Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Day 73: Tragedy on the Trail!

July 2: The day's adventures started early--at precisely 12:00am, in fact. That was when an alarm clock in the hostel went off waking everyone in the room. Ugh! Seriously? What the hell? At first I thought it was someone's phone, but it turned out to be the clock on a counter next to my bed. The guy in the bunk bed above mine wound up turning it off a minute later and we all went back to sleep.

But that lasted for about 8 minutes when the alarm went off yet again! In the dark, the guy who turned it off must have just hit the snooze button. Down on the bottom bunk, I took matters into my own hands and just unplugged the plug for the clock. Problem solved. What jerk set it in the first place? It hadn't gone off last night.

Then everyone in the room went back to sleep.

Zach (a.k.a. Jack Rabbit) and Jacob, who offered me a ride back to the trail. They were a couple of guys I met the evening before who were staying at the same hostel.

After that, the rest of the morning I slept fine. I had to linger around the hostel a bit, however, waiting until the post office opened at which point Zach and Jacob first drove me to to the post office. My package, unsurprisingly, still had not arrived, so I asked them to forward it on to Breckenridge if and when it ever did arrive.

With that business taken care of, Zach and Jacob drove me out to the trail, dropping me off in the precise same parking lot where I got off the trail to get into Leadville two days earlier. Sweet! I thanked them profusely for the ride and started my day's hike. They drove off to hike to the top of a nearby 14,000-foot peak.

The day started beautiful. It was partly cloudy with lots of blue skies, but as the morning and afternoon progressed, the clouds turned darker and more menacing. That seemed to be a common occurrence in Colorado.

Crossing over the dam that forms Twin Lakes.

The trail immediately crossed a dam forming Twin Lakes, then followed near the north shore for miles before curving sharply away from the lake and gaining altitude rapidly. Near the bend, the trail passed under a highway through a tunnel just as a storm cloud passed by. Looking at the sky, it appeared that only the one cloud was causing the storm, so I stopped for several minutes in the tunnel to wait it out. Almost immediately, a few mountain bikers coming from the other direction stopped in the tunnel as well to wait out the storm cloud.

The rain turned to hail, and we watched the hail bouncing off the ground to kill the time. The storm cloud passed, and we all continued in our respective directions.

I took protection from a storm cloud in this underpass, along with a few mountain hikers who were heading in the opposite direction.

A few miles later, I reached a creek crossing where I stopped to fill up with water. My pack was heavy, loaded down with enough food to get me to Breckenridge which would take several days, so I carried very little water out of Leadville knowing that there would be plenty of good water sources along the trail. So I stopped at this first creek to fill up with water when tragedy struck.

It came in an instant! Nobody could have predicted it, and I was completely blindsided. It all happened so fast. I set down my pack on the trail, pulled out a water bottle. The creek was frothy and fast, but the trail crossed on a small bridge and a small trail led down to the water--I obviously wasn't the first person to get water here.

I took the small trail down to the water's edge and leaned over. I hadn't even got my bottle into the creek when the sunglasses hanging from my shirt collar slipped off and into the frothy water. They were gone in an instant! I cried out, "Noooo!" but in a fraction of a second, in the blink of an eye, they were gone!

I frantically scanned the water, hoping against all hope that I would spot them. That somehow, they managed to get caught on a rock and didn't get washed downstream, never to be seen again. I couldn't see anything through the frothy waters, though, and plunged my hand into the cold water to feel around. The sunglasses, however, were gone. I scanned down creek for any hint of them. I went up on the bridge and looked down the other side, but I saw nothing.

I cursed the gods that caused this tragedy. What should I do? I can't hike without sunglasses!

In this photo, I show where the sunglasses had been hanging from my shirt collar, and how sad I was about losing them. *nodding* =(

I pondered my options for a bit. I really liked those sunglasses. I bought them back in Silver City, so I hadn't really had them very long, but they were comfortable. Addie even helped me pick them out. The idea of backtracking and hitch a ride back to Leadville seemed a little extreme, but the idea of hiking without sunglasses for the next several days didn't much appeal to me either. At high altitudes above tree line, the sun can be harsh. I actually had a spare set of sunglasses in my bounce box, ready to replace lost or broken ones when I got into town--but that was stuck in Denver. Maybe I could find some sunglasses on the trail? I couldn't count the number of times I've found sunglasses over the years. It's probably one of the most common items that people lose. I've just never had to depend on finding lost sunglasses before.

Then I had a new idea--what if someone just gave me sunglasses?! I knew for a fact that the trailhead for Mount Elbert was only a few miles away. Mount Elbert happens to be the highest peak in Colorado, which makes it a very popular destination for day hikers wanting to visit the highest point in Colorado. I remembered passing the area during my Colorado Trail thru-hike and there were tons of day hikers around. Even better, there were tons of vehicles at the trailhead! And if just one of those people were anything like everyone else I knew that seemed to stockpile a dozen pairs of sunglasses in their cars, there might be spare ones someone would be willing to part with. Yes, I thought. That would be my best chance of getting new sunglasses relatively quickly.

This was the frothy creek that ate my sunglasses.

I filled up with water then continued my hike. The trail, fortunately, led mostly through forest so the sun wasn't particularly problematic, but every time the trail led through a break in the tree cover, the sun was blinding. I squinted until hitting the protective cover of more trees on the other side of the clearing.

About an hour after losing my sunglasses, I arrived at a trailhead for Mount Elbert. Several vehicles were parked there, and numerous people were coming and going and I approached a family and asked, no--begged for help. Did any of them have a spare set of sunglasses I could use? I would even pay for it! I was desperate!

One of them said they might have something and looked through their vehicle, finally pulling out a greenish pair that had Southwest written on one side. They were free sunglasses that they had picked up at some event somewhere, but said I was welcome to keep them. At no charge, even.

"Sweet! Thank you so much! You saved me! I will carry these all the way to Canada!"

Well, unless I lost or broke them along the way. Always a possibility. It was still a long way to Canada and a lot could happen before then.

I was a lot happier once I got my new shades! =)

I continued onward. I picked up more water at another creek near the trailhead. Knowing there were all sorts of small creeks and streams running off of Mount Elbert, I never carried more than one liter of water. But I'll tell you--I was definitely a lot more careful about not losing the sunglasses while bending over the water to get some!

I pushed onward and higher up the slopes of Mount Elbert. The trail didn't go to the top, and it was much too late in the day for me to reach the top even if I wanted tag the highest peak in Colorado, but it does run along the slopes of the mountain and follows the trail from the trailhead for several miles. There are actually a couple of trailheads for the mountain, and the CDT goes past two of them.

I was between the two trailheads when a horrendous storm came crashing in. Rain! Thunder! Lightning! Hail! It was bad, and the lightning sounded close. I found a small clearing and quickly set up my tarp at the edge of it, and dived under it while still mostly dry. I'm not sure I ever set up my tarp so quickly before. The rain came down so heavily, however, there was a bit of a problem with water intruding under my tarp. The ground couldn't soak up the water as fast as it was coming down, and I carved a couple of small canals in the ground with a stake to direct the excess water around my tarp instead of under it which took care of the problem.

The storm eventually passed after an hour. I was a bit tempted to pack up and keep hiking a bit more, but now it was getting late enough in the day that I didn't feel like walking for only another hour or so before making camp again, so I decided to stay put.

Another half hour later, a group of three people joined my camp, heading in the opposite direction as me. It was a father with this son and daughter, and they asked if it had rained really hard here. "Oh, yeah!" I replied. "Lightning! Thunder! Hail! And buckets and buckets of rain!"

They were stunned at my description. "We just had a light rain, and that was it, but the ground looked so wet here!"

That's the mountains for you. One person's storm of the century was just a light sprinkle a mile or two away.

And thus ended another exciting day on the CDT..... What adventures would tomorrow hold?!

The trail along the edge of Twin Lakes.

Looking back toward Twin Lakes.

I just love these flowers! I took so many photos of them....

Mount Elbert trailhead

It's a beaver home!

Beavers clear-cut this forest to make their home!

Definitely a beaver's work. This was no chainsaw!

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