Back at Copper Mountain, I had called Tanya and told her I would stop at the Timberline Lake Trailhead in Leadville on my last day. That would be the pickup spot at 2:00pm today. With only seven miles to go, I felt no rush to wake up early and hit the trail. She had mentioned she might leave straight from church, so there was hope she might arrive by 12:15 or 12:30pm.
It rained again last night, but thankfully there was no thunder/lightning. This morning was cold, wet, and frost covered the ground. When I emerged from the tent, my mosquito friends were there to greet me. Lovely. Don’t they sleep? It wasn’t nearly as bad as the night before, but I definitely was not going to be hanging out long at all. One cup of coffee. Breakfast. Breaking camp. I was getting pretty good at this routine. I just wish everything wasn’t so wet.
It was a chilly night!
I started down the trail much earlier than planned, but such is the way things go in Mosquitoville. It was clear that if I ever do this again, having a solid plan for mosquitoes would be my number one planning priority. I moved at a pedestrian pace as I entered the Holy Cross Wilderness. I passed a huge group of campers breaking camp, and didn’t see anyone else until the Timberline Lake Trailhead.
Finishing segment 9. Starting my final 7.5 mile stretch to Turquoise Lake.
There were lots of ups and downs in this section with several magnificient views.
The highlight was probably the numerous lakes I passed. It hit me that I hadn’t seen any in all the previous segments! There was one a few miles from the trailhead that had a very cool campsite next to the lake. I’d love to go back there and camp. As I got closer to the end, views of Mt. Massive became more prevalent. I also got a great perspective of the Hagerman Pass Road and Sugarloaf climb that is part of the LT100 course.
Moments later I could see cars parked at the trailhead and the final steps of my journey came and went. Done!
The last 200 feet!
DONE. 116 miles in 4.25 days.
I walked out to the road to call Tanya, but when we connected, the quality was poor. I thought I heard her say she was on I-70, but later would learned she hadn’t left home yet! I walked to Mayqueen and found a shaded picnic at the Butcher Boy day use area. The next task was to completely clean up in the lake/river. That felt amazing and cold! And it worked to remove all the dirt, bug spray, sunscreen, and sweat from my hair, legs, and arms. Back at my table, I journaled, ate, and fiddled with things until I got antsy thinking Tanya might not have gotten my message to meet me here instead of the trailhead. So I made the mile walk back. No car there. As I returned to Mayqueen, I saw her pull in as I walked down the lake road. Huge bummer! A mile later I was back at Butcher Boy and the hugs began! Such an incredible feeling to see my family.
Bouncing with excitement!
Look! I even got a finishers medal.
Five days with no shower and she still loves me!
We hung out and played in the water for another hour or so. Then it was back to Copper to pick up the car and head straight to Hacienda Real in Frisco for - mixed fajitas! Yum!
This trip was a whole lotta heaven and little bit of hell - and I wouldn't change a thing. I discovered there is something magical about the backpacking experience. In many respects, it’s just like the joys and trials found in ultrarunning, but in many other ways it's not even close to that experience. You can’t compare them on all levels. Being alone was at times perfect. It gave me space, freedom, peace, solitude, and a chance to live in the present and chase any thought that came to mind. After a day or two, I began noticing things about my surroundings and that awakening provided nonstop entertainment. The only moments I would classify as boring, were the times I was stuck in my tent. Most days we are simply too rushed to see and appreciate any of this.
I have a new appreciation for all the conveniences and comforts we have. I certainly enjoy sitting on a cushy couch instead of a log or rock, but I know that I don't need these comforts to be happy. Wants versus needs become very clear after a multi-day experience like this. That is one lesson learned during the trip.
It would be special to share this kind of experience with others, especially my family. I have a new love for the CT and backpacking. As soon as I figure out a solution to the mosquitoes (can you say Deet?!?), I’ll be back to planning my next adventure on the CT. There are many more segments calling my name and they only get better as you head south and west. I'm sure I'll make it to Durango someday, but I'm in no rush. Time is a gift and spending this resource on the trail is an investment with huge returns.
Last night was a doozy. The campfire I sat around was the perfect ending to my day. But the rain and lightening storm in the middle of the night wasn't a welcome start to the next one. For a solid hour straight, lightning flashed and thunder clapped all around me. I felt very vulnerable in my little tent and proceeded to lie in a fetal position praying for it to pass. I slept very little due to restless legs, drinking two glasses of Coke at 2pm, and the storms.
This day (aside from the storm) started out great and ended a little bit like a nightmare. I had only 15-20 miles on tap, so I slept later and enjoyed a leisurely morning around the campsite. This morning after the storm was all about drying out. Everything was drenched. The biggest bummer by far was realizing I had not packed enough coffee! I was two packets of instant coffee short. This meant only 1 cup each of the last two mornings. And if there was ever a morning I really needed two cups, today was it.
Once I hit the trail, my pace was half of what it had been the days before. Maybe building fatigue? Maybe still emotionally drained from the storms the night before? Maybe knowing I had less miles to cover? Maybe sad to see the trip almost over? Maybe one less cup of java than what I'm used to? Whatever it was, after many hours I had only covered 7-8 miles and realized I need to pick it up if I was going to hit 20.
After enduring a crazy thunder storm - I tried to find the silver lining of the rain.
Incredible beauty found in the Guller Creek drainage.
Oh but those first few miles were amazing! The climb to Searles Pass, and above treeline traverse to Kokomo Pass - was simply stunning scenery that I never knew existed back there. I passed one hiker all morning and was completely alone until almost Camp Hale.
The first view of Searle Pass (center).
What a fun playground can be found up there! So much to explore.
Janet's Cabin. That thing looks posh!
There were some sweet views of the Gore Range from up here.
Once I crested Searle Pass, the view to the east was phenomenal….the road to Leadville, Mayflower Gulch, and the whole Ten Mile Range. A highlight was the elk herd seen high, high up on the very steep and green slope of Jacque Peak. I continued to putter along over to Kokomo Pass which is a couple miles all above treeline. Breathtaking.
With Clinton Reservoir in the background.
The herd of elk grazing on this steep mountainside. They're to the right of center.
Had a few of these to cross.
Looking back at Searle Pass with the Gores behind.
Still traversing to Kokomo Pass. No one else up here.
Once at Kokomo, I stopped for a quick lunch. It was cold and windy, and I was a little concerned about the darkening clouds. I didn't need to be as they just floated along and the sun kept the heat on.
From Kokomo, it’s a six mile descent to Camp Hale, and then a six mile climb to Tennessee Pass - my camping destination. I can’t say the long descent to Camp Hale was fun. It was hot and I was applying sunscreen every 30 minutes. Once at the bottom, I was greeted by a long, flat, and arid stretch.
Can't really see it, but there were about 7 different colors of Indian Paintbrush in this meadow.
Cataract Falls near Camp Hale.
I can't say this was my favorite stretch of trail.
The part of Camp Hale I saw was nothing to write home about. Thankfully it rained for about 10-15 minutes, so there was some relief. The best part about Camp Hale is the sheep. They’re everywhere! Such an odd thing to find hundreds upon hundreds of sheep roaming everywhere...with “Baaaaas” echoing in your ears.
Who knew Camp Hale was home to a thousand free ranging sheep?
I came to the river crossing that marks the beginning of the Tennessee Pass climb and greeted two hikers, Cruise & Shiloh, who I passed back on segment 7. They were just starting up again after a break so we chatted for awhile as we hiked. So as to not have that awkward leapfrogging as we continued hiking, I said farewell and turned on the jets to create some distance between us. As I climbed, I formulated my plan to stop and camp at Tennessee Pass. About five miles before the pass, I crossed Highway 24 and entered a long meadow. Not much relief from the hot sun found here.
Just out of view is some "hikers" that let this and two other horses carry all their gear. Smart folks!
Remnants of coking ovens.
Following that was a couple miles on a jeep road. I was fading fast. The sun and fatigue had me hiking on fumes and I wanted to stop. I noticed though that the terrain didn’t look like there would be great camping options. So the decision was made to find a bench (and shade) at the pass parking lot and make dinner. Then I’d hike a bit more to find a sweet campsite.
On Tennessee Pass, there were no benches, tables, or cell service - but there were mosquitoes! Gobs of them. Making my bag of chicken teriyaki was miserable as I got bit by those nasty buggers. At that point, eating on the go was my only option so I packed up and off I went down the trail. The mosquito situation did not improve. The one bright spot was coming upon Trail Magic and finding nutty bars in the cooler. I finally indulged!
I had passed several of these without partaking. My silliness would stop here.
Nutty Bars. Oh yeah!
Despite the setting sun, the heat and mosquitoes remained in the dry, thick forest. Two more miles and no campsites. I finally had to stop and put pants and a long sleeve shirt on. My skin-friendly bug spray did not work at all. I was getting desperate for relief, so I stopped at a creek to fill my bottles so I could stop at the next campsite regardless of water. At any point in time during the fill up, I had 10-20 mosquitoes on me with their needles poking through my shirt and into my skin. My panic to fill fast was intense. I bolted out of there when finished and continued my campsite pursuit. Nothing for miles. Finally I dropped into a gulch just before the Holy Cross Wilderness and setup camp here next to a marsh. Go figure - more mosquitoes, but I realized there was nowhere I could go to get away from them. I hung out in my tent for awhile giving myself a wet wipe bath before hanging my food and crashing. I had hiked over six more miles than the 20 I thought would be my max, I'm toast. Despite all the adversity, I'm still loving this experience.
Last night I did not sleep well at all. Mosquitoes serenading me, Dillon fireworks heard in the distance, restless legs, and rain off & on all night – right up until 4:10am. My alarm went off at 4:45 again, but I wasn’t motivated today. I wanted to get out of the crummy place I was in, but I had 4 more miles of it. Standard morning routine except I had to deal with a wet rain fly. I also skipped the oatmeal and ate just poptarts and donuts. Finally I was off and actually feeling pretty good once back on the trail.
Today's challenge. The Ten Mile Range. A burger lunch awaited on the other side.
Day 3 is when I began talking out loud to myself. “What if I didn't race in 2014?” “Should I stop at Copper and drive home?” “If we don’t need dump trucks of money to survive, why do we seek so much of it?” “Can I see all the ways around me that God has provided?” I loved the time hiking solo provided to dwell on a question and poke at it from different angles.
Dropping down into Breck.
Thru Hiker Love - my second encounter with Trail Magic. I didn't partake since I wasn't an "official" thru hiker.
More trash than love in this cooler.
I arrived at Breck and crossed the road to begin segment 7. The Ten Mile Range loomed large.
Two older guys hopped on the trail in front of me and I caught up to them 1-2 miles later. They were retired from Oklahoma City. One of them was wearing a San Juan Solstice 50 shirt and I found out he had run Leadville five times and going for his 6th this August! They were slackpacking as their wives brought their big packs on ahead when it made sense. I hiked with them for several miles before the big climb to the top of the Ten Mile range began. Knowing I wanted to hike it fast with the rapidly threatening clouds (at 9am!) I said farewell and took off!
The lucky beetle kill lottery winner.
Lake Dillon. Ptarmigan Peak in the top right corner.
I'm embarrassed to admit it took me far too long to figure out what happened here!
Not more than 10 minutes later, the cold wind and rain let loose! I stopped to cover my pack and tie my rain jacket around my waist and then I kept trucking along. The cold rain felt amazing. What a contrast to the heat from the day before. Other hikers were bundled up. Not me! Shorts and t-shirt all the way! Thankfully the rain only lasted 20 minutes. But the overcast skies and wind remained. Probably 20-30 mph winds. I munched on Mentos as I climbed steadily. The scenery was spectacular. The best of the trip by far.
Above treeline, I came upon two more retired thru hikers from Kansas City. We chatted for a while as I could tell the altitude was hitting them hard. About 20 min later, I crested the range and marveled at the views of Copper, Breck, and Leadville! Man, did Mt. Massive and Elbert seem so far away! It was still cold and windy, but I was loving the long stretch above treeline. My pics capture it all.
Thinking I was almost at the top. Not even close.
The climb keeps going.
Super cool cornice. Now I'm getting to the top.
This moment was a bit surreal looking to Leadville. Mt. Elbert and Massive. I would be at the base of Massive in two days.
Mt. of the Holy Cross
Copper. So close, yet so far away! It was 11am now and I'd have to wait over 2.5 hrs until I arrived at my lunch feast.
Once on top, you get a long stretch on top heading to the south.
Looking back from where I came.
The backside of Copper.
The is one of THE best parts about backpacking. There is no better tasting water.
Once I could see Copper, my mind shifted to the big lunch I had planned. The other days, I broke for lunch at 11am. I was almost there now, but really wanted to wait for a feast at Copper. What transpired was me almost jogging the entire 2500’ drop. It took longer than I hoped, despite my speedy pace, especially the traverse from the road and along the ski slopes. It was past 1:30pm by the time I left the trail, cut through some condos, and made it to the car!! We had left one there a week prior and it served as a resupply station for me.
I never knew the CT passed this close to Copper Village.
10 minutes later, I had unloaded, changed shirts, put on flip flops, and had a wet wipe bath! Time for food! As I walked through the Village, I noticed a tremendous number of ladies wearing tight pants and carrying rolled up mats. Yoga Festival! I bee-lined it for Endo’s Café and ordered a blackened bleu burger, fries, salad, and a Coke.
Endo's Cafe came through big time!
I had given myself 3.5 hours to hang out at the Village. I walked around a bit, strolled through the market (bought nothing), used a public restroom, and went back to the car to sit and call Tanya. Once off the phone, I felt it. Despite having another 1.5 hours to relax, I could tell the trail was calling. My gut told me I wasn’t supposed to be hanging out here, but to be hanging out on the trail….and preferably at a cool campsite I was sure to find that night. I heeded the call and packed up in about 10 minutes and was off to reconnect with the trail. Once on it, the agitation turned to peace. Yes, I thought about bailing on the rest of the trip to drive home, but I knew deep in my being that walking this trail was where I needed to be. Going home would be worse than any DNF at a race. I moved slow, but steady. I had plenty of time to hike the 3-4 miles to find a site – and I would be very picky! I found myself getting emotional over the next hour or so. Leaving the modern comforts at Copper and knowing the trail offered something way better, was a grand revelation for me.
Well this is a lie.
Finally, I arrived at this site. Perfect! I was so happy to not be hanging out at Copper.
Now this is a campsite!! Yeah! A view, big loud creek, firepit with wood, nice tent spot, open space, no mosquitoes, no rain, storms, or wind.
Hard to believe I began the day on the other side of that range.