Day 5 started cool and cloudy. After the tough day yesterday I was hoping for more of a “bluebird” day. Ten miles was all I was shooting for. After a short climb, I was at the bottom of another wide valley. The views were great and I was soon in a huge grove of Aspen,
packed full of Wildflowers and even bluebirds. The sky cleared to a beautiful deep blue. My foot and ankle were both behaving. As I approached Kenosha Pass, the views of the snow covered peaks in the distance just kept getting better and better. The scene was so beautiful, it would take your breath away. It was that or the fact I was at over 10,000 feet.
The trail eventually drops to the pass at a Forest Service campground. I got to eat lunch at a real picnic table! There was even an indoor toilet. I didn’t really need it, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to lighten my load in comfort.
The guidebook stated there was water available in the area, but I couldn’t find any. No way they meant the pond I walked by. Since there were only 3 more miles to cover to reach a campsite next to a stream, I decided to head on with about 6 ounces of water left on me.
After a mile of climbing, I was draining the bottle when a woman walked up with a small pack. In response to her question, I mentioned hiking the Colorado Trail. She was very interested and asked quite a few questions. One question I ask her was if there was any water closer than 2 miles. “Why none I’m aware of,” she stated while she pulled a full liter of bottled water out of her pack, broke the seal and took a big slug.
That was my cue to cut the conversation short and knock out the last 2 miles. Thunderclouds were building fast over the nearby peaks and it started looking like it would be a photo finish with the rain. Luckily, because of cutting the conversation short, there was just enough time to set up camp, filter some water and be ready to nap through the storm. 75 miles down, 410 to go.
DAY 6. Started out cold and clear. At 6 am I started hiking. In 3 miles there was a creek which would be my last chance for water for 11 miles which included a 2,000 foot climb to the Continental Divide. Just breaking camp at the creek were 2 other Thru-hikers, Golden and Wildflower.
Golden was in her early twenties and Wildflower her 50s (?) but both were accomplished backpackers, having thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail the year before. We leapfrogged each other up the long grind as the snow capped mountains I had been seeing for days got dramatically closer. About halfway up (11,000 ft) we began seeing small piles of snow.
By the time we broke above tree line, the piles were no longer small. Long ridges of deep snow blocked the trail and required detours. Luckily, the windswept saddle between two peaks, where we were headed, was free of much snow. Once we reached the divide, the view was unbelievable. It was cold, windy and a hell of a hike to get there, but well worth the price of admission. Little did we know at that point though, that the price for the view was going to be higher than we had already paid.
After several pictures, including celebratory Selfies, it was time to start down the west side of the divide. It quickly became evident that getting back down would not be a walk in the park (even though that’s what it was). The trail at that point dropped very little and was cut into the steep mountainside. As we continued, the snow ridges became deeper and more numerous. Each ridge had to be hiked around, over or through, none of which were good options. Several times I was on top of a 4 to 6 foot tall ridge when the crusty surface would give way and be instantly ass deep in snow, otherwise known as post holeing. Some of the ridges ended with a wall of snow that just had to be ridden down. It was hard enough work that I stayed warm just wearing shorts and a t-shirt.
After a mile or so, we were exhausted and stopped for lunch. Wildflower sat against a tree and I noticed a good size gash in her leg. As she mopped up the blood she talked about how her “country club” friends didn’t understand why she liked backpacking so much. “That’s true,” I remarked, “Some people just don’t appreciate how much fun it is to be laying in the snow, on the side of a mountain, bleeding.”
Eventually, the ridges got smaller and further apart and hiking became normal again. We exchanged small talk and at one point Golden asked what music I would use if I was creating a sound track for the trail. I mentioned Bob Seger (Roll Me Away), Stephen Stills (Colorado) and of course a big helping of John Denver. That was one of those moments when you realize how far apart experiences are across generations. “Who’s John Denver?”
I had actually downloaded several John Denver songs for this very trip, and Golden got to hear Rocky Mountain High and a few others for the first time while actually high up in the Rockies. She said she really liked him, but may have been just been being polite. Hard to tell. We definitely agreed that the views mean much more when you have to earn them like we did today.
Eventually we got low enough to reach running water and replenish our water supplies. Golden and Wildflower were on a mission to put in more miles to make it into the town of Breckinridge early tomorrow. I was beat from the day’s workout, pulled into the first good looking camp spot and bid them farewell for now. Apparently though, I’ve set my tent up too close to a squirrel’s abode for his liking. As I’m writing this in my sleeping bag, he’s standing just outside the tent chattering at me. Could be a long night.