Wednesday, August 13, 2008

CT Day 23: Rolled into Buena Vista

Dave and I woke up early for the 3-4 mile hike out. After a long downhill stretch, sighting a black bear (I think), and crossing Middle Cottonwood Creek, we begin searching for a ride into the sleepy little mountain town of Buena Vista.

The scale of the Collegiate peaks is particularly huge, and these are no exception. A highway rolls out East of us and we began trudging down the highway trying to wave a ride. FINALLY an old man and his little dog pull over and take pity on the thru-hikers.

Now here I am in Buena Vista! Hiked 60 or so miles from Leadville and passed through the Mt. Massive and Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Areas. These are some BIG MOUNTAINS! Buena Vista lies to the East of the Collegiate Range in the Arkansas River Valley. Its known for spectacular sunshine, river rafting, and big sky. In many ways, Buena Vista reminds me of the Owen's Valley in California, a wide open valley hemmed in by massive mountains to either side. Even the rain shadow pattern of the Collegiate Peaks mirrors its Sierra Nevada counterpart.

We are also lucky here, as we're staying with longtime family friend, Jennifer Pyle. My parents knew the Pyle family in Denver long before I was ever born, and their daughter, Jennifer Pyle now runs the Bongo Billy's Coffee Shop in Buena Vista. She was kind enough to let us stay with her and her awesome dog, and even let us drive around her old 250 Ford. That's a ride for sure!
Shameless Plug: Check out Jenny's Bongo Billy's Coffee when you get to Buena Vista! You'll know that your great coffee (or sandwich) is produced using sustainable techniques and is just really good. You can find Bongo Billy's on the East side of the highway, when you drive North into town.
From here, Dave and I (and possibly Paul if we locate him) will head further South, leaving the Arkansas Valley. We'll be passing Mt. Princeton, Mt. Antero, and Mt. Shavano before crossing Monarch Pass. I do not expect to have internet access at our Monarch Lodge resupply point.

From Monarch, we enter an 8-9 day, 100 mile stretch to Creede, CO which will be our longest unsupported leg of the journey. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers!
I have no idea who these people are, but this is likely to be your response after having Bongo Billy's coffee!

CT Day 24: Leaving Buena Vista

Update on CT Hikers from Andy's Fragments

The Colorado Trail Story

CT Day 22: Fishing at Harvard Lake

Another LONG day with another BIG CLIMB!

We spent most of the morning leapfrogging with April and Thatch, but they finally passed us up when we reached Harvard Lake and Dave wanted to give fishing 1 last shot before mailing his fishing gear home.
Harvard Lake actually consists of two lakes. Lower Harvard Lake is far more picturesque than the mud pit constituting the upper lake. Consequently that's where I spent most of my time. Dave divided his time between the two for a couple of hours, and managed to make his biggest number of catches for the trip. Unfortunately, they were all far too small to bother frying up.

So we kept going, descending 2000 feet into the valley of North Cottonwood Creek, and then ascending another 4000 feet up the slopes of Mt. Yale. By the time we re-entered the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area, we were exhausted. Climbing a 4500 feet after doing 12 miles that morning is NOT RECOMMENDED. We made a short descent along the Southern slopes of Mt. Yale before camping out with a view of Mt. Princeton.
Tomorrow we would roll into Buena Vista, our next resupply point. My ankle was continuing to bother me but it certainly wasn't slowing us down. Another 15 mile day, this one also with a big climb near the end. I hope it heals up a bit while we're in Buena Vista.

CT Day 23: Rolled into Buena Vista

The Colorado Trail Story

CT Day 21: Campfire with Thatch and April

We woke up to VERY LOUSY weather and knew that it might be a very difficult day. We eventually managed to get moving though. My ankle was bothering me again, and I was getting increasingly concerned about it. I could manage to hike on it without it slowing us down, but the pain concerned me.

Despite the great pace we were setting, I wasn't dealing well with the weather or my ankle, and I'm certain I wasn't the most pleasant company to be around either. We still managed to climb two really big hills (over 4000 ft) and make 15 or so miles that day. We also entered the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area. The Trail passed through Clear Creek and its miserable RV campground in the morning, but reached Pine Creek and the Wilderness Area boundary that afternoon. The same uncanny phenomenon occurred: upon entering the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, views improved considerably.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn't as cooperative. Our first glimpse of the sun didn't occur until we crested our second big climb of the day, along the ramparts of Mt. Harvard above treeline. Beautiful place though. We really didn't have reliable sunshine till we camped that evening at Morrison Creek. We did manage to dry off all our gear, and after Herculean effort, got a fire started with sopping wet wood.

Our mood improved considerably with the sunshine. The intense rain and drizzle of the day had cleaned the air throughout the whole valley, and the flawless cobalt sky improved my morale considerably. Just when things couldn't get much better, April and Thatch from the Leadville Hostel show up and we all laugh, joke, and chat well into the night. Thatch and April both gave us stories of trails from their homes back East. Thatch had done the John Muir Trail and the Appalachian Trail.

Dave and I had risked not pitching the tent, so that we might be able to sleep under the stars. By the time we went to sleep that night though, clouds had formed. When we heard thunder, Dave and I frantically raised the tent over our bags. Just in the nick of time, as a torrential downpour and thunderstorm started only minutes after we finished!

CT Day 22: Fishing At Harvard Lakes

The Colorado Trail Story

CT Day 20: Lance Armstrong at Twin Lakes

Dave and I left as early as we could so that we might be able to witness the Leadville 100 Bike Race. While we got a bit of a late start, we managed to make excellent time, averaging more than 3 miles per hour. We reached Twin Lakes reservoir sometime in the late morning, hoping to cheer on some of the racing folks we met in Leadville.

For the Leadville 100 Race this year, Twin Lakes was both the 40 mile race checkpoint and the 60 mile race checkpoint. Dozens of support crews stood out ready to assist their riders and hundreds of spectators watched and cheered for the riders coming in.

We ran into a group of women supporting one rider. After some small talk and hearing of our trail journey, they offered us fresh turkey sandwiches, gatorade, and snacks! Sometimes being a thru-hiker is pretty nice. They also told us that Lance Armstrong would be coming through in about half an hour. The world famous, seven time Tour de France winner was locked in a duel for first place with Gunnison, CO Native and six time Leadville 100 winner David Weins.

Lance Armstrong and David Weins eventually did roll through, to thunderous applause from all the bystanders. At this point David Weins was slightly ahead, with Lance Armstrong trailing just him. With only 40 miles to go, and with Lance's reputation, all the locals who favored Weins began fearing for the worst.
Dave and I left shortly after the big Armstrong commotion, walking the opposite direction of most of the cyclists, as this small portion of the CT near Twin Lakes Reservoir coincided with the race. All the fastest cyclists (all of whom were still far behind Weins and Armstrong). Dave and I started dancing as we walked through, and all the spectators started cheering for us as well! It was a great time.

Some guy asked where we were hiking from and we told him Denver. He immediately gave us both some brews. Turns out his Japanese wife was there with him to watch a friend race, so I had a few questions for her.

That afternoon we went for a swim on the OTHER side of Twin Lakes and later ran into Patch. Patch had gone into Twin Lakes for a resupply, and was passing us late that afternoon. Despite quitting early and watching the race, we managed to put away 14-15 miles.
As for the 2008 Leadville 100 MTB, turns out David Weins won! Weins came in a couple minutes ahead of Armstrong with a flat rear tire! Both riders however, beat the previous race record (held by Weins) by about 20 minutes. To add some perspective and context for our cycling readers, Weins appears to be a force to be reckoned with. He also beat Floyd Landis by 2 minutes in the 2007 Leadville 100 as well. Read the Yahoo Sports account here.

David Hanson's account of that Day:
"We hurried to Twin Lakes for the Leadville 100 bike race that was passing through. We made friends with a number of racers at the hostel in Leadville, so we thought it would be fun to cheer them on. It was quite the scene, tons of people line up along the route to cheer and catch a glimpse of Lance Armstrong! The big drama of the race was whether the Local guy, Dave Wiens could beat Lance. Dave had won the event the last 5 years. He even beat Floyd LAndis last year. When they passed through Lance was slightly ahead. The crowd roared as they jetted by. These guys were beasts. A day or two later we heard from Patch that Dave had beat Lance by a minute or two, and that Dave crossed the finish with a flat tire. Legendary!
The best part of the race was making friends with people and eating their food. Laurel made us turkey sandwiches and gave us gatorade and an apple. We were hiking out along the same route as the race and people started cheering for Tyler and I. Then these guys asked us where we were coming from... When we answered, "we just walked from Denver." They replied, "Holy S#%*, you guys need a beer!" That was a nice way to cap off the event and continue."

CT Day 21: Campfire With Thatch & April

The Colorado Trail Story

CT Day 19: Mending My Ankle

After yesterday's ascent of Mt. Massive, we had, against my better judgment, hiked four more miles South along the trail so that we might be positioned to climb Mt. Elbert today.

That is precisely what David did. I however, had done something to my left ankle and thought it prudent to stay off it for the morning. So I watched from the tent while David left to go do Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado. While I was annoyed with my ankle, I wasn't too disappointed about missing the climb, as I'd done Mt. Elbert years ago before leaving to Japan.

So I futzed around in the tent, reading a book David brought along: Thomas Merton's Thoughts in Solitude. I didn't finish it, nor did I think particularly much of it. Some of his essays were convicting, but others just didn't impress me all that much. So between that, cleaning dishes, napping, and answering nature's call, I managed to stave off boredom until David returned from Mt. Elbert.

David finally returns sometime afternoon and reports success! Despite his fatigue, I convince him to move our down the trail with me a little bit further, so that I could have a chance to do a little something that day. So we find a better spot near a brook a couple of miles further South. Who should come along? But April and Thatch, who report that the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race would be happening tomorrow near Twin Lakes! They were going on further to catch the race earlier the next morning and reported some more gossip on people we knew from the trail.

Shortly thereafter, a tall, skinny,old bean-pole of a man showed up wearing the titanic, conspicuously red, Gregory Denali Pro Backpack. He asked if he could join us, as there were no other decent campsites around and we didn't mind the company. It turns out his name was Dave, he was 72 years old, and he was hiking the Continental Divide Trail for the second time. This guy was now the biggest stud we'd met so far. This particular section of the Colorado Trail coincided with the CDT, so we'd been meeting CDT hikers from time to time, but none so old, and none with such massive expedition size packs on them! His pack probably had the volume to carry our combined gear. He also carried a 35 year old Svee stove that ran on gasoline. The Scandinavian design worked and sounded like a jet engine.

Anyways, he proved to be very pleasant company, showing off his old school gear and describing the CDT in wonderful detail. He had reportedly done the CDT the previous year and found it too stressful and difficult to really enjoy. So he wanted to return and do it again, this time more relaxed and experienced so that he could enjoy it more and focus less on route finding and other obstacles.
Later that evening, a third thru-hiker joined us: Patch. He showed up at 8 PM as the light began to disappear. The hyperactive Patch is evidently a triple-crowner, who decided to do the CT to get away from his divorce and to lose a significant amount of weight. This guy was certainly wired! He'd done over 20 miles that day and was still talking and yammering with Dave well into the evening. Well, Patch was talking mostly, Dave mostly politely listened. He gave some good advice for my ankle though: ibuprofen every day. "Vitamin I," he called it. It would keep down the swelling, he said, while allowing the body to heal itself. Not one to lightly dismiss advice from the experts, I started taking it that evening.

Later on the trail, we would see Patch's name at the trail head registers along the way. He was making fabulous time, frequently 25 or more miles a day.

CT DAY 20: Lance Armstrong At Twin Lakes

The Colorado Trail Story

CT Day 18: Mount Massive

We woke up as early as possible, leaving our gear about 1/2 mile from the Mt. Massive trailhead. We were moving by 7 or 7:30 that morning. A little later than we'd hoped, but early enough for safety. But the weather had us very concerned about our climb and our ascent. Fog and clouds surrounded us on all sides. We spent most of the morning wondering when, not if, it would rain on our parade.

Still, we continued on undaunted, determined to tick another mountain off of our list. For David, this would be his third or fourth "14er" if I'm not mistaken. For myself, it would count as the tenth Colorado "14er" I had climbed. I've also been up Mt. Whitney and White Mountain Peak in California.

To date I have climbed:

1. Pikes Peak
2. Windom Peak
3. Sunlight Peak
4. Mt. Evans
5. Grey's Peak
6. Mt. Princeton
7. Mt. Elbert
8. Mt. Beirdstadt
9. Torrey's Peak
10. Mt. Massive

Mt. Massive was, on the whole, much as I expected it to be. It definitely ranks among the easier Colorado Mountain's I've climbed. It still turned out to be a magnificent summit. While we were disappointed and concerned about the weather early on, things cleared up later in the morning. On the main trail, there is one final saddle to gain before ascending along a ridge to the North. The weather cleared just moments before we arrived at the saddle, giving us unobstructed views above the clouds. I hadn't such views since climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan.
While the clouds came and went for most of the afternoon, they parted at various times to give us views of everything around, both East and West. Most of the time though, we felt we were in an ocean of clouds.
We didn't start descending until 10:30 or so, after spending some time on the top. After descending, we had hoped to position ourselves better for Mt. Elbert tomorrow, but my ankle started bothering me significantly, so we only hiked 4 miles further South along the Colorado Trail.
CT Day 19: Mending My Ankle

The Colorado Trail Story

CT Day 17: Positioning ourselves for Mt. Massive.

Wild Bill himself drove us up to the CT Trailhead where we left off so that we might continue our journey South towards our ultimate destination, Durango. We only hiked 9 or so miles in and camped in the Mt. Massive Wilderness Area as we wanted to be perfectly positioned for tomorrow's ascent of Mt. Massive.

When I first thought about doing the trail, I knew it would be a great way to achieve my lifetime goal of climbing every 14,000 foot peak in Colorado. Many native Coloradoans share the dream of standing atop all the "14er's in the state, but far less actually get around to doing them all. I believe there are 52 "14er's" in the state of Colorado, and I've only climbed about 10 of them. I originally planned to climb about 5-10 of the 14ers in the Collegiate Peaks.

When the Colorado Trail passes through the Western side of the Arkansas Valley, several "14ers" become accessible to thru-hikers in this valley alone; some more accessible than others. They include:

1. Mt. Massive
2. Mt. Elbert
3. Mt. Harvard
4. Mt. Yale
5. Mt. Princeton
6. Mt. Shavano
7. Mt. Antero

While I thought I could get at least 5 of these, this was ultimately proving impractical, as the underestimated physical demands of carrying food and finishing the trail alone were already chipping away at our mountaineering ambitions. Timing the ascent of a 14er while simultaneously making significant progress on the trail also proved difficult. If we wanted to move 12 miles per day, we needed to either slowly kill ourselves by hiking significant distances AFTER an ascent, or severely limit trail progress and force ourselves to carry more food and take more time. Something had to give.

Either way, we are determined to get at least one big mountain in, and tomorrow its gonna be Mt. Massive. At 14,421 feet, Mt. Massive stands as the second highest in Colorado and the third highest in the lower 48 states (correct me if I'm wrong). The picture above shows Mt. Massive.

CT Day 18: Mount Massive

The Colorado Trail Story

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

CT Day 16: Chillin' in Leadville at 10,200 Feet

It is now Day 16 or 17 of our first Thru-Hike. Followers of our journey will wish to know that we have now hiked 156 miles on the Colorado Trail from Denver.

We've had some good times and seen some good things, but things are not all well. Our dear comrade and hiking partner Paul Brodar has suffered a knee injury of curious cause. He had to drop out after hiking 14 or so miles over the pass from Breckenridge to Copper Mountain. He's hoping it will heal and he'll be able to join us again in a week when we get our next resupply in Buena Vista. We're definitely missing Paul's company on the trail and by the fire. Here's to the Neutron Star!

Our next stop is in Buena Vista, 60 0r so miles to the South. Dave and I will hopefully be able to meet up with Paul there and continue on. However, Dave and I are very much looking forward to climbing Mt. Massive, Mt. Elbert, and possibly Columbia or Harvard. The Collegiate peaks are definitely going to rock (that's all they are anyway).

We've also met many new people, including this beautiful golden retriever. Enter Thatch and April, two new friends and the huge crazy crowd of Leadville 100 bikers and runners all staying at the Leadville Hostel. These people rock! Training for 100 mile mountain bike and running races respectively.

CT Day 17: Positioning Ourselves for Mount Massive

More On the Colorado Trail From Andy's Fragments

The Colorado Trail Story

CT Day 15: 3 miles to Leadville

Another easy day, this time we only hiked 3 miles to the trail head, where we would thumb a ride into Leadville. Dave and I sort of planned it this way so that we could maximize our rest day in Leadville. So on an unbelievably clear and beautiful morning, we descended from Bear Lake down to a valley system just North of the Twin Lakes reservoir.

Following a heated discussion about which highway to take, we determined that we were indeed on the correct road, it just wasn't the road with any traffic! Three cars passed us in two hours, and only 1 was traveling our direction. The fourth driver we saw finally took pity on us and drove us both into what remains of the once glorious mining town of Leadville, CO.

We stayed at the always hospitable Leadville Hostel, run by the famous "Wild Bill" who is quite legendary for his hospitality towards thru-hikers. And like Mountain Outfitters in Breckenridge, Wild Bill let us stash a resupply at his place free of charge!

At the time, the Leadville Hostel was hosting numerous athletes training for the Leadville 100 Running and Mountain Biking race. There were several other CT thru-hikers as well. We saw Paul's name on the guest register and wondered where he was. Later on at the local brewpub, we saw Paul walking back towards the hostel and shouted to him across the street.

CT Day 16: Chillin' in Leadville at 10,200 feet

The Colorado Trail Story

CT Day 14: Holy Cross Wilderness & Bear Lake

While we made great mileage yesterday, today turned out to be somewhat wasteful, finishing only 8 miles, as my knee was bothering me for most of the morning and Dave decided to go fishing. I doubt I was very pleasant to be around. Somehow, Dave managed to put up with me though, and we continued on at a slow pace.

In light of my knee, we figured it would be best to take it easy this day, and only hiked 8 miles. The highlight turned out to be entering the very Southern tip of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. The unspoiled, old growth trees and rugged granite greeted us at every turn.

In the early afternoon we reached Bear Lake and set up a camp. And despite the ravenous mosquitoes, it turned out to be a fairly good location. After early afternoon rain clouds cleared, David tried his luck again with fishing at the lake, but it apparently wasn't meant to be. I layed low and tried to stay off my aching knee, hoping it would heal enough and not jeopardize my finishing the Colorado Trail.

CT Day 15: 3 Miles to Leadville

The Colorado Trail Story

CT Day 13: 17 Miles to Tennessee Pass

Our biggest mileage day so far, Dave and I cruised through to Leadville in an ambitious bid to simply get some mileage done. Besides crossing Kokomo Pass and treeline early in the morning, most of the rest of the scenery during this segment was somewhat, ho-hum. We got eaten alive by mosquitoes and flies along certain parts, passing mostly through endless "matchstick forests" along the CO-24 Highway to Tennessee Pass.

Both Dave and I were pleased with our early morning progress and the mileage we were making throughout the day, so we continued along, regrettably speeding past Camp Hale at 3+ miles an hour without so much as a photograph.

We did stop briefly at the 10th Mountain Division Memorial along the CO-24 Highway at Tennessee Pass, but stopped for very little other than that. I also got a shot of these huge charcoal ovens from the olden days.

CT Day 14: Holy Cross Wilderness & Bear Lake

The Colorado Trail Story

CT Day 12: Parting at Copper Mountain.

Paul, Dave and I left early that morning from the higher Western Flanks of Tenmile Range, hoping to Reach Copper Mountain with plenty of time for Dave and I to go further, divide up the food and supplies, and to give Paul a chance to find a ride to Leadville.

Paul's plan now consisted of heading to Leadville, hoping his knees would heal back up, and then jumping back in at some point further in the trail. At 11:00 or so when we finally reached Copper Mountain and the highway, Dave and I immediately started rummaging through our food, fuel and gear, giving Paul what we thought we wouldn't need. We dropped one of the stoves, much of the fuel, A LOT of food. The GPS Paul had been carrying also didn't make the cut, as we hadn't used it in days, and had never actually had a real need for the device.

Once finished, we said our goodbyes and Dave and I hurriedly rushed through the ultramodern Copper Mountain Ski Resort. It almost looked busier with mountain bikers, day hikers, and Midwesterners on vacation than it did with skiers in the winter. Fortunately, after numerous miles of dodging out of shape day hikers, mountain bikers, and an entire smelly cavalry of mounted tourists, we ascended into the pristine beautiful tundra near Janet's Cabin.
Janet's Cabin belongs to the 10 Mountain Division Hut System. During the Second World War, the US Army trained the 10th Mountain Division in this part of Colorado as a special unit for alpine and winter warfare. A system of huts, loosely modeled after those in Switzerland, were constructed to assist in training. After World War 2, Many of the 10th Mtn. veterans returned to Colorado and established the ski resorts that made the state famous. While I've never had more than a passing interest in the stories and lore surrounding the 10th Mountain Division, the Cabin and its wonderful setting definitely caught my attention. We should be passing by their former base, Camp Hale, sometime tomorrow afternoon! I'll definitely want to stop and stare.

Dave and I both took some great pictures.

CT DAY 13: 17 Miles To Tennessee Pass

The Colorado Trail Story

CT Day 11: Over the Divide to Copper Mountain

We finally departed Breckenridge, and now faced another climb over the Continental Divide. This would also be the first time the Colorado Trail coincided with the Continental Divide Trail. Despite this, the distance from Breckenridge to Copper Mountain was only 13 miles or so. We would be cresting Tenmile Range and would get some spectacular views.

On reaching the divide, we ran into and met a new friend, Justin Butts. Justin entertained us with hilarious stories about his travels to India.

Unfortunately, this also turned out to be the Day Paul's knees refused to let him go any further. He managed to make it over the divide, and claimed to be able to reach Copper Mountain, but David and I were very concerned about him. Luckily for him, we enjoyed the best sunset of the entire trip that evening.

CT Day 12: A Parting at Copper Mountain

The Colorado Trail Story