Gunnison to Lake City
The rest of day 15
CT Day 15: Dry camping area mi 288.2 to dry camping spot at mi 312.2. Hiked 24 miles (elev: 9,640 ft)
After scooping up Red Stripe and taking a nice break in the car (out of the sun), the three of us (Bean, Red Stripe and I) hit the trail. It felt so inspiring to be out there with two other incredibly badass women who had thru hiked the Appalachian Trail already as well! It was a very hot and sunny day and we had a lot of easy terrain, so we stuck together and chatted the whole way. The trail was super hot and exposed. Bean and I had already hiked 14 miles, so we had another 10 ahead of us for the day.
We took a long break at the one and only water stop where we would fill up for the night and next morning as well. It was so hot at the water stop that we weren't in a huge hurry to get hiking again.
The miles flew by this day since we were all catching up with one another. It was a more social day which was nice because the terrain allowed for easy walking and talking.
Towards the end of the day we accidentally missed the trail and probably added an additional 0.6 miles to the day.
CT Day 16: Dry camping spot at mi 312.2. to Cochetopa Creek (mi 337.8). Hiked 25.6 miles (elev: 11,747 ft)
I had descent sleep last night until I woke up at 3:00 am and had to pee. The stars were absolutely incredible! Then a mosquito got in my tent as I was getting back in and it caused me to stay awake for quite some time trying to kill it without clapping too loudly as I was tenting pretty close to others. I had a hard time waking up because I had finally fallen asleep again and just wanted to keep sleeping! Bean and Red Stripe are quick in the mornings and were both ready with packs on before 6:30!
They started hiking and I got on trail by 6:29 am, which I was proud of. We all kind of yo-yo in the morning with bathroom stops etc, so we all caught up or stayed within eye sight of each other. The elevation profile for the day looked easy, but the day seemed like it would mostly be exposed trail. If it was anything like the day before that meant blistering sun and heat.
The first 14 miles to lunch were super easy miles. Relatively flat, amazing cloud coverage for sun protection, and a lot of it was Jeep road. The views were vast and beautiful and we were SO eternally grateful for the cloud coverage.
When we got to Cochetopa Creek (our designated lunch spot at 14 miles) the bridge was out so we had to ford the river. The water was moving pretty swiftly. We crossed cautiously which meant our feet were getting colder and colder. The freezing cold feeling in my feet and legs was so painful I was making audible sounds. I tried going quickly at the end where it was deeper and swifter and my pole got sucked by the force of the water tipping me slightly off balance but I was able to get across dry. The same was not true for Red Stripe. She went for the deeper waters as a shortcut and it caused her to fall! She was so shocked she kind of froze and didn’t make a sound. The look in her eyes made it seem like she lost something in the fall. She was worried she lost her phone because her front pouch wasn’t zipped shut. It was hard for her to get up with her pack on her waist but she was finally able to get up and get out of the water. Her shorts were soaked, her pack wet (but luckily water resistant!) and we were all shaken up. She didn’t get hurt at all, nothing got lost, and all the contents inside her pack were totally dry! PHEW! What a scare!
Lunch by the river was HOT. So scorching hot I decided to take a dip and cool off. I even soaked my shirt to have a wet/cool shirt for the afternoon hiking.
For maybe 1 mile we experienced hot and sunny walking after lunch, but lovely cloud coverage rolled in.
A few miles later this cloud coverage turned into a light drizzle and the temperature began drastically cooling off. I put on my rain jacket and pack cover and kept hiking.
With about 5 miles left things started to get really wet. The ground and grass was so wet that it didn’t take long for my feet to get soaking wet and begin sloshing around in my shoes. I think all three of us had a little PTSD from the AT and were instantly mad about the wet ground and marshy trail causing us to have wet feet like on the AT! We had paid our dues last year - come on! It was just dreary and wet for the entire afternoon.
We got to our camping spot before 6 pm and set up the tents in the drizzle. I should have paid more attention to my selection because I chose a really lumpy spot and my z rest sleeping pad isn’t too thick so I feel it all. People with air mattresses have an advantage with tent spot selection because you don’t feel the rocks and lumps as much.
I was freezing, wet, tired and hungry! I sat on my pack cover in my shorts and rain jacket and cooked ramen. I was so impatient to eat/drink it I burned my hands and my tongue in the process. It hit the spot. I then got in my tent and changed into warm dry socks and warm dry clothes. My feet stayed cold and numb for hours and it was tough to get comfortable on the lumpy ground.
This is the second full day without any cell service. It is nice to be unplugged and be so remote. I am enjoying every last bit of lack of connectivity and societal stimulation while soaking up the smells, sounds, and spectacular sights of the natural world. The flowers sprinkled along the trail and all throughout the meadows have given me great comfort and make me smile and feel loved. I thank the universe every morning for giving me so many bouquets of flowers. I need them right now, and it feels like Mother Nature is giving me endless love with her flowers.
CT Day 17: Cochetopa Creek (mi 337.8) to Lake City. Hiked 20 miles (elev: 8,600 ft)
Omg today was so ridiculously epic on so many accounts. I think I had adrenaline pumping through me most of the day.
Red stripe was struggling with altitude stuff this morning - generally just feeling tired and having some difficulty breathing in the steeper climbs. It’s steep and high altitude so it makes sense.
The morning hike up to San Luis Peak (which is a 14er we opted not to summit today as it was a few miles on a side trail and we are on a bit of a tight schedule), was ABSOLUTELY epic. The sunrise, the colors, the greens, the mountains! We felt like we were back on the Colorado trail again! Yesterday felt like an Appalachian Trail slog fest, and the last few days felt sort of like “junk miles” (of course they have their own elure and allow the mind to truly center and meditate in a more neutral zone without all the highs and lows).
Pictures can’t even do this morning justice. It truly just had me blown away. It has been my favorite day thus far. Perhaps the drudgery of the previous days helped me to truly appreciate the spectacular epic-ness of today.
When we got to the high point for this section (and the highest point on trail so far at 12.8k ft), I sat down and just truly took it all in. Every time I turned to look in a different direction the clouds had changed and the view was different. The euphoria was real.
At 11 am I put on DRY SOCKS! All morning the lower elevation overgrown areas of the trail kept my shoes and socks nice and damp (but they were already totally soaked from the day before). I waited until a break to dry out my tent and change socks and then I followed Red Stripe up a 3.5 mile climb. We were planning to catch up to Bean at the top for lunch.
As we got out above tree line it became obvious where we were headed and that we were headed straight into a storm (we’ll call it storm 1). We knew we needed to eat “lunch” or at least take a break and get in some calories, so we thought it might be better to do it before we reached the top/storm 1. I couldn’t see Bean up ahead, but then we rounded a hill and saw she had stopped early too. Phew. Good thinking.
We regrouped a little and discussed lightning and hail protocol. We had a quick break/lunch and decided to head on into the storm. It looked like the storm was moving to the right and after we reached the top the trail dipped down to the left. It would be a hard 30 minute effort through the beginning of a strong storm and uphill, but we had it in us.
We pushed to the top and got small hail as we crested the top. It stung and my legs were frozen. I forged on knowing it was temporary. The dark sky and loud thunder was scary, but I was pretty confident we would miss the bulk of this storm. I had a very brisk pace and was pulling the group to continue without hesitation.
As we began to descend, we quickly entered a long and slow descent that hugged the side of the mountain and we were in total sunlight and the storm was behind us. PHEW!
We then started walking on this very long and flat Mesa. I could see an EPIC storm (storm 2) forming in front of us and noticed the blades of grass and the way the wind felt on my face that the storm was headed straight towards us and we towards it. At one point Bean wanted to make a run for it and see if we could get to tree line. Tree line was no where in sight and I checked Guthook and it seemed like I could be about 3 miles away. We would never make it. We searched for bail out spots as the thunder and lightning quickly became more imminent but kept hiking and checking in with each other. I kept looking back to make sure we could see Red Stripe. She was still in sight - phew. When lightning got pretty close we stowed our poles on our pack.
The thunder soundtrack kept playing over and over again like the sounds of Mordor in Lord of the Rings. It truly was so loud and constant it sounded like a movie, fake. It didn’t seem real. Finally, I saw a low spot with some bushes and knew that was our best spot. The only issue is that it would be hard for Red Stripe to see us from up above on the trail. We left our poles and packs to the side, I grabbed my sleeping pad and Bean grabbed her rain fly and ground tarp and we ran to the lowest spot in the bushes. I yelled a few times for Red Stripe and I could tell she saw us the last time and she made it under cover just in time for the hail to start.
We were terrified. All three of us actually thought that this could maybe be it. Red Stripe and Bean both announced they felt confident in CPR. I told them where the SOS button on my GPS tracker was, and we discussed that at least we are doing something we love. I actually felt at peace with this being the way I left this earth if this was the end of my time on earth. I’d much rather die coming head to head with the forces of Mother Nature while hiking than have a cocktail of medical issues and be in a hospital.
The hail was bouncing off the ground and stabbing me in the butt. The position I was in was hurting my hip flexors. I was literally sitting/laying in a mud puddle that formed on the ground tarp. Soaking wet and freezing.
Eventually it let up. We headed out, but we needed to get off that plateau ASAP. I knew another storm could come out of no where at any moment. It became sunny, things began to dry but the clouds quickly began to darken in typical Colorado fashion.
Storm 3 occurred JUST as we were leaving the Mesa and heading down. We had two miles left until the road. We were in a killer field with loud crashing thunder and lightning and I was running this time because I could see tree line and we were headed down.
Finally I made it to a pine tree dry spot and waited on Bean and Red Stripe. With 1.5 miles to go, I booked it off that mountain with a singular mission.
We got to the road, the sun came out minutes before and we got the first hitch out of there all the way to Lake City (30 mins and 17 miles).
We had the hostel to ourselves, had vegan paninis at the local market/grocer/deli, resupplied, SHOWERED (omg the heat was incredible!), and did laundry. The town stop was much needed!