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In 2011, I hiked the 500 mile Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango. It was the best 5 weeks of my life. So, when the Colorado Trail Foundation added another 80+ miles on to the trail this year, I HAD to hike it. It looked like it would rival the most scenic parts of the trail. Best friend, Sandy, would be joining me for the hike. This would be her fourth backpacking trip. Nothing like skipping directly to the advanced backpacking.

Day 1 – September 3, 2013 – 9 miles
At 12:45, Wild Bill, owner of the Leadville Hostel (best hostel in the world!), deposited us at Twin Lakes, 80+ trail miles north of where we parked our rental car at Monarch Pass.

We started walking across the Twin Lakes damn. A mile later we were already off trail, having missed a turn somewhere. Drrr. A little cross country walk and we were back on track. Two miles in we’d reached the place where the Colorado Trail splits. To the left was the route I’d taken 2 years ago when I did the whole trail. To the right was the new section which rejoined the old CT about 82 miles south. From now on, it was new territory for me…virgin territory as Sandy called it while singing Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” to me. That freaking song stuck in my head for days. Thanks, Sandy. [mean face]

The first 4 miles were easy hiking…a walk around the lake at 9,000 ft. Then we started to ascend toward our goal for the day – tree line at 12,000 ft just below Hope Pass.

We made it by 7pm, hiking through rain, and just in time to set up the tent in a downpour. Once the rain let up, I made supper for us – Mountain House freeze dried Beef Stroganoff for Sandy and Beef Stew for me. Neither of us had much of an appetite thanks to the altitude so we each ate about half and saved the rest for the next day’s breakfast. By the time we cleaned up and turned in, it was well past dark.

Crossing the damn at Twin Lakes

Crossing the damn at Twin Lakes


Twin Lakes

Twin Lakes


Excited to be on our way!

Excited to be on our way!


Finally made it around the lakes and heading to the mountains

Finally made it around the lakes and heading to the mountains


Day 1 campsite just below Hope Pass

Day 1 campsite just below Hope Pass



Day 2 – September 4, 2013 – 9 miles
Camping just below Hope Pass meant a long, slow trudge up to the pass first thing in the morning, which got our blood pumping and kept us warm. Then a steep descent with beautiful views down to the ghost town of Winfield. As we hiked out of Winfield, I said something to Sandy about doing Mt. Huron, a 14er (14,000+ ft mountain – 1 of 55 in Colorado) that was just 2.3 miles off the CT) the following day. She was game. We hiked to Mt. Huron trailhead. And just as we got there, the clouds let loose. I set the tent up while rivers were forming under it. (Lesson learned: never set up a tent on bare dirt when you can put it on a grassy area instead.) Knowing full well that everything was going to get drenched and covered in mud if we attempted to transfer the stuff from our packs to the tent, we decided to wait out the storm under the shelter of some pine trees. Then the hail started. It didn’t take long until the ground was covered in small white pellets of ice. 45 minutes later the storm was still in full force and we were both getting cold and CJ was shivering uncontrollably on my lap. It was time to act.

We got in the tent and soaked up the puddles that had formed while setting it up and the mud that sprayed in from the driving rain. Then I passed the packs under the rain fly in to Sandy with the pack cover side down in the mud. She unloaded the contents and set up the sleeping pads and bags. I got everything settled outside and dove into the tent. Till all was said and done, we’d managed to keep the most important things that we’d need to keep warm overnight dry or just damp. Another hour or so later and it was down to a drizzle. I tore myself from my warm sleeping bag, put on my wet socks and shoes, and went down to the water source (a small lake) and filtered the water we’d need for the night and the hike up Mt. Huron the next day.

When the drizzle stopped, we hung out all our sopping wet stuff on a downed tree and made supper. After supper, we pulled our still sopping wet clothes into the bottom of the tent, and turned in around hiker midnight (7 pm.)

Heading up and over Hope Pass

Heading up and over Hope Pass


Heading up Hope Pass

Heading up Hope Pass


From the top of Hope Pass

From the top of Hope Pass


Heading down the south side of Hope Pass

Heading down the south side of Hope Pass


Across rock fields

Across rock fields


Through Aspen forests

Through Aspen forests


In the path of snakes

In the path of snakes


Past the Winfield cemetery

Past the Winfield cemetery


Through the ghost town of Winfield

Through the ghost town of Winfield


Eating lunch along the main street of Winfield

Eating lunch along the main street of Winfield


Setting up camp in a downpour

Setting up camp in a downpour


Day 3 – September 5, 2013 – 3 miles
Plans of hiking Mt. Huron were replaced by the need to dry things out from yesterday’s downpour. Everything was either soaked or damp. And given the cool temps at 10,000 – 12,000 ft, it was prudent we got things dried out.

At first light, we got up and packed the cold, wet gear into our cold, wet packs as CJ explored and tried to run off with our socks. Ahead of us were 2 moderate uphills followed by 2 grueling, steep uphill miles in which we’d gain 2,000 ft in 2 miles.

I took off hiking at a comfortable clip feeling good. When the path started to steepen, I started pushing it, thinking I’d conquered my issues with altitude. I left Sandy notes along the way – arrows in the dirt to direct her at intersections, paper notes held down by rocks in the middle of the path to let her know how far she had to go.

I made it up to Lake Ann, an alpine lake at almost 12,000 ft, and emptied my pack, spreading the contents on the ground to dry in the bright sun and dry air. Just as I started heading back down the trail to meet Sandy, she crested the hill to the lake.

We scattered the contents of her backpack on the ground to dry and sat down to eat a late breakfast and waited for the stuff to dry.

And then it hit. It no longer mattered that I was sitting in the most beautiful spot I’d ever been in my life. My focus was on trying not to hurl or pass out. (And we all know my #1 rule in life is no hurling at any cost.) The altitude had caught up with me. I shouldn’t have pushed.

I contemplated throwing in the towel and crawling back down to the trailhead for Mt. Huron where we’d camped the night before and hitching a ride out. Then I remembered reading Cookerhiker’s (fellow CT thru-hiker) blog and his day 3 hell. Every time he’s done a backpacking trip at altitude, he felt horrible on day 3. Day 4, he felt great again. Today was day 3 for us. Hoping his day 3 theory worked for me, we packed everything up and hiked (SLOWLY) back down to treeline for the shade. We chilled out there for a couple hours waiting for the inevitable cloud cover that develops everyday to overtake the sun. I started feeling not so rotten but not good enough that I wanted to tackle the remaining 800 ft in .8 miles over the pass.

Once the full sunshine was intermittent, we hiked (SLOWLY) back up to Lake Ann and set up camp for the night…at 1pm. :-( We’d made a whopping 3 miles progress for the day.

Once I got over my fear of not being able to finish the 80+ miles, I started enjoying the amazing views again and was glad we’d be spending the rest of the day and night at Lake Ann. And best of all, we set the tent up in the sun and not a downpour like the last 2 nights. And we had the place to ourselves. A couple hiker/hunters came down to the lake for water but we couldn’t even see where they were camped.

By 4pm the temperature had dropped considerably and the hail was flying and thunder booming but we were nestled dry and cozy in the tent. It rained on and off all evening and stopped long enough to cook supper. Just after dark we got company – some hikers set up camp about a 100 yards away.

Easy stream crossing thanks to this make-shift bridge

Easy stream crossing thanks to this make-shift bridge


Bestie takes a selfie

Bestie takes a selfie


Drying out from the previous night's downpour

Drying out from the previous night's downpour


CJ coming to check on his mama

CJ coming to check on his mama


Mama not feeling so good

Mama not feeling so good


The Diva

The Diva


View from campsite

View from campsite


Day 3 campsite

Day 3 campsite


Day 4 – September 6, 2013 – 8 miles
Woke up at 6:30 feeling better, although still not 100%. I was dreading the climb over the pass. My plan was to take it super easy…and not hurl. By 7:30 we were off. By 7:35 I had gotten into a groove:

Take 20 steps. Stop. Count to 20. Don’t hurl.
Take 20 steps. Stop. Count to 20. Don’t hurl.
….

By the time I was nearing the top of the pass, it was:

Take 10 steps. Stop. Count to 50. Don’t hurl. Don’t pass out.

I made it. And boy was the view worth it. We continued down the other side of the pass and down into tree line.

We were both feeling pretty scrungy, it being day 4 of not showering and wearing the same clothes. We stopped at a flowing creek and took a hiker bath in the privacy of the tall underbrush. This stream was also one of the two possible camping spots for the day. But it wasn’t even noon yet so we decided to push on another 5 miles to the next spot since it would be mostly downhill.

About 2 miles on I started feeling rotten again. Another .5 miles and I’d reached my limit, hit the wall harder than I’d ever hit it before on any run. I felt like I couldn’t take another step. My chest felt tight. I couldn’t take a deep breath, and my breathing and heart rate were through the roof and wouldn’t calm down with resting. I took my pack off and sat down and willed myself to not hurl or pass out, and wondered how in the world I was going to make another 2.5 miles to the next watering spot. That distance might as well have been 100 miles and up Mt. Everest at that. Just impossible at the moment. Sandy and I talked. (I omitted the details about the pressure in my chest and breath and heart rate at the time so I didn’t completely freak her out.) We were at a section that wasn’t campable. Every direction was too steep to pitch a tent. After a rest, Sandy hiked ahead to see how far to the next relatively flat section. About .1 miles. Even that seemed insurmountable. Sandy took my pack for me and I walked at a snail’s pace to the area. We set up camp and waited out another storm before Sandy set off for water another .5 miles down the trail.

We made supper and settled in for a long night.

Heading up Lake Ann Pass

Heading up Lake Ann Pass


From the top of Lake Ann Pass

From the top of Lake Ann Pass


From the top of Lake Ann Pass

From the top of Lake Ann Pass


Down the south side of Lake Ann Pass

Down the south side of Lake Ann Pass


Almost to tree line

Almost to tree line


A fox!

A fox!



Day 5 – September 7, 2013 – 2.5 miles
I hardly slept, still feeling pretty crappy, and wondering how I was going to make it out the 2.5 miles to a potential bailout point the next morning, despite it being entirely downhill. We got up and packed and hit the trail. I hadn’t eaten hardly anything for the past couple days and still had zero interest in food. I took it at a snail’s pace. But still, 1.5 miles later, I had to stop. I was beyond any limit I had ever reached before. We rested for a while and I forced down my gummy vitamins and a piece of jerky. Then continued on for a mile or so. About .3 miles from the bottom of the valley, we started hearing a chainsaw. I sat down and waited while Sandy continued on to investigate. It turned out to be a husband and wife and her brother who had set up an elaborate hunting camp on BLM land for 2 weeks.

I forced myself down the last bit of trail to their camp. The people were amazing. The brother was an ER doctor who also struggled with altitude sickness so he knew exactly what was going on. His remedy was a huge handful of Tums to get rid of the acidity in my system that apparently builds up from over-exertion and oxygen deprivation. Within an hour I was rallying, no longer on the verge of hurling or passing out. They offered their extra shelter to us for as long as we needed and offered to drive us a mile out to a point where we could walk another 2 miles to a turn-around point for ATV’s. I didn’t have the 2 miles in me yet so we just hung out for a while until 3 ATV’s showed up who gave us a ride down to Taylor Park Trading Post (what was supposed to be our resupply point) where we could hitch a ride out to the main road and back to our car. We were at the Salida Hostel by 3pm thanks to the generosity of a couple on a weekend vacation who took a liking to CJ.

Getting down to the lower elevation of Salida (7,000 ft) helped things immensely. I was still drained but didn’t feel so horrible. We stayed in Salida for the night, then headed back to the Leadville Hostel to recuperate for a couple days before we either continue on the trail or just do a few 14ers.

To be continued…

DrupalCon just happened to take place in my favorite place this year – Colorado! Spent 3 days taking notes and absorbing everything Drupal. Then headed off to Leadville and 2 days of snowboarding at Cooper Mountain. This video sums up my first ever snowboarding experience:

It’s been over 3 months since I stepped off the Colorado Trail. (Read about my adventure from the beginning.) I miss it every single day. I miss the simplicity of the lifestyle, of having just the bare essentials and being thankful for them, of being so tuned in with my senses. I miss waking up in the morning excited at what adventures the day would hold, what sites I’d see, of being so incredibly aware of the weather. I miss eating lunch with amazing views or by a bubbling brook. I miss the feeling of my legs and hips getting tired as I cranked out the miles but then feeling refreshed and ready to hike again the next morning. I miss meeting trail angels like Paul and Neil and Patty and the high energy athletic atmosphere of the Leadville Hostel. I miss being around others with the enthusiasm for not just long distance hiking but a zest for life itself. I wish the trail continued for another 500 miles.

But the trail ended. And it was back to reality. And boy did reality hit hard. Exactly one week after I returned home hurricane Lee hit and I had 5 feet of water in the basement of my repair shop. I lost a good bit of supplies and equipment. I had returned home already not in the mood to be repairing. Now I was faced with rebuilding a repair shop that I really didn’t want to rebuild. Time to suck it up and put on my big girl panties.

Friends pitched in a great deal of time to help me get everything carted out of the basement, scrub down the entire basement, and then scrub what was salvageable. It’s now three months later and almost everything is cleaned up. There’s still some work to be done in putting things back to a more efficient workflow but the shop is at least operational.

It’s been a long three months….three months that I never want to have to repeat. But I’m once again waking up in the morning excited at possibilities that the day holds and at the things I’ll learn. That’s because I’ve started a new trail….a trail just as exciting as the Colorado Trail….a deeper dive into web development. More on this later.

I sauntered through the first 4 miles of the day. I was tired from yesterday’s 23 miles, yes, but mostly I just wanted to savor the last time I’d be above treeline. I climbed over Kennebec Pass and receded down into the trees and retreated into my head. The miles passed by in a fog…a brain fog, that is. Every time I thought about finishing the trail, tears would start flowing so I just tried not to think.

About 3:30 I was approaching my final campsite. I’d decided to spend one last night on the trail before hiking the final few miles. I got to the last campsite at 16.9. Nice campsite. Where’s the water? I continued on another 1/4 mile and found what I guess was supposed to be the water source – an algae filled stagnant swamp. No thanks. My water pump was on the verge of needing a new filter and would just clog with that mess and there was no way I was drinking it unfiltered even with iodine treatment. I continued on 3 miles to the next water source, a fast flowing stream. But no place to camp. The slope was too steep and vegetation too thick. I continued on again, planning to stay at the pay campground just one mile from the end of the trail. I got to the junction for the campground and started heading down the dirt road. Then I looked at the map. Initially it looked like the campground was right on the trail. Now I noticed the road winding around into the campground was a good 1/2 or more plus the distance to the actual campsite could be another mile. As any hiker will tell you – we’ll walk any distance on a trail but don’t want to hike any more miles than necessary when they don’t count as it takes away from the trail miles. So, I said screw it and hiked the last mile of trail out to the trail head and got a ride into Durango where I celebrated with a free beer at Carver’s Brewery and a huge supper. Then back to the hotel and made arrangements to get home.

Pile o' rocks

Pile o’ Rocks – Pick one up at the start of the hike, carry it 500 miles, and deposit here.

Cool cliff

Cool cliff

Lone cabin up on Kennebec Pass

Lone cabin up on Kennebec Pass

Mountain views

Mountain views

Trail head at Kennebec Pass

Final mountain views

Final mountain views

The southern terminus of the Colorado Trail

The southern terminus of the Colorado Trail

 

My feet were on the trail but my head was not. My mind is starting to return home, thinking of all the things I need to do when I get back. Up until about 3 that is, when the storms rolled in again and I still had 2 exposed summits to go over. i watched the storms to the west float toward me as I climbed up and over some of the worst and rockiest footing of the trail at breakneck speeds. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I crested the last summit and began my final descent to Taylor lake.

Just before dark laying warm and dry in my sleeping bag and tent, I heard a plane fly over….and then again, and again. It was the 3rd or 4th time before it registered that this wasn’t just another 747 with a flight path over the Rockies. I broke my mind from my reading and poked my head out of the tent. It was a helicopter circling the area. I watched as it made a few more circles and then landed on the summit of the last mountain I flew over about a 1/4 mile away as the crow flies. I could faintly hear male voices talking. 15 minutes later the helicopter took off. I can only assume it was a medical evacuation and hope that it wasn’t one of the thru-hikers behind me and thankful that I’d made it over the rocks in my panic without breaking an ankle or busting a knee. It could have easily been me heading to a hospital….again.

Another beautiful view

Another beautiful view

Spent the day leap-frogging with Jonathon, a biker from Florida struggling with the altitude and putting on and taking off my rain gear. Storms rolled in early – started raining before I even got up. I waited for half an hour until rain stopped before even getting out of my tent. Then things seemed like they were going to clear up but storms rolled back in by 10. It was a wet, soggy day.

A HUGE tree across the path.

A HUGE tree across the path

Got moving around 8 and went for breakfast at the Brown Bear. Back to the hotel, pack and hitch a ride to the trail. On the trail by 10. It was a pleasant hike until 1:00 when I had to go over the pass in a thunderstorm. I am sooo paranoid about getting struck by lightening! Fortunately there were 2 mountains right on either side of the pass so I wasn’t even close to being the highest thing.

Hiked the rest of the day in rain and hail. The rain stopped shortly after I set up camp – Cassie crawled into my sleeping bag soaking wet.

Got up at the crack of dawn and packed by headlamp since I was still in the gorge and the sun hadn’t risen enough to even illuminate the steep valley. Made it into Silverton by 12:30 with a thunderstorm at my heels for the last 2 hours. Got a hitch into town with a 3 generation Hungarian family on vacation. The son, wife, and kids live in New York and the grandparents were over from Hungary on a 16 dya tour of the U.S. Grandma was driving the van, squealing the tires around the switchbacks. YIKES!!! They dropped me off in the center of town. I walked a couple blocks to the hostel. Nobody there except a note with a phone number. I called it. The guy soon shows up barreling in the door like a bull in a China close. Cassie was laying under the table and growled at him. He launched into a lecture about how he couldn’t have a dog growling in his place. I could see Cassie was a good judge of character and I was not goign to get along with this guy so I left to find other lodging.

Stopped at a burger place and leafed through the listings while I ate. Finished and headed over to the Canyon View Motel where the owner was super dog friendly. I dropped my pack in the room and grabbed my wash and headed to the laundromat just up the street, stopping by the grocery store to beg for quarters. Bought the little box of soap at the laundromat, dumped it in the washer, put my wash in, placed my 6 quarters in the slot and tried to push the little tray in to take my quarters. No can do. The sucker wouldn’t budge. Crap. Tried another washer. Same thing. Tried all the washers. Couldn’t get a single one to work. Grrr.

Grabbed my wash and headed down the street, stopping in at another business to ask about another laundromat.

Clerk: Oh, yeah. There’s A&B there. They have a laundromat.
Me: Oh good. Can you tell me how to get there?
Clerk: Sure. It’s just past Wyman.
Me: Uh. Where’s Wyman?
Clerk: Why it’s just past where ol’ Jimmy’s used to be. Make a right.
Me: [banging head on wall]

I found A&B RV and the friendliest owner. Did my wash and then went ot the bank to get quarters for the grocery store from whom I begged quarters earlier.

Me: I’d like to get some change for this ten. A roll of quarters please.
Teller: Ok. Do you have an account with us?
Me: No, I’m from out of town.
Teller: Ok. We’ll need to charge you 5% to make change then.
Me: Seriously? [banging head on wall again]

I suddenly didn’t want to spend all day tomorrow and a zero day in this tourist trap so I went back to the hotel, canceled my reservation for the next night and went for groceries and then supper at the Brown Bear. Yum!

Got back to the room and got my food set for the last leg then got my water filter out to figure out why it wasn’t working so well lately. An hour later I got it going and sat down with my phone to download some books to read. Then a little TV and off to bed.

Woke up to a heavy frost on everything, especially the tent. Water bottles were partly frozen. Ended up packing the tent in its stuff sack with a nice snow ball in the center. That would later come back to haunt me.

Long day of ups and downs. Nice part about it was there was an amazing view of yet another mountain range with every up. Started bonking about mile 10 with brain fog setting in. Still affected by elevation. Geez. How long does it take to fully acclimate out here? Caught up with Bill and Keith and stopped and ate lunch. Then the storms started rolling in. Amazing how adrenaline can cure brain fog. Just after the CDT split off from the CT, the trail went up and over the final ridge of this 30 mile stretch above treeline. It was thundering and lightening not far to the east. Keith asked, “well, we gonna do it?” Meaning, are we going to head over that ridge with lightening so close? I responded, “we either do it or set up camp here.” We were off. I was just behind him but far enough that he remained at a slightly higher elevation than me. He could be the lightening rod. Bill followed just behind me.

We made it up and over without getting struck by lightening and down into a seriously narrow gorge. Bill and Keith opted to call it quits at a flat area by an old mining cabin. I was feeling good again (probably from the remaining lightening induced adrenaline in my system!) and wanted to get more miles in so I could get in to Silverton by noon the next day.

I climbed down the gorge over boulder fields and steep rocky descents. Got down below treeline and found a descent campsite where I emptied out my pack and found everything at the bottom half soaked. That snowball from the morning frost had melted and everything in the bottom of the pack was in a puddle. Laid it all out and everything was dry by morning.

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