Colorado Trail Hike 2011


Had a really rough night last night. Woke up at 1 am with my heart beating out of my chest and feeling feverish. Finally got back to sleep around 3 am. When I woke up at 7 I still felt like crap. I had clearly overdone it with the elevation the previous day. Now to decide what to do. No way was I staying at this campsite. There would be another site a mile further on. I’d reevaluate then. I forced down some cereal, fed Cassie the rest of yesterday’s supper, packed up and hit the trail. When I reached the next campsite I still felt horrible. Decisions. The next 7 miles had no water sources. So I was forced to either do a full 7 miles or stay here. I decided to continue…slowly. If it took me 8 hours, so be it. Finally made it to Kenosha Pass Campground at 1:30, after passing through a fresh burn area of several acres…so fresh I was expecting to see logs still smoldering. But apparently the fire took place about a month ago and was caused by lightning.

Set the tent up to dry out, took a sponge bath in the outhouse building, then washed my clothes. All the while my mind was on a BBQ sandwich from a burger place 15 minutes down the road. Although I didn’t really feel like eating it, I was darned if I was going to pass up the opportunity for real food. Waited for my clothes to dry. Do you have any idea how long it takes to clothes to dry when you’re waiting for them? FOREVER!!! So I only waited until they were half dry to put them on and hike out of the campground out to the main road. Stuck out my thumb and waited. Ten minutes and a dozen cars later, a Freightliner tractor and trailer hauling 80,000 lbs of beer pulled off. I climbed in. The truck driver was an interesting guy with stories of shuttling backpackers around Mexico when he was laid off last year. Too bad the ride was only a short 4 miles to the BBQ place. I would have like to have learned more.

Met my second fellow thru-hiker at the BBQ place – Mike from Denver. We chatted then hitched back to the campground. He was beat too and didn’t want to hike the 3 miles to the next water source so we share my campsite*. I had planned to do chores and then turn in for the night but Mike and I ended up sitting and chatting for a while. Then it was off to bed after a long day that was supposed to have been short.

*Campsites in CO are much bigger than the typical dinky little campsite in the east. There was plenty of room to spread out and not intrude on each other’s space.

Still feeling yucky, I set out to do just 6 miles…to the last water source before the 6 mile ascent over Georgia Pass…or what the data book said was the last water source. I arrived at the stream by 11:30 and found Mike there tending to his battle wounds – blisters from wet shoes and socks. I informed him that he needed a trail name since I’d been leap frogging all morning with a section hiker whose name was also Mike. He brushed it off so I dubbed them Mike the Thru and Mike the Section. No confusion.

We sat talking by the stream. Mike the Thru offered me a PBJ. Not just any PBJ, but a Goobers PBJ! Not much food has been appealing to me the past few days but that sounded good. It was! I offered to filter water for him. no need. He just scooped the water straight from the stream. No treating it whatsoever. Wow. He must have a stomach of steel. There’s no way I’d want to chance getting giardia on this dream-come-true trip. So I got busy filtering my own water…enough for the rest of today and tomorrow morning. I was moving on, heading up to Georgia Pass. I’d find a place to camp somewhere along the way.

Mike the Thru moved on and Mike the Section and I sat chatting for a bit. I noticed him take something from his pack and light up. At first I thought it was a pipe. Since I like the smell of pipes and the different flavored tobaccos, I asked him, “Whatcha got?” His response: “weed”.

Oh geez. I was not about to stick around while some strange guy got high. Time to move on myself.

Keeping a steady snail’s pace, I climbed, and climbed, and climbed. Two hours later, thinking I had to be close to the top, I looked at my GPS. i had only gone 1.5 miles. I’d be lucky if I made it to the pass by midnight at this rate. Ate a snack and then resumed hiking, stepping up the pace a bit. An hour and a half (and several water sources!!) later, I’d made it to the top, just in time to get set up and crawl into the tent for an evening downpour. After the rain let up I stuck my head out of the tent and Mike the Section walked by, saying he was going to keep going for a couple more hours. Whew.

As I settled back in I started hearing the rumble of thunder off to the west. I stuck my head out of the tent and saw lightning and rain in the next valley over. I watched it for a half hour and it drifted slowly around me while directly above me was clearing up. Then thunder rumbled off to the east. That system seemed to be heading north also. Still safe. About 15 minutes later, a storm developed in the valley south of me – where I had come from. Looked like was headed northwest so it should miss me and southwest and overhead were still clear. Still safe. Then, all of a sudden all three systems started to converge on me. A loud crack sounded right outside the tent and lightning was making it’s way up the valley toward me. HOLY $^&!!!!! I pulled up the two tent stakes, folded the tent in half with everything still in it, threw my water bottle in my pack, leaving Cassie’s pack and some miscellaneous things laying on the ground, hoisted my pack over my shoulder and made a mad dash down the steep bank over into the next valley. Found a level spot among the scattered trees and set the tent back up. Should be safe here as long as the storm doesn’t make it’s way to this valley. Ten minutes later there was a flash of lightning in the valley. OHMIGAWD!!! Uprooted again and made another mad dash a 1/2 mile down to treeline. By the time I set up the tent for the third time, it was raining hard. This was as safe as I could get in a tent. I sat there tense, watching the flashes of lightning and listening to the thunder. No use counting the seconds between the two – it was all happening simultaneously.

I looked at my watch – 7:15 PM. This is a huge storm. It surely can’t last that long. It’ll just pass through and then I’ll get down to supper and reading. At 10 pm the thunder and lightening finally started to settle down with the hail tapering to a light rain and I fell asleep shortly after.

I woke up in the middle of the night sick again. This was the third day of being sick and it was getting worse with each episode. I couldn’t keep anything inside me anymore and the symptoms weren’t like any flu I’d experienced before. By 5:30 am, I knew there was no chance of falling back to sleep. I needed to get out of here and get to a doctor. I packed everything up and trudged up the steep ravine I’d fled down into the night before.

Back at my original campsite, I packed up the things I’d left behind. Another thru-hiker walked past. He told me of a possible bailout point 7 miles down the trail where I might be able to hitch into town. I slowly made my way to it.

At 5 miles, I stopped to take a break at an old forest road when I saw 2 4-wheelers coming toward me. I flagged them down and asked them if I could get into town from this road and how far it was. They offered to give me and Cassie a ride. I was sooo relieved!

They strapped my pack on the back of one 4-wheeler and Cassie and I climbed on the back of the other. A few miles later we got to their campsite where we transferred everything to his truck. He drove me into town and insisted on making sure I got everything I needed instead of just dropping me off. The only option for getting seen by a doctor was the emergency room (no doc-in-a-box clinics in the area) and it would take a while to be seen so he gave me his phone number and left with Cassie. I finally saw the doctor who diagnosed me with giardia and gave me a prescription. Neal picked me up and insisted on driving me to Walmart to get the prescription filled. He and his wife full-heartedly offered to put me up in his huge motor home. I appreciated his offer but declined for the privacy of a hotel room. He got me settled into the Wayside Inn just outside of Breckenridge, a nice hotel owned by friends Tom and Patti (also wonderful people). I thank my trail angel profusely and said goodbye, ready to crash and wait this thing out.

Neil, my rescuer!

Neil, my rescuer!

Tuesday, July 19
24 hours later I had had all the TV I could take and there was still no change whatsoever. I am extremely sensitive to medicines and know very quickly whether it’s working or not. This stuff was not. I started looking up giardia on the limited internet I could get on my phone. The symptoms didn’t match up. But they did correspond to a similar condition of a bacterial infection. I called a friend who also happens to be a nurse at my doctor at home and explained the situation and symptoms. They agreed with my assessment and called in a prescription for a different antibiotic.

The hotel where Neal got me set up was very nice and at a good rate. Unfortunately, it was a hike into town for laundry and food and there was very poor cell reception. I went down to the office to check out so I could move into town for a few days while I waited this thing out. Owner, Patty, recognized me as the sick hiker and offered to drive me into town to Walmart to pick up my new prescription and take me to the grocery store to get some food my stomach could handle and to my new hotel. I thanked her for being such a kind trail angel and agreed to keep her updated. i took the first pill of the new prescription and within a few hours knew that it was starting to work. Woot! I started making plans to get back on the trail on Friday.

Cassie resting up for the next leg of the hike

Cassie resting up for the next leg of the hike

Wed, July 20 – Mon, July 25
Each day got progressively better although not as quickly as I was hoping. By Monday, I was feeling better but still not fully back on food. My diet still only consisted of bland foods. And my days consisted of TV, reading, and taking Cassie for walks. I was tired of it all and decided to get back on the trail the next day.

Tues, July 26
Tom, Patty’s husband, from the Wayside Inn, my former hotel, dropped me off at the trailhead at 8 am. Three miles in I stopped to take a break and eat a breakfast of applesauce. Feeling horrible, I could barely get the applesauce down without gagging. Clearly, I was not ready to be back out here. If I couldn’t eat, I wasn’t going to be able to sustain the energy I needed to hike. I hitched back out to the Wayside Inn and called Kathy and Bill from the Leadville Hostel for a shuttle. While I was waiting for the shuttle, Patty offered to drive me to Leadville. When we got there she got a full tour of the place and an education on the hike amenities – town clothes, laundry facilities, bicycles, hiker boxes, bunkrooms, etc.
I once again thanked Patty for her kindness and got settled into the Hostel and Leadville, my favorite place in Colorado!

Wed, July 27
Finally started to be able to eat. Still bland stuff but actually had an appetite! So when Michael and David, fellow hostel guests, invited me to climb Mt. Belford, the 14er, I enthusiastically accepted. Decided to test out my trail legs and took a walk around Leadville on a bike path.

A view of south of Leadville from north of Leadville

A view of south of Leadville from north of Leadville

Old mining remains around Leadville

Old mining remains around Leadville

Thurs, July 28
Met Michael and David in the common room at 5:45 and headed to the trail head for Mt. Belford. Saw a moose on the way in! Started hiking at 7:20 and reached the summit at 11:30 under puffy clouds. I’ll never get tired of seeing the views from a 14,000 ft mountain.
Went out for supper at Tennessee Pass in Leadville and ate PIZZA!!!! My first real meal in weeks! I paid for it later but just being hungry and then being able to get it down was a major step forward.
I decided to get back on the trail on Saturday.

Missouri Gulch

Missouri Gulch

Near the top of Mt. Belford

Near the top of Mt. Belford

Near the top of Mt. Belford

Near the top of Mt. Belford

Ptarmigan on the way down from Mt. Belford

Ptarmigan on the way down from Mt. Belford

Made it to the top of Belford!

Made it to the top of Belford!

Top of Belford!

Top of Belford!

Geological Marker at top of Belford

Geological Marker at top of Belford

Following David and Michael to the top of Belford

Following David and Michael to the top of Belford

Fri, July 29
Got everything together for the next leg of my hike, arranged a shuttle for Saturday morning, and seam sealed my tent, then bummed around the rest of the day. Time to hit the trail in the morning!!!!!

The nice folks at the Leadville Hostel shuttled me back to the point in Segment 6 where I left off the trail. Easy hiking. First 3 miles were a moderate ascent and the remaining 9 were mostly downhill. Apparently the easy terrain draws mountain bikers to this segment because there were SCORES of them. So many that I was starting to get annoyed having to step off the trail every 2 minutes.

Made it to the trail head just south of Frisco and north of Breckenridge by 4pm. Hitched the 5 miles into Frisco and was there by 4:20. Stopped at the pet store to get some vet wrap (like an ace bandage but sticky) for Cassie and then to a store for sunblock. Mine fell out of my pocket sometime this morning. Then got a sub and hitched a 1/2 mile past the trail head to the Wayside Inn – owned by the people who helped me out so much when I was sick. Cassie gets to enjoy another night on a soft bed.

So much for the easy grades and switch backs of the first 6 segments. The first 8 miles of Segment 7 kicked my butt. I should have known how difficult it was going to be by the lack of mountain bikers. My legs were screaming. No way was I going to make it up and over Ten Mile Range before the storms blew in for the day. Not going to chance getting stuck above treeline with lighting again. So, I threw in the towel at mile 6, the last water source before treeline, and set up camp at noon. Whiled away the day reading and studying some programming stuff.

Finished the last 2 miles of the steep climb up to the ridge of the Ten Mile Range and was rewarded with a morning of amazing views and animal sightings. Saw 2 foxes or coyotes, many marmots, squirrels, chipmunks, and pikas, and a family of ptarmigans. Descended steeply to Copper Mountain, a ski resort, and then spent the afternoon starting the climb up to Elk Ridge and Kokomo Pass. Camped about halfway up. BEAT!!! And have another long, hard day tomorrow.

Freaky night in the tent. Woke up about 1 am to Cassie growling and a light shining on the tent. I froze and listened afraid it was a creepy hiker I’d passed a couple times yesterday about to set up his tent on the flat space next to mine. I heard nothing more but a weird ticking noise that I couldn’t place disappear up the trail. Finally fell back to sleep and woke up at 5:30 for an early start. It was a 4-mile ascent above treeline and over Elk Ridge and Kokomo Pass.

Met Jill, a section hiker I’d leapfrogged with all day yesterday, camped at the edge of treeline. We chatted for a while and I moved on while she started breaking up camp. Numerous mountain bikers passed me once again. Eventually I found out why. The Colorado Trail race was going on – a mountain bike race covering the 485 miles of the CT in fat ass format – that is, completely unsupported, no entrance fee, and no prizes. The lead bikers were expected to cover the distance in 4-5 days. Insane. There were about 75 bikers participating. Only 65 more to pass me. Wonderful. I guess that explained what passed my tent at one o’clock this morning.

The descent from Kokomo Pass took me through awesome fields of wild flowers. Just below treeline, rain came through so I stopped under some dense evergreen trees that kept me dry and ate lunch. A couple hours later Jill caught up with me just as it started to rain again. We stopped to put our rain gear on and a mile later happened by some old bunkers as we passed Camp Hale – a training camp set up for the 10th Division during WWII. We ducked into one of the bunkers and found one of the bikers waiting out the rain. Within 1/2 an hour, the rain passed and we were on our way again.

Somewhere in this area was a waterfall that I missed. Not sure how. It was pretty big and right along the trail apparently. Wow. Must have been really zone out.

Made it to camp by 5 just before the rain started again. Supper was cooked in the vestibule of my tent.

When I fell asleep at 9, it was STILL raining but Cassie and I were dry and comfy in my sleeping bag.

Late morning. Got up at 7 and hit the trail for my final 3.5 miles into Leadville. Met up with Jill again just before the trail head. We made tentative arrangements to hike to the top of Mt. Massive (a 14-er) on Saturday. Then it was a hitch into Leadville and a day of town chores – laundry, shower, resupply, and satisfy my ravenous appetite (which was difficult because I still had to be care of what I ate…and the pizza below was still not on the list of approved foods. I paid for it again). Got everything done by early evening and settled into the living room common area at the hostel for an evening of “Walk-umentaries” and “Bike-umentaries” with other guests, Susan and Tina. Watched a DVD on hiking the Continental Divide Trail (which shares 200 of its 2700 miles with the Colorado Trail) and a couple DVD’s on the 2009 Leadville Trail 100 mile bike race.

This hike was supposed to satisfy my hunger for long distance hiking and adventure so I could get it out of my system. So far, all it’s done is add fuel to the fire.

Pizza!!!!!

Pizza!!!!!

Walked the main road out of town with my arm stretched out and my thumb up. Reached a gas station and stood there since it was an easy place for people to pull off. Took 4 minutes. Got a doozy this time. Young guy in his 20′s in a pickup truck. Wasn’t sure he spoke English at first but then he started talking…

Guy: Yeah, sometimes I just pull off right here and smoke and watch UFO’s fly over the mountain range.
Me: Really? What kind of UFO’s? (I really wanted to ask what he was smoking instead.)
Guy: Oh, the good kind. The kind you can’t identify.
Me: Wow. What do they look like?
Guy: Well, if you get binoculars out, they look like flowers – the underneath part. And they turn their lights off when they fly over Leadville.
Me: Dang. How fast do they fly?
Guy: Oh, they haul ass. They fly into the valley over there. I think the aliens live there. There’s a constant hum in that valley.

He changed the subject and proceeded to tell me all about how the polarization of the universe is going to change and it’s happened 4 times before and there are cities built on top of cities because of it and the Mayans couldn’t have had that knowledge – they had to have gotten it from a higher power.

Ok then…

That was the longest 8 miles of my life. Just as we were reaching Tennessee Pass, my dropoff point, traffic stopped for a roadwork area. I took advantage of the delay and announced that I’d just walk the last 1/4 mile to the trail. I thanked him and got the hell out of there.

Back on the trail, the miles flew by until I got to Holy Cross Wilderness and a steep section. By the time I got over the last ridge, thunderstorms with lightening were over on the next ridge a couple miles away. I hauled ass like a UFO down below treeline and set up camp at the first flat spot I could find in a drizzle. Expecting to get blasted by the storm, I crawled in the tent to wait it out. It never came my way and an hour later the sun was back out. It was 4 pm. I contemplated packing up and continuing on for a few more miles but decided against it. Tomorrow looked to be an easier hike. I’ll do a couple extra miles then. Off to an evening of hiding in the tent from mosquitoes and reading.

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