Up to the Divide

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, image

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.

Kenosha Pass

Kenosha Pass

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.

Closing in on the Divide

Closing in on the Divide

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.”

Snow on the trail

Snow on the trail

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.

On My Own

Day 3 began with a longer drive as I am getting further from Denver with each hike. Today will also be different as instead of a 5 lb daypack, I’ll be carrying everything needed to get to Frisco, CO, 5 days distant.

Driving out to the Little Scraggy Trailhead, we passed a bull elk, waiting to cross the highway. The animals may have been out, but people were not. Arriving at the trailhead at 6:30, we were the only car. The sky was absolutely clear, but it was only 42 degrees. Maybe I should have packed that long sleeve shirt.

The trail was void of other hikers as well, but again the scenery did not disappoint. Climbing to still higher elevations, I walked through alpine meadows filled with Wildflowers and huge stands of aspen trees. Walking quietly, I startled multiple deer.

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Throughout the crystal clear morning, I got numerous views of the still bigger mountains awaiting me to the west. Several still had quite a bit of snow on them. Maybe I really should have packed that long sleeve shirt.

The weather was a repeat of the day before, with thunderstorms building up in the afternoon. There was no brewpub to escape to today though. Luckily, I was able to hike into the Lost Creek Wilderness Area as I had planned, set up camp and eat dinner before the lightning and rain started pounding. The temperature is dropping and lightning is hitting all around. I normally use my fleece for a pillow, but instead I’m wearing it. Should make for an interesting evening.

Day 4. Cool and clear weather. The trail started climbing in a hurry this morning, gaining over 1,000 feet in elevation in a couple miles. It was like taking the stairs at the Carew Tower (or other 50 story structure) twice, with a backpack, and with 30% less oxygen than normal.

On the climb I ran into two other thru-hikers, Eric and Virginia. They are actually going to skip the section from Kenosha Pass to Salida to avoid any snow. They’ll pick up that section later in the summer. I may wish I had that long sleeve shirt yet.

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After the climb, the trail entered a beautiful wide valley with a crystal clear creek running through it. It was perfect timing as I was running low on water. No matter how good the water looks, I do filter it however. After getting the water I followed the trail upstream. A small herd of elk crossed the creek in front of me. I assume the filter can handle elk pee. The valley continues for several miles and I noticed at least 6 beaver dams on the creek. I really hope the filter handles beaver poo as well.

The day was going to be a long one as I planned to go 18 miles. I was tired and limping when I arrived at the area I was to camp. There were only 2 flat spots around and surprisingly both were taken. There was nothing to do but keep walking. Hungry as I was, I began eating trail mix while I walked. Not paying attention, I rolled my ankle on a rock, crashed to the ground and to top it off, damaged my camera. Not my best moment. On the bright side, my twisted ankle took my mind off the foot. As my knee was bleeding, it was time to break out the massive first aid kit. An alcohol wipe and bandaid took care of most of the issue. I’ll have to be careful going forward. The first aid supplies are now half gone.

Good as new

Good as new

After limping another mile or so, I spotted a small flat area (there are less of them than you would imagine) and called it a day. Total distance for the day was 20 1/2 miles.

The Weight

Take a load off, Fanny

Take a load for free

Take a load off, Fanny

And (and) (and) you put the load right on me
“The Weight” by The Band
Who would have thought there was a song about fanny packs? Maybe there’s some other meaning to the song, but I’m going with the need to avoid heavy packs, fanny or otherwise. In my experience, carrying too much weight may be the surest way to have a miserable trip, or even not finish. This is especially true on a long trip like the Colorado Trail. So, I’ve worked hard, and spent significant sums, trying to keep my pack as light as possible to insure that it load feels right on me.

Actually, spending money on lighter gear is the easy, and fun, part of getting a lighter pack weight. Dropping a couple hundred on a new pack saved me over 2 pounds before I even started filling it. Spreading more money on a new tent, sleeping bag and air mattress knocked off another 3 pounds or so. As a bonus, the new stuff packs up smaller, which helps to make up for the fact that my new lighter pack can’t hold as much as my old version.

About the time I bought a titanium spork, I realized I had reached the end of buying my way to a lighter pack. Any more savings was only going to come from increasingly tougher decisions.
Sure, it gets cold at night in the mountains, but do I really need a fleece and a long sleeve shirt? Shivering doesn’t weigh anything; leave the shirt. On the other hand, sawing the handle off the toothbrush seems a tad extreme for the weight savings. Skimping on toilet paper to save an ounce seems to be a fool’s choice as well.

On shorter trips, the pack typically contains a flask (or possibly 2). For this trip I made the (heart wrenching) decision to travel alcohol free, saving over 2 pounds. A much smarter approach will be to binge drink when I reach towns. (Note to self: rewrite the previous sentence before posting. Don’t believe the wording shows me in the best light.)

Of course, with the hike being entirely within the state of Colorado, there is a lighter, legal option for a Rocky Mountain High while out on the trail. However, I plan to steer clear of the weed shops for a number of reasons, not the least of which is weight related. I’ve spent quite a bit of time and effort picking meals and weighing out snacks so I have just enough to get by. I expect to be hungry fairly often as it is. A good case of the munchies could prove disastrous for my rationing plan.

Gorp ration on the scale

Gorp ration on the scale

However, if my writing becomes unintelligible at some point, or worse a final post says something┬álike, “dude, check out this selfie of me with a bear cub in my arms,” You’ll know I’ve fallen prey to “reefer madness.”

Anyway, the pack and gear is tipping the scales at 21 pounds. Add 4 days of food and 2 liters of water and I’m hauling 31 pounds on my back, hopefully not too bad when I put the load right on me.