My First Bear Encounter on the CT
Being Vortexed Sucks (Day 10)
I woke up the next day, the tenth wake-up on this crazy trail. I had a splitting headache and my skin was on fire from sunburns and snow rash. When I worked up the courage to get up, the cool morning air and the sunrise across the valley helped me forget that everything hurt from the day before. Phoenix had already left, and I sat in the doorway of my tent for a good bit, thinking about absolutely nothing. It was kind of nice to just listen to the birds and watch the sun slowly rise.
A few hours later, I sat at the top of Tennessee Pass, watching the cars fly by. Some kind day hikers, seeing my sunburned and scraped legs, offered me some lotion, which helped with the pain. I’d wanted to hitch down, but the hostels were entirely full from the races, so I knew I’d be sleeping on the pizza restaurant deck, at best. So, Phoenix and I had already decided to skip Leadville for now and maybe hitch up there from Twin Lakes when we got there, but I still hadn’t moved on. “You’re so vortexed” I told myself, frustrated at the longing. Sighing, I crossed the highway and headed downhill from the pass.
At the bottom of the hill, I met Phoenix talking to a CDT hiker over lunch.
“Hi, I’m JT,” I said.
“Yeti’s my name. You hikers are worried about the snow down south?”
“Yeah, I hear you stayed on the trail through the Collegiates and San Juans, is that true?”
“HA!” He exclaimed. “I didn’t see the trail for twelve solid days, but I stuck to whatever the f***ing redline told me to do. Yeah, by the time you get to the San Juans, it’ll all be gone. But you should do the Collegiates, it’s f***ing insane.
“But,” he continued, “it would be harder to do it SOBO, you’d be good except for Lake Ann, I glissaded down, but you’d have to climb the 40 f***ing foot ice wall at the top.
“And you know, I didn’t see anything but snow the whole time, and you’re just postholing all f***ing day, it’s pretty s**tty during the day so I got up at 3, and it’s still f***ing mashed potatoes.
“But it’s epic, you should definitely pick up crampons and an ice axe in Leadville and do it,” he concluded.
By this point, I had heard enough.
“Yeah! We’ll have to see what we decide at Twin Lakes,” I said, already firmly decided that the low route would be the path I took.
“Well, I have miles and miles to go still,” he said, rising. “Go west! F*** it’s awesome.” And with that, he turned and left.
“What do you make of that?” I turned to Phoenix.
She sat, a bit stunned. “That guy’s insane.”
“Couldn’t agree more. When are we getting our ice axes? Wanna turn around and hike back to Tennessee and hitch to Leadville?” I said, jokingly.
“You’re funny,” she said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Anyway, I’ll see you at camp.”
(Disclaimer: In all fairness, this conversation is what I remember, by no means is it word-for-word directly quoted. So take it all with a grain of salt.)
And so, I was left with my thoughts. What I would write in my journal best sums up where I was mentally at that point:
“One CDT hiker, Yeti, tried to convince us to take CW. He liked postholing for 15 miles straight every day, but didn’t really like ½ mile of it, so sounds like I’m not doing CW 😉
(Plus, scaling a 40-foot ice wall @Lake Ann Pass? Ain’t no way) Anyway, I’m def going into Leadville day after tomorrow, I’m excited. Maybe get a Melly?”
The rest of the day was a blur.
Holy Cross Wilderness was beautiful, epic, challenging, and I absolutely hardly remember any of it. I look at the pictures and wonder if they just ended up on my SD card somehow. But sure, it looks epic to be there… you win some, you lose some, I guess.
Couldn’t have two insane days in a row, now could I? Camp was somewhere near Turquoise Lake, all I remember is the terrible, awful mosquito horde. I fell asleep to their whine on the other side of my tent mesh.
It’s a brand-new morning, and I love it. (Day 11)
While I knew I wouldn’t be living up to my dreams of climbing Mts. Massive or Elbert today, I was excited to greet the sun. After Holy Cross, the terrain became easier, less dramatic with fewer big vistas. Mt. Massive Wilderness was dry, and I nearly ran out of water.
It was a hard time for Phoenix, because the Wilderness was where she had to call to end her CT attempt the year before because of injury. Luckily, the miles passed quickly, and pretty soon, the day was over, and we were setting up camp at the base of Mt. Elbert, in a pretty established campsite.
Here’s where it gets interesting:
We weren’t alone in the campsite, like we thought. We’d set up our tents, and were cooking our food, when a loud thump came from further uphill. I looked up, and who should be there, but a huge cinnamon black bear! He began coming closer, and we yelled “Hey Bear!!!”, banged pots together, and threw a few small rocks before he sauntered off, annoyed down the trail.
“That was crazy!” I said, and we decided to secure our food extra well tonight. We went back to eating our supper. But a few minutes later, the bear circled around behind us in a thick aspen grove, and refused to leave, despite our protests. Realizing that we wouldn’t sleep all night if we stayed, we hurriedly packed up camp and headed down the last 2 miles to Twin Lakes by the moonlight.
Just above the lake, we set up camp in a thick bush patch and fell quickly asleep.
But the bear wasn’t done…
The next morning, we packed up and headed a couple miles into Twin Lakes Village. The little town was abuzz: that “dang bear” had come back and stolen the trash again! Apparently, this problem bear had followed us down from the high use campsite we had been at and broken into a couple unsecured trash cans. Unfortunately, the future for human-habituated bears like this isn’t bright. If it continues to seek out conflict with people and is aggressive, it will likely be euthanized or relocated to a more remote area or into captivity in a zoo. Hopefully, all those who use the land around Mt. Elbert will be more conscientious of the way they secure their food and pack out their trash, so more bears don’t go down the path this one has.
After a quick shuttle, it was time for LEADVILLE!! (Day 12)
We checked in at the hostel, Inn the Clouds, one of the coolest hostels on the entire trail (and there are many cool ones). This was the most hiker-centric hostel I stayed at on the CT, and it felt all the more inviting because of the plethora of CDT NOBOs in town. Of course after that, I had to get my pizza at High Mountain Pies (be on the lookout for more about pizza on the CT soon!), and then I walked over to Melly-ville, the focus of many of the thru-hikers in town. Unfortunately, it felt like Melanzana wasn’t quite as hiker-friendly this year, and it was a toss-up which hikers were allowed in to shop, and who was turned away (this seemed majorly based on who you first talked to at the door).
I acknowledge, us hikers have for years approached Melanzana with a sense of entitlement, feeling like we were allowed to just side-step the whole appointment shopping system. I understand why they wanted us to have appointments this year (even if they were a month out), but it was frustrating because that wasn’t really well communicated. But I really can’t complain, because I was still able to get a merino base layer, after flashing my thru-hiker “I’m cold, wet, and dirty” puppy eyes 😉
The rest of the day was spent walking around town, (un)successfully resupplying on some very shaky loaner bikes, and an awesome meal at Quincy’s restaurant.
While I wanted to stay in Leadville for a full zero, I knew it was time to push on to Salida. Collegiate East, here we go!
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