Friday, April 29, 2022

Day 86: Slackpacking: Living the good life

July 15: The weather today was expected to generally be nice, and it was time to enjoy a bit of hiking without a full pack weighing me down! It was, however, over 20 miles between where I got off the trail in Rocky Mountain NP and Willow Creek Pass where Amanda could pick me up again. And over these rugged Rocky Mountain mountains, that could take all day! So I planned for a super-early start. But it was still about an hour to drive to the trail from Winter Park, so we set the alarm for 5:30am, which I hoped would get me on the trail and hiking by 7:00am.

The added benefit of leaving so early was that we weren't required to have a reservation to enter the park, nor was there anyone at the toll booths to collect an entrance fee.

So Amanda dropped me off, and I started hiking with nothing more than a light day pack. It felt wonderful!

The trail followed the road for a bit before veering off to the mountains to the west. It ran through the burn area for a bit, but then exited into a healthy forest and steadily climbed ever upwards eventually peaking nearly 3,000 feet higher over Bowen Pass. After Bowen Pass, the trail moderated a bit, largely following the contours of the mountains rather than the steep ups and downs.

That's Bowen Pass in the distance.

Early in the afternoon, I caught up with a hiker who introduced himself as Milkshake.

"Oh, really?" I said. "I've met a Milkshake before...."

So naturally I had to tell him the whole story. (It's a pretty crazy and interesting story--among one of my favorites to tell. Because, you know, it's not often that I'm deliberately looking for a dead body in the woods! At night! Well worth a read if you aren't familiar with the story and infinitely more interesting than today's blog post!)

This was not the same Milkshake whose body I tried finding in the woods in the dark, but it was the first time he had heard of someone else using that trailname--much less to have such an interesting story attached to it.

About 15 minutes later, we caught up with another hiker. This was one named Puffy, another guy I had never met before, but it was Milkshake's hiking partner so Milkshake stopped to rejoin his usual hiking partner who had stopped for a rest and I continued on alone. But I did tell them that they shouldn't fall too far behind me because I had it under good authority that there was some epic trail magic at Willow Creek Pass, but it wouldn't be there for very long after I arrived. ;o)

I know Amanda was pretty disappointed during her last visit to only run into one hiker to give out trail magic too. Here there were two people! But it only lasted as long as I was there.

About 5 minutes after parting ways with Milkshake and Puffy, I found Skunkbear on the side of the trail eating lunch. Skunkbear!!! Now there's a familiar face! =)

Bumped into Skunkbear on the trail!

So I stopped to chat with her a bit and catch up. The last time I had seen her was way back in Creede, and it wasn't until today when I finally figured out that I had actually left Creede before her. All this time I thought she had been ahead of me most of the time, but it turned out that I had actually been ahead of her the entire time. Well, until yesterday when I took a zero day and she finally passed me ever so briefly.

After finishing lunch, we hiked the last 5 miles to the pass together. Skunkbear said that she hoped there was a water source near the pass. I assured her that there would definitely be water. *nodding* And even better, it was clean drinking water from town. She wouldn't have to treat it or anything. "You just have to make sure to get there before I do," I told her somewhat jokingly. "There might even be balloons." Amanda likes people to know it's my birthday. Or in this case, it was my birthday yesterday.

An hour into the hike, Skunkbear spotted a moose in a distant meadow. This moose was quite a distance away and was nothing more than a dot in my camera, but it just confirmed for me that this area had a huge moose population! I'd seen moose out here every day for the last three days now! 

There were definitely some blowdowns along the way that slowed us down!

The last few miles of the trail before the pass were once again in the burn area, with a few problematic blowdowns slowing our progress on the trail. It's weird how the fire seemed to jump around like this, but it was part of the same fire that devastated the national park and the vicinity around Grand Lake.

And immediately upon reaching the pass and exiting from the trees, Skunkbear--who had been hiking in front of me--turned around and said, "I see balloons!"

Yep, Amanda was already there. And Amanda had picked up birthday balloons from somewhere after dropping me off.

Skunkbear hung around for about an hour, eating snacks and drinks. Amanda reported that there was one other hiker who passed by while she was there, which had been for several hours, but it wasn't a name I recognized. 

I did mention that Milkshake and Puffy were behind me somewhere, and I imagined they would arrive at any minute. I'd only left them for 5 minutes when I caught up with Skunkbear, after all, and then I stopped to chat with her for several minutes. And I had definitely mentioned the trail magic at the pass, so they knew this was here. It seemed likely that they couldn't have been more than 5 or 10 minutes behind me.

But the minutes clicked by, and they weren't showing up. What happened to them?

Amanda had brought some more temporary tattoos after I told her about using up the ones I started with, and Skunkbear was excited to put some on, so we all put on some tats.

And Skunkbear filled up with lots of water from the jugs that Amanda had brought. Skunkbear seemed a bit shy about taking too much food or drink, like if she took too much, there would be less for others behind her. But we assured her that as soon as she started hiking again, we were jumping in the car and heading back to Winter Park for the night. Any left over food or drinks would be consumed by us or thrown out, so by all means... pig out!

We lounged around chatting for the better part of an hour, but finally Skunkbear said she had more miles that she wanted to get done before dark and said goodbye, heading off into the forest never to be seen again. (Well, never seen by me again. Obviously, there were others who would see her!) I kind of thought at the time that might be the last time I'd see her on the trail--she seemed to hike faster than I did and I was now behind her. It seemed unlikely I'd be catching up at this point, but who knows?

Milkshake and Puffy never showed up. I don't know what happened to them, but we definitely didn't feel like sitting around for another couple of hours waiting for them to pass by. Maybe they even stopped to set up camp already? We just had no idea, but we'd already been there for an hour! No trail magic for them, I guess. Their loss.

Then we made the long drive back to Winter Park for the night. Our stay at the Airbnb that Amanda had reserved had come to an end so we checked out when we left that morning, but I made a reservation at a hotel across the street which is where we headed when we returned to the town.

It was an uneventful drive. The password for the hotel's wi-fi didn't seem to work, but I noticed that if I sat by the window looking out over the main street through town, I could actually pick up a weak wi-fi signal from the Airbnb we had stayed in the previous two nights! That's how close we were! Problem solved! =)

This was the first day I noticed pink elephant heads on the trail.

Kinda weird how it can look so green and lush on one side of the trail and a barren wasteland on the other!

Amanda and Skunkbear

Skunkbear shows off her new temporary tattoo! =)

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Day 85: Reunion with Evenstar!

July 14: My original plan for the day had been to keep hiking, but the weather forecast suggested rain and thunderstorms later so I figured why not take a day off? The next section of trail where I could hike between trailheads was just over 20 miles, so it's not like it was practical to do a half-day hike. Anyhow, it was my birthday today. I deserved a day off, right?

So the first thing Amanda and I did was drive back up to Grand Lake since Amanda hadn't been there yet. We found multitudes of letterboxes along the way, and drove through town along the CDT, even picking up a letterbox that was located on the CDT that I had walked by earlier completely oblivious to its presence.

When I woke up this morning, I thought there was a problem with my Garmin device. What is that?! I'd never seen it do that before! Then I realized that it's a cake. A birthday cake. Of course....

For lunch, we stopped at a Mexican restaurant named... Charlies? Charlie's Sports Bar and Grill, but it felt more like a Mexican restaurant. The name didn't seem fitting, but the food was fine. =)

Just outside of town, while looking for letterboxes--some of which had clearly burned to a crisp from the wildfires last year--we spotted three more moose around town. I was now up to 7 moose sightings in this area in the last two days! Seemed like Grand Lake had a moose problem!

Amanda and I stumbled onto three more moose around Grand Lake while looking for letterboxes. Amanda was pretty excited to see them as they were the first moose sightings for her on the trail. It's still exciting for me, but I had already seen 4 other moose just yesterday so it was less of a novelty for me.

I had still been keeping in touch with Evenstar and knew that she had just gotten off the trail. Her CDT adventures had come to an end. This had always been her plan from the very beginning, to get as far as she could before work commitments required her to get off the trail in mid-July. She made it just past Breckenridge, and her husband had driven out to pick her up. They had a few days to goof around on vacation before Evenstar would begin a NOLS course in Wyoming for a month or so.

Evenstar and her husband, Dave, were having some car problems, though, for which a new replacement part wouldn't be available until tomorrow. The mechanic they had seen said it was fine if they drove around the area, but not to travel very far. But since Amanda had a rental car, we could drive south back down to Dillon to meet up with them for dinner. I'd been hoping to meet somewhere about halfway between our locations or even let them drive up to Winter Park. I hate being in cars, after all, and the drive up to Grand Lake and back was more than enough vehicle time for me. But with their car trouble, they couldn't drive to meet up, so we would drive down.

It had been the first time I'd seen Evenstar since the day we left Chama so many weeks ago.

We had a great time catching up and sharing our war stories. Evenstar planned to return to the CDT next year to continue the hike, and I promised to "scout out the trail" and make sure it was in good shape for her. =)

Interestingly, however, Evenstar had gotten off the trail just before it was going over Grays Peak, the highest point on the CDT at 14,270 feet (4350 m) above sea level. It was rough terrain and the air was thin. I had actually missed that peak myself having taken the Silverthorne Alternate instead, but Evenstar decided to stay on the main red-line route and got off the trail just before reaching the high point.

"So," I said, "let me understand this right. When you come back next year, your first day back on the trail, you'll be heading up to the highest peak of the trail?"

"I've been thinking about that," Evenstar replied, "and I have a plan."

"I'm listening!" I was very curious where this would go.

"I'll start hiking next year at the Canadian border and go south and finish my hike by going over Grays Peak."

I thought about it for a bit, trying to think of any potential flaws in the plan, but nothing came to mind. "Yeah, I think that's pretty good plan," I told her, nodding agreeably.

After dinner, Amanda and I headed back to our Airbnb in Winter Park. Around the time we arrived, I got a text from Evenstar. The text arrived at precisely 8:10pm according to my phone, and Evenstar wrote: "I'd love to say that it was an uneventful ride back but Dave's car actually...kind of...umm...blew up? There was fire and fire trucks and police and far too much excitement for one night. Everyone's ok!"

I audibly gasped when I read I read this, and Amanda asked what happened.

"Evenstar's car.... blew up!" and I read her the text.

I texted back, asking if they took any photos or videos of the event, and she texted me a photo. In the photo, their car was parked in the middle of the road, a bit of smoke coming off of it, and two fire fighters looking under the hood which had been popped open. One of the fire fighters had a hose leading to the engine block, and the ground around the entire area was wet like it had rained, but I suspected was water from the hose flooding the ground. Well, and probably rain too. It had rained quite hard just an hour or two earlier. Behind it I could see two police cars parked at an angle, blocking road traffic.

I replied that if it was any consolation, our drive was uneventful. We even found a letterbox on the way back to Winter Park.

I guess the part they had been waiting for to fix their car wasn't necessary anymore, but that had to be the most dramatic finish I've ever heard of for someone finishing their hike!

And thus ended my zero day on the trail. Tomorrow, however, it was time to get some more trail miles in!

Evenstar and Dave had a little car trouble after dinner....

Monday, April 25, 2022

Day 84: Grand Lake, llamas and moose! Oh my!

July 13: I woke up, bright and early and hit the trail at around 6:30am. The trail immediately crossed into Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), where I soon spotted a couple of bald eagles. I took some shots with my dinky little point-n-shoot camera, but really wished I had my fancy DSLR camera with that 300mm zoom lens just then. *sigh*

My small, cheap little camera couldn't do these bald eagles justice! (There are two bald eagles in this photo, but only one has the white head. I think the other is a juvenile, but without the white head, it's easy to miss!)

An hour or two later, I met a woman on the trail who had reported seeing both a bear and a moose this morning! How lucky! I was envious. Yeah, bald eagles are cool, but I see those in Seattle pretty regularly. Bear and moose are also a lot bigger so I could probably get better photos of them than the eagles!

And shortly after that, the trail dumped me off at a  trailhead at the edge of the small town of Grand Lake. Which was next to the lake called Grand Lake, the largest natural lake in Colorado. The Colorado River, before being renamed in 1921, used to be called Grand River. At least in Colorado, which does seem a bit odd that the Colorado River wasn't called that until after it already flowed out of Colorado.

Anyhow.... the trail follows surface roads through the town so it's a common resupply point for thru-hikers. No hitching required!

I was about five minutes into the road walk when I came across a moose with a baby on the side of the road. They were partially hidden behind trees so I couldn't get great photos of them, but located only 20 feet off the road, they were definitely close-up and easy to spot! I stopped to take some photos and texted one to Pez with the comment, "Check out what I found walking into town!" Pez, I knew, had spent the night in Grand Lake and was only a few miles away. It would drive him crazy knowing that I spotted two moose at the edge of town. "If you had walked out here to meet up with me, you could have seen them too!" =)

It's a mama moose and her baby! (The baby kind of looks like it's coming out of the mama's butt in this photo, but that's purely an optical illusion!)

Further into town, I stopped at the town library to get on a wi-fi connection and take a short break. I texted Pez about my location and he showed up several minutes later to join me. 

Normally, I would have stopped for the day in Grand Lake, but I knew that Amanda was flying out for a visit, so my plan was to keep going. She had made reservations for a hotel back in Winter Park (it was cheaper than Grand Lake, but much further away!), but she'd also have a rental car to shuttle me around as needed. So my plan was to hike another several miles--basically to the next road that vehicles could reach--then start hitchhiking toward Winter Park. And Amanda could pick me up wherever I happened to be when she arrived, whether I was still trying to hitch a ride off the trail, or back in Grand Lake, or any one of several towns between Grand Lake and Winter Park. The further I could get by hitchhiking, though, the less driving she would have to do.

And I could still get in several more miles today. With Pez as company. And with a pack that was relatively light since by now it was largely empty of food.

After meeting up with Pez, we started hiking out of town. At the far end of town, the trail veered off onto yet another alternate route. This was a forced alternate due to devastating wildfires from the previous year. The main, red-line CDT made a largely U-shaped 20-mile trek through Rocky Mountain NP, but large chunks of it were officially closed due to wildfire damage that had yet to be repaired. Nobody could hike through that section of the park.

On the plus side, however, this short alternate knocked off nearly 20 miles of hiking, cutting across the top of the U-shape. =)

We only made it maybe a mile or two out of town before we reached a "trail closed" sign with green netting across the trail to discourage hikers from continuing. Our alternate, as it turned out, was also closed. This wasn't a big surprise since Guthook comments warned that it was closed, but we were still a bit disappointed. However, there was an alternate of the alternate to get around the closure, and we followed another trail to to Highway 38. 


Even our alternate route was closed due to wildfire damage, so we would have to take an alternate of the alternate!

Along the way, we passed a team of horses carrying all sorts of trail-maintenance gear heading in the opposite direction.

"Are all these tools to get the trail back open again?" I asked the woman leading the train of horses.

"Yep," she replied. 

"Awesome!" I said, "Thanks!"

Although in hindsight, I'm not sure why I was so excited. It's not like I'll be in the area at that point to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

The trail ended at Highway 38, at a parking lot for a visitor center there. At this point, the alternate for the alternate was walking directly down Highway 38 into RMNP. There was a nice, wide shoulder to walk on, so in that respect, it wasn't so bad, but it was still a road walk and a busy road. Not fun, to say the least.

The scenery looked like a wasteland with all the burned trees and charred infrastructure. I hadn't remembered hearing anything about this particular wildfire, but as we walked down the road, it was pretty obvious that it was enormous and absolutely devastating. It felt like walking through an end-of-the-world kind of movie.

As we approached the point where vehicles paid the entrance fee at a toll both, we noticed signs saying that you had to have a reservation to enter the park. Pez and I had no reservations.... but that just applied to vehicles, right? We weren't really sure. Or if we had to pay some sort of walk-in fee.

Neither Pez or I had a reservation... would this be a problem...?

Unsure of what to do, I kind of made some hand signals to the person in one of the toll booths, pointing ahead and shrugged with a "what do I do?" kind of look, and he waved us through. Awesome! No fee for us! No reservations needed for us walk-ins.

I noticed a structure on the side that had burned to the ground, a twisted pile of metal and destruction, and crossed through the traffic to get a better look and take some photos. It appeared that the toll booths themselves survived the fire only because the road around them acted as a fire break, but whatever structure was at the edge of the forest was completely and utterly destroyed.

This structure near the tollbooths suffered catastrophic damage from the wildfire!

Onward we walked. We passed a small parking area pullout with some covered picnic tables that had been closed off due to fire damage. The areas with the trash bins had been utterly destroyed as well, but otherwise it wasn't readily apparent to me why that particular pullout had been closed to traffic. Maybe because all of the trails from that trailhead were still closed?

No parking allowed!

At one point during the walk along Highway 38, Pez and I noticed a small trail running parallel to the road, maybe 50 feet off from the road. "Why aren't we walking on that instead of this road?" I asked Pez. So we scampered over to the trail which was much more pleasant for walking than the road, even though we were never more than about 50 feet away from the road.

The trail only lasted about 10 minutes before we reached that orange netting blocking the trail with a sign warning that the trail beyond that point was closed. Oh, well.... So we climbed back up onto the road and continued walking.

For a few glorious minutes, Pez and I were back on a trail again. But that didn't last once we reached this point.

We finally reached the Onahu trailhead where I had planned to hitch out from. I figured it would probably be easier to hitch a ride back toward Grand Lake from a trailhead, although this trailhead was empty of vehicles since all the trails leading from it were closed. Pez and I wished each other good luck and goodbye with hopes we'd catch up again in the future. I didn't know it at the time, but I would never catch up with him again. It would be the last time I'd ever see him on the trail.

I had to wait a few minutes before a vehicle drove by, and I stuck out my thumb and it stopped! The very first vehicle to go by stopped and picked me up! Awesome!

The vehicle was driven by an older couple living in Tabernash, just short of Winter Park. They had assumed I was trying to get into Grand Lake--which was on their way (a logical assumption and probably where 99% of hikers from this point would be going)--but I was thrilled to get a ride all the way to Tabernash! Score! It was only another 8 miles past that I needed to get to. 

About five or ten minutes after they picked me up, just outside of the park boundary but before reaching Grand Lake, we saw a whole bunch of cars parked on the side of the road--a sure sign of wildlife somewhere off the road. They slowed down as we approached and there it was: another mama and baby moose! My second set that I saw today! And, even more hilarious for me, all of about 10 minutes after I split off from Pez. I saw a mama and baby moose maybe 15 minutes before we met up.

My ride wanted to pull over on the road and get a better look at the moose, and I was all in favor of the delay, so they pulled over and we all hopped out. These moose were in a small meadow and therefore much more photogenic than the ones hiding behind trees earlier this morning. Then I texted one of the photos to Pez--"I just saw another mama moose and baby!" He still hadn't seen any moose at all, and I'd already seen four of them just today. Plus the three moose sightings during the two days after leaving Silverthorne. I was piling up moose sightings pretty rapidly!

Another mama moose with a baby!

We got back in the vehicle and continued the drive toward Tabernash, having a nice conversation along the way. When we finally arrived in Tabernash about 50 minutes after they first picked me up, however, they said that they would go ahead and drive the extra ten minutes and drop me off in Winter Park since they had the time and it wasn't far. Awesome! =)

So they dropped me off in town. Amanda had texted me that she had landed in Colorado and was on her way. I just needed somewhere to hang out and wait until she arrived. As it so happened, it was near lunchtime, so I figured a restaurant was the place to go and wait.

And... well, I wanted something cheap and easy and where I could linger for however long was necessary. So I went to the nearby McDonalds.

I ordered, then took a table in the corner. While sitting down, a nearby guy asked me if I was hiking the CDT. Well, of course! And he introduced himself as Grizzly Smurf. I was actually a little surprised that this was another hiker. I hadn't pegged him for one, although he did have that somewhat grizzled appearance of a thru-hiker. But I hadn't noticed any large pack nearby and--I hope this doesn't sound racist--but he was definitely black. Not that I have a problem that, but I can probably count the number of black thru-hikers I've met on one hand. They just aren't that common, unfortunately, so when I do see a black person, I tend to assume that they probably aren't a thru-hiker. 

Although I was an hour drive away from where I got off the trail, Winter Park is a popular resupply point by hikers passing through Burthound Pass--which I had passed through three days earlier. So any hikers I met in Winter Park were likely 3 days behind me on the trail.

After introductions, Grizzly Smurf and I started chatting a bit and one thing led to another and then he told me the mother of all hiking stories that involved two llamas.

Apparently, some hikers coming down from Monarch Pass into Salida noticed a sign on the side of the road with a phone number to call if one wanted to rent llamas. And apparently, they decided this would be an excellent idea! They could have the llamas carry their pack and the rest of their gear. How awesome is that?!

So they called the number, and made arrangements. They were so excited about the idea of llamas carrying all their gear, they even bought a cast-iron skillet to cook on and a bunch of other unnecessary junk. They were going to feast! They were going to camp in luxury! They were going to use llamas to carry all their gear from Monarch Pass to Twin Lakes.

"But what do they do with the cast-iron skillet after the llamas are returned?" I asked, gripped by the unfolding story.

"I don't know. I just don't know."

"Did you actually see these llamas?" I asked.

But no, he had only heard the story from others.

Other details about the llamas emerged. Apparently, the hikers' average daily mileage dropped from about 20 miles per day to about 5. It seems that llamas don't always like to cooperate and may not like carrying heavy packs either. It sounded like a huge disaster, and they wound up calling the llama's owner to retrieve them early. And it allegedly cost something like $800 to rent them--but that they lowered the per-person cost by splitting the cost among the group of hikers. It wasn't economical for one person to rent llamas, but spread out across a few people, it was possible.

The group also had to take a "llama class"--how to handle the llamas, feed them and take care of them before being allowed to take custody, as it were. "That should have been the first sign that they were in over their heads," I joked.

Oh, I wished I had been there to witness the spectacle! A small part of me was even jealous. I never for a moment thought that rental llamas would be easy or carefree, but imagine the blog entries I could write! The new challenges! The hilarious stories that would result! Maybe I should rent a llama someday? It was a thought I'd never seriously contemplated before.

Grizzly Smurf soon left. He had laundry running at a laundromat nearby and needed to check up on that, so we said goodbye and I finished my meal alone, and then used the Wi-fi at the store to get online with my phone. 

Several minutes later, Sweet Tooth walked in. I almost didn't recognize her at all with her hair loose and cleaned up. But where was Bugs? Bugs, Sweet Tooth told me, was a day behind. She had hiked on ahead to get into town in time to register for classes or something later in September, but that they'd meet up again soon.

Then I asked her if she had heard about the llamas. "Oh, I have videos of the llamas!" 

"You do?!!! I wanna see!"

She pulled out her phone and told me what she knew about the incident, which exactly matched everything Grizzly Smurf had already told me. Except now I knew who some of the participants in these shenanigans were, including the likes of Captain Jack, Twain, Cramps and such. Sweet Tooth was invited to join and let the llamas carry her pack as well, but she said that she didn't want any part of that. She thought it was crazy and had more sense than that.

I was a little surprised I hadn't heard about the llamas earlier when I realized who all had been involved. I had seen her in Salida, along with Cramps and Bugs, so the llamas must have happened the day after I left. If I had taken another zero day in Salida, I might have been witness to the spectacle! I was a little surprised that none of the other hikers who had caught up and passed me had mentioned it, though. Even Pez hadn't said anything about it, and he would have been right there at the time. Had none of these people heard about the llamas?

Sweet Tooth finally found the video of the llamas on her phone and played it, and yep, they were definitely llamas! Cute little things, too. =)

And finally, Amanda showed up about 5 or 10 minutes after Sweet Tooth. And we repeated the llama story for Amanda, and Sweet Tooth showed her the video. Lots of fun.

Then Amanda and I headed out. She had reserved an Airbnb that turned out to be about two blocks away, so I was soon taking a shower and getting cleaned up. My small, cheap laptop was still stuck in the bounce box at the post office in Leadville, but Amanda had brought my nicer, bigger laptop from home so I could finally get online again and get some real work done. I had thought maybe the Leadville post office had gotten tired of holding the box and would "return" it to me to Seattle, at which point I hoped Amanda could just return it directly to me. But no, it was still locked up in the Leadville post office. I'd have to try calling them again, but I wasn't optimistic about getting through.

And the rest of the evening I just spent catching up on messages and email and such. So much to do! This was only the second time in the whole state of Colorado I had been able to get online with a real computer and not just my phone. And that laptop in Leadville I hadn't used at all in the entire state!

But thus ended another day on the trail.....

It's the mighty Colorado River! Doesn't look like much up here, though.

Grand Lake

This is also Grand Lake, but this time it's the name of the city.

This wildfire was clearly very recent and hugely devastating, so I later looked up information about it and learned it happened the previous autumn and not only did it burn huge portions of RMNP, but it also destroyed many homes in the area.

More fire damage in the park. This looked like where the garbage bins might have been stored.

Not only were many of the trails and trailheads closed due to wildfires, but this was an "employees only" area that had to be closed due to fire damage as well. That brown sign in the background reads, "Employees Only".

Pez hiking down Highway 38

Friday, April 22, 2022

Day 83: Oh, the humanity!!!!

July 12: I woke up today expecting an easy day. According to my topo maps, there would be a couple of thousand feet up, then a 3000-foot drop before leveling out the rest of the day. Easy, peasy! No problem! My biggest concern were mosquitoes. I didn't want another long night dealing with those guys.


As a result, my plan was to arrive in camp as late as possible while it was still light enough to hike. Somewhere around sunset, I figured, would be a good arrival time for camp. And I'd cook dinner in the middle of the day when the mosquitoes likely wouldn't be so bad. Yep, that was my plan.

And my first step of the plan was to linger in camp a bit longer than I normally would--which meant I didn't get on the trail and hiking until about 7:00am which just so happened to be when the mosquitoes started coming out again. Perfect! =)

The trail was littered with numerous blowdowns, but they were nothing compared to the massive piles of blowdowns I got through yesterday. Most of these were relatively quick and easy to get over, under or around. They were a nuisance, but not an issue.

The smoke in the skies from previous days seemed thicker today. I didn't know if that meant the fire was larger or closer or if the winds just happened be blowing in another direction, but it left very smokey skies all day and the sunlight had that tinge of an alpine glow all day long, not just at sunrise or sunset. I imagined that breathing the air probably wasn't healthy, but the alternative of not breathing air was even worse! I hoped my lungs weren't looking like a smoker's lungs, though.

At the first trailhead I reached, there was a trash can so I was able to throw out my trash. I love throwing away my trash! =) Nothing feels more pointless to carry than trash while hiking down a trail!

I also stopped for a break because... well, I wasn't in a rush. I only planned to cover about 20 miles today. There was a limit in how far I could hike today since I'd be entering Rocky Mountain NP and permits were required to camp within the park boundaries, and I had no permits. My plan was to camp pretty much on the boundary, or at least a stone's throw away from it and the last legal place to camp for quite a number of miles.

Blowdowns were a nuisance today, but it was clear some areas had also suffered a "severe wind event" which had already been cleared up. So the trees that were still left on the trail weren't a huge issue.

The trailhead had numerous cars, but was largely empty of people. At least it was when I arrived. About 5 minutes later, a few cars arrived and 8 people piled out. They were clearly one large group of people, and somewhat loud and seemed like they needed forever to figure out who was going to carry what and change their shoes and get themselves ready. I could have cooked several meals in the time it finally took them to get themselves ready and moseying down the trail.

Then I was off once again, heading into the Indian Peaks Wilderness where I didn't see a single person the entire way.

It wasn't until the trail left the wilderness area just before Monarch Lake when it flattened out and I started seeing masses of people, moving and shifting. Within minutes, I had passed over a dozen people, and the crowds continued to grow the closer to Monarch Lake I approached.

I didn't try counting the people, but there must have been hundreds! It certainly felt like hundreds! Oh, the humanity! I just couldn't get away from them fast enough. Way, way too many people....

The trail followed near the edge of the lake for miles before reaching the trailhead and began following gravel roads.

The gravel roads were busy with vehicles, but at least it didn't feel so crowded as the trail did.

The parking lot was packed with vehicles!

The trail followed roads, passing a few different campgrounds along the way, all of which had signs up saying that they were booked full, but that didn't matter to me. I had no intention of paying to stay at a crowded campground! 

Just past the last campground, along the shore of Granby Lake, the CDT left the roads and returned to a relatively quiet and peaceful trail. I was making really good time on the easy terrain, and discouraged by the hoards of people, not taking my time or many breaks. Now that I was in a place without a lot of people, I threw out my groundsheet under the shade of a tree and took a good, long break.

And I mean a long break. I wound up hanging out there for about 4 hours! During that time, three people from the nearby campground strolled down the trail to see where it led. I cooked dinner and read my book. Napped a bit because... why not? I had to move my groundsheet when the shade I was under wandered off with the moving sun, but otherwise I just made myself comfortable by the side of the trail with most of the contents of my pack spilled out as I needed to dig into it deep to get all the food I wanted to cook. Anyone who saw me on the side of the trail probably assumed I was camping there!

With just two or three hours left before sunset, I finally packed up again and pushed on the last 5.5 miles to the RMNP border and the last legal place for me to camp before Grand Lake.

I had expected the hike to largely follow the shoreline and be more-or-less flat, but I was badly disappointed when it climbed hundreds and hundreds of feet to cross over a ridge before descending again. It seemed so unnecessary! The views, however, were awesome despite the lingering smoke in the air. It was a hot, muggy afternoon, however, and the climb up was pretty miserable. Hot and sweaty, I was glad when I reached the top and could finally descend again.

I finally reached the border of the national park about a half hour before sunset. Not bad... I could live with that. =)

The shoreline immediately before the border was along the Colorado River, and it was a gorgeous place for a campsite overlooking the river. I was a little in awe that this was the Colorado River as well. The exact same river I saw while crossing through the Grand Canyon on the Arizona Trail. Although the river was significantly smaller here than near the headwaters. And much less muddy-looking as well. If I didn't know any better, I'd have thought they were two entirely different rivers. 

I quickly set up camp. There were mosquitoes, but it they weren't anything as bad as last night--thank goodness! The mosquitoes seemed really unpredictable nowadays. One night they could be absolutely horrendous, and the following night not a big deal. There seemed no rhyme or reason to it either. I could never guess where or when they might be bad or not.

This evening, my biggest annoyance were the motor boats on the Colorado River, but they finally left at around sunset and I could enjoy the campsite to myself since nobody else had camped nearby. The setting sun was particularly orange given the smoke in the sky, and I enjoyed the evening to myself. =)

A lovely campsite where the Colorado River flows into Granby Lake.

It was also the last legal campsite where I could camp before reaching the town of Grand Lake. Past this sign, I'd need a permit, and I didn't have one! (I am allowed to hike through the park--just not allowed to camp in the park without a permit.)

All day long, the smoke in the sky was pretty bad!

Evidence of logging from the olden days, abandoned on the side of the trail.

Monarch Lake is pretty, but it was so incredibly busy with people! (Getting photos without people in them was often difficult!)

Lake Granby

At least the trail near Lake Granby wasn't crowded with people, and the views were awesome! (Despite the smoke in the sky.)