Time to Flip
I’ve just spent the first two days of summer in Leadville, CO, watching it snow. Just when I think it can’t possibly snow more, it does. Even the locals are surprised at what a brutal and long winter it has been. I knew when I arrived in Leadville that I would be making a decision about how to proceed with my CDT thru-hike, but I wasn’t sure what that decision would be.
When I last wrote, I had been taking the Great Divide Alternate Mountain bike route and was going to jump on the Colorado Trail to get from Salida to Twin Lakes. I did, though at the northern slope of the mountain north of Avalanche trailhead, I tried to get down it on my own and ultimately turned back. It didn’t feel safe to be trying alone as there was quite a bit of snow and it was steep, so I walked back down the southern face and took the road into Buena Vista. I know other hikers who made it down that slope just fine, but for me by myself, I didn’t want to push my luck.
Fortunately, there was another bike route that took me out of Buena Vista and back to the Colorado Trail on the other side of that mountain. There the Colorado Trail wound up a mountain before dropping down into Twin Lakes. I had a fantastic camp spot on the other side of the mountain overlooking a gorgeous valley.
The trail curves around the lakes with snowcapped mountains in the background, so I felt like I was staring at a postcard on that entire stretch of trail. The town of Twin Lakes itself is a great pit stop. I enjoyed Punky’s food truck there. They even have a CDT Burger, which is two beef patties with pulled pork in between them! My favorite thing about that little town was the police car they have parked in the side of the road there. I thought it was a speed trap, but when I went up to the cruiser they had a mannequin inside dressed as a police officer. It looked like he had Mardi Gras beads around his neck. It made me laugh and I’m sure most people who drive by going a little too fast jam on their brakes thinking it’s a real police officer.
The General Store in Twin Lakes is worth mentioning. The owner was super nice and helpful with trail information, and they have a fair amount of food there if you need to top up a resupply. He told me that normally at this point in the hiking season he would have had 100 hikers pass through already. He told me I was number 11. That is testament to how scattered CDT hikers are this year. Many people have flipped to Wyoming, or are going to Glacier to finish their hikes southbound. Others are slowly working their way through the higher CDT routes.
After eating in Twin Lakes, I hiked back to the CDT and took the South Mount Elbert trail as a side trip to climb Colorado’s highest peak. I camped just before treeline and summited Mount Elbert the following morning. If not for a few snowfields it would have been an easy hike up. The snow that is still there is manageable, though, and I felt comfortable navigating it on my own. The views from the top at 14,433 feet were breathtaking! Personally, climbing Elbert was a real win for me. It was on my list of things I really wanted to do on my thru-hike, and felt good considering many of the other areas I have bypassed, like the San Juan loop.
After Elbert, I hiked into Leadville via the CDT and then another bike route. I walked into a big barbecue festival, which was fun! The whole town was alive with festivities. I had some serious work to do though: I needed to figure out how to proceed. So far I had been able to cobble together routes that kept me mostly in my comfort zone. I’m trying to keep this hike fun and challenging, not stressful and challenging. Therefore, I’m not super keen on hiking any overly sketchy passes, traverses, or things of that nature if I don’t have to. I also don’t really want to be slogging through snow for another 250 miles in CO on a daily basis if I don’t have to. That said, I was running out of routes. I also don’t like walking roads. I don’t mind forest roads, but busy highways are far from ideal. What to do?
I thought through my options. I considered just sucking it up and hiking through all the snow and high passes, but that seemed stressful. I thought about flipping up to Glacier, but I really, really want to finish at the border. In the end, I decided I would buy myself some time. I will hike back to the CDT via the bike route out of Leadville, go over Kokomo Pass, and hike to a side trail that leads into Frisco. From there I will bus to Rawlins and hitch to Lander and hike south until I get back to Colorado, which I will hike through southbound. This plan buys me a few weeks of snowmelt and puts me in the high Rockies in mid July. There will still be snow, but there will be less snow.
I feel pretty good about this plan. I don’t really want to deal with flipping, but thru-hiking isn’t about what I want; it’s about adapting and doing what I need to do. I’ll be more comfortable hiking the high stuff with less snow. I had to set my ego aside on this one, because it wanted to just continue to plow through. I know my limits, though, and it also really helped talking with other hikers who were both doing, and not doing, the high routes through the snow to parse through my feelings on the best way to proceed for me. The worst thing I could have done would have been to try to hike someone else’s hike. That wouldn’t have been good for anyone.
I’m excited to get back on trail tomorrow. I’m sure Kokomo Pass will be beautiful with the new snowfall. I’m looking forward to seeing Wyoming and having some more snow-free terrain. All of the CDT tag lines are proving to be so true! “Embrace the Brutality,” “Choose Your Own Adventure”—so, so true! I’m in a good headspace having made a decision and I plan to keep getting creative with my routes as needed in order to connect my continuous footsteps from Mexico to Canada.
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