Wed 15 Sep 2010
During last year’s big Colorado adventure, I decided this year’s big adventure would be backpacking in Colorado. As of June, running buddy, Sandy Krum, aka Krumy, was to join me for the big adventure. We did a local test run, a weekend backpacking trip, to make sure she knew what she was getting into. But the backpacking part of the big adventure got canned just five days before we were to leave for Colorado when I dislocated my knee on a trail run. Grrr. So we left the backpacking stuff at home and only packed the car camping stuff….uh….that’s PRIMITIVE car camping. I still wasn’t convinced she knew what she was in for:
- 24 hr/day outside in the elements, which happened to be highs in the 60′s and lows in the 30′s, mostly sunny with an occasional spritzing of rain.
- No showers. Getting cleaned up would consist of sponge baths from a cold stream.
- No flush toilets. It we were lucky, we’d have pit toilets.
And I wasn’t sure if I knew what I was in for. 24/7 with another human being??? Last time I tried that I was miserable after the 2nd day and it was lucky both of us got out of the woods alive. I do these adventures alone for a reason. I’d be letting someone be part of something very personal to me. We’d either come back best of friends or one of us would be duct taped to the roof of the car. Time would tell.
The Drive Out to Colorado – August 20-22
So, Krumy, me, and three dogs started off the adventure on Friday at 12:01 PM when I picked Krumy up from work with the car packed. We immediately established two rules:
1.) The driver determines the temperature of the car to her comfort and the passenger adjusts.
2.) The driver picks what she wants to listen to. The passenger either listens, blocks it out, or uses headphones.
Not far into the drive the comic relief started. Following rule #1, I had the air going full blast. My mind works overtime and I generate a lot of heat when I drive (that’s my theory anyway) so I like it cold. Krumy pulled her sweatshirt out of her bag and put it on….OVER her seatbelt. Bwaaahaaahaa! Remove sweatshirt, unclick, put sweatshirt back on, reclick.
Adding to the comic relief, Krumy soon fell asleep with a pillow on her lap ( to keep warm!) and Charlie (my little 10lb Pomeranian pooch) asleep on the pillow. When she woke, she shifted positions and poor sleeping Charlie went flying to the floor.
This was going to be a fun trip.
We made it to Normal, IL by midnight where friends, Chuck and Diane, put us up for the night and would be keeping Charlie for the rest of August. I backed into their driveway tentatively. Two months before I had put a nice hole in the bumper of Chuck’s brand new car with my hitch. I didn’t want to damage it again so I tried to keep my distance. I ended up parked partly in their perfectly manicured yard. Chuck just rolled his eyes and told me to bring the dogs into the back yard with his – Duncan, the best, most incredible dog in the world, and Oreo, Duncan’s shadow. This was going to be an interesting night. Five dogs in one small house. I wanted to apologize profusely to Diane for the chaos about to ensue. But they all got along, except for Charlie who just hid the entire time so he didn’t get stepped on. We had stellar accommodations complete with a personal wakeup call – kisses from Duncan.
Chuck and Diane treated us to breakfast, then sent us on our way…probably wondering how we were ever going to make it to Colorado when we were having problems finding the exit of the McDonalds. But we managed and continued across the midwest, relatively uneventfully until….[tinkle, tinkle, tinkle].
Me: Did you hear that? Did Cassie just pee? (my 27lb Shiba Inu mix)
Krumy: I dunno
I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out when there was nothing I could do about it so we waited till we got to the next gas stop. Nope. The plastic mat they were on in the back was dry as a bone. Hmmmm. Mystery. We continued on until…
Me: [horrified] I just ran over a turtle!!!
Krumy: I didn’t feel anything
Me: I felt a little squish. Think how long it took him to get that far. Poor little guy…
Krumy: He won’t have that problem anymore…..I can’t believe you squished Vern!!! ["Over the Hedge" reference]
Me: [half asleep] What?
Krumy: You can add a bird to that list. I just heard a thump under the car.
Me: [ROTFL] Awww!!!
Death toll: 2
Slowing down coming into a town (as opposed to earlier in the day when I didn’t slow down and got a speeding ticket. ack!), I applied the breaks and we heard a waterfall. Sandy looked back and saw water flowing from the valve at the bottom of the cooler. Apparently, I forgot to shut it when I filled it. The case of the peeing dog was solved.
We finally arrived at the campground in Colorado and set up camp – home base for the week at 9,500 ft of elevation. First order of business – get a fire going and roast some HUGE marshmallows.
Monday – August 23
Let the exploring begin!!! We headed out on a dirt road intending to drive into the trailhead for the Starvation Pass trail. But my wannabe SUV only got us about halfway. The road got to be a little rougher than I was willing to subject my KIA to. We needed it to get us back to PA eventually. So we turned around and decided to hike the Ute trail. We hiked in a few hundred feet and there in front of us was a knee deep river with the trail continuing on the other side. We looked at each other. Normally it wouldn’t have been a problem to cross. But I didn’t have any shoes along on the hike other than the sneakers on my feet and didn’t fancy crossing the river in bare feet because those rocks at the bottom:
#2. are slippery. AND that’s how I injured my knee the week before – slipping on a wet rock and twisting my knee.
Sandy started taking her shoes off. Looked like we were crossing. Damn adventurous spirit. I left my pack and the dogs with her and returned to the car for my knee brace. The dogs romped while she crossed swiftly in her new Vibram Fivefingers shoes. I followed slowly cussing at the slippery, painful rocks the whole time. Once across, we took the dogs off leash and let them run through the open meadows. They deserved it after being cooped up in the car for three days.
Cassie started her quest to sniff every crevice of Colorado in search of anything that moves. Cooper bounded along behind her just happy to be free. This was heaven…one of my favorite things in life. Watching the dogs roam freely, running full out, hopping through the high grass like a rabbit, pouncing at field mice, sitting frozen at the bottom of a tree staring at a squirrel she just scared up into the branches. Basically, just being a dog.
The trail was tame and my knee was glad we were breaking Sandy in gently to Colorado. Didn’t want to immediately scare her off with the limited oxygen and steep ascents. But I was disappointed. I came to Colorado for the mountains. I wanted to see VIEWS!!! Then we rounded a corner, Sandy about 20 feet ahead and the dogs off running into the meadow the trail opened into.
Me: Holy *^&%!!!!!!!
Krumy: What? [Looks to her left]. OHMIGAWD!!!!
Moose: [snort][looks at Sandy]
I fumbled with my video camera, turning it off by mistake trying to get the ultimate shot. Cassie and Cooper suddenly realized this huge playmate was just ahead of them and they took off in chase. The moose dropped its gaze from Sandy and loped through the clearing across the trail ahead of us, and disappeared into the woods on the other side, Cassie just behind. Sandy and I emerged from our daze and started whistling and calling for Cassie. I had visions of the moose running along, dragging Cassie, her jaws sunk into one of the moose’s rear ankles. Cassie returned quickly and we sighed in relief. (Thank you Linda for an obedient dog!!!)
The rest of the hike was boring by comparison…only a little excitement when Cassie rolled in bear pooh. I had to wash her down in the stream at the end of the hike.
We headed back to the camp for supper and S’mores by the campfire.
Tuesday, August 24
I woke at midnight last night freeeeeezing and not able to turn my brain off. Frustrated with myself, I got up and went for a hike….in the dark. I’ve wanted to do some night hiking for a long time but have never had either the occasion or the energy to do it. Last night was the night. The campground manager said there were some waterfalls at the top of the mountain so I set out to find them. I followed a dirt road up the mountain by the light of the moon. I rounded the last switchback and shadows of surrounding mountains came into view. I saw the crest of the highest hill in the area just ahead and scrambled up it. By the light of the nearly full moon, I was treated to the most gorgeous view of mountains and clouds. I stood there energized. Then I started to worry. I’d been gone for two hours. What if Sandy woke up, found me gone, and started freaking? AND I wanted her to see this. So I ran back down to the campground. She was still sleeping when I got back and I didn’t want to disturb her sleep so I crawled into my sleeping bag wondering how I was ever going to get back to sleep. Then she stirred….
Me: You wanna go see something?
Me: You wanna go see something?
Me: I can’t tell you.
Sandy: Can I take my sleeping bag along?
We packed the dogs in the car and drove up to the top and the gorgeous view, now slightly darker with the moon lower in the sky. It was fun seeing her reaction – the sleeping bag pulled tight around her, she turned around in a circle taking it all it. I was glad I woke her.
We went back to sleep and got up at a more reasonable hour for some more exploring. We drove the 45 minutes up to Lake City over a couple of passes and some great views. Then I got the brainy idea that we should head over to Ouray, a quaint little town nestled in the mountains and my favorite place in Colorado so far. And secretly I wanted to get some Copper Gulch earrings. I had gotten two pair in Ouray a couple years ago. I broke one pair and lost one earring of the other pair and hadn’t been able to find them online. Krumy google-mapped it. 30 miles. 1 hour, 47 minutes. Pshaw. Something’s hosed up on Google. We headed out on a dirt road. Made it halfway in about 30 minutes. Shoot. We’d make it in about an hour. Seriously Google?
Then the road started getting a bit…uh…rockier…and rockier…until we were crawling along at about 3mph and we’d reached the limits of my KIA. Darn. Made it about 2/3 of the way. 1 hr and 47 minutes indeed! But with a REAL 4-wheel drive vehicle, not MY car.
We turned around and tried a side road which became just as rough, although not as nerve wracking because it ran through a valley and not on the side of a cliff. We turned around again and parked beside a meadow where we had a relaxing picnic by a stream while watching the dogs play and Cassie do the Mexican Mouse Dance.
Then it was back into the car for them and we went back into Lake City to check out the local shops, buy maps, and reserve a Jeep for an adventure on Thursday. Then back to the campground to get cleaned up and relax by the fire.
Wednesday, August 25
Another cooooold night! I had two pairs of socks on (one pair was wool), sweat pants, a long sleeve tshirt, a turtle neck, a heavy hoodie sweatshirt (with hood up!), my heavy winter jacket, was inside a permanently borrowed sleeping bag from my uncle, and had three layers of blankets on top of that and was still chilly! Temperature was in the mid 30′s. Apparently this sleeping bag, although seemingly heavy duty, was NOT the 15 degree sleeping bag of mine that Krumy was using. Something had to change.
It was Colorado Trail day today. We started out at the trailhead parking lot with a death march – the phrase we used when visiting a pit toilet, so dubbed because of their odor strong enough to gag a moose or straighten the antlers on an elk. This one got the prize for horrendous smell.
Then on to the more pleasant march. We set out on the Colorado Trail with no real plan or destination, just enjoying the beautiful day and views and excited to actually be on the trail. We ascended steeply through aspens and evergreen and mushroom-filled fields until the trail leveled out at a meadow with great views. We took a break and let the dogs run, sitting at the base of a person-sized cairn that marked the path of the trail across the open meadow. I daydreamed of hiking the remaining 480 miles of the trail. Forget the Appalachian Trail!
We hiked back out to the car, squatting while we were still in the privacy of the woods so we wouldn’t have to use the pit toilets. Then it was off to some waterfall sightseeing. There were several in the area including the one I never actually made it to on my midnight stroll.
And, of course, then another campfire and S’mores.
Thursday, August 26
Another largely sleepless night….partially due to the altitude and partially due to the fact that I was FREEEEEZING!!!!!!!! I ended up pulling Cassie out of the cage she and Cooper shared in the tent and putting her in my sleeping bag with me. If this little 27lb furnace didn’t produce enough BTU’s, Cooper was next. She did the trick and I got a few hours of sleep before we headed into Lake City to pick up our Jeep rental.
Plan for the day: Drive the Alpine Loop – a 60 mile 4-wheel drive loop that reportedly took 5 hours to drive – and hike up to a summit of a 14,000 footer. Ambitious. We drove into the trailhead, both a little nervous. Neither of us had ever driven roads like this and we weren’t confident of the abilities of the Jeep Wrangler.
Krumy drove. I sat white-knuckled in the passenger seat. Not because of her driving but because of the road. That 500 ft cliff two feet to the left of the jeep made me a little tense, especially when we leaned hard to the left going over boulders in the road, not to mention that the road was barely wide enough for one car, much less two. If another vehicle came from the opposite direction, one of use was going to be backing up over this stuff for who knows how long. Just slightly tense!
As we drove straight up over a particularly large boulder, Krumy declared, “I hate when the road disappears like that!” The dogs didn’t seem to mind though. Cooper just laid down in the back while Cassie was in heaven, getting to ride with half her body hanging out the side of the open Jeep, the leash tied securely to the floor.
We got to the trailhead about 20 miles in with me clinging to my breakfast from motion sickness. I’d be driving on the way back thank you very much.
Starting at 11,000 ft, we had 3,000 ft to ascend in just over two miles with only 70% of the oxygen we were using to having. This wasn’t going to be easy. We signed in at the register a few hundred feet up the trail so they’d know where to recover our bodies from when we didn’t turn up with the Jeep in the evening.
Krumy took off practically skipping up the mountain, able to breathe better than she had in years because of the lack of humidity. I sucked in every oxygen molecule I could get and lagged behind, offering to take Cooper who tended to surge ahead on the leash so he could drag my butt up the mountain.
The first 3/4 of the hike was easy going in comparison to the last 1/4 which was straight up to the peak AND on scree. We took a break at the last plateau debating on whether to continue. We were wearing shoes without any speakable tread, had no more water, clouds were rolling in, and coming back down was going to be dangerous enough without the dogs. All it would take is for one of them to pull and we’d have a lot of scree embedded in our butts before we’d be able to get ourselves stopped. Dangerous even by my standards (who downhill mountain biked in the mountains of CO just a couple months before). So, being the two “innies” we are, we went for it. Worst came to worse, we could just take the dogs off leash, do a controlled slide down the scree, and meet them at the switchbacks.We made the final shuffle to the summit, stopping about every 50 ft to double over and catch our breath. 45 minutes laster I was at the summit, mesmerized by the view. I called down to Krumy about 20 ft below. “It’s worth it!!!” She calls back breathlessly, “I haven’t given up yet.”
Just as she starts coming over the crest of the peak, I yell, telling her to stay there. She keeps moving. I yell louder over the wind, telling her again to stay, figuring she didn’t hear me. I wanted some video of her coming up over the hill and didn’t want to make her have to do it again. She still kept going. “STAY!!!!” She looks up at me. “I thought you were talking to the dogs!” Woops! ROTFL.
She made it and joined me in the 360 degree view from the top of the world. It was indescribable. Even pictures and video don’t do it justice, although we took a ton of them.
We soaked in the view for a while then started the descent, with dogs on leash, both perfect angels. Not a hint of pulling. Somehow they understood. Once off the steep section and past the switchbacks, we let them off leash. And Krumy told me of her determination to “get some steak for supper tonight.” Sounded good. Almost back to the car a rain cloud stopped directly overhead (although it was sunny about 200 meters away) and it started sprinkling – the typical 12 drops of rain Colorado gets every afternoon.
Me: OUCH!!! [Raising hand to ear]
Me: What was THAT?
Me: Something stung me. [looking around for a flying insect that didn't buzz]
More rain drops fell.
Me: That was rain! It hit my ear and it hurt! They have some pointy rain drops out here!
I felt my ear and the blistered skin. Apparently, I’d gotten really sunburned and didn’t realize it. I noticed the sunburn on Sandy’s face and neck. In the excitement of climbing the mountain, I forgot about one of the effects of the thinner air – stronger UV rays. You don’t tan out here. No matter how tan you already are, you still burn. Perhaps we should pick up some sun screen.
We got back to the car mid afternoon, not enough time to drive the rest of the Alpine Loop. So we headed back out the way we came in….with ME at the wheel…gunning it through the huge mud puddles.
Back in town, we went hunting for steak. Little did we know how difficult it would be. The bar tender told us of a high class place that had steak on the menu but you needed reservations. We doubted they’d welcome our smelly, muddy selves.
Bartender: Nowhere else has steak in town. There’s a BBQ place down the street though.
Krumy: What? Seriously? There are cattle all over the fields out here. Just go shoot one!!
We had seafood and pasta for supper.
Friday, August 27
Our last day. How could we make the most of it? Let’s take a drive over to the Silverton area (southwest part of the state) and see what that has to offer. It was a 3-hour drive. We wouldn’t have much time to explore. We’d need to be back by mid afternoon to clean up and start packing so we could get an early start home in the morning.
Most of the drive was pretty unspectacular except for one thing. I found my earrings!!! We stopped at a “Colorado Made” store about halfway there. At every other store we’d been in that week, I’d asked if they carried Copper Gulch Jewelry. Nobody had ever heard of them. Since their website was down and their phone was disconnected, and apparently no one in Colorado had ever heard of them, I’d resigned myself this week to the idea that they’d gone out of business. So I didn’t even ask when we entered the store. After browsing around, I reached the last corner. And there on the wall was a display of Copper Gulch earrings. WOOT!! Also got a picture and a couple neat frames to put some pictures from this trip in – the first things to be hung on the walls in my house.
We continued on through Durango and almost to Silverton stopping at some overlooks with great views. I found my spot for next year – backpacking in the Silverton area. Yippee!!! Unless I am able to take a couple months and do the entire Colorado Trail, that is. [big grin]
We turned around to trace our path back to the campground stopping at a cute honey making place near Durango. I started getting a little antsy as we meandered around, tasting all the different flavors of spreads made from honey. We still needed to get our baths and pack and I didn’t fancy doing that in the cold or dark. We left there and entered Durango. Krumy immediately spotted a brewery and gave me her best puppy eyes. She’s a beer connoisseur. Ok. Let’s stop. I didn’t mention the time. She was the one that had to be back by Monday night for work on Tuesday. If it were up to me, we’d have stayed for a few weeks.
We stopped in and she ordered a beer. Then another beer. Then…
Krumy: Wanna grab supper here?
Bartender: Grill’s not open yet. Cook should be here in 20 minutes or so.
An hour and another beer later I was munching my way through a burnt chicken sandwich and Krumy, a juicy cheeseburger. We finished and Krumy ordered YET ANOTHER beer and we went to the outside seating where the dogs are tied. By this time it was 5pm. We still had a 3 hour drive ahead of us, baths, and packing to do. Apparently Krumy’s mind had been working during those beers.
Krumy: What do you think about staying another day?
Me: Really? Can you get off of work?
Krumy: I can try.
A few phone calls later and it was settled. We had another day. Woot!!! And we had another Jeep rented.
While sitting with the dogs, we noticed a laundromat across the street . In front was a big sign reading, “SHOWERS”. That would solve the freezing-cold-bath-this-evening situation (which I was determined to get, not having bathed in a couple days! Ack!).
I headed across town to Walmart for shower necessities while Krumy stayed with the dogs and beer. Showered and feeling human again, we headed out of town, first stop at Wendy’s for a non-burned sandwich and then back to Walmart for supplies for tomorrow’s adventure. A word of warning….never, ever take Krumy into a Walmart when she’s buzzed. Normally on the far end of the spectrum of introversion (WHICH IS NOT THE SAME AS BEING SHY!!!), she moved a few notches towards the extroversion side. I had to babysit what she was throwing into the cart so there were no embarrassing surprises at the checkout counter.
Then it was back on the road campground-ward bound with Krumy snoring in the passenger seat.
Saturday, August 28
Excellent night of sleep. We switched sleeping bags and I was as warm as a bug in a rug. And Krumy was still warm in the borrowed sleeping bag even without all the extra layers that I had needed.
Up early and on the road for the 45 minute ride to Lake City. Loaded up the Jeep with the day’s supplies and the dogs. Krumy drove like a bat out of hell on the bumpy road to the trailhead for two 14,000 ft peaks. Just as we pulled into the parking area, Cassie spotted a squirrel. She made a jump for it. Expecting her to slip her collar and take off after it, I looked over to the squirrel. Nothing. I looked back to see Cassie dangling over the side of the Jeep, one toenail barely scraping the ground. I wrestled with my seat belt and bolted out the door to the rescue, queasiness forgotten. I hoisted her back over the side and climbed back in myself.
We sat there debating. Did we really want to do these two peaks? It was going to be even more difficult than the climb on Thursday with another mile and another 1000 ft of elevation gain. Although we had picked up sunscreen…which we probably wouldn’t need with storm clouds rolling in already. That settled it. Not crazy about getting caught in a lightning storm on a rocky mountain, we decided to just drive the 60 mile Alpine Loop….with ME driving.
We crawled our way over boulders, through streams, and beside cliffs, and gunned it through mud puddles. We saw a group of bikers (as in bicyclers) with specialized bikes geared low for steep climbs making their way from Ouray to Lake City. We saw an old mining town. We saw a shepherd moving his flock of hundreds of sheep through the mountain with the help of his four dogs. We saw an abandoned little cabin beside a stream in a valley – my idea of the perfect homestead – where we stopped and ate lunch and let the dogs run. We saw more incredible views at Engineer Pass. It was definitely a good choice of activity for the day.
Tired and excited from the day (but bummed that the week was ending), we headed back into Lake City for some last minute shopping, supper, and then back to the campground to pack what we could, then enjoy our last campfire. As we were working, the famous 12 drops of rain started spitting down. Sandy called me out of the tent to come look at something. There in the sky was the most vibrant, full, double rainbow I had ever seen. What an ending to the trip. We got pictures and video and continued working when Sandy suddenly stopped what she was doing, stood up, looked at me and said:
Sandy: I can’t believe it.
Sandy: I’m not sick of you yet.
Apparently she had had the same concerns I had about the trip. ROTFL. Ok, I wasn’t sick of her either so I decided I could safely pack the duct tape away.
Sunday, August 29
Got up, tore down camp, and finished packing…an exercise in frustration for me so I turned the operation over to Krumy. We were on the road by 11am. We drove across Colorado and Kansas with occasional spontaneous laughter when one of us would remember something funny from the past week.
Monday, August 30
Drove to Springfield, Missouri where we stopped to visit with friends at the Votaw Tool Company for a few hours. Carl treated us to lunch then updated me on his latest equipment in the machine shop. We left Springfield, both of us feeling more and more drained, the longer we drove. I swear it’s the effects of coming back down to near sea level as I felt the same way last year and both of us were feeling it this year. We trudged into Illinois where we stopped for the night.
Tuesday, August 31
Neither of us having any more energy than the day before, we dragged ourselves through the midwest, taking longer and longer rest stops – for the dogs, of course. By 10 PM, with both of us feeling nauseous, and with three more hours of driving to go, giving us a 1am ETA, we threw in the towel and got another hotel.
Wednesday, September 1
Still feeling drained, as I would for another week, we made it home, unpacked, and attempted to get back into the swing of things….not very successfully on my part. My heart and mind were still in Colorado.
Till next year’s adventure…