Friday, November 24, 2017

Day 19: Hunters! Hunters! Everywhere!

September 12: I hit the trail at about 7:00--a pretty normal time for me at this point. Walking through the Marshall Pass trailhead, I met a hunter who seemed lost and confused--and kept asking me where all the elk were located. I didn't know! But I did tell him that there was a bear sighting there the evening before. He didn't care about the bear, though. "I don't have a license to shoot bear," he explained.

I'm not sure what this structure was at the Marshall Pass trailhead, but it seemed like a ramp. Did people ski off it? Snowmobile off it? No idea!

Is that all he saw in animals? Something to use as target practice? Bears are beautiful and majestic creatures! It's an honor just to see one!

The trail ahead wasn't particularly steep or rough, staying between a narrow range between 10,500 and 11,500 feet above sea level. The biggest challenge was the fact that the trail followed almost precisely on the continental divide--on or near the very top of the ridge and there's one thing you almost never find at the top of a ridge: water.

Beyond Marshall Pass, there would be just one water source on the trail for the next 22 miles--conveniently located at about the halfway mark.

Unless I wanted to carry a huge amount of water to last the night, I'd have to hike either 11 miles or 22 miles for the day. Eleven was way too short, so my goal was 22 miles. But the trail was relatively easy, so I felt good that I could make it despite my ridiculously heavy pack.

I saw surprisingly few people all day. There was that hunter at the trailhead where I started the day, and near the creek two motorbikes passed me on the trail which annoyed me to no end. They're actually legal on this section of trail, but it struck me as absurd that they would allow motorized vehicles to share a skinny, narrow trail with hikers and bikers. If it were a wide dirt road or something, that would be a different matter, but on a trail?! *shaking head* They really should reroute the Colorado Trail away from trails that allow motorized bikes. (ATVs, however, were still prohibited. I guess they were considered too wide for the narrow trails, but I would later see them on some of the road walks that followed gravel roads.)

I saw absolutely zero other hikers. Unbelievable, the day before, said that her and 2nd Lunch don't get to be early risers so I figured I started the day's hike before them, and none of them ever managed to catch up to me. I knew that they weren't far behind, but I never saw either of them (or Bushwacker for that matter).

Late in the afternoon, the afternoon thunderstorms rolled in like clockwork and I figured I'd try to wait it out under a tree. I didn't feel like setting up my tarp, but I had to walk for several minutes before finding a tree that wasn't dead and just barely large enough for me to squeeze under it for protection against the light rain. The dead trees had lost all their needles and couldn't keep the light rain off of me. I needed a live tree, and the beetle infestation had killed most of the trees in the area. It's easy to forget that the forest around you is dead--dead trees are relatively common, after all--but my difficulty in finding a live tree surprised me and reminded me that the whole forest was essentially dead. I wondered how far the blight extended and hoped it would end soon.

But eventually I found a live tree and sat out the sprinkles for about 15 minutes before continuing on my way.

The water source 22 miles at the end of the day actually wasn't on the trail at all--it was located about half a mile off trail, down a steep slope, in a stagnant pond named Baldy Lake. On my map, it looked like a pond and I hoped it wasn't stagnant--I'm not a big fan of drinking stagnant water since I don't treat my water--but it look fairly large on my map and I hoped there might still be a small spring or snow melt feeding into it helping to keep the water fresh and clean.

I hated the idea of traveling half a mile off trail to get water, but the next source was another 4 miles away and I was too tired and it was too late in the day for me to make it that far. Nope, I had to reply on Baldy Lake.

I followed the side trail down a steep slope that descended a couple of hundred feet, dreading every step of it and knowing I'd have to climb back up again in the morning. Ugh! It was the first time on the trail I had to go off trail to get water!

Down at the lake, I was disappointed again to find that the water was stagnant, and clearly shrinking in size as the season had progressed. I could see stuff floating in the water and thick mud lined the banks. Also! There was a tent set up by the lake.

"Hello!" I said, welcoming my new neighbors, but I only heard silence in reply.

"Is anyone in there?" I asked the tent, and again there was no reply.

That seemed odd. I briefly wondered what the possibility was that there was a dead person in the tent right then, but discounted it as unlikely. If I had to guess, whoever it was had set up camp then went out for a day hike and hadn't returned yet.

I laid out my groundsheet, deciding not to set up my tarp unless it actually started raining. I didn't want to bother setting up my tarp again. It seemed like I was setting it up on a daily basis. Sometimes more than once a day when I wanted to get out of an afternoon thunderstorm.

Eventually two guys on motorbikes arrived with guns slung over their shoulders. Hunters, of course. And damn it, more motorbikes? Blah. Obnoxiously loud and annoying things.

The only people I saw all day were all hunters. A couple of times I passed campsites along the trail with large tents and ATVs and although I didn't see anyone, it seemed likely that they were hunters too. The hunters seemed to outnumber the hikers by a wide margin! Seemed like forever since I had last seen a mountain bikers.

These hunters seemed nice enough, though, and we chatted for a bit telling each other about what we were doing. They seemed surprised to learn that I had walked there all the way from Denver. I was surprised that they were from West Virginia--they had all their teeth and everything! (Sorry, I couldn't resist the joke!)

I don't really know much about hunting, though, and with their undivided attention, I asked a few questions about their quest. What were they hunting? Elk. Had they shot any yet? No. Had they seen any yet? No. And they seemed very annoyed at the difficulty of finding elk telling me that they even rented a cabin, but the elk were so high in the mountains that they were camping here to get an earlier start in the high country hoping to get one. They seemed a little bitter that they had wasted money on a cabin that they weren't using and that the elk weren't more cooperative.

"They know you're out here," I told them. "I've been seeing hunters all day--and only hunters!"

Near dusk, it started sprinkling again and I reluctantly set up my tarp for the night, and the two hunters retired to their tent. I wondered what happened to Bushwacker, Unbreakable and 2nd Lunch. Surely they covered more than 11 miles to that one water source, but they obviously stopped before reaching this lake. Maybe they picked up a few liters of water at the last water source and camped somewhere in between? I half expected to see them tromp into camp late in the night, but they never arrived. I must have out-hiked them for the day, and was a little sad that I probably wouldn't see them again.

But... Another day done!

Tank Seven Creek was the only water source on the trail today!

Although I didn't see anyone in this camp, I suspect very strongly that it's another hunter camp!

My campsite, with Baldy Lake in the background. (Before it started sprinkling and I put up my tarp.)
This Steller's jay watched me setting up camp. (Glad I had my camera with the zoom lens--otherwise I'd never had gotten such a great photo of it!)
Just because you can't take too many photos of wildlife. =)


Unknown said...

Ryan, great travelog. You constantly amaze me. I'll be following more religiously from now on.

Anonymous said...

Not all hinters are using animals as target practice. While we didn't eat bear, Sweep fed our family by hunting elk, deer and antelope for almost 20 years.

Mary said...

My stepson is a bow and arrow hunter (very high tech bow that I can't operate!). He moved from CA to CO and was very proud to have shot an elk from his back porch (in season). His family eats no grocery store meat but only meat from the deer, elk and other animals he kills. I grew up in a rural area and hated seeing dead deer strapped to the cars downtown ("Hey look at me! I got a deer!) and can't imagine killing such beautiful animals as deer, elk, pheasants, etc. I've had numerous lectures about thinning the herd, keeping the population in check, etc. I honestly believe all hunters utilize the animals they kill and don't simply kill them for the sport of killing them. Many hunters also donate meat to food banks for the poor.