This is update #7.
Chris “Pacer” Ford is attempting to thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) when he began on April 30, 2022. He will keep us updated every week or two with the progress of his adventure with stories and photos from the trail. Follow along with us… get automatic updates by subscribing to this blog.
June 16, 2022
1,302.4 of 3,100 miles…42% complete
The subject line may have thrown you for a loop. My last update indicated I was going to continue hiking south in Wyoming. Let It Rip’s feedback on the section between Rawlins and Encampment drove a big, last-minute reshuffle.
Mona Lisa, Crispy, Cash, Cruise Control, Diva, Olive Oil, Funkle, Teva, Ponderosa.
In total, it was four ZEROs…the longest string of all my hikes to date. As a refresher, Let It Rip departed for the 84-mile leg south to Encampment while I ZERO’d waiting for my Cookie Jar, Jamie, and our friend Kim. Taking the day off before their arrival gave me a little time to transition from “hiker trash” to a more relaxed, “let’s visit a while” mindset.
When they arrived, I was already waiting at the hotel. So good to see Cookie Jar walk in the hotel, and to get a hug and a kiss. All was right in my world! After all, it was my birthday! We unloaded Kim’s car, and she asked me to carry a big box up to the room. I opened the box to discover a well packed gift; she made me my favorite cake, homemade…yellow cake with chocolate icing…simple and perfect!
June 9th is my birthday, and we only had until the morning of the 11th together when Cookie Jar and Kim would head back to Denver. We spent that time catching up, talking about the hike, looking at my trail photos so far, and eating on a thru hiker’s schedule. Wyoming is famous for steak, and that would be our last dinner together. I NEEDED IT, and I crushed it! The Aspen House is Wyoming’s Best Small Business of the Year, 2021, and they’re famous for steak. It was awesome!
The visit had wound down; it was the evening of the 10th. I was set to go back out on Trail the next morning. Cookie Jar and I had just gone to bed, and I got a text from Let It Rip. She had just finished the next leg; she was exhausted; postholed the last 12 miles to the road. The other side of the road was rumored to be just as bad. And, even worse on the way to Steamboat Springs, CO. I called her for the details.
The Plan Reshuffled, Again:
The stresses of hard Trail times can be brutal…physical, mental, and emotional. I wanted to hear Let It Rip’s voice to measure where she was. She was spent for sure. I told her I’d call her back in 10 minutes. Cookie Jar had already been researching the condition around the Collegiate Mountains back in CO by way of Facebook’s CDT Class of 2022…and the entry back at Monarch Pass. She found a couple very recent accounts: one on the CDT’s traditional west route, the other on the Colorado Trail’s east route around the Collegiate mountain range. The west side had far more snow (at least hikers were making progress again), but the east side had much more significant elevation gain/descent.
I called Let It Rip back with a new plan if she was interested. Kim and Cookie Jar would load me up in the car; Kim would drop us off at Denver International Airport; Cookie Jar would rent a car; she’d shuttle me back to Monarch Pass (where we left CO the first time). Let It Rip agreed…she needed rest it was already 9:30 pm. We planned to pick her up at 7:00 am. This whole plan also gave me another full day with my Cookie Jar, and put my Trail Boss square in the middle of helping solve another replan.
The next morning…Kim had already made a run over to City Market to gather road munchies for us all. It would be 1 hour to Encampment, WY; 3.5 hours to the airport; another 3.5 hours to Salida, CO…closest town to Monarch Pass. We picked up Let It Rip at a campground, then headed to Denver…talking and eating snacks. As planned, we transitioned to a car rental, and said goodbye to Kim. Let It Rip had a hole in her sleeping pad, so we stopped by REI, but they didn’t have the right pad (we ended up patching the hole and all was good). We rolled into Salida mid-afternoon. We drove through town to get our bearing…cute, vibrant mountain town…hip, CO vibe, but not trendy…a town that walks its own walk. We really liked it. Off to Walmart for resupply and I lined up a 2-bedroom cottage for the night. Jamie and I headed for a walk around town and dinner while Let It Rip continued to recover. We did a little shopping and got big salads to offset the pile of steak from the night before.
At breakfast, Let It Rip and I went big, as usual. Jamie marveled at how much food LIR could pack away! Sadly, my three days with my Cookie Jar were ending, and she shuttled us to Monarch Pass where we were stopped by unsafe snow just 10 days earlier. I hugged Jamie goodbye, and she was headed back to the airport to catch her flight back home. I still had months of hiking left if all goes well.
Back On Trail:
Monarch Pass looked so much more hospitable than the last time we stood there. The sun was out, blue skies…no rime ice or poor visibility. We both agreed that the Collegiate East Route was our way ahead. Our bellies were full of snow hiking, and would rather face the bigger ups and downs. It would be about an 85 miles leg to Twin Lakes that we’d cover in 2.5 days…looking back, it was aggressive hiking for sure given the steep climbs. How steep? Routinely, the climbs were 800-1,000 ft/mile. One climb stood out to us all; it was 3,300 ft. I could only get 1,000 ft of gain in an hour…brutally slow and exhausting. This was the theme of multiple daily climbs…that was the toughest. But, I like a good challenge! The weather was spectacular during this leg. Maybe a little warm in the heat of the day, but far better than everything frozen.
The grandeur of Colorado hiking is hard for a Tennessee country boy to adjust to after spending so much time in the tight, overgrown Smoky’s forests. Here, the dry warm air creates a lingering, soft warm pine scent all day…even my poor sense of smell can catch it. The work at elevation is hard, but the payoffs are bigger. The views are much more spectacular from Trail than by car…you’re in it, part of it. The veins of snow are within reach, colors are brighter, and the feel is real. Deep blue skies cover above; the peaks are snow capped and treeless; snow melt fills the high mountain lakes; which, overflows into clear streams down the mountain sides. Around the marshy lake areas, I spot moose and beavers. I saw what had to be a beaver hut about 8’ above the water in the center of a pond…that beaver owns it! In the Smokies, I’m used to seeing bear scat everywhere. Much fewer, there are bear here; Let It Rip spotted a big one that I missed.
As we ended day 1, we realized that we’d pass the Mt Princeton Hot Springs Resort the next morning…and FarOut said they had a small general store. Our minds raced with the possibilities of junk we could eat and drink. We got there earlier than the store was open, but we hit something way better…breakfast on the terrace! It was awesome! Our server, Randy, asked if I wanted water, juice, or coffee? I said I wanted it all, and he laughed, knowing we were calorie depraved hikers. We had fun with him, and he with us. The great breakfast powered our day.
We decided to start hiking at 5:30 am the next day to put Twin Lakes’ general store in reach…it closed at 6:00 pm and there was at least one food truck there. The day would be more or less 30 miles depending on how the approach into Twin Lakes went (more in the Trail Tale). Although we started the day by hiking solo, we ended up hiking into Twin Lakes together. Around 6:30, we climbed away from town to get a jump on the next town, Leadville…35 miles away. We climbed about 3 miles to a less than desirable hillside camp…it would do. That left 32 tough, tough miles. We both thought it would be best to check up at about 25ish miles; then, just 7ish miles to Tennessee Pass for a hitch into Leadville for a NERO. Not exactly what either of us did, though. The last I saw of Let It Rip was her going her usual “Beast Mode” up the climb away from camp. As the day matured, I felt stronger than the day before. I decided around the 10-mile mark, that I’d give Tennessee Pass a shot and get into Leadville for a pizza…it drove me as I counted down the remaining 5 climbs. I categorized them into 1 big, 2 medium, and 2 small. As the climbs fell behind me, my power dropped as I knew it would. I recalibrated speed and mental grit…pizza was my goal! What I didn’t factor in was about a 2 mile section of deeply shaded snowpack. It was deep loose snow that I plunged through up to my thigh at times. Near the bottom of the descent, I navigated around a quarter mile of snow…I had to cut across a marshy, and at times, shin high snow melt. My feet were already soaked from the snow melt, so no biggie. All the wet…reminded me of mosquitos. Yep, there they were, butt tons of them! Not as bad as the PCT’s Oregon section, but pretty bad. My method was to monitor and swat while hiking. I had been working my hiker math all day. Up until the snow melt, I felt I could make a 6:00 arrival at Tennessee Pass. The snowpack delayed me considerably…it was 7:20, but I made it. Quick hitch, first hotel, got my pizza! While hiking, Let It Rip’s plan independently unfolded like mine…press hard to Leadville. Recovery the rest of my ZERO day; finish my pizza; wash clothes; find more to eat. Perhaps most importantly, figure out the route for the next leg…some big mountains lie ahead. The red-line route goes over Grey’s Peak. At 14,300 feet, it’s the high point on the CDT. Let It Rip and I will compare notes later today to determine our route as we head back to Trail tomorrow. We have a 50-60% chance of thunderstorms coming up…hopefully, the weather breaks to our favor. We’ll see!
Let It Rip and I compared thoughts on how to best get to Twin Lakes. Both Collegiate routes meet back together on the south end of Twin Lakes, and the small town lies exactly on the other side. To the east around the biggest lake, is a long 7ish mile hike with a short road walk in. To the west is a 3ish mile approach to the general store, but far less predictable. One of the FarOut comments summed it up well. The west’s approach is like the Bermuda Triangle. I panned in as close as possible to the map. The mountains drain into a basin to the west that fills both lakes. A patchwork of streams and bog over about 2 miles long by .5 miles across. The biggest drain artery I could see was called Lake Creek…it appeared wide on the map, and I couldn’t see any bridges. We both decided to go for the Bermuda Triangle to hopefully secure more time tethered to the general store and food truck. If it had been closer to biggest melt or if there had been recent rain, I wouldn’t have attempted. So, after a long, steep descent to the lakes, I was at the shore about 2:30. As planned, I broke left to west. I was surprised to see day hikers popping up. There’s a restored resort area from the late 1800s called Inter Laken that I didn’t expect. As I hiked, I started reviewing how I would enter the marshy section. I decided to enter early, closer to the lake and work my way to the left upstreams if needed. As I had hoped, the early melt and lack of rain made progress pretty easy up to “Lake Creek.” There, I ran into an obvious problem. As I looked into the channel, only the first few feet were visible, then the bottom of the creek was not visible…looked deep (unknown really) and pretty quick. As I planned, I started walking up stream, studying the depth…it appeared the melt had cut a deep channel. I was looking for a place where several fingers would feed into this single deep channel. I found it; then I heard someone yell my name. It was Let It Rip from the other side. She was yelling out to me, but I couldn’t hear her over the sound of the rushing water. I worked my way across a couple finger streams and had the biggest channel left. The bottom of the creek was visible all the way across. I could now hear Let It Rip. She said it was thigh high and powerful. I picked my line and went in, working my way across as I faced the flow. For those of you familiar with the Smokies, it reminded me of Abrams Creek after a good rain, but maybe twice the width. It was the sportiest crossing of the CDT so far, but thankfully far less than those on the PCT so far. It was the worst Let It Rip had crossed she said; her small size made it a much bigger challenge for sure. We worked together through the rest of the marsh and made it to the general store about 4:30. As we approached, we saw a couple food trucks still open and a group of hikers collected at the general store. We recognized about half of them all the way back to Pie Town. We ordered food, got cold drinks, and compared trail challenges. A Trail Angel pulled up and cooked us hot dogs too. Topped off, we climbed to our camp to setup our approach to Leadville. Onward!
Until Next Time,