|| Day 1: Cumbres Pass → Dipping Lakes ||
The adventure begins! After numerous hiccups during the travel, I’m here!
Hiking solo has a unique feel to it. Everything seems quieter, less distractions, and a whole lotta time to think!
I have no doubts that this will be the hardest trip I have ever done, mostly because of the psychological components.
I must take it one step at a time, and break it down into digestible pieces.
|| Day 2: Dipping Lakes → Lake Ann Outlet ||
Trying to get into a groove of things, as the miles just keep on coming. Was unsure if I wanted to hike with Mark, John, and Chris, so opted to “hike my own hike.”
It’s tough deciding to hike alone. So far it has taken every ounce of courage, determination, and grit, yet that is what this trip is for. Life isn’t easy; accomplishments aren’t handed to you on a plate. But when you put your mind to it, great things happen.
I’ve never been good with downtime, so it’s interesting that I decided to walk 30+ days by myself. When I’m moving, I am locked in. Right foot forward, then left. But I won’t lie, it’s hard to find enjoyment in the breaks. I hike fast enough by myself to get into camp early; yet I don’t really want to get to camp early, as I will be left with hours to do nothing.
I tried to make a SAT phone call today, only to realize that the Inmarsat satellites SUCK and I should have rented the Iridium. Oh, well.
I could tell my gas tank was near empty as I neared my spot for lunch; postholing up to my hips didn’t help that. The patchy snow reminds me at times of the JMT; I can tell that many hikers out here have not had very much experience hiking in snow previously.
I decided to take an extended lunch break for a few reasons:
- I’ve covered around 12 miles already today, with only 5-8 to go.
- I wanted to try and dry out my socks and shoes, which became significantly wet from all the postholing.
- Some part of me wants to wait for the other hikers behind me, who are planning on making camp at the same spot. While I would like to be completely fine with the solitude, I think I will need a few days to understand how i can deal with it.
I’m taking the mindset of breaking this great, long journey down into bite sized chunks, ones that I can wrap my head around. Tasks, especially great ones, can seem daunting when viewed in their entirety.
One thing that certainly keeps me going is all the support I have behind me. Friends sending supportive messages, family always lending a helping hand. Although I am only 1.5 days in, I wouldn’t even be this far if it weren’t for everyone behind me.
I’m learning a lot about myself with all this time alone. I’ve already learned how valuable companionship is. I’ve already learned that setting goals and expectations is CRUCIAL if you want to succeed at anything!
WHEW! Now that’s a day, if I do say so myself. Posthole after posthole, step after step, I made my way to Lake Ann outlet, but it was NOT easy. My dry feet after lunch were short-lived, as I immediately headed right back into the snow. Oh, well.
I found a bit of a groove after lunch, but an afternoon break slowed me significantly. To be honest, I was kind of trying to find ways of slowing myself down, to minimize time spent alone in camp.
Just before I was going to take off after lunch I met Zebra, a CDT hiker from Poland. An accomplished thru-hiker, she has already completed the Te Araroa and the AT, and there are many more on her list. Her will and drive amaze me, as she sets out into the unknown by herself.
Ate dinner on the side of the trail after a long stretch of postholing.
My camp for the night was spectacular, overlooking the Lake Ann outlet and river valley. I’ll just keep on pushing!
|| Day 3: Lake Ann → Bonito Pass ||
WOW! Now that is one hell of a morning, if I do say so myself. This trip should be called JMT part 2, as I spent nearly the entire morning postholing through snow.
Today is the first big test, with over 24 miles planned. I’ve made it through around 11 at this point.
With this morning’s crappy trail conditions I have undoubtedly lost my camping partner, Zebra, so tonight will be the first completely solo.
Life has its ups and downs, and today had some awesome ups. Postholing for miles was miserable, yet we got the SAT phone working! Mom also messaged that all of the resupply packages are accounted for!
I made it to Elwood Pass around 5 PM, and continued on to Bonito Pass, another 6 miles or so. My left knee ached with every step.
After yelling “Heyoo bear!” for nearly an hour, I encountered a pair of hikers, which brightened my day. Onto Wolf Creek Pass tomorrow!
|| Day 4: Bonito Pass → Lake Archuleta ||
Some days are harder than others; today was a hard one.
No, the physical challenge of today was not overbearing. Starting out from Bonito Pass, there was infrequent snow. The mental challenge of this trip is the hard part. I knew coming into this hike that I would be challenged like never before. But I have to admit, there have been some fleeting moments when I have doubted my ability. It’s the grit, determination, and drive to keep going. It’s the endlessness of it all. Writing now, I’m only 4 days in, so I’m hoping that it will change, but nonetheless this moment is tough.
I was met today by Karla at Wolf Creek Pass, bearing my resupply and so much more! Out of the kindness of her heart she assisted me, and asked for nothing in return. AMAZING!
I have to admit, the weight of a pack full of 6 days of food is much less pleasant than when it is slimmer, but on I go.
On my way back to the trail I met a hiker from Poland named Gregory. I have hopes that for this section to Lake City we can stick together (I pray that is not speaking too soon!).
Gregory and I spent the afternoon hiking and chatting, about gear, his thru-hikes of the AT and PCT, and other stuff.
We decided to push onto Archuleta Lake, still feeling some miles left in our legs. Out camp was decent, but the company was outstanding. Gregory and I spent hours around dinner chatting and just wasting away the remaining sunlight. Mom and Dad even poked that my nightly message had not come by its regular hour.
|| Day 5: Lake Archuleta → <Cherokee Lake ||
I woke in a cold sweat before sunrise, ready to tackle the day! I rushed out of my sleeping bag to grab my food, and then rushed back in, eating my morning oatmeal from my bag’s warmth.
Gregory headed out without a meal, so I spent a good part of the morning playing catch-up. I took pause for the spectacular morning light above the San Juans. Our pace steady, we covered around 6 miles before Gregory’s morning meal at around 8:30 AM, giving us a good start on the day. With rain in the forecast for tomorrow, I hope we can advance farther than I initially planned.
The climb up to South River Peak was LONG and tiring, with numerous switchbacks taking the breath right out of me. As we descended down to Piedra Pass I decided to try some music, in hopes of making the hours tick away just a bit faster.
As the early afternoon set in, my exhaustion crept and crept, and I yearned for a lunch break. I was relieved when Gregory finally paused from his rhythmic march to refuel.
The miles ahead appear treacherous, especially the Knife Edge, which Karla gave caution about. I wonder how I will fare as the weather is predicted to deteriorate tomorrow.
Some days are better than others; most are better than this afternoon. I nearly reached my breaking point today, reaching out to a few loved ones for some support and encouragement. While my body did ache, especially my feet from blisters, my mind struggled to motivate each next step. I think it was the first moment where self-doubt and the thought of failure crept into my head, and it rocked me.
I put back on my music, hoping it would power me through the next miles as we trudged along. As my body tired I kept climbing, trying to catch up to Gregory.
I met up with Gregory again near my initial planned campsite. At that point we had already trekked nearly 22 miles. Gregory proposed we continue onto Cherokee Lake, nearly 6 miles ahead. Wanting to keep up with him, I agreed.
We looked at the map and convinced ourselves that the rest of the day would be relatively flat along a ridge. HA! Up and down we went along knife edges, until finally we came to a spot with cover and water.
Immediately I took off my shoes, my feet burning from blisters on the underside of my arch (on each foot). I then managed to call Mom and Dad, trying to explain the challenge of the day.
Exhaustion makes food and sleep so much better! Trying to pick myself up, I made a shepherd’s pie, that although too watery, tasted outstanding! And I can hardly recall such a sound night’s sleep, after an exhausting day of around 27 miles and over 5000’ of climbing (as well as descending).
|| Day 6: Cherokee Lake → Pinos River Valley ||
If you do something for long enough it becomes routine; I am beginning to see that idea in action.
After hitting snooze a few times on my alarm, I began the morning ritual, with raindrops beating down. Gregory and I took a look outside, and it did NOT look good.
Our morning objective: the Knife Edge. We approached it with clouds above, and easily managed it’s south side, only to find nearly a mile of snow traverse left!
Slowly and carefully we made our way across, thankful for the pleasant lack of rain during this traverse.
As we kept on, however, snow and hail beat down on us in waves. Intermittent patches of sun left us confused as to how to dress.
Although the weather was poor today, my spirits are higher. I believe I am getting the “feel” for this trip as we move closer to Lake City, where I hope to catch some rest. My feet have become raw from my socks; each step feels like pins and needles.
Although it may not have seemed like it, we made it 21 miles today, with over 4000’ of climbing. Hopefully this is a sign that my body is adjusting well!
|| Day 7: Pinos River Valley → Bear Creek ||
I was greeted by an arctic blast this morning, waking to icy frost on both my sleeping bag and tent. It took every ounce of willpower to tear myself from my sleeping bag. That, and having to pee really badly.
The beginning of the day was spent gradually climbing up to the Window; with good weather, the views kept me moving along.
After the Window we ascended up to and then descended down a ridge; I titled it the “Skyline.” I hooted and hollered joyous yells as we cruised down, with views of the dramatic San Juans.
Although every step feels like fire, I managed to keep one foot moving in front of the other. We had multiple climbs that expended our energy: down to Ute Lake, then up, then up to Hunchback Pass. Gregory and I put in headphones and rolled on at our own paces.
I can’t say it enough, but the support from those around me is the fuel that is keeping me going. While every step is painful, and times can be lonely, knowing that I have friends and family behind me gives the motivation to continue.
I have hopes that tomorrow, as we meet up with the Colorado Trail, we can meet some companions and put in some good miles to give some time for rest in Lake City!
|| Day 8: Bear Creek → Wager Gulch ||
Tearing myself from sleep this morning was much better than any morning before. No ice on the tent, my feet feeling much better, etc.
Early in the day we met up with the Colorado Trail. On the way up I got a glance of what probably was a hunter’s cabin.
The link up with the Colorado Trail seemed like glacial moraine, with rolling hills of Oreo crumble. I slowly began to feel pain from my feet again, but was able to keep on.
Up and down, up and down we went today. Climb after climb, my legs slowly tired. Amazing views, however, helped rejuvenate me.
We had multiple wildlife spottings today: elk, coyote, deer, and plenty of marmots. At our evening break Gregory initially indicated that he would not be staying in Lake City tomorrow night. After some brief dialogue, though, I was able to convince him to stick around until Monarch with me.
Our evening was interrupted by a group of 4 CDT hikers who were looking to use our campsite as their weed spot. After some explaining, I managed to fend them off.
I’m hoping that Gregory and I can continue our vibe together as we look towards the next section.
|| Day 9: Wager Gulch → Spring Creek Pass ||
I woke in my cabin in a sweat, with warmth surrounding me. I was treated to it’s comforts, sheltered from the wind.
Our morning started off with a big climb up from Wager Gulch to a ridge. From that point, we nearly “ran” along the mesas to Spring Creek Pass (we were surprised when a helicopter flew just above us).
We felt accomplished waiting for our ride at Spring Creek Pass, me with 9 days and 180 miles behind me.
I chatted with Darren on the way down, and I found out that he knows/met Matt Marcus!
Lake City is a charming little town, the one where everyone knows “when you pick your nose.” We left our gear at the Matterhorn Motel, and headed to the grocery. I was delighted to find that they had Zevia and gluten-free bread!
We ran into the half-baked CDT hikers again, as they ran some errands around town.
We then headed out for some pizza. I have forgotten this feeling of being full. I am really hoping that these luxuries today will not make tomorrow unbearably difficult!
|| Day 10: Spring Creek Pass → San Luis Pass ||
Getting back onto the trail is extremely difficult and didn’t hit me for a while. .
I woke well rested in my head, and ventured out for breakfast of eggs and potatoes. Civilization was a nice touch, but made getting back into the groove extremely difficult.
I hit a low point today, breaking down emotionally. I need to do a better job of “chunking” down this great big task into bite-sized pieces.
|| Day 11: San Luis Pass → Quemado Creek ||
Turn a new page, write a new narrative.
I woke today chilled but refreshed, ready to get further into this adventure. The morning routine commenced, as many times before.
With a goal in sight for this morning, I was determined and focused. San Luis Peak (14,014’) lay ahead, and I needed this climb to boost my confidence.
At the saddle we left some items to make our packs lighter, making our summit attempt more pleasant.
Up scree slopes and switchbacks, with music pushing me along, I MADE IT! What a feeling; as many times before, the elation of reaching a pinnacle was rejuvenating.
Carefully, I made my way down the mountain, as we continue on for the day.
Just as the trail goes up and down, so does life. Today was an enjoyable crest, with a sense of fulfillment and satiety.
Although today was mostly flat and downhill, it was exhausting. Down the canyon to Eddiesville, then along fire roads to Quemado Creek. Nearly 29 miles, and it felt like it.
I was delighted at lunch when Josh said he would be able to join me for an additional stretch of Nolan’s 14. It seemed today that some really exciting pieces lay ahead on this next section of my trip.
Keep on going I will!
|| Day 12: Quemado Creek → Upper Razor Creek ||
While sleep may be universal, the feeling awaking from it is NOT. The long miles of yesterday did not treat me well; I woke sore and feeling but a brief pause from the hiking yesterday.
This morning was mostly spent on dirt roads across lower country, and while the terrain was not challenging, the monotony was. By 9 AM we had already made it 9 miles.
At our break we met a cliche cowboy, spitting tobacco with his truck and dog along behind him. A Korean war veteran and rancher, he talked our ears off at his peace.
Road walking is a painstaking process. The gradual grade and seeming endlessness of it all makes the miles proceed slowly. My sense of calendar has been lost out here in the mountains, so it was a pleasant surprise to find so many day adventurers on their way up from North Pass. Saturday, I remembered. The wilderness gives new appreciation to companionship; I stopped and chatted with these hikers, bikers, etc., for a brief but pleasant exchange.
As I marched slowly up a fire road I was pleasantly surprised to find Gregory stopped for our lunch break earlier than I expected. It seemed that the monotony I had been experiencing had been eating at him too. I was glad to have pause from our journey.
By midday my feet had deteriorated again, this time developing button-like blisters on the balls of both feet. Each step felt excruciating, yet push on I must, and did.
Another 20+ mile day in the books, and my body will hopefully start adapting to them!
|| Day 13: Upper Razor Creek → Marshall Pass ||
I woke knowing today would be a hard day, my feet throbbing and feeling no better, maybe even worse than yesterday.
For the first few miles, the pain was just barely bearable, yet as I continued to put stress on them, it became intolerable. Yelling and screaming, I hobbled my way to our morning break. The pain was exhausting, as well as challenging, and left me feeling weak.
After poking and prodding at my foot with a needle, I took 400 mg of Motrin, which knocked all feeling off. I was able to cruise along the miles, numb to any feeling.
Every adventure comes with a dose of misadventure. As if any painful blister wasn’t enough, the sole of my left shoe fell off mid-way through the afternoon. Duct tape to the rescue!
|| Day 14: Marshall Pass → Monarch Pass ||
A great section of this adventure comes to a close!
I woke excited to make the end of this point of the journey, with fatigue and pain lingering. After a few ibuprofen, and some self-talk, I marched on, without end until meeting Monarch Pass.
14 days; 200 miles. WOW! Am I ready for some sleep and food!
Not even 5 minutes passed before we were offered a ride down to Salida by Greg. People around here are just nicer!
We dropped our stuff at the Simple Hostel, the CDT hiker spot, and then headed out to Dollar Tree and Walmart. Using the community bikes, which were much too small for me, we bounced around the town.
I rushed over to a podiatrist at Mom’s arranging, which turned out to be miraculous! He was able to give me padding which relieved the pressure around the area!
|| Day 15: Zero Day in Salida ||
Although my feet may have stopped moving, my body has certainly not stopped. My early sleep schedule did not stop; 4 AM, then 5. Finally, at 6 I decided to wake and begin my day.
Zero days can be summed up by eating and sleeping. Breakfast was a big, giant plate of eggs, bacon, and a fried bagel. After venturing around town for a bit, lunch was a pile of chicken, potatoes, and veggies, with some ice cream for good measure.
|| Day 16: Garfield → Browns Creek ||
Getting the wheels turning again may be hard, but once they are turning it is delightful. Well rested and a few pounds heavier, I set out to the trail this morning to get back on track. Tom, a trail angel in town, ferried Top Nach and I in his vehicle.
Pulling off to the side of the road at the intersection with the Colorado Trail, Tom dropped me off; I was ready!
With my newfound love for audiobooks, I plugged away at the approach to Shavano, the first 14er of the day.
On the way I passed numerous day hikers, some of whom were blown away by my endeavors. “Be safe!” I heard endlessly.
Climbing up more than 5,000’ was slow, and once I reached the saddle of Mt. Shavano afternoon winds had picked up. But step by step, I made it.
The first of Nolan’s 14! I stayed a while atop Shavano, Facetiming and video messaging friends and loved ones. I was joined by some marmots as well!
No rest until the next 14er: Tabeguache. Down to the other saddle and then back up. 2/14!
And then, things took a comically interesting turn. Down over 3,000’ of scree, I stumbled and slid, my shoes getting punctured deeper with each step.
Then, I managed to tumble head over heels down a waterfall!
Finally, I managed to dunk my right foot in a creek. Oh, well! The stories to tell.
|| Day 17: Browns Creek → Chalk Lake Campground ||
Falling asleep last night took a long while, so this morning I was a bit lethargic to start, following a fire road up the slope to Antero instead of scrambling up more scree. I have enough bumps and scrapes to show from yesterday.
Generosity; it seems to be in the air out here. Josh offered to bring me food on his way out here, another example of his incredible generosity. Yet the deeds don’t end there. After exiting the road leading up to Antero, I realized that our planned spot for camp lay miles down the road from Alpine Lake. I tried my shot at hitchhiking, and was picked up by a generous lady from NoVA, who even offered my a cheese stick!
She dropped me at Cascade Campground, yet I soon realized, after scanning the camp, that there were no spaces for me.
Back to the road and down to Chalk Lake campground I went. My spirits sank when I read the “Campground Full” sign posted at the entrance. I saw the camp host nearby, and figured I’d talk to her, just give it a shot at least. She said her camp was full, and dismayed, I started walking back down the road.
Moments later, though, she called for me, saying I could stay in her site if I was “nice enough.” Ecstatic, I was blown away by her kindness; the people out here really are just nicer!
Dozing on and off to pass some time, I waited in my tent for Josh. Just as the sun began to fade, and right as I was setting out for water, he pulled up in his Subaru Outback. Bearing food and my new shoes, I was delighted by his company!
|| Day 18: Chalk Lake Campground → Rainbow Lake ||
With a companion alongside, today was bound to be an amazing day, and it absolutely was!
We woke early in our campground and tiptoed quietly enough to not wake our incredibly generous host. On our way out I thanked her for the incredible hospitality she demonstrated.
We started the gradual climb up the mountain. It was really nice to have someone to talk to along the way, as we chatted on various matters.
Once above the treeline, it got really exciting. This was Josh’s first 14er, so I was excited to show him up the mountain.
SUMMIT! We made it to the top of Princeton, and snapped a photo together, as well as with our backpackas. It was on the descent, though, that the REAL fun began.
Opting for an off-trail descent, we dropped into a gulch down 1500’ of scree. We scrambled and climbed down the large boulder fields, my legs aching by the end.
After our off-trail diversion we met back up with the Colorado Trail. Josh headed back to his car, and I headed on to Rainbow Lake, where we would meet again. Once I hit the road, rain began to fall on me; I was lucky enough to hitch a ride with some hikers into the lake.
The resort was a dose of paradise for me, even though I had a zero day not long before in Salida. A hot shower, Mexican food, and a soft bed rested me well!
|| Day 19: Rainbow Lake “Rest Day”; Mt. Yale Summit ||
Again, my body refused my orders of sleeping in, waking at 5:30 AM without effort.
Breakfast was a delicious mix of bacon, eggs, and potatoes, which felt incredible in my stomach.
Rest day? I think not! We drove out to the Mt. Yale trailhead and got another 14er together. Slowly we made our way up, with hail falling as we crested the summit.
The climb down was long and monotonous. Back at the cabin, Josh and I said our goodbyes, until next Thursday!
The parting of Josh brought on some monotony and boredom, as I was left alone in the rustic cabin. I attempted to upload photos, yet the internet was too poor.
Around 5 PM my stomach got the better of me, and I raced to cook up a thick steak with buttery potatoes and vegetables. The full meal nearly knocked me into a food coma, and I headed to bed early.
|| Day 20: Rainbow Lake → Cottonwood Creek ||
After a good night’s rest, I woke and cooked up some odds and ends, as I prepared to head back out into the mountains. I was reminded of the heavy weight of my pack, bearing 5 days of food, when I loaded it onto my back.
Up I slowly ascended to Mt. Yale yet again, this time on the eastern slopes. The moving was tough and slow, especially weighed down by a pack of 5 days. Through the clouds I climbed ever so slowly, but eventually made it back up to the summit.
On the way down the real fun began, as I began bushwhacking my way down the mountain slopes. As I hit forest, the rain left me soggy, but I was elated as can be!
|| Day 21: Cottonwood Creek → Pine Creek ||
I woke damp, not yet ready to tackle the day. Taking my leisure to pack up camp, I was a bit cold and ready to receive the morning’s light.
For an hour or so I hiked frigidly cold in the shade of Mt. Columbia. Once out of the treeline, I began an exhaustingly slow ascent up Mt. Columbia’s scree filled western slope, only to find a marked trail at the top I had failed to identify.
I had wanted a nice break in the warm sun atop Mt. Columbia, yet the harsh wind of the peak raced me off.
Down to a saddle between Mt. Columbia and Mt. Harvard I trudged, slowly due to the scree and loose rock.
The sun was a pleasant re-appearance today after yesterday’s gloomy weather. I took plenty of time on my way up to Mt. Harvard to enjoy the panoramas and views all around.
The final scramble up to Harvard was tiring, and I rejoiced when I reached it safely. Before I had worried about this day’s terrain, having read foreboding accounts of the traverse between today’s two peaks. Now, sitting atop Colorado’s 3rd highest peak, I am in a tired joyous state.
The way down along the ridge gave me amazing views of tomorrow’s difficult climbs. I made my way down through the trees towards Pine Creek. Wanting to keep my footwear dry, I opted to wade in my underwear and flip flops, a comical sight I am sure.
|| Day 22: Pine Creek → Clear Creek ||
Today began a race to the top, with may miles and even more feet to climb up! 4 14ers slated for the day!
I began by climbing up to Elkhead Pass, where I dropped my bear bag and ran off towards Mt. Oxford.
Meeting two fathers at the top of Mt. Oxford, I then raced back over to Mt. Belford, the second of the day.
These are the kinds of days I live for! Four 14ers, 9,000’ of climbing. After a rock scramble up to Huron Peak, I sang music all the way down, in an absolute state of joy.
Exhausted, I made it to camp with one wet foot and two tired legs. Fixing some shepherd’s pie and hot chocolate, I felt proud of the day’s accomplishments.
|| Day 23: Clear Creek → Everett, CO ||
Yesterday’s accomplishments made this morning a sore one. The night’s sleep was just average, surprising as I normally sleep soundly after grand adventures like yesterday.
I headed off down a fire road in the morning, back along the CDT for a bit. I passed the old mining town of Winfield, with its cabins and cemetery still preserved by the park service.
I took my sweet time climbing up to La Plata Peak, knowing that the day’s low mileage would not take me long. The trail eventually turned to scree, which strained my tired legs from yesterday.
Reaching the summit around noon, I was glad to take a nice break, as the rest of the day would be downhill to camp.
Steadily, I made my way down, thinking of how far I have come on this journey. Over 400 miles, 90,000’, and countless memories!
|| Day 24: Everett, CO → Halfmoon Creek ||
With so much practice, mornings have become efficient routine. Up, breakfast, pack, and go!
The first morning miles were spent on road, making my way to the trail for Mt. Elbert.
I knew that Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak, would be crowded, but the boisterous group of Boy Scouts was a bit beyond what I had imagined.
With Heather asking me to meet her at an alternative trailhead, and Josh seemingly confused about which trailhead to meet at, the afternoon will certainly have some more surprises in store.
Human kindness shows its form in amazing ways! As I unpacked my resupply box from Heather, she brought me a bottle of chocolate milk, which Hans had arranged for her to bring. Amazing!
Josh bumped his way down the 4WD road as the sun set, meeting me just past 9 PM. He so generously brought me a Chipotle burrito bowl, which I inhaled within minutes. We chatted for a brief while, and then we each headed for our respective tents.
|| Day 25: Halfmoon Creek → Turquoise Lake ||
Josh decided he wanted to leave his car at the Mt. Massive trailhead instead of further along the 4WD road, so we loaded in and drove back down. This decision would make our climb of Mt. Massive a good few miles longer, but I obliged his request.
Climbing up Mt. Massive, the final 14er of Nolan’s 14, was a test of willpower. Hail and snow pounded us sideways on the way up! I was NOT going to give up though. Step by step, foot by foot, I made it to this grand finale, and what a scene it was! A beautiful blue sky at the summit made for an unbelievable memory.
On the way down, I could tell that Josh was struggling, as his pace and body began to lag. We took the rest of the day plenty slow, I could not help but have thoughts of racing to Copper Mountain tomorrow. We shall see what the future holds.
|| Day 26: Turquoise Lake → Copper Mountain ||
WOW! What a day! Last night, just before we headed to sleep, Josh and I made a plan: because of his knee, Josh would hike the 10-12 miles back to his car, and I would hike the 40 miles to Copper Mountain. Sounds fair, right?
I was so excited! Another rest day, another day of food: perfect! I woke at 3:30 AM, ate my breakfast, and then I was off!
I could tell it was going to be a long day as the morning miles went slowly, but I was determined to make it! I plugged into my audiobooks and away I went!
Halfway through the day I was plugging along when a full grown male bull moose popped onto the trail right in front of me. CRAZY! So fast I didn’t have time for a picture.
After lunch my pace slowed, as I climbed up to Kokomo Pass, my gateway to Copper Mountain. Once up top, I knew I had made it. Only 11 miles more down.
Switchback after switchback, I made my way down to Copper. Mom’s flight was delayed, so Josh and I headed into town for food!
Some pounds lighter, I cleaned up in the apartment and waited for Mom’s arrival. Finally, reunion?
|| Days 27 & 28: Frisco ||
- Headed to Leadville. Bought a Melanzana Hoody
- Ate LOTS of food
- Saw a movie
- Spent hours on photos
|| Day 29: Greys Trailhead → Herman Gulch ||
Back into action today! After all the rest and feasts, I was slow to begin the day, but Mom got me up and out.
Deciding for a little more fun, I opted to climb Torrey’s Peak and then follow the CDT to Berthoud Pass, instead of the more relatively bland approach route I had selected. I got to bag another 14er, and met up with some CDT hikers at camp. Getting back in the swing of things!
|| Day 30: Herman Gulch → Berthoud Pass ||
Met up with Jupiter and Swiss Monkey yesterday, two CDT hikers who were quite pleasant. The daily routine, after over 500 miles, has become mechanical. If you perform an action long enough, it will become second nature.
The finish line inches ever closer, and the miles taper off leaving plenty of time for me to slog my way along. My pack’s weight, with the bear can, is keeping my speed in check. Otherwise, if left to my own devices, I would reach camp around lunchtime each day.
It was a beautiful day across the tops, mostly sunny and cloudless until clouds rolled in during afternoon. Experienced a little rain as I made my final descent to Berthoud Pass.
I had initially thought of camping in the warming hut at Berthoud Pass, but the residual smell of weed bumped me back out to my tent. Excited to start the Pfiffner tomorrow!
|| Day 31: Berthoud Pass → Middle Fork Ranch Creek ||
The final push begins in earnest! Climbing out of Berthoud Pass, I began my assault on the “James Peak Skyline.” An unprotected stretch of 13ers, the skyline yielded sweeping views and awe striking vistas. Greys and Torreys were visible in the distance to the south; Longs Peak visible to the north. An encapsulating culination of where I have been and where I have left to go was on full display.
On top of Mt. Flora, the first 13er of the stretch, I came across a few CDT hikers. Briefly chatting, they took me as crazy for my ridgeline run. They are missing out on the fun!
The ridges of this divide bring a smile to my face! The low tundra below crunching underneath my feet, the miles of mountains rolling before my eyes. It is a truly inspiring landscape, one that makes me want to hike from dawn to dusk.
While on the ridge today I spotted two large fires in the distance. It seems an inferno has crept onto Colorado during this trip!
After a few more miles, and numerous moose sightings, I made camp.
|| Day 32: Middle Fork Ranch Creek → Caribou Lake ||
Last night I spent nearly an hour trying to find an ideal camp, moving my stuff around stuffed in my arms.
Sleep took a while to come, but when it finally did I was treated to a peaceful night of sleep.
Waking this morning, I have a new determination in me. 3 days until Dad arrives! I can make that. I got a very unfavorable weather forecast for Saturday, but the low mileage of Sunday (and today) allows me a sufficient buffer.
The hardest part now is wasting time, as the short miles go about quickly.
Nature has the last laugh, always. I was humbled by a dicey ridge run after Mt. Neva, which left me scraped and ready for it to be over. After descending to Arapaho Pass, I was sufficiently exhausted, both mentally and physically.
Met a friendly group of hikers on a “college reunion” at Caribou Lake. Chatted with them over dinner.
Looking at tomorrow’s route, I am definitely intimidated, but excited to test out my skills!
|| Day 33: Caribou Lake → Pawnee Lake ||
Today packed a punch!
Cruising down from Caribou Lake into Coyote Park, I prepared myself for a challenging day of off-trail travel.
Climbing up to Wheeler Basin, I was fortunate to find an elk trail that led me all the way up. I scrambled my way up to the saddle of Mt. George, and took in the beauty of the Lost Tribe Lakes.
I was surprised at how easy a climb it was up to the infamous Northeast Gully. I was not so elated when I saw what faced me, though.
Sharply steep and covered in snow with no easy entry, the Northeast Gully intimidated me. I had to slide down a snow slope just to enter it.
I decided it would be better descending without my backpack. I tried to slide it down easily, but it quickly gained speed, snowballing violently down the slope. Water bottles and flip flops flew out of the outer mesh.
Then, my turn. I inched myself over the edge, and using my poles as brakes, slid down the slope. Fortunately, the snow was soft enough for me to slide slowly. Along the way I picked up my flip flops and knocked my water bottles down the hill. The entire endeavor was sketchy, but it worked.
The challenge was NOT over, though. Once down the snow slope, I had to maneuver myself down to Crater Lake. I would follow a route for a little while, only for it to cliff out soon after. Patiently, and after many mistakes, I found a way down.
Exhausted, physically and emotionally, I crawled along to Pawnee Lake, with Paiute Pass looming large above. It’s hard to believe that tomorrow will mark a new month!
|| Day 34: Pawnee Lake → Isolation Pass ||
I woke with a great ambition today, as a new month has arrived. It’s amazing to think that this trip will have touched 3 months (not in duration) by its end.
Tempted by the alpine, I decided to opt for the “extra credit” route up to Ogalalla Peak, on the border with Rocky Mountain National Park. My first obstacle of the day though was Paiute Pass. A steep climb, though manageable, the pass took just around an hour to crest.
Once on top, I realized that just like the Northeast Gully, I would have to glissade down. I sat myself down on the hard snow and controlled my speed with my poles. Though a bumpy ride, it was MUCH less nerve wracking than the one down the Northeast Gully.
Down to Paiute Lake and onward I had to bushwhack my way over blowdowns and around cliff edges.
It’s hard to describe the feeling right now, sitting overlooking Rocky Mountain National Park, the final stretch of this odyssey. I’m not overwhelmed by emotion, but rather, hit by a great feeling of making it this far. The journey isn’t over yet, though!
Sitting on a ledge, overlooking Paradise Park, with less than 50 miles ahead until the end, it is remarkable to me I have come this far. I can remember some painful times early on, and many amazing moments along the way. Tomorrow Dad will join me (hopefully no hiccups), and we will march on together!
|| Day 35: Isolation Pass → Lake Verna ||
This morning dawned the final week of this journey. Incredible! I headed out in the morning glow, ecstatic for the day.
I raced down the mountain in anticipation for Dad’s arrival, only to wait in the parking lot for an hour.
Finally, he was there! Pizza in the passenger seat, I was beyond elation. I woofed down the food, packed up, and we headed back up the mountain. Though a slow crawl, I finally had company!
|| Day 36: Lake Verna → North Inlet ||
A surprise start to the day was a moose running through camp!
Trips with Dad seem to be full of surprises! We began our climb up the steep hill from East Inlet on our way to North Inlet. Blowdown after blowdown, movement was quite slow.
Dad’s bowels apparently were quite indecisive, as he had to stop 3x to poop, each one a near catastrophe.
As we neared 10800’, Dad had a frightening realization. “Shit. . . my camera!” I had a vague idea of where he might have left it, so I told him to wait. Bounding down the slope, I reached the suspected location, only to find nothing there.
Some drive in me knew I could find it. I decided to trace my steps all the way back down to the beginning of the climb. On my way up, near a swarm of flies, I found the camera (lying near one of Dad’s emergency poops). I decided to play with him, and stashed the camera in my pack. When I met up with him, I initially played it off like I hadn’t found it, then reached into my pack for a snack, only to find the camera lying in the pack. We both laughed it off and continued on up.
Lounging by an alpine tarn, we took our leisure for a pleasant lunch. Shortly after we disembarked, Dad slipped on a snow slope, breaking one of his poles.
The off trail travel was much slower than anticipated. Over blowdowns and crud, we made our way to Lake Nanita, where we picked up a trail again.
On the way down from Lake Nokoni, Dad began to tire, and I felt some guilt in pushing him.
|| Day 37: North Inlet → Tonahutu Creek ||
What an incredible night’s rest! Until 530 AM, when my hunger woke me, I slept like an absolute rock.
What an incredible day! Switchback after switchback we made our way up to the Divide, and once again on top we were delighted!
A nice big lunch break was followed by an amazing surprise: a herd of nearly (or maybe more than) 100 elk! We took plenty of time for photos.
On the way down to camp we got one more surprise: a mother moose and her child! What an amazing July 4th!
|| Day 38: Tonahutu Creek → Rockslide ||
The last full day is ahead! I spent the morning in camp trying to slow our progress, as we have a short day ahead.
On the way up to Haynach Pass I was stopped in my tracks by a herd of elk running across the trail.
It’s hilarious sometimes the pranks nature will pull on you. As we descended down to the saddle below Chief Cheley Peak, a storm rolled in and we were forced to pitch our tent as we wait it out. Only 5 miles from the end!
The weather cleared a few hours after, and we opted to continue on. In the golden glow of the late afternoon we scrambled on talus up to Chief Cheley Peak. We were hit by a surprise sighting of bighorn sheep, a rare occurrence!
As the hours ticked on we made it to Mt. Ida, the final peak of the trip! I will enjoy the victory walk to Milner Pass tomorrow.
|| Day 39: Rockslide → Milner Pass ||
The walk to the end was one of pure joy, as with each advancing foot I remembered the incredible parts of this journey that led up to this point. We passed numerous day hikers on their journeys up to Mt. Ida, and relished in the disbelief they gave us in describing our journey.
Down to the road and VICTORY! I had done it. What an amazing journey. We tried our luck at hitchhiking back to Grand Lake, and after 30 minutes found a ride with a nice couple.
Keep on trekkin. . .