Day 16 starts off, you guessed it, sunny and cool. After a short, but hard grind to the high point on Yale, there is a sharp downhill, then rolling for over 20 miles. It looked like a day to get some decent mileage in. Starting out, my Achilles Tendon even felt fine. Hopefully, that was a one time occurrence. The sky stayed mostly clear throughout the morning and I was coating myself with sunscreen by 8 am. Not only was much of the trail that day in the open, what woods it traveled through were relatively thin. Considering that the sun’s intensity at 10,000 feet is 50% stronger than at sea level. It doesn’t take long to figure out than sunscreen is a real necessity on the trail.
After settling in to a shady spot for lunch, I apparently was once again irritating a squirrel. As he chattered at me, I pulled out the camera to get a shot of him. He in turn continued to get closer. It seemed cute until he kept closing in and started baring those tiny little buck teeth. At the same time, it appeared his nest mate was executing a flanking maneuver to block my escape. I decided that I had enough squirrel pictures it was time to move on.
There must be some problems getting a trail corridor near the town of Mt Princeton. The trail dumped onto a Forest Service road, then through a private “dude ranch” and then onto paved roads for nearly 6 miles. If anyone skips that stretch, they have my blessing. The only saving grace of that desolate stretch was walking right by (and into) the Mt Princeton Hot Springs Country Store. I took a short snack break that included a Hot Pocket made my usual way (still frozen on one end and nuclear hot at the other), cheese, yogurt, a quart of ice cream and some pop. Hopefully that tides me over to dinner. Finally back on trail at the far side of town, there is a sharp climb and I end the day overlooking the town with a great view of the chalky white cliffs of Mt Princeton and the surrounding hills. I believe I’m through the Collegiate Peaks
Surprisingly enough, day 17 started off clear and warm. As I left town the night before, I grabbed 2 1/2 liters of water from Chalk Creek that was to last through dinner, breakfast and 6 1/2 miles of trail. Between the dry air, intense sun and hilly terrain, I may have underestimated my liquid requirements. I read somewhere that, when drinking enough, healthy urine is clear. Mine reminded me of orange juice; at least it was pulp free. Orange juice is healthy, isn’t it? Regardless, I spent quite a bit of time filtering and drinking water at the first creek I reached.
The stretch alternated between open land and young forest. The trail itself was relatively level. Relatively is the operative term here; this is the Rocky Mountains. During the 19 miles walked this day, I climbed and dropped over 7,000 feet in elevation. Through the day I was close to deer, rabbits, turkeys (with young), and what I think were quail. No more vicious squirrels though. What did get a bit vicious was the weather. By early afternoon thunderstorms were building over the nearby mountaintops. Quickly they spread, any blue sky disappeared, and the rain began. It looked ugly and by the time I put on a rain jacket, pants and a pack cover, (yes, the pack has its own rain jacket) the rain began in earnest. The rumble of thunder was almost constant when the hail started. Luckily the hail stayed somewhat small. Big enough to tell when it hit, but not big enough to hurt. With nothing better to do, I kept walking. Apparently that type of weather has no impact on elk, as a female just stood there and stared as I walked by.
After an hour or so the rain let up and I was closing in on my goal for the day, where the trail crosses Rt. 50. (The very same Rt. 50 that’s in Cincinnati.) It was there that I had a cab pick me up and take me to nearby Salida for another day off. I’m now 252 miles deep into the trail; officially over halfway!