DAY 50: Frozen Shoes
I wake up today to a first on the Continental Divide Trail (and a first in my life), frozen shoes.
The combination of last night's freezing temperatures and my having hiked through muddy, water-filled trails yesterday afternoon lead to a peculiar predicament this morning. Normally, I would expect my shoes to thaw in the sun as I pack up camp, but our campsite is perfectly hidden from the sun this morning (normally, I would consider this a good thing).
Moist appears to have the same problem and after getting packed and still not being able to get our feet into our shoes, we come up with the genius idea of boiling water to unfreeze our foot armor.
Getting my feet wet first thing in the morning isn't my favorite way to start the day, but we don't have too many options.
Today is our fifth day of hiking since leaving Pagosa Springs (the longest stretch of the trail), but we're still too far to make it to the next town, Silverton, by the end of the day (we probably could have made it, but that would have required waking up much earlier this morning).
Silverton is not somewhere all CDT thru-hikers stop since the stop after Silverton, Lake City, is only another 36 mi / 58 km. However, the snow slowed us down considerably during this last section and we're all running low on food (and morale).
We should be able to get within striking distance of Stony Pass (where a road leads down to Silverton) if we push today (and are lucky with the snow).
Heading to Lake City without a stop in Silverton would require an extra day and a half on the trail and that might kill us.
By the end of the day, I'm exhausted and I've mentally checked out of hiking. However, the trail starts to climb through a steep valley and we end up hiking until after sunset before finding a suitable place to camp (I literally almost decided to lay in the middle of the trail and sleep a couple of times).
Appa and Moist are ahead of me and I am silently hating them for every step they take without deciding to camp. Why I don't just camp by myself, I don't know (oh wait, yes I do). When my two hiking partners, whom I now hate, finally decide to pitch their tents, my one solace is a curious black fox who decides to hang out and watch us eat our dinners.
I wonder what fox tastes like.
DAY 51: Silverton, CO
The cold returned last night, and after discovering that it could no longer claim my shoes (which I kept inside of my tent), it instead decided to take all of my phone's battery (because I'm very smart and left it, my phone, on the ground outside of my tent).
It's a good thing we're hitting town today because the morning goes terribly.
Heading down an icy hillside from our campsite, I repeatedly posthole up to my waist and have an incredibly unreasonable amount of difficulty removing myself from the snow each time. To make the morning even more enjoyable, my only remaining food is a single granola bar (which I carefully ration over the course of our 8 mi / 12.87 km hike to Stony Pass, where we will hitch to Silverton.
Besides my struggle to hike through the morning snow and to power myself with a measly 250 calories, the trail also takes us through a couple of river crossings for good measure. Because wet shoes in the snow, why not?
The Continental Divide Trail has become one in the same with the Colorado Trail at this point in the hike which means that we are seeing more people than usual on the trail. The Colorado Trail (or, if you're really cool, the CT – sorry Connecticut) runs for 500 mi / 805 km between Denver in the northeast and Durango in the southwest. It is to the CDT what the John Muir Trail is to the Pacific Crest Trail. Maybe I'll hike it one day?
We run into Napolean and Red Cross before hitting Stony Pass and since they're more badass than we are, they're pushing through to Lake City (the next town) instead of going into Silverton. We may never see them again.
The dirt road at Stony Pass gets very little traffic and after being denied a ride from a family of ATV enthusiasts we decide to start walking toward town. Worst case scenario, we end up walking the entire 10 mi / 16 km (let it be known I absolutely do not want this to happen).
It would seem the only thing to do in Silverton is to rent an offroad buggy ATV thing (what are these called? Buggys? 4x4s? ATVs?) and drive it around the mountains because they're everywhere as we start making our way down. Despite being out en masse, not a single person wants to ruin their vacation with a smelly hiker in their vehicle and nobody gives us a ride.
Moist gets out in front of me and Appa, and he manages to flag down a car that pulls out of a parking area between us and him. He then proceeds to get into said car before said car proceeds to drive away. What?
Either Moist has committed a most heinous hiker sin or there exists some incredible explanation as to why he did not tell these people that he's got two buddies just behind him who also desperately need a ride to town. Appa and I assume the former and curse Moist's name as we continue our walk to town.
DAMN YOU, MOIST, YOU SON OF A BITCH!
Fortunately, a pickup rolls up to offer us a ride in the bed just a couple of minutes after Moist abandons us (this makes us hate Moist no less).
Appa and I go straight to Avalanche Brewing after discovering that we had not received a deeply apologetic/explanative text from Moist. After some pizza and beer (the solution to most problems), we head to the local hostel to find it crowded with college students because of some seminar happening in town this week – no room for hikers.
We end up at the Prospect Motel with a big room, terrible wifi, a good shower, no fridge, DIRECTV, and no laundry facilities (we have to go to the RV park down the street).
We graciously allow Moist to stay with us (but he will not be forgiven).
DAY 52: A Difficult Hitch
We're heading out of town today (the next town, Lake City, is only 33 mi / 53 km away), but first, breakfast.
Not eager to leave the comforts of town behind, we stop at a coffee shop to take advantage of the wifi since it was lacking terribly in our discount hotel room last night.
I've long exhausted all of my backlogged podcast episodes and I've been listening to a lot of audiobooks instead. The only problem with audiobooks is that many of them are far too short and I end up finishing them in a single day of hiking. My new strategy is to just download and listen to whatever the longest audiobook I can find is. Today, that audiobook is The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett with a runtime of 40 hours and 54 minutes.
What is it about? I have no idea. Who is its target demographic? I don't care. Should be a party.
My download takes longer than anticipated and Appa and Moist leave the safety of the coffee shop to begin what will hopefully be a painless hitch back to the trail. I finish up and make the walk to the edge of town to find the two of them still without any luck in the ride department.
Fifteen minutes later, a large passenger van stops for us; we will forever be grateful to Professor Paul from the Colorado School of Mining. Professor Paul goes out of his way and drives us past the turnoff from the main highway and then all the way up to where the dirt road splits (so we will avoid being demoralized every time someone passes us without giving us a ride but who wasn't even going to where we want to go anyways – make sense?).
A couple in a Honda Element pulls over to let us know that they “would pick us up, but [they] don't have any room.” This is bullshit, people. Let it be known that I (and my companions) would go to extraordinary lengths and put myself in very uncomfortable places (like the back of a Volkswagen) to get a ride whilst hitchhiking. Despite our pleas, the couple insists they can't fit us and drive away into the mountains.
Shortly after a pickup truck pulls over. Hooray! But this guy pulled over just to talk to us – he's going the other direction. Boo! This is definitely the most difficult hitch of the trail thus far.
However, in a shocking turn of events, a few minutes later the same pickup pulls up and offers us a lift. “I felt sorry for you guys, so I'm going to take you up to the pass.”
This man is a hero.
During our long and bumpy ride back up to the pass we slowly scoot past our friends in the Element who are high-centered in the middle of the road. Guess it's a good thing we didn't go with them.
When we arrive back at Stony Pass we give massive thanks to our driver and set off into the mountains.
Being that this is our first day out of town (and a day where we started hiking quite late), we end up taking a break after an hour of easy hiking. Our packs are heavy with the beer we packed out of town so instead of pushing for more miles today we examine the map to find a place to camp.
Another hour and a small climb later and we're ready to call it a day.
Ramen and beer for dinner.
Life is good.
DAY 53: Colorado Highs
We wake up 30 mi / 48 km from where Highway 149 crosses Spring Creek Pass; this is where we will hitch to Lake City, Colorado, our next trail town.
Thirty miles (48 km) is not an impossibility at this point in the trail and I somehow get it in my head that I'm making it to the pass today. However, things don't get off to a great start; we wake up late and don't start hiking until around 8:00.
At the base of today's first big climb I take a break and wait up for Appa and Moist. Not far behind them is Lumber, who must have camped just before us yesterday. He didn't stop in Silverton and is making a push from Pagosa Springs to Lake City. His problem? He's running out of food.
None of us are particularly sympathetic to Lumber's situation as we haven't packed out much food ourselves for this short section of trail between Silverton and Lake City, but I end up giving him a chocolate bar. He will be in town tomorrow at most, he's not going to starve.
And before you go feeling too bad for Mr. Lumber, soon after leaving our break spot, we pass a southbound section hiker who basically empties her pack of food for him (she also has a golden retriever with the largest pack I've ever seen on a dog – poor dog).
At the top of the climb, we pass the high point of the Colorado Trail (not the same as the high point of the Continental Divide Trail) at 13,271 ft / 4,045 m. It's honestly not very remarkable and is really just the highest little hill and a gently sloping and grassy ridge. Grays Peak, the highest point on the CDT at 14,278 ft / 4,352 m is definitely more impressive (despite my not having been there yet).
By now, I am set in my arbitrary commitment to make it to the road today, whether or not I get a hitch into town tonight; Appa and Moist are not onboard. But that's one of the beautiful things about the trail, you don't have to keep to anyone's schedule except your own (unless, I guess if you're sharing a shelter with someone – rookie mistake right there, couples).
Despite my goal of making it to the road, an on-trail yurt is too good an opportunity to pass up, and I take one more break with Appa and Moist in a rare trailside shelter, the likes of which we haven't seen since Moist and I accidentally stumbled across one off-trail a couple weeks ago.
While we're here, Lumber catches up to us and informs me that left the chocolate bar I gave him on a rock way back where we were taking that first break. Obviously, this is the last time I ever donate any of my food to anyone.
We leave the shelter of the yurt (it would have been an awesome place to stay, but town tomorrow, etc.) and hike along a ridgeline as the sun begins to set. Appa is in no way keen on making it to the road and as darkness falls he stops to set up his tent. I continue with Moist for another hour before making it to the road well after dark.
Getting into town now wouldn't make any sense since I'm not one to pay for a hotel room that I cannot use from check in until check out. Also, the chances of me and Moist getting picked up in the dark in the mountains is undeniably slim. There's already another tent here, but it's a bit too far for us to tell who it is (because by this point in the trail you can recognize people based not only on their clothing, footprints, and smells, but their tents as well).
Guess we'll have to find out in the morning.
DAY 54: Lake City, Colorado
When I emerge from my tent I see Team Moose (that is, Wolfman, Dumpling, and their dog, Moose) already hitching. Moist is still in his tent.
As per the rules of hitchhiking, I respect their arriving first and hide in the bushes as to not make it look like there are three people and a dog all wanting a ride (because two and a dog is already plenty).
I still have some beer from yesterday which I sit and enjoy while I wait for my turn to hitch. Early morning beer on the trail, completely acceptable/normal. Thru-hiking is a beautiful thing.
Moist gets out of his tent and starts to pack up just as a car stops for Team Moose. Because they are beautiful people, they ask if there's room for me in the car – there is. In fact, there's even room for Moist who comes running up just in time to catch the lift to town.
We get dropped at the outfitter on the south side of Lake City, a small town of under 500 people at 8,661 ft / 2,640 m elevation. I buy a new gas canister for my stove and we inquire as to the whereabouts of all the important town things: the laundromat, the post office, and the coffee shop (we need that wifi – there's no reception here for some reason).
Moist and I first hit the coffee shop where we get a traditional hiker breakfast of coffee and breakfast burritos. In addition to having excellent wifi, we find a power outlet that we take full advantage of. We might never leave this place.
Lake City is also home to the Roost Hostel which caters exclusively to CDT hikers. We stop in on our way to the post office and laundromat (located at the other end of town) to find a group of about ten CDT hikers – possibly the most we've seen in one place. We hang out for a bit, but pressing business at the other end of town causes us to leave; today is the day I ship home my snowshoes and ice axe.
That's right. My 4 lb 8 oz / 2.05 kg snowshoes that I used exactly zero times are finally going home.
After sending home my gear (with the help of the friendliest postal worker I've ever had the pleasure of interacting with), we hit the laundromat next door where we strip down for a load of washing (and where they also have outlets! Yes, outlets are an exciting thing when thru-hiking).
And speaking of getting naked, where's Appa?
We consider staying at the hiker hostel but discover a place nearby with cabins for $80. We call up two other hikers we know in town and decide that split five ways, the cabin is a great deal (assuming Appa isn't dead).
Fortunately, Appa eventually appears and despite him being understandably upset that we didn't wait for him to do laundry, he's happy to hear about our cabin.
DAY 55: The Other Side
I wake up late (as I tend to do in town) and meet Moist and Appa down the street for breakfast at a place that's only been open for three days (and by the looks of it, won't be open much longer).
After breakfast, Appa heads out to hitch, Moist heads back to the post office to see if his resupply box has arrived, and I head to the bathroom for my last taste of porcelain. There's no sign of Appa or Moist when I leave the restaurant and as I head to the edge of town to make the hitchhiking, I lazily hold out my thumb for a passing car. The car stops. GREAT SUCCESS!
We drive out of town and pick up Appa on our way out. So long, Moist.
We get dropped off about halfway up to the pass and are then immediately picked up by Little Buddha, a fellow hiker currently cruising around Colorado and helping out CDT hikers. In the car is Lumber, I guess he didn't end up starving.
Back on the trail, we hike up onto Snow Mesa to begin the first of four large climbs.
Halfway up the second (and longest) climb, we find Team Moose camped. After some dog therapy, we continue down the other side to where the CDT meets the northern terminus of the Creede Cutoff (a 37.9 mi / 61 km alternate that bypasses 117.3 mi / 188.8 km of the official CDT). At the cutoff, we meet Apache, Pit Stop, and Driver who are setting up camp for the night.
We generally don't have very big days leaving town, but Appa and I manage a respectable 20 mi / 32.19 km before deciding to camp. Where is Moist? Who knows. Probably dead.
DAY 56: The Colorado Trail
I'm up first this morning and Appa is just getting up by the time I'm ready to leave. Bye, Appa!
There's a long downhill this morning and by 10 o'clock the trail is only just flattening out (I've been hiking for around two hours at this point) and it's here a find a group of Colorado Trail hikers – still in their tents. It's completely irrational, but at some point in every thru-hike, hikers come down with something I call the thru-hiker superiority complex (i.e. they hate everyone else on the trail). It's quite nasty business.
Arriving at a trailhead, I find two CDT hikers, a man and woman from Germany. The woman is having some sort of problem with her tooth and is apparently needing to get to a tooth doctor. Luckily for them, they're on a forest road and not stranded in the middle of the mountains (but they kind of are). I can't do anything for them, so I wish them Viel Glück and continue on my way.
This area of trail appears to be pretty accessible because suddenly there are dirt bikers zooming past me every couple of minutes.
I guess once the snow is gone the new danger is being struck by a motor vehicle (one of the deadliest things on the Pacific Crest Trail).
Why else do I think this place is accessible? Well because there's a random war memorial in an area known as Sargents Mesa. What is it doing all the way out here? I don't know. Would I be scared if I came across this at night with no prior knowledge that it was here? Absolutely.
Appa catches up to me at a water source and we camp not too long after. It's probably thanks to that enormous flat and downhill section of trail in the morning today, but today was also our longest day (in terms of distance) thus far at 35.3 mi / 56.81 km.
Another day like this tomorrow and we might be able to make it to the next town, Salida the day after.
Still no sign of Moist.
- Day 50 (June 17): 20.6 mi / 33.15 km
- Day 51 (June 18): 8 mi / 12.87 km (Arrive Silverton, CO)
- Day 52 (June 19): 6 mi / 9.66 km (Leave Silverton, CO)
- Day 53 (June 20): 30 mi / 48.28 km
- Day 54 (June 21): 0 mi / 0 km (Arrive Lake City, CO)
- Day 55 (June 22): 20 mi / 32.19 km (Leave Lake City, CO)
- Day 56 (June 23): 35.3 mi / 56.81 km
WEEK'S TOTAL: 119.9 mi / 192.96 km