Northern Colorado (June 23-24)
June 23. The first climb this morning was up to Ptarmigan Pass, then my map indicated a descent to the South Fork of Williams Fork River. There was no obvious path to descend, as has so often been the case. Occasional rock cairns were helpful, as I weaved down the forested mountain in whichever direction appeared most likely.
I crossed Williams Fork River, then started a climb back up to the heights on the other side. The views were pretty and expansive.
Walking over the expanses, I thought again about nature, wilderness, and human attitudes and speech about them. Before this trip I would have said I love nature, but now the verb respect seems more appropriate. In the less tamed wilderness areas, nature is unpredictable, brutal, risky, something to love cautiously. Something to value and protect, and also something to avoid personifying.
The trip has been nothing if not humbling.
A friend caught up to me in the afternoon. We hiked up a steep switchbacking road to reconnect with the CDT in the Vasquez Peak Wilderness. (We had hiked on an alternate path, the Silverthorne alternate, for a few days.) I nervously watched dark clouds gather and rumble on distant slopes. Was it stupid to continue hiking as storm clouds gathered? We had ascended to nearly 12000 feet, and could see over a large distance. It was tough to predict whether or not the distant storms would drift to our mountains.
I was comforted to see more hikers ahead, everyone hurrying to pass over these peaks and down to more cover. We hiked by Vasquez Peak, following a narrow goat path cut into a mountain slope. The views, as always, were expansive and beautiful, and for me, tinged with the discomfort of exposure at such great height.
Fortunately we were steadily descending by the time a significant rain fell to us. We camped early, setting up our tents as quickly as possible in the rain, then relaxing inside to the cozy sound of raindrops on tent.
I used the tent time to study hikers’ comments on some of the trail features ahead. Some alarming comments about peaks mentioned narrow trail and loose scree at great height. I went to sleep considering my options for those miles.
June 24. In the morning, I packed up my wet things, then started the ascent up a final mountain before heading down to Winter Park to buy supplies for the next stretch. My friend caught up to me for the climb up Stanley Mountain.
The winds were strong on Stanley Mountain. I took photos of the fluffy white clouds hanging over valleys below, and looked forward to hiking out of the strong gusts as soon as possible. Less than a day back on the CDT and I was ready to avoid Colorado’s high peaks again.
Down in Winter Park, I sought advice in the visitor center. The woman working there was sympathetic to my story: “…thunderstorms coming, makes me nervous to be up there, any suggestions for paralleling the CDT at lower elevation?”
I barely got my words out and the woman exclaimed, “Oh no, you don’t want to be up there on a day like today! And they’re calling for thunderstorms all this week!” I was glad for her shared opinion, and also smiled, thinking of the hikers around me who would be hiking up there anyway. Risk tolerance is so varied on this trail.
The woman handed me a map and gave me directions for walking a few roads to Meadow Creek Reservoir, then rejoining the CDT there, past the highest peaks. I was very glad for her help in making a plan.
As per her suggestions, I hiked along the Fraser River Bike Trail for a few miles. It was peaceful, hiking on a smooth gravel path by a flowing creek, with frequent benches, picnic tables, and educational signs.
Gray clouds and mist gathered over visible peaks above. I was glad for my lower altitude position, imagining how windy it might be up there.
I reached the end of the bike path, then hiked on several dirt roads, by a restored trout creek, and by many pretty mountain homes and campsites on the way up to the reservoir.
I reached the reservoir by evening, glad again for the visitor center woman’s advice and the peaceful miles I’d hiked since Winter Park.
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