The Colorado Trail Still Continues to Take My Breath Away, So To Speak
And the amazing hiking continues! The past six days have taught me firsthand why these are not named the Rocky Hills or the Mediocre Mountains. The steep uphills! The stunning views! It’s all part of the game plan, and I willingly accept it, although it’s humbling to be passed by every single person on those intensely steep inclines. Oh well, I’m here, doing the same route as everyone else, some 50 years younger. I feel fortunate to be able to do this. (Note: I’m typing all of this on my phone and sometimes it decides to do whatever it wants to do, due to the misplacement of my finger. Please just go with the flow of it all.) (Later note: it has now reverted to normal margins. Whatever.)
I last left you as I headed out of a delightful double zero (two days of R&R) in the bustling, tourist-packed ski town of Breckenridge. With three nights in a bed at the Fireside Inn/Hostel, I totally enjoyed meeting and chatting with other backpackers as they passed through. They all look forward to eating out, but I’m happiest cooking my own delicious fresh food from the local supermarket rather than settling on a mediocre, expensive salad at a restaurant. My one exception this time was a Vietnamese fresh veggie spring roll (uncooked, no oil), which was a fun treat. My lifestyle suits me 100%.
Because of a short day planned for my first day back on the trail, I caught a late ride on the free shuttle bus back to the trailhead, where I began a nonstop 5.5-mile steep uphill to Miner’s Creek, my selected destination.
Before deciding where to stop each night, I refer to the priceless Far Out app for the CT. This tells me, via a map, elevation profile and list, where potential water sources, camping, points of interest, trailheads, etc. are located and at what distance from me, as well as exactly where I am at the moment. Super helpful, as well as the compact Colorado Trail Data Book, with much of the same information. My decision was to make today’s climb only halfway up this mountain that separates the two ski areas, Breckenridge and Copper Mountain, splitting this steep uphill over two days. I prefer camping at the mid-mountain level, not in the base of a valley, with some tree cover, not in a meadow, and not directly by a stream. All of these precautions can contribute to a warmer site. Not shivering all night has become one of my themes on the CT. I was grateful for the new wool upper base layer I had bought in Breckenridge and looked forward to receiving a thin foam insulating foam mat I ordered from Gossamer Gear and will be delivered to a future lodging.
I also like sleeping relatively close to the trail at times, for the fun of talking with any other hikers who pass by. It’s an enjoyable temporary parade for one who prefers hiking alone. At this site, I got to meet two employees of the Forest Service who are supervising a work group further uphill, whose work I’d see the next day. They have the fun of commuting to this work site each day via a rough and ready motorcycle and an ATV on a rugged keep road. Sounds much more fun than in a sedan on I-75 .
At times I’ve thought, “I’m afraid of being cold every night. Maybe I should just quit.” But then I remember a phrase I recently heard: “Be afraid, but do it anyway.” So I refuse to let some shivers at night stop me. I’m doing whatever I can to alleviate this. I am also completely renewed and reaffirmed each morning with the joy of walking through the aspens, evergreens, wildflowers, and meadows, and reaching the jaw dropping views awaiting atop long climbs. Durango, I’m on my way.
Day Two was another lovely day in the mountains, full sun with no showers or frightening thunderstorms for several days now.
Today’s trek was basically finishing that big mountain that separated Breckenridge and Copper Mountain and going down the other side. Check out the distance, total ascent and descent. Yep, the Rocky Mountains!
With little choice, I just concentrated on my slow footsteps up, timing it with my breathing with one breath in through my nose on one step and out through pursed lips for two steps. I didn’t force it. Slow and steady gets me to the top. I remember that on a very steep section of the AT in NH, a young Navy Seal joined me for a few minutes on the tough ascent. However, as I always do, I told him to not let me hold him back, to be free to go at his own pace, at which time he promptly shot off. A few minutes later, I slowly passed him as he was gasping for breath (but not at an extreme altitude, I must note) while slumped on a rock by the trail. I never saw him again. This memory helps me keep going and stops any negative self-talk dead in its track. Only positive allowed!
The views were beautiful along the way. I was also able to say hi to those two (admittedly, cute) Forest Service workers and their crew hard at work rerouting the trail. The CT is reputedly the US trail with the best trail maintenance, and I totally believe it. They have folks lined up on the waiting list for participating in one of dozens of their trail crews each summer.
The views were amazing and far-reaching at the quite windy top.
Breckenridge town and ski slopes were to my left
and Copper to my right.
My little thermometer said it was just 50 degrees, nothing earth shattering, but with the strong wind, I swear it felt much colder. That added to the excitement that I shared with the others on the summit.
No longer a skier, I honestly find the ski slopes a scar on the mountainsides, but we do have memories of fun family times skiing together. Now they ski and snowboard and I snowshoe, which I equate with hiking in the fluffy white stuff. No more fear of icy slopes.
The trail had hikers avoiding some major construction by dipping down into the resort development of Copper Mountain and then back up into the hills, passing under ski lifts.
Some of my favorite stretches of trail are when it appears to reach off forever into the distance, promising yet more adventures.
My campsite that night was near another stream so that I wouldn’t have to haul water, which is 2.2 lbs. per liter bottle. I camped up and away from the stream to escape the chill.
I enjoyed talking with a fellow camper from Austin (note: not a local!) who warned me strongly about not hiking till the second week of September, as is my plan. He felt I’d definitely have snow and quite cold temperatures in the last stretch of the mountains, the San Juans. This rekindled my fear of the cold, but I settled myself. I’m doing all that I can to keep on moving without overuse injuries, and will keep a close watch on the weather forecasts for the mountains. You can do this, Ruth. You finished the southern half of the AT down in Georgia in early November, 2018, with temps in the Smokies dipping to the teens, and you’re still alive to talk about it.
Day Three was especially notable, since it was Bill’s and my 49th wedding anniversary. Hard to believe that number! We were so fortunate to meet each other in our late teens and continue to grow together and have so many amazing adventures together through the years.
The plan is to actually be together in person next year for that bigger number, half a century!
My hike on this day first followed through a lovely valley with a stream, and still yet no moose sighted. I’m still hopeful.
Basically, the trail went up and down this day, why not? They are, after all, mountains. And rocky.
I had to do “dry camping” that night, meaning no readily available source of water, even though the data book indicated that there was some. Luckily, I had just enough to rehydrate my breakfast and get to the next source several miles away the next morning.
Day Four was a fun change of pace: going down into the highest incorporated city in the US: Leadville, at 10,158 feet. Personally, if they asked me, I’d call it a town, since a local told me there were only about 10,000 people in the total in the whole county. But it’s very quaint and known for its cold, short summers. Yet the tourists flock in.
After trying for 15 minutes to hitch a ride into the city from the mountain pass so had hiked to this morning, finally a family of three called out to me from the trailhead parking lot. The Buckeye Trail t-shirt the mother was wearing showed that we all came from the same state. It was a fun ten-mile ride down to town, sharing tales from Ohio’s premier trail as well as the son’s journey on the AT. I so appreciate the rides, and it’s always fun sharing with each other.
In town, they dropped me off at the mail center where Bill had sent my food supply via Fed Ex. I was able to refill my bear canister right there in the shop and enjoy talking with locals as they came in and out.
The town was packed with thousands more tourists than normal because of the 100-mile mountain bike race that was to take place the next day. I hoped I would get to see some of them, and see them I did, as it turned out. More later.
Bill and I have fond memories of Leadville because we spent several days there a few years ago, training for Kilimanjaro at the highest point we knew to go to. It turned out, we hiked in snow, but that added to our training. Killy was a success. Again, I slept cold there, but the days, views, and experience made up for it.
I spent an hour occupying a booth at the busy vegan cafe, the Golden Burro. I did my usual of ordering tea and a plain baked potato, which I adorned with my own rehydrated chili lunch. Yum. I do this because oil is nearly always involved in the cooking. My doctor, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, who wrote “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” with great success, says “NOT ONE DROP OF OIL!” The waitress was too busy to care. They might have if they’d followed me into the restroom where I washed out two pairs of underwear and a pair of socks (when alone), and then affixed them to back of my backpack with safety pins to dry during the afternoon’s hike. You’ve got to check your pride at the door while living down and dirty on the trail.
I was very fortunate to catch a ride back to the pass, where I would rejoin the trail. Amy, a physician’s assistant in Leadville, and her teenage daughter took their chances on this dangerous looking, filthy backpacker, and then even ventured to pick up two more backpackers and deliver us where we wanted to be. It was so fun sharing a ride with them and I so appreciate it.
With just a six mile walk for me that afternoon, I didn’t have that long to go. It was nice to find a great, open-feeling campground with nearby water.
Day Five gave me 12 miles of yet more relentless steep uphills, but always well groomed, even when with rocks.
I also garbed my colorful rain gear when sprinkles began, but that’s always guaranteed to stop the rain.
My reward was eventually arriving at good dirt road on which the riders in the hundred-mile mountain bike race would ride out and back within that day. A young couple was cheering them on at an aid station, and there was plentiful camping. I set up my tent and enjoyed joining in the cheering. Amazing what people can do when they love it and train for it.
I was sad to see the race end and the couple leave, but their spot was soon filled with a small camper, driven by yet another young couple. This proved to be very fortunate for me, because I had discovered that my phone was extremely low on batteries, as well as both of my battery packs. It appeared that when I put my phone and batteries into the foot box of my sleeping quilt to preserve their power, my foot accidentally turned on the flashlight setting on the phone and nearly drained it of all power the previous night. Happily, the second young couple (I forgot to ask the first), let me charge my phone and a battery for an hour, and that put me in the safety zone again. Whew. I’d hate to be without my FarOut app for navigating the trail.
Day Six had some real highlights. I was hiking by 7:00 a.m., usually my goal, because I had 18 hilly miles to do. Yikes.
I had lots of time on an easy, beautifully smooth dirt path through the beautiful evergreens. So meditative.
The first signs I’ve seen that fall is coming soon:
I wondered why there were so many people on this particular trail. It turned out that this was the trail headed for the trailhead to Mount Elbert, the second highest peak in the United States at 14,440 ft, and obviously the highest in Colorado. Not far away was Mount Massive, the third highest peak in the US, 14,427. Since this was the day after the bike race, many of the families, and perhaps the participants, saw this as a chance to climb to the peaks while they were in this vicinity. That’s not on my agenda. My goals: enjoy the trail and finish uninjured.
I also met two bike packers with their minimalist camping gear, going NOBO (northbound) from Durango to Denver, exactly opposite of me. Amazing how strong the hikers are and how well designed their bikes are.
My goal for the day was to reach a certain camping spot that I had read about on the FarOut app. I found it. I claimed it. I don’t believe I will ever have another camping spot with his beautiful of a view. By the way, I did check the weather forecast. I wouldn’t have camped in such an expose situation if there were strong winds or a storm coming. Happily, that was not in the forecast. “Table with a view, please.”
Day Seven: Amazing as always. To shorten this post at last, let me share that I walked about five more miles by the shores of beautiful Twin Lakes
The two beautiful tall ones:
to get to some darling little cabins, outdated, but darling. I had rented one for myself, and I’m luxuriating both a nero and a zero with privacy, plentiful hot water and a warm, comfy bed after a week of living with nature, down and dirty.
This was quite a stretch out there. I look forward to more frequent breaks before my final weeklong push in September.
Still loving this, my pilgrimage of memories.
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