Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Day 22: Grays Peak Trailhead to High Camp Near Vasquez Peak

Honk!  Honk!  Honk!  Honk!  A car alarm blared rhythmically in the parking lot below, waking everyone camping at the trailhead. 

After yesterday's cross country rock scramble, the CDT planners evidently decided we needed a short break before climbing our next Colorado Peak. Our route descended the rocky Jeep road to the Grays Peak Trailhead.  Our morning entertainment?  Trying to recognize the various car parts lying in the road from the low clearance vehicles that had attempted the drive. 

Nearing I-70, our route turned onto a paved bike path paralleling the freeway in its own secluded tree tunnel. Ironically, we spotted several CDT markers along the route. Yesterday, when we really needed the markers to indicate the safest route along the rocky ridge, there were none. 

We crossed under the freeway and hiked into the wilderness on good trail.  We met hordes of clean smelling day hikers as they hiked back down to the trailhead. The fresh scent of soaps and detergents contrasted with the woodsy smell of damp earth and fresh pine. 

Lower down the trail was a tangle of gnarled roots, but we soon climbed into high alpine meadows popping with wildflowers in all shades of white, pink, purple, and gold. We climbed above 13,000 feet to the corniced ridgetop and followed the ridgeline on dry trail, next to the snow. 

I lingered behind to take photos and enjoy the view, then ran to catch up. Running across the high alpine ridge, mountains stretching in every direction, with air in my lungs, strength in my legs, and wings on my feet, I felt joy and freedom.  

We passed the junction with the Silverthorne Alternate (a shorter, lower elevation alternative) and continued following the ridge. When it was finally time to descend we looked down the mountainside and saw the trail disappear underneath a huge snowfield with rocks below. Atlas traversed across until he found a section of the snowfield with a wide gap between the rocks. Sitting down, he quickly glissaded down the the bottom. Sierra and I pulled out our ice axes. I went next, and Sierra eventually followed, although filled with trepidation at the prospect of an uncontrolled slide down the rocky slope. 

Just below the snowfield we met two CDT hikers, my friend iPod (PCT '12) and Opa. They were heading southbound on this section after having flipped up to Wyoming to avoid the snow. We enjoyed catching up for awhile, then continued our descent while iPod and Opa planned out a crosscountry route to avoid the snow. 

Dark thunderheads are piled high above nearby mountains. We found a high camp nestled in among scrubby trees where will hunker down for the night.  

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