#8 Pacer’s 2022 CDT Thru-Hike: Leadville, CO to Steamboat Springs, CO

This is update #8.
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.

Leadville to Steamboat Springs

June 28, 2022

1,558 of 3,100 miles…50% complete


Trail…I’m only a couple days away from Wyoming.  Colorado has been a beautiful state, but WOW, has it made me earn it!  Big respect for its vast raw wilderness.  This leg has been the toughest hiking of the CDT so far…by a lot.  Big elevation changes…ups and downs happen quickly.  I’m still in snow everyday.  For extended periods, I would be at/around 1 mph…mainly big, steep climbs, but sometimes technical descents or snowy sections.  

Departure…Let It Rip decided to stop her hike at Winter Park.  She has a very busy schedule coming up as she departs in September to join the Peace Corp.  She’s heading to Senegal, Africa, for a 2-year commitment to help with agricultural needs.  I got to know here pretty well over the past several weeks.  Victoria has much promise in her future, and I’m sure she will make the world around her a better place.  My best in everything you tackle, Victoria!

Gear…Got #3 pair of shoes in Breckenridge.  I had to make #2 pair last 900+ miles.  I usually replace them every 450 miles…bouncing around on trail left my replacement shoes stranded in Breckenridge.  I was surprised how well #2 pair held up.  Also, I replaced my sleep pad…it started to delaminate internally, causing a huge bubble that grew each day…as Arnold said, “It’s not a tuummaah!”  And, I replaced my hoody in Winter Park; backpack straps wore holes that started to cause raw chaffing on my sides.

Trail Names: 

Bear Man, Butterfly, James, Clean Sweep, Overhill, Legs, Icarus, Elk Rocco, Camel, Shark Bait, Peaches, Emma, Peaches (another one), Martin.

Leadville to Breckenridge:

Leaving Leadville, Let It Rip and I caught a hitch out of town up to Tennessee Pass mid-morning.  We planned to hike a low 20 mile day to setup a short day into Breckenridge.  We found a great little spot to camp perched on a small covered flat ridge just big enough for a couple tents.  We were within a mile of Copper Mountain Ski Resort.  This time of year the bears are mainly around these populated areas.  I haven’t seen any bear scat in deep back country.  I get a little lazy with food in the back country, but this stretch we’re always within a day from town, so I hang my food.   

The next morning we had a 2,500+ climb up to a ridge between Peak 5 and Peak 6 of Ski Breckenridge.  The climb was south facing and almost entirely clear of snow.  As I neared the top, I could see Let It Rip waiting.  This usually meant there was a tough decision to make…that was the case.  She had just watched 4 hikers take a short cut to Breckenridge by “butt glissading” off a steep snowy section…they could catch a free gondola about half way down.  The other option would be to stick to the CDT “red-line.”  We didn’t like the look of the glissade one bit, and it would be tough to get back to this spot to pick up our hike.  We pressed on with the traditional CDT route.  We were relieved to see the rest of the ridge climb and the saddle were clear of snow.  As we descended, I saw the trail headed into a protected valley and knew we would soon hit deep snow.  Yep, just before tree line, we were in it deep.  We decided to abandon trying to trace the Trail and just drop as quick as possible.  When we could avoid snow and drop, we did.  The goal was to get below the snow, and then find the Trail.  Sounds easy…good goal…but it’s slow going, working across old downed trees, across boggy melt, etc.  We eventually got below the snow, found the Trail, and dropped to the highway.  We caught the free bus into Breckenridge and enjoyed a long NERO at the Fireside Inn (hostel/B&B).  I got hooked on watching “The Office” in between meals.  

Our timing into Breckenridge allowed us to duck high elevation bad weather.  Kim drove over from Denver for dinner with us at the Briar Rose Chophouse.  Steaks for Kim and I; Mahi Mahi for Let it Rip; family style Brussels sprouts with chorizo and whipped Yukon potatoes.  My favorite meal on Trail, so far! 

Breckenridge to Winter Park:  

This was a big decision point:  1) stick to the CDT, go over the Argentine Spine, Mt Edwards (first 13er), and then Gray’s Peak at 14,300 feet…the CDT’s high point; or 2) take the Silverthorne alternate and stay at slightly lower elevations.  I recalled a conversation I had back in Leadville.  Hurricane, who has hiked the CDT five times was going to avoid the Gray’s Peak route this year because of the late snow.  That was all I needed to hear…we chose the Silverthorne alternate.

We caught the bus back to where we left the CDT and had devised our own alternate route to cut through the towns of Dillon and Silverthorne (where we cross Interstate 70), so we could get a McDonalds lunch on the way back to the CDT.  The climb out of town to the top of Ptarmigan Pass set the expectation that the alternate route was a big gear change.  In fact, everyone has noted that north of I-70 is the toughest hiking in Colorado…next level.  We targeted a camp spot before the next big climb.  Right before that spot, we had a stream crossing.  My shoes were dry so I decided to cross barefoot.  We set camp just across the stream and knew it would get cold so close to the stream…it hovered around freezing that night.  I was about to drift to sleep, when Let It Rip said, “Pacer, I see a bear”…instantly had my attention.  I got out of my tent and moved over to her angle.  “It” was looking right at us from about 50 yards the other side of the stream.  “It” looked odd, so I moved to a different angle.  The new angle allowed me to see a cow moose.  What we thought was a bear was actually a moose calf.  We went back to our tents, feeling we were safely aware of each other.

Two main points for the next day:  1) it was the summer solstice which meant it was also “Naked Hiking Day”…yep, it’s a real thing; and 2) the whole day was a brutal one.  I know 3 hikers for sure that hiked several hours in nothing but their shoes!

Survey Time:  ping me back if you think I hiked naked.  I’ll release the summarized results of your responses during the next update.

Naked or fully clothed, the goal was to get to Berthoud Pass…around 22 miles away…short day, right?  But first, we had to climb four peaks all around 12,500 feet.  Up/down steep all day…it never relented.  Steep, steep, steep; slippery traverses on narrow Trail where the tread is a sort of kitty litter crushed rock that rolls under foot.  I’m not afraid of heights, but tried to not look down the thousands of feet if I slipped…nothing to stop you if you fell.  This high above tree line, steep exposed falls…nothing to stop your fall for at least 2,000 feet.  In fact, my Trail Tale happened this day…I had to dig deep out of the mental strains for sure.  We eventually got to Berthoud Pass at 11,300 feet where we hitched from Hwy 40 down to Winter Park.  A guy in an old VW Westfalia camper picked us up.  Checked into the Viking Hostel and across the street for dinner…so good to get a reset in town…much needed.

The next morning I hugged Let It Rip goodbye.  She caught a bus to Denver International; I hitched back to Berthoud Pass to start my next leg to Grand Lake.

Winter Park to Grand Lake:

Trying to recover a bit in Winter Park, I wasn’t in a rush to get back to Trail…I started hitching around noon.  This side of Berthoud Pass, a few mountain peaks grew above 13,000 feet. 

Along my 10 miles that day, I crossed Mt Flora’s summit at 13,100 feet and two other 12,000 foot peaks on its shoulders.  Much of the Trail at these elevations were loose talus rock or large decomposing boulders I worked through…patches of snow too.  Actually, the snow wasn’t too bad at higher elevations…until it was.  I ended up descending below 11,000 feet and found a stunning campsite before the next days climb…perfect evening…I was in great spirits.  

The next morning, I broke above tree line at 11,500 feet and still had 2,000 feet to climb up to James Peak.  I noticed a string of “twos”.  2,000 more feet; I passed 2 ptarmigan birds (a type of grouse) next to trail as I climbed, always 2 cairns in view; last 2 high lakes frozen.  These silly observations kept me humored as my heart pounded and lungs exploded.  The higher I climbed, I saw many more frozen lakes below.  The wind howled, and it was freezing cold.  I stood atop James Peak and looked all around…this was the last 13er in Colorado.  To the south were the snow covered challenges behind me…to the north, less snow, but for certain, more challenges to tackle…such is life, right? 

View of all the snow covered southern peaks I had worked through…view near the top of James Pea

15 feet, 15 steps Controlled Terror:

That next challenge was just 15 feet, but a doozy as I descended off James Peak.  Most of the snow traverses didn’t require micro spikes.  They were usually flat enough or didn’t have a long runout.  As I descended and worked through the turns, I scoured the Trail below me.  I saw a long steep vein of snow pack ahead…oh boy.  The vein was narrow, but steeply dropped hundreds of feet below.  The top of the vein was only 50 feet above the Trail.  As I got closer, I realized the rocks above the vein were more dangerous than the 15 foot traverse.  I didn’t have my ice axe, but after I left Berthoud Pass, I fashioned a short tree branch into a homemade self arrest device, knowing I had big mountains ahead.  I broke it out.  I tested the snow before stepping on it…it was firm…good!  I looked down the vein…just once.  15 feet…follow the foot prints.  Step on the snow with the first step; does it feel like it will hold?; pucker up; shift weight over that foot; move the next foot to the next foot hold; does it feel secure?; clinch up…repeat 13 more times.  I was so glad to be on the other side.  The traverse was not anymore risky than others, but that vein was STEEP…consequences very high!  Even now, my hands are sweaty as I peck this update out with my thumbs on my phone.  

It took the rest of the day to descend off James Peak, and eventually, I ended up below tree line in a new kind of habitat…it was a marshy overgrown jungle.  I passed a meadow to my left and saw four moose:  one bull and three cows.  They all saw me, and we watched each other as I passed about 100 yards away…stopped only long enough for a couple pics.  By mid-afternoon, it started raining.  I tried to outlast the rain before setting up camp, but the rain won.  I made my camp decision and set up in the rain…stopped raining overnight…I remember sleeping hard that night.  

Within an hour the next morning, I had dropped to one of the prettiest lakes I’ve ever seen…Monarch Lake.  Surrounded by mountains, geese honking, waterfalls, the sound of streams filling the lake, perfectly still water, not another person…just me.  I took a few minutes at the lake’s edge to absorb the moment…serene.  I watched a mother goose and her friends patiently wait for her goslings to get into the water.  They bobbled and bounced their way in.  

 Monarch Lake perfectly still reflection.  

I didn’t realize how close I was to a parking lot.  I turned the corner and discovered a parking lot packed with cars/trucks that just arrived around 7:00 am.  They were unloading kayaks, SUPs, inflating rafts.  So glad I had Monarch Lake to myself.  The rest of the day, I walked around lake shores.  I saw the clouds building and hoped I could outrun the next rain.  The last lake shore was Shadow Mountain Lake, the headwaters of the Colorado River, and it’s nestled up against the small mountain town of Grand Lake.  I hustled along the shore blowing by other hikers and boogied across town to the Bighorn Inn.  I was dry, and I got the last room …score!  Dried my gear, socks and shoes.  Burger and hot dog for lunch; Lo Mein for dinner with a pint of ice cream chaser.  

Grand Lake to Steamboat Springs: 

Before leaving Grand Lake, I had a breakfast burrito and cinnamon bun at Blue Water Bakery.  The Trail cut across a short section of Rocky Mountain National Park that had suffered a large forest fire a couple years ago…so many standing snags…could still smell the burn.  The climbing wasn’t over, but the peaks were getting smaller.  As I broke through tree line, I could see Bowen Pass at 11,500 and two bull moose grazing along the Trail.  What to do?  I swung wide to the left…we watched each other.  The reroute forced me across a marsh snow melt that unavoidably waterlogged my feet.  Safely around the moose, up and over the pass, working my way around snowpack.  The usual descent:  postholing and bushwhacking.  Mosquitos were getting to be more of a nuisance…not Oregon bad, but notable.  I crossed through more wildfire areas, but within this large burn area, I found a small unburned oasis with a great camp spot for the night.

The last 12,000 footer was next.  Parkview Lookout stands at 12,300 feet and is the highest point for the remainder of the CDT…finally, Colorado is starting to bend over.  I broke above tree line, worked across the talus, and could see a speck on the ridge high above me climbing to the peak.  Seeing how tiny the hiker was really put the mountain’s scale in perspective.  I eventually got to the spine to climb the ridge up to a concrete shelter/enclosure.  It had a door and enough room for a few hikers in case the weather snapped.  Speaking of, a dark cloud started to build above me.  Enough lolly-gagging…time to get as far away as possible!  As I dropped, the clouds in the area continued to build and darken.  I didn’t like the look at all.  Luckily, I stayed only on the edge of the worst clouds all day…sprinkles and sleet off and on.  I started this day with about 55 miles to the turn/hitch for Steamboat Springs.  The terrain only allowed me to get 25 miles.  I checked up at the base of the last climb, leaving a 30 mile day the following day.

I decided to wake at 4:00 and start hiking in the dark to make sure I could make Springboat Springs.  Turns out, this was the easiest and crusiest day in all of Colorado so far.  I climbed an easy 900 feet in the dark, and the rest of the day was easy and fast.  The wildflowers were gorgeous!  Large patches of Blue Columbine that stood over two feet tall; a couple geranium varieties…white and pink; purple Iris and Lupine; fields of yellow Mule’s Ears; tall Corn Lilly; yellow and red Indian Paintbrush; Dandelion well over a foot tall.  Most fragrant of all was the Snow Bush…my sniffer isn’t great, but I smelled soft vanilla.  So many more flowers that I could have pointed my phone’s Seek app that identifies plants/animals/bugs.  

Blue Columbine…my favorite flower I saw in Colorado.

But, I had a ZERO on the immediate horizon!  The remote forest service road became a gravel road that intersected with Colorado Hwy 14.  It was an 11 mile road walk that no one liked…it wasn’t as bad as I expected actually.  Along the way, I saw a couple hikers standing next to a parked Subaru…trail magic?!?  Yep, I got a Cherry Coke and a handful of cherries. The hikers were Peaches and Emma; the Trail Angels were Emma’s parents who hiked the CDT in 2021.  Emma’s mom said here memories of the Trail get better everyday.  😀

Emma’s parents slackpacked them, which means, they took their packs and met them at the pass so they could hike lighter.  They offered the same to me, but I’m a weirdo and like to carry my pack.  Emma and Peaches flew down the road…no way I could keep up.  I enjoyed the rest of the road walk with my little clutch of mosquitos.  I had to wait 45 minutes at my hitch location, again, playing with my mosquito fans.  

Cookie Jar is once again the MVP!  She knew

I was having a tough stretch of Trail…mentally and physically tired.  I had a hard time setting up Steamboat Springs and didn’t have much time or cell coverage to figure it out.  She worked the phone, searching lodging…not easy in uber expensive Steamboat Springs and landed me 3-nights to stay at the Rabbit Ears Motel!  Great location right in the middle of town…easy to get to stuff.  Thanks Jamie…you’re the best!

Trail Tale:

It was just called “Summit” at 12,600 feet…right along a long ridge walk at this same elevation from Mount Nystrom and one mile from where the Silverthorne alternate met back with CDT.  I saw a couple other hikers that turned out to be Overhill and Clean Sweep work across the ridge.  By the time I reached the summit, they were well below me and clear of the large section of snowpack.  Good, they must have made quick work around the snowpack.  Ummm, I had hoped.  I started descending the many switchbacks..stepper, steeper and the switches came.  The snowpack was just below me…the Trail met the snow.  A tall down climb was my next move.  Hindsight, I wish I would have walked back up Trail to find the best section to down climb.  I followed the big scuff other hikers took.  The climb down became so steep I felt more comfortable and safer scooting down on my butt…I’ve never had to do that ever.  I had to remove my pack because it was dragging behind me and causing problems.  I found a place to lodge it…I’d get to the snow and up climb to it more safely.  The “kitty litter” dirt was like ball bearings…I would grip sandstone rocks, but they started ripping out of the ground.  Slowly, I worked my way to the snow.  Took a breath, finally, at the snowpack.  I up climbed to my pack and started climbing down the best I could with one hand.  I got just a few feet above the snow.  I thought my best bet would be to gently drop my pack on the flattest edge of the snow where it met the rocks.  A soft drop of my pack…and horror!!!  The pack hit, and slowly tilted over, then pivoted to its side, then slowly started to roll across the snowpack.  It was building speed, over and over!!!  All I could do was watch it bend over the steep part and it built speed, now bouncing as it dropped down the mountain and now items were being flung from the netted back area of the pack.  Surreal to see all your necessities drop down the mountain.  The only thing that could stop it was a rock field far below the snowpack.  Luckily, that‘s what happened.  The pack hit a big patch of rocks and stopped.  I was pretty pissed off at myself…took a breath…gathered my composure, mental state, and counted my blessings.  My Smartwater bottle was out in the center of the snow where it dove over.  I decided it was too risky to get…not worth it.  Someone would get it once the snow melted.  

The view from the side after I walked across the snowpack.  If you zoom in, you can see my stranded water bottle.  And, you can see the path my backpack took over the side.  Awful moment!

I climbed across the snow with my hiking poles to dry ground and climbed down a couple hundred feet to my pack, gathering a few other pieces along the way.  So glad there wasn’t any damage to the pack…this could have gone so much worse.  So many spots where there aren’t rocks…it could have tumbled a couple thousand feet, and I never would have found it.  Hike on!

Until Next Time,



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