From Warm Wyoming to Cold Colorado

By midday, downtown Rawlins was getting hot. I was eager to leave, but the “No Pedestrians” sign at the 6th Street bridge meant walking back to the Colorado Street railroad underpass. About a mile south of town, I reached a junction and had a decision to make.

Somehow, I’d managed to overlook the Highway 71 alternate, so I scanned the FarOut comments for relevant information. Taking the alternate would mean road-walking over 30 paved miles to save slightly more than 20. I decided to stay on the CDT and spent most of the afternoon on dirt roads. Late in the day, the trail veered off into the sagebrush following a sequence of posts. I spotted a shortcut on the map, stayed on the dirt road, and pretty soon found a place to camp.

In the twilight, I watched a vivid green meteor streak across the valley. It burned out about five miles away, approximately 1,000 feet above the ground. (The Perseid meteor shower had peaked almost two days earlier.)

Next morning, after several junctions and a few dirt roads, I rejoined the CDT. Just before the trail junction, I found myself looking at the back of a “Private Property” notice. I’d entered private land without realizing. For the rest of the day, there were plenty of “No Trespassing” signs.

South of Rawlins, the CDT crosses a checkerboard of public and private land, and “choose your own adventure” doesn’t apply. There’s no obvious way to tell which alternates are OK, and which might inadvertently lead to trespassing. It doesn’t help that for no apparent reason, the CDT sometimes takes a route that’s longer than necessary.

Maps of two small sections of the CDT.

My accidental-trespass shortcut (left). A legitimate shortcut in Colorado (right).

Farewell, Wyoming

At Bridger Pass, I officially left the Great Divide Basin, but I wasn’t yet out of the Red Desert. It ended up being my hottest day on trail, and I developed my first blister in 1,000 miles. I also had to drink from the worst-looking cow pond I’ve ever taken water from. To bypass the several feet of mud, cowsh*t, and murky water at the shoreline, I attached my cooking pot to the end of my trekking pole. With the extra-long scoop, I was able to reach some clear(ish) water, and it tasted surprisingly normal after filtering.

During the afternoon, a convoy of about 20 4×4’s drove by. The last vehicle stopped, and the driver explained that she was taking a “Sustainable Land Use” course organized by the USFS. She knew all about the CDT, gave me an apple and a Luna bar, and wished me luck. It was the high point of my day. The day’s other highlights:

  • A large, greenish-brown rattlesnake.
  • A newborn calf, just a few minutes old.
  • In a feeder stream to Muddy Creek: a crayfish. It wasn’t happy at being disturbed.

One more day, and I left the Wyoming desert behind. It was nice to gain some elevation and walk among trees for the first time in over a week. I camped, then hitched to Encampment to pick up my resupply box at the post office. I had enough time to hitch straight back to the trail, but decided instead to get a room, take a shower, and spend the night.

Hello, Colorado

My last day in Wyoming was cool, windy, and mostly cloudy. I was back at the trailhead at ten o’clock, and after a fairly gentle 20 miles, reached the state line. I camped in a tiny flat spot, just big enough for my tent, right next to the trail.

For the first few days, Colorado treated me quite well. It presented me with some rough, steep dirt roads, so that I could reminisce about Montana. It kept temperatures cool by sending predictable, late-afternoon thunderstorms my way. The trail even passed by a few raspberry and thimbleberry patches, which reminded me of the PCT.

Sure, North Fork Elk Creek involved a significant bushwhack, but that was my fault for ignoring the “Bridge is out” sign. And yes, I wasn’t expecting to be woken by something gnawing on my backpack at midnight. But both of those incidents were forgotten the next day, when I was treated to impressive views and a short, fun, low-stakes snow traverse near the top of Lost Ranger Peak.

Thin, high clouds, and the view from a rocky, treeless summit.

Looking north from Lost Ranger Peak,

Steamboat Springs has several free bus routes, which I took full advantage of during my resupply stopover. I was glad I didn’t have to walk far, because the town is pretty spread out, and the temperature reached 91℉. I took an Uber back to the trail the next day and started heading east towards Rocky Mountain National Park. The day after that, Colorado began to reveal its true colors.

A typical day

I spent most of the day on ridgelines with long-range views to the north and south. Way off to the east, I could see my intended destination, Parkview Mountain. There’s a hut at the summit, and I liked the idea of spending the night there. A warm and sunny morning turned into a cool and cloudy afternoon, and bad weather started to move in from the south. I started my final approach to the summit just after 4:00 p.m., walking along a wide ridgeline covered in rocky alpine tundra with nowhere much to shelter. Just a mile from the hut, I waited in a low spot near some trees as a thunderstorm passed overhead. Afterwards, I slowly climbed the steep, rough slope to the summit.

This would become the standard format of afternoons in Colorado. Exposed ridgelines in the morning weren’t typically a problem, but in the afternoon, timing was everything. With so much of the trail above treeline, finding somewhere sheltered to camp was also a frequent issue. It was one of the reasons I considered staying in the hut on top of Parkview Mountain.

The hut’s interior looked more like an animal outhouse than a cozy escape from the wind. The lightning rod and grounding cable had also seen better days. In the end, I decided to keep moving. I hiked another mile, found a flat, exposed campsite, and pitched my tent just before more bad weather arrived. No thunder this time, just blustery rain that continued into the night.

A mostly overcast sky, with patches of sunlight dotted across the landscape.

Beginning the descent of Parkview Mountain.

Destination RMNP

In the overcast, pre-dawn sky, the silhouette of Longs Peak was visible almost 30 miles to the east. About an hour after leaving camp, I crossed Highway 125 at Willow Creek Pass, where a trail angel had left some bananas and tangerines. I grabbed one of each and, powered by pure anticipation, resisted eating them until the top of the next climb.

The rain held off for a few more hours, but I knew a thunderstorm was inevitable. Several showers came and went, but I made it safely over Bowen Pass during a break in the weather. The rain actually stopped for long enough that my jacket was almost dry when the next downpour arrived. I hurried the remaining few miles towards the Colorado River, where I planned to get water and camp for the night.

Farout shows the “Never Summer Wilderness Boundary,” but doesn’t mention that it’s also the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) boundary. Half a mile into the park, I arrived at a creek and collected enough water for camping.

Cold, wet, and getting wetter with each passing minute. No backcountry permit, wanting to camp as soon as possible, but needing to backtrack at least half a mile – I couldn’t wait to get out of the rain.

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