Friday, December 29, 2017

Day 34: The End of the Colorado Trail!

September 27: When dawn arrived, I was surprised to discover that it hadn't rained or snowed during the night. Not a drop! Weather forecasts predicted rain/snow all night long and all day long, but clearly whatever storm was blowing in had been delayed.

But! It still looked like it might rain at any time. I didn't for a minute think that it wasn't going to rain at all--just that the timing of the storm wasn't predicted well. But it still annoyed me to have set up my tarp and take it back down for no good reason.

Temperatures were crisp and cool, but nowhere near as cold as they had been the previous two mornings. I laid around in my sleeping bag with little motivation to get going--even at the time thinking the delay would be a decision I'd grow to regret. I was certain it would start raining and once it did, it wouldn't stop until I finished the trail. Every minute I delayed the day's hike was an extra minute I'd be in the rain.

But I couldn't help it--I laid around for a half hour for absolutely no good reason at all.

Eventually I got myself up and moving, and once I was on the trail I burned rubber! I had a small hill to get over--maybe 500 feet in elevation gain--but fresh in the morning with my pack low on food, I covered the distance quick. Then it was all a gradual downhill which was even faster. I blazed down the trail.

I kept waiting for the rain, expecting it at any moment, but hour after hour passed and still no rain. I was delighted at the unexpected lack of rain, but suspicious. I didn't trust the weather. Not at all.

At Gudy's Rest, there's a commanding view towards the town of Durango. I was able to see some civilization in the distance. Durango, here I come!

I also ran into a dayhiker who I chatted with for several minutes. Immediately upon meeting him, I thought he reminded me of someone but I couldn't think of who. But I passed it off as absurd. The chances of bumping into someone I knew out here seemed remote at best--unless it was other people I met while hiking on the trail and I knew this guy wasn't one of them.

So I set that nagging feeling that I knew him aside and we chatted a bit. He was visiting the area from Cincinnati, and I told him about my Colorado Trail thru-hiker. "Just 4 more miles and I'm done with this trail!" I exclaimed. We also talked about the weather. He too was surprised it wasn't raining but decided to make the most of it by doing a little hiking. I told him that I was absolutely ecstatic that it hadn't started raining yet. I had expected to hike the last 14 miles in a miserable, wet rain and so far, not a drop in 10 miles! Just four miles to go!

"Even if it started raining right now," I told him, "I'd be thrilled that I only had to hike in the rain for four miles!"

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I thought better of it. "I hoped I didn't just jinx myself," I said. I hoped I could finish the last four miles of trail without any rain at all--it seemed possible now! But it's true--even if it did start raining right then, I'd still be happy that it didn't rain the first ten miles of the day.

We parted ways--he was going to try hiking a bit further up the trail before turning back and I continued hiking. Not two minutes later, it started raining. I shook my fist in the air. I had jinxed myself!

I pulled out my umbrella, wondering if the day hiker were cursing me for me for the jinx.

And finally I remembered who the guy reminded me of: Henry Winkler. Even sounded a lot like him too. And I started thinking, maybe it was him. Even celebrities sometimes go outside to hike, right? How cool would it be say that I bumped into Henry Winkler while I was on my thru-hike! The man said he was visiting the area but lived in Cincinnati. Did Henry Winkler live in Cincinnati? It would make sense he might have a house in Hollywood, but celebrities live in other locations too. Off the top of my head, I had no idea where Henry Winkler called home.

I wished I had asked about his name. Was it Henry? If I made a Happy Days reference, would he say anything about it?

I wished I had remembered who he reminded me of before we parted ways. Now I wanted to get another look at him and ask him his name. Oh, well. I'll have to Google later where Henry Winkler calls home. If he has a house in Cincinnati, I'm totally going to start telling people I met Henry Winkler while thru-hiking the Colorado Trail! =)

The light rain that started turned into a heavy downpour within a couple of minutes and--as expected--continued raining hard the rest of the day. It was miserable, wet and cold, but I was still thrilled that I finished the first 10 miles today with no rain at all. It was far more than I could have hoped for! This was, I also knew, where I was paying my dues for sleeping in the extra half hour. I wouldn't have reached the end of the trail in a half hour, but I'd be walking in the rain for the last 60-or-so minutes. Had I not slept in late, I'd have cut that in half!

I still made good time the last four miles. I slowed down a bit getting through some areas slippery with mud and through large puddles forming on the trail, but I still hiked quickly anxious to finish the trail and get out of the rain.

And about an hour later, I arrived at the southern terminus of the Colorado Trail. I could see the parking lot and knew that was it. The end. The grand finale! I made it!

And it was immensely anti-climatic. It looked like any other regular trailhead. There was no grand monument or sign to mark the end of this epic trail. Nothing even particularly photogenic in the area. There were three cars in the parking lot. Given the torrential downpour, I didn't expect any new cars would show up anytime soon. It might be hard to hitch a ride out from here, but one problem at a time. Where was I going to take my great "I'm finished!" photo?

For lack of anything else, I took a selfie with the sign about the Colorado Trail behind me. It was immensely unsatisfying, and I was frustrated that nobody was around who could take a proper photo of me and the complete lack of an interesting background.

There was an outhouse in the parking lot, and I walked over to it standing under the small 1-foot overhanging roof. It was, quite literally, the only place to get out of the rain. I found myself annoyed that the outhouse didn't have a larger roof with a longer overhang, but I made do with what was available.

I pulled out my phone and texted a few people to let them know I officially finished the trail but didn't make any phone calls. That could wait when I was in town and out of the rain. Then I pulled up the maps of the area (downloaded earlier to my phone) to figure out how to get into town. Downtown Durango was supposedly only about 5 miles away, but it seemed like an insurmountable barrier. I even thought about calling a taxi, but it somehow felt wrong to have a taxi pick me up at the end of the trail.

At the very least, I figured I should at least try getting to a busier road and hitching a ride. I could stand for an hour by this road and not see anyone, I figured! If it were a nice day, there might be plenty of hikers finishing their day hikes who'd give me a ride into town, but there was nobody around right now.

I started walking out on the road. On my map it looked like there was a perhaps busier road less than a mile away. And, of course, if any cars drove by before then, I'd stick out my thumb at any point along the way as well.

In the next ten minutes, two cars passed me by but a third car pulled over and it was... Henry Winkler! Or at least someone who looked a heck of a lot like him! =)

He popped his trunk and I threw all my gear in and then jumped into the car. Now that I had an idea of who he was, I took a close look at him without trying to be too creepy about it, and as far as I could tell, it really might be him. It's not like I've seen him a lot on television or anything--I'm not sure I'd recognize him at all except for the fact that I've seen him a few times being interviewed on the Tonight Show and such.

I noticed the car rental receipt in the center divider of the car and surreptitiously read the name on it. Stephen. I was a little disappointed. Not Henry Winkler. Unless he was using an assumed name so his legions of fans didn't mob him at the airport? Or maybe.... no, it wasn't him. But dang, the resemblance was astounding! The looks, the voice, the attitude.... if there was a Henry Winkler look-alike contest, this guy would win!

Steve (he later introduced himself as Steve) offered to drive me anywhere in Durango I needed to go--it's not a large town!--but I didn't have any reservations for lodging so I actually wasn't sure where to go. Just that I wanted to be somewhere near downtown where I could get a hot meal and pick up my maildrop. Then I could get online somewhere and figure out somewhere nearby that was cheap and had a room available.

We drove into the main drag in town and I saw a Dennys up ahead. "Dennys usually has wi-fi, right?" I asked Steve. "How about dropping me off there?" It was located about a block away from the post office. I could get out of the rain, eat a hot meal, get online and find somewhere to stay, then walk over to the post office to pick up my mail drops and finally--go to my hotel room wherever it might be.

So Steve dropped me off and I stepped into Dennys. I asked an employee there if they had wi-fi--I really needed to get online and find lodging and had absolutely no intention of eating somewhere where I couldn't get online--but they confirmed that it was available and was quickly seated. Sopping wet after hiking an hour in the pouring rain, I was also freezing. I really wanted them to crank up the heat in that place!

I ordered the Philly cheesesteak and a Coke, then pulled out my phone and started looking for cheap places to stay. I settled on a hotel at the edge of town a mile or two away after confirming that there was a bus I could take to the location. I didn't want to walk that far in the rain to a hotel!

I ate my meal, which was delicious, and after paying the bill, walked over to the post office where I picked up two packages. One from myself (my laptop and a few miscellaneous items) and one from my mom (a duffel bag so I could check a bag upon my departure).

Those didn't fix in my pack which was still full with all of my usual gear, so I just carried the boxes awkwardly in my arms then walked to a bus stop which whisked me away to the hotel.

At the hotel, life was good! I cranked up the heat to "high" and stripped off the wet, dirty clothes and took a long, hot shower. Life was good!

I got online to figure out if there were any flights I could get on tomorrow morning. I didn't expect that the end of September was a busy time for travelers and was pleased to see plenty of available seats to choose from. Then I looked into how to get from the hotel to the airport and was shocked--shocked!--that, as far as I could tell, there was absolutely no mass transit options from downtown Durango to the Durango airport. Not only that, but the Durango airport was something like 20 miles outside of town. What the heck?

After looking around at options, I called a taxi to pick me up in the morning tomorrow. I'm still stunned that there seems to be no regular transit service between Durango and the airport. *shaking head*

Later in the evening, I went next door and ate dinner at Taco Bell but that was it for me. My day--and my hike--was done!

And, I'm sorry to report, I have no other adventures to write about. Not for now, at least. I'm sure I'll have more to post next year, though! Can't have a year without adventures! =)

View from Gudy's Rest, just a couple of minutes before the rain would begin!

The end of the trail was... immensely anti-climatic.
My selfie at the end of the trail. (I like that photo earlier from Gudy's Rest better, though!)
I started hiking out to a busier road to hitch a ride....

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Day 33: Huge day! HUGE!

September 26: Overnight temperatures were expected to fall into the teens--about the same as the night before, but this morning felt infinitely warmer! Not being deep in a canyon that cold air sinks into or camping directly on and around snow made a huge difference. It was still cold, though. Definitely below freezing--probably in the teens, in fact--but mentally it felt so much warmer than yesterday and I had a lot easier time getting up and out of my sleeping bag and hit the trail by around 7:30. A little later than usual, but not too bad!

'Tis a beautiful morning for a hike!

Somewhat surprisingly, I was able to get a cell phone signal from camp--the first time I'd been able to get a signal from the trail in about two weeks just before my arrival into Salida. But it let me get an updated weather forecast which predicted snow at higher elevations late in the afternoon. The trail would bounce around at around 11,000 feet most of the morning, then climb over a series of five 12,000-foot mountains before plummeting towards its end in Durango.

My goal was get over those 12,000-foot passes before the snow struck. The trail was basically all downhill from that point, and I figured the lower in elevation I could get the better. The snow was expected to fall all night and all day the next day. Silverton was expected to get several inches of snow. Durango, at a much lower elevation, was only expected to get rain. Lots and lots of miserable rain. Temperatures, fortunately, were expected to be much warmer--nearly 20 degrees warmer than the last couple of nights. Clouds trapping in the day's heat tends to do that. And if I could reach Junction Creek, I'd be camped at a relatively low 8,540 feet above sea level. That might not seem low, but the trail hadn't been this low since Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort more than 200 miles earlier.

The weather forecast hadn't changed much since I left Silverton. Basically, today was my last day of decent weather. There was no way I could finish the trail today, but I hoped to camp low. Hopefully I'd make it to camp--my goal was Junction Creek almost 23 miles away. I wasn't sure that I would make it, but even if I could only make it 20 miles, it would still get me over the highest peaks and under 10,000 feet. Hopefully low enough that I wouldn't find myself postholing through difficult snow tomorrow morning. Tomorrow would be miserable, though. I'd wake up to rain (or snow), and hike it in all day to the trail's end. If I woke up to snow, it would probably turn to rain at some point during the day as the trail dropped in elevation.

So the more miles I could do today, the fewer awful miles I'd have to do tomorrow. Today was going to be all about miles. Minimal breaks, hike hard, and get as far as I could before dark.

I passed the Four Mousketeers (the group's name kept evolving in my head--first it was "Mouse and friends," then it was the "Mousketeers," and now I was calling them the "Four Mousketeers"). They were still breaking down camp perhaps 15 minutes up the trail from where I camped. I stopped and chatted for maybe half a minute while we discussed the weather prospects, but then I pushed on. I had miles to do!

For much of the morning, the trail stayed largely flat and easy and I made excellent time. I even took a half-mile detour off trail to a "scenic overlook" (which, I agreed, was very scenic! Though I was cursing the fact that it required me going off trail for a half-mile to see it.)

When I passed by the Grindstone Trail, my pace slowed considerably. The trail became much more rugged passing over a series of five 12,000-or-so-foot snow-capped peaks. It was cold, windy and steep. Dark clouds obscured the sun making the wind-driven cold even worse.

I was surprised by the amount of snow I had to often posthole through on those peaks. Most of the snow from the storm several days earlier had melted already, but not at these lofty and exposed peaks. Some of the snow drifts I had to plow through where a foot deep. Not horrible, but certainly not easy either!

I counted each mountain top as I went over. One down, four to go. Two down, three to go. Come on, Ryan! I thought. Three more humps and it's all downhill from there!

I took short breaks in the valleys between the humps since the mountains seemed to act like wind blocks, but I never stopped for more than about 5 or 10 minutes before resuming. I had miles to do! Every mile I finished now was one less mile I'd have to hike in rain tomorrow! I pushed myself like I had never pushed myself before.

Occasionally I'd look back for the Four Mousketeers--the views were phenomenal from those mountaintops and I could often see the trail for miles ahead and behind me--but I never caught sight of them. I figured they couldn't be too far back, though, since I knew they planned to finish the trail tomorrow as well.

This is one of the most interesting icicles I had ever seen! Sap from the tree mixed in with the ice giving it this interesting color!

After the last of the 12,000-foot peaks, the trail plummeted down a steep slope towards Taylor Lake which was steep enough that I couldn't get down that very quickly either. At a creek near the lake, I filled up with water again--it was the first place I could fill up with water today. The last place I got water was Straight Creek--yesterday and nearly 20 miles back.

The trail leveled out for a couple of miles until Kennebec Pass from which I could see the cabin marked on my map that I considered staying in. It hadn't started snowing or raining yet, however, and I still had a couple of hours of daylight left and decided to keep going. A part of me wanted to go off trail the short way to the cabin and check it out, but I didn't have time for that. I needed to get miles in while it was still light. The side trip to the scenic overlook was enough side trips for the day.

From Kennebec Pass, the trail plummeted again, dropping about 3,000 feet to my goal at Junction Creek. While most of the day had been above tree line, I now descended into a thick forest of trees which gave me a certain degree of relief. At least if I had to stop at any point, I wouldn't be exposed.

Just below Kennebec Pass, I heard the first echo of thunder rolling through the mountains. I could see rain in the distance. Crap! It looked like I wouldn't reach my goal before the storm struck. Ten minutes later, a hail storm struck. Or more like a hail/graupel storm. The rain on the horizon looked patchy and I hoped it would sweep by and give me more time to make it further down the trail unaccosted. The hail lasted for about 5 minutes and then for an hour, the skies actually cleared up!

A little bit of hail/graupel just to keep things interesting!

I pushed on down the mountain slopes, now making excellent time again. Not too steep to slow me down.

I arrived at my destination at 6:15 a little surprised that I made it there so early. My intention had been to hopefully reach this point by 7:00 and if I didn't make it by 7:00, quit at the first decent place I could find at around 7:00. I still had 45 minutes of hiking I could do before dark!

My guidebook showed another campsite about a mile further down the trail. I had picked this destination as my goal because it was the low point of the trail before it climbed one last mountain (just a 1,000-foot climb) before the non-stop drop to Durango. From here, the trail went back up a bit, which might make it colder during the night. Higher elevations are usually colder, after all. But this campsite was deep in a canyon with a cold river running through it. The campsite a mile ahead was on the lip of the canyon with no water around it at all. I figured it might be a couple of degrees colder due to the higher elevation, but it would likely be an order of magnitudes warmer since I wouldn't be in a canyon that trapped a lot of cold air. And one more mile today meant one less mile tomorrow in miserable weather.

So I pushed on. I filled up with water first--there would be no water at the next campsite--and pushed onward--finally arriving at camp at about 6:45. It was one of the latest times I stopped for the day, but I was astonished how much I got done today. In terms of miles, I officially covered 23.8 miles--which actually doesn't seem like a lot by thru-hiker standards (but it was my longest day ever on the Colorado Trail). The snow-covered mountains and steep slopes slowed me down a lot, though, and I wound up recording a whopping 61,924 steps--my second highest record of all time! (There was one day on the Appalachian Trail where I recorded just over 70,000 steps.)

I set up my tarp next to the edge of a steep cliff. Okay, maybe five feet away from the edge of a cliff. As long as I don't sleep walk during the night I'll be fine. =) I didn't really expect it to snow--I figured I had dropped low enough in elevation that snow seemed unlikely at this point--but it was definitely going to rain during the night and I wanted to be prepared!

Temperatures were considerably warmer tonight. I still curled up in my sleeping bag, but this time I felt warm enough to leave my arms out to handle my Kindle while reading deep into the night.

And, if all went well, tomorrow I would be finishing this trail. It would be a miserable, wet walk--but I had barely 13 miles left, and it was all downhill on a gentle path. I probably wouldn't finish before noon, but an early afternoon finish seemed assured.

My campsite tonight would be at the edge of a steep cliff! (I haven't set the tarp up yet when I took this photo.)
How could I walk by without checking out an official "scenic overlook"? It was off-trail, but I couldn't resist!
Yep, it's an overlook, and it is scenic! Truth in advertising! =)
I was so sure that Kevin or Max had done this since they were the only two people I knew who were ahead of me on the trail, but later when I emailed Kevin about it, he swore it wasn't them! So some mystery person created this happy face in the snow on a stump. =)

I'm not actually sure if "Neglected" is the name of the trail--or a description of it! Either way.... I was glad I didn't have to take it! =)

The series of five snow-covered 12,000 foot humps were steep and slowed me down considerably!
But admittedly, the views were absolutely jaw-dropping and spectacular! (And the snow is getting uncomfortably deep in this section!)

Coming down from the last of the 12,000-foot peaks with Taylor Lake below (and the first water on the trail for 20 miles).
The cabin that I thought maybe I could sleep in if I had to--but I didn't have to!

This is Junction Creek--and my original destination for the night--but I'd overshoot it by a mile because I'm awesome! =)

Monday, December 25, 2017

Day 32: The End is Near!

September 25: I woke up to a brutally cold morning. I didn't have a thermometer to check the temperature, but I had absolutely no doubt that temperatures had fallen at least into the teens and perhaps even into the single digits. Fortunately, I did stay toasty warm in my sleeping bag with the help of my new equipment picked up in Silverton. Unfortunately, none of it was useful in helping me get out of my sleeping bag in the morning.

During the night, quite a bit of ice had formed on the creek I camped next to!

Eventually, I had to get up--there was no way to delay it anymore. I had to pee! But it was miserable getting out of my sleeping bag. I knew I should be getting up early and hitting the trail. The sky was clear and beautiful and was expected to stay that way all day, and I knew there was a storm expected to hit in two more days and the more miles I got done today, the fewer I'd have to deal with in the rain and/or snow in a couple of days. I wanted to get in as many miles as I could. I wanted to get started at 7:00 in the morning, but I just couldn't get myself out of my nice, warm sleeping bag.

It wasn't until the sun rose high enough that some of the sunlight filtered through the canopy and started warming up the air that I could motivate myself to get up and I wound up not hitting the trail until about 8:30. Such a late start! Argh! At least I knew this cold snap was coming, though, and had prepared for it by putting my shoes in a plastic bag and sleeping on top of them. I also slept with my water. I didn't want any of that to freeze during the night. You only made the mistake of letting your shoes freeze solid once! I did that on the PCT and was sure I didn't do that again.

I didn't make great time on the trail--not at first, at least. Given the severe cold, the snow and water on the trail turned into slick ice and I lost count of the number of times I slipped and fell. Not only did the falls slow me down, but my pace slowed down as I tried to be more careful not to fall.

Later in the morning, the ice melted, but then I still slipped in the slick snow and mud. At least falling into the snow wasn't a big deal, but I really didn't want to fall into the mud. That's just messy. I had a couple of close calls but managed to get through without a bad fall into the mud.

Late in the afternoon, I reached a point where I could see Mouse and her three friends marching up to an unnamed pass in the distance and was surprised to see all four of them marching within a few steps of each other. They were in this same formation the evening before when they passed my campsite. Usually when groups of people hike "together," they tend to string out like a slinky as people hike at their own pace and the ones in front stop occasionally to wait for the ones in back to catch up, but these four seemed to hike together in a very tight formation. Nothing wrong with that, mind you, but it seemed odd. What if the one in front farted? I know I wouldn't want to be the one bringing up the rear of that train! =)

Mouse again was at the lead of the line, and I started thinking of the group of four as the Mouseketeers.

The Mouseketters headed over the pass and I lost sight of them for the time being. I figured I was maybe a mile or so behind them and would probably catch up to them the next time they stopped for a break.

I followed the trail over the pass and through the woods. By noon, most of the snow had melted. The only places were snow was left was on north-facing slopes and areas under the protective shade of trees. I knew I'd have no trouble finding a snow-free location to camp tonight. I figured that had to be worth at least an extra ten degrees of warmth.

I caught sight of the Mouseketeers again, this time heading over Blackhawk Pass. They were still marching in their tight formation. How do they managed to do that all day long? It seemed a little spooky and magical to me. At the top, though, they apparently took a short break because I saw a couple of them standing at the top admiring the views without their packs on--and they were more than two feet from the next person in line.

They didn't break for long, though, because by the time I reached the top of my pass, they were gone and there was no view of them on the other side of the pass.

I continued on, eventually catching up with the group at Straight Creek where they had stopped for a break. Even though I'd been seeing them on the trail for the last hour or two, none of them had noticed me following behind them on the trail and they hadn't been sure where I was. They camped a bit off trail the night before so figured it was possible that I hiked by them in the morning.

I chatted with them for several minutes but they eventually hit the trail again. I lingered a bit later--I needed a rest too, and unlike them, I arrived late. So they went on ahead while I hung back and ate some snacks and filled up with water.

And I did fill up with water. This creek was the last reliable water source on the trail for the next 20 miles or so. I'd need enough water to get me through the night and most of the morning tomorrow. I hated the idea of carrying so much water. I suppose I could have melted snow, but it was actually growing quite scarce at this point and wasn't reliable anymore. There was a seasonal water source about halfway to the next reliable water source and given the snow and rain, it seemed likely that there would be some water there. But I didn't really want to depend on that. What if there wasn't? I'd be really screwed!

So I filled up with a lot of water and hit the trail again.

I didn't see anyone else for the rest of the day, and I didn't catch up with the Mouseketeers again. I set up camp a little before sunset on a ridge with wonderful views of the surrounding countryside. It was a wonderful campsite too! Except for the lack of water, it was perfect in every way. The ground was clear of snow, it was on a plateau at the top of a mountain where cold air couldn't settle during the night, and there were a lot of choices among campsites to choose from.

I toyed with the idea of camping right on the ledge with the great views, but I knew temperatures were expected to plummet during the night and figured I'd be warmer if I stayed under the trees away from the edge, so that's what I did. On the other hand, I wanted the first morning light shining on me as early as possible, so I tried to guess from which direction the sun would most likely rise in the morning and positioned myself where I could catch its light.

The air was cool and crisp during the evening, but as soon as the sun set, temperatures plummeted quickly and I curled up into my sleeping, too cold outside to even read my Kindle. At least I was nice and warm in my sleeping bag, but I lingered there for a few hours--kind of bored with nothing to do but ponder the meaning of life until I got tired enough to fall asleep. I found myself wishing I had caught up to and camped with the Mouseketeers. At least then I'd have some people to talk to as I laid around trying to stay warm all night!

Even after the ice and snow melted, the trails were still slick with mud! That horrible, gloppy stuff that would cling to your feet and make your shoes feel like they weighed 5 pounds each.

These were the most impressive icicles I saw during the day. They were probably a good four feet long!
Blackhawk Pass