Monday, October 30, 2017

Day 7-8: The Breckenridge Zeros

Aug 31-Sept 1: The hostel provided a fabulous breakfast with bacon, eggs, and I don't even remember what all. It was a better breakfast than any hotel I'd ever stayed at! And it was included with the room price. This might very well be the best hostel ever!

Then I headed into Breckenridge for the day. Breckenridge was an exciting town for me to explore. Most trail towns are small places that I never heard of before I did whatever trail I was hiking, but I'd actually heard of Breckenridge before. Mostly in regards to the winter skiing there, which obviously wasn't happening on this last day of August, but it's always cool to finally see a place you've heard about for years.

I found a thrift store in town which I explored looking for a new set of pants. Nothing I found fit particularly well, but I was desperate for anything to cover me properly and wound up buying pants that were much too large for me--I figured that's what belts were for. And I definitely would need a belt with these pants. They were so loose, they'd fall off completely without a belt to hold them up. In all, it set me back $10. I also found a shirt  to wear while I was doing laundry. I could ship that with my laptop from town to town since the only time I would want to wear it was while doing laundry.

I also decided that I really needed a new raincoat given the regularity of the afternoon thunderstorms. I was still using the same one I bought while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. In 2003. It was thin, worn, and falling apart. It didn't really keep rain off anymore. So I would up purchasing a shiny new raincoat at an outlet store in town. I also decided that I needed to replace my umbrella which had seen better days. Seemed like I my gear needed a lot of upgrades! But that would be sufficient. For now, at least. =)

Then I headed to the gondola for a ride, which was free (!!!) and--even more important--fun. =) I rode it to the end of the line and stepped out for a quick look around. There were all sorts of activities around like a maze one could run through or a small putt-putt course. And ski lifts that would take you ever higher up the mountain (but those would cost money).

I hadn't been walking around for a minute before I heard someone trying to get my attention. "Why do you have a Polish flag on your pack?!"

Yes! A free gondola ride! I'll take it! =)

I hooked a Polish-speaking person! The flag worked! =) I started referring to the flag as a "lure." Or bait. I was fishing for Polish-speaking people, and I hooked one! Most Americans aren't going to recognize or care about a Polish flag, but it's unusual enough that it would certainly get the attention of anyone actually from Poland--and it worked!

"Dzień dobry!" I replied--good morning!--suddenly trying to think in Polish. I hadn't been thinking about Polish at all--my thoughts had been in English and the sudden change was a little disorienting and I had trouble thinking of what I wanted to say in Polish. "Uczę się po polsku." I'm learning Polish.

"Why would you do that?" she asked, confused.

"It's an interesting language," I replied.

The woman was from Łódź, the third-largest city in Poland. I tried speaking Polish for maybe two minutes at most before we fell into English at which point I learned that she was in the United States for the summer working (she was wearing a uniform that the employees there were wearing) but would have to return to Poland at the end of the season which I assumed would be relatively soon considering it was the last day of August. I asked her about Łódź--was it an interesting city? Would it be a good place to hang out for several weeks learning Polish? She didn't seem to have a high opinion of the city, though. I wouldn't say that she bad-mouthed the city, but she didn't seem very excited or complimentary about it either.

I wanted to practice speaking Polish a bit more, but she did have work to do. I thought about asking if she'd like to meet up for lunch or dinner--whenever she got off work--where I might be able to practice Polish some more, but the woman was quite young and drop-dead gorgeous and I didn't really want to make her think I was trying to hit on her or anything and decided just to let it go.

I've never seen heated sidewalks before! I might have to
come back here sometime in the winter and check them out. =)

Mostly, I was happy to see that my flag worked in drawing out a Polish-speaking person. It seemed liked a sound theory, but now I had actual proof that it worked! And if I could find one Polish-speaking person, I could find others! Not that I expected to find a lot of them, but I knew they were out there!

Late in the afternoon, I eventually headed back to the hostel where I spent much of the evening chatting with the other guests. When I checked the weather forecast for the next day, though, it called for a light steady rain all day from sunrise to sunset--which sounded pretty awful to me and I decided that I'd rather take another zero day and wait it out. Maybe switch it out for a sunny day at the end of the trail. That would be nice. =)

I asked if there was space for me the next night, which there was, and I booked the hostel for another night.

With the extra day in town, I decided that I'd take the free bus to Frisco and explore that area. I mostly emptied out my pack because there was a Walmart in Frisco and I figured I'd resupply there and I'd have to bring my haul back. But before leaving, I couldn't find my Polish flag. Sadly, I left for Frisco without it. I could walk right past a Polish-speaking person and not even know it. I looked everywhere for that flag and feared that it might have fallen out of my pack the day before without my realizing it.

The bus ride to Frisco was uneventful, and I walked around town a bit. It's a cute town, but I didn't really linger very long before heading to Walmart where I resupplied. The customer in front of me spoke Spanish with the clerk, so when I went up, I decided to speak Spanish too saying--in Spanish--I know you speak Spanish! I heard you speak Spanish! I want to speak Spanish!

I wouldn't trust any of these characters!

Actually, I wanted to speak Polish, but I doubted that would get me anywhere. But hey, I'd have fun speaking Spanish too, although I think I confused the woman when I forgot I was speaking Spanish and started saying "Tak!" (or yes in Polish). "Err... I mean sí!" I don't know how people can speak multiple foreign languages. I seem to get Polish and Spanish mixed up all the time.

But eventually I finished and took the bus back to Breckenridge. I was a little annoyed with the weather. I expected light rain all day never materialized. In fact, it didn't rain at all! And it really irritated me because I felt like I wasted a beautiful day for hiking, but it was too late to do anything about it then. I enjoyed my second day off, but I'd have enjoyed it more if it was pouring buckets of rain and I could watch it from under the protective cover of a roof or hot tub. (Oh, did I forget the mention? The hostel also had a hot tub. Best hostel ever!)

That's the Walmart in Frisco across the street.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Day 6: And into Breckenridge!

August 30: I woke up to another beautiful morning, but I knew the weather forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms so I didn't linger in camp. I hit the trail early--a little before 7:00--hoping I could make it into Breckenridge before the afternoon storms started.

I wonder what my elevation is? Hmm.... I wonder how I could figure that out? =)

By day 6, I figured my pack was probably a solid 13 pounds lighter than it was when I started the hike at Waterton Canyon which would have left my pack weight at about 35 pounds. Still far too heavy, but so much better than the 48 I started at. And I felt stronger already. My sore hips weren't nearly as tender after those first couple of days. And! I had a mere 16 miles to cover to get into Breckenridge. I'd travel quickly, minimize breaks, and beat the storms into town.

At least that was my plan. When I left Denver, I brought 7 days of food with me, but I had hoped I could complete the distance in 6 days. Things were going well!

Late in the morning, from high on a ridge, I got a signal on my smartphone and called a hostel in town to make a reservation. Labor Day weekend was this coming weekend, and while I didn't expect the Wednesday night before to be particularly busy, I didn't want to take the chance of showing up in town and finding everything already booked. But they had space for me, and I reserved my spot at the hostel for the next two nights. I'd be taking a day off in Breckenridge.

The rest of the day's hike was uneventful. The trail climbed a short 1,000-foot hill before steadily descending most of the rest of the way to Highway 9 halfway between Frisco and Breckenridge.

By the last mile or two of the hike, dark and menacing clouds had rolled in and spit a few drops of rain. I prayed for the rain to hold off--just another half hour I said to the weather gods. Give me a half hour and I'll be done with the day's hiking.

Ahead, I saw another hiker and I slowly closed the gap between us. When the first spits of rain fell, he stopped and pulled out a pack cover and I nodded approvingly. The surest way to make sure it doesn't rain is to start putting on rain gear, and this hiker was doing it for me. =)

I continued to close the gap between us, and I followed him to Highway 9 a mere five seconds after he arrived. He introduced himself as Two-Pack, a name he got while carrying his daughter's pack for 15 miles on the Appalachian Trail when she wasn't feeling well, and I told him that I once carried two packs on a trail. (You can read all about that in A Tale of Two Trails. (Or the Kindle version.)

Happily, neither of had to hitchhike the four miles into town. A bus regularly runs between Frisco and Breckenridge every half hour during the day. And--even better--riding it was FREE! And it stopped right at the trailhead!

It couldn't be more convenient! There was even a small shelter where we could duck out of the rain to wait in the event the rain started coming down. It didn't rain, though, so we enjoyed the sun in front of the shelter while waiting. We checked the posted schedule and saw that the next bus was due to arrive in about five minutes. Perfect! I also noticed a trash can nearby and chucked my ZipLock bag of trash. No reason to carry that one step further than necessary. Life was good!

Two-Pack is looking through his one-pack while we wait at the bus stop for our ride into Breckenridge.

The bus arrived on time and we both boarded and took our seats, chatting on the way into town. It dropped us off near a gondola that was running, and I was immediately curious about how much it cost because I planned to take a day off tomorrow so I had time for a little fun the next day. I walked over to find out about prices and was surprised to learn that it too was absolutely FREE! At least for foot traffic it was free. Bikes needed a paid ticket.

I walked back to Two-Pack and told him of my discovery. We were both ready for real food as well and decided to eat lunch together. We walked into town and agreed on The Canteen Tap House and Tavern because we were both attracted to the outdoor patio. We smelled pretty bad--being in an enclosed room probably wasn't the best of ideas. Also, the tables had umbrellas so even if it rained, we were protected from it.

After lunch, we parted ways since we had reservations at different hostels. I dropped by the post office and picked up my maildrop, then walked to the edge of town where my hostel was located and checked in.

The hostel was gorgeous! It looked like a 5-star lodge with a giant lobby and a soaring ceilings. I thought for a minute that I might have walked into the wrong place. It didn't look like a hostel at all!

The one odd anomaly I noticed was the chandelier made from antlers. Well, the antler chandelier itself actually looked totally in place--the odd part was that all of the antlers had been painted blue. It was the only thing in the whole building that had an unnatural color to it, and I asked the desk clerk, Annabelle, about it. "Why are the antlers blue?"

She didn't seem to know, though, and that might forever stay a mystery.

The lobby of the Bivvy Hostel was gorgeous!

I was booked into a room with two 3-story bunk beds. I didn't much care for the beds because to fit three levels of bunks, each level was very short and I couldn't sit up fully in bed. But that's okay--it just meant that most of the time, I'd sit out in the lobby to work on my laptop. It was huge, after all, and absolutely gorgeous. Much more comfortable than the small room with beds that didn't have enough head room.

When I arrived, there was one person already there--a fellow named Glenn, a friendly guy that I pegged as a heavy pot smoker immediately. He confirmed it later saying he was from upstate New York but was looking for places to live in Colorado because of their legalized marijuana.

Later in the evening as more people arrived, it seemed that the vast majority of the people in the hostel were mountain bikers. Which shouldn't have been any surprise since I had seen far more mountain bikers on the trail than hikers, but somehow I was still surprised. They talked about the trail like it was something entirely different than the one I did, or how biking the trail in different directions was like biking two entirely different trails. It was kind of interesting, actually. A different point of view that I rarely heard about.

But there were a couple of thru-hikers as well as well as former thru-hikers. I met Gabe, a surprisingly large man with a wide girth to undertake such a rugged trail. He had claimed to have hiked the PCT earlier, though, so I didn't doubt that he could do the trail. Then there was Will, a CDT hiker from England. I asked him a little about the CDT since that's a trail I might do someday. What parts did he like, which ones he didn't like, etc.

My large and late lunch was enough to count for dinner too, so I never left the hostel after arriving. A few snacks for dinner was plenty to get me through the night. I didn't see much of Breckenridge, but I'd have all day tomorrow to explore the town. =)

Horses often can't use bridges because they weren't built to support the weight or pounding that a horse would give. But they don't care as much about getting their feet wet either!
For instance, horses should not be using this particular bridge!

Horseshoe Gulch

That's Breckenridge below! I was a little surprised at how large and spread out it seemed to be. If and when a big forest fire rolls through this area (and you know it's always a matter of when, not really if!), a lot of these houses are going to burn. You'd think they'd design these kinds of towns to be more defensible from out-of-control wildfires. Of course, I'm not an expert on these matters so maybe I have no idea what I'm talking about, but logically, it seems like a denser, smaller area would be easier to defend than a sprawling, spread-out town thick with trees between every lot.
Our bus dumps us off in Breckenridge. That's Two-Pack, messing with his one-pack again. =)
What?! The Great Rubber Duck Race is THIS WEEKEND?! I was a little disappointed to realize that I'd be missing it by a single day! I've never watched a rubber duck race before. It sounds like fun! =) (I'm also a little amused at how painfully obvious it is that they reused this sign from the year before.)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Day 5: The air is getting thin at Georgia Pass!

August 29: By 7:00, I was on the trail and hiking again. I slept well and the clouds and rain stayed away. It seemed like just a few minutes before the ridge I was on led to a wonderful view of the valley far below with Highway 285 over Kenosha Pass in view where I suddenly learned that Highway 285 was a very busy, very noisy road and I was glad I stopped where I did for the night. Had I continued much further, I'd have been listening to that traffic all night. Okay, the noise probably died down deep in the night--I doubt the road had much traffic at 2:00 in the morning, for instance--but it was barely after 7:00 and already loud and noisy. So I was immensely satisfied that I stopped when I did and hadn't continued further along like I'd been planning.

It was a beautiful morning! But the noise from Highway 285 was surprisingly loud from up here!

The day's hike was largely uneventful except for one particularly long and sustained climb over Georgia Pass peaking at 11,800' (3600 m) above sea level. Not quite 12K, but close to it! And it would include a 2,000' climb from the low point to the top of the pass, followed immediately by a 2,000' drop.

Two thousand feet, in the grand scheme of things, isn't that bad, and I found myself psyching myself out over it. It's gonna be hard! The air will be thin! My pack is too heavy! I'm going to DIE out here! Well, okay, I didn't think I was going to die, but my head was playing games with me, building up a mountain out of a molehill.

But the climb turned out not to be a big deal in any way, shape or form. The trail was well graded with lots of switchbacks at steeper locations, designed to support mountain bikes and horses. It was a steady, gradual climb over several miles. My pace slowed down a bit as would be expected on any uphill sections, but not by much.

And the views from the top were the best so far of the trail! Well above tree line at the top, the views were commanding and Mt Gugot (13,376' above sea level) towered over the pass dramatically. The wind was brutal at the top, but just walking down over the crest a short ways was enough to get out of it.
Mt Gugot towers above Georgia Pass (which is just to the right of that high peak, but slightly out of view from this vantage point.)

A short way past the crest the trail linked up with the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), one of those long-distance trails I have not actually hiked. Not yet, at least! I could imagine that day might happen, though. If I took the turn here, I could follow the CDT all the way to Canada. If I continued to follow it south, I'd end up at the Mexican border.

And for the time being, I'd follow the trail south toward Mexico because the Colorado Trail and CDT overlapped for a few hundred miles at this point. If I ever did the CDT, I'd be repeating a lot of the Colorado Trail.

Late in the day, my feet were tired and I stopped for camp at the Middle Fork of the Swan River after completing 18.8 miles. The campsite sprawled across the surprisingly vast area--you could fit a hundred people here if you had to. Fortunately, there was nobody else around when I arrived so I picked my favorite spot near a couple of trees from which I could hang my tarp if it became necessary. It did sprinkle again early in the evening at which point I set up my tarp, and when the rain stopped, I configured it into the half-tarp setting like I did the night before.

Nobody else showed up to the campsite, though, so once again I camped by myself. Twice in the evening I heard vehicles driving on the nearby dirt road, but neither of them stopped.

For the most part, it was a pretty uneventful day.

Trail magic at Kenosha Pass!
But there was nothing in it that I really wanted, so I took nothing and left nothing.
Kenosha Pass. It's not obvious in the photo, but this road was loud and pretty busy!
Why am I not surprised?

There's a little bit of fall colors starting to show up already! And it's still August!

Gray Jay

I can fly too! Fly, Ryan! Fly!

These crickets couldn't help themselves after finding themselves in such a beautiful and romantic location!
View from Georgia Pass (with Mt. Gugot in the background)
Yep, we're still on the Colorado Trail... but did you notice that other waymarker?
It's the Continental Divide Trail! We're on the CDT now! A 3,200-mile trail from Mexico to Canada! (Or from Canada to Mexico depending on your perspective.)

It's the Middle Fork of the Swan River.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Day 4: Looks like a beautiful day for hiking naked!

August 28: I woke up to clear and sunny skies. It was beautiful out! It was definitely my coldest night on the trail so far, but that was to be expected now that I was camped at over 10,000 feet above sea level. Temperatures were certainly cold, but not the finger-numbing cold that makes packing up camp difficult. With the colder temperatures, a thin layer of condensation that formed over everything during the night--my first morning where I had any sort of condensation at all. But it wasn't bad. Just a minor annoyance.

My bigger concern, however, were my pants. At some point during my hike, the seat of my pants ripped several inches wide in both cheeks. I couldn't hike these! I wouldn't be naked per se, but nobody wants to see me hiking around with my butt checks hanging out. I decided to wear the pants I had been using for in camp and sleeping. I could use my disintegrating pants for camp from here on out.

The morning's hike went quickly and efficiently. The trail followed the edge of a long meadow, slowly gaining elevation before peaking near 11,000 feet above sea level, then rolled along never becoming particularly steep or difficult. Weather forecasts had predicted clear skies all day--the first day so far on my hike that afternoon thunderstorms weren't expected. I was excited about having the whole day to hike without the threat of rain hanging over my head.

But the jerks lied because late in the day, dark and menacing clouds started forming and I heard thunder rolling over the hillsides. It was distant at first, but grew closer and closer as the afternoon wore on.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.... being in a wilderness area for most of the day, accessible only to people on foot (or horse), I could count on one hand the number of people (and horses) I met along the trail. The trail was practically empty of people now that bikes weren't allowed in this section, and I didn't pass any substantial roads that would have allowed many day hikers or traffic.

I liked the remoteness. =)

It was just me and cattle today!

The largest group of people I met was by Rock Creek--a bunch of biologists were there working on a "fish reclamation project" to reintroduce native greenback cutthroat trout to the creek and removing non-native trout from the creek. A posted sign suggested that filling water from the creek is "not recommended."

I'm not sure what they were doing to the water that would make the water unsafe to drink, but I took it at its word and pushed on a couple of more miles to Johnson Gulch which had been my goal for the day anyhow.

I made it to Johnson Gulch by 3:00--far earlier than I had expected!--and I was still feeling good and strong and looked ahead in my guidebook. Several miles ahead was Kenosha Pass, and looking at the time, I felt good that I could make it that distance. My guidebook showed a campsite and water there, which was really all I needed.

I filled up with water at Johnson Gulch to get me the distance and started hiking.

I soon caught up with a fellow hiking with his dog. The man reeked of pot. I didn't see him smoking any, but clearly he had just finished taking a hit from it. His dog was hurting, though, not used to the long distances they were covering, and his owner wanted to get to Kenosha Pass and have a friend pick up the dog to get him off the trail. As we talked, the dog just laid on the ground, too tired and hurting to show any interest in me. I felt sad for the little guy.

The guy also told me that the campsite at Kenosha Pass was a paid campground. Looking closer at my map, I notice the camping icon was a darker green color than the others I had passed along the trail. Son-of-a.... *grumbling* I hadn't noticed the slightly off-color green of this campsite nor noted its meaning. I didn't want to stay in a crowded campground that I had to pay for, no less!

But my topo map didn't show anywhere else to camp between here and Kenosha Pass, nor any water between the two locations since the trail largely followed ridge crests most of the way. I didn't really have enough water for dinner and breakfast if I decided to camp between locations. I wouldn't die or anything, but I might be a little thirsty by the time I reached water the next day. I was torn about what to do, but I continued walking for the time being.

Shortly thereafter, I heard the first rumblings of thunder and I cursed my luck. It seemed like everything was going wrong this afternoon!

Near the top of the ridge, a roar of thunder swept through. I wasn't too concerned about being at the top of the ridge since it was covered in trees and it wasn't even the highest ridges in the area, but the lightning was close now. No more than a few miles away based on the time between the flashes of light and the roar of thunder. Then it started to rain.

About two miles sort of Kenosha Pass, I found a flat area where I set up my tarp and ducked under out of the rain. At the time, I wasn't sure if I'd wait it out and continue on to Kenosha Pass or stop here for the night. That might depend on how long the rain lasted!

While waiting under the tarp, though, I figured I'd kill time by sewing up the holes in my pants. I spent a good half hour working on that project, and put on the pants to give them a try and they immediately tore again with holes large enough in both butt checks that you could fit a fist through. *sigh* These pants were toast. I couldn't even sew the holes closed. My next trail town was still two or three days away, but I hoped I'd be able to find a replacement in Breckenridge.

Eventually I decided that I'd camp right there for the night. If it started raining hard, maybe I could even harvest rain water off my tarp which would solve my main problem--not enough water! But instead of raining hard, the rain tapered off and I was still left with too little water. I had about 1 1/2 liters, though, which was no small amount. Maybe not enough for dinner and breakfast, but I was only a couple of miles from Kenosha Pass. I could hike for a couple of miles in the morning and eat breakfast at the pass where I could get water if push came to shove.

As the skies cleared up near sunset, I partially disassembled my tarp flipping half of it over on itself. I liked the extra headroom and the ability to see the sky, but if the clouds or rain came back, I could flip the other half back into place in seconds.

The clouds never came back, however, and that turned out not to be necessary. Life was good! I had covered 19.6 miles--my longest day so far--and was still feeling pretty good. =)

My campsite for the night, with the "half tarp" set up.
Morning fog blanketed the meadow when I woke up in the morning. Although my campsite was above the fog, it probably contributed to the condensation I woke up to!

A warning about the "fish reclamation project" that was happening in Rock Creek.
Campsite for the biologists working on the fish reclamation project.