Sunshine after the Rain

9/7 – 9/9 – The next section, from Twin Lakes to Salida, was one of the hardest yet. Being with Claire & Casey had been so much fun and we missed their company. Now that we were back to carrying our full packs they seemed absurdly heavy. Our trail food lacked luster, we craved Claire’s homebaked goodies.  We also have definitive evidence that the women who runs the store at Twin Lakes SELLS things that we gave her to be part of a FREE hiker box (a box of goodies that hikers leave/take items they want/don’t want).

Dan enjoyed walking part of the Leadville 100 route – a 100 mile ultra run that leaves from the town of Leadville and then goes past Twin Lakes and up to Hope Pass. Walking only 25 miles of that trail was exhausting…. to run it + 75 more miles is insanity. But Dan’s hoping to run the Leadville Ultra in 2012.

Autumn is here

Lows included two days of rain, getting a bad cold, blah scenery up and down through the trees.  Highs included passing through the historic “town” of Winfeld, seeing the first aspen turn the hillsides buttercup yellow, seeing the first frosting of fresh snow on the highest peaks and standing above little meringue clouds at Lake Ann Pass.

First Snow

Even though we’d passed through quite a few towns, our last Zero Day (where we did zero trail miles) had been back in Lander, Wyoming. That was a looooooong time ago. In short, we were utterly physically and emotionally spent when we finally arrived at Monarch Pass on 9/9 to hitch into Salida.


9/6After a breakfast of peach pie, we set off to the Elbert trailhead in Claire’s car. We had decided to slackpack Elbert, the highest mountain in Colorado and the highest mountain on the Continential Divide in the lower 48.  The trail started off as a nice climb through pine trees. We even saw Don’t Panic & Wing It, who slowed down to hike and chat with us for a while before powering on. Everything was great until we got above treeline.

Dan did eventually have to put his wind pants on!

At that point we entered the windtunnel of death. The wind was exhasting and freezing. The water in my camelback got icy and my nose was in danger of being blown off my face. The trail was steep, rocky, washed out and awful. Since it was Labor Day Monday hordes of people were out, death marching towards the top. When we found a shelterd spot for a break we did enjoy the view of distant Leadville and Twin Lakes below, but when I arrived at the top of the 14,440 foot peak, I took only a cursory look around before cuddling up next to half a dozen strangers who were jammed into the slight refuge a rock wall provided from the wind. We didn’t even have the energy to stand up against the wind for photos.

When at last we had slipped and scrambled back into the trees we were astonished at the powerful warmth the sun’s rays granted. At the bottom we picniced on more peach pie and some other snacks, then scoped out a campsite where we set up our tent and left our stuff. Then we drove back to Turquoise Lake, where we’d left off hiking yesterday, to hike the 12 miles back to our tent. (Yes, it may sound absurd but it’s all about doing a continuous hike from Canada to Mexico).  That was also the sad hour where we bid farwell to Claire and Casey.  That night we felt forlorn and dejected without C&C… it had been a phenominal two days.

Top of the Continental Divide!

C&C Magic Factory

9/5 – We awoke in a celebratory mood. First, it was our year anniversary for having completed our first thru-hike from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail.  The overwhelming emotions of that day will not soon be forgotten. Second, we were to meet our good friend Claire in a few miles at Tennessee Pass. Dan met Claire while working at Georgetown University Outdoor Education Program in 2005. Claire was one of the student leaders (GOATS) who Dan worked closely with to plan lead rock climbing, kayaking and backpacking trips. Together Claire & Dan discovered ultra-running, first setting up a home-grown 50k and later competing together in their first race – the Laurel Highlands 70 miler.  Fast-forward 5 years… Claire had moved to Colorado and we’d done some hopping around ourselves so it had been 3 years since we’d met up. Now we were eager to reconnect and also meet her boyfriend Casey.

Casey & Claire arrived at the pass at 8:30am and after a dose of shrieks and hugs, set to work cooking us a gourmet breakfast on their MSR whisperlight stove. They prepared us a feast of french toast, bacon, soysage and fruit salad. They’d even brought a bottle of champagne and orange juice for mimosas!  Wow!  As it turned out Casey had hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2006 (his trail name was Casey Jones) and so he knew just what a thru-hiker needs!  In addition to the deluxe breakfast they had devised an elaborate plan to have Casey take our heavy loads in the car while Claire, Dan & I set off with day packs and hiked the 13 miles to Turquoise Lake, where we’d reconvene that afternoon. It was the perfect opportunity to slackpack (hike with just day packs) and catch up with Claire.

The miles on the trail flew by, in part because of conversation to catch up on the past 3 years and in part because Claire set the pace at just under a jog. Claire had brought homemade brownies and fresh fruit to supplement our picnic lunch and we enjoyed easy hiking under an endless banner of blue skies.

We reconvened with Casey at Turquoise Lake and then C&C brought another trick out of their bag – ingredients to make fresh guacamole on the shores of the cobalt waters. Then we drove into Leadville, where they’d booked us into the hostel for the night.

Leadville, Colorado is the highest incorporated city in the US at 10,152 feet. It was much more reminiscent of the old mining towns we’d gone through in Montana than the sleek and shiny cities we’d passed through in Colorado. It was a old boom mining town that now survives mainly on tourism and the perseverance of its rugged and working-class townsfolk.  We walked around the town admiring the old architecture and the view of 14,000 foot peaks Elbert and Massive on the horizon. We then devoured a quality carmelized onion, spinach, Portobello mushroom, and roasted red pepper pizza from Mountain High Pies. The Leadville hostel was great – clean, cozy and kitschy with a family atmosphere and years worth of collecting contributing to its eclectic decor. We finished off the night with a game of spades where we discovered Casey’s quick wit and Claire’s club prowess. It had been a magical day but now we needed to rest: tomorrow we would climb the highest mountain in Colorado!

Ridge, valley and bike path

9/2 – Stiff and sleepy we roused ourselves from our tent to find we were completely enveloped in a cloud. We were at the top of James Peak and couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us.  It didn’t seem like the ridge walk was going to afford us any views, but as we set off–face freezing, snot dripping–the clouds began to race by, giving us glimpses of the Loch Lomand and other lakes below. It was a celestial moment… sun bursting through the autobahn-racing clouds to create a clubbing scene complete with strobe light and dry ice.  The discoteca intensity faded as the clouds thinned out, but the ridge walk around Mt Barcroft, Parry and Flora remained impressive.

That morning we said goodbye to RT, who was headed to visit a friend, and continued from Berthoud Pass.  The trail took us up to mountain passes, included more ridge walking and then dipped low into valleys only to rise up to the ridge again. When we were sheltered from the wind the sun beat down upon us with intensity in the dead air. But as soon as we emerged from our haven, the warmth of the sun’s rays was blow away by the wind.  It was the same story the next day (9/3), as we hiked in the Williams Fork Mountains and Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness, to emerge above Dillon and Silverthorn and the great blue waters of the Dillon Reservoir.

I’d been listening to The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan on my ipod so of course the first thing we did when we arrived into Silverthorn was go to a fast food place.  Yes, we ate corn in many variations from Wendy’s. I know it’s bad. But at least we didn’t eat any meat and unfortunately junk food is often the best way to consume the high calories our bodies need right now.  There we ran into Don’t Panic and Wing It… they were actually ahead of us but had taken advantage of the free buses to take a rest day in Silverthorn. It was great catching up with them before hitting the bike path.

walking the bike path

There IS actual trail from Silverthorn to Copper Mountain, but we’d opted to walk on the bike path instead since it was a) shorter and b) gave us the opportunity to enjoy town food at 3 locations – Silverthorn, Frisco and Copper Mountain. It was actually really nice… yes it follows the highway but most of it is along the Dillon Reservoir and the town of Frisco is lovely. It has a great downtown area with lots of local shops and restaurants and has a huge network of trails – paved, dirt, etc. Plus it’s near Breckenridge & Copper Mountain ski resorts…. We definitely put Frisco on our list of town to come back to and further explore.  But that night we had more miles to put in, walking in the starlight before finding a campsite along the path.

9/4 we joined up with the Colorado Trail and our navigation issues disappeared. We had a glorious well-worn, well-signposted trail with bridges over even small creeklets. Ahh! There were also lots of other hikers and mountain bikers using the trail. We camped a few miles from Tennessee Pass, near Camp Hale, an old WWII training base.

Hubba Hubba Hubba


The first day of September was a memorable day! It started with a killer climb up to Devil’s Thumb Pass. My pack was unthinkably heavy since I was carrying about 3 liters of water because our maps showed no water for the next 30 miles or so. And, wouldn’t you know, as I slowly haul what feels like a dead elephant up the steep trail, we criss-crossed a thousand rushing creeks. Grr! Future CDT hikers take heed – there is water until almost the last hundred feet before Devil’s Thumb!  Once we arrived on the ridge we were rewarded with mediocre views of Winter Park and that fierce wind that seems to characterize almost all of our Colorado ridge walks.  It should be called “Devil’s Breath,” not “Devil’s Thumb.”

Thankfully RT scouted out the perfect sheltered spot for lunch, overlooking the intense aquamarine waters of King’s Lake.  We also found some respite by walking a Forest Service road from Rollins Pass to Rogers Pass, but then it was back to fighting not to be blown off the mountain (maybe it was a good thing my pack was so heavy!) as we climbed up to James Peak.  We arrived at the top of the 13,297 foot rocky peak around 5 pm, admired the view and then huddled in the relative shelter provided by a primive stone wall.

Another 20 miles or so of exposed ridge walking/scrambling awaited us (unless we hiked an additional 10 miles to below treeline) so finding a camp spot was not going to be easy. As we approached the ridge we were to follow to Mt Barcroft RT pointed out a little stone wall protecting a small smudge of flat dirt.  “This could be the best camp spot we’ll find,” he reasoned…. It was true. Finding a flat and semi-sheltered spot to lay down for the night seemed unlikely, so we decided we were probably best off to improve the wall and bunker down at 13,000+ for the night. It was getting colder and windier, so Dan suggested we set up our Hubba Hubba tent and all 3 of us squeeze in.

Oh what a night! Between the wind whipping our tent like an abusive parent with a willow branch, to the fact we only fit when on our side (my hip bone felt like it had been gnawed at by the hard ground), to the fear of storms…. I barley slept at all… but at least I can say WE WEREN’T COLD!

Grand Lake

8/30 In Grand Lake we reunited with whole crew, most of whom ended up crashing on the floor of our hotel.  Heaps, Hawkeye, Kombucha and Joker had an elaborate plan to do the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) loop – a 26 mile loop that is part of the official CDT but many hikers skip – that also included a ridge walk and a stop in Estes Park. What ended up happening? Yes, you guessed it…. they ended up ditching it for more time and town and more eating (though no food challenges….the Steamboat episode of eating a 1/2 gallon of ice cream + an entire pie + 3 huge hunks of chicken and then washed down by a 1/2 gallon of lemonade = a less than happy hiker and a pause in Food Challenges).  After some complex calculations and planning, we decided to skip the RMNP loop as well, and do the Silverthorn route rather than the official Greys-Torres route.  That way it would be easier to rendezvous with our old friend Claire Labor Day weekend.

8/31 We set off along Shadowwood Reservoir. We met up with RT at lunch and continued together along Colombine Bay. There we met Lake, a laid back CDT thru-hiker who was flip-flopping and currently headed North. We

Never Summer

Wow! It’s been a long time since we’ve taken a ZERO day… and a long time since we’ve had internet… and so I’m way behind on blogging… so I’m going to have to condense things… or at least try!

On the way up Parkview Mountain

8/27 – We had to walk for about 10 miles on Highway 14, which wasn’t great, but it was fast and so by lunch we’d done 17 miles.  The next day (8/28) was both exhausting and demoralizing – lots of ups and downs and an insane wind that whipped all the energy out of us – and we’d put in less than 10 miles by lunch.  Then after lunch we marched straight up to the summit of 12,297 feet tall Parkview Mountain.  At the top we enjoyed a respite in a small Forest Service shelter before heading down the wrong ridge, bushwhacking through numerous blowdowns and experiencing  a thunder and lighting storm of Armageddon like proportions. We only managed to count 3 seconds between seeing the lightning and hearing the crash of thunder shake our bones. Thankfully we were off the summit and in the trees, though that wasn’t necessarily that safe since we later walked past a tree that’d been struck by lightning and was still buzzing with electricity.  

The storm brewing from Parkview Mountain

8/29 the rain subsided but the wind kept up its roar as we enjoyed a scenic ridge walk from Bowen Pass, bagging Ruby and Cascade Peaks before seeking shelter amongst the trees.  This area included the aptly-named “Never Summer Wilderness.”  The wind whistles from the holes in my trekking poles and a few day hikers excitedly mistook the sound for bugeling elk. Sorry friends, just my kids’ Leki trekking poles. 

 One of the things so maddening about the 3 days from Steamboat Springs to Grand Lake was that even though we were often above 11,000 feet, the mountains looked more like hills. There was no snow to be seen and not many rocks either, just withered grass.  But considering how tired I felt, I could tell we were now traveling at a higher altitude.  So it was lovely to get into Grand Lake, on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, early on the morning of 8/30 and enjoy a gorgeous breakfast at Bluewater bakery.