Pie Town to Leadville: Melanzanas and “FLIP FLOP”s.
New Mexico’s Pie Town offered a good place to rest and recover from my early injuries. After filling up on endless biscuits and gravy, and of course pie, we hit the road. Upon leaving Pie Town we were immediately greeted with more road walks, for seemingly hundreds of miles. We did enjoy the dry and sunny days of New Mexico, but we looked forward to hitting Colorado and starting something new. Maybe we wished too hard, because as the days counting down to Colorado ticked away, we were hit with small daily thunderstorms that would sprinkle us with hail and rain. We soon reached Ghost Ranch and found many hikers had also chosen to drop their packs and rest due to the promise of unlimited buffet meals and a campsite. Ghost Ranch, however, has moved away from helping hikers and treated the thru-hikers present more as a nuisance insect rather than paying customers or people. After meeting new hikers and getting a meal (from much begging), we learned of the above average snow conditions awaiting us in Colorado (this explained the early season hail in New Mexico we had been encountering). We found those claims to be true for ourselves even before arriving at the border.
Our first taste of Colorado was painted with beautiful colors across the mountain side that seemingly came out of nowhere, and the knee and waist deep post-holing that drained the energy out of us. After making it to the highway and to Chama, my group and I decided it was time for a needed double zero. This time was supposed to be spent relaxing and resupplying. However, I had to get on a bus and ride all the way back to Ghost Ranch to pick up a package that the staff was previously unable to find. Once back in Chama however I was able to help celebrate the shared birthdays of two of the hikers in my tramily, Bushwhack and Bigfoot. At exactly ten years between them, we spend our night on the town eating pizza at a local brewery. After all the chores were done, and all the snow drama, fear mongering and constant discussion about the “snow on the redline,” I made the decision to hike out of Chama following the low route. This route took me along a series of low trails and highways to Creede Colorado to avoid the hellish conditions of the higher San Juan route. Although I would deal with the snow again soon after leaving Creede, I was grateful to avoid as much as possible in the earliest parts of the state.
I arrived in Leadville Colorado by way of the “Redline” and a few added alternates including the Eastern Collegiate Route” of the Colorado Trail five days after leaving Creede. During this stretch I finally allowed myself to come to the same conclusion most all other Northbound CDT hikers had made. “This is too much snow and too slow, it’s time to flip up north.” While I had dreamed of reaching Glacier national park and touching the northern terminus, while wearing a cheap Burger King crown, to finish my triple crown for almost six years now, I knew that was very unlikely. With Colorado’s record high snow year slowing me down, and Glaciers record low snow year looming the possibility of wildfire over my head, flipping quickly became the only real option. After making this choice I felt some alone time was needed. Most everyone in Leadville was in line to purchase the famous Melanzana sweatshirts, but me being the nerdier type decided to forgo the overly expensive pullover for a few hours of solo adventure at the National Mining Museum and hall of fame. It was a much-needed change of scenery and pace.
The next day I arrived in Denver by way of a nice trail angel couple and stayed a few days while waiting for a flight. I lightly explored the city, and then made it to the airport ready to begin the second part of this strange adventure.
After reaching Montana and East Glacier specifically, I knew I had made the right choice. Hotter days, tons of mosquitoes, and stories of grizzly bear encounters from nearly every local signaled to me to truth about Glaciers warmer winter and the value of getting here now with the ability to appreciate its beauty without wildfire smoke filling the sky. One con of getting here early after a warmer season is the same point mentioned above, the mosquitoes. As I write this, I am sitting in the center of my tent sucking in a tight as possible to stay away from the walls where the audible noise of swarming mosquitos seems almost as loud as the birds.
Glacier has greeted us with outstanding views and amazing animal encounters as early as day one. I ran into a herd of seven bighorn sheep and a fox all on my very first day in the park. This made up for the mosquitoes. Day two and three I was extremely fortunate to see mountain goat, a moose, three grizzly bears, and a very rare wolverine.
Although this thru-hike attempt has had its ups and downs already, it’s always important to remain flexible and adaptable to change. Without that skill it’s safe to say that many more problems will arise than are able to be solved. With that mindset in place, I’m excited for the chance to set out for the second portion of this hike, heading south and to finally finish this triple crown!
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