Monday, December 4, 2017

Day 23: Did somebody say yurt?

September 16: I woke up to another beautiful albeit cold morning. During the night, I heard a slight pitter patter of what I first thought was rain, but turned out to be something.... Some sort of cross between hail and snow--graupel! (It's a real word--look it up if you don't believe me!) But it was weird because when I looked out from under my tarp, I didn't see a cloud in the sky. It's like it materialized in mid-air and sprinkled for a couple of minutes just to remind me who was really boss--nature.

But it was no big deal, and I hit the trail at my usual 7:00-ish time.

Another beautiful morning!

The views today were spectacular, eventually crossing over Snow Mesa which was flat as a pancake where I could see for miles in every direction. The wind was strong and cold, but the sun helped balance that.

And it was on Snow Mesa where a CDT thru-hiker caught up with me, who introduced himself as Merman. We chatted for a few minutes, but his pace was much faster than mine and I didn't want to tire myself by keeping up, so he moved on.

He was maybe half a mile ahead of me, and the trail dipped down toward a creek then back up and looking ahead, I was surprised to see that Merman had disappeared! My view of the trail was extensive--I could easily see maybe three miles of trail, and he wasn't on it. What the heck happened to him?

The mystery was solved ten minutes later when I caught up to him hunkering down in a crack in the ground, trying to get out of the wind and taking a quick break. So we chatted a bit more before continuing on, and again Merman took the lead.

That's Merman ahead of me on the trail on Snow Mesa.

We reached the end of the mesa from where the trail descended rapidly towards Spring Creek Pass and Highway 149 which leads 17 miles down into Lake City. My plan, if the weather was bad, was to go into town and wait out the bad weather, but I had enough food for more four days which was plenty of time to hike into Silverton. Since the weather was good, I decided to push on, but the vast majority of both CDT hikers and Colorado Trail hikers would resupply in Lake City.

I got down to the pass where Merman was busy trying to hitchhike into town, which gave me a couple of ideas. First, I asked him if he would take my trash into town and dispose of it for me so I didn't have to carry it all the way to Silverton. It's not like he'd have to carry it on the trail or anything. Just take it long enough to get to a trash can in town. He said he had no problem with that and I handed over my two ZipLock bags of trash I had created in the past six days.

Then, I asked if he could text Amanda and let her know where I was and my expected arrival into Silverton. I hadn't been able to get a cellphone signal since leaving Salida six days earlier, and while she had no particular reason to start worrying about my safety, until this segment, I'd been able to check in every couple of days. My other problem was that I hadn't been able to get updated weather forecasts. Not that I necessarily believed them anymore after it predicted a light, steady rain all day in Breckenridge and not only did it not rain a drop, but it was even sunny most of the day. But if a storm was coming in, I wanted at least some head's up. I didn't want to suffer again like I did two nights earlier.

Merman hitchhiking into town.

So the lack of updated weather forecasts was a huge annoyance, although I did ask some day-hikers while hiking down to the pass if they knew what was in store. They said the next few days looked good, but there was rain after that. I hoped that meant I could get to Silverton before any other bad weather hit. The day hiker also told me that it had snowed 8 inches at Red Cloud (or something like that--it's a place I never heard of so I might be mis-remembering) two nights earlier.

"Yeah..." I replied. "I remember that night well." Understatement of the century. "It wasn't good." At least I didn't wake up to 8 inches of snow to start the morning, though. Eight inches?! It's only mid-September!

Anyhow, Merman agreed to text Amanda and let her know that I'd passed the road to Lake City and was on schedule to hit Silverton within four days. I thanked him, then headed across the street toward an outhouse and picnic tables. A perfect place to stop for lunch! And hanging out with Merman probably wasn't going to help him get a ride since anyone driving by would assume both of us were trying to get a ride into town.

At the trailhead, I saw three other backpackers who had apparently just been dropped off and were getting ready to hit the trail, and I jokingly asked, "Is this where all the cool hikers hang out?" when I got near.

They were planning to hike from here to Durango--the best part of the trail, Jared told me. Jared had thru-hiked the entire trail twice before, including once earlier that year, and this time brought two friends out for the best part of the trail. They were from Indiana and joked about the lack of air here. Evansville, I learned, was barely 300 feet above sea level and they hadn't taken any time to acclimatize to the 10,910-foot pass they were starting at.

Looking back from where I came.... Snow Mesa is that flat area at the top of the ridge on the right half of the photo, the trail followed those bright aspen trees down to Spring Creek Pass. (As was becoming usual, most of the pine trees were dead from the beetle infestation.)
Since Jared had thru-hiked the trail before, I asked him about the yurt ahead. Ping had first told me about in while in Salida and recommended that I should stay there if I had the opportunity, and it was another 9 or so miles ahead which would be a perfect place to stop for an 18.5-mile day. Jared warned that you needed reservations ahead of time, but if it wasn't rented out, one could use it. I hoped it wasn't rented out. I didn't see any particular reason it would be rented out. It was already after Labor Day when the hikers start thinning out because it was getting too cold, but not winter yet when the skiers and snowmobilers might want to use it. I hoped I could spend the night in a yurt--it sounded like fun!

They were soon ready and and headed off. I hung back because I did need a lunch break and hey--outhouse! I wasn't passing that by without using it!

I'd catch up to them later in the day, however, then they passed me when I took a break, then I passed them again. At one point, one of them pulled out a cell phone exclaiming that they got 5 bars (!!!), so I pulled out my phone wanting in on that action--but got nothing.

They were using the AT&T network, but my phone uses the Verizon network. Obviously, I was in AT&T country.

I arrived at the yurt, up a small hill just off the trail and walked in and OMG--the place was an oven! It felt like a hundred degrees when I walked inside! All of the doors and windows were closed (as they were supposed to be), and the yurt is insulated for winter use, so it acted like a greenhouse. With all of my layers of clothes to hold back the cold outside, it was way too much inside. I stripped off my coat and long-sleeved shirt, and still felt too warm but refrained from taking off more clothing in case other hikers arrived. They probably wouldn't want to find me laying around naked in the yurt.

Home, sweet home for the night!

But oh! The warmth felt so good! It's the first time I felt warm in days. Truly, spectacularly warm!

Inside the yurt was a stove--attached to a propane tank outside--and a fireplace for warming the hut on cold nights. There were lots of chairs and beds and tables. The first thing I did was lay down. I was tired! I had a long, 18.5-mile day hiking to get here! Eventually I got up again, though, and did my usual camp chores which consisted of dinner, cleanup, brushing my teeth, writing in my journal and so forth. I decided not to cook dinner--I didn't want to mess with the propane tank or figure out how to make it work, and I didn't think it was a good idea to use my alcohol stove inside. If I accidentally knocked it over, I'd burn the whole yurt down.

So I ate my snacks for dinner instead. As sunset started to approach, I noticed that the yurt had gotten a lot cooler since my arrival just an hour or two earlier. It was losing heat fast, and I could see the reason immediately: despite all of the insulation the yurt had, there were still large gaps in the structure. The windows and door didn't quite line up properly with the walls and quite a bit of cold air was getting in. It was still a lot warmer than outside, but I had a hunch by morning, it would be the same temperature inside as it was outside. Unless I started a fire.... But I was too lazy to do that. *sigh* If only another hiker would arrive who wanted to build a fire! =)

I heard voices approaching and looked outside and saw the Indiana boys coming up. Well, two of them, at least. I didn't know what happened to the third one. And neither of these two had their backpacks. What was up with that?

This was the view from the deck of the yurt. Awesome!

They had camped nearby, at the other end of the meadow, but wanted to come in and check out the yurt. They commented about how hot it was inside. "Not half as much as it was when I first arrived," I told them. "This place is losing heat fast." I think they were a little jealous of the luxurious setting and the heat--the view out of the yurt was spectacular. There was plenty of room for them, but they had already set up down in the meadow and had already made their decision to camp outside. *shrug*

We chatted some more before they headed back to their campsite and I was left alone in the yurt again. At least I thought I was alone until I heard a noise near the stove and caught a mouse scurrying behind it. I wasn't surprised the place would be infested with mice. If I were a mouse, I'd have moved in too!

But I didn't want the mouse getting into any of my gear or eating my food, so I rearranged the furniture a bit. I didn't see anything to hang my food bag from to keep it away from the mice, so I put all of my gear (and food) on the tables, which I centered in the middle of the room and removed all of the chairs from around it. The tables were of the pop-up variety, so any mouse wanting to get up would have to climb up the legs of the table, then figure out a way to get around the overhanging edge of the table. They can be amazing getting into stuff, but I didn't think they had that much dexterity. I figured their best bet for getting on the table was climbing something up high--like the ceiling!--and dropping down onto the table. I didn't see any obvious way to stop that, but the ceiling was quite high. I couldn't imagine that a mouse would deliberately let itself fall that far.

But given the conditions, this was my best idea for keeping the mice out of my gear and food. I was kind of glad I had the place to myself. With a lot of other people around, I might not have been able to spread out all of my gear and rearrange all of the furniture to suit my purposes.

Inside the yurt, the place felt like a furnace when I arrived! But it leaked heat like a sieve.

After the sun set, I turned on the solar-powered lights (which had been setting on a windowsill collecting sunlight all afternoon) to light up the place and spent most of the night reading.

When I was ready to hit the sack, I turned off the lights and noticed how well I could see all of the stars outside and decided I should do another attempt at astrophotography. It was still warm inside (at least a lot warmer than it was outside!) and could shoot the stars through the windows of the yurt. Or at least try to.

And I was pleased to see that it worked remarkably well! The Milky Way looked gorgeous! The stars were a little fuzzy, perhaps, but considering the fact that I was shooting through a window, I was surprised it turned out at all.

Satisfied, I curled up in my sleeping bag and hit the sack. My day was done!

Sunset from the yurt.
View of the Milky Way through the window of the yurt--which turned out far better than I ever expected!

More photos of Snow Mesa. (It went on for quite a few miles! So I have a lot of photo of it!)
I stopped to fill up with water here. I camped at a location with no water last night and this is where I had to make it to get more.
Merman pulling ahead of me.
You can still see Merman in this photo, near the bottom of that dip in the trail.
Here the trail comes down from Snow Mesa towards Spring Creek Pass.
Holy cow! I've never seen such a complete skeleton on the trail before!
Remember those aspen trees I mentioned in an earlier photo? This is a photo of them from close up and personal! =)
Spring Creek Pass

The trail out from Spring Creek Pass followed dirt roads for several miles.

See that big peak in the distance? Wait a sec, let me zoom into that....
I'm told that this is one of the 14-footers of Colorado, but I just love the look of this mountain. Of all of the 14,000-foot peaks I've seen in Colorado, it's the prettiest of the bunch! The trail went nowhere near it, though. That other photo is the closest I ever got to it. Did I ever mention how much I love the 300mm zoom lens for my fancy new camera? =) That other photo of this mountain was the best my point-n-shoot could do!
Not sure what this boundary is supposed to represent (except "unit 76"). I suspect it applies to hunters, though, whose permits only allow them to shoot certain animals in specific areas.


Lou Catozzi (PI Joe) said...

That mountain you were admiring is Uncompahgre Peak. It looks very intimidating from the north but it is a great day hike and at 14,309' a very popular destination.

PI Joe

Joe Coelecanth said...

> It's the first time I felt warm in days.

+1 for the Cremation of Sam McGee reference.

Mary said...

I love that photo through the window with the tree and the stars! I miss stars (I live in an urban area that blocks out the majority of stars).