Day 6: 28.5 miles (around mile 21.5 in the CT data book collegiate west section, by Texas lakes)
Only a short ways down the road to the Hancock trailhead. Then it's a beautiful bit of trail on an old railway line, up to a pass populated with overly curious marmots and sweeping views. A great morning only dampened by the looming clouds. Then it's thunder and lightning at 8:30 in the morning. 12000 ft just never seems safe on this trail. I'm grumpy as I cut down to the North Fork of Chalk Creek, tired and wet and sick of being lightning bait. I end up taking a break with a CDT hiker and section hiker, attempting to dry gear in the first patch of sun all morning. It's nice to talk trail and moan about the weather. When I cut across the parking lot I see a trail and a road, both potentially CDT. The trail very clearly says it's not done, and a guy mentions he's a trail crew member and while the trail is done it's not officially approved yet, but he thinks some hikers have made it through without issue. Burnt from my experience with nonexistent trail I opt for the road. I fly up the road, passing other hikers and waving to the millions of ATVs. It's fun and the view is great as I climb, at Tincup Pass I revel in the mountains and I'm content as I head down. A little ways down I happen to check my gps, and shit I am very much not on the trail. Turns out this is part of the old trail and I have missed the 20 something mile new section and am on the wrong side of a giant ridge line. Approved or not my guide had wanted me on that other trail. I am beyond frustrated with myself, my gps and the app I use only have the new section and my maps leave something to be desired with their fuzzy lines and no acknowledgement of the old trail. I look at the data book and figure screw it, I'm not going back over 5 miles up and down passes. So semi mapless and grumpy I continue on. Past more unsigned intersections and roads that aren't on my map. The rain comes and goes, past Mirror Lake and a zillion ATVs I find the Garden Basin Trailhead and grin like an idiot at the dirt bikers because there is a trail and a glorious sign that says CDT, so glad they don't take those things down! I'm warned of snow but figure I won't go far. I head onto the Timberline trail and make my way up. I miss a creek crossing somehow and realize I've gone farther than I intended. It's early enough if I pretend thunder and lightning don't exist. But the Timberline trail is true to its name and small trees line the dirt road. I cautiously head up to the ridge line and enjoy my views. The trail cuts me across a ridge line and I get to an intersection where my data book tells me to stay straight. The data book is written for the south bounder which has had me frustrated enough but this takes the cake. I sit there cursing my map because I'm just not sure. See straight is not an option, hard left or hard right I have, straight not so much. I suck it up, use my head and pick right. I continue on, and on and on. 2 miles to Sanford creek which I had heard might be hard to cross. Its easy and I take a long amazing break. I'm relieved that I'm where I'm supposed to be and the slick rocky trail has me tired. Luckily I seem to have missed the afternoon storm, hail is on the ground but other than hiking in a giant mud pit speckled with sparkly rocks for the last mile I'm dry. I gorge on sugar and continue on finally feeling better. I had crashed mentally and physically but had been to stubborn to admit it, something I need to work on for sure. I'm happy for awhile but soon enough the rest of my evening has me frustrated, more poorly marked intersections and nonexistent features the data book uses as markers amidst pouring rain and hail. Yup that creek crossing didn't happen and so on. My shoes pour water with every step. The creek I decide to stop at in the data book has no camping so I decide to dry camp. I fill my bottles and finally find a spot. Sunset is beautiful and as I set my tent up it starts to rain, but of course how could I have doubted?
Day 7: 28ish miles (approx mile 152, campsite before Hope Pass)
As I skirt the two Texas Lakes I see a moose grazing in the 2nd lake, I'm not sure who is more startled between the two of us but it makes my morning. It takes me a few miles before I realize I have confused myself and already crossed a creek I've been looking for (do not underestimate reading mileage and data backwards, man it gets confusing) One foot is drenched when I try to gracefully leap across a creek. Oh well my feet are wet, what else is new? And then 7 or 8 miles into my morning I come to the glorious sign that tells me I have made it back to the official CDT. Also at this intersection is a very long sign explaining the new route, how its open and passable etc, although turns out its not actually yet approved by the higher ups (BLM or forest service or some such) either way that sign sure would have been appreciated on the other end. Either way I head up the trail happy I made it with only cursing about every other intersection over the last two days. Over the next 5 miles I head back into the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and climb, finally topping out at Lake Ann Pass. I've been eyeing it for ages, a huge group is on their way down and the the little procession line of arms waving and shouting has made it easy to see where I'm headed. And its beautiful, I mean drop dead gorgeous love my life so very much kind of morning time. Across a very small patch of snow I head down towards Lake Ann, stopping every few minutes to revel in the view. Day hikers laugh and chat while I'm stopped a mile or so later yard saling all my gear (every item I own is spread out to dry in the sun). I can't believe its sunny even for 10 minutes and I take advantage. This section of trail deserves to be on a highlights list, I understand why people speak so highly of the Collegiates. The new trail skips the ghost town of Winfield but I can see it across the creek, I can't get enough of this section. The mountains loom and the clouds threaten bout I stay dry gaping at my surroundings and loving the new trail towards Hope Pass. Congratulations trail builders you deserve extra points for this section. Afternoon rolls on and I decide to head up as close to Hope Pass as I can. I'd heard this is part of the Leadville 100 course and as I haul myself up the mountain I can't imagine running this thing. I'm loving the hike, it is surreally steep. I pour sweat and grin. I am so happy. Beautiful water and steep trail, I pass a campsite but just want to keep going. I finally stop when I find a campsite less than a mile from the top. I want to savor my view and am pretty sure there will be no more campsites closer to the summit. My last campsite is dry and over 11000 ft. I am in heaven, sunset is spectacular and I go to sleep dry. My very first day without rain, although if you count the fact that it rained until almost 4 am I guess not quite. Either way my feet are dry!
Day 8: 9.5 miles
Up and over Hope Pass, I'm glad I stopped where I did last night. I like the view from the top but my campsite was pretty darn great. Down and down the trail goes, ultra runners start passing me heading the opposite way and I wind my way down along a roaring creek. Old prospectors cabins peek from the forest and I get lost in imagining what it would be trying to scrape a living out of this area. I lose my sunglasses, get a little lost and feel like I'm close to the home stretch. The trail is flat and I'm skirting a large pretty valley. I pass Interlaken, an old restored ghost town that was a rich folks vacation resort back in the 1880's. Mostly I just giggle as I repeat Interlaken over and over in my head using different accents. Perhaps 8 days is long enough with my own thoughts, Ive tried to explain how talking to yourself doesn't seem as crazy when you're hiking every day but I'm pretty sure most of my coworkers just think I'm a little nuts. At least its always said fondly. Then I'm at Twin Lakes, skirting the edge I pass the intersection of the CDT and Collegiate loop, the official trail start to my trip. 160 miles done! 1.5 miles more and I'm back to my car, sandals and air conditioning and without any fuss my trip is over.
I have no idea why this trip was hard for me to enjoy. It wasn't until day 5 hiding under a bush with thunder and lightning crackling overhead just seconds apart that I thought, well hey this is fun. Really? it takes extreme suffering for me to be happy.
I honestly expected Colorado to steal my heart, when I came home from Mt Rainier all I could think about was how much I wanted to go back, and I got poured on there for a chunk of my trip. Colorado, I'm a little more hesitant about. The Continental Divide Trail has a motto, Embrace the Brutality. Well I have a feeling that trail has more than its fair share of hard times awaiting me but there will be high points to. I haven't written off my grand plans yet, but I'm certainly not underestimating how tough the CDT will be when I do finally get out there.
My gear took a beating on this trip, I use my gear pretty faithfully and my beloved sleeping bag liner literally disintegrated into pieces. I lost things, ripped things and generally seemed a bit scattered. My food that was so delicious day one way was less appealing by the end, I was hungry but everything was either too sweet or too salty. How rare to crave bland things! Deep down I know I enjoy pushing myself and this trip was no exception, not what I expected by any means but no regrets and I look forward to getting back with a different perspective.