the extent of my wrist injury, we held up on making the second of the two 13,000ft summits (Flora Mtn. 13,123 ft).
This had us camping at its base (11,316 ft) near Bill Moore lake. Sprouts continued on, as she was looking for “town food”, and would exit at Berthoud Pass.
8/28: 6 mi (1679.7 – 1685.7)
The wind gusted all night, but we were fairly protected amongst some healthy trees. I awoke to no swelling and significantly more mobility to my wrist. Phew! The climb up to the peak of Flora mountain was fairly simple.
The tread was made up of fairly stable scree and interlocked rocks. As it was a Friday, we were not alone by the time we made it to the top. Our descent took us to a parking lot at Berthoud Pass. The parking lot was nearly full. Our timing was such that we met up with Sprouts, who had just gotten dropped off at the pass…rested and adequately fed. She was going to keep on trekking.
It was an easy hitch into Fraser. We should of however, just been dropped off at the Viking Lodge in Winter Park, as that is where we ended up. Nevertheless, we got dropped at the Fisher’s Bar, whose sign outside reads, “Where the beer is colder than your ex-wife”, as in Guthook people raved about it. The raves were well deserved.
After libations and fresh food our thought was to resupply at the Safeway and then catch the bus back up the road to the Viking Lodge that gives CDT hikers a flat $50 rate for the night. The plan was sound, but it’s execution was flawed, in that we stood at the wrong bus stop location. This meant that we had a 2mile road walk, with our 5 day resupply to the lodge. We tried hitching, but not one car/driver would even make eye contact with us…so we walked. We did however pass an outfitters, that allowed Paul to buy and install new tips to his trekking poles.
Our lodging at the Viking Lodge was fabulous. We will definitely be back…during ski season.
Of note, we enjoyed an evening of outdoor blue grass music and a beer just outside the Trout Brewing Company, next to our lodge.
Life is good!