Day 19. Wanderlust Hostel.

7/18/16

Miles: 0

We wake up at the same time we always do and crawl out of our tents to find pooping spots. We are right next to a road and in an open field. I walk at least a quarter miles to trees and do my thang. When I walk back Rapunzle says, “Oh there you are! Perfect timing!” Grover’s wife just dropped him off at the trail and she’s willing to take us to Gunnison! Kyle was going to take some of us but 5 hikers and 5 backpacks won’t fit into his Mini Cooper so we had planned to hitch. How perfect it all works out sometimes. 

The 40 mile drive is beautiful. Open expanses of grassland with distant mountains gives way to a red rocked canyon system that we drive through. I see a whole group of about 15 big horned sheep on the cliffs at one point! Grover’s wife drops Rapunzle, M&M and I at the Wanderlust Hostel. Leah, Sara and Kyle are still in their way here. It’s only 8 am when we get to the hostel. We meet some other hikers inside and hang out until our friend show up. Then we borrow some bicycles and go to a breakfast place in town. It’s cheap and delicious. When we get back we meet Amy, the owner and take turns taking showers. We all throw in some loaner clothes while we wash our hiking stuff. The clothes are amazing. I grab a flowery shirt and some super hippy pants. M&M wears a shirt covered in fake bloodstains. Sara, Leah and Rapunzle wear hippy dresses. 

Wanderlust Hostel

I can’t play any instrument

Next stop is the Safeway where we buy all the food we’ve been fantasizing about the past week. People stare at M&M’s bloody shirt and my creepy resemblance of to Charles Manson. I get a bunch of fried chicken, cheesecake, orange juice and Leah and I get two Ben and Jerry’s pints to share. EmpowerMint and half baked. Ohhh yes. We walk home and all of us eat until we’re sick. Then we put on Forrest Gump. After that we watch Bridesmaids. We meet a guy named Strider and a couple other hikers and talk about past thru hikes. Hostels are such a fun part of a thru hike. 

The Manson family goes shopping

Around dinner time we went to Anejos Mexican restaurant and got some huge cheap margaritas. Leah and me were still to full to eat any food but happy to have some drinks. M&M, Strider and Rapunzle feast again. Sara isn’t feeling too well after eating so much so she stays back at the hostel. By the time we finish one margarita we head back to the hostel but hit up Safeway on the way back. Turns out grocery stores only sells 3.2 beer unfortunately so we had to make a second trip to the liquor store and get a 6 pack of shock top. 

Back at the hostel we all laugh and talk until 10 pm when a lady comes out and says it’s quiet hours. We tipsily eat some cheesecake before bed. I am pleased. But tomorrow the girls and M&M will keep on hiking without me 😭 I only have off until the 21st and need to rent a car and drive back to Denver to catch my flight. We’re a trail family! I don’t want to leave. 

You know, just ordering food. M&M’s bloody shirt catches some glances.

Margarita night!

The Pitz.

Day 18. Last Day on Trail.

7/17/16

Miles 14.0

Total: 302.4

The wind died down in the night so we knew the morning as going to be a mosquito hell. We all take our morning poops and tell our horror stories of how we all had dozens of mosquitoes on our ass cheeks. They suck all the joy out of life. I think we need to make it our goal to annihilate all mosquitos from the face of the earth at any cost. I think this and they aren’t even giving me a debilitating or lethal disease like they do elsewhere in the world. Mosquitos = humanity’s number one enemy. 
The morning sun lights the lake and mountainside. We walk out for our lazy hike to highway 114 where we will camp. It’s only 14 miles and we have all day. The mosquitoes seem to intensify during the first mile of our hike until we make it to an open meadow where the wind sends them far away. Hopefully straight to hell. 

The morning light on the hillside

We leapfrogged this guy and his puppy all morning. It’s nice to see backpacking puppies! Always brings a smile to your face.

The day consisted mostly of medium sized ups and downs, rather steep at times but over quickly. Lots of pretty wildflowers were blooming on the hillsides. As we climbed the last steep hill of the day we charged up it, huffing and puffing. Sara went to the side of the trail and started hyperventilating and gasping and it was very startling. Turns out she has asthma and had an attack. We grabbed her inhaler and Leah breathed with her to calm her down. After a few minutes she was all better. We took a nice long lunch break to recover. 

Rapunzle’s bone collection is growing!

Fireweed!

Some kind of gentian?

Cool blue larkspur

The last few miles of the section was on a dirt road which made for easy group walking. To make things even sweeter, wild strawberries were fruiting all along the roadside. We took a couple stops to collect the delicious little morsels. We crossed the 300 mile mark today as well. It was marked by “300” written out by pine cones in the trail. We decided to one up this by writing out 300 with our bodies. 

300 miles!

We had to reenact it

Lots of little strawberry patches along the roads! Super sweet little treats.

Right before the dirt road meets the highway we run into a group of people who we had crisscrossed with during the day. Their parents were there with a car and setting up a car camp. They offered us some twinkies and little Debbie fruit pies which we very happily accepted. I was completely out of food and hungry so these really hit the spot. 

When we hit the highway it’s a .4 mile walk to the trailhead which is a large parking lot. Storm clouds rolled in and we raced to set up our tents before the wind and the rain. I found a little underpass where water flows under the highway. I ran to it and hid in there during the brief storm. I wasn’t alone though, dozens of swallows had built their nests in there and were flying out and around me while I took shelter. It was a bit smelly. The rain let up a bit and I joined everyone else by their shelters. I went in Rapunzle’s shelter and we hung out and talked to the rest of the family as the rain finally stopped. 

The little tunnel I waited out the storm in.

Cool swallow nests.

Our little shelters in the storm

After the storm I walked around with my macro clip on my iPhone and took lots of pictures of cool little insects in the shrubby landscape.

Cool little beetle

Tephritidae

Dirty hiker hands. Still gotta eat with them!

Weather turned nice!

Sara’s friend Kyle is coming to camp with us and is also rumored to be bringing trail magic at around 6 pm tonight and it’s only 4. We kill time by playing a game that M&M teaches us. At about 7 pm a white mini cooper shows up and out comes Kyle with two pizzas, a 6 pack, bottle of whisky and sour patch kids. We are starving so we this is some major trail magic. The pizza is crushed by us in minutes and we pass around the bottle of whisky. We happily feast on sour patch kids and then I pull out my MP3 player and start playing Disney songs. Kyle fits in immediately when he starts singing “Prince Ali” from Aladdin with me. Time flies by as we take goofy videos of us howling and cramming into Leah and Sara’s Big Agnes. We pass out easily. 

Gunna miss my hiker family!
My last night on trail went out with a bang as we enjoy the trail magic and sing Disney songs!

Day 17. Wildflowers!

7/16/16

Silver creek trail junction to baldy lake.

18.4 miles

We slowly got up and ate food. The morning was sunny and we got hot quickly. We made it to tank seven creek, one of the only water sources today, and met a thru biker there. He’s from Columbus, Ohio and studied American Chestnut trees at Ohio University. This is crazy because I also work in a lab that specializes on American chestnuts, or more specifically the pathogenic fungus that killed all of them, Cryphonectria parasitica which causes chestnut blight. We nerded out for a bit talking about what we did in each of our studies. He researched how the tannins in chestnuts leaves will affect forest soil when we recover the tree. 

Fantastic view in the morning. 

After the creek the trail slowly ascended, going through beautiful meadows for hours. Tons of wildflowers were blooming here. Many with whimsical names such as monskhood, pussytoes, shooting stars and elephant’s head. I stayed in the back of our group, taking time to look at and photograph these beauties. 

Elephant’s head! How freaking cool!?

Monkshood

Shooting Stars
Fleabane

Beautiful meadows much of the day.

Western Bistort. Their smell is… Uh like turds.

Rapunzle has been collecting animal bones along the trail and today we found the bone jackpot, an entire cow skeleton. It had been pretty rotted away and was very exposed. Although she’s been looking for a skull, a cow skull was very heavy and even one side of the jaw weighed more than a pound. A tooth would be cool we say! As we play with the bones I decided to reenact the 2001 scene where the protohumans learn to use tools. I grabbed a femur which still had the tibia attached with a tough ligament and in monkey fashion tried breaking the jaw open with the femur to get a tooth. After a few unsuccessful hits, the femur and tibia swung shut and crushed my hand on a final blow and chopped a nice bit of skin off. My pointer and middle finger on my right hand started bleeding pretty good. Fuck. I just cut my fingers open using a rotting cow leg. I got to have some nasty bacteria in that wound. I pull off a piece of skin that is dangling and the rest of the crew get out their first aid gear. I wash it with water and hand sanitizer. Then Leah used a syringe to blast away the blood and dirt. Then we dried it and I put on some neosporin and band aids that Tyler had. Oh well, that was stupid. 

You win.

We eat lunch at Sergeants Mesa which is a beautiful meadow with views of mountains all around. The meadow has lots of flowers and cows in it. We relax in the sun and I try to catch a butterfly I’ve never seen before. There are so many flies on this trail it is driving us all mad. No matter where you are on the trail there are flies all over you. All they do is fly around your face and land on you over and over. Never biting, just being very annoying to the point where each kill is rejoiced. Yesterday I breathed one in while hiking and had to swallow it with a gulp of water. Nasty little shits. 

Sergeant’s Meadow

Death camas flower

After lunch we walk the trail together playing a game of “would you rather.” We just think of nasty things you’d rather do and laugh for a good hour at this game. We reach the side trail for Baldy Lake which is half a mile off trail and down a steep hill. It sounds like it’s going to be a swampy mosquito infested campsite, but when we reach the lake it is a beautiful blue green snowmelt lake with steep rocky scree all around it. The water is clear and filled with little arthropods. We eat dinner and then sit by the lake as the sun sets behind the mountain. I try fishing for trout with some fishing line and a hook I found the other day, tied to my trekking pole and a bobber of carved wood. There are lots of big leeches in the lake and I try using one as bait. I have no luck so Leah takes over. Unfortunately we have no luck but all hang out and converse anyway. As the sun sets we head to our shelters and kill all the flies and mosquitoes that got in during setup. There are even more mosquitos here than the last campsite. Each person has a personal swarm of about 20 mosquitos when the wind isn’t blowing. 

Getting water at our lake

Family dinner!

Big old clump of Colorado Columbine!

Nice Penstemon

Rapunzle and the sunset

Soaking in the beauty

Day 16. Best Day Yet.

7/15/16

19.4 miles Cree creek to silver creek trail junction 

Another morning of us all waking up and packing at the same time. We hit the trail at 7 and start a steep descent to highway 50. This causes my knee hurt fairly bad. At the bottom we begin a large climb which starts as a 2 mile roadwalk before becoming single track. We pass a lake filled with trout and I find some loose fishing line and a small hook for the possibility of future fishing. We also take turns at a vault toilet here. 

Smokey got swoll

Once the single track starts the trail is rather lush and moist. We hike together singing 90s songs. Backstreet Boys, Brittany Spears, Arron Carter and the like. The trail climbs to just shy of 12,000 feet but it’s a gentle climb until the top where it gets very steep. Once you get over the pass you reconnect with the CDT and the west collegiate route. There is also a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains. 

I think this is a Lewisia species!

I slow way down in this area while listening to my favorite songs. Tyler cruises ahead to a shelter that’s on trail a mile and a half away. I wait for the girls to catch up and take tons of photos of the views, flowers and insects in this alpine environment. 

One of the most beautiful spots on the trail.

Such a fantastic area

The best

Check out that valley

The flowers are on point

I love the lichens up here!

This is a Hemipteran that’s mimicking an ant! 

Bluebell buds!

Miss campion

Lichen macro

Alpine Stichwort

We reach the cabin and eat lunch. I walk down the hill and find a spring where water is gushing out of the ground. Because we’re high up water has been pretty scare and looks to be the next few days. Leah and I talk about how bad we want some Ben and Jerry’s and how we’re all going to have a hiker family movie night in Gunnison at our hostel. We also look to see if there is a karaoke bar in town. We break next to a spring and all five of us have good conversations. We’ve had some deep talks today. We also decide to give our hiker family a surname of Pitz. For our delicate hairy armpit scent of course. 

The rest of the hike is gentle ups and downs to Silver Creek trail junction where water and campsite are. We get there just as the sky looks like it may rain on us. It’s very breezy for a bit but as soon as it dies down, a hoard of mosquitos descends on us. Definitely the worst yet. They seem completely inescapable on a thru hike. Even Arizona had buggy spots. We meet two other hikers already set up there. Aslan and Wise Guy. Two 20ish hikers that hiked with Gordon and Christian for a bit after I got off for the wedding and knee healing. Rapunzle and I talk about the pros and cons of the Appalachian trail and how it compares with the Colorado Trail with Aslan who has been looking into the AT, PCT and the Pacific Northwest Trail. To escape the scourge of flying syringes we all head into our tents around 7:30.  

Mountain pine beetle damage in the forest 

Day 15. Hiker Huddle.

7/14/16

Chalk creek to Cree creek 19.5 miles

Woke up in the middle of the night to pee and saw one of the clearest starry nights I can recall. No moon and you could see all around you from pure starlight. The Milky Way was spread all across the sky and I saw a shooting star within a few second of looking up. 

We got up and hit the trail a little earlier today around 7. The hike started with a fairly large hill and we met several other hikers on the way up. At the top an impromptu hiker huddle formed. Leah, Sara, Rapunzle, Grover, Tyler, Miss Popular, her brother and I all stood around taking in the view and chatting for about 20 minutes or so as we got to know our new friends. Miss Popular is bagging some 14ers today as well as thru hiking. Grover is an older man who got his trail name from Rapunzle weeks earlier when she found him sleeping in an aspen grove. Tyler, who we’re now calling M&M for his Michigan hat and his spare Michigan hat in case he loses the other one. Soon we all travel down the trail together, talking and laughing about trail stories.

View from our hiker huddle

The hiker train!
Cows are everywhere today

We take a lunch break and we all casually inspect each other’s food as we eat. I get crap because I just have all my food in a trash bag and pick out whatever sounds good at that moment. Others have each meal separated into bags for certain days. I trade Tyler a cheese stick for tortilla. I’m making a red bell pepper, cheese and mayo tortilla. It is delicious. 

The inevitable chocolate meltdown and refreeze. I found that chewing up the paper extracts most of the deliciousness.

We keep leapfrogging with Grover and Tyler tells him how he is going to do the Israeli National Trail when he moves to Israel for graduate school. Grover did the trail years ago and is excited to share information about the trail. He says you can buy a map from a man who has buried bottles of water in the desert for those who pay for his map. Otherwise you have to cache lots of water yourself which is time consuming. The trail sounds amazing. 

I love the old, charred and weathered wood that stands for decades and even centuries in the parched landscape.

A lush meadow

The aspen groves are everyone’s favorite

The rest of the day consists of medium sized ups and downs. Leah is not feeling well and is sad to see her uncomfortable. She’s been so cheerful and happy since I met her. Our trail family is still growing and now Tyler is hiking with us as well. We all set up camp near Cree Creek and I take an ice cold bath in a nearby stream to try and wash off all the dust and pine sap on me. We make a fire and eat dinner. Tyler tells us stories about his life and what he wants to do after the trail. He passes a bottle of whisky around and we listen to Taylor Swift on Leah’s phone. It’s another great day to be on the trail. 

A typical hiker family setup 

Day 14. Mount Princeton Hot Springs.

7/13/16

County road 343 to Mt. Princeton Hot Spring Resort.

10.9 miles

We get up and Ed cooks us some eggs with pizza sauce from last night. A sort of pizza omelette. It’s delicious. He’s also got a thermos of hot coffee which I mix with 2 carnation breakfast essentials to make a caffeinated mocha drink. 

We hit the trail at 8 am as we are only going about 11 miles to Princeton Hot Springs Resort where Ed is going to meet back up with us and drive us into Buena Vista for a resupply. 

The morning walk is a 1000 foot climb and then levels out pretty good for much of the day. We mostly hike together, talking and taking pictures of the beautiful wildflowers that are growing on the open hillsides. Skyrocket, bellflowers, scarlet beardtongue and Indian paintbrush are the favorites. I talk to Leah a bunch about her travels and I get the urge to travel abroad. She was in Turkey for 6 months and it sounds amazing. I want to eat a ton of food from different cultures. I may have a chance to go to Thailand this winter and it doesn’t take long for her to convince me to visit Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia while I’m over there if I get to go. 

One of the best things about backpacking in the mountains is drinking ice cold mountain water.

Skyrocket

Bellflower

Indian Paintbrush

We hit a road around late morning/ early afternoon and follow it down several miles to a desert valley. The plant life and scenery is pleasantly different and even though the shade is gone, it isn’t uncomfortable. We walk across a parched field and find some more bones for Rapunzle. She’s tying them all to her pack and is going to keep them as a fun, if creepy trail momento.  

Rapunzle’s bone collection. So far a pelvis and some vertebrae.

There’s a little ranch where you can rent horses near on the roadwalk.

Badass hiker family: Rapunzle, Sara and Leah.

The smoke is closer

Entering Princeton Hot Springs Resort 

As we walk into Princeton Hot Springs we can see some pools and a water slide with kids running around and sliding down it. We get to the general store and lay in the shade on a perfectly manicured patch of grass. I get a big bratwurst to eat before Ed shows back up. He takes us into town and the first place we stop is a brewery. We all get some good beer and I get a dozen chicken wings. We laze around there, charging phones, digesting. The next stop is an outfitter. Leah has been wearing minimalist Altras and her feet are hurting pretty bad so she gets a new pair of shoes. On these rocky trails you definitely want a thick soled shoe or you’ll be feeling all the sharp pointy rocks. 

The next stop is the City Market. Just another name for Krogers. We get some more food to last us until Gunnison and then we jump over to an ice cream shop and get some cones. We are so spoiled today. And the fun isn’t even over. Next stop, hot springs! We head back to the trail where it meets the hot springs resort and for $18 we get to soak in natural hot springs that have been diverted into a 105 degree pool and a 95 degree pool. There is also a cold, rocky stream near the pools as well where hot water pours in. You can sit in the stream with icy water on you while being blasted by a stream of hot water coming from a pipe above. We go back and forth between the different waters, very relaxing and hopefully good for our sore muscles and tendons. It certainly feels good on them. We hop out and then sweat ourselves out in a sauna room. It’s hard to breathe in it but it sure feels good. We laugh about how it smells like feet. Then we take a shower and dry off before heading back to the trailhead. 

It’s getting dark as we walk to a campsite. The mosquitos are out in full force. The worst I’ve seen yet. We set up in twilight but the moon is very bright tonight too. You can see large, jagged, crumbly white mountains in the moonlight nearby. We eat and chat until we’re too tired and call it a very relaxing day. Hey, we’re on vacation after all!
Roof kittens at Princeton Hot Springs!

Day 13. Beauty abounds.

7/12/16

Frenchman creek to county road 343 
16.1 miles 

Since we have no need to hurry we sleep in. Hit the trail around 7. It’s a nice sunny morning hike as we walk past some lakes and get views of a nearby valley which has smoke floating in it. Must be some forest fires nearby. We’ve heard about some on the news but can’t remember where they are. 

Gotta love the still water’s reflections

Distant forest fire smoke hangs in the valley

We make it to a creek and have second breakfast there. Two other hikers with ultralight packs are also eating there. The girls go ahead while I continue to eat and filter water. I make a mix is crystal light and maltodextrin for the hike up the hill. Maltodextrin is a high calorie carbohydrate that is easily processed in your body to energy and can be drank on the go with no need to stop for food. It’s a 2500 foot climb up the hill and very steep. The sun is blazing and it makes for a challenging hike. I put on my music and smash up the hill as fast as I can for awhile just to see what I can do. I keep a fast pace for a mile or so until I pass the girls and then it’s just too hard to catch my breath and I slow down for the rest of the climb. Feels good to really push yourself sometimes. You get an exercise high. I listen to Disney songs until the top. 

Bird of prey apparently are attacking people here.

Right where I belong

A metallic wood borer. Buprestidae family.

I wait up top until rapunzle shows up. She points out that there is a trail to a nearby bald so we drop packs and hike up it. There is a panoramic view of mountains all around. Mt. Yale is nearby and other distant 14ers are visible. We can also see several forest fires in the distance. We check the news and it looks like the fires aren’t too close to the trail. We hike back to our packs but don’t see Leah or Blistfull. Another hiker says the rushed on by.

Coming up the bald with Mt. Yale in the back.

🇺🇸

It’s more than a 3000 foot descent to a creek where we run into Leah and Blistfull who had thought we were in front of them so they were rushing to catch us as we were rushing to catch them! They didn’t see our packs in the shade. Oh well! We eat lunch and fill up on water and then walk an easy 3 miles to an awesome campsite near cottonwood creek around 3:30. We all jump in the icy water and cool off. It is still hot out so we warm up fast. We eat dinner and all get very drowsy and want to sleep even though it was a short day and only 4:30. We lounge around staring off into space and watching ants take away the flies we kill. There is a huge ant mound in our camp and all dead flies and crumbs end up in the mouths of the workers. 

In the evening Leah’s friend Ed shows up to help her get new shoes and surprised us with a watermelon as trail magic! We feast on it. It’s so fresh. Soon he starts cooking his dinner on a big pot on an old school MSR white gas stove. Pizza is his dinner. He lubes up a pot with olive oil, puts in some dough he made and cooks it. Then he adds pizza sauce, tons of cheese, and pepperoni. It smells so good. Then he makes another one for us! It’s doughy, melty and absolutely delicious. Some serious trail magic! We hit the hay soon after our treat. 

Down down down

Leah with the honor of cutting the watermelon.