Snow Traces, Old Faces, New Places

It’s July and Colorado still has a lot of snow, which puts me in a bit of a predicament. I’ve already skipped the San Juans and the West Collegiate route because of snow. So part of me feels like I will come back to Colorado at some point when the snow isn’t historically high and hike those routes. But it makes me question what I’m doing out here right now. I don’t want to skip Colorado and leave it for later, as I want a thru-hike experience that ends in Canada. But the snow is frustratingly deep and omnipresent, which is quite dejecting. As I think on my next steps, here’s the past few.

Day 72 (Continued)

Hung out at the general store at Twin Lakes for the majority of the afternoon and evening. Charging things while doing some writing, I also had people come sit and chat with me. A motor-biker who was from the area, a super-sweet couple who were going to hike the Colorado Trail in a week, and a local raft guide who tricked out his van to live out of. It was nice to be social and connect with people who are similar and can relate to the things I find valuable.

As I was about to leave, I spotted another thru-hiker. We have a look. It turned out to be one of the sons of a father, son, son trio I met in New Mexico at the base of Mount Taylor. Hacker, it is his first long trail and he is only 16. I envied his youth and the experience of discovering this lifestyle as we caught up. But it was amazing to see what the trail was opening in him. Pushed on to the base of Elbert, ate, and slept.

Day 73

Excitement and nerves made for poor sleep. Started the climb a bit before 5 a.m. Left most things in my tent and just took up snacks, water, and clothes. Starting in twilight, I met the sun above treeline. The climb faced east toward a valley so I was treated to views of the opposing mountains as light flooded the valley. Crossed some sections of snow near the summit. I was intimidated by how high I was and how far I could fall. But Microspikes and focus made for a successful climb.

Mount Elbert summit, 14,439 feet.

Reached the summit right around 7. Took a bunch of photos and hung out for a while. Some peakbaggers showed up and I got some photos that weren’t selfies. After spending time at the summit I started the trek down. Passed a good few people coming up, including a trail crew. I glissaded down the snow sections, which is just sliding down on my butt.

It started to hail on the descent but I was below treeline at that point so nothing major. I also saw the forest with sunlight. It was all aspens, light to dark green leaves with bone-white bark all so close together. It was really grounding to be among these beings that were all taller than me after being the tallest living thing above treeline. I felt so invigorated by the experience. It really is type two fun. The climb was challenging and the descent could be frightening, but being back down on trail surrounded by all of these massive beings felt truly exhilarating.

I got back to my tent and made some food and hung out for a bit. I thought about everyone else who had climbed Elbert that morning and the fact they would probably go back to a shower and a hot meal, so I thought I would give myself some time. However, the high I was experiencing from Elbert started to fade and my physical exhaustion from the poor sleep and the climb started to get stronger. I managed to pack everything up and get moving. I ran into another thru-hiker, Latecomer, who I hadn’t seen since Pie Town. Caught up for a bit before I outpaced him.

I made it to a parking lot for Mount Elbert and another fourteener, Mount Massive. My exhaustion became overwhelming so I decided to take a break. I get so caught up in always moving, always heading to the next thing. The idea of intentionally not moving felt really good so I rested my body, ate some more food, got some water. I got up and pushed to a stream with a site next to it. About 40 mosquitoes kept me company on the mesh of my tent as we all fell asleep.

Day 74

Woke up and got out early. Pushed miles until I reached a trailhead at Turquoise Lake. I had heard reports of snow ahead of me and the idea of slogging through it filled me with dread. I decided to road walk into Leadville from this trailhead as the mileage was roughly the same. It was an OK road walk, mostly gravel in trees until closer to Leadville, where it turned to asphalt. Leadville was a nice town but I didn’t need too much as I was in a town two days ago. I did stop at a Pizza Hut where they have a buffet. I met a guy who had hiked the AT last year and knew some hikers on this trail. He gave me a ride to another trailhead north of where I got out.

Talked to some locals at the trailhead. It is a bit hard to keep my ego in check when most people I meet are amazed at what I’m doing. But it also is rightly, quite amazing. I pushed along some dirt road being passed by people on ATVs and UTVs. It seemed like a place where there were a lot of tours. Made it to a gorgeous waterfall that was absolutely gushing from the snowmelt. Some tours came through here as well. I felt almost part of the attraction. A true wild mountain man who had come down to this waterfall to rinse off.

Pushed off and started a climb. It was a multi-thousand foot climb up to Kokomo Pass. I didn’t know where I was going to camp but I just kept pushing until I reached the pass. It was pretty late at this point so I decided to set up camp. Had an amazing view of the surrounding mountains as the sun set and sleep crept in.

Baby. why don’t we go to.

Day 75

Woke up to cold. Packed up and got moving. The official trail skirted a ridgeline in a bowl to another pass. But snow completely covered the bowl. I climbed up the ridge as there was no snow up there. Pushed along the ridgeline to another bowl that the trail went down. I gingerly descended off the ridge into the bowl, but guess what? It was also covered in snow! This made for extremely tiring and frustrating hiking. I would sink up to my knee, thigh, or waist with every step. And then my next step I would think was solid but once I shifted my weight over to it, I would sink even farther down. I screamed, cursed, and cried my way through the snow down to actual dirt trail.

I passed another thru-hiker, Waterfall, with her sister and husband. Apologizing for any expletives they might have heard me express but they understood the frustration. Bombed down the trail as the snow ended. I was heading to Copper Mountain Ski Resort and as I got closer the trail wound through the actual ski slopes of the resort. But there was no snow, so they were just grassy, open runs down the mountains. Passed a few people doing some day hikes and had the routine ready. Started at the Mexican border, heading to Canada; 20-25 miles per day; about four to five months; yes, I’ve seen lots of wildlife.

Made to the base and caught up with the folks I went to Wyoming with. Link, Wraps, Caroline (Sweets), and Riley (HD). It had been about three weeks since we had all been together and it was incredible to be with them all again. We caught a bus up to Dillon and got a room at a hotel. It is the Fourth of July today and we wanted to celebrate. We tried finding some American flag apparel but there were no shops within walking distance that had anything. Went to a Chinese buffet, then hung out at a marina bar as there is a large lake near the town. Took a nice photo next to an American flag and then went to a bar for the evening. A night of catching up and celebration ended with us all getting back and falling asleep.

Day 76

Slept in the next morning. I did not escape feeling bad even though I intentionally drank more water. We packed up and went to a Burger King to figure out what we wanted to do. My aunt and uncle were coming for the weekend so that was my plan. They decided to get a room and would head out tomorrow. As we parted I hoped that it wouldn’t be three weeks until I saw them again. My aunt and uncle, Vivian and Tom, picked me up and I got to hang with their Bernese Mountain Poodle mix, Percy. We went to Breckenridge where they had booked a room for the weekend. It was super fancy. They had been planning this for a while so they were ready. Food, snacks, drinks, all taken care of as we enjoyed the pools, hot tubs, and spa the lodge had.

Steak dinner and ice cream for desert as we caught up. Talked about the ways I wanted to grow and have been growing. They are really good role models for the ways I want to exist in the world so it was nice to hear their wisdom. Slept on a super-comfortable bed all to myself and spread out all over it as I fell asleep.

Day 77

Woke up to Percy jumping on my bed and nuzzling me. Vivian made some fantastic chocolate croissants and really good coffee for breakfast. An easy morning of writing and hanging by the pool. To add to the luxury, they got me a manicure and pedicure. It was the first I’ve had of either and it was mind-numbingly relaxing. The technician was nice and I tried to keep conversation but my feet were in heaven after two months of work.

We walked around the town for the afternoon. Got some food and cookies, browsed some shops. I went to resupply and met everyone back at the lodge. A Harry Potter marathon kept me chilling in the room until dinner as I organized and consolidated. I watched a UFC card, which was incredibly exciting. Then bed, again taking up as much space as I could on that massive bed.

Day 78

Woke up and packed. Had breakfast and watched the Women’s World Cup before heading to the pools for a last soak. Plan is to get dropped off at a trailhead and hike up near the base of Grays Peak and summit tomorrow. It’s another fourteener with another, Torrey’s Peak, right next to it. So at least one fourteener tomorrow.

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