Friday, June 20, 2014

Day 11: Hancock Lake Trailhead to High Camp Above Mirror Lake

Our shoelaces stood frozen at attention like Pippi Longstocking's braids. We forced our warm feet into stiff, frozen shoes, feeling the damp chill in our bones. We began hiking to warm up. Just as our feet began to warm up Sierra's foot slipped off a wet log and was submerged in the snowmelt-filled creek below.

Two spotted fawns crossed the trail with mother. The fawns seemed impossibly small, only slightly larger than our cats. One mewled as it repeatedly slipped while climbing the steep embankment on spindly new legs.

We found Atlas soaking in the sun next to the trail, and the three of us continued on together. We soon lost the trail underneath piles of snow. For the next several hours we caught only brief glimpses of trail between long snowfields, marshy cross country traverses, bushwhacks through thickets and log scrambles. We pulled out our microspikes for the steep, icy sections and it felt like switching into 4WD as the sharp spikes dug into the hard, slippery snow. The hours ticked by, but the miles did not. Progress was slow.

Atlas is using Gaia GPS with last year's waypoints. Even so, he has run into a few places where projected trail still hasn't been completed, even one year later. I am using the Guthook CDT app, which includes this year's GPS waypoints. We noticed a place where the routes diverged, and talked about following my waypoints to Cottonwood Pass. But when we arrived at the junction, a sign clearly indicated the new trail was still unfinished. Following the dirt road to Tincup Pass, we soon learned why the trail builders were so eager to reroute the trail off the road even though Tincup Pass is actually on the Divide. Jeeps, ATVs, and other off road vehicles blazed past us in swirling clouds of dust. Snow still choked the pass, so a few minutes later those same vehicles roared back down the hill.

We donned microspikes to climb the final, steep snowfield to the top of Tincup Pass. Water coursed down the road on the other side, forming a seasonal creek. A pudgy porcupine waddled across the road ahead, the first Sierra and I have seen in the wild.

Atlas, an early riser, opted to camp at the trailhead below Mirror Lake. Sierra and I continued to a campsite farther up the trail, knowing we would probably regroup in the morning.

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