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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.


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