Archive for June, 2016

Thursday, June 30 Rainy Day

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

SUMMARY: Last night for a little while it got very cold and actually snowed on us a bit. Sunrise was intensely red—I put it down to the smoke from a forest fire to the north. All morning long we wrassled with the trail, crossing snowfields and rock fields and climbing long steep mountainsides.

We had a late lunch at Berthoud Pass, and just as we were about to do the washing up, it began to pour rain. We had only enough food for 2 more days, and the mountains were now enshrouded in clouds.  We knew that the CDT up ahead involved climbing high once again and following rock cairns across the tundra (and maybe snow?)–how could we do that with no visibility?  So we decided the only safe thing to do was road walk,  and headed down the highway in the pouring rain till we reached the town of Winter Park.

The owner of the Italian place where we ate dinner said, “You know about the forest fire north of here? This big rain is a gift from God. It will put that fire out.” But it sure wet us down, too!

DETAILS:  Last night it actually snowed on us for a little while, but fortunately it never got cold enough, long enough, to freeze our very wet shoes.  Neither of us slept very well, probably due to the altitude–well over 12,000 feet.  My tail was dragging a bit as we set off into a very red sunrise–uh oh, that usually means rain.  I hopefully put it down the the forest fire up north of us.

The first challenge of the day came after only a few minutes of hiking–a big, hard icy snowfield.  Fortunately, enough hikers had already crossed it, and there was a trail of fairly sunken footprints to follow.  I would not have tried to negotiate a crossing without those footprints–too slippery.  After that, the trail crossed more snowfields; at one of them we could see no sign of trail anywhere, and almost got out Guthook to figure out what to do.  There were various other obstacles as well–a large rockfield to cross (hard for me), and finally we were on nice trail, walking along a mountainside up above a busy mine.  Noisy!  The mountain that rises up behind the mine was partly cut away already from the mining activity.  But the whole mine setup looked very prosperous, organized and clean.  Some of the mines we’ve seen were pretty scruffy–not this one!

Then came a very long and killer uphill at altitude.  Trail stretches like this really slow us down.  Fixit actually had to stop partway up and lie down for awhile to catch his breath.  What keeps me going on these long steep uphills is looking at the wildflowers–the season is in full swing, and it is gorgeous!  And all the little pikas along the way start “meeping” as we pass.  I wondered, “Are they saying, ‘Hello, hikers!’ or are they saying, ‘Heads up–incoming hikers!’?”

The closer we got to Berthoud Pass, the thicker and darker the clouds became.  We were way up high on the Divide and could see for miles, which meant I could see that up ahead, it was raining–at first the rain looked like a gray “sheer” curtain (you can see through it and make out what’s on the other side of it), but then it intensified and became a solid gray.  That meant it was a gullywashing downpour up ahead.  I stopped and put on my raingear just as a few drops began to fall from the sky.

A short time later, we met a very nice family who had climbed from the highway to see the views.  They were very proud of their achievement, and well they should be!  They’d come up two sets of steep switchbacks plus some plain uphill trail in order to get to this point.  Well, we were headed DOWN, hooray, and partway down the sun came out, so the raingear came off.  When we reached Hwy. 40, there was a nice rest area with a big CDT signboard, telling about the trail.  The tourists were strolling by it, walking their dogs, and not paying much attention to it.

Well, it was past lunchtime, so I got out the stove and cooked some hot lunch.  It was nice to sit on a bench and talk to people coming by as we were eating.  But the clouds were thickening up again, and just as I was about to start “washing the dishes”, it began to POUR rain.  We scurried for cover under the overhang of the visitor center/bathroom.   In getting the food out for lunch, I’d taken a good look at our remaining supplies.  We had food for 2 more days.  So Fixit and I sat under the overhang watching the deluge going on, and we talked about what to do.  It was over 45 miles by trail to Grand Lake. If we stay with the CDT, it means a long, steep climb out of here, then following the CDT as a route marked by rock cairns across the ridges, with more snow and who knows what other obstacles.  The rock-cairned route was what worried us.  Often the cairns are so far apart that they are hard to find.  How would we ever be able to find them in thick clouds (the Divide was enshrouded in clouds) and heavy rain?  Then, the last part of the trail going in to Grand Lake has a reputation for being impossibly blocked with fallen trees, to the point where hikers have to just give up and follow a rocky lakeshore instead.  All that, on 2 days worth of food.  We decided that for our own safety, we dare not stay with the trail, and it was time to roadwalk again.

The rain was still pouring down; at 1:30 we put on all our raingear and started to follow Hwy 40 as it wound down the mountain, with one hairpin turn after another.  But strangely, there was no thunder or lightning, just endless heavy rain.  This was no ordinary summer afternoon storm.  It was a real storm.  We had no idea where we would stay tonight, and could only hope to find someplace in the woods where we could camp.  On and on we went, with the rain just pouring down.  A couple of very kind drivers stopped to offer us rides–greatly appreciated!–but we explained that we were WALKING from Mexico to Canada and needed to stay on our own two feet.

Once we were down off the hairpin turns and headed along the valley down below, we began to see signs for towns up ahead, and realized that if we really pushed it, we could reach Winter Park and stay there.  It was 5:40 pm when we reached the edge of town; we found a motel, got a room, and spread out all our wet stuff to dry.  Virtually everything had taken on at least some water, even the most inner recesses of our packs.  Then we headed to an Italian place (DeAntonio’s) to get some dinner.   Mr. DeAntonio himself was there, and when he saw me wearing my down jacket, he said, “You’re wearing a winter coat.  You must not be from around here.  Where are you from?”  When I told him, “California” he said, “Oh, that explains it.  You are not used to cold.”

I asked him what was going on with the weather–why the rainstorm instead of just a short thunderstorm?  He said, “You know about the big fire up north of here?  This rain is a gift from God!!”  He was quite a character, and a lot of fun to talk to.  We stuffed ourselves on pasta, then headed back to our room and rearranged all the drying clothes.  The rain may be a gift from God, but it sure did get us WET!  In the park next to the motel, there was a big shindig going on; the rain had died down to just a few drips, and there was music and lots of people.  Both kids and adults were dancing to the music and playing around, wearing jeans & T-shirts.  I guess they are pretty well acclimated!!  These Colorado folks are TOUGH.

So I had to say, “Lord, thanks for sending rain to put out the fire…and thank you for giving us a place to dry out!”



Wednesday, June 29 Epic Adventure Day

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

SUMMARY:  Today’s first adventure was ‘Find the Trail’. We hunted a bit, no luck, so we bushwhacked up the mountain till we could actually see landmarks and find the trail. Then the trail itself traveled ridgetops (including a knife-edge ridge) with awesome views, before going to a pass where it was so steep that it was almost a cliff. Challenging!

Then a long and often frustrating downhill (snow, mud, several creek fords) till we reached the dirt road that switchbacked up to the CDT. The CDT was awesome—ridgewalking on the Divide, surrounded by what looked like a sea of snowy peaks. Epic! Tonight we are camped in a little hollow high on the ridge.

DETAILS:  We both had a very good night’s sleep last night, and that was a good thing–we were going to NEED it!  The first thing we had to deal with was wetness–since we were camped in a meadow near a creek, we woke up to everything soaking wet with dew.  The next item on our agenda was “find the trail”.  We tried and tried, looking everywhere, but no luck.  Finally we just said, “Forget it–let’s bushwhack straight up the mountain and get out of this river canyon so we can SEE some landmarks.  We’re never going to get anywhere just beating around in the forest.”

So up we went, dealing with many obstacles along the way, while we tried to sort of follow a little creek that was coming down the very steep hillside.  Fixit was very frustrated about not really knowing where we are and he charged on up, with me following behind, and silently praying very fervently, “Oh please, God, guide his eyes to see, and his thoughts to decide and his feet to go in a way that we can find the trail.”

Wow, talk about answered prayer–when we finally reached the top, we came over the edge precisely at a rock cairn that was there to mark the top of a high point.  Perfect!  From there we could see all around, all the landmarks, and it was easy to find the trail.  We did a bit of celebrating!

From that point we had nice trail tread; the route followed the ridgetops, with amazing views.  Then it headed for (yikes!) a knife edge ridge, which was a bit scary but do-able (for me–Fixit does not mind these things at all!).  Then came quite a climb up to a pass–Ley mentioned in his map note that it “looks like a cliff”.  No kidding!  The pass approach was so steep that I had to use my hands several times to help me scramble up.

The other side of the pass was an easy downhill into Bobtail Creek valley, and along the way we came to a cute little ptarmigan huddled in the trail, chirping and peeping.  He/she let us get really close.  By lunchtime we were down in the valley and found a great spot by a grove of trees to do a “garage sale” and dry out all our wet stuff.  But the early afternoon tried our patience as we followed the trail along the valley through snow, snowmelt mud, many creek crossings, and fallen trees to climb over/get around.  But we persevered until at last the trail (now an old road) began a switchbacking (what! switchbacks?!!) back to the CDT, which at that point was also following an old road.  Wow, did we cheer when we saw a CDT emblem on a tree!

Now we were way up high on the Divide, at 13,000 feet, walking along the ridgetops, with epic views of snowy mountains all around us.  It was almost like being in a huge sea, surrounded by white peaks like giant ocean waves.  We looked back to the south and marveled, “Did we really walk through all that?”  I felt sort of like when we were up high on Sonora Pass on the PCT and looked back to the south at the dramatic mountain terrain we’d just come through.  That day I also said to myself, “I can’t believe we came through all that, and here we are.”

In the late afternoon we met 3 different dayhikers, heading back to their cars.  They said they love coming up here.  I can see why!  The wildflowers are coming out, and though there was snow, it didn’t cause us any problems.  Tonight we are camped in a little hollow high on a ridge.  It’s cloudy and looks like it might rain.  We’ll see.  Today was one EPIC day!

Tuesday, June 28 OK – We’ll play the game

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

SUMMARY:  Studying the maps for our next section of trail made me feel very worried. Getting back to the official trail will not be easy. Then I decided. “OK, the trail wants to play games with us like ‘Hide & Seek’ or ‘Let’s see if you can make it to the top of this hill’ and more? Fine, we will play till we run low on food, then it’s ‘Sayonara, trail—we’ll roadwalk from here.'”

Today the trail began with a long, steep uphill, then it turned off to the right and disappeared, leaving us to follow itty-bitty cairns across the tundra.  Finally it totally disappeared and we had to bushwhack down into a canyon till we found it again, and now, at the end of the day, it has vanished again. It’s a game. OK.  And J-Ley—all I can say is “Grrrrr!”

DETAILS:  Last night was very warm, and the First Inn is cheap (which is why we stayed here!) so no AC.  As a result, a lot of the guys who are staying here (pretty much all hardworking blue collar construction guys) stayed outside their rooms last night (it was cooler outside!) and were talking to each other and talking on their cellphones till way late at night.  I kept thinking about the difficulties of heading back to the CDT today, and ended up getting up really early to study the maps.  We are planning to follow Ley’s Red Route, and it looks difficult in places; it even has a couple of notes to the effect of “this is the approximate location of the route.”  I don’t like the idea of “approximate” anything!  Yesterday I was really worried about it, but this morning I decided, “OK, trail!  You wanna play games with us?  You wanna hide out?  You wanna disappear?   Fine–we’ll play the game with you till we run low on food, and then it’ll be ‘Sayonara, trail!  Now we roadwalk.'”

Feeling a lot more cheerful after deciding that, I loaded up our food bags, and my pack, then Fixit and I headed out for breakfast–it was great.  Back to our room we went and rested till 9:45, because Fixit wanted to go back to the post office again, and they didn’t open till 10:00.  He is expecting a small package, and as of yesterday it had not arrived, so he wanted to try again.  In the package is supposed to be a new wristwatch to replace the one that got soaked during our Gila River adventures.  The current watch still works, but it has issues.  At the post office, however ….no package.  So Fixit told them when it comes in to forward it to Steamboat Springs.

Using Yogi’s map, we found the Ptarmigan Peak trailhead and began the Red Route back to the CDT.  The climb out of Silverthorne took several hours, but the views were fantastic.  We stopped for lunch at a really nice overlook with a bench, then continued climbing till we were well above timberline, and there was snow once again, but very patchy.  When we reached the junction for Ptarmigan Pass (our next destination), there was a very nice sign pointing us off to the right….but NO trail!  There was nothing to indicate the route except little bitty rock cairns spaced far apart on the tundra.  I thought to myself, “So…the game begins.”  It was good that there were TWO of us–we could both be looking for the next rock cairn.  For awhile, all was well, and we walked several miles across bare ridges.  Finally, we began to see a faint “trail”, and then it became a clear trail.  Whew!  We were very happy when we reached Ptarmigan Pass!

But on the other side of the Pass, the trail once again disappeared, except for an occasional cairn.  It was supposed to head east along a mountainside, then switchback down to the South Fork of Williams Creek.  We walked along the mountainside, hunting for cairns, which became fewer and fewer till at last they just stopped.  So did we.  I was all for, “Let’s bushwhack down to the creek and locate the trail there.”  Fixit was “No, let’s sit down for awhile and look at the maps and the Guthook app.”  So we sat down.  Fixit spent a long time trying to figure out where we were, but could not get Guthook and the maps to work together.  I looked at the maps and the terrain and made my own best guess.  In the end, we just gave up and headed down for the creek.  It was a difficult climb down, but not too awful.

As best as I could figure it, once we got down to the creek, we needed to go upstream a bit and we should find the trail there.  This did involve pushing through bushes and going through some mushy/marshy stuff.  But finally, oh joy!  There was the trail, crossing the creek, with a junction on the other side, exactly as it was shown on Ley’s map.  It was a very easy creek ford, and we were thrilled to have a trail at last.  It was well past 7:00, which is our normal stop & camp time.  We followed the nice trail for a little ways, and even better–it went to a large flat grassy area with several campsites.  It was obvious that people had been here in the past.  We set up our tent, because the mossies were pretty bad, and I also poked about a bit, looking for where the trail went next.  Not good–I couldn’t find it.  This did not bode well!   But we were tired, and it was late, so I thought, “Whatever–tomorrow we’ll figure it out.”

The sleeping bag felt good, but then I started smelling smoke.  Maybe someone else was camped around here?  It did smell like a campfire.  When I calculated our mileage, we only did about 10 1/2 miles today, but considering the late start (10:30 am) plus hunting for cairns plus a long time of map study plus bushwhacking, that was the best we could do.  I guess the first thing on the agenda tomorrow will be “Find the trail”.  OK, we have plenty of food right now–we will play along.


Monday, June 27 Down with the Geese and Outlets: SILVERTHORNE

Monday, June 27th, 2016

SUMMARY:  It took less than an hour to walk from our camp on the mountain, down to huge Copper Mountain Resort.  It wasn’t 7:00 yet–nothing was open till the Starbucks baristas spotted us and let us in.  Then we had a 10 mile downhill (yay!) walk on a bike path (yay again!) to Silverthorne.  There was beautiful mountain/river/lake scenery, but we had to watch our step–lots of geese were around, leaving “calling cards” on the path.  At the end of the trail, there was a large dam to cross, then Silverthorne itself–pretty, but it’s like one big outlet mall.  Weird, after being in the mountains.

DETAILS:  We could hear the traffic on the freeway all night, but our campsite was mosquito=free (almost) which was nice.  Early in the morning we headed down the trail, and in less than an hour we reached the huge complex at Copper Mountain.  It looked like a city, highrises and all….but not a human being in sight till we finally spotted a guy out walking his dog.  He told us where to go and find some breakfast, but with the caveat “Probably nobody’s open yet.”  That was true….but when we peered hopefully into the Starbucks, the baristas spotted us and let us in.  After coffee and donuts there (plus enjoying just being warm, and being able to wash up with WARM water in the bathroom), we headed off for a REAL breakfast at a place called Camp Hale.

Now that we were totally stuffed, we put the backs back on and looked for the bike path by Hwy. 70.  We could have opted for the Ley Red Route into Silverthorne, but we didn’t have enough food or enough energy to go that way.  The bike path turned out to be very nice, but you really have to KEEP RIGHT–there are so many bikes!  And since the path follows a river plus a “chain” of ponds, there were also a lot of geese.  There was a mama goose with a fine flock of goslings, so I stopped to get a picture of them.  Mama was nervous about me hanging around, so she tried to herd her flock away, but the goslings did not give a care, and ignored her.  Then dad–the gander–saw what was happening.  Uh-oh!  He was downstream a bit, but jumped in and began trying hard to swim towards us.  The current was too strong, though.  When he saw he wasn’t making any headway, he climbed out and began waddling at me as fast as he could.  I left quickly!

The bike path reached the town of Frisco, where we stopped for a Gatorade and ice cream and got a good laugh watching a bike instructor with a whole bunch of really little kids on their bikes, trying to teach the kids to ride.  He kept saying, “Kids, do your PEDALS!  Pedal!  Pedal!”, because a lot of them were still just pushing the bike along with their feet.  But since biking is obviously HUGE around here, I guess they start ’em young!

We picked up the bike path again, and it was so pretty!  It followed along the shore of Dillon Reservoir–so blue and sparkling, with the mountains as a backdrop.  If we’d stayed with the CDT, we’d be UP in those mountains right now, travelling the highest elevations on the whole trail.  But after reading hiker blogs about that stretch of CDT, and seeing their comments about “If you don’t like heights, you might have a hard time here”, we had decided on the Silverthorne route.   Down on the lake, there were all kinds of kayaks, sailboats, powerboats and paddleboards, but nobody was swimming.  The water must be COLD??  There were also a lot more geese, and they had left “calling cards” all over the path.  We really had to watch our step.

To get to Silverthorne, we hikers have to walk all the way across the top of a large dam before we are at the path that switchbacks down to town.  Turns out that “town” is basically one shopping mall after another.  It’s like a series of “villages”.  It felt so weird.  We managed to find a McD’s for lunch, then the underpass to get by Hwy 70 (which was a total parking lot eastbound…no indication of what was causing the backup).  We found the First Inn (recommended by Yogi) and they were really nice to us.  We got a cheap room, they did our laundry, and because we were staying there, we also got a great dinner deal at the steakhouse restaurant next door.  It was one of those “cook your own steak” places.  Fun!

After that, I went to 7-Eleven to get some more resupply food for our packs and then we headed back to First Inn to sleep.  Maybe.  It was a really warm night (we are not at 11,000 feet anymore!) and there was no AC in our room.  Oh well, you get what you pay for!  The weather report for the next several days sounds like the T-storms will be back.  That will be tough, because after this, we’ll be back up high in the mountains and reconnecting with the CDT.



Sunday, June 26 The Colorado Cough

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

SUMMARY:  Here in Colorado, the CDT mostly stays up high at 10,000 feet and up. The air is very dry, and though we do our best to stay hydrated, many hikers (including us) develop the ‘Colorado Cough’ which especially kicks in when we do a really big climb, which pretty much happens every day.

Like today—we had an almost 3,000 foot climb to 12,500 feet high, above Kokomo Pass. (Cough, cough)  It is spectacular and jaw-dropping, vast mountain scenery (plus a huge open-pit mine). The weather was perfect for our miles above timberline, and tonight we are camped within the sound of the freeway by Copper Mountain.

DETAILS:  I kept expecting to hear rain pattering on our tent last night, but eventually the thunder went away, and nothing happened.  This morning was really nice–not too cold–and we continued walking along what I think was an old railroad grade, which made for very nice trail.  Not much later on, we left the forest behind for awhile and found ourselves out in misty meadows, with fog rising from the damp ground.  Hmmm, very pretty and magical-looking, but it also meant we had a hard time finding a spot to stop for breakfast, because everything was so wet.

We passed some very old and mysterious low concrete buildings and were greatly puzzled as to what they were.  We guessed, “World War II?” but what were they for?  They were built in long rows with many separate little rooms, each with a door, but no window.  Powder magazine?  Some sort of bunker?  We have no idea.  The trail continued to be very nice as it crossed a big green valley surrounded by pleasant-looking mountains with no snow on them.  At the other side, we turned to the right and followed along the edge of the valley as we began the 3,000 foot climb up to Kokomo Pass.  I had been somewhat dreading this, because yesterday’s climbs about wiped us out.  I find that every time I start going uphill, in a short while I start to cough, and that makes it hard.

But today was different.  There were a few slow, steep parts (where the cough came back) but mostly it was a very reasonable grade, and it even included passing right by a pretty waterfall with a charming red-painted footbridge.  But as the climb continued, Fixit began to have a hard time.  He decided to stop and wash his socks (thus getting a bit of rest), while as usual I was eager to reach the top and THEN stop.  So once again, I headed on and said, “I’ll see you at the top.”  I continued the climb till I was almost at the very top, when it was lunchtime, and I spotted a really nice place well off the trail, where we could take a break.  The fact that it was well OFF trail was important, because we’ve been meeting a lot of Colorado Trail hikers with DOGS.  I’ve learned the hard way, that if there’s a strong possibility of dogs on the trail, it’s better to COOK way OFF the trail!  We met 3 dog-backpackers yesterday, and of the 3 dogs, not even one was carrying its own food.  Shame!  Any dog hiker should at least carry its own edibles!

By the time Fixit came along (very slowly; he is really tired), I had everything pretty well set up for lunch.  Kokomo Pass is about 12,500 feet, and well above timberline, so the views were glorious in every direction.  We are both tired and it was hard to have to pack up and get going again.  I would have liked to just lie there and look at everything!  But on we went, and after the other side of the pass, we started seeing what looks like a huge open pit mine.  A large chunk of a very big mountain had been completely dug away, and the whole operation was pretty impressive-looking.

The weather all day today was beautiful–clear, sunny skies, and no threat of a thunderstorm, which was great, because we were way up high on bare ridges for many miles.  There were some snow patches and small snowfields, but never enough to be a problem.  The only annoyance was snowmelt turning the trail into a creek and the ground into mud.  On the other hand—WOW!   The wildflowers were amazing!  They were everywhere.  I tried to take pictures, but no camera can do justice to what our eyes were seeing.  Then we reached Searles Pass, and found that on the other side, we had a whole new set of amazing views.  At that point, we were basically on the beginning of the long descent to Copper Mountain.

There was still a bit of snow for awhile, but never a problem.  Then we spotted a really nice house, out in the middle of nowhere…turned out it belonged to “Summit Huts” which owns a lot of backcountry cabins and houses, and puts them up for rent.  Well, much as we would have liked to stay there, we hadn’t signed up to rent it, and it was way too early to stop for the day.  Sigh.  As we continued down, down, down, we met a solo Colorado Trail hiker on her way up.  She is headed for Durango, but oh dear–she was carrying a ginormous heavy pack and making very slow progress.  We also met trail bikers and various other backpackers and even dayhikers.  Aha–we must be getting near to civilization!

We stopped a bit early, in the forest above the Copper Mountain resort.  If we’d kept going, we would have ended up IN the resort, and we really didn’t want to stay there.  So we found a flat place and set up our tent.  We can hear the roar of traffic on the freeway below.  Silverthorne tomorrow!


Saturday, June 25 Woo-hoo, 19 miles!

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

SUMMARY:  We met a lot of people going the other way on the trail today:  first a huge pack of runners training for the Leadville 100, then a number of Colorado Trail hikers. All of them were feeling overwhelmed by the huge amount of up and down on the trail. No kidding! We had some killer long uphills today that left us worn out.

The compensation was gorgeous views up top and even pretty lakes (with dayhikers). I am really having trouble with the uphills—the ‘high altitude cough’ that thruhikers often deal with is getting worse. In spite of rocky trail and killer uphills, we got 19 miles done, which is pathetic compared with our usual 25 miles. We did get to pass by the HQ where the 10th Mountain Division trained in World War II. We are grateful to all those guys!

DETAILS:  We headed out up (of course) the trail bright and early this morning, determined to somehow get more miles done.  This trail has been so hard, and it feels so weird to us, because we’re used to knocking out at least 25 miles a day on the PCT with no problem.  But with all the long, steep, rocky uphills and downhills, plus the “cruising altitude” of 10,000- 12,000 feet, both Fixit and I are having a hard time.  Today, the only way I made it up the many hard climbs was to “sing” in my head (not out loud–I was too busy huffing ‘n puffing)–especially the old song, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”.  And I did a lot of coughing, which was annoying.  It’s the “Colorado Cough”–even the younger thruhikers have to deal with it.

Most of the time today, the trail was in forest, but there were occasional views.  All the snowmelt creeks were running, so one nice thing was that we didn’t have to carry a ton of water.  I tried my best to drink lots and not get dehydrated, but it was hard, with all the uphills.  We did enjoy looking at the many different ways that had been set up for hikers to get across all the creeks, though–bridges, logs and stepping stones.  Thanks to whoever put those in!

In the morning, we met a huge group of trail runners, training for the Leadville 100.  Well, I think there must have been at least 100 of THEM!  But we ended up having to stop and get off the trail for them a lot, which slowed us down.  The runners were all very friendly and cheerful.  I sure do admire them–I could never RUN this trail–it’s hard enough just walking, even with trek poles to help.  And the trail is hardly ever smooth–there are always rocks and roots, so I feel like I can never just freely WALK–I’m always stepping and picking my way along.

One of our big climbs of the day was coming out of Turquoise Lake, but the reward was reaching a magnificent scenic area with huge snowy mountains and many more lakes (I thought that Galena Lake was the prettiest).  We stopped there for lunch and were in awe of the views, but we were so exhausted that all we wanted to do was collapse.  I had to force myself to eat.  Coming down again, oh joy–back to snow all over the trail!  But we were able to find our way, and there was only one big snowfield that gave us trouble because it covered a lot of switchbacks.

Finally we dropped down low enough to be out of the snow, and back into what I call a “meadow & creek zone.”  One of the creeks had BIG trout in it, lazily swimming around.  If we had a net (no need for hook & line) we could have caught one!  We were amused by the fact that this whole area is called “Holy Cross Wilderness”, and it includes “St. Kevin’s Gulch”.  We like the names, but wondered how in this world of uptight, easily offended atheists, that those names still have survived.  Back when I was not a Christian, I was never “offended” or upset by religious people–I felt sorry for them and looked down on them, and thought they were pathetic.  Today’s atheists are so uptight and defensive and insecure.

Finally it was 5:30 and we stopped for dinner, again so exhausted that we basically just collapsed.  Only a couple of minutes after we’d started hiking again, lo and behold–a PORCH SWING and comfortable bench were set up right off the trail.  Oh man, if we’d just kept going a little bit farther before we stopped….oh well.   Very late in the day, we reached Tennessee Pass, which was HQ and training center during World War II for the 10th Mountain Division.  If we’d had more time and were not so tired, I would love to have explored the area.  In any case, we sure are grateful to the brave guys who trained here.

But we pushed on for a little bit farther, found a flat place in the woods near the trail, and collapsed.  It’s clouding up again and the thunder is rumbling off to the north, but woo-hoo!   When I added up our miles, we got 19!  Pathetic by our old standards, but OK by our new ones.

Friday, June 24 A Do-able Day

Friday, June 24th, 2016

SUMMARY:  There was a lot of discussion among the hikers at Twin Lakes as to the best way to get back to the trail. Bill and I opted for Ley’s ‘east of town shortcut’ but when we got there, it was labelled ‘No Trespassing’. Bummer. Oh well—we simply kept on going to the official CDT.

Most of our hiking today was in forest, and it involved a lot of big ups and downs. The trail itself was pretty good, and we got a few glimpses of Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest mountain. But thunder and lightning were already playing games around Elbert, so we passed by as quickly as we could.

The trail was marked for a Leadville 100 training camp practice tomorrow—glad we didn’t have to squiggle around a lot of runners today!

DETAILS:  I got up at 6:00 am, took our food bags and resupply box,  then quietly tiptoed down the hall to the upstairs parlor of the Inn.  It was the perfect place to spread everything out, divide it up between our two bags, and figure out what I needed to get from the store.  The parlor had couches, tables and chairs, plus plenty of games and books.  I had to keep telling myself NOT to get distracted by the books!

While I was working on the food, along came Big John, one of the CDT hikers.  He just wanted to talk to someone–he’s a bit discouraged.  He is one of the older hikers (he’s 58) and it really frustrates him not being able to keep up with the younger guys. And he’s dealing with some medical issues, too.  But he is absolutely determined to carry on, no matter what.  Hopefully I was able to hearten him a bit, and I know I enjoyed talking to him.

At 7:00, the Inn has an awesome “continental breakfast”, and all the CDT hikers were there.  We ate till we were stuffed!  Everybody is planning to head back to the trail today, including us.  Fixit is awfully tired, though.  He did not sleep well AGAIN, even on a bed.  It seems like every night lately, something happens; I’ve been calling it “midnight dramas”.  A few days ago, I did ask him to try to be really quiet when this happens, so I can still sleep, and he’s been really nice about being quiet as a mouse.  He was so tired that when he finished breakfast, he just went back to lie down till we have to check out.

Meanwhile, I went across the street to the store and did our “shopping” for more food.  Then I hung out with the other hikers (nobody had left for the trail yet) and the discussion topic was “How do I get back to the CDT?”  One of the girls was going to try Ley’s “western alternate” that goes straight back up to the CDT from the Twin Lakes village.  The trick with that one was how to FIND it.  Then there was the “eastern alternate”, a shortcut that goes to the CDT from near a campground east of town, and then lastly, the official CDT, which was even farther away.  Guthook and Ley disagree on which way to go, and so do the hikers!  Fixit and I had already decided on the eastern shortcut.

It was 10:00 by the time we got going, and we headed for the campground and the shortcut trail.  But when we got there, to our dismay, everything was firmly posted “Private Property: NO Trespassing!”  Grrrr.  Ley maps have a bad habit of doing this to us–they have what looks like a good route, then when you get there, it’s “no trespassing.”  Grrrr.  So we just sighed and kept on walking all the way to the official CDT, and THEN headed back up into the mountains.  Eventually we even caught up with some of the other CDT hikers who had gone up by the “western alternate.”

The CDT trail today had several big climbs, first out of the Twin Lakes valley, then out of the Halfmoon Creek valley (where the side trail to Mt. Elbert & Mt. Massive is), and towards the end of the day, we were pushing up the climb out of the Leadville fish hatchery valley. But the trail was not horrendously steep or rocky at any point–it was very do-able.  Climbing out of Twin Lakes, we had lovely views of the lakes down below as we climbed, and later on, we had glimpses of Mt. Elbert through the trees.  It was afternoon by then, and those glimpses included some flashes of lightning.  We could certainly hear the thunder!  But the nice thing was, we were steadily headed AWAY from all that, rather than INTO it, as we were yesterday.  It rained a bit–enough to put on raingear–but no torrential downpours.

Also, we were pretty much hiking in forest for most of the day–sometimes aspens, sometimes pines and other trees.  And we’re back among granitic rocks–some of them HUGE.  There were a lot of little ponds and lakes along the trail, which meant a fair number of mosquitoes were out ‘n about.  And we also met a whole big pack of bike riders.  We don’t mind them at all–as a result of the many bikes, the CDT trail here is much smoother and nicer.   We also met a guy who told us that there’s a big Leadville 100 training camp on for this weekend, and tomorrow we will be meeting a LOT of runners out practicing.  Aha, that explained all the pink & black ribbons tied to bushes along the trail–they were “course markers”.

In the late afternoon, we met a hiker who’d just come down from climbing Mt. Elbert.  He said he barely made it off the summit when the lightning started.  Glad he is OK!  And then we passed a whole big campfull of teenage Boy Scouts.  They had big tents tucked into every flat place, near a creek, and were cooking dinner.  Man, it smelled good! We also met various solo hikers heading for Durango on the Colorado Trail.

When we finally stopped, I was a bit worried, because we had such a late start today, and ended up taking the LONG way back to the CDT also.  I had figured on getting more “trail time” in, and doing at least 19 or 20 miles.  Instead, we only got 16 1/2 done.  Not good.  If this happens again tomorrow and the next day, we will run out of food.  But it sure was good to be on nice trail, and to meet so many interesting people!


Thursday, June 23 Made It to TWIN LAKES

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

SUMMARY:  It was very windy and chilly when we left the RV park, and the wind increased till it made walking a bit difficult, since it was a headwind. Sometimes it even felt like pushing against a current of water. We were on Hwy 24, following the Arkansas River as it roared and foamed along.

We had lunch at a wonderful place called Cafe Sage in the village of Granite. They even told us a backroads route instead of the highway. Black clouds were rolling in, with silver streaks of lightning, and finally torrents of rain and wind. We raingeared up and hiked on.

It finally stopped as we reached the first lake of Twin Lakes, but it did another round just after we reached the Twin Lakes Inn. So glad to be inside! Several hikers are here, all with ‘trail tales.’

DETAILS:  When I got up this morning and checked on our wet gear we’d hung up all over the cabin last night, hooray, it was totally DRY!  We headed out along Highway 24 into a dark and cloudy morning, but the sunrise was yellow, not red, which is a good thing.  It was chilly, with a very strong headwind that made walking a bit difficult.  The sunshine came and went, depending on the cloud formations that were racing by overhead.

Since I didn’t have to be watching my footing with every step, it was great to be able to just walk and look at things.  Geology is one of the things I look for, and I noticed that before Monarch Crest, most of the rocks were obviously volcanic in origin, then after that, along the CT, they were granitic, and now we are back into volcanic again.  There are dramatic lava cliffs along the river.   We passed several properties that were for sale, including a ranch where they were irrigating pasture.  All the “For Sale” signs emphasized water rights, and there are ditches everywhere, carefully guiding every precious drop of water to the right place.  Well, for now at least, there’s plenty of water to be had!

From the highway, we could catch occasional glimpses of the Arkansas River as it went roaring along, and I kept hoping to see some kayakers.  We know they are out, because we’ve seen a lot of cars with kayaks on top, and even yellow buses towing trailers full of kayaks and rafts.  We also got some glimpses of the mountains up above–very snowy-looking.  That’s where we would be if we’d stayed with the CDT.

We stopped at one of the rafting places to get a cold drink to go with our midmorning snack, and we found out that Highway 24 (which we are following) started as a trail, then became a stagecoach road, then a railroad, and finally what it is today–a paved highway for cars.  (And hikers!)  We pushed on into the headwind as the clouds began to build up overhead, and at 11:00 it began to drip rain a bit.  The drips slowly increased, and we were just starting to think, “Time for raingear!” when we spotted a cute little cafe, and decided to have an early lunch there instead of sitting out in the rain to eat.   The place is called “Cafe Sage”, and it was great!  The food was really good, and everyone there was very friendly.  They told us about a local event called the “Burro Race”, where you do 25 miles on trail (running wherever possible), leading a loaded packburro (just like the miners used to do).  And they were so excited about what we were doing that they insisted on taking a picture of us.

But most importantly, they also told us that the next stretch of Highway 24 is so narrow that there is hardly any shoulder by the road, and it’s dangerous to walk (or even bike) through there, and told us how to do a backroads route instead that was safe and scenic.  So that’s where we went.  Wow!  It sure was scenic–grand views of the Divide, scattered houses and pastures….and lightning.  It wasn’t actually raining at this point, but the clouds were black, and there were frequent silver streaks of lightning.  I counted the seconds till I heard thunder, trying to reassure myself that it was pretty far away, but we were out in open country without even a tree, and walking straight toward those silver streaks. It was almost like watching a lightning “show”–often there were 2 or 3 jagged bright flashes, not just one.

Just before we finished the backroads route, the skies opened up, and it began to pour rain. We quickly raingeared up and kept going into a downpour mixed with hail, blown by the wind.  Ow!  That hail hurt!  But we just sort of hunkered down and went on.  This continued for a good half hour, then suddenly stopped, and the sun came out!  We kept the raingear on, though.  We did not trust those clouds!

The roadwalk around the two lakes (it is TWIN Lakes!) was really nice–the lakes are beautiful, with their dramatic mountain backdrop.  We couldn’t see too much of the mountains at first–they were swathed in clouds.  But finally even those blew away, and the view was amazing!  We walked into the tiny village of Twin Lakes and headed straight for the store to get our resupply box.  “Look around till you find your box, and just take it,” said the owners, and I wandered around the store (there were boxes everywhere) till I spotted our brown cardboard box with a green stripe on each side.

The next thing to do was find a place to stay–the historic Twin Lakes Inn had one room left, and we took it.  The room is really set up for tourists (dainty bedspread, lacy curtains, cute accessories) not hikers, but we carefully set down our grubby packs and headed back to the store to hang out with the other hikers.  There were CT hikers and CDT hikers, all just in from the trail, and everyone has stories to tell.  AND there were runners getting ready for the Leadville 100 race, as well.  Doubleshot was there, and said, “What?? How did you guys get here so fast??”  One of the CDT hiker gals was telling me about her adventures up on the high trail.  “How was the snow?”  I asked.  She paused.  “Well, let’s put it this way….it’s a good thing my mom was not there to see me climbing over some of those cornices” she said.  I thought, “Yeah, I’m SO glad we decided to take a lower trail.”

Finally Fixit and I went back to our room to take a shower (the bathroom is down the hall) and I also washed our socks in the sink.  Just as I got back to our room, a violent storm began.  I could not believe what I was seeing out the window–unbelievably heavy rain, fierce wind.  Finally it stopped.  Fixit and I were staring at it and talking. “What will we do if we get hit with something like this out on the trail?”  We decided we would not even try to hike, but would just stop and wait for it to die down.  When we went downstairs, we found that even the locals were freaked out.  “We have never seen weather like this!” they said.

At dinner we really enjoyed the great food, and surprise!   Eric the Red was there!  He had just come in, and looked very tired.  He said he was going to eat and get warm, then go look for someplace to stay.  Hope he finds one–it looks like all the rooms and cabins are taken by hikers and by runners.  Our room is so tiny that there’s barely room for us–we would not be able to fit him in, even sleeping on the floor.

When we went back up to our room and I looked out the window, the sky had cleared, and there was sunshine on the mountains!  Amazing.  Fixit went straight to bed–he is really tired.  I stayed up a little longer to write the journal and look at the beautiful mountain view.  Back to the trail tomorrow!


Wednesday, June 22 Going to Plan C

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

SUMMARY:  Well, it took a killer hill climb (3.3 miles of steep, rocky uphill) and 2 very tough, steep rocky descents plus weather that went nasty plus we have only one day of food left to convince us to go to Plan C—drop out of the mountains and roadwalk to Twin Lakes. So at around 4pm we started following County Road 321, while thunder rumbled and we were being rained on.

We did find a small grove of trees to hunker under while we ate dinner, and then where Road 321 reaches the highway, hooray! An RV/camp place! So right when we needed it, we have a little cabin, out of the wind and cold. Tomorrow the roadwalk.

DETAILS:  It was actually warm this morning at 5:30 am–we didn’t even need to put on our jackets!  The mossies (mosquitos) were out, though, and eager for breakfast.  We got moving quickly and left them behind!  The sunrise was gorgeous, but a bit worrisome, because it was a very bright RED, which usually means rain coming in.  I tried to stay hopeful, though–there were very few clouds.

We reached Mt. Baldy, and began the very long descent to Cottonwood Creek.  The trail was very steep and very rocky, the kind of trail where I slow to a crawl because I’m a klutz and can too easily trip and fall.  I did NOT want to fall on that trail!  It was mega-frustrating.  I hate going so slowly, knowing that we still have many miles before we reach Twin Lakes.

At last we were down, and following an easier trail along Cottonwood Creek.  Apparently it’s very popular with horse people, because it had a lot of horse tracks and the dust was deep.  Our feet were quickly filthy dusty dirty.  We did find a nice spot by the creek to stop and eat breakfast AND treat a LOT of water for the hike today.  This will be the last creek for awhile.  There was a bridge over the creek, which was a good thing–it was roaring and rough and would have made for a seriously nasty ford.

Finally the trail reached Rainbow Lake, where apparently the horses stop, because after that we had no more dust to deal with.   We crossed a road, and according to the map, right after that there was a “black diamond” climb for almost 3 1/2 miles.  So at the foot of the climb, we stopped for a snack, and while we were resting by the trail and thinking about what lay ahead, along came a very sturdy-looking older guy carrying an ice axe and a small backpack.  We figured he was headed out to climb one of the nearby 14’ers.

After that short break, we shouldered packs, looked up the mountain, and said, “Oh boy, here goes!”  The trail lost no time in going UP, very steeply.  It was a sagebrush hillside, so we had great views of Rainbow Lake down below.  My approach to long, steep climbs (I much prefer them over long, steep DOWNhills!) is to get into a rhythm with my breathing and my stepping.  My legs actually don’t feel tired at all on these climbs–it’s my lungs that have a problem, due to the altitude.  So I just sort of get into my rhythm and I can keep going and going.  Not fast, but steady.

Eventually we were back in forest again, and still steeply climbing.  About 2/3 of the way up, Fixit said, “I can’t go on.  I’m too tired.  I have to stop.”  And he just sort of lay down by the trail.  I know he did not sleep well last night, again, so that was part of the problem.  My problem was that I just wanted to get the climb done and reach the top.  So I said, “OK, I’ll just keep going, but I will wait for you at the top.”

I got back in gear and continued the climb.  A short time later, a happy young gal came bouncing down the trail.  “I just came off the ridge!” she cheered.  “You’re almost there!”  Well, that was good news…but turned out her sense of time must have been a bit off…it took me 25 more minutes before I reached the very scenic ridgetop. I took off my pack and immediately began looking for a nice shady comfortable place for Fixit to lie down again.  I figured that by the time he got up here, he would need it!  Once I found a good spot, I got out the stove and the food and started setting up to cook some lunch.  Just then, down from a higher part of the ridge, came the guy with the ice axe.  He was very surprised to see me.  “Wow, you really made good time going up the hill!” he said, and we talked a bit.  It turned out he is a local, and he “does that hill” EVERY week, once the trail is clear of snow, in order to stay in shape!

He also told me the “history” of the Colorado Trail.  He said it was a very hasty/rushed decision for the state legislature, who were saying, “We need a state trail!  We need it NOW!”  So with a very small budget and very poor planning, they quickly cobbled together a “trail” made up of some existing trails plus a lot of old mine roads.  Where there was nothing, they put in a trail as cheaply as possible.  “Like here,” he said.  “You see how steep and rough it is?  It’s really crummy trail, but it was cheap to put in.”   Oh….so that explains why there’s no switchbacking or contouring.  Too expensive.

He left, and finally Fixit arrived, completely exhausted.  I showed him the nice rest spot, and he just collapsed, while I finished cooking lunch.  “I can’t do any more of this Colorado Trail,” he groaned.  “Once we get down off this ridge, let’s just roadwalk to Twin Lakes.”  I totally agreed!  We only have food left for one more meal today, plus enough for tomorrow, and that is it, with many steep miles left to go.  If we roadwalk, we will be able to make it and not run out of food.

So we slipped and slid on the steep, rocky trail, down off the ridge.  It was really bad.  Down at the bottom of the canyon was a dirt road, which according to our map, should eventually take us down to another road, and the highway.  Just as we started to follow it out, it began to rain, and thunder was rumbling all around us.  I looked back up at the mountains where we would have been climbing back up again on the CT–it looked bad, with black clouds and mist.  The rain continued as we walked out to County Road 321 and began to follow it towards the highway.  The rain grew heavier and the wind was blowing and it was cold!  We were so glad we’d decided to bail out.

At 5:30 we reached a little grove of trees where we were protected from the wind and a bit protected from the rain, and stopped to eat.  All around us, the mountains were enshrouded in clouds.  “Nasty up there,” we said to each other.  But I was really wondering what we would do for a place to camp.  We were down in farm country, with everything fenced.  “I guess we will just have to ask permission to camp in somebody’s field, ” I thought. “And oh fun, we get to set up in the pouring rain and wind.”

But when we reached the highway, at the intersection, oh JOY!  There was an RV camp!  And they had little cabins!  So we went to the camp store and rented a “rustic” cabin (small, no bathroom, just a couple of bunkbeds) and now we are out of the wind and rain, and there is a heater in the cabin, so we are warm.  Our wet stuff is spread all over the place to dry.  And to add to the fun, while we were at the store, we met two guys from an “old time religion” church (that’s what it said on their van!) where they don’t have a “band” for their music (like most churches do now) and they sing HYMNS.  Awesome!   They are here with a bunch of teenage boys from their church, and they’ll be doing some mountaineering adventures over the next few days.  Hope the weather clears for them! (Hey, and for us, too!)  They promised to pray for us, and that means a lot.

So we are sheltered and warm and tomorrow, we should be able to reach Twin Lakes!


Tuesday, June 21 Nice Dark Clouds

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

SUMMARY:  This morning was very hazy—I thought maybe a forest fire? But there was no smoke smell. All morning the clouds increased, and before noon, thunder was rumbling among the mountain peaks. Dark gray clouds were hanging over us. But actually, all that was wonderful, because the Colorado Trail threw some very long, hard climbs at us. If we’d had to do those climbs under a hot, sunny sky, it would have been seriously tough. So we were very grateful for the nice dark clouds and even occasional drips of rain—very welcome!

At day’s end, the wind blew very hard, just as we got into our tent. Mileage today was very disappointing—we tried so hard, and only got about 18 miles.

DETAILS:  While we were packing up this morning, I eyed the sky with some concern–it looked awfully like forest fire smoke/haze.  But there was no smell of smoke at all.  Anytime we figure there might be a chance of fire, we hike like crazy to get as far away as possible, so we turned on the afterburners and hiked as fast as we could….which was not very fast.  Too much steep trail!

But a little ways into the morning, we met a guy coming down the trail who looked just like John Muir.  He said he lives up on Mt. White (a nearby 14’er) all summer, and only comes down occasionally.  I guess today was one of those occasions?  I wondered what he does all day long up there, all by himself.  Wow.  A short time after that, we met ANOTHER unusual guy–a hiker who was so thin he was almost skeletal.  He told us he has done the AT three times!  When I asked if he was doing the whole CT, he said, “No, I’m just out for a few weeks.”  Hope he gets into town sometime for a meal–looked like a breeze could blow him over.

Meanwhile, the CT trail continued to track along the “foothills” of the Rockies.  The trail engineers don’t seem to have ever heard of “contouring” or “switchbacking”. It’s endlessly up, down, up, down.  On one of the ups, we met ANOTHER hiker, who was looking for the skinny guy.  When we commented on how “vertical” the CT was, he said, “Yeah, just wait till you start climbing out of Chalk Creek.  It’s a big roadwalk and a REALLY killer climb!”   Yikes.

Overhead, the clouds were building once again, and thunder began to rumble among the peaks.  Again, we were so glad to be below treeline and out of the way of the lightning!  But we were also glad of the clouds, because it was a very warm day, and the cloud cover kept the temperatures reasonable.

Finally we reached Chalk Creek at around lunchtime, after a nasty descent on a very steep and rocky trail.  We found a really nice “mini-beach”, complete with sand, in the shade by the creek.  I fired up the Esbit stove and cooked us a hot lunch.  Just as we were finishing up, along came a sweet couple we’d met on the trail–they said “Hi, again!” and headed for their car in the parking lot, then returned with cold sodas for us!  Trail magic!  So kind!

From that point, getting OUT of Chalk Creek valley, you begin with a long roadwalk.  At first we were hiking through a neighborhood of interesting cabins and houses, and we stopped off at a little store connected with a hot spring resort to get some ice cream.  Too bad we are trying to make it to Canada–otherwise it would have been very tempting to stop there and enjoy the hot springs!  But we continued on up the road, and the climb began, a serious climb.  Partway up, we missed a turn and ended up walking along for 45 minutes before we realized our mistake.  Grrrrr!   We turned and headed back till we found the place where we messed up.  What had confused us was that the junction where we were supposed to turn had looked more like a private camp driveway, so we thought we weren’t supposed to go there (it’s Colorado, and like I said before, they seem to have a THING here about private property!)

Well, it turned out that the road did indeed go to a private camp, but it still was a public road, and the camp was called Frontier Camp, and it’s run by Young Life, which is a great Christian outreach to teens and young people.  The camp had plenty of campers–we saw kids out horseback riding, and buzzing around in lowslung vehicles that are sort of like 4-wheelers.  At the end of the “main” road, there’s a dirt road heading UP the mountain, and that is where we went.  Along the way we caught up with a group of Frontier Camp kids who were heading up, too, burdened with backpacks, to spend a night camped up high on the mountain.

Finally, after so many miles of road, we were back on TRAIL, and it was actually nice trail that contoured along and had wonderful views of the valley below.  Still looks hazy, though.  We continued hiking till 7:00 and managed to find a small flat place to camp.  Just as we were setting up our tent, the wind began to blow very strongly, and as I am writing this, it’s close to roaring.  Fixit is once again having trouble sleeping, due to the altitude, I think, and he has to prop himself up on his pack.  I was very disappointed when I calculated our mileage for the day to find that even though we tried so hard, we only made 17.9 miles.  I guess that losing an hour and a half when we missed the turn really hurt, plus the long, steep downhill where I was going at a crawl.  Well, we will do the best we can tomorrow!