August 2011

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.

Great night in the yurt – best night on the trail so far. It was exciting to meet Triple Crowners, others who understood and shared the passion for long distance hiking. Got out of bed feeling surprisingly refreshed. The twinge in my hip I’d had for the past week was gone. I ate a breakfast of Muesli cereal with Nido powdered milk and set off. Shortly before noon, I caught up to Bill and Keith at the highest point on the Colorado trail at 13,271 ft. Coming off the high point, dark clouds were already starting to form. By the time I got up and over the next 1000 ft climb 5 miles later, the weather was turning. The wind kicked up and the temps dropped 20 degrees in a matter of minutes. I stopped and donned my rain gear and put my pack cover on and continued the last mile for the day to the campsite. Got pelted with a few pieces of hail and a minute or so of light rain but I escaped the worst of it.

When I got down to the lake and campsite I looked up to the pass I’d just come over and it was white with a sheet of hail. Narrow escape. I could see it wasn’t over yet though. Storms were forming to the west and north so I quickly made camp, a supper of spaghetti (at 4pm!), cleaned up and crawled into the tent just in time for the rain.

Got up at 7am and packed up and met Keith and Bill for breakfast at the same restaurant as the night before but with even worse service. The waitress literally went out of her way to avoid us. I shit you not. Back to our hotel and our shuttle arrived right on time and up to the trail head. Hopped up on the little bit of coffee I could get from the waitress, I was ready to take off at a run but the 3 of us got into a deep conversation about the Appalachian Trail, so much so that we missed a turn 2.5 miles in and only realized it a mile later when I just happened to check my GPS. We turned around and 5 minutes later met another thru-hiker who had also missed the turn – Jacob, aka Toothpick.

We turned him around and got back to the trail. Jacob hiked with us for a while, happy to have company for once. I really liked him – he thought I was 25. We arrived at the Colorado Trail Yurt by 3:00. Jacob was already there. Storms were moving in. We talked and joked for a while, checked the register and got down to evening chores – filter water, make supper, etc.

Early in the evening, 2 more hikers rolled in – Erin (Nemo) and Chris (Pouch) – 2 Continental Divide Trail hikers with only 22 miles to go before finishing their CDT thru-hike and the Triple Crown (hiking the 2100 mile Appalachian Trail, the 2700 mile Continental Divide Trail, and the 2700 Pacific Crest Trail).

Six people and a dog in the little yurt. Things got lively. Jacob had also hiked the AT and sections of the PCT and Bill and Keith had hike the AT. So they talked about some of the fellow hikers they had in common. Soon Bill and Keith retired to their bunks and the remaining 3 talked about favorite sections of their hikes to which I listened intently and drooled. Things finally settled down around 8 after some comedy with the cots. The storm that had been brewing all day made it’s presence known at the hut shortly before midnight with some heavy hail and lightening.

The owner of the San Juan Sports, Creede’s outfitter showed up in his Land Rover at the hotel. He’d definitely be able to get us up over the rough road to the trail head in that vehicle. We said our thanks, paid our shuttle fee and said farewell to him and we were on our way – back up a 1.5 mile side trail to meet the CT at San Luis Pass. At the trail intersection we found a note on a post saying “Absolutely no slackpacking, NFS. – Mike & Austin” Funny.

Half the hike was PUDs – pointless ups and downs – with beautiful views and the other half was crossing Snow Mesa…in the rain. We got to the trailhead at the other end of the segment by 4:40, just in time for our 5:00 shuttle and who do we run into but Mike and Austin. We harassed them about doing the segment with their full pack when they could have slacked and tried to talk them into going back into Creede with us. Still the diehards, they declined and took off to get another 5 miles in.

We sat waiting for the shuttle. 5:00 came and went. 33 miles to Creede. We discussed our options and I headed out to the road to try to hitch us a ride while Keith headed over to a guy with a van in the parking area. No-go on the van guy. About a dozen cars later a truck pulled over. Trey could take us about 10 miles. We climbed in. Better than nothing. At least we’d be closer to Creede. They dropped us off at the Rio Grande Reservoir where there’s a lot of traffic coming out to the main road. Soon, 2 bright yellow jeeps and a run down pickup truck come to the intersection and all but run us off the side of the road in their haste to not have to talk to us. Keith got a ride with a couple who only had room for one person. Bill and I got a ride about 20 minutes later from a couple from Nebraska vacationing in Creede.

We were all finally back at the hotel a little after 7. I was immensely annoyed. I hadn’t eaten a thing since lunch and I had a ton of things to do yet – including finding a place to set up my tent in town since all the hotels were full. As we arrived, the hotel owner met us in the parking log, already knowing about our shuttle fiasco. I voiced my frustration and the owner offered her side yard for my tent. One problem solved. We all got showers and headed across the street for supper. Not 20 minutes later, our would-be shuttle driver showed up at our table in the restaurant and apologized profusely and explained what happened and also offered to put me up at a friend’s house. I felt a font better just knowing that she cared about the mishap. She left, promising to pick us up at 9 am the next morning.

We ate and headed back to the hotel and set up my tent in the yard by flash light and I finished the remaining things to be done – double checked food, sent emails, etc.

Hiked up San Luis with Keith. It was his first 14er. Then on to San Luis Pass and down the trail into Creede. 1.5 miles later we reached the trail head parking lot. Only one truck parked there. Guess we were walking down the forest service road a ways. There was supposed to be traffic on the road because of workers from a mine traveling it. We got to the mines. Three freaking trucks parked in the lot. And they weren’t likely to leave until the end of their work day. Grrr. It was 10 miles into Creede. I was going to be in a really bad mood if my 7.6 mile day became a 17.6 mile day.

I got my iPod out, slapped the ear buds in, cranked up the music, pulled up the hood or my rain jacket, and pushed on. Did I mention that it was also raining and my rain jacket was dead? A mile later a little ATV rolled past in the opposite direction followed by a huge SUV. We stuck our thumbs out anyway. The SUV kept rolling. We looked at the license plate. Texas. Figured. Texans were notorious snobs in Colorado. I rolled my eyes and continued fiddling with my pack. I looked over at the SUV and the break lights were on. They were stopping! They backed up and put the window down. Keith told them our situation. They offered to take us a mile or two down the road to the old town of Bachelor. They drove off to catch their nieces on the little ATV’s in front of them to tell them what was up and came back in a few minutes and we hopped in. They ended up taking us all the way into Creede to Kips where we ate lunch, a greasy spoon that serves mainly burgers but no french fries. What? We discussed the possibility of slackpacking the next segment the next day and staying in Creede the following night too.

Then off to the hotel to dump our packs, post office for my mail drop, outfitter for a new rain jacket, and the beloved grocery store. We met back at the hotel to go for supper where we ran into Mike and Austin who were just passing through – getting a shower at the hotel and resupplying. We tried to talk them into staying in town and slackpacking with us. I even offered to share my room with them. They would have none of it. They were hardcore and pushing on. We went to supper and made arrangements for our slackpack then back to my room to figure out food for the next leg then off to sleep for an early morning shuttle.

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