Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Colorado Trail: Day 8-10

Logically, taking a day and a half off after hiking from Denver to Copper Mountain should have refreshed and re-energized us. Somehow the opposite seemed to occur. We got back on the trail at 6 am on July 5 and felt uncomfortable with our packs right from the start, fidgeting and trying to get them to fit just right. My hips felt bruised and sore from my hip belt, making walking the first few miles very uncomfortable. Both of our heads felt hazy and our throats were dry. The only way to get back in the rhythm of hiking was to keep moving forward. Eventually things must get better, we thought.

Two miles in, things got slightly better for me. We walked by the Copper Mountain Golf Course and when I found myself on one of the tee boxes early in the morning, I thought some golf might do me good.

Robyn and I shortly thereafter began a long, steady climb that would take us over 12,000 ft again, but this time we would stay up above tree line for more than 3 miles. With the early morning low clouds and rain, we were both a bit concerned that stronger rain, hail, strong winds, or maybe lightning would be waiting for us. I kept looking around at the clouds, trying to convince myself that it all would work out.

After 2,000 ft. of climbing, we saw a hiker coming down towards us with a small daypack on. He introduced himself to us and pointed up to his friend heading in the other direction. It was Keith up ahead! We had taken different days off but were right on the same schedule. Tom, Keith's friend, was headed back to Copper Mountain where he would drive his car around to Tennessee Pass and pick up Keith. It was nice meeting him, but Robyn and I were both excited to catch Keith and see how his climb over the Ten Mile Range had been.

We passed Searle Pass at 12,040 ft., then walked through intermittent patches of snow and rock-hopped several small creeks. Keith was in view most of the time in front of us, but judging distances above tree line is always tricky. I thought we might catch him in twenty minutes from when we first saw him, but we never seemed to make up any ground, regardless of how fast we moved. The trail rolled up and down over the next few miles following posts driven into the tundra with Colorado Trail confidence markers on them.

We crested Elk Ridge, the highest point of this segment at 12,280 ft., and dropped down to Kokomo Pass and the headwaters of Cataract Creek. As we descended, the clouds quickly darkened, and before we knew it hail was beginning to pelt us. Robyn and I both put on our ponchos, then our gloves as our hands started to get cold, and moved as quickly as we could to stay warm.

After 15 minutes, and Robyn telling me I looked like a wizard with my poncho on, the hail stopped as quickly as it began. At the time, I was wishing I was a wizard. My right shin started to feel a bit twingy as we crested Searle Pass. By now, it felt like I was being stabbed with each downhill step in the lower part of my leg. I hobbled quickly down the mountainside, trying to keep up with Robyn and thinking of what I could call my shin to begin the dissociation process.

When we were nearing tree line at 11,600 ft., Keith called to us from below to tell us to stop and read a plaque we were closing in on. We read it, and the sober reminder that bad things happen in these places was re-instated. The plaque was in memory of an 18 year old boy who had died. We presumed from the location of the memorial, that he had been struck by lightning or fell from a mountain.

We met Keith in the trees, took off our ponchos, and settled in for our first significant break of the day. While we caught up and enjoyed each other's company, a Continental Divide Trail (CDT) thru-hiker ambled up from behind us. His trail name was Rest Stop. He began the trail from Mexico to Canada in the south, but when he got to Colorado, he decided to flip-flop. Rest Stop got a ride to Wyoming then began hiking southbound on the CDT. When he gets back to the border with Colorado and New Mexico, he will flop back up to Wyoming and finish the 3100-mile trail in a northerly direction.

Once Rest Stop took off down the trail, Keith noticed me carefully positioning my cold water bottle over my lower shin. He told me he once had shin splints, and the only thing that helped was rest. Obviously, that was not what I wanted to hear. I had also had shin splint pain before and knew that the only thing that had helped was rest. However, I wanted to ignore that and hoped that my shin would improve as quickly as it deteriorated. I kept smiling, but worry was creeping in. I was hurting, and Fred, Nigel and Normalena were bothering Robyn. Somehow, Robyn's normal bad knee, Norman, was feeling fine in the midst of all this.

There was only one thing for me to do - give my shin a name. I thought and thought because the name had to be just right. The morning golf round came to mind, and the perfect name came about. I would henceforth know my shin, not as my own, but as Bertha.

Keith quickly pulled ahead of us as I stepped gingerly on the downhills. He was headed all the way to Tennessee Pass to meet Tom, some 11 miles distant, while we didn't have a set end point for the day. We wished each other luck, once again not knowing if we would cross paths another time. Within an hour rain had started to fall and it picked up to a downpour. Robyn and I pulled off the trail and soon after decided to set up our tent and take an afternoon nap. It would be a good way out of the rain and a nice break for Bertha. We hoped Keith was staying somewhat dry. He had no choice but to continue since he only had a daypack.

We napped for four hours, then had boiled sweet potato bean soup for dinner, and hiked several more miles. For a few minutes there were violent flashes of lightning and booming thunder in the mountains to the south as we passed by Cataract Falls. Robyn and I spoke little as we quickly moved through the wet meadow grasses, but our tension faded away as the clouds broke apart and rainbows filled the sky. After passing Camp Hale, a historic World War II army training barrack for the 10th Mountain Division, we camped on the hill to the south and enjoyed a good sleep.

The next day brought a different kind of excitement for me. David Horton, a professor of exercise physiology at Liberty University in Virginia, had left on his attempt to set the speed record on the Colorado Trail 3 days ago. Horton, an ultra runner, had run the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the race across America from California to New York. He set the record on the AT which has now been eclipsed, set and still holds the supported record on the PCT, and was third in the 3,000 mile race across America. Horton's plan for the Colorado Trail was to cover the 485 miles in just over 8 days. I was looking forward to seeing him come by and kept looking over my shoulder.

Just before we crossed Hwy-24, a popular spot for thru-hikers to hitch hike to Leadville for rest and re-supply, there was a food bin on the side of the trail labeled Trail Magic. I had heard about boxes like this filled with junk food and sodas for hungry hikers, but this was the first time I had ever seen one. We both looked through the contents of the cooler, grabbed a treat, and continued on to Tennessee Pass.

Bertha was quite sore, so I wrapped a wet bandana around her to try to keep her cool. There was a bit of swelling and still fairly sharp, local pain, but the pain was not bad enough for me to want to take a half-day or go into Leadville. We had planned to go to Twin Lakes next, and that was what we still strove for. Robyn was fairing slightly better than me, but her three friends acted up occasionally. We both looked after each other and tried to make light of our bodies as they strained under the heavy day in and day out workload.

Unlike Kenosha Pass, which we walked down to, we had to go slightly uphill on a forest service road for several miles to reach Tennessee Pass, the high point of US Hwy-24. When we eventually made it to the pass, one of Horton's crew members asked if we had seen him. We hadn't yet, but told him we hopefully would later that day further down the trail.

Segment 9, from Tennessee Pass to the Colorado Trail TH on Forest Service Road 104, passed into the Holy Cross Wilderness and provided outstanding alpine vistas. We had great views to the Arkansas River Valley and after the trail turned to the south, we could see the unmistakeable bulk of Mt. Massive, Colorado's second highest point at 14, 421 ft. The wildflowers along the trail were spectacular, with species such as Alpine Sunflowers, Blue Columbines, Paintbrushes and Geraniums. After 18 miles of hiking, we reached another parking lot, signaling the completion of yet another segment. I was surprised not to have seen Horton yet, but a table laid out like an aid station sat in the shade. He must be on his way.

Robyn and I stopped for dinner two miles after leaving the trailhead and perched ourselves on a rock. We had risotto again, and again we ate superhuman portions. Just as we were cleaning up, Horton and two of his friends came hiking by. For all the excitement I had for this moment, it quickly passed. They were hiking like anyone else. Horton had trekking poles, was moving at a good speed, and said hi as he saw us above him. I wished him luck. He had already covered some 40 miles that day and had another 15 or so to go, followed by more of the same for the next 5 days. It was very neat to se Horton, also known as "The Runner," out on the trails doing his thing.

There was a fairly steep climb up to the Sugarloaf Saddle, then an equally steep descent down to Rock Creek and the Fish Hatchery Road. Robyn and I pulled off the trail just before the Hatchery Road, set up camp, had some more chocolate for dessert, and were sound asleep by 7:30 pm. We had covered some 24 miles and climbed nearly 3,000 ft.

Day 10 brought sunny skies. Both Robyn and I were excited to get moving because we only had a half-day to reach the small town of Twin Lakes, where we would pick up our food box, get a hotel room or cabin, shower, and eat. We headed south all day, passing side trails for Mount Massive and later for Colorado's highest mountain, Mount Elbert. The views towards Twin Lakes soon opened up, encouraging us along. Before reaching the Hwy-82 underpass, we passed creek side meadows filled with Larkspur, Monkshood, Carrots, Mariposa Lilies and more Columbines. The flowers were incredible.

After a one mile road walk with no luck hitchhiking, we made it to Twin Lakes and found a nice cabin with a personal shower to stay in for the night. We went to the post office, and after several minutes of searching, found the box we had sent ourselves from Denver. It was nice to see it had arrived as the market had extremely slim pickings. After a sub-par lunch, we went back to our cabin, did laundry and took a short nap. Neither of us wanted to have dinner out, so we decided to cook extra quinoa. However, we had a brilliant idea to preserve our alcohol fuel and cook while in bed. We would use the coffee percolator to boil and cook our quinoa.

An hour later, we were enjoying dinner and the magazines we picked up in town. We were both happy to be resting and enjoying the sunset from our cabin. A comfortable bed called and we were asleep by 8 pm. After 195 miles in the first 10 days, our bodies were on the verge of breaking down. Both Robyn and I knew that if any of our friends spoke louder, we would need to consider some more time off in Twin Lakes.

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