How Am I Going to Carry Weight?
Days on the Divide
Throughout this past summer and early fall, I’ve spent quite a bit of time hiking many miles along the Continental Divide in Grand County, Colorado. Although I’ve had many memorable day hikes over the past five months, yesterday seems to stand out a bit more than others.
I ran into a friend while at the skate park the other day, and he brought up the idea to climb Mount Neva, a prominent and jagged 12,821-foot peak that sits on the Divide. At first, I was a little hesitant because I hadn’t been able to find any information on the hike or climbing route, but I was reassured once CJ showed me his maps and careful planning logistics.
Hard Miles Above the Trees
My husband drove us to the trailhead, and CJ and I set out for Mount Neva’s north ridge around 7:45 in the morning. We ended up having to walk about a mile and a half on the Forest Service road due to large potholes and the van’s low clearance.
We hiked up the Junco Lake trailhead to the end of Caribou Pass. I estimate the distance of these two trails to be around 3.7 miles one way. The Junco Lake trailhead starts at 10,090 feet and gains 1,761 feet of elevation to the top of Caribou Pass, which sits at 11,851 feet.
This hike was mellow and didn’t start getting too steep until above treeline. We saw a HUGE bull moose in the thinning pine grove around 11,000 feet. It was honestly a bit scary because he was hanging out on the trail and we accidentally got a little too close because he was hard to spot in the trees. We made our distance and hid behind the pines as he ran in the direction of the trail across the meadow. Although Mr. Moose clearly wanted nothing to do with us, he kept peeking back to make sure we weren’t getting any closer to him.
CJ and I finally gained the courage to carefully cross the meadow and start climbing up Caribou Pass. The trail basically stops at the base of Mount Neva and turns into boulder hopping and making your own spontaneous switchback turns up the hill until you get to the north ridge.
The north ridge is breathtaking and a bit scary to look at. (Peep my quick YouTube video to see the route.) Although short in distance, it took us about an hour to make it across the ridge and over to Mount Neva’s summit. This climb took careful route finding and planning. It involved a few exposed, class three down-climbs as well as a lot of exposed class three and four ascents.
The crux was a class four wall that gained about 20 vertical feet in a very short, but exposed ascent. There were sheer dropoffs directly to the left and right of this wall, but we were lucky to find solid hand and foot holds all the way up. Immediately at the top of the crux sat a rather frightening, but short down-climb. This section used my entire wingspan to allow me to be safely lowered down onto the next platform.
We were basically in the clear after this section and made it to the summit with confidence and without hesitation.
We were feeling great after safely getting to the summit of Neva so we decided to change our plans and add Mount Jasper to our summit list. Adding this peak into our route integrated more distance, but less-grueling miles, and allowed us to hike down to a different trailhead at the end of the day. Luckily, we had full cell reception and we were able to relay the new pickup location to my husband, Johnny.
From the top of Mount Neva we hiked south on the Divide and over to Mount Jasper’s north ridge. This was a short and easy traverse and brought us to the summit at 12,923 feet. (I believe Mount Jasper got its name from the J-shaped ridgeline that connects it to Mount Neva.)
We were surprised to meet two other hikers on Jasper’s summit. I had actually met the woman a few days before, but didn’t make the connection until we were heading down. Both hikers lived in the area, and I thought that it was cool to run into other valley folk up in the high alpine wilderness.
The Devil’s Thumb
We met some more high alpine rock hopping from the summit of Mount Jasper down and over to the Devil’s Thumb. The Devil’s Thumb is a large rock formation along the Divide that separates Grand County from Boulder County at 11,936 feet. It got its name because it looks like a hitchhiker’s thumb, but us locals have a sillier and more inappropriate name for it.
From here, we only had four miles to go, and we were so dang happy to finally be back on a trail after six hours of roughing it above treeline. We hiked the steep and rocky, but nicely tracked path down the final 2,250 feet of elevation descent, and we were so happy to see Johnny waiting for us at the bottom.
We hiked around 15 miles in eight hours with I don’t even know how much elevation gain and descent. My ankles were sore and my hips were tight from high-impact hiking all day, but it was all worth it.
I feel humbled and accomplished by our day in the backcountry, but I feel a bit concerned about my ability to carry more than a day pack and hike 15 miles day after day. I know that I’ll have to get my trail legs on our AT thru-hike, but I hope to be able to push myself to hiking at least 12 miles a day in the beginning.
Our hike was hard enough and all I carried was my food, a full Nalgene water bottle, my full 2L CamelBak bladder, a climbing helmet, some TP, and extra layers of clothes. I hope that I can handle my backpacking weight because right now I don’t have much of my gear weight dialed in, and I don’t want to kill my shoulders right off the bat when we start the AT.
I sure have a long way to go, but I’m feeling good about the direction I’m headed.
Peace, love, and happy hiking.
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Killing it my friend