Day 7 dawned clear and cool. I had 13 miles to reach the end of Section 6 where’s there’s a bus stop and a ride to the towns of Breckenridge and Frisco. I had a hotel room reserved in Frisco, but still have some walking to do first. Almost immediately there were more jaw dropping views. A mountain biker rode up and asked if I were a thru-hiker. A yes answer brought a pronouncement that the next section of the trail had 20 feet of snow on it. He then began to quiz me about local history and politics. Despite answering every question with, “I wouldn’t know. I’m from Cincinnati,” the interrogation continued. Eventually I changed my answer to, “have a good ride,” and moved on.
Over the next few miles I met a few other hikers coming the other way. All asked if I were a thru-hiker. Apparently it was becoming obvious. I wonder, was it the confident walk? The filling out of the neck beard? The smell? Hmmm.
There were still 8 miles to go when I spotted Frisco down in a pretty valley, but it was enough to pick up the pace. My main obstacle, besides the distance, was walking through areas where the pine bark beetle infestation is being treated. By treated, I mean every tree for acres is cut down and chipped up. When walking these stretches, plan on needing sunscreen.
Luck was on my side as a bus and I arrived at the stop at the exact same time. Not ten minutes later I was checking into the Snowshoe Inn on Main Street in Frisco. It’s the perfect location, right at a bus stop and within 100 yards of a Laundromat, the Backcountry Brewery and the Silverheels Bar and Grill (spring for the crab stuffed trout).
My brother Dan drove down and we planned to take advantage of the great bus service to day hike or “slack pack” (walk without my tent, sleeping bag, etc) the next section.
Day 8. Cloudy and cold. The worst hike ever. Dan and I planned to get started early on my Slack Pack of Section 8. We grabbed a quick breakfast at the only place open in Frisco at 6 am, (Starbucks) and drove up to Copper Ski Resort, where the section ended. Because this 14 mile section crossed the Ten Mile Mountain Range near the end, we decided to hike it backwards. This gave us the benefit of tackling the tough, uphill climb first, while we were fresh, and also get us out of the higher elevations earlier, in case of afternoon thunderstorms.
The hike started at nearly 10,000 feet and immediately began an unrelenting climb from there. We were heading for 12,500 feet, the highest of the trip so far and the trail appeared to be in a hurry to get us there. As we climbed in altitude, the breeze picked up as well. The occasional glimpse of the mountaintops looked intimidating. After about 3 miles, we broke past tree line and lost our protection against the ever strengthening wind. On nearly every day of the trip to this point, early morning clouds would quickly dissipate, but not today. No sun to warm us up.
For the last two miles before the high point, the area is considered to be tundra. Nothing of any size can grow in the harsh environment so there in no protection from the elements. I was getting hungry and thirsty, but there was no way it was worth stopping. The temperature was down around freezing and the wind had to be at least 50 mph. We looked like a scene from the Weather Channel’s Storm Report. The only positive to the situation was there was little snow to deal with. It had all been blown off the mountain.
Eventually we were able to reach the high point and just enough beyond to get a little protection from the wind. Though we had good enough warm clothing, neither of us had brought gloves (it was nearly July) and our hands were suffering. Dan’s shoe became untied, and he was unable to take care of it. My hands were a little better and so I was able to tie it for him. It did take several tries to get my zipper back up after taking a leak, however. Thankfully Dan didn’t have to go, because there would be no help forthcoming.
The other good news was that I figured out where all the snow went. It had been blown off the other side of the mountain. We were going to have to descend through a winter wonderland.
The trail began dropping by being cut at an angle into the steep mountainside. Large areas were covered by snowfields that alternated between icy (think bobsled run) and soft enough to drop into it crotch deep. Needless to say, progress was slow. In spots where the trail was covered, we also had to guess where it actually was, and look to pick it up at the next clear area.
Eventually we made it to tree line, where things should get better, but not today. The snow covered everything, so there was no way to know where the trail was. The many meltwater creeks were running underneath the snow, so there was the added possibility of dropping through the snow into some mighty chilly water.
There were some footprints in this softer snow, so we followed those for a while; until they stopped. That was a bad feeling. The final fall back was my GPS, on which I had downloaded some waypoints of the trail. The next waypoint was a half mile away, so we just plowed in that general direction until we were close to it. The next waypoint was another half mile away so we repeated the process. By then there were some bare spots on the ground and we picked up the trail again. Once Dan got all the ice out his shoes, we were merrily strolling down the trail, only 6 miles to go. The sun even came out!
Just so things wouldn’t be too easy, with about two miles to go, we
t another area where all the trees had been cut to fight the pine bark beetle. The work had decimated the trail and once again we were cross country orienteering with the GPS.
Once we made the bus stop it was straight to the Backcountry Brewery. I’m taking tomorrow off!