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Steamboat Springs to Encampment – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Steamboat Springs to Encampment Hike Overview

grand lake to steamboat springs hike on the continental divide trail 2018

Besides a walk through the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness, gone are the days of high mountains. This section sees a transition from from the Colorado landscape to a drier and lower elevation mountain environment in Wyoming as the trail passes through the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. The Mt. Zirkel Wilderness is definitely the highlight of this section, which resembled the high Sierras at times. 

Monday July 16th – CDT Day 87

Got a solid 10hrs of sleep last night, that felt great. Good breakfast at the hotel too, including sausage and bacon. I saw Asha and Justin at breakfast, whom I’d met last night in the hot tub. They joined me and ultimately offered to give me a ride into the downtown area later so I could run some errands.

I got dropped off at BAP, the outdoor gear store that John runs. John is the guy who picked me up from Rabbit Ears pass yesterday. We talked about ways to make my backpack hip belt cinch tighter, and he sent me over to the Big Agnes repair facility down the road. One of his workers gave me a ride on his way there.

At the Big Agnes shop, they ultimately talked me out of chopping off the old hip belt strap and buckle to replace with a slimmer, less bulky buckle. There could be rubbing on my hips from the new stitching, could compromise the hip belt webbing, Etc. Instead we chopped the extra length of the strap and removed a small fabric loop for the strap, folded over the ends and sewed that up. This is what I did at home to my last osprey pack, the large one I sent home in exchange for this medium a few weeks ago. A small but somewhat helpful improvement.

One of the guys at Big Agnes have me a ride up to backdoor burger, a place that had been recommended to me by multiple people. After eating lunch, which was pretty good, I picked up an Uber to get back to rabbit ears pass.

 

It was around 3:15pm when I started hiking today. The terrain is forest and low rolling hills now. Everything is pretty green and there’s lots of wild flowers in bloom. Not the huge mountains the rest of Colorado had to offer.

The trail was seldom steep this evening and made for an easy walk. I saw a Porcupine bumbling down the trail, oblivious to my presence. It sprinkled briefly, typical of late.

Found camp at grizzly lake just after 8pm. There used to be grizzlies in Colorado, but the last one was killed in the San Juans in the 1970s. This lake’s name bears that legacy. Early camp it seemed, but it all seemed early in comparison to the late hiking I’d done recently. If The terrain continues to be this easy, I should make good time to Encampment.

Miles – 14
Total Miles – 1383
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer, Porcupine

Tuesday July 17 – CDT Day 88

This morning was nice by the lake. Haven’t slept next to many lakes on the CDT so far.

50 miles to the Wyoming border now. I’m hoping for 30 today and tomorrow. That’d put me at the border late afternoonish tomorrow and 10 miles into Wyoming, leaving only 10 miles to battle pass on Thursday. Battle pass is where I hitch into Encampment. That’s the plan anyways.

Not much to see this morning. A few small lakes, forest.

I stopped to filter water at a trailhead with a steam. This is where the Mt. Zerkel wilderness begins.

The views improve with the increase in elevation.

Stopped for lunch as it started sprinkling. It passed quickly.

Still several more miles of up hill hiking. Fortunately it isn’t too steep. In spots it reminded me of the high Sierras, even if only for brief moments. 

Nice hiking above tree line here. Snow patches to cross and imposing peaks in the background. Not what I was expecting this close to Wyoming, but beautiful.

After cresting the high point just below lost ranger peak the trail drops down for a long time.

The trail dips below treeline and goes through an old burn area.

Found camp around 9pm, having done 29 miles. It’s along a dirt road in a field. Good enough.

Miles – 29
Total Miles – 1412
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer

Wednesday July 18th – CDT Day 89

Lots of deer running around camp last night and this morning. Lots of condensation on my tent too.

You can really feel the change in landscape today, transitioning from one state to another. Less mountains and peaks, more fields and forest. Still pretty hilly though, many ups and downs.

Only saw a guy and his horses and two dirt bikers today. No CDT hikers this whole stretch. However, I did see a fresh pile of bear crap. When I got into town, I talked to a CDT hiker who was apparently ahead of me on trail by less than an hour. He saw a bear here when he walked through earlier in the morning. 

It was a hot day, and I should have filled up after at the last source. It was dry all the way up to a half mile before the border of Wyoming. There was a spring about a quarter mile down hill, but it was a bushwhack. I was in pretty pretty desperate need of water, so I didn’t mind. Man that water was good, and I filled up 3L to go.

It was a great feeling to reach Wyoming this evening. However, I feel like I’ve been walking forever and I’m ONLY halfway! Still, I’m looking forward to Wyoming and something different.

I hiked 3 miles into Wyoming tonight, Mostly through hilly forest. Saw a couple of Porcupines along the way. The last field I walked through before finding camp was a wet and muddy one. No avoiding it, my feet got completely soaked as they were fully submerged in mud and water. Right before sundown getting wet feet, ugh that’s the worst. They’ll never dry over night.

As I’m writing this in the dark, in my tent, there was a loud explosion pretty nearby. Followed by… Nothing, just silence. I know there’s a few roads nearby, so people isn’t a surprise. Just not sure what it was. Weird.

18 miles to battle pass tomorrow. I was hoping to cover a few more miles between yesterday and today to cut this down, it just didn’t work out. So it’ll be a mid to late afternoon arrival at the pass.

Miles – 28
Total Miles – 1440
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer, Porcupine

Thursday July 19th – CDT Day 90

Dried my shoes out in the Sun as I packed up camp this morning. Smeagol passed by as well. I later caught up to her but we hiked our own pace throughout the day.

Today was a push to make miles and hitch into town before the post office closes at 4pm. Still a few climbs left, ensuring I don’t go too fast.

This morning I entered the Huston parks wilderness. This area did offer a few big views but they weren’t as impressive as what I’d seen throughout Colorado. 

I stopped to filter water from a stream around noon. Also, to eat. I can push quite a while with little or no water, but my pace really slows when I get hungry.

The last 9 miles or so went pretty easy. Forest, large open meadows with abundant green grass. 

After leaving the wilderness area, I followed a dirt road a short ways to battle pass at wy-70. This is the paved Road leading into Encampment. I made it to the pass around 3pm and got lucky, the second car picked me up in about 5 minutes.

My hitch dropped me off at the post office with plenty of time to spare before they closed. While I was picking up my package, a woman in line behind me noticed I was a CDT hiker and offered a ride wherever I needed to go. Perfect, saves me a 1 mile road walk to lazy acres campground in Riverside.

There were several other CDT hikers at the campground… Knots, badmash, topo, minutes, bartender and Jesus. A different group of hikers I mostly hadn’t met yet.

After a shower and staring laundry, five of us headed up to the bear trap restaurant across the street. Good food and big portions.

I was talking to an older couple at the campground earlier in the afternoon and they were drinking wine. They left the rest of the bottle with a plastic cup next to my tent, so I had a little wine before bed as well. Bonus!

Miles – 17
Total Miles – 1457
Rain – no
Sleep – rv park, tent
Animals – deer

Like what you see?

Grand Lake to Steamboat Springs – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Grand Lake to Steamboat Springs Hike Overview

grand lake to steamboat springs hike on the continental divide trail 2018

This section of the CDT passes through Rocky Mountain National Park and the Never Summer Wilderness as well as the Arapaho National Forest and Routt National Forest. This area is home to lots of Moose. Some pretty good views along the way, especially from Parkview Mountain. This is the last time the official CDT route reaches 12,000′ for a northbounder. 

Thursday July 12th – CDT Day 83

Started hiking around 11am. Not the early start I wanted, but I was busy getting things done that I probably should have done the last few days. It’s tough to get motivated to do chores in town when all you want to do is relax. And eat food.

With the weather threatening rain, I took the Rocky Mountain alternate, bypassing the 25 mi loop. The first four miles follow a creek uphill, with occasional meadow views. Saw a couple of moose.

After a short Road walk, the trail follows the dirt road into the Never Summer Wilderness. I saw a couple more moose here feeding in a meadow.

Now the trail starts it’s biggest climb up the day, 2500 ft. The Sun came out for a while after some really dark clouds and occasional rain patches. This made the walk through the forest a lot nicer. Stopped for lunch on a wooden structure supporting a bridge over a creek.

Great views as I reached tree line. Wildflowers are really out now and make a great addition to the already beautiful mountain scenery. Saw another moose as well. Lost my hat at some point, must have dropped it when taking pictures in a patch of flowers. Dang.

Went over Bowen Pass a little after 5pm. Great views. These mountains have a different feel than the rest of Colorado. Not sure why. Steeper, more spires… something.

Filtered water at the first stream below the pass. The weather was clearing up which it had not been doing the last few days at this time of the evening. Bonus.

The sun was out now which made for a nice hike this evening. Found camp around 9pm.

Miles – 22
Total Miles – 1306
Rain – yes
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – Moose, rabbit

Friday July 13th – CDT Day 84

Calm night, very silent. Started hiking at 7:45am.

First six miles were all forest. I reached small stream and stopped here to filter water. Columbus and space cadet showed up shortly after. So that’s who was camped 1/4 mile behind me last night.

The next part is a 3000′ climb up to the summit of Parkview mountain. This took much longer than anticipated, as It was often steep.

Better views as I climbed higher and higher.

The final ridge leading to the summit was nice. Colorful.

At the summit of Parkview mountain is an emergency shelter. I stopped here for a break and to enjoy the beautiful views. Columbus and space cadet arrived soon after.

Next I descended Parkview mountains’ west Ridge. This was the last time the official CDT reaches 12,000′, unless doing alternates in the Winds… Which I am! This ridge was one of my favorite moments in Colorado… So beautiful! Even though there were other spots along the trail in Colorado that were probably more impressive, something about the way the light was shining right now and my mood that made it so memorable.

By now I was running out of water and very thirsty. It was a couple of miles to the next stream. This dragged on forever! Chugged 1.5L at the steam and took 3L with me.

Lots more ups and downs this evening on the way to camp. This section, to Steamboat springs, has been much more work than I anticipated. Basically every section of trail, I think, it’s going to get a little easier for X reason. And it never does!

Got to camp around 8:45pm this evening.

Miles – 22
Total Miles – 1328
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer

Saturday July 14th – CDT Day 85

Left camp around 7:30am. The trail goes uphill for a while along the top of a ridge.

Later in the morning, I missed a turn for the CDT and followed another trail down another ridge. It was about a mile out of the way, so two miles total. And some climbing.

Stopped at a creek to filter some water, space cadet and Columbus were there too. It was a shallow stream and tough to get more than a liter in my dirty water bag, so that’s all I took. Another water source coming up soon.

Next is another 1000 ft climb. This is the last big climb of the day. Now up on another Ridgeline for a few miles of little ups and downs along a dirt road.

My new hat is a bandana, which is actually my pack towel. McGuyver approved

The trail follows Forest Road 103 downhill for many miles. I mostly enjoyed this section. Somewhere along this walk I decided to use my pack towel as a bandana to get some protection from the sun. I’ll have to order a new hat in Steamboat. 

Later in the evening, I passed through a cow pasture. First of its kind in Colorado. These cows were vocal and angry. I was looking for somewhere to camp about now, so this was a bit annoying.

I eventually entered some public land just as highway 14 came into sight. Tomorrow I’ll be Road walking that, but I need to find a spot to camp anywhere before that road. I found a spot at 9pm with little light to spare.

Miles – 29
Total Miles – 1357
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – deer, rabbit

Sunday July 15th – CDT Day 86

Broke camp at 7:15am, early for me. Ready for town! Looked pretty cloudy, potential for rain today?

It was less than a mile before I reached hwy 14, a paved road. Lots of traffic with occasional lack of shoulders makes for some crappy walking. A guy riding his bike from Seattle to North Carolina passed by. Otherwise, not much to say about today really, just walked 12 miles on paved roads. Not much to see here.

Reached rabbit ears pass at 10:45am, which took 3.5 hours. I got lucky and was picked up by maybe the 5th car… John, who worked for BAP, a Big Agnes sister company. Couldn’t have asked for a better hitch.

Ate a 14“ pizza from Brooklyns, then I booked a room at the Fairfield Inn. Nice room. Decent price considering the town. Took the free bus from downtown to the hotel. The bus driver had already hit something earlier apparently, as a cop was there at the transit station taking pictures of the damage. Then as the driver pulled out and made a sharp turn, the bike rack on the front of the bus clipped a sign or something. He started swearing and getting angry, which was pretty funny to be honest. Of course, I felt bad he was having such a rough day though. The passengers were giving him a hard time, in a playful manner. The bus driver was pretty cool about it considering how pissed off he was in the moment.

Showered up then meet Smeagol at McDonald’s for more food. Then we went to Walmart to resupply. This was not a full Walmart, they didn’t even sell men’s hats or honey buns! Typical Walmart, you go in with a list of 10 things and they only have 8.

Took the bus back to the hotel. Determined to catch up on sleep tonight. Oh, and there’s no LTE in Steamboat Springs for us AT&T customers. Bummer. Should have gotten Verizon before the hike.

Miles – 12
Total Miles – 1369
Rain – no
Sleep – hotel
Animals – deer

Like what you see?

I-70 (Frisco) to Grand Lake – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – I-70 (Frisco) to Grand Lake Hike Overview

I70 to grand lake hike on the continental divide trail

North of I-70, the Sugarloaf Fire forced a reroute. This led me to bushwhack my own route around the closure before rejoining with the CDT. However, my return to the trail would be short lived. Thunderstorms kept me off the high ridges and forced a low route, taking me through the town of Winter Park. After rejoining the CDT yet again in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, I saw my first Moose on the CDT. 

Friday July 6th – CDT Day 77

I planned on leaving Frisco today to head back on Trail, but wasn’t sure what time yet. I haven’t fully decided on which route to hike yet either. The sugarloaf fire to the west has a 5 mile section of the CDT closed and a reroute has been suggested. Even though it’s only 5 miles closed, the reroute skipped over 20 miles of the official trail. I’ve got an idea that involves some bushwhacking but will skip over much less official CDT trail. It’s a high section and looks like it could be pretty scenic, and I’d rather not take a low route. Even if it would be easier.

I spent the morning on my phone, taking care of a few things… ordered new socks, ordered a part for my trekking pole that fell off, and ordered a camera sensor cleaning kit. I have some dust on my sensor and it’s showing up as dark spots on photos.

Sprinkler and I went to Safeway to buy groceries for the next section. We took the free bus system, which was a short and direct route this time.

Back at the motel, I went through my gear and thinned out some things. I’ve been carrying this unopened summer sausage a few weeks now and haven’t eaten it, time to let it go. I could also throw out my old shoes now that my new ones have proven themselves. The cascadia 13s are awesome!

Sprinkler and I later took the bus back up to North Frisco so we could eat at Wendy’s before I left. Sprinkler is staying another night. From here I ubered back up to the spot I left trail yesterday.

It was 6pm when I started hiking. I walked a few miles down at paved bike pathway that parallels interstate 70. This was actually a pretty nice walk for what it is.

After crossing under I70, I reached Herman Gulch trailhead. I still hadn’t decided whether or not to take the official reroute or the bush whacking route, and ended up just choosing the latter.

The first bit of Trail up Herman Gulch was steep. At least it didn’t last too long. Passed a few day hikers coming down. Both mentioned a nice campsite a few miles up.

The trail quickly pops through the trees and has some nice views of the valley. It was a pretty enjoyable hike, and I could already tell that this area was going to be something I’m glad I didn’t skip over had I done that reroute.

I found the campsite the other hikers mentioned and it lived up to the hype. There was a small space for 1 tent, and it was right next to a cascading Creek with snow capped mountains in the background. Pretty awesome spot.

Miles – 7
Total Miles – 1237
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Saturday July 7th – CDT Day 78

Calm night. I slept well with the sound of the creek nearby.

Not long after leaving camp, I reached the top of the Ridgeline above Woods Creek. Now it was time to leave the trail and bushwhack downhill.

The first part was easy. I followed the creek and had little in the way of obstacles. Further downhill, the ground was soggy and there were a lot of willow bushes. I could head uphill a little bit, but then it’s steeper and dense forest. I’d call it a moderate bushwhack.

Eventually I reached an old road. It looks like someone had torn up the road up to make sure nobody could ever drive on it again. I was surprised to see two guys heading uphill here, didn’t think anyone hiked this. Father down, the dirt road flattened out.

Lake Urad Reservoir

The road led to large reservoir, named Lake Urad. There we’re lots of people camping, swimming, and fishing here. I continued to follow the road downhill for several miles. It passes by a water treatment plant, and some interesting signage.

The road eventually comes to a T intersection. I could go right on highway 40 or make a left on 144. I went left, which leads to Henderson mine. Here there is a trail that leads back up to the CDT.

The trail climbs about 600 ft before leveling off. Then it roughly follows the contour lines along the side of the mountains. I stopped to filter water and take a break, but now the clouds are building.

After my break, the trail starts climbing up Hill towards Stanley mountain. When I reached the tree line, I started to get some sprinkles and could hear lots of thunder. Most of it was distant, but then there was an extremely loud thunder clap nearby. Way too close for comfort. Yikes. Time to head down below tree line and wait this out.

Vasquez Pass

I got tired of waiting out storms and decided to take a low route. Backtracked a little and hiked over Vasquez pass. The plan is to follow Vasquez creek down to Silver park then back up to the CDT around mile 1335. This will cut off a few miles and eliminate some ups and downs. I also miss some great views, along with a lot of climbing, but it’s better than being at the mercy of storms. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Vasquez Peaks Wilderness

The upper basin was wet and the trail was faint. It eventually turned into a dirt road. Many pine trees were sprouting up in the middle of the road. This is the Vasquez peak wilderness. It did not look like this area gets much use.

After leaving the wilderness, it was an hours walk down another dirt road, in a little better shape. I saw a deer and Porcupine along the way.

The road eventually led to a gate. Beyond it lied a Gauntlet of car campers that lined the road for several miles. Crazy numbers of people… 500? 800? There was one group alone that was like 80 strong.

The closer I got to town, the less available campsites there were. I didn’t realize this until it was too late… Literally. It was now after 9pm and running out of light fast. Then the national forest boundary ended and it was all private land now. I had no choice but to walk into the town of winter park now.

All the motels are expensive, and mostly booked. I had to stay at a pricey bed and breakfast place (winter park chateau), which I reached at 10pm. Long day, did 27 miles.

Miles – 27
Total Miles – 1237
Rain – yes, thunder, lightning
Sleep – hotel
Animals – deer, Porcupine

Sunday July 8th – CDT Day 79

Didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted, but a good hearty breakfast was a nice consolation. I then went to the winter park visitor center to get some info about how to get back up to the CDT from here.

I walked hwy 40 north for about an hour until I reached my turn, county road (?) 8. Is road was full of luxury vacation homes and condos. I walked this for another hour plus before it merged into forest road 128. This again was another hour plus walk. I saw a deer run across the road just feet from me.

I reached the Devils thumb/high lonesome trailhead after about 4 hours and took a break… Filtered water and ate lunch.

It was a short hike back to the official CDT from the trailhead. It’s good to finally be back on track.

The next section of trail was a little boring, just forest with occasional meadow views. I was trudging along in zombie mode when I came across 3 Moose. I’d only seen one Moose before on my life (from a car) so this was pretty cool. Shortly after, I saw another lone Moose in a field.

The next couple miles were more repetitive forest walking. Pretty much the whole afternoon, thunder could be heard in the distance. There were a small handful of meadows with nice open views of distant peaks.

When I reached the Indian peaks trailhead, it started raining. There was a locked cabin here, but it had a porch. I sat underneath it for a while until the rain stopped. Then a girl I’d met once before named Smeagol showed up. She joined me for a while before setting off together. We both wanted to reach Monarch lake tonight, another 6 miles.

We hiked some confusing sections of dirt road next. After realizing a road on the map didn’t exist, we bushwhacked up hill a quarter mile up to a small saddle to find another road. Another day in the life of a Continental Divide Trail hiker.

We hiked until dark, and then hiked some more. It started raining as the light faded. I pulled out the headlamp as the rain picked up. Time for rain jacket and backpack rain fly.

I continued down hill on the switchbacks in the steady rain. The batteries in my headlamp were dying, and the light became more dim. It took awhile to notice this, and when I did I realized the light was no longer helping. Fortunately I had another set of batteries. This was the first time I changed them on trail.

I finally found a flat spot next to the trail to set up my tent around 10pm. Two nights in a row now I’ve hiked late. I also wanted to get an earlier start tomorrow to get into town before the post Office closes, but at the same time, I refuse to run on much less than 8 hours of sleep.

Miles – 26
Total Miles – 1263
Rain – yes, thunderstorms
Sleep – backcountry, tent
Animals – deer, Moose

Monday July 9th – CDT Day 80

Woke up at 6:45 am. Beautiful morning, and apparently I wasn’t too far from Monarch Lake. The water was as smooth as glass.

As soon as I hit the trail, I started seeing day hikers and fisherman show up. Probably best that they didn’t see me camping where I was, as there was a sign saying not to Camp around the lake when I reached the trailhead. That’s what happens when you night hike, you wake up in the morning to see everything else you missed in the dark.

Bald Eagle

North of Monarch Lake the trail follows a dirt road. I wasn’t paying attention and went left around Ganby Lake when I should have went right. I hiked about a mile and a half before realizing this, and had to turn around and backtrack. I did see a bald eagle perched in a tree nearby while on the wrong side of the lake so at least I saw that.

Now on the correct side of the lake, the road becomes a trail. It’s a nice change of pace to be hiking alongside a lake. It even had some beach front.

The nice hiking didn’t last long though. The trail starts to climb above the lake and is riddled with blowdowns. It was about an 800 foot climb to the top of a Ridgeline. This was the final climb before Grand Lake. I saw several deer along the way.

I stopped to eat around 11:30. It was really hot today and there was not a whole lot of shade.

The trail then descends the Ridgeline down to the lake again. Eventually the lake narrows and it’s no longer a lake, but the Colorado River. Heading north I next reached grand lake, which also seems to be called Shadow Mountain Lake.

I eventually reached the road in town and several locals recognized me as a CDT hiker, and were interested in chatting about my journey. I had plenty of time to spare before the post office closed so it was not a worry. However, I was severely dehydrated and ready to get out of the Sun.

After leaving the post office I headed over to the shadow Cliff hostel. Apparently they are booked for the week. Bummer! I jumped on Priceline and booked a much more expensive hotel, as it was the only option. It was another mile walk back to this hotel.

I stopped to eat in Dairy King next door and saw Smeagol. She was staying two doors down for me at the hotel.

Later, Dixie and Aaron arrived at the hotel as well. We went out to eat at the sagebrush barbecue just before they closed.

Miles – 21
Total Miles – 1284
Rain – no
Sleep – hotel
Animals – deer, bald eagle

Tuesday July 10th – CDT Day 81 (zero day)

Ate breakfast at Sagebrush.

Patched the hole in my tent vestibule today. Had an extra piece of silnylon in my bounce box, so that worked out.

I got bad news from Easy today. He went to the clinic for foot pain, and found out his foot is broken. Unfortunately he’s going to have to leave trail until it heals. Best he can hope for is to get back on trail in 8 weeks, and make it as far north as possible. Such a bummer.

Got a pizza from white Buffalo. Pretty good. Sprinkler showed up tonight and we split a room.

Wednesday July 11th – CDT Day 82 (zero day)

Breakfast at Fat Cat, the popular breakfast joint in town. I thought it was pretty good.

I promised Smeagol I’d split a room with her tonight, so sprinkler got his own and I moved my stuff over to her room.

I spent the afternoon utilizing the contents of my bounce box. Resupplying batteries, toothpaste, OTC pills, etc. Additionally, I could now repair the hole in my backpack Rain cover and the hike in my backpack side pocket. Tenacious tape, silnylon patches and silicone to the rescue.

Bought groceries and packed that up. Ate dinner with sprinkler at dairy king.

After a lot of thought, I decided that I will no longer update my blog while hiking the CDT. It’s costing me too much time and money in town. It’ll be more work when I get home, but it’ll be better this way. This was a bummer but a huge weight off my shoulders. In the end I know it was the right call.

 

Like what you see?

Breckenridge to I-70 (Frisco) – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Breckenridge to I-70 (Frisco) Hike Overview

continental divide trail hike photo north of breckenridge

Despite the large number of roads encountered on this stretch, and the lack of a real wilderness feel to it, this one was of the more scenic sections of the CDT in Colorado in my opinion. There were lots of 4×4 vehicles and ATVs out here though. The mountains had a lot of color to them in this section… not just green, but reds and oranges too. Colorful Colorado indeed! Grays Peak and Torreys Peak are also along this route, the highest point along the Continental Divide Trail. 

Tuesday July 3rd – CDT Day 74

Woke up at 8 so I could eat breakfast. The fireside inn is actually a bed and breakfast place with a couple hostel style bunk rooms. Breakfast is a separate charge from the bunk room price, but saves the time of going out somewhere.

I walked to the City Market grocery store after leaving the hostel. I needed a few staple items… Tortillas, cheese, pepperoni, precooked bacon, honey buns and TP. I had everything else already between my Walmart.com shipment to the fireside inn and my left over food from the previous section.

Next I took the bus to the point whew I left trail with Ryan on Sunday. The stop actually is right at the CDT’s junction with CO Hwy 9 which was super convenient. The trail follows a paved road to a vacation home(??) community. It’s weird, the trail goes right through their properties and around a little man-made pond before climbing up some switchbacks. Lots of people coming down.

After an hour I ran into Sprinkler. We hiked the rest of the day together. Rain clouds in the distance, sun coming and going.

Not much to see today. The trail stays below tree line all day. We passed a guy hiking the Colorado Trail with his two young daughters. Apparently one of them was hit by a mountain biker earlier in the day.

Passed a dog training facility thing… Looked like some giant obstacle course and had a ton of dogs baking. Not camping near that.

Last water for 20 miles happened to be right before a 2800′ climb. It also started thundering and raining a bit. Needless to say, the decision to camp near the water source was an obvious one, Even if we hadn’t hit our 20 miles for the day. Got to camp at 6pm. Lots of Colorado trail hikers here.

Miles – 16
Total Miles – 1203
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – Ptarmigan

Wednesday July 4th – CDT Day 75

Sprinkler and I woke up at 5:15am. I figured an earlier start would be best today with the ridge walking and potential for weather.

Today started with a 2800′ climb. Typical forest, then emerged from treeline to some colorful mountains.

Sprinkler and I took a break next to some snow fence. There’s a dirt road here that is also the Colorado trail. This is where the Colorado Trail splits off from the CDT, just a couple hundred feet away. Finally, less bikes and people in general. I also saw my first mountain goats here, grazing on the hillside above.

The trail now climbs up along a ridge line. Excellent views all around. Really, some of the best mountain views along the entire CDT thus far. However, the weather was turning. Rain could be seen in the distance for much of the rest of the day, as well as occasional sprinkles on myself.

Stopped for lunch along the highpoint at 13,025′. After lunch, we mostly followed some dirt roads. There was a ton of people out here on dirt bikes, ATVs, dune buggies and Jeeps since it’s July 4th.

Hiking up here is hard work. The trail drops a few hundred feet but stays high for a while at over 12,500′. Dark clouds loom and pose a threat, but no lightning to speak of. Such an impressive place to be. 

Rain sprinkles continued on and off throughout the afternoon. There was no shortage of colorful mountains all around. One doesn’t often think of mountains as colorful but they really are here. Lots of reds and oranges compliment the traditional greens. No wonder the state motto is “colorful Colorado”.

At Webster pass, sprinkler and I had a decision to make. Follow the ridge as the CDT route is supposed to, or head downhill and follow a series of roads to the base of grays peak. Considering the bad weather along the ridge, we took the low route. It had already been a long day with a ton of climbing so this was also a welcome choice. However, I know who miss out on a lot of great views. There was no water up there and no where to camp though, so logistically it didn’t really make sense. At least not this late in the afternoon.

We descended the 4×4 road dish to Webster creek as many side by side ATVs were going up. Filtered water at the creek which had a strong iron taste to it. No wonder, it looked a bit rusty. The sprinkles started again as we took our break, cutting it a bit short. Back to road walkin’.

The lower we went, the better the road got. Eventually it turned into a paved road, and even passed through a little town called Montezuma. Just residential homes, vacation homes more than likely. No store to buy a drink or anything. Stop signs were cemented into large barrels along the road. On one sign, Under the word “STOP”, someone had cleverly added the word “hammertime”. Classic.

Then we joined a dirt road along Peru creek, and we bumped into Charlie. Only seen him once before, back in the San Pedro Parks wilderness north of Cuba, NM. He hiked with us much of the rest of the evening.

Sprinkler and I started looking for camp where the trail starts to climb steeply up to Argentine pass, and Charlie hiked on. However, we could not find a suitable place to camp near anywhere below the ascent. Charlie aimed to camp in the upper basin, where it was a little flatter on the topo maps. We filled our water bags at the river and headed up hill towards this area.

When the destination was reached, I was disappointed with the options here. Ground was not flat enough and very lumpy. However, we were tired and it was getting late. This will have to do.

Long day. There’s no way we would have made it here if we took the ridge. Time for sleep.

Miles – 27
Total Miles – 1230
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – mountain goats, deer

Thursday July 5th – CDT Day 76

Had a little rain last night, pretty light and only lasted 15 minutes. On trail at 7:15am.

From camp, the trail climbs one long path to the pass, angled up the mountainside.

From Argentine pass, the views just got better and better. Lots of ups and downs, tougher as the elevation reaches 13,000.

Stopped for a break before Mt Edwards. It had taken surprisingly long to get here, as it was now 10am or so. We could see storm clouds brewing behind grays peak, so we tried to pick up the pace.

The climb up Mt Edwards was often steep, and filled with false horizons. Great views going up through. Approaching the summit I could see a mountain goat laying down. He got up as I grew near, and limped away. It was pretty obvious he had an injured leg.

Holy crap, the views from Mt Edwards were awesome! Sheer cliffs on one side, grassy ridge on the other. I hiked up the grassy side, so the views were a big surprise.

After Mt Edwards, it’s a pretty gnarly traverse of a knife edge. And it’s not a short section, this goes on for a while. Easily the most exposed, technical section of the CDT so far. But awesome and a lot of fun!

Dark clouds building fast above grays peak. Then a little rain, and some thunder. We were a few hundred feet below the summit and decided to head cross country over to the switchbacks leading down hill and skip the summit. Better safe than sorry.

It rained on and off on the way down. After passing the grays peak trailhead, the weather really started to get nasty. Heavy rain and hail, nearly constant thunder. Fun stuff.

We reached I70 late afternoon. Not much traffic here so we ended up getting an Uber ride into Frisco. We stayed at the snowshoe motel and split a room.

Went to a pizza place and ordered an enormous Chicago style pizza. Meat lovers, of course. The mammal medley. Could only eat half!

Later while walking a street over from the motel, I saw a fox. Only the 3rd fox I’ve ever seen in my life.

The hotel had a hot tub, and I went looking for it. Apparently they converted room 29 into a little spa… Not only the hot tub, but a sauna as well. It was really nice actually. No pool next to it, no kids running around. Relaxing!

Miles – 11
Total Miles – 1230
Rain – heavy rain, thunder, hail
Sleep – hotel
Animals – mountain goats, marmot, fox

Like what you see?

Twin Lakes to Breckenridge – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Twin Lakes to Breckenridge Hike Overview

twin lakes to breckenridge hike on the continental divide trail

Highlights from the Twin Lakes to Breckenridge section of the Continental Divide Trail include Kokomo Pass, an abandoned WWII training facility, Mt Edwards and Mt Massive alternate routes, and a few scenic ridgelines overlooking the ski resorts of Copper Mountain and Breckenridge. North of Twin Lakes, the route isn’t blow-your-mind scenic, but it gradually improves and provides some excellent views. 

Thursday June 28th – CDT Day 69

Woke up at 9 today. Yeah! Slept in and it felt great. Didn’t really mean to though.

Picked up my package from the general store and bought some food there as well. The selection was thin, but with the food I had sent myself in the box I was okay.

There was no where to get breakfast in town so I had to wait until 11am when a nearby food truck opens. Burgers were only 1/3 pound, so of course I ordered a triple with fries. Gotta refuel before hitting the trail, right?

I ate lunch with Sprinkler and Inspector Gadget. Inspector Gadget then gave me a ride back to Willis Gulch trailhead so I could continue hiking where I left off last night.

It’s a 2 mile Road walk along Colorado Highway 82 until I split off the road at Gordon Gulch. My map shows a trail intersecting highway 82, but it’s a private residence here. I walked away from the property by a hundred yards and then headed up hill. It was a steep bushwhack. Then I skirted the hillside above the private residence. I eventually found a faint foot path that led to a dirt road, and eventually a real trail.

Twin Lakes

Lots of people on trail here, as its the base of Mt Elbert. Really hot. I dipped my hat into streams whenever possible to stay cool. Not much to see, but well maintained trail.

I reached a trailhead for Mt Elbert close to 6pm. Here I saw several hikers I recognized but hadn’t seen in a while… Namely Marty and Emily, last seen at Doc Campbell’s. Earl Grey’s friend was here with beer and snacks for us hikers. I gladly accepted the beer and hung out here for a while.

After leaving the trailhead, I hiked with Mark and John for a while. This made the uphill climb go much faster.

I found camp on a wooded hill above a small stream after 8. Just under 60 miles to Breckenridge, should be there Sunday.

Warm night, and the mosquitoes won’t quit. Cowboy camping too, should be fun.

Miles – 14
Total Miles – 1139
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, cowboy camp
Animals – none

Friday June 29th – CDT Day 70

I kept my mosquito head net on as I slept for a few hours last night, until the bugs died down. Got up at 6:30, hiking by 7:30.

Dixie adjusting her shoes

Hiked a couple miles and bumped into Dixie. We ended up hiking much of the day together.

Not much to see on trail today. It’s ups and downs in a forest with few distant views, but there were a couple of nice spots. Having someone to talk to made the day go by much faster.

One of the strangest people I met on the CDT

Dixie and I met an interesting old man north of the timberline lake trailhead. He was wearing a bright yellow shirt and only carrying a yellow fly swatter. No water, no backpack, nothing except the matching yellow flyswatter. Let’s just say he was as funny as he looked. And extremely talkative! He didn’t seem to be too fond of the Texans who often vacation here in Colorado.

Passed a couple of small lakes and streams. Eventually entered one scenic basin, nicest of the day.

The trail mostly heads downhill from here, towards Tennessee pass. Not much to see, just a walk in the woods after dipping below treeline.

After Tennessee pass, the trail follows some old railroad grade. I saw Dixie arriving at a campsite, and she offered to share the spot. Sounds good, this is about where I was hoping to camp on my map.

Mosquitoes were insane today. Setting up my tent tonight for safe refuge.

Miles – 25
Total Miles – 1164
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Saturday June 30th – CDT Day 71

Sprinkler passed camp this morning, and Dixie left before I did. Several Colorado Trail hikers passed by as well.

Most likely these buildings were used to store ammo and munitions

The trail crossed hwy 24 and then followed it on the trees along a hillside. Then it dumps out into Camp Hale, an old WWII training facility for the 10th mountain division. There were signs for possible explosive danger and remnants of the camp itself. Ah abandoned buildings, just like back home in Detroit. Good place for a break.

Then the trail begins a 3000′ climb up to Kokomo pass. It wasn’t crazy steep and was pretty scenic. Passed a small waterfall where Dixie and I stopped for water, and more food. 

Sweet views from Kokomo pass. I stopped here for a while for pictures and did a time lapse with the GoPro. I think this was the first time lapse I’ve done on the CDT. This was disappointing to me, I wish I had taken some in New Mexico at a few spots.

The trail then climbs a little more to another great view point. Then it stays high in a basin for another 3 miles towards Searle pass.

I stopped on Searle pass for a while as well. All down hill from here.

Really nice hike this evening down to Copper mountain ski resort, at the bottom of the valley. I caught up with Dixie again, and we hiked the rest of the way down together. We discovered a restaurant that serves food until 9pm, so we hauled ass down to make it in time.

At the restaurant, we ran into Steve, a guy we met on trail earlier this evening. He offered to let us stay at his place in Dillion tomorrow night when we’re in his neck of the woods. Also, an older man bought us a round of drinks after over hearing our journey on the CDT!

After dinner, we road walked through town in the dark over to Tenmile creek. We found a place to camp near the river around 11pm. There were a couple of people who passed by in dark and shined their lights on us. One guy was hiking and kept going. The other was a biker. He shined his light directly on my face for like a minute. I shined my light back to let him know I was there, but he didn’t turn off his light. Finally, I said “hey, could you not shine your light in my eyes? trying to sleep here.” Then he finally left, without saying a word. WTF is wrong with people!

Miles – 26
Total Miles – 1190
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – marmot

Sunday July 1st – CDT Day 72

This is why I generally don’t like camping low, near rivers… Cold and tons of condensation. Frost on my bag and everything.

Late start, about 9:30. Steep at first. A lot of mountain bikers today.

After reaching tree line, the trail became less steep. Now its angling up to a ridge line with great views.

On the crest of the ridge, it’s copper mountain on one side and Breckenridge on the other. Man, I gotta get out here in the winter and ski.

Nice views coming down above tree line. I just talked to my friend Ryan, he was almost there at the Gold Hill trailhead along Colorado Highway 9. He said he was going to start hiking uphill and that way I would meet him on trail as I was coming down hill. Time to hurry my ass up.

For whatever reason it was fairly slow going this afternoon. It took a little bit longer than I expected but eventually I saw him hiking uphill with his dog Yogie. We turned around here and headed back to the trailhead where he parked. I noticed a forest fire burning off in the distance from here as well. 

After reaching the trailhead we headed into Breckenridge for food. I had been told Empire Burger was excellent, so that’s where we headed. The biggest burger they had was a double so I added another Patty to make it a triple. The waiter said it was the largest Burger he’d ever seen anyone order, although it was only one pound. And it was delicious!

Afterwards we got a hotel in Silverthorne that was pet friendly. We tried going out to a couple breweries but none of them had a pet-friendly patio so we headed back to the hotel. Luckily the hotel had a hot tub and I enjoyed a nice soak.

Miles – 13
Total Miles – 1203
Rain – no
Sleep – hotel
Animals – rabbit

Monday July 2nd – CDT Day 73 (zero day)

Wish I had more time to sleep but we got up early for breakfast. Ryan also had to leave town by 8am.

Ryan dropped me off at the Fireside Inn hostel after breakfast. This is where I initially had planned on staying. It was a little after 8am. so I was pretty early. They let me set my backpack inside the garage and I went out and wandered the city for a couple hours until they had a chance to accommodate me. I went into a couple of souvenir shops as well as fly fishing shops to pick up some stickers and things for my dad.

Later in the day I walked up to the post office and mailed back all of my rocks I’d been collecting, as well as the stickers and souvenirs I just bought for myself and my dad.

Afterwards I headed up to REI in Dillon. The summit stage bus system is free and provides transportation in the Frisco, Dillon, Silverthorne, and Breckenridge areas. However. It was a little complicated, at least for someone who has never used public transportation before. It just doesn’t exist in Detroit… You get in your own car and go wherever you want. After realizing it was going to take a very long time to get there, with all the bus transfers and things, I just got out at one of the first stops and picked up an Uber for 15 bucks.

At REI I bought a new pair of shoes, brooks cascadia 13s. This is the first time I’d seen them. I’ve been using the 12s on trail to to this point. I liked them initially but will carry my old pair until they prove themselves. I got 650 miles of of the first pair of 12s and 550 miles out of the second pair. However, I could have hiked more miles in the 2nd pair, I just decided to get them now while it was convenient.

I also picked up some sawyer permathin bug spray for clothes and gear. The mosquitoes have been so bad, I’ll try anything… Except bug spray. Don’t want that on my sleeping bag!

I tried using the bus again after leaving REI. Big mistake. The stupid bus drove around for an hour and a half without ever going to the stop I wanted in Silverthorne as the map indicated it would. I eventually got off after an hour and got an Uber again.

For dinner I ate a large pizza from a place called “extreme pizza”. It was good but there was nothing extreme about it.

Bed by 10. Will get back on trail tomorrow, after breakfast and stopping at the grocery store.

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 1203
Rain – no
Sleep – hostel
Animals – none

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Salida to Twin Lakes – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Salida to Twin Lakes Hike Overview

The hike from Salida to Twin Lakes was tough, but a good one. Lots of great views from numerous passes and high ridges. Lake Ann Pass was the highlight for me. 

Sunday June 24th – CDT Day 65

Finished packing my food this morning before leaving the hostel around 9am. Last shower for at least 3 days, and if not at Twin Lakes, then a solid week. It’s about 150 miles to Breckenridge, but will resupply at the general store in twin lakes halfway at about 75 miles.

I grabbed breakfast at McDonald’s, a distant runner up choice to the Patio Pancake Place, which had a long wait. I was walking over to Chucks liquor store for a ride up to the pass when he drove by and picked me up. Off we go.

Reached monarch pass and started hiking at 10:45am. Not too bad a start.

The trail passes through monarch Mountain Ski Resort. Kind of cool to walk up under the ski lifts in the summer. I saw several people hiking in the area, all day hikers or weekenders it looked like.

It was really windy going up the exposed Ridge through the ski resort and beyond. Probably 50 to 60 mile an hour winds. I put my wind jacket on and the extra space inside the hood kept flapping in the wind. This was really loud and quite annoying! Wind gusts from the side make tripping over rocks common. Hiking in to the wind and climbing uphill was tough.

Really nice views all along the climb to the first pass. Being in these constant winds was wearing me out. After cresting the pass, I planned on stopping for first lunch as soon as I could descend low enough and out of the wind. What a relief.

Against my wishes, the trail drops down into a Valley at around 10,400′. This means a big climb is coming soon. I passed by the boss lake reservoir, and found a small exposed vertical mine on a hillside above.

As the trail starts climbing up again, it follows a dirt road. This is the beginning of an 1800 ft climb. There was a sign on a tree for the Lost Wonder hut ahead. I passed two abandoned cabins, and assumed these were it. However, just up the road was a modern cabin and it happens to be occupied by a youth group. That makes more sense.

Some Trail runners passed me, scouting this section of trail for an upcoming race. I chugged along and made it to the top of the pass closer to 7:30pm.

I passed two separate campsites that were occupied, but I couldn’t tell if they were CDT hikers or whom they were. I filtered water in a small stream near the trailhead that was at the bottom of this valley. Even though it was about 8:45 pm, I didn’t want to camp here. Anything low in the valley is going to be colder and have more condensation. So I hiked another 15 minutes and found a flat spot along an old railroad grade just after 9pm.

The wicked winds died down and the stars are out bright. Another great night to cowboy camp!

Miles – 20
Total Miles – 1063 (start 1087, end 1107)
Rain – no
Sleep – cowboy camp
Animals – none

Monday June 25th – CDT Day 66

Woke up at 7:30. A guy named Aaron walked by as I was getting out of my bag, CDT NOBO as well. Didn’t start hiking until 8:30. That’s what happens when you hike late, you get up late.

Followed the “alpine tunnel” railroad for a few miles, which was easy walking. Higher up the valley, I left the railroad grade and hiked tail the rest of the way up the basin to the pass. This was about 1200 feet of elevation gain total from this morning’s campsite.

I took first lunch after descending to the tree line. I continued on down hill on some switchbacks until I reached the stream in the valley. I filtered water here then moved on… And bumped into a Colorado trail hiker taking lunch next to another branch of the stream just 50 yards away. People just lurking in the bushes.

Next is a long climb uphill, about 1800 feet. Great views as I climbed higher.

 

More awesome views when I dropped down into the next basin. The trail skirts the high basin through talus fields and a couple of snow patches.

Even better views over the next pass. I dropped down to the stream below, where I saw Kyle and Seth. We met in the hostel in Salida a few days earlier. They’d hiked all the way from the east coast through the southern states and now heading north on the CDT. I stopped here to eat lunch with them.

After lunch we continued on together. I succumbed to the idea that today was not going to be a big mile day, only planning on another 6 miles or so. After that, there’s nowhere to camp for another 5 miles as the trail stays high along the crest of the mountains.

It was nice hiking with company. It made the rest of the afternoon go by much easier. Excellent views the rest of the day. Stunning, really.

Early evening, we came across a mountain biker wearing a rainbow colored tutu. He does it for the laughs, and we sure got one.

Got to camp around 6:45pm, super early for me. But it was really nice. Nice campsite, good company and a welcome change from the normal solo grind. But it kinda sucked only covering 18 miles today.

Later at we were filtering out water at the stream, another hiker named Becky showed up. She was looking for a place to camp, and since there weren’t many other sites around we offered to share ours. Accepted.

It was a really nice night, great colors in the sky behind the mountains. We ate dinner together and hung out until the nearly full moon was the only light left. Another great day on the CDT.

Miles – 18
Total Miles – 1081 (start 1107, end 1125)
Rain – no
Sleep – cowboy camp
Animals – marmot, pica

Tuesday June 26th – CDT Day 67

In the middle of the night, I felt something tugging on or running against my quilt. It looked to be a mouse, and it ran away as I reacted to it.

Got up at 7am, first one of the group. Said my goodbyes and headed off at 8:15. Would love to hike more with these guys, or any company really, but everyone has their own pace. I’m hoping to cover miles today.

It’s a 500ft climb to a pass first thing after leaving camp. Not too bad a climb.

The next few miles of trail stays high, like it did in the san Juans. Great views, awesome hiking. Even crossed a couple of slopes still covered in snow.

I could see construction crews working on the road when I reached cottonwood pass. It’s closed, no hitch into Buena Vista possible. I’m headed to twin lakes anyways.

After cottonwood pass I entered the collegiate peaks wilderness. Pretty sweet views! And downhill for quite a while.

 

At the bottom of my descent I reached Texas creek. Other than the Gila, This was only the second time on the CDT where I had to actually ford a river. I put on my sandals and crossed. No problem. Just Under knee deep at the deepest.

A couple more miles slightly downhill along Texas creek. There were some beaver lodges in the ponds but I didn’t see any beavers.

Now the trail starts climbing again. I’m going for 1600ft tonight, leaving 1200ft of steep climbing up to lake Ann pass for the morning. It’s a nice forest hike with several stream Crossings.

I filtered water and ate around 6:30pm along a stream. Tons of mosquitoes, very annoying! I had to put on my zip on pant legs and cover up.

I knocked out another couple miles before finding a spot to camp a Quarter mile north of the trail junction to lake Ann pass. Mosquitoes were insane here too. Covered up immediately with the pant legs again, and my hooded fleece. I eventually set up the tent for to the bugs, although I’m sure they’d die down later. Just don’t want to deal with them anymore.

Great sunset. Two big climbs tomorrow and about 20 miles to twin lakes.

Miles – 23
Total Miles – 1104 (start 1125, end 1148)
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – marmot, pica

Wednesday June 27th – CDT Day 68

Today I hope to reach the small town of Twin Lakes. While in Salida, I sent ahead a package with some food to the general store. This will supplement the likely poor food selection there. It closes at 6pm, and I have two big passes to climb along with about 20 miles.

The climb up to lake Ann pass wasn’t that bad. Switchbacks, not crazy steep.

From Lake Ann pass lies some of the finest views of the section. However, I was now faced with a steep ice cornice on the descent. Steps were kicked into the ice, angling down towards the switchbacks. Parts were near vertical. Some steps were icy, so I did my best to kick my own steps as needed. Not a death drop, but you wouldn’t want to fall here.

As I finished with the cornice, a group of hikers approached from the switchbacks below. One of the guys was celebrating his 80th birthday with an 80 mile hike. This guy looked amazing, like a really fit 60 year old. Perfect example of staying active throughout life. He should be everyone’s role model!

Constant beautiful views the whole way down to lake Ann. Then the trail drops below tree line, following a steep river Gorge.

The trail continues to head down hill along south fork clear creek until it reaches the silver basin trail. It skirts the hillsides above the creek offering nice views when not in the forest.

The trail eventually heads uphill again towards Mt hope pass. And it does so very steeply. 2500′ elevation gain in 2.4 miles. Definitely the longest stretch of steep trail so far on the CDT. It was hot as hell today too, in the upper 90s down by clear creek.

I passed a girl named Kid and her two dogs on the way up, taking a break from the brutal climb, in the heat of the day. I did the same shortly after. There was no way I was going to make it to the general store before they close, so I decided not to push too hard.

Farther up trail I met a guy named Lot taking a break by a stream. After the stream, the climb lessened in severity. Still a tough climb, but not the keel over and die type like the beginning was. And great views.

At the top I chatted with Kid a while before heading down. Great views before doing below tree line.

I took the trail towards Willis Gulch, instead of following it down to the Bermuda triangle trail. I believe the Ley maps say to do this then cross the marshy area around twin lakes. Sounds easier just to go towards Willis gulch… And it was. There was a bridge over the river here at a popular trail head.

Dark clouds and rain in the distance, but scattered. I stopped to filter water from the river and washed up a bit. A woman pulled up in an SUV and asked about if this was the right spot to pick up her husband. Her husband ended up being Lot, the guy I met going up hope pass just a few hours earlier. Lot arrived shortly after, and offered to give me a ride into town. Sounds good, since I didn’t have anywhere in mind to camp.

After a 2 or 3 mile ride into town, we passed the general store. There were several hikers gathered outside here, even at 8:30pm when I arrived. Sprinkler, Earl Grey, cookie monster, and inspector gadget (CDT 2014). I still had time to order some food at the Twin Lakes Inn. Expensive, but beggars can’t be choosers. I ended up getting a room here too, as the allure of a bed, shower and sink laundry were too great.

Nice room, great shower, comfy bed. I’m out!

Miles – 21
Total Miles – 1125 (start 1148, end 1169)
Rain – no
Sleep – hotel
Animals – marmot

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Lake City to Salida – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Lake City to Salida Hike Overview

The first section of trail out of Spring Creek Pass was very scenic and similar to the last stretch south of the pass. After San Luis Peak, the trail drops down and the high mountain scenery fades away. Low valleys, dirt roads, forest. Lots of climbing and no views to show for it. After about 70 miles of this, the trail finally climbs high again and hikers are rewarded with distant views once again. This too comes at a cost… dodge the mountain bikers. After about 150 miles of the CDT sharing trail with the Colorado trail, I saw my first, and 100th, bikers. Watch out for these guys, they’ll run you over!

Sunday June 17th – CDT Day 58

Got up when I felt like it, around 8am. Bad weather still loomed, and so did many of us hikers. I ate breakfast at the Chillin place next door and took my time.

Easy and I left the hostel late morning to hitch back up to spring creek pass. Almost immediately we had someone stop, but was only going a few miles up the road. Another person stopped and we took a shorter hitch to the outside edge of town at cinnamon pass. Along the way, he stopped and picked up sprinkler, who had been trying to hitch for 1.5 hours. sprinkler had seen a black bear run across the road earlier though. Cool!

After being dropped off at cinnamon pass, we immediately got another ride out to our destination at spring creek pass.

We reached the pass and started hiking around noon thirty. Dark clouds and rain drops were prevalent. The trail climbs up about 1500ft onto a mesa. This was a bitch right out of town with a heavy pack.

Now I walked on snow mesa, completely exposed. Low visibility due to the dark and fast moving clouds. Rain drops on and off. Fortunately, no thunder and Lightning.

To protect my stuff from the rain, I used a trash compactor bag as a pack liner, as well as a pack cover for the outside. First time really wearing my train jacket all trail. It was cool out, but I still didn’t want to wear rain pants. I just hiked in shorts as I’ve done this entire hike.

Walked the mesa for a few miles and then some ups and downs. Constant low clouds made for a cool hike but it was now cold and wet.

After 9+ miles I saw sprinkler and easy setting up camp next to two other tents. The trail climbs high right after this so there’s little chance of another good site like this. It was cold and my feet were soaking wet, so I too decided to make this camp home for the night. Turns out it’s mark and John, whom I hadn’t seen since Doc Campbell’s.

This evening there was a large group of big horn sheep just above camp. With my zoom lens I was able to get some shots, but nothing too good. Also saw them sparring, bashing heads together. That was pretty awesome.

We’re all hoping for good weather tomorrow so we can cover some miles. At least this should have helped the Colorado wildfires.

Miles – 10.3
Total Miles – 944.2 
Rain – yes
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – big horn sheep, marmot.

Monday June 18th – CDT Day 59

I woke up to the Sun on my tent this morning, a very welcome feeling. It was a bit breezy and cooler but hey, no rain!

Started hiking at 8. There were a couple bigger climbs this morning and then it was all downhill. I also had the option to bag San Luis peak, a 14 ER. However, I have plans to meet my buddy in Salida on Friday, and would like to get there Thursday, Early enough to do a couple of chores as well. So today, I hope to cover as many miles as possible and take advantage of the very long downhill section.

The first climb was a tough one. Very steep and first thing in the morning.

The second climb was tough too, but I started finding some very clear crystals along the trail. If it’s not some super pure form of quartz then I don’t know what it is. Grabbed a few of these to add to the collection.

Next I passed the intersection for the Creed cut off. Apparently a lot of people had to take this when the san Juans were closed. Glad I made it through.

After another climb I crested a pass. Here I could see San Luis peak. No snow on top. The trail stays high along the edges of the basin and makes its way to a saddle below San Luis peak.

I decided against climbing San Luis peak for a few reasons. I had already done a lot of climbing today and wasn’t in the mood for any more, and I wanted to cover more miles.

 

Now it was all downhill for most of the rest of the day. It’s a 15 plus mile stretch of no climbing, so I should be able to do this and more today, even though it’s already almost 1pm.

While hiking down the valley below San Luis peak I stumbled upon Dixie. We ended up hiking together for a while. Then we stumbled upon Easy, and we all took a break together.

The three of us hiked together after our break for a while until we reached a stream. I stayed behind to filter a couple liters.

Next was the La Garita wilderness. Here the trail follows a river and runs through a valley. Scenic, and a nice change of pace.

Eventually caught up with Easy again and we hiked together for about an hour and a half. He stopped to make camp where the trail started climbing up a dirt road, ending the 15 mi downhill section. However, I wanted to cover a few more miles and so I kept going.

Much of the rest of the evening was along a dirt road. I hiked until around 8:45pm, finding camp in the tree line alongside a huge open field. I cowboy camped tonight.

Hiked 31 miles today, which was 29.1 guthook miles. Gotta put it a few more big days to make my Thursday afternoon schedule.

Miles – 31.1
Total Miles – 975.3 
Rain – no
Sleep – cowboy camp
Animals – none

Tuesday June 19th – CDT Day 60

Woke up with the Sun shining on me around 6:15. Beautiful morning.

This morning’s hike follows a dirt road for several miles as it passes through the same very large Valley I entered last night. Easy hiking, but nothing super scenic.

Then the trail heads up pill and into a small Valley with a little stream. However, the were a ton of cows in the area and the water looked dirty. Also it wasn’t very deep, so I skipped this water source.

The trail heads up Hill along a dirt road. Not much to see here. I’m getting really thirsty now, running on about one liter all day. It’s now late morning and I’m about 12 miles in today.

Made it to the next water source after 1pm. Earl Grey was here as well. 16 miles so far today. It’s also been awhile since I’ve been this dehydrated. I drank over 2 liters of water and filtered two more to get me to the next source.

The trail crosses a paved highway and then follows Lujan creek rd uphill. Nothing much going on here, just a 1500ft climb with little to see.

The CDT leaves the road and becomes trail only for the rest of the day. It’s also the beginning of several miles of ups and downs along a series of wooded hill tops. Boring! And tiring.

Late this afternoon I hit the 1000 mile mark on the CDT. Woo-hoo! About one third of the way done now.

I made camp on a saddle just north of middle baldy. Lots of mosquitoes out here. Those bastards.

Miles – 28
Total Miles – 1003.3 
Rain – no
Sleep – cowboy camp
Animals – elk

Wednesday June 20th – CDT Day 61

Today’s hike continued where yesterday’s left off… Boring ups and downs along a ridge with no views. Lots of rocks to trip over and to hurt my feet. Lots of mosquitoes.

A couple of nice meadows along the way filled with colorful flowers and dandelions. 

Today was dry as well, one stream early afternoon. So I was thirsty all morning. Filtered my water and continued heading downhill when I should have made a turn uphill here. Went about 1.5 miles out of the way before realizing it, so about an hour lost here.

Heading up hill now, more ups and downs with little views. A few clearings in the trees offered some of the first distant views in a while. There were a couple of dirt bikes on trail here, pretty sure that’s not allowed.

After a steep climb up to Marshall pass, there were some better views along the ridge. A couple more miles to a snowmobile cabin now, where I’ll stay tonight.

When I reached the cabin, Easy was already there. I liked the rustic feel of the peeve, and preferred it over the yurt I stayed in before lake city. There was a marmot outside chewing on the cabin or something, making lots of noise.

Miles – 28
Total Miles – 1031.3 
Rain – no
Sleep – cabin
Animals – deer

Thursday June 21st – CDT Day 62

Slept great in the cabin. The outhouse was nice, no need to dig a hole this morning.

After leaving the cabin, there was lots of interesting rocks along the trail. Big flakes of mica and even solid rocks of it. Picked up a few samples for the collection.

After a 900ft climb, the tail reaches an exposed ridge. Finally, distant views again! Man the last 70 miles were rather boring.

There’s tons of mountain bikers on trail now. The CDT had been paralleling the Colorado trail for around 150 miles and today was the first time I had seen a biker. And there are about 100 of them today! One group of 4 were came flying around a blind corner on a mountainside and I had to dive out of the way. They didn’t slow down at all. People like this give bikers a bad name. Nice tights, bro… Haha.

Made it to monarch pass a little after noon. It took me an hour to get a hitch. Chuck, a local trail angel, was dropping off some hikers at the pass and picked me up on his way back down to Salida. He offered to take me, Easy and a few other hikers rafting on the Arkansas River that evening. Hell yeah!

Checked in at the simple lodge hostel, showered then went out for pizza with Earl Grey. Smashed a whole pizza then back to the hostel.

Left the hostel around 5 when Chuck picked us up then headed down to the river. He had 3 rafts, the kind you’d use on a commercial rafting trip. In fact, we had an actual guide on our raft, who pretty much took care of everything. I only had to contribute a few paddle strokes all night in between drinking beer. Great sunset and an awesome experience!

Miles – 12
Total Miles – 1043.3 
Rain – no
Sleep – cabin
Animals – deer

Friday June 22nd – CDT Day 63 (zero day)

Went to last with sprinkler and back to the hostel for laundry. Finally, the was a long wait.

I was excited to meet up with my friend Ryan today but unfortunately he has been sick and won’t be able to make it. Damn, that goes plans to prospect on mt antero today. At least we should be able to hang out when I get to Breckenridge.

Went to Safeway and picked up Italian sausage for dinner. Will cook back at the hostel with a couple other guys.

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 1043.3
Rain – no
Sleep – hostel
Animals – deer

Saturday June 23rd – CDT Day 64 (zero day)

Another zero day today. I’ve been having such a great time in town that I’ve been slacking on my log and need to finish that this morning so I can mail out my bounce box before the post office closes. This is becoming a common occurrence. 

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 1043.3 
Rain – no
Sleep – hostel
Animals – deer

Like what you see?

Pagosa Springs to Lake City – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Pagosa Springs to Lake City Hike Overview

Between Pagosa Springs and Lake City, the CDT passes through the San Juan mountains and the Weminuche wilderness, Colorado’s largest. It’s a tough section with rugged mountains, alpine lakes, lots of high trail and beautiful scenery. It’s much longer than the last section, but fortunately the trail was a bit dier and less snow which allowed for slightly easier travel. But still, very challenging!

Saturday June 9th – CDT Day 50

I had a couple of bananas and some banana bread at the motel continental breakfast. Then sprinkler and I went out for a real breakfast. We ate at the junction restaurant at the end of town. Pancakes and sausage, last hot meal for up to 7 days.

Sprinkler was taking other zero today so he went back to the hotel. Being at the end of town and across the street from the gas station, it seemed like a good place to start looking for a hitch up to the pass. I had a cardboard sign that said “wolf creek pass”. I got a ride after about 15 minutes from a fisherman heading up that way

After being dropped off, I joined Quiet (another hiker) in a conversation with a couple of motorcyclists at the pass. After about 20 minutes, I started hiking. It was roughly 10am.

The trail climbs for a while after leaving Wolf Creek pass. That is to be expected, it’s a pass after all. But damn, was it tiring with a pack of food and water.

I bumped into to hikers named Casper and button. As we were talking, a guy came down the trail southbound and mentioned that he just saw a bear about a mile down the trail.

The more I hiked today, the more the views improved. Only a couple of snow patches to cross as the trail reached the end of a Valley with a nice Lake. Trail climbs steeply above it to the top of a ridge. This was one of two big climbs today.

Now on the ridge, I felt like I was back on Trail between Chama and Pagosa Springs. Big views and felt like the top of the world. Forest fire smoke from the 416 fire in Durango could be seen on the horizon to the west.

I did my best to keep hiking although I was pretty distracted by the scenery. More ups and downs along Ridge lines, small passes and generally staying high.

I saw two more hikers, turtle and mangus. Stopped here for second lunch around 5pm. All have another 7.5 miles to go and another big climb ahead.

The trail goes downhill for a bit and then start the climb. Steady at first, sleeper later. Excellent views the rest of the evening. The trail is heading west, right into the sunset. The way the Ridgeline was illuminated by the Sun was magical.

As the trail started climbing up the switch backs, I was getting really tired. Only a few more miles. At the top, more incredible views. This is what I envisioned before hiking the CDT. Really awesome and words can’t describe it.

The trail dropped down a little bit before ascending the final High Point of the day. Cold and windy now with the sun setting behind the first fire smoke.

With the climbing done for today, all this left is to descent into a valley towards a stream, the first water source in a while. This will make a good place to camp.

I found a place to camp near the stream after 8:30pm. Long day, but I got my miles in. I’m hoping to trail remains snow free and relatively dry as it was today for the rest of the hike to Lake City. If not, it’s going to be rough and slow going like the last stretch.

Miles – 22.7
Total Miles – 855.5
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – marmot

Sunday June 10th – CDT Day 51

Woke up at 7am. Filtered water from the stream and took off.

Much of the morning and early afternoon was fairly boring trail. Lots of small ups and downs along hillside with little view of anything. There were some nice moments but just not as constant as other sections of trail. 

Sometime mid afternoon, the trail climbed up a Ridgeline and the views improved. About time. I ran into Mangus a couple times, and played leapfrog the rest of the day.

Smoke from the 416 fire in Durango was pretty thick now. I couldn’t even see it this morning, and now it has engulfed the sky and filled the valleys.

I must have forgotten to turn my GPS back on after first lunch, because the next time I went to turn it off it was already off. I have guthooks app miles I can use, I’ll just add another mile or two to that total since the app usually underestimates the total miles.

Next the trail traverses a hillside through a large basin.

Later in the afternoon I reached knife edge, a pointy ridge. The Ridge itself was not a challenge, but the steep slopes following it were more difficult. Had there been more snow, I would have used my micro spikes. There were a couple of snow patches on steep slopes that I was able to cross with no snow gear, not even trekking poles.

After the knife edge, I had another climb up over a Ridge. I stepped on some mud that looked fairly dry and sturdy, but it ended up being ankle deep. I got a bunch of mud inside my shoe, too. I was able to keep my feet dry the rest of the day up until this point.

I had another hour or so until I got to a pass below the final climb for today. I had planned on hiking to Squaw Creek, but it was another 3 miles and it was already 7. I certainly could have done it, I did something similar last night, but I was really hungry and exhausted. I decided to camp just below the pass near a small pond.

The miles here in Colorado are so much harder than New Mexico. I could hike all day and New Mexico and never feel this tired, even on a 30 mile day. Here, I have to really bust my ass to get 20 miles. Today I hiked 18.7 miles according to guthook, which would probably be 19.5 – 20 on my GPS.

Miles – 18.7
Total Miles – 871.2
Rain – no
Sleep – cowboy camp
Animals – marmots

Monday June 11th – CDT Day 52

Woke up at 6am to a 28°morning. My 20° quilt kept me toasty.

After leaving camp I finished the climb I intend on doing last night. I made a good call not pushing on because there were few campsites in the area I was hoping to camp when I passed by this morning.

Today had a lot of big climbs. It started with a 1100 ft descent to Squaw Creek. Then it was a 1700 ft climb.

Good views along much of the climb. I stopped for first lunch here along a creek. Actually, I had four lunches today. I’ve been hiking in 3 hours blocks, but today I decided to try 2 hour blocks, eating and drinking water each break.

Lots of willow bushes along the trail today. Just had me cursing quite a bit as they cut up my legs. I also went through a gauntlet of mosquitoes along a small Lake, possibly the thickest swarm I’ve ever encountered.

I took another break at the top of the pass. Oh man these climbs are getting to me. I leaned up against my backpack and admired the beautiful view, and wished I could stay here longer.

The trail climbs a little bit higher after leaving the pass. After reaching at High Point trail curves around a hillside and a view of a whole new landscape opens up. Lightly snow capped peaks lined the horizon. It’s a shame the forest fire smoke obscured the view, because it was stunning.

Now the trail drops down to 10400 ft over the next few miles. This is the lowest the trail will get on this entire stretch from Pagosa Springs to Lake city.

At first the trail stays high on a bit of a plateau with good distant views. Then it drops down to a meadow, where I stopped for another food break.

After leaving the meadow, there’s a short climb up a hill and then the trail followers a river Gorge downhill. There was a huge log jam along the river, looks like the product of an avalanche.

The River then dumps into a huge Meadow. The forest fire smoke created a thick haze that filled the valley and obscured sight of the mountains beyond. However, a distinct notch in the Ridgeline could be seen even from the other side of the meadow. It first I thought this was the pass I would be hiking to, but I would later find out the trail doesn’t actually go through this notch, but close to it.

I took another break at the end of the meadow before the trail starts to climb. Mangus was here too. We were both dreading the 2200 ft ascent that awaits us. Filtered water for tonight as well.

The hike up to the next pass wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating, but still very tiring. I think the extra breaks I took today helped.

I thought about camping before the pass, but I was feeling good enough to go over it and shoot for a saddle about a mile after. I’m glad I did because I was able to cover a couple more miles and after cresting the pass it was so beautiful. It was around 7pm now, which has been probably my favorite time of the day to hike. Even though I’d prefer to be in camp already!

Coming down from the pass, it was another mile or so to the saddle. I found a pretty decent campsite here, and decided to cowboy camp again.

Hiking through the mountains is such hard work. It still surprises me that I’m able to get up in the morning and do it all over again every day.

A few other things… I’ve yet to set any sign of bear in Colorado, but saw bear crap almost daily in New Mexico. I’ve only taken one ibuprofen so far and it was in town, not even in trail. That must be some thru hiker record. Many hikers call it vitamin I. OK quit rambling and get some sleep!

Miles – 24.6
Total Miles – 898.8
Rain – no
Sleep – cowboy camp
Animals – marmots

Tuesday June 12th – CDT Day 53

I was hiking by 6:55 this morning. I hiked about a quarter mile so I could get into the sunlight to eat my breakfast. Really hoping to put in some miles today.

Great views all day long, best of the hike so far. It started almost immediately after leaving camp. The trail goes through a large basin. Heading around a blind corner near the top I stumbled upon a bull elk. Antlers are starting to grow more this time of year.

At the top of the Pass, I could see Ute lake below. Lots of beautiful Mountains forming the backdrop. Good start to the day.

After passing Ute lake I filtered water from a small stream, ate and rinsed yesterday’s socks.

Next was the first of 4 big climbs today. Felt good on this one. Beautiful view from the top, didn’t think it could get much better but it does.

 


The view from the second pass was incredible. It was reminiscent of the wind River range. Closer to Nebo Creek, there was some interesting looking upheaval in one of the mountains. Going down Nebo Creek there was a lot of wading through willow bushes and wet ground.

The third pass was named Hunchback pass. I’ve hiked in this area of the San Juans in 2013, and came down Hunchback pass from the opposite direction. When we came down the pass last time, visibility was almost zero due to extreme fog and drizzling rain. I was looking forward to seeing what I missed last time but honestly, it wasn’t super spectacular. At least going up. Going down the pass towards bear town trailhead was beautiful though!

Before the 4th and final big climb of the day, I filtered 3L water from a stream. Then I began the arduous trek uphill. The first bit was steep. I can handle a steady up Hill Climb all day but past a certain angle it just kills me. And it was definitely past that angle.

I reached the top of the pass but not the climb. Now the tail is on a high, rolling, open mountaintop. Would be hard to describe without the pictures. It’s pretty barren, and really wet. I had been able to avoid wet feet all day but not anymore. There were just too many large wet fields to cross, and eventually I ended up just trudging through the water. Ugh, I hate wet feet.

The forest fire smoke was really thick and once again obscured what would have been some Pretty cool views. Still had a couple more miles to go but was getting worn out. I stopped for dinner a little before 7.

The rest of the evening was very scenic. I found a place to camp in a narrow Valley that had an awesome view of the sunset. Going to cowboy camp again. Saw a couple of elk this evening from camp.

I hiked for 13 hours today to cover 20.1 miles according to the guthook app. Did I mention how hard Colorado is? Holy crap. In New Mexico I could hike all day long and almost never get winded. I feel like half my day in Colorado I just want to keel over and die due to all the climbing. I was never very good at cardio and certainly don’t enjoy it. I’m wondering how long it will take for this to get easier.

Miles – 22.7
Total Miles – 921.5
Rain – no
Sleep – cowboy camp
Animals – marmots, elk

Wednesday June 13th – CDT Day 54

It was 22° when I woke up this morning. Since my shoes got wet only two hours before sunset, I had to put them in a plastic bag and warm them in my sleeping bag. It gets annoying having them in my sleeping bag the entire night, so I typically bring them in the bag an hour or two before I get up. They don’t get dry but at least they are warm when I put them on. Waiting for the Sun to hit my location before I get out of my sleeping bag.

Lots more climbing ahead today. The trail will reach its highest point at over 13000 ft, and several Peaks just below.

The day started with a small climb. More great mountain views.

The trail passes through stony pass. There’s a little traveled dirt road here to hitch to Silverton, or just walk the 10 miles to town. Some hikers resupplied here, but it’s another 35 miles to spring creek pass where I plan on hitching into Lake City. Moving on.

The trail follows a dirt road for about a quarter mile before splitting of as trail again. First road walk in Colorado, albeit a short one. This begins a climb out of a new valley. This valley had an empty feel to it. Hard to describe. The climb wasn’t too hard and soon enough I was at the top of the pass.

New pass, new views. Impressive scenery. Clouds building. Stopped at a small pond to filter water and eat.

More ups and downs, more clouds. One mountain had some interesting rocks that slowed me down, just as the skies were darkening to their breaking point. I heard an incredible roaring sound, then got hit with a 60 mph wind gust out of nowhere. Snow flakes followed, flying horizontally. I put on my rain jacket and put away the camera gear for a while.

I hiked for a while under the threat of rain but in the end I never got wet. The forest fire smoke was thick now and made it tough to tell if there were rain clouds overhead or not.

Passed a couple of lakes before another climb. It was steeper at first then leveled out to an easy pace the rest of the way up. I was listening to music and felt great at this moment, definitely thinking about town tomorrow now.

After cresting the pass it was a long decent into this valley. Massive views, this valley just felt enormous. The smoke was probably thicker here than anywhere else yet.

Filtered water again here at a steam, last water for a long time. Then the trail climbs up to an area with some dirt roads and a trailhead. I stopped here for food before pushing on.

It was 6pm now, and I began a 1000ft climb up a very steep dirt road. At the top of this climb is the highest point in the Colorado trail, which is also the CDT right now, at 13,271ft. Up here will be 20 miles for the day, but there will be few places to camp. And windy! Fortunately, I just discovered a yurt along the trail, but it’s another 8 miles from here. It’s going to take a herculean effort to reach that yurt before nightfall.

The steep road whooped my ass the whole way up. At the top was a super barren landscape, yet the highest on trail so far.

Now it was time to haul ass. I fast-walked everywhere that wasn’t steep uphill, and jogged on the downhill sections. I began to get tunnel vision, intensely concentrated on reaching that yurt before dark. This was the fastest pace I’ve maintained so far on the CDT.

Even with the smoke, there were some beautiful views along occasional Ridgelines. Coming down from one, I saw an elk.

I made it to the yurt aid 8:30pm, with little light to spare. I was completely exhausted, just spent from the day’s effort. I climbed a ladder to reach the platform the yurt sits on and saw turtle, yoda, and peppers. Inside was Baylor and crash, who were hiking the Colorado trail, already sleeping.

Ate dinner and slept on the floor inside the yurt. Didn’t want to use my inflatable air mattress on the metal wire bunk beds. Whew, long day! Not something I want to replicate any time soon.

Miles – 28.1
Total Miles – 949.6
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – yurt
Animals – marmots, elk

Thursday June 14th – CDT Day 55

I was the last to leave the yurt this morning at 8:30am. With only 8.5 miles to spring creek pass, there was no hurry for me.

Today’s hike was not that scenic. Large open areas, huge hills that had several false horizons as they were climbed and few mountain views.

Later, the trail drops down into forest land and eventually hits a door road. This road is followed all the way down to the pass, a paved highway. It took about 3 hours of hiking to get here.

As soon as I reached the road, two hikers were coming down to the pass, southbound. Before I had a chance to put my thumb out for a hitch, they offered a ride into Lake City. Absolutely!

It turns out that Mary and Clee, my ride into town, were related to Liminal, another hiker I’d met in Silver City. Small world! They have been following along the trail and assisting with rides and resupply. In fact, they knew many of the same hikers I met along the trail.

Mary and Clee were kind enough to take me out to lunch in town after I checked in at the ravens rest hostel. I had an awesome burger at the cannibal grill, probably the best yet on trail.

It turns out both Mary and Clee work for the fish and wildlife service, which spawned some interesting conversations. Clee had been stocking a lake with fish by plane some time ago, and when they looked back to see where the fish landed, he saw a man bailing water and fish out of his rowboat! Such a great story!

After a greatly appreciated ride from the pass and hot meal, I picked up my bounce box from the post office and settled in at the hostel. There were about 10 hikers here today.

Did laundry, started backing up photos, GoPro video and GPS tracks. Then sprinkler, earl gray and I went to Poker Alice for dinner. I got a 16″ meat lovers pizza, and had plenty to take with me for later.

Not much else was accomplished this evening. Some R and R was just what I needed after a tough hike in the san Juans.

Miles – 8.9
Total Miles – 958.5
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – hostel
Animals – deer

Friday June 15th – CDT Day 56 (zero day)

It felt great to sleep in a bed, even if it was a bunk bed. We went out to the bakery for breakfast… Good stuff. On the way back, We hit the county store to resupply for the next section to Salida.

Spent the rest of the day backing up photos and video, processing them and began updating my blog.

Everyone left the hostel and it was just Sprinkler and I. Weird for it to be so empty after being nearly full the day before, but I suppose this is what happens when the San Juans are closed due to fire.

Remnants of hurricane Bud are coming tomrrow, brining heavy rain all day, so I think I will take another zero. Also, I had plans to meet up with a friend in Salida, and having my zero day fall on a Friday would work better for my buddy than Thursday, so the extra zero here in Lake City isn’t really a problem.

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 958.5
Rain – sprinkles
Sleep – hostel
Animals – rabbits

Saturday June 16th – CDT Day 57 (zero day)

Ate breakfast at the Chillin place next door. Grey skies, looks like rain already. Trying to finish my blog updates and everything I need with my bounce box so I can send it back today before 1pm. Buuuttt… that didn’t happen!

Ate lunch at the Cannibal Grill with Easy and Sprinkler. They left and as I continued to plug away on my laptop. Then, Forrest and Sequoia walked in! I thought they were far ahead of me, but they had taken some time off in Silverton. 

I should get back on trail tomorrow. Just gotta figure out how to get my bounce box sent out on Monday now in my absence. Ah, trail logistics.

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 958.5
Rain – no
Sleep – hostel
Animals – rabbits

Like what you see?

Chama to Pagosa Springs – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Chama to Pagosa Springs Hike Overview

This section has been the most difficult of the hike thusfar. More snow, highest elevation, most climbing, wettest, muddiest and all-around toughest hiking yet. But also, the most beautiful and impressive mountain scenery so far. Welcome to Colorado, snow and high mountains. Climb high, stay high! And that’s exactly what the trail does here. It follows the highest possible route without dropping down into valleys. That’s the spirit of the CDT, and this section is trial by fire. 

Monday June 4th – CDT Day 45

At breakfast at the Chama grill, then got a ride to the post office from Ralph, a local Trail angel. Set my bounce box to Lake City, sent home some gear, and returned the backpack I bought.

We squeezed 7 people I believe into Ralph’s pickup truck for the ride up to cumbress pass. We arrived at the pass around 9am and I started hiking shortly after. Not bad, more of an early start then I was expecting.

The trail start climbing immediately north of the pass. It was a good hike with increasingly good scenery. Before long the sound of the highway faded and only the sounds of nature remained.

The trail reaches a ridge that overlooks a valley below. Snow capped peaks can be seen in the distance. Woohoo, finally in the high mountains!

The trail continues to climb along the side of a mountain. Eventually it reaches a pass, the first real Mountain pass of the trip. Seems like a good place to stop for first lunch. I hate the remainder of a triple cheeseburger I had for lunch yesterday. I actually ordered two triple cheeseburger combo meals, trying my best to fatten up while in town.

After lunch, the trail continues to climb a long a Ridgeline. At this point it’s really starting to look like the CDT I was expecting. It felt really good to finally be here.

The trail continues to climb to today’s High Point at around 12200 ft. This is the highest point on trail to date. Once again, awesome views. My pace slowed for a while here as I took pictures and video.

Next the trail trends downhill slightly. It’s amazing that at this elevation there are such large open Meadows.

 

Next the trail passes dipping lakes. The first Lake was pretty scenic, with rocky cliff alongside the water. I stopped to filter water and eat second lunch.

The trail passes the other dipping Lakes and then begins an 800 ft climb. Around this point the trail became much more difficult. Patches of snow, lot of melt water making it nearly impossible to avoid getting my feet wet. This continued for the rest of the evening.

Now I’m traversing a shelf above a cirque. More snow here and very wet. I saw a Ptarmigan, marmots and pikas while hiking here. First of all three so far on the CDT.

I reached Trail Lake around 7:30, my goal for the day. I camped on a hill before the lake, no view of it. This was 22 miles by my GPS in roughly 20 miles on the guthook app.

I’m pretty tired today, going to blame this on the additional elevation. It’s 12000 ft here at Camp. Last week I did two 30 mi days back to back at 10,000 ft, but in my experience I don’t feel the effects of elevation until around 12000 feet. The next two hundred plus miles are going to be above 11 thousand feet, so I’ve got my work cut out for me.

Alright, bedtime. Time to try out my new 20 degree quilt.

Miles – 22
Total Miles – 777 
Rain – no
Sleep – backcountry, tent
Animals – marmots, pika, Ptarmigan

Tuesday June 5th – CDT Day 46

Woke up with the sun on my tent a little after 6. Calm night, I was expecting it to be more windy up high up here and exposed. Got up in the middle of the night to pee and damn, the stars and milky way were bright!

After leaving camp, the trail climbs above trail lake. Someone else had camped here the night before, which I could see from my campsite.

Above trail lake is a pass at 12,320ft. Great view. It’s Rocky and wet.

I descend a little and cross a large snow field, then skirt the side of a hillside for a while.

The trail then passes through a large meadow. It’s really wet here too, lots of streams and ponds from the snow melt. 

Is been slow going today. Partly because of how beautiful it is, and also the terrain. Early season obstacles like snow, fields of water and mud make progress a real chore. There are few sections where I can cover ground quickly.

I had first lunch at blue lake. What an original name. Time to filter water too. Ugh I should be farther along today.

After lunch, I postholed through some patches of snow along blue lake. Fun stuff. Then the trail climbs above the lake and a small pond.

More scenic ponds, hillsides and valleys. Everywhere I went it was beautiful. There wasn’t a boring section of trail all day.

Next I had a big climb. I traversed a mountainside with a great view of the valley below, containing the Navajo River.

The climb continues up a ridge, with snow now becoming more plentiful. Patches of snow and large areas of water force reroutes, as has been the case all day. The switchbacks can get annoying, and since they’re often lost in the snow I’ve just been going straight uphill.

The trail reaches 12100ft and there’s an awesome view of a new set of mountains. Lots of snow up here.

Now the trail drops downhill along a huge slab of snow. Fortunately I can walk around it. I go straight downhill again, avoiding the intermittent switchbacks where I can. It’s wet and muddy if it’s not snow. Really stunning backdrop though! The pictures don’t do it justice. This is the valley containing the middle fork conejos river.

This area was beautiful, but also very tough going. Numerous snow fields to cross. I was postholing in the snow, and getting soaked walking through anywhere that wasn’t snow. It was also really Rocky again, making all non snow travel slow. I got my ass kicked hiking through here.

Before I could leave the worst of the snow behind, I had to cross a river, or cross the snow bridge over it. There were footprint over it all I followed suit. Success. Just as well, falling in would bad news.

I worked my way around a trail along the hillside of the valley, crossing many more streams and postholing through snow patches. Lots of mud too, deeper than you’d think.

I took second lunch at upper reaches of the valley. Man, I am really whooped now. Still almost 8 more guthook miles till I hit my 20. That’s not happening. I let my feet air out for the first time today. Good thing, they were wet, wrinkled and tender.

After lunch, another climb of about 900ft in 1.2 miles. Great views of the snowy mountainside I just traversed on the other side of the valley.

A new landscape reveals itself as I reached the pass. I worked my way across a shelf before going over another small pass.

Incredible scenery as I descend the pass. It’s really steep going down. After a while, the terrain really starts to fight back. Lots of steep snow to traverse, postholing in many places now since it’s early evening. There was also lots of mud, causing me to slip again. I was getting really tired and frustrated.

I made camp around 7pm. I found a spot high in the valley of the north fork conejos River. Another person is camped nearby, can’t see who.

Man I am tired. Today was beautiful but very hard. The terrain was an absolute nightmare. Type 2 fun all the way.

Miles – 19.6
Total Miles – 796.6
Rain – no
Sleep – backcountry, tent
Animals – marmots, Ptarmigan

Wednesday June 6th – CDT Day 47

Once again, the Sun shining in my tent woke me up. A beautiful morning in the cirque. Today will be an adventure.

Sprinkler had camped nearby last night, as well as DG (delayed gratification) which I would later find out. All left camp before me.

After leaving camp, I crossed a small stream running under snow, one of many today. These are crossed by walking over a snow bridge. You never know if it will hold. The snow pack and the severity of the potential fall into the stream below varied greatly.

I hiked around a a hillside, wading through thick bushes. Otherwise, the trail was pretty manageable for the first couple miles.

It’s a steady climb to the top of a pass, one of many today. The trail stays high and encounters a lot of snow. For now, no postholing.

Next the trail skirts a steep hillside above Adams Fork Conejos River Valley. Had to cross several really steep slopes of snow. Did someone say death drop? Awesome views though.

This was a long valley, the only one of the day really. Near where the trail drops down and crosses the Adams Fork canejos river, there’s a huge amount of snow remaining alongside a section of River. Maybe 30 or 40 ft high. I crossed up stream.

I caught up with Sprinkler above the river  crossing. Nice hike up the rest of the Valley. I stopped for first lunch near the top.

Finished the climb up out of the valley. The trail had a pretty different feel the rest of the day now, it just stays high.

After the trail turns to the north Face of Summit peak, there was a massive snow field to cross. Fairly steep and a long way down. Amongst the most snow I’ve seen on Trail yet. At the end of the snow field is a partially frozen Blue Lake.

From here to Trail climbs up another Ridgeline leading to the Crux of today’s hike, the segment between Chama and Pagosa Springs, and the entire see CDT thus far. There’s and extremely deep slope of snow. The kind where you can’t see over the edge. Beyonce and frito head just turned away and decided to head back and look for a way down the valley. Sprinkler and DG were both here trying to figure out what to do. DG climbed the hill above looking for a way around, but no go. It’s either cross this super sketchy slope or turn around and spend basically the rest of the day working around it somehow by dropping down into the valley.

Sprinkler had full fledged crampons, and tackled it first. He disappeared over a line of sight edge as I was putting on my micro spikes. DG was just behind him. Everyone was tense. Sprinkler made it across, and DG went ahead of me. He had an ice axe, but no spikes or crampons. There’s a break in the snow halfway through, DG made it. Now my turn.This was the first time I used my Micro spikes, and although the snow was slushy, I appreciated the extra grip over my trail runners alone.

Once we all made it across, it was a good feeling. That was the steepest slope of snow I’ve ever crossed. We carried on, all at a somewhat similar pace now.

The trail then does some ups and downs through high alpine fields, Ridgelines and passes. Sprinkler, DG and I stopped to eat second lunch around 4pm. We all agreed on trying to reach Elwood pass at the very least tonight, and hopefully a few more miles. It was another 4.4 miles, according to guthook.

We made good progress through this next section. Some decent sections of trail that allowed for fast passage, finally. Occasional patches of snow, some big some small. Lots more mud and flooded fields. But still somehow faster than earlier today.

Once down at Elwood pass, we realized there wasn’t much here. I filtered water and ate dinner. Sprinkler one on first so he could get to camp and cook dinner there. DG took the road that paralled the ridge I’m going to take. With all the clouds today, he didn’t want to be up on that Ridgeline in case it got Windy. Very valid point, but I’m going to roll the dice.

I enjoyed the walk up on the Ridgeline. I saw three Elk in a field tonight, and another later on. I made it 2.8 miles past Elwood pass before finding a campsite around 8pm.

Beautiful sunset, but just be on the trees. No Clear view, bummer.

Today was a good day. 14.8 miles to wolf Creek past tomorrow, my ticket into Pagosa Springs. Really looking forward to that!

Miles – 20.5
Total Miles – 817.1
Rain – no
Sleep – backcountry, tent
Animals – elk

Thursday June 7th – CDT Day 48

Up at 6:15am, hiking by 7. Cool and a little windy, Grey skies still.

This morning was a nice hike. The CDT stays high upon a Ridgeline. Mountains to the west had some snow.

Lack of water would be an issue today. There was no water since a couple miles past Elwood pass. I had 1.5L for the day, and already dehydrated a little this morning.

Saw a couple of deer in an opening along the Ridgeline. Haven’t seen many deer so far on the CDT, mostly elk.

The trail was completely different today. None of the big snow fields, snow capped peaks or wet trail of yesterday. Ok, a few wet spots, but my feet were dry all day. Even though the elevation was similar to the snow covered mountains of the last two days, the trail resembled a lower elevation ecosystem. This allowed for faster miles today.

The trail was skirting a steep mountainside when I found and interesting rock. A milky turquoise looking blob encased by a sedimentary conglomerate. I used another rock to break off the sedimentary part. I broke open the turquoise blob and exposed a crystal center. A geode! Cool find.

The trail follows many ridgelines today and generally is heading down to a low point just below 11k feet at silver pass. I ate first lunch here. Only lunch, actually. Going to do the last 8 miles to wolf creek pass in one go. Here I’ll hitch onto Pagosa springs to resupply.

After lunch, the trail climbs most of the rest of the day. Lots of downed trees in the forest sections. Lots. And the detours around them can be a pain… Over, under, around and any which way.

The trail passes above a water reservoir, then climbs a ridge that follows the border of the wolf creek ski area. Really windy, but also really great views all the way up and around Alberta peak.

I made it to wolf creek pass at 2pm. There was a state trooper at the pass checking semi trucks for something. I Googled the legalities of hitchhiking in Colorado and determined I was good in this instance. 150ft away from the trooper, I stuck my thumb out. A woman named Nancy stopped had just dropped off a hiker coming from Pagosa, and picked me up on her way back. Perfect, only took a few minutes.

In town, I got a motel room at the pinewood inn. I showered up then DG stopped by. We ate lunch at Kip’s cantina. Triple bacon cheese burger and chips… No problem. Sprinkler showed up and joined us. Turns out he’s staying two rooms down at the pinewood.

I had a double bed room at the motel, and DG split the room with me for the night. Later, sprinkler joined us for dinner and beers at the riff raff brewery. Good times.

Will do town stuff tomorrow… Laundry, food resupply, post office and packages, etc.

Miles – 15.7
Total Miles – 832.8 
Rain – no
Sleep – motel
Animals – elk, deer, marmot

Friday June 8th – CDT Day 49 (zero day)

The Continental breakfast selection at the motel was sparse, so I headed out on search of a real breakfast establishment. The Rose had a line out the door, so I went to the peak Cafe instead.

Got a lot done today, at least it felt that way. Had to make a couple calls to get a few things sorted back in the real world, hit up some local shops for a few things to send back to friends and family at home, went to the grocery store for food resupply to Lake City, and hit the post office. Had to mail back some Darn Tough socks for warranty, but they held up pretty well… the whole state of New Mexico basically.

Later I ate dinner with sprinkler and Alan at the Malt Shop. The 1lb “challenger” burger was no challenge at all.

Went back to the motel and finished packing my food. Hoping to do the next section in 6 days, but bringing food for 7

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 832.8
Rain – no
Sleep – motel
Animals – deer

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Eagles Nest Wilderness (Gore Mountains), CO – 4 Day, 25 Mile Hike July 2017

Eagles Nest Wilderness, CO – Gore Mountains 4 Day Backpacking Trip July 2017

panoramic view of the gore mountains in eagles nest wilderness colorado

 View All Eagles Nest Wilderness Photos | Watch the Eagles Nest Wilderness Hike Video On Youtube

  • Park Administration – US Forest Service – White River National Forest
  • Fees & Permits – No fees to access the Eagles Nest Wilderness. Register at trailhead (although I didn’t see where!)
  • Trailhead – Gore Creek Trailhead
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 4 days, 3 nights
  • Miles Hiked – 25
  • Route Difficulty – 7.5
  • Fires Allowed – Yes
  • Scenic Beauty – 9
  • Solitude – 7, less within 4-5 miles of trailhead

Eagles Nest Wilderness Pre-Hike Planning Notes

Gore Mountains Weather Forecast

– https://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Buffalo-Mountain/forecasts/3894

Gore Mountains Road & Trail Condition Reports

– https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd542981.pdf

The Eagles Nest Wilderness is a 133,496 acre tract of land located within the White River National Forest. The Gore Mountains are the backbone of this wilderness area. It’s right off I-70, giving you the impression that it’s going to be a popular, well known hiking destination, but it’s not. Apparently, this area doesn’t get much use in comparison to other Colorado backpacking hotspots. One reason for this is the fact that there are no 14ers in the Gore Mountains. Don’t let the lack of notoriety fool you, as the Gore Mountains are definitely a hidden gem.

The first thing you need to realize about hiking the Gore Mountains is that it’s a rugged place with a lot of steep terrain. Because of this, many of the valleys are “dead ends” for the average hiker, and some are completely unpassable by all except the most skilled climbers. Stringing together a long hiking route that stays high is pretty difficult here. To make long loops, you either have to be OK with spending a lot of time in the lower valleys or be a really good climber. 

Access to the Eagles Nest Wilderness is said to be easier on the west side near Vail. See this map for trailhead locations in the Eagles Nest Wilderness. I parked at the Gore Creek trailhead, 2.3 miles east of Exit #180 off I-70 on Bighorn Road. This road to this trailhead is completely paved, so you can access it in any vehicle. Watch out for all the bikers on the road, there’s a tons of ’em here. Coloradans are probably used to seeing this many cyclists, but here in southeast Michigan the only people riding bicycles on the road are doing so because they have a DUI! The Gore Creek trailhead was pretty packed but many of them were bikers, not hikers. 

Nearby towns of Vail, Silverthorne and Frisco should have everything you need for last minute stops. Also note that you can get a shower after your hike for $5 at the Silverthorne Rec Center if needed. The address for the Silverthorne Rec Center is 430 Rainbow Dr, Silverthorne, CO 80498. 

 

Eagles Nest Wilderness Backpacking Maps

Total distance: 22.83 mi
Max elevation: 12851 ft
Min elevation: 8717 ft
Total climbing: 8451 ft
Total descent: -8967 ft
Download

Download GPX file of this hike

Here’s my caltopo map of the route I hiked:

Day 1 – Saturday July 8th, 2017

Miles Hiked – 6.54
Elevation Gain – 3058′
Route Hiked – Gore Creek Trailhead to Gore Lake

I started my hike at the Gore Creek trailhead (8688′ elevation) around 10:15 am, just in time for a few clouds to start brewing. The trail immediately begins to climb after leaving the trailhead. The trail itself is pretty well maintained here. There’s a sign marking the entry to the Eagles Nest Wilderness after about 1 mile. Once you pass the sign, the trail goes over the top of a small hill where you lose sight of I-70. The sound from the road is also gone, and replaced with that of Gore Creek. The trail winds through a few patches of aspens before the evergreens become the dominate tree with increased elevation. 

Gore Creek Trail near Gore Creek trailhead

On the Gore Creek trail

The crowds of people started to thin out about two miles from the trailhead. Most of the people on the trail were older folks, and seemed to be locals coming out to get a few miles in for exercise. I stopped along a slow bend in Gore Creek after an hour to eat a little food. I didn’t see any fish, but it looked like there would be potential if one were to walk the bank looking for deeper holes. 

view of gore creek from the gore creek trail in the eagles nest wilderness of colorado

Gore Creek

There were few sweeping views of the valley, and the trail only occasionally swings alongside Gore Creek. The trail maintains a pretty manageable incline much of the way to the intersection with Gore Lake trail, with occasional steeper bursts. I passed a guy who said he’d just seen a large bear at the intersection, which I arrived at about 10 minutes later. No bear, fine with me. 

At the intersection of Gore Creek trail & Gore Lake trail, the elevation is 10,180′. AT this point, the elevation gain is roughly 1800′ (with the ups and downs of the trail) over 4.15 miles. Now on the Gore Creek trail, I’ll climb 600’+ in about a half mile. There’s a little view of the valley below after gaining a little elevation. The trail then overlooks a creek, although don’t believe it’s the main creek flowing out of Gore Lake. I saw my first patch of snow around 10,700′.

mountain peaks beyond the meadow in eagles nest wilderness below gore lake

At the top of the 600′ push I was rewarded with a nice meadow. It was flat, open and green, the first of the hike. It sprinkled a little now, but not heavy enough to be a bother. The views were definitely improving now. In the meadow, jagged peaks and snow capped mountain sides loom in the distance. There were some small patches of colorful flowers here and there, still a ways off from peak bloom though. 

hiking trail just below gore lake in eagles nest wilderness colorado

Approaching Gore Lake

hiking trail near gore lakecolorado

After passing through the meadow, the trail then climbs another 500′ in .6 mile along the final stretch to Gore Lake. I enjoyed the final approach to the lake, where your view of a nearby peak is hidden and then revealed as you crest the top of the final slope. A somewhat “dramatic” way to arrive at such a beautiful lake!

ice on small pond next to gore lake colorado

First view of Gore Lake

(more…)

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Elk Park/Needleton Loop – Weminuche Wilderness, CO Aug 2013 (Backpacking Trip Report)

cdt trail runs along the top of the mountains in the weminuche wilderness, colorado - san juan mountain range

Weminuche Wilderness, CO – Elk Park/Needleton Loop Hike

Complete Weminuche Wilderness Photo Gallery | Weminuche HD Video

  • Trail Name – Elk Park/Needleton Loop
  • Location – Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juan National Forest, CO
  • Park Type – National Forest, Wilderness Area
  • Fees & Permits – None
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 6 days, 5 nights
  • Trail Type – Semi loop – Train drops you off and picks you up
  • Miles Hiked – 48
  • Trail Difficulty – 8
  • Fires Allowed – Yes (No fires in Chicago Basin or Needleton drainage)

 

Total distance: 49.99 mi
Max elevation: 14088 ft
Min elevation: 8238 ft
Total climbing: 17139 ft
Total descent: -16804 ft
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elk park needleton loop hike statistics

 

Elk Park to Needleton Loop Hike Map – Weminuche Wilderness Maps

Here’s an overview map of the Weminuche Wilderness, which includes trailhead locations.

a map of the weminuche wilderenss that shows trailhead locations

Weminuche Wilderness Map With Trailheads

Here’s my caltopo map of the Elk Park/Needleton hike: 

 

Fees & Permits

There are no fees or permits needed to hike or camp in the Weminuche Wilderness. However, to hike this trail as I did, you will need to secure a train reservation through the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. This was $90 each person for a round trip ticket, plus $10 to each to haul your backpack. Not cheap by any means, but it was a cool way to enter and leave the wilderness.

 

Day 1 – Monday August 5th, 2013

Miles Hiked – 5.4
Route – Elk Park train stop to camp along Elk Creek at ~10,300ft

Finally, it was time to start this hike. We’d been in Colorado a week now, doing other cool stuff like the Colorado National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, Denver & Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park, Telluride, etc. This time, we were sure to be acclimated to the elevation. Lisa had a bit of trouble last year in the Maroon Bells when we hiked the Four Pass Loop, and I may have had a slight headache that first day as well. Not this time though! (more…)

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Four Pass Loop – Maroon Bells Wilderness, CO Aug 2012 (Backpacking Trip Report)

Maroon Bells Wilderness, CO – Four Pass Loop Backpacking Overview

Complete Maroon Bells Wilderness Photo Gallery | Maroon Bells Wilderness HD Video

  • Location – Maroon Bells Wilderness, CO
  • Park – White River National Forest
  • Trail Hiked – Four Pass Loop
  • Miles Driven To Destination – 2980 miles Round trip
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 6 days, 5 nights
  • Trail Type – Loop
  • Miles Hiked – 38 (includes summit of Snowmass Mountain)
  • Trail Difficulty – 8/10
  • Fires Allowed – Yes

 

Download a GPX file of my hike (right click and choose “save as”): Four Pass Loop – Maroon Bells Wilderness, CO

Total distance: 36.71 mi
Max elevation: 14091 ft
Min elevation: 9459 ft
Total climbing: 15371 ft
Total descent: -15581 ft
Download

 

The Maroon Bells Wilderness caught my attention this spring when planning a backpacking trip during the month of May. I had read about the Four Pass Loop and after seeing some incredible pictures of this place, and I knew this was one hike I couldn’t pass up. There was too much snowfall on the ground still in May, and instead I hiked the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. However, I would not have to wait long for my chance to hike here. I decided that the Four Pass Loop would be my destination of choice for my mid summer trip after my plans for Isle Royale fell through yet again. The plan was to hike the Loop, but camp an extra night at Snowmass Lake and summit Snowmass Mountain on the extra day. It would be a step above all my previous hikes in most aspects, especially elevation. Wikipedia has this to say regarding Altitude Sickness: “It is hard to determine who will be affected by altitude sickness, as there are no specific factors that correlate with a susceptibility to altitude sickness.”

The area we planned on hiking lies in the Elk Mountain Range in the Maroon Bells Wilderness, just outside of Aspen, CO. This is within the White River National Forest.

Prior to this trip, the highest elevation I’ve hiked t was 10,643ft (Black Mountain, Gila Wilderness, NM). This trip would raise that number by 3,455ft if I can summit Snowmass Mountain, 14,098ft. If not, the Four Pass Loop is comprised of four mountain passes between 12,400 and 12,500ft, so I’ll still surpass my highest elevation by more than 1,850ft anyways. I didn’t have a problem with the elevation in New Mexico this past May, but this was going to be the real test!

My girlfriend was coming with me on this trip.  I was a little concerned with how she will handle the elevation, as well as the rigors of a big hike like this. She had gone with me on my trip to Manistee River last fall, a really easy hike, but that was her only prior backpacking experience. She was short some gear and had to buy rain pants, hiking boots, socks, sleeping bag, and a backpack. There was no way she could use my crappy High Sierra backpack I have as a “spare” for a trip like this. In fact, she used it last year at Manistee with maybe 20 pounds in it, and even that was uncomfortable. The only gear I had to buy for this trip was a few more OPsaks so the critters can’t smell our food. I didn’t even have to make a last minute trip to REI for something… nice.

 

Getting There

I won’t bore you with much details of driving here, it was pretty uneventful. Almost 1500 miles of farmland is enough to put anyone to sleep. We left Detroit on Saturday July 28th and drove about 15 hours before stopping in North Platte, Nebraska. We assumed that there would be plenty of hotel rooms available, but every hotel was pretty much booked. There were a few events going on, such as a soccer tournament. We had to settle for a smoking room at a Days Inn I think it was. It smelled awful, and apparently pets are welcome in the hotel because we heard dogs barking all night. It was pretty ghetto, but it was either this place or nothing since there were no other towns around.

The next day, we only had about 4 hours left to Denver where, where we planned on staying with Lisa’s friend. It was a pretty gradual rise in elevation the rest of the drive. We were relieved to finally see the Rockies about 30 miles outside of Denver. We arrived early in the afternoon, so we decided to grab a bite to eat and check out the Red Rocks area just outside of town. After that, we went to bed early and tried to get as much rest as possible before setting out on the final stretch tomorrow morning.

 

Day 1 – Monday July 30th, 2012

Miles Hiked – 4
Route – Maroon Creek Rd. Trailhead (West Maroon Portal Parking Lot) to camp along West Maroon Creek at 10,800ft

We left The Denver area around 5:45am today after spending the night at a friends apartment, which was about 4 hours from the trailhead in Aspen. After leaving Denver on I-70w, the drive was all mountains. It was a beautiful drive and really built up my anticipation for the hike. We stopped for breakfast at the Golden Burro in Leadville, which was pretty good. Their menus were full of history of the town, which included things like Doc Holiday’s last shootout. I recommend this place if you are passing through… good food, big portions, cool atmosphere.

After leaving Leadville, we passed over the Continental Divide at Independence Pass. We stopped here for a couple of pictures, but didn’t stay long. After this, the road really winds through the mountains, and offered some great views. It was a white knuckle drive though, thanks to the swarms of cyclists on the road. These guys were all over between Independence Pass and the Maroon Creed Rd. Trailhead in Aspen. They don’t move out of the way either, they ride in the middle of the road as if they are a car. I was ready to get out of the car by the time we reached Aspen, where I was picking up my fishing license I had ordered online. I was looking for “King Sooper’s”, which I thought was some type of gas station. There seem to be no visible addresses on buildings in Aspen, but I stopped where my GPS said the address was. We got out and walked around for a while trying to find it before figuring out that King Sooper’s was actually a grocery store called “City Market”. Apparently, it’s called King Sooper’s City Market, but how the hell would anyone know that from the sign outside that says “City Market”?

entrance road to the maroon bells wilderness

After grabbing the license, we dodged about a 1,000 more cyclists before reaching the entrance to the Maroon Bells Wilderness. We paid the $10 entrance fee and were told that the overnight parking lot was full and that we needed to park at the West Portal lot. This lot was packed with cars too, but we found a spot and began to gear up. I always bring a scale with me to the trailhead so I can weigh my pack right before the hike. Mine was 52+ pounds, Lisa’s was 34. Intersecting the parking lot was a trail that headed into the woods in the direction we wanted to go, but it was not clear where it was going. So, we hiked the pavement, following other hikers we saw leaving the parking lot. It was probably another 1/3 mile or so before we reached a bus loading/unloading area where they drop off hoards of day hikers shuttled in from somewhere. We weren’t sure where we needed to obtain the free permit needed to hike here, but after following the cement pathway we came to a small building that had some info on the wildlife and whatnot. There was another hiker in here filling out a permit, but there were none left on the counter and no park employees around. It was already around 11:30 and we couldn’t wait around for anyone to get us a permit, so I rummaged through the drawers on the other side of the counter and found a stack of permits, which I placed on the counter for everyone to use.

Finally, we were on our way. Today, we were going to hike about 4 miles and find camp somewhere near 10,800ft along West Maroon Creek. I had read that there were not many campsites past this mark, unless you plan on going over West Maroon Pass.

Maroon Lake is right there by the place we got the permit, with the Bells visible from the start. It was very beautiful but I was a little discouraged by the massive amounts of people in the area. I know that the trailhead area is always the most crowded, but I was having a hard time believing we were going to have any type of solitude here. However, many of these people had nothing on their backs and were clearly only here for the day, so we figured it would clear up after Crater Lake.

View of the Maroon Bells in between Maroon & Crater Lake

View Of Maroon Bells From Crater Lake

View Of Maroon Bells From Crater Lake

After leaving Maroon Lake, we hiked through a short wooded section before hiking a mile or so of rocky ups and downs leading to Crater Lake. The entire way here we encountered people coming or going every minute or two, and often much more frequently that that. Crater Lake was pretty dry, evidence of the drought this area has been experiencing. Only a week prior the fire ban was lifted for the White River National Forest, which was good news for us. Who doesn’t love a good campfire?

The Base Of North Maroon Peak

We should have scoped out the campsites near Crater Lake while we were here, since this was our intended campsite for night 5. However, since we were not making very good time today, we didn’t stay long. After passing the lake, we began to see less and less people, which was a good thing. Although we hadn’t hiked too far, it had been a while now since breakfast so we stopped for lunch at the base of a talus field below North Maroon Peak. Here, we caught our first glimpse of a Marmot. Lisa and I had never seen one, so watching them run around on the rocks was entertaining. We also saw our first Pika in this area, and saw our last person for the day… finally, some solitude!

After finishing up with lunch, we put our packs back on and immediately Lisa noticed a large water leak coming from her backpack. It was obviously the hydration bladder as this was the only item with water in it, but upon inspection we did not see any leaks or even a wet spot on the bladder itself. We were stumped as to where the leak came from, but my best guess is that the quick connect mechanism for the bladder’s tube had too much pressure on it causing the hose to be partially open. It’s just odd that there was no water in this area, nor was it wet. We kept our fingers crossed and hoped this would not happen again, and thankfully it didn’t.

four pass loop clockwise day 1

colorado mountain goats

These goats weren’t happy to see us

Now late afternoon, it was pretty hot out at this point. We were both a little dehydrated, despite drinking tons of water in the morning and throughout our hike today. I had a bit of a headache, which I blamed on the elevation and dehydration. Lisa wasn’t feeling good, and was ready to stop. I wanted to make it to around 10,800ft today as I’ve read that there are not many good campsites past this mark. As we pushed on towards our destination, we encountered a few mountain goats grazing alongside the trail, maybe 30 feet away. I took a few pictures, and moved in closer to shoot a video of them. One of the goats turned and started trotting towards me, so I backed off and let them be. These guys were big, and I did not want to find out what they were capable of.

west maroon creek stream crossing

four pass loop west maroon campsite view

Night 1 campsite near West Maroon Creek, around 10,800ft

After leaving the goats behind, we crossed over to the East side of West Maroon Creek. I decided to start looking for a place to make camp for the night and dropped my pack to scout the area. We were just below the Len Shoemaker Ridge at this point. Leaving the trail and hiking up the hillside towards the ridge, I found a nice campsite on a hill with some good tree cover and a nice view. As we set up camp we could see several other mountain goats on the slopes South of Maroon Peak and above us near the Len Shoemaker Ridge. Great, hope these guys leave us alone!

maroon bells len shoemaker ridge

The Len Shoemaker Ridge

Next, we headed back down to West Maroon Creek to filter some water. My MSR Miniworks water filter was usually good for 2-4 liters of water before needing to be cleaned, but the water was so clean here that I fi