M.A. Van Wey Travel & Photo

The Colorado Trail, pt 3
October 23, 2009, 1:21 pm
Filed under: Hiking/Backpacking | Tags: , , , , , ,


The night after our resupply in Breck, below the Ten Mile range, we had our first campsite flood.  The site had been used quite a bit, and as a result the dirt was packed down hard as cement under our tarp.  When a midnight rainstorm ripped through the woods, the water simply ran over the surface instead of soaking into the ground.  We woke up with little rivers of rainwater washing under our ground cloth.  Down sleeping bags don’t like to get wet, in fact they’re pretty much useless if they do, so we scrambled around in the dark trying to dig a moat around our bags to keep the water off.  Eventually we secured the perimeter, but the paranoia of getting our bags wet kept us from sleeping well.

In the morning we packed up all our wet gear, with the weather already threatening more rain, and marched up to the top of the mountain range.  The trail insisted on taking us on the most direct route up the mountains, foregoing the usual switch back method.  This means we were practically crawling up the steep slopes at times, very very slowly.  Marmots and Pika’s were chirping at us all the way up, and by the time we crested the summit the wind was howling tremendously.  The views were spectacular 360 degrees clear around.  We hustled our way over the pass and down the other side, just as absurdly steep as the ascent.  Half way down our knees were in such bad shape we stopped and had a lunch of Advil.  The trail leveled out in another valley and then began the climb up Copper Mountain.  We literally walked right through the ski resort village of Copper, stopping to eat a disappointing burger at a pub along the way.  We failed to find our planned campsite along the ski runs, so we ended up hiking through the dark until we came across a completely unsuitable patch of ground and called it a day.

More climbing and beautiful mountain passes as we followed the trail further towards Twin Lakes, our next resupply.  We peaked Copper Mountain at Searle Pass and again at Kokomo Pass, where we met a bunch of mountain bikers on some of the gnarliest stretch of trail.  Walking this uneven, rocky slate is hard enough, but riding a bike up it seems ludicrous.  Apparently the trails along this stretch of Rockies are famous for downhill riding and I imagine you have to be in top condition to keep from killing yourself.  Here the trail finally eased up a bit, descending into a large valley and slightly less steep terrain.  An especially curious baby deer stopped at stared at us for the longest time after his parents darted off.  We stopped along the trail and stared back, wondering how long he would just stand there staring.  Alas he had more patience than us, so we kept walking down the trail.  Along the way we met a fellow and his black lab who were thru-hiking the trail.  We would come to learn quite a bit about the trail from him.

A cold night camping below some waterfalls and then we were passing through Camp Hale, an old military complex tucked away in the valley and mountain sides here.  The US Army’s 10th Mountain Division was trained here leading up to WWII and beyond, and it was even used by the CIA as a covert training ground for Tibetan rebels in the late 60’s.  Now it is decommissioned and all that is left is concrete foundations and a massive concrete bunker built into the valley floor.  Apparently the valley is still littered with unexploded ordnance, so there are restrictions about wandering off the trails.

As we followed the contours of the hills we crossed a major highway and stumbled upon a big gray rubbbermaid container sitting under a tree along the trial.  On the lid was written “For Long Distance Hikers of the Colorado Trail”.  Pulling the lid off, we found inside a veritable feast of everything a hungry/thirsty backpacker could want: Moonpies, Cheetos, Oreos, soda, Advil, Tums, first aid gear, fuel, and even more candy and snacks.  We had our fill of healthy whole-grain crap, what we were craving was exactly this kind of junk.  There was a logbook included, with entries that dated back for several hiking seasons.  Apparently this little bit of “trail magic” was put here by a long time thru-hiker and proprietor of the Leadville Hostel, Wild Bill.  This was a huge moral boosting event for us, on a day where we were both feeling the emotional and physical wear from the trail.  We came across a couple more of these “trail angels” along the way, each one always being a heaven-send for us.  In fact, and I’ll explain this in more detail later, one of the most profound experiences from this trek was the generosity and kindness bestowed upon us from complete strangers.  The reward from discovering these treats was far greater than you could imagine from a pack of moonpies.

As we bounded down the trail with our heads full of sugar, we came across the remnants of the charcoal kilns (called coking ovens) that were used in the late 19th century to supply the booming industry of Denver and surrounding areas.  In fact, the entire area had been clear-cut to create that charcoal, a pretty sad site back then I bet.  Now the mountains have grown back their forests and you would have a hard time seeing that anything had ever been developed there.  Further along we came across a very strange sight, a hand-made wooden bench swing right off the side of the trail, and a painted sign pointing to the “Continental Divide Cabin”.  Our curiosity was piqued, so we followed the trail up and over a hill to a series of newly erected cabins and other structures.  Apparently it was one of the many 10th Mountain Division huts that are built and maintained through that part of the Rockies for people to rent for days or weeks.  There were locks on the doors so we turned around, but not without taking a rinse in the outdoor shower.  We enjoyed a view from that swinging bench all the way out to Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, the second and third tallest mountains in the lower 48 states.  The mountains were far away by sight, but surprisingly by the end of the following day we were camping right below them.


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