Monday, June 30, 2014

Day 21: Peru Creek to Grays and Torrey's Peaks to Grays Peak Trailhead

We quickly descended to Peru Creek. We hiked upstream for some time, crawling over numerous downed trees that had cascaded down the mountain in an avalanche several years earlier. Although we searched for a bridge there was none to be found. Reluctantly we removed our shoes and forded the knee deep creek, feeling the chill of the frigid water in our bones. 

The long climb to Argentine Pass (13,212 ft) started on an old mining road, but soon turned to trail, switchbacking its way up the steep mountainside in two long, sweeping switchbacks. We pulled out ice axes and microspikes for a sketchy traverse across a steep snowfield in long, rocky gully. 

Our trail disappeared at Argentine Pass, and we began following rock cairns up the steep ridge. We climbed and descended multiple times as we slowly worked our way across the ridge. We eventually climbed to Mount Edward (13,818 ft), feeling hopeful with only a few more climbs between us and our goal, Grays Peak. 

But after Mount Edward the rock cairns disappeared, leaving us to pick our own way as we scrambled over the rocky ridge.  We frequently used our hands, both to aid in climbing and to steady ourselves. The mountainside dropped off sharply on either side of the narrow ridge with significant exposure.  I kicked a loose rock out of the way so that Atlas and Sierra would not slip on it and watched it fall over a thousand feet before finally coming to rest. A sober warning of the consequences of a misstep. 

Finally our route joined the established Grays Peak trail, and we began to make better time. We reached the Grays Peak summit (14,270 ft) at 4:30. Sierra's sixth 14er!

Atlas did not want to summit Torrey Peak, so he volunteered to stay by the packs while Sierra and I climbed it. Free of our packs, we made good time up the steep, rocky trail and soon reached the top of Torrey's Peak (14,267 ft). Sierra's seventh 14er!

Descending the peak we spotted several groups of mountain goats on the steep hillside.  The goats seemed poised to climb the steep snowfield on the same track we were descending, but casually sauntered up the hill as we approached. One mountain goat stayed, licking something from the ground next to the huge rock cairn marking the trail. Eventually she scampered across a snowfield to join a different group of goats. A young kid skipped across the snow to meet her. 

Marmots popped out from behind every rock, and one silly pair chased each other around the grassy hillside. A lone pika tentatively poked out from behind a rock, then disappeared inside a huge rock cairn. 

We found camping at the Gray's Peak Trailhead, where we joined several groups of car campers scattered through the woods. A few slept in their cars, undoubtedly planning an early morning summit of one or both peaks. 


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Day 20: Georgia Pass to Peru Creek

We crunched our way through the snowy woods to that alpine meadows near Georgia Pass. Nestled in the grass were cheerful yellow sunflowers, faces turned and petals open to embrace the morning sun

Just before Georgia Pass our trail split away from the Colorado Trail for the last time. No more smooth, gently graded, well marked trail for us. It is time to embrace the brutality. 

Today's hike blew me away. Literally. Our route took us up and over multiple ridges, mountains, and peaks, including Glacier Peak, Whale Peak, Geneva Peak, Sullivan Mountain, and Santa Fe Peak. All the while a steady gale blasted us from the left, pushing us off the trail, when there was one.  At times we followed steep Jeep roads, at other times we followed narrow, rocky goat trails, and occasionally there was no trail at all. 

Although I planned to gather water at a seasonal stream, the high winds evaporated the water almost as fast as the sun could melt it. I finally resorted to scooping up water from a snowmelt puddle a few ounces at a time. The current route, high along the Continental Divide, is beautiful, but it severely limits access to water. 

A mountain goat greeted us at Webster Pass, his white silky hair fluffed by the wind. He tentatively approached us, looking curiously at our bright colors, then scrambled back up the mountain. 

We fought the wind all day, constantly leaning to the left into the wind. A strong gust slammed me into a sharp rock, ripping a hole in my pants

The data book indicated we needed to follow a trail off to the right. Although a faint trail was visible to right, the GPS indicated the trail should be a tenth of a mile back up the hill.  But a huge corniced snowfield covered the area where the GPS indicated the trail should have been. We decided to follow the visible trail instead. 

Our trail soon disintegrated into cross country down a steep hillside with loose dirt and rocks.  Four large stags bounded away as we approached, undoubtedly startled to find humans invading their domain. Later I startled a small fawn, so perfectly camouflaged against the rocks that I did not notice it until I was only a few feet away. The fawn effortlessly bounded across the steep, rocky hillside. 

Although there was no camping in sight, the sun set and we had to stop for the night. We found a gradual slope on the otherwise steep hillside. Although there was no room for our full tent, we set up the inner bugnet as a precaution against rolling down the steep hill. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Day 19: Breckenridge to Ridge Before Georgia Pass

Dark thunderclouds blanketed the sky, and everything outside was drenched. I felt grateful to have spent the night warm and dry inside. 

Returning to the trail, we passed through one beetle-killed forest after another. Some were cleared, leaving only a field of stumps and piles of logs. In other places the doomed trees were left standing, like a ghostly forest of skeletons. 

Climbing up to the ridge I felt like a bowling pin, as groups of mountain bikers hurtled down the trail at breakneck speed. The flood of mountain bikers slowed to a trickle as we crested the ridge and began descending the other side. The few bikers we met slowed to a crawl on the steep climb, with several dismounting and pushing their bikes up the hill. 

Once we reached Swan Creek it was our turn to climb again. Despite the weight of my pack -- with five days of food for two people it feels like I am lugging bags of cement -- I like to climb. Sierra and Atlas joked that I should be renamed Rocket Fuel, although they are both strong climbers also. 

As patchy snow gradually became more continuous, we decided to camp for the night about two miles short of Georgia Pass. Sierra took advantage of a nearby snowfield to build two snowmen. Atlas juggled snowballs. Remarkably, we all managed to stay dry, and will start our day tomorrow with clean dry shoes. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Day 18: Copper Mountain to Breckenridge

We woke to the dull roar of traffic on the I-70 down in the valley below our camp. After packing up, we sauntered over to the Copper Mountain village, where we met Atlas and Jeff for breakfast at the Endo Grill. 

Thru-hikers eat like hobbits.  Moments after finishing breakfast, as we were heading back to the trail, I noticed Sierra munching on a protein bar. "What are you doing?" I asked incredulously. "I'm hungry," Sierra explained as she continued munching on her second breakfast. 

We reached our third breakfast just two miles later. Just after the CO 91 highway crossing we discovered a large tub of trail magic left by Neon (CDT '13). Cold Gatorade and salty chips were just what we needed to fuel us up the long climb over the ridge separating Copper Mountain and Breckenridge. 

Dark clouds gathered as we approached the ridge, and an icy wind bit through our clothes. We crossed several snowfields  near the top of the ridge. Peering down over the other side we saw miles of patchy snow below. 

We glissaded and boot skied our way down the steepest sections, then tromped through a mile or two of almost continuous snow through the woods. When we finally reached dry trail, several miles below the ridgetop, we marveled at the die hard mountain bikers we had seen carrying their bikes through the snow, determined to reach the top. 

Below snowline, hundreds of downed trees cluttered the forest floor, mostly beetle-killed pines unable to stand up to the wind and snow. As we neared Breckenridge, hill after hill had been cleared of beetle-killed trees, leaving a graveyard of stumps and tree trunks piled up like matchsticks.  Beautiful yellow wildflowers and deep purple irises helped bring color to the otherwise dreary scene.

We quickly managed our town chores, then enjoyed a delicious Mexican meal at Frisco's Hacienda Real. Outside, the clouds are gathering and it looks like a good night to sleep indoors. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Day 17: Highway 24 to Copper Mountain

After a final meal at the Golden Burro, Jeff took us back to the trailhead. We meandered through the trees before arriving at Camp Hale, a former military training center. Rows of bleak military bunkers lined the grassy meadow. Rude graffiti defaced the crumbling cement walls, showing disrespect to a place that should be preserved as a memorial to those who served our country there. 

The clouds slowly gathered as we began our climb to Kokomo Pass. Although we crossed a few snowfields on the climb, the trail was mostly dry. Kokomo Pass was also snow free. Colorful wildflowers dotted the rocky meadow on top of the pass. 

A long snowy traverse separated Kokomo Pass from Elk Ridge, and the high traverse to Searle Pass was also covered with large, wet snowfields. We sloshed our way through a knee-deep snow slurpee, then squished our way through thick mud, then climbed back onto the snow, slowly working our way across the snowy ridge. 

Mischievous marmots greeted us at Searle Pass, chirping loudly and boldly begging for food. Marmots lurked behind every rock, scampering effortlessly over even the slushiest snow when retreat became necessary. 

Snowflakes swirled as we began our descent, but the threatened storm never materialized. Passing a series of glassy beaver ponds, we scanned the surface of the water for signs of movement, but saw no beavers. 

We passed underneath a Copper Mountain ski lift, and found camp on a forested knoll only a short walk from Copper Mountain's village. Sierra scampered up the nearest tree as soon as we reached camp, coming down just long enough to eat dinner before discovering another climbing tree. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Day 16: Tennessee Creek to Highway 24 (Leadville!)

What a difference a few degrees make!  I woke to cold, soggy shoes and was thankful.  It is much easier to cram my feet into wet shoes than frozen ones.

We enjoyed smooth, dry, (mostly) mosquito-free trail all the way to Tennessee Pass. We hiked quickly, stopping only briefly to enjoy a wooden swing along the trail and a bucket of trail magic left by the Leadville Hostel. 

Although Jeff met us at Tennessee Pass, home to a very interesting memorial to the 10th Mountain Division, we hiked on for several more miles until the trail crossed Highway 24. Then we piled into the truck and headed to Leadville. 

First stop?  The Leadville Hostel, which had graciously provided  room and board to Maple. Although we still don't know the full story, we have heard that Maple was found by a Colorado Trail Foundation volunteer trail worker. She instantly understood how special Maple must be, and found a way to return him to us via Groceries, who was hiking in the area while waiting to meet a CDT hiker in Leadville. Groceries left Maple at the Leadville Hostel, knowing we would be passing through the area on our hike.  I love the trail community!

Next stop? The Golden Burro, for a delicious late breakfast. In between errands we also had a chance to try the local ice cream shop, Cookies with Altitude, and the Tennesee Pass Cafe, all highly recommended.

Most unusual town chore?  Patching my Brooks Cascadia trail shoes with duct tape. After only 250ish miles, my shoes are beginning to come apart at the seams. Large holes are opening in the mesh, allowing dirt, rocks, pine needles and other debris inside. Sierra's Brooks Adrenaline road running shoes, in contrast, are holding up just fine. I'm hoping this temporary fix will be enough to hold the shoes together for another hundred miles or so. 

We've met several CDT hikers in town, including Stride, Soulshine, and Smiles. It seems we are all heading out tomorrow, so we may start seeing other hikers on the trail.