Friday, September 27, 2013

Grand Lake Colorado to Breckenridge: CDT 2013

I was hiking with Manparty, Lush, and Captain. We had tentatively adopted the name of "Team Mountain Turtle," due to our habit of literally crawling up mountainsides from time to time. We had just passed the highway that leads into the town of Winter Park Colorado. It was probably one of the brightest, cloud free days of the entire hike. The countryside shimmered under the bright light and warm air. This was the Colorado that I remembered and loved. We had a goal to reach Herman Gulch along highway 70 by 10:00 the following morning. Lush had invited Captain and I to join her and Manparty at her friend's house in Glenwood Springs for the weekend. We had many more miles to hike to reach our destination. Most of those miles would also be above tree line along the Divide. It was an ambitious goal, one that would require a long night hike, but definitely doable. We all accepted the challenge.

Just as the sun was setting, we decided a route that would cut several miles off the official CDT, but would be a steep alternate just before a mountain called Vasquez Peak. The first peak of the "short cut" looked particularly daunting, jutting straight up in the air for the last 50 feet or so. We wanted to get up and over it before dark. We took a short break just below the peak on a saddle, snacked up, and were ready to go.

Team Mountain Turtle began crawling up the mountain side in typical slow motion like fashion. After a few minutes, a beautiful full moon rose over the horizon behind us. We tried our best to follow the cairns to the top, although there only seemed to be a few. It appeared that we would have to ultimately pick the best route on our own. Everything went smoothly until the last 50 feet.

Manparty led the way and found a route over some huge boulders on the left side of the mountain.
"I wouldn't advise this route," Manparty yelled from above. "It's really sketchy!"

Captain took a route along the right side of the mountain. Not hearing Manparty's advice from above, Captain chimed in,
"This route is really sketchy! You might be able to make it if you take your packs off. My feet are dangling over the abyss at the moment!"
It was dark and a feeling of fear shot through my body. It was extremely steep where Lush and I were standing and from the sounds of it, none of the routes were ideal. I attempted to take a route straight up and over. As I climbed over a few huge boulders, there were several other boulders sticking out towards me at an angle which gave me the sensation that they were trying to push me backwards off the mountain. Since it was so steep, it made me really nervous.
"Lush, I don't think this is an option either," I yelled down. "The rocks seem to want to push me backwards!"
I climbed down and could tell Lush was now also nervous. We decided to head to left and do our best to take Manparty's route. Dangling my legs over the abyss did not sound at all appealing.

Once we reached the left side of the mountain, it did not look so bad. Manparty yelled down to us,
"Try to stay as far left as you can, and don't take the path that has all the loose rocks and scree!"
For me, it was too late, I had already committed to the route Manparty had just warned us against. Lush followed the directions and was soon on the summit in no time. I quickly found myself stuck. The mountain seemed so steep, and in the dark, it appeared that if I lost my footing, I would fall backwards into the dark. I couldn't move and noticed that all the rocks that I grabbed quickly broke off in my hands. A shiver of terror soon took hold.
"Throw up your hiking sticks as far as you can and climb towards them!" Manparty yelled form above.
I followed his instructions and literally had one more box sized rock to grab a hold of. I said a quick prayer and held my breath as I put all of my weight on the only rock available. Thankfully, the rock held, and I quickly scrambled up to the top where Manparty, Captain, and Lush were waiting. We made it back to the Divide!

The rest of the night felt pretty surreal. We had several peaks to climb and descend throughout the night, thankfully none as challenging as the first. We turned our headlamps off and walked in the soft light of the moon. Pieces of quarts rock sparkled like glitter in several places along the trail in the dark. We walked along the Divide in quiet contemplation.

By 2:00 am, we reached Jones Pass, about 10 miles from highway 70. We would have to be hiking by 6:00 am in order to make it in time to meet Lush's friend at Herman Gulch. It was extremely windy and cold. I barely slept as my sleep was interrupted by wind gusts smashing into my loose tarp, and dreams of taking erroneous steps on steep boulder fields and falling.

We were hiking by 6:00 am. The miles clicked by like clockwork. Before we knew it, we were standing in the parking area at Herman Gulch along highway 70 at 10:00 am on the dot. Mission accomplished.  It was sunny and warm, and the four of us soaked in the sun while we awaited Lush's friend to arrive. We spent a fantastic weekend relaxing in Glenwood Springs. On Sunday, a storm arrived. Local news was reporting snow in the mountains. One reporter was standing along the highway in Herman Gulch and we watched as snowflakes fell all around the reporter. Monday morning, we received a ride back to the Divide with Lush's friend's boyfriend. There was snow all over the peaks above 9,000 feet. As I looked out the car window at all of the snow I received a text from Raffle, who was several days ahead in Leadville. It read:

The hour of reckoning is upon us!


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

CDT Progress Update - 9/22

Flyboxer checked in today from Glenwood Springs, CO.  Next stop: Silverthorne in approx. 3 days.

View Mark's CDT Hike - 2013 in a larger map

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Friday, September 20, 2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Steamboat Springs to Grand Lake Colorado: CDT 2013

Random acts of kindness, love, compassion.

It was a tough hitch out of Steamboat Springs. I had been standing along highway 40 for about an hour with no luck getting a ride. The sun was out, but dark clouds were beginning to gather. I was hoping to get a ride up to Rabbit Ear Pass before the next batch of bad weather came through. A man on a bicycle who saw me on the highway about 45 minutes earlier stopped to tell me that I would have better luck about a mile down the road. There was another road that intersected with the 40, and many of the cars were turning there. If I walked past the intersection, at least I would be trying to get a ride from those only traveling along the 40. I hiked to the spot the man on the bicycle described, it was right next to a golf course. I extended my thumb for another hour, but still no luck. I could feel frustration begin to gather. It's not in my control.

It's interesting the states of mind we can choose to exist in. It seems we can choose to live in hellish, or heavenly states. That we do have control over. I could feel a hellish state of mind begin to gather, just like the storm clouds gathering behind me. I began to resent the people driving their fancy sports cars and SUV's and not giving a moments notice of me standing along the road. I had to remind myself that it's not their fault. Suddenly, a fancy new Range Rover pulled over to the side of the road. A woman rolled down her window on the passenger side.

"We can't give you a ride because we are not going where you are going," she exclaimed, "but here's 20 bucks!"
I politely refused the money and tried my best to explain that I had enough cash, that I was hiking the CDT and trying to get a ride to the pass, etc, etc. The more I tried to explain, the more it didn't make any sense to me either.
The couple in the Range Rover drove off, but I felt deeply humbled. We can live in a heavenly existence.

Shortly after that encounter, it began to rain. I didn't want to stand along the highway and get soaked so I decided to walk over to the golf course and maybe get something to eat at the snack bar. I knew I stuck out like a sore thumb, but I used to golf many years ago. I mustered up my courage and walked into the lobby. I walked up to the bar and asked the bar tender for a coke, told him I was hitching out on the highway trying to get to Rabbit Ear Pass, and asked if he minded if I sat out on the porch and waited out the storm.
"Of course not," the bartender responded. "The coke's on the house." I felt grateful for the act of kindness.

About a half hour later, the storm subsided and I left the golf course and stood back on the highway. Moments later, the most amazing and vivid rainbow I have ever seen appeared across the road. Misty clouds passed through the colors making the rainbow shimmer. The cars passed one by one. At least I had this unbelievable display of color to enjoy. I thanked the Creator, and felt taken care of.

After about three hours in all, a giant, red, semi tractor trailer pulled over to the side of the road. I didn't think the big trucks pulled over for hitch hikers. This was going to be my first ride ever in a semi.
"Hand me your bag, I'll throw it into the cab. My name's Chuck and this is Lucky." Chuck motioned down to his little lap dog that was standing on the passenger side floor. Lucky resembled Toto from the Wizard of Oz.
"Don't worry, she's had all of her shots."
Chuck had a big black beard and long hair and once played in metal bands in and around Austin. We talked about music while the truck rumbled up and down the mountain. Lucky chewed on my hands the whole ride, as if they were her favorite chewy toy.
20 minutes later, we reached the pass where I would resume hiking the CDT.
"Thanks a lot for the ride," I said as I was leaving the truck.
"No problem dude, just pay it forward."
Pay it forward, pay it forward. Again I was humbled and thankful. I need to remember to pay it forward.

The CDT followed the 40 for several miles and then turned left onto another road, the 14. There were less cars on the 14. Maybe one every several minutes. It was still drizzling from time to time, dark clouds were forming here and there. The sun was beginning to set and it was getting cold. The CDT was going to follow the 14 for at least 7 more miles or so. As the sun went down, the sky put on an amazing display of color. Again, I gave thanks to the Creator. Even though it was tough walking, I felt taken care of. All of a sudden, another car stopped. A young guy sporting a blond goatee and a ball cap rolled down his window.
"Are you OK dude?"
"Yeah, doing great," I responded.
"All right, just checking," the guy replied.
I knew I needed to remember these acts of kindness, given to a complete stranger. Again, we can live in a heavenly existence.

I set up my shelter about 20 yards from the 14, next to an electric fence. This was going to be one of my more unique campsites. After cooking dinner, it began to rain again. I crawled into my warm sleeping bag, and listened as an occasional car sped by on the highway. I can't believe how loud cars can be! As I drifted off to sleep, I heard the distant bugling sound of a male elk, searching for mate on a nearby hillside. Pay it forward...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rawlins Wyoming to Steamboat Springs Colorado: CDT 2013

Colorado's rude awakening: I had crossed the Wyoming border into Colorado. The trail offered another sharp contrast. Gone were the days of walking under the exposed sun and heat and waterless stretches of the Great Divide Basin. Suddenly, I found myself back in the mountains, and the trail wasted no time climbing to close to 12,000 feet. Clouds and thunderstorms formed and dissipated all day long. Temperatures were cooler. By evening, the sky had completely clouded over and rain could be seen falling in several locations. I set up a "bomb proof" shelter and prepared for showers throughout the night. After dinner, rain began sprinkling and popping off my tarp, and by the time I fell asleep, a steady rain was falling. I slept peacefully, knowing that I had a good shelter, and that I would stay warm and dry.

I woke up in the middle of the night and a thick fog had blanketed the mountain top on which I was sleeping. I was hoping to get an early start in the day to hike the final 20 miles to Steamboat Springs Colorado for resupply. It was too dark, and the thick mist made visibility impossible, and it was cold. I decided to go back to sleep until the sun came up.  Eventually, it became lighter, I packed up my gear, ate a quick breakfast, and began walking in the cold, damp Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Within minutes, my pants, socks, and shoes were soaked as last night's rain collected on the grasses and plants along the trail and dumped their contents onto my feet and legs as I walked down the trail. At least it was not raining, just damp and misty. Very reminiscent of rainy days on the PCT in Oregon and Washington. Not long after, a cold, light rain began to fall. I had my pack cover on, rain jacket, and put on my gloves. It was clear this was going to be a day of close, internal monitoring and observation of my body's condition.

The rain continued all morning. As long as I continued to walk, I remained relatively warm. The rain grew stronger at times. During these moments, I stood under the shelter of hanging pine boughs if they could be found nearby. I could not wait too long. If I stood still for more than a few minutes, a cold chill would run down my spine. I had to keep moving.

There would be no breaks on this particular day. I was getting tired but still had several miles to get to the highway to attempt a hitch into town. My gloves had soaked through and my hands and fingers were now numb. The trail began to resemble a small stream as rain continued to fall and flow. It was useless hoping for my shoes and socks to dry out now. I just walked through the streams and puddles that formed on the trail, as it didn't matter where one stepped. It was wet everywhere. Suddenly, three elk rain across the trail several feet in front of me. They were draped in mist and were as big as cars. I wondered how they felt about the rain?

Just a few more miles now to the highway. I was contemplating calling it a day, setting up a shelter, getting in my warm sleeping bag, and waiting until the following day to hitch into town. Suddenly, a small break in the weather occurred. The rain stopped, the sun popped out for just a second. I picked up my pace as the highway was getting closer. I decided I would hitch for at least an hour if the weather would hold up. Eventually, I reached the highway, cold, wet, and exhausted. It was not raining at the moment, but skies remained gray and overcast. It appeared it could start pouring at any moment.

Along the highway, I noticed my hands were really numb at this point, and I had a hard time moving my fingers, let alone extend my thumb. After a half hour with no luck for a ride, I decided I had to change into warmer clothes, at least to lift my spirits. A warm hotel room was so close, but still so far ahead as no one was interested in picking up a damp hiker along the side of the highway. I had a couple hours left of daylight. If I couldn't get a hitch in the next hour, I would just set up a hobo camp nearby and try again the following day.

I immediately felt better with the warmer clothes on. You've got to have faith when it comes to hitching it seems. You've got to be in a good head space as well. I was confident I would get a ride, I just didn't know who. I saw a road construction vehicle approaching with it's orange light spinning on the roof. It seemed an unlikely hitch but decided to extend my thumb. Sure enough, the truck slowed down and pulled off the highway.

"Throw your stuff in the back!" The man yelled. "I'll give you a ride to Steamboat Springs! This is terrible weather to be hitching in!"
"Perfect!" I replied.

I was relieved to be out of the storm, and comforted by the thought of a warm, dry room for the night. When I finally reached the hotel, it was dark. I was surprised to see fellow thru hikers Manparty, Lush, and Captain sitting in the lobby. Little did I know, this was just the beginning of a another adventure, a story that will have to wait for another time. Such is the trail life...

CDT Photos - Montana, Pt. 17

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

CDT Progress Update - 9/10

Flyboxer checked in from Steamboat Springs, CO yesterday, reporting tough weather and colder temps.

View Mark's CDT Hike - 2013 in a larger map

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Monday, September 9, 2013

Friday, September 6, 2013