Day 8. Maroon Bells

7/7/16

Miles: 10ish

We get up around 5 am and quickly pack our gear. It’s customary to start a hike up a 14er as early as possible to avoid running into afternoon thunderstorms in exposed areas near the top of the mountains. We drive over to the closer trailhead with Dustin meeting us there too. He has a big van that he’s using as an adventure vehicle. It’s filled with climbing gear and a place to sleep. He is trying to climb the 100 highest summits in Colorado in just a season. Hitting several peaks a day for the next several weeks. 

We walk out to a magnificent sight I know I’ve seen before in calendars and post cards. The sight of the maroon bells with a lake and aspens in the front ground. Even though it’s twilight there are several photographers with tripods set up to capture the scene. We walk on past them and into a hiking trail. We pass another lake and a sign warning of the dangerous bear and moose activity in the area. The hiking trail continues next to a creek but Twinkle and Dustin say they see the route up a pile of rocks. Looking closely a more worn part of the rocks appears trail like and we take it. We eat a quick snack and then continue on the rocky trail until it gives way to a clearly visible dirt track that goes right up the side of the mountain, and very very steeply. I’ve never been on a trail that steep in my entire life. I guess because it’s not a hiking trail but a climbing trail. Makes sense. We trip and scramble up it and occasionally have to climb up some rock formations. I get a little bit worried I’ll have trouble getting back down by myself if the others continue on. 

Maroon Bells

Some pretty killer light

Chance and Twinkle

Dustin the mountain climbing addict

​​

Even at 14,000 feet life exists

I found a rock that looks like The Starry Night by Van Gogh.

Chance and me

After the trail gives way to a large scree field with rocks the size and shape of car batteries, it gets kinda fun and kinda scary. We all walk parallel to each other because we knock lots of these rocks loose and they go sliding down the mountain. Getting hit in the face by one of these would be game over. After an exhausting scramble up this we make it to the ridge and get an out of this world view of the surrounding area. Towering mountain passes are below us, red, orange, green and white painted mountains all around, it’s so beautiful. I’m pleased to have made it this far. If I don’t make it to the top that’s okay. I have all the views at least. 

Mountain Goat wool!

Mountain goat tracks

Lots of pretty lichen​

​​lunch on the rocks

The top!


With my favorite deputies

After a break at the ridge we need to follow the spine of the mountain towards the top. The trail is gone and now it’s a “route.” There are some cairns that loosely mark which way to go but you can really go up anyway you want. We climb up some rocks that make me rather uncomfortable. A slip would become a very serious injury or send you tumbling down the mountain to oblivion. The whole mountain seems to be made of crumbly rocks that give way when stepped on. It doesn’t help that Twinkle was telling us a story about how he heard of a couple that got married and climbed these mountains for their honeymoon and the wife slipped and fell to her death some years ago. Anyway I decided to push on with growing anxiety that getting down is going to be the real challenge. There are mountain goat footprints and wool all around these craggy rocks. It’s crazy that they happily come up here with no worries. 
After hours of climbing this dang scary mountain and following Twinkle and Dustin’s advice, Chance and even I make it to the very top of Maroon Peak. 14,163 feet up. My first Colorado 14er. The view from up here is probably the best I’ve ever had in my life. There is color and mountains everywhere. You can see the lakes where we started the hike this morning and see many other nearby 14ers. We eat a snack and catch our breathe. 

Now for the really scary part. Going back down those steep, crumbly scrambles. Chance is visibly nervous like I am about getting down, but at least now we know what we have to go down. We’ve already seen it and now it doesn’t seem too bad when I think about it. As it turns out, I liked going down a lot more. I wasn’t exhausted by the climb and have the advantage of being tall and flexible. I start to love it. My knee doesn’t hurt either. I guess it could just be because I’m so in the zone and high on adrenaline. 

Look careful and you can see Chance on the scree

The “trail” is steep

One more obstacle awaited us once we reached the ridge we came up. That big rocky scree field. It was okay going up, but for some reason, the rocks seemed much more inclined to give way and slide down the mountain with you on them on the descent. Lots of ankle twisting, you can’t trust any rock. A few times I took a step and all the rocks in a 5 foot radius of me started shifting down the mountain. I just jumped off them as quickly as I could and finally we got to the solid ground with dirt and plants. From here there is a visible trail, though extremely steep, down all the way to the creek where the hiking trail is. We slip and fall frequently down this steep track. One time I fall right in my ass so hard I see a flash of blue on impact. I have little blood blisters where I’ve caught myself falling on sharp rocks. 
We finally reach the hiking trail and Dustin splits off to go hike another nearby 14er. The guy is a mountain goat! We run into dozens and dozens of people now as we walk back towards the lakes. Lots of families and for some reason old men with young Asian ladies. Like a lot of old me with young Asian ladies. Enough that it becomes a conversion between all of us. Why? Anyway we hike past everyone and by the time we reach the first photogenic lake, about a hundred people are there taking pictures, fishing, etc.

We hop in Twinkles car, exhausted and drive to the closest Wendy’s to feast. Then we drive towards Vail where Chance and I will be staying at Twinkle’s bachelor house where other wedding guests are staying. We get there and take showers, eat food and relax/recover from today’s adventure. Later we meet a bunch of Twinkle’s friends and play euchre with them. Yay Midwesterners and the great card game! Twinkle’s sister and some more people show up and we start playing drinking games until we pass out from exhaustion. 

Back down.

Day 7. To Leadville.

7/6/16

Miles: 11.6

Total: 142.6
131 to Leadville

We woke up and waited about an hour and sure enough Christian showed up. He told us the whole story of how he left his bag and had to go back and get it. He couldn’t make it to our camp before it got dark so he sleep right up on the pass. 

The walk in the morning dropped us down into meadows and sagebrush. Because of all the rain we’ve been getting everything is lush and green. A cowboy and his dog are riding around a heard of sheep. We stay near him for almost a mile or so. We pass by the 10th mountain division military barracks from World War Two which still sit right on the Colorado Trail. They’re all graffitied with “Cops ruin lives.” Which have then augmented by others to say “Cops ruin lives of criminals.” We take a break on a bridge near the barracks and soak up some sun. I managed to contact Twinkle Toes and he’s arranged to get me tonight when we reach Leadville. Not a Chance will be with him too!! ​


The rest of the day is hiking through the lush and very scenic meadows all the way to Tennessee Pass. Just before then I run into a hiker northbound CDT hiker who say, “Hey! Don’t I know you? Sheriff Woody, right?” Sure am! Turns out the hiker is a guy named Ledge who I ran into last year on the Arizona Trail near Pine! The trail world is so small. We chat for a bit and then move on. We get to Tennessee pass and there is a good amount of traffic there. Should be an easy hitch. Just a few minutes after we stand there with our thumbs out, a van pulls over and a guy gets out. He seems excited to pick up hitch hikers but then has some sort of internal conflict. He says he needs to go ask his wife and mother if it’s okay to take us. But before he even does that he says, “Yeaaaa I don’t know if I can. It’s just, I don’t think they’d want me to.” We say it’s okay and he drives off. Why even pull over? After getting blue balled it takes us 45 minutes to finally get a ride. Turns out it’s a lady we passed earlier today while hiking near the barracks! We had chatted for awhile there and she remembered us. Easy ride into Leadville.


Once in town out first priority was food. We find a subway and gorge ourselves and utilize the wifi. Gordon goes to buy food and comes back with some cards as well. We play rummy until it is time for them to head back to trail. This is where I get off for now. Twinkle is going to meet me at the subway at 6 pm and I’ve got lots of time to kill. I say farewell to my friends and then head to the Leadville Hostel where I have a resupply box. I get there and chat with the caretaker for about a half hour and then go to a coffee shop to charge my gear and use wifi until it’s time to get picked up. I head to the subway and soon after Twinkle and Chance show up! Some big hugs and a sandwich for them, we are en route to Aspen. I had no idea where we were going, all I knew was they were giving me a ride. “We’re heading to the Maroon Bells!” Twinkle says. Tomorrow he, Chance, and their friend Dustin are going to try to climb to the top of Maroon Peak. We drive up and over a pass and through Aspen on our way there. We reach the trailhead after dark and decide to stealth camp in the weeds up on a hill to avoid detection until morning. I’m going to try and go as far as I can with them tomorrow, but I’m not much of a mountain climber, precipices freak me out so I don’t know how far I’ll get! So much for a rest day!  

Cowboy camping in the weeds.

Day 6. Storms and Passes

7/5/16Miles 21.8

Total: 131
There’s a long steep climb up to almost 12,000 feet early in the morning. We pop above tree line and squeaks of marmots and pikas are in the air. I geek out over the abundant alpine wildflowers. Christian left camp before Gordon and I are even up. Gordon is moving slowly today, the elevation seems to be hitting him hard. I catch up to Christian near the top of the ridge and he’s playing in a large snowfield. He takes out his groundsheet and try’s to sled down it but with little luck. We wait for Gordon at the top of a pass and can see some rain coming our way. When Gordon catches up he’s looking rough and said he was dry heaving coming up the hill due to the elevation. After a quick snack and some photos we rush to get below tree line before the storm reaches us. It becomes apparent we can’t outrun the storm but can make a beeline for a ski lift building to take shelter in. About a quarter mile off trail. We rush as fat as we can in the direction of the building but the mountainside is rocky and very steep. It’s hard on out ankles. I make it to the building just as it starts raining. Turns out the door is even open! We go inside and it’s warm. There’s nobody there or course and we take a lunch break inside. Even a toilet! We wait out the storm and ate reluctant to leave the warm of a building in the middle of nowhere. 


After the rain passed we started down the mountain. My knee started to hurt a lot and I started thinking about a plan B if I can’t walk any longer. I thought about flying back early or finding some other activity to do in Colorado that doesn’t involve walking around much. I decided to see how my knee feels after Twinkle’s wedding. I’ll be off my feet a few days and then maybe I can get back on trail. We get to copper mountain resort right as a big thunderstorm rolls in and starts hailing on us. Gordon and I make it to an apartment building and take shelter in a hallway there. Christian holes up somewhere in the woods. Once we regroup the sun comes out again and we look for extra food at the copper mountain resort. We find a convenience store there and buy some more food. I get a huge cinnamon roll. That damn thing has 1300 calories in it! 

Alpine primrose

We hike out of the busy resort and are in low forest for a bit. I find a perfect group of Calypso orchids there and take some photos. This is such a cool little plant and one I’ve always wanted to see in bloom. The trail starts to gradually rise up to Kokomo pass. On the way up we wait for Christian to catch up but he never shows up so we keep on hiking. We want to get to lower elevation before it gets dark. We have a long time above tree line ahead of us. Once we reach the ridge there are beautiful views all around us and we soak in all the wildflowers and vistas. We walk for hours in this before reaching Kokomo pass. It’s getting chilly and the sun is getting low so we head down it and look for he first flat spot where we can tent to wait for Christian to catch up. It seems strange we haven’t seen him in hours, he’s pretty quick even though he hikes in crocs. We set up camp near a stream in a small meadow. We gather lots of wood for a fire and eat. It gets dark and there is still no sign of Christian. “At least the foxes shouldn’t bother us tonight now that we have a fire.” I say. Not 30 seconds later a fox walks right into our camp about 15 feet from me. “You gotta be shitting me.” At 11 pm we see a light coming down the trail. About time! We’ve been worried Christian broke a leg or something. Then we notice the light is moving way too fast for a hiker. A thru biker shows up and asks if he can borrow out fire for some warmth and to light a bowl. Sure. We asked him if he saw a hiker with a blue backpack and sure enough he did, although he was very far back he said. Turns out Christian left the top of his backpack at the copper mountain store and walked back miles and miles to get it. He’s gotta be so pissed off. We figure we won’t see him until tomorrow for sure. The biker stayed and chatted for more than an hour before he finally continued on into the night. We fall asleep around midnight. 

Flax
Alpine spring beautyCalypso OrchidWild columbineparry’s primrose3 marmots, one rock

Day 5. 4th of July

7/4/16
Miles: 5.1

Total: 109.2 

We woke up and lounged around all morning. We watched Independence Day, and I always forget how much I like the bizarre plot of the movie. We heard that there is a parade though Frisco starting sometime around noon. We decided to go to The supermarket to resupply and I bought a knee brace. The store was weird in that they didn’t sell any produce at all. Sad but oh well. Then we walked across the street to the Native Roots Colorado store where they sell cannabis. I had to check it out! The store was pretty cool, it had a room where medical cannabis is sold and a room for recreational products in every and all configurations. Bud, edibles, tinctures, patches, dabs, shatter, salves. You name it, it was there! You stand in line and wait until a salesperson can give you their undivided attention at a specific booth. I asked all kinds of questions about different strains and what they do. I talked about how I was doing the Colorado Trail but my knee kept hurting and the guy said oh man you should get a salve! It’s a THC and CBD in mixture of coconut, avocado and a bunch of other oils. It was cheap and I have nothing to lose! We took the free bus back to Frisco and hopped off right into a Fourth of July parade. We gotta stay for this! Floats go by and throw candy and Popsicles at us. A red bull girl gives us some sample tangerine red bulls. People on some of the floats scream, “Love the shorts man!” at me and toss me candy. 


We see what looks like a garage sale with a bunch of crappy junk out on a table when a guy comes out and says see anything you like? Only somewhat interesting this is a large burl cut from a tree but clearly we aren’t buying that. That’s when another guy that’s clearly drunk comes out and starts talking to the three of us. He glances over at me, looks at my American flag shorts and tells me, “You’re a fucking homo.” His teeth are rotting and he starts yelling about how he’s getting “fucked up in there.” His friend tells him to please go back inside. Then he asks Gordon and Christian if they are cops and sticks his dirty finger into Gordon’s nose. Then he does the same to Christian. I dodge his attempt to do the same to me. Finally he says, “Okay you guys smoke right? Well here I’ve got these” as he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pill bottle, trying to keep it hidden in the crowd of people. “These are marijuana pills, they’ll fuck you up. Just asking $20 a pill.” The pills were clearly some kind of prescription drug, not weed pills. No thanks. As we walk away Gordon says, “I’m pretty sure we just met the biggest asshole in Colorado.” We walk around the festivities and fill up our water bottles from a spigot on the back of a gas station before getting on the bus back to our trailhead. 

We only hike out about 5 miles up and out of the Breckenridge/ Frisco area. We find a sweet campsite with just enough space for our tents next to a. Old stream that has a beautiful primrose plant blooming in it. We make a fire and hang out until it’s dark. 

Day 4. Night Terrors

Miles: 22.2
Total: 104.1

Imagine you’re fast asleep, warm in your shelter. You wake up to an occasional pitter patter of raindrops knocked loose by the wind from the tree above you. You fall right back to sleep. Then you wake up to what sounds like a twig falling on your shelter, but it sounds a little odd. You can’t figure it out so you go right back to sleep. Then you are awoken to the sound of your shelter being shaken back and forth violently and you can see just the shadow of a large furry animal moving around just 2 feet from you and it is pushing into your shelter towards you! Welcome to my morning! With my senses all foggy from just being awakened by an animal thrashing the side of my little tarp tent my first reaction was to smack the side of the tarp to try and scare the attacker away while simultaneously uttering, “UHHH! Yaaaaa! Wuaaaahh! Ahhhh!” There wasn’t time to think of words, just primal fear sounds. After smacking the side of the tent I could see the animal, either a big fox or coyote, from the 6 inch gap under my tarp where the insect netting is. Because I had no time to find my flashlight I could only see this large animal’s outline. It was undeterred by my smacking towards it at first, then it grabbed my tent and something in the tent and tried to run away with it, the insect netting prevented it, I saw the creature run away about 20 feet, then change its mind and run right back at me and grabbed onto the item again and try to pull it away but by now I had the flashlight and I was screaming at it as it pulled away. Finally it ran off and my fellow campmates Gordon and Christian were awake and hopped out of their tents. I got out too and looked around for the suspect but it was gone. I found that it had pushed its face into the netting far enough to reach my food bag, then try to pull it through. During the shaking it ripped a hole in the netting. It almost pulled the bag out through this hole. Gordon noted that the animal also apparently managed to sneak into his vestibule and chew up some of his trash without waking any of us up. Sneaky bastard! At this point we decided it was probably a good idea to hang our food tonight. I’ve backpacked thousands of miles and kept my food in the tent with me and never had a problem or heard of anyone having a problem. The point of doing this of course is to prevent animals from getting into your food. Mice, squirrels, chipmunks, and bears can all figure out a bear hang pretty easily. Most animals are deterred by the human presence near the food. But last night was that night that we fear. I thought a bear was coming in. 

Just couldn’t get it through that hole.

We tried going back to sleep but were too shaken up. After about an hour of messing around on our phones the animal wandered right past Gordon’s shelter. We all said fuck this were not going to be able to sleep and decided to make a fire. Since it had rained for hours finding dry wood was a little difficult but we managed to find some under a bunch of thick canopied limber pine and other conifers. After many tries we got the fire going by using a backpacking stove to light up some small sticks. We got the fire raging and warmed ourselves up. It was very cold out at 11,200 feet where we were camping. We hung out and talked for a few hours until we half cowboy camped near the fire, dozing a few minutes at a time until we had to get more firewood. At 4 a.m. we decided to pack up and start hiking. We hit the trail around 5. 

Christian hikes with this tortured cat strapped to his pack. He was forced to buy it after accidentally breaking a ring in a store.

The hike up Georgia Pass was windy, cold and foggy. There were some snow patches left and I saw a snowshoe hare! Near the top of the pass alpine plants were blooming everywhere! Just a few inches tall and blooming in bright blue, yellow and white. As we descended the pass it began to clear, giving way to picturesque misty mountain views. My right knee also started to really hurt when going downhill. I tried downing a bunch of ibuprofen to dull the pain and it helped a little. 

Alpine forget-me-nots!


Most of the hike today was beautiful mixtures of coniferous forests and meadows. Unfortunately some of these meadows exist only because of the devastating mountain pine beetle which have killed off most off the pine trees in some areas. It is an unusual forest pathology issue because all the players in this destruction are native to the areas the damage is occurring. This beetle usually only attacks weak or dying trees. What caused this outbreak of the beetle to occur is that several years of hot and dry summers and mild winters stressed out the trees to a point where they’re all suitable hosts. I study bark and ambrosia beetles for my graduate degree so this hits close to home.

Area devastated by mountain pine beetle
We finally made it to the highway where we could hitch into Breckenridge just as my knee felt like it was going to give way. Then it started to downpour. We took the free bus to town and got some gourmet pizza and then unsuccessfully looked for a place to stay the night. It’s the 4th of July weekend and the town is insanely crowded. After much frustration we find a hotel for a reasonable price in The nearby town of Frisco. Christian, Gordon and I make it to the hotel on the free bus. The clerk there says, “Ifa you wanna to smoka da ganja, just go take a walk, don’t do it in da room.” We try to watch some tv but it’s stuck on the History Channel which is running a marathon of American Pickers. Oh well it’s something on the magic picture box. I fall asleep early and it’s one of the best nights sleep I’ve had in a very long time.

Day 3. 

Miles: 26.9

Total: 81.9

Last night was one of the eeriest nights I’ve ever experienced. Though it started to rain at dusk, it stopped after an hour or so. I slept until I woke up at almost exactly midnight to darkness and total and absolute silence. Not an insect, a drip or breeze. There was no sign of anything being in existence beyond my shelter. I don’t think I have ever encountered absolute silence. The loudest thing I could hear was my own heartbeat and it sounded so loud that I thought it was footsteps of an animal outside my shelter. But when I held my hand over my heart, each “footstep” corresponded with beat. I began to psych myself out. I was convinced that there was something walking around out there. In reality I think it was my heart beating which made my jacket brush ever so slightly against my quilt, making a “footstep” sound in constant intervals. Anyways I ended up staying awake for 2 more hours until I drifted back to sleep. 

I woke up and was ready to go at about 6 am. Just then it began to rain again 😩. Cody said he was going to stay and watch Dragon Ball Z on his phone until the rain stopped. The morning hike went by quickly and the weather began to turn for the better. The sun came out several times and was warm enough for the insects to become active. I found a cool blister beetle eating some flower petals. A small storm came through just before I reached Kenosha pass. I waited it out under a tree. Soon after, it became warm and sunny and views of the valley and distant mountains were epic. I saw a grouse from afar and approached it to see if I could get a good photo. The bird let me walk to about 5 feet from it and it just clucked like a chicken and puffed up. At one point it spread its wings and jumped at me while making a whoosh noise and startled me as it no doubt intended. The it went back to eating grass seeds and flowers. 

At Kenosha pass I took everything out of my pack to dry and while doing this and eating a man came up and talked trail with me. His whole family was doing a section of the trail over the next few days. He gave me some extra food and soon after that a lady came and chatted with me as well. She ended up giving me water, food and taking my trash! What a spot for trail magic! Thank you!!! With my spirits lifted I headed out to the south. After a short climb the mountain views became astounding. I listened to my favorite songs while gazing out across plains and mountain ranges still ornamented with snow.
Hiker “yard sale” where I dry out my gear 

It got cloudy and cool just before I began a large climb up to Georgia Pass. I thought I may be able to get up and over the pass today if the weather cooperated. As I filled up on water at a creek I began to feel a gloom in the forest. Cool, moist and lonely. I started the climb and my right knee began to hurt. I took some ibuprofen and kept on going up. A few miles from the top, sure enough a storm rolled in and dumped rain for 45 minutes or so, giving way to a steady, soaking rain for another 3 hours. I felt uneasy about camping alone in this gloomy forest, all my gear soaked and body chilled. I made it to a campsite area 2 miles from the top of the pass where two other hikers were already set up in their tents. I asked to join them and set up my tent swiftly. I meticulously arranged everything in my tent the way I wanted because it was only 6 pm and now I had nothing to do. I played on my phone, listened to music and then passed out around 7 pm. 

I managed to zip my hair into the zipper somehow.

About how I feel. Happy and broken finally warm and dry

Day 2.

Miles: 27.7
Total: 55.0

It rained steadily from 9 pm until 3 am keeping me awake for long periods of the night. Even though my shelter shed the rain perfectly, so much condensation built up inside it dripped cold water on my face all night and my down quilt got damp. I stayed very warm however. After 3 am, I slept great until I woke up as it got light out around 5 am. My shelter was saturated inside and out and my quilt was damp. The morning sky was half blue, half clouds. I was hopeful for a sunny day. Jess was still sleeping and I didn’t want to wake her so I trekked on.

The morning walk was rather pretty as the ground was still saturated even though clearly drought adapted plants grew everywhere. Light beams from the sun made cool patches of lit up fog. The abnormally wet weather led to interesting mushrooms popping up in the forest. I passed probably a dozen tents set up just past where we slept. Around noon I made it to a creek where many other hikers were filling up on water and eating lunch. As I joined them the sun came out for almost an hour, just long enough to dry all my gear out! Just after my lunch break a storm brewed and I got to use my umbrella for the first time! It worked fantastic. It kept my body completely dry from the waist up. It also covered the top part of my backpack. The storm only lasted about 20 minutes and then it was sunny. I can get used to that! 


The trail then climbed gradually up a mountain. Along the way I stopped again for a snack near a creek with some other hikers. Just after I arrived another storm rolled in and it began pouring down rain. Luckily I was sitting beneath a big pine tree that had a dry spot underneath it and I avoided getting wet at all even without the umbrella. I waited out this storm which also lasted about 20 minutes and then it was sunny again. The rest of the climb to the top of the mountain was steep and soggy. Cool plants grew up there. I saw bunchberry, twinflower and my first Calypso orchids! Unfortunately they were past bloom. I reached the top of the climb at 10,600 feet without too much trouble. I definitely noticed it was harder to catch my breath on the way up but other than that no problems. Some miles after that the trail opened up into a beautiful meadow with all kinds of neat wildflowers. I stopped to get some more water and have another snack when the third storm came in. This one only lasted about 15 minutes and then it got sunny again. The rest of the walk was in a high altitude meadow and was easy hiking. I met a thru hiker named Cody who was looking for some water and then the two of us started walking together. He was going to stay at a campsite noted in our guthook app. 

Three different orchids!

TwinflowerShooting Stars!
We decided to camp there together. Cody makes his own ultralight gear and has a cool shelter he stitched himself as well as a small backpack. We set up came and ate lots of food while chatting about hiking. There’s some mosquitos here but not bad enough to wear deet. Were camped at 11,000 feet so it may get chilly tonight! As I climbed into my shelter it has begun to rain again… Looks like I’m in for another damp night.