Monday, June 24, 2013

Billy, Elbert, and Marmotocolypse

What a stretch!  Jack was still with us for 5 of the last 7 days and we covered some up and downs.  We noticed that since we joined the Colorado trail we have been doing less staying on ridgelines and more down a valley, up to a pass, down a valley, up to a pass, etc.  This means lots of hard walking on knees and quads, but also a lot of varied terrain.

From Gunnison we left Monarch Pass and put Jack to the test.  We covered over 18 miles in just over a half day and that was our short one.  He handled it like a champ.  We gave him "monster" status the way he handled climbs.

After going up and over Chalk Pass early in this section, we dropped into a sweet old mining valley.  There was also a For Sale sign on some property just out of a wilderness area that Sara and I already have plans on turning into an adventure base.  We ended up following this old railroad bed up another valley to where a tunnel had collapsed, effectively ending the usage of that line.  The next morning we tried a cross country route to the top of a 13,000' peak, which put us on a sketchy snow-chute traverse then knife edge scree field.  We bailed on the peak and dropped back to Tin Cup Pass.

 After a few more up-downs (we crossed so many Passes this week I have forgotten most of them) we climbed a super steep section to Hope Pass, where I saw my first mountain goat.  Sara calmly informed me that we will see them all over Glacier, but for me it was a big deal.  She wouldn't let me chase it though so I had to settle for a picture.  The goat ended up traversing above us until we set up camp, then laid down and guarded us through the night.

The next morning we dropped to Twin Lakes and crossed a verrrrry (so many R's because my teeth still chatter) cold creek before heading back up to that base of Mt. Elbert.  The CDT in this section winds around the base of this peak, but we decided to go up and over this 14,433' detour.  Why not?  We started climbing at 10,400' and hit treeline around 11,500', then continued to climb another few hours.  It was a big mountain.  It was crazy from the top being able to look down on other 14ers.  Turns out it is the second tallest in the continental US and tallest in the US Rockies.  All down hill from there! 

We dropped off an exhausted Jack (if you know Jack you know that he is never exhausted) at Tennessee Pass then took off on our own.  Yesterday we had lunch at the top of yet another pass with some marmots.  Marmots are normally skittish creatures that look all fuzzy and cute.  These were not.  Sure, at first we thought it was cool they wanted to see what we were doing and eating.  Just curious.  But as they kept edging closer to our food and not running away when I ran at them we decided it was scary.  I am still convinced a previous hiker left rabies filled jelly beans for them.  I even tossed a rock at one, which hit him in the face, to no effect.  What creature does not move when it gets hit in the face with a rock?  We have since decided that pikas are more cute.

Speaking of pikas....we have been doing some survey work for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation.  This is a group that recruits awesome people like us to take data for them while we are out doing stuff.  We have been doing some pika monitoring so anytime we here a bark or see a small grey flash, we take a gps point.  Check them out if you are planning an adventure.

This afternoon we rolled into Silverthorne, which is pretty close to Copper Mountain and Breckenridge.  No time to ski though, we are off to Rocky Mountain National Park starting tomorrow.  The librarian only gave me so much time so I will try and put up pictures from there.  Use your imaginations for this one.

Happy Trails.

Track and Field

Monday, June 17, 2013

Mountains of Mountains

Day 51, Monarch Pass 928.8 miles, 772 Switchbacks

Colorado is awesome!  We have seen snow, marmots, snow, pikas, and really high peaks.  Going back to before Pagosa (pre-Sara bronchitis), we hiked from Chama into the South San Juan Wilderness and got our first taste of incredible mountainness.  This area was full of craggy, intense bowls that we would hike up, traverse way inside, then traverse back out the other.  Most of the trail in this area tried to stay close to the divide, but since most thru hikers don't have the gear or ability to scale high mountain cliff faces opts to drop into the valleys instead of staying on ridges.  Any north facing slope in this area was covered in multiple feet of snow, which may, or may not, support weight.  Post holing was common, especially late in the afternoon as the snow melted.  At this point Sara started feeling pretty sickly, but we still managed to average just over 20 miles a day.  This might have put her over the edge, however, as we ended up taking two zero days, three nights, in Pagosa Springs to let her heal.
Marmot photoshoot

A fun part of this trip for us is seeing other places we may want to live in the future.  We have been discussing the criteria each of us needs for a place to happily live.  Such as jobs and snow, and housing and snow, and education and snow.  Pagosa Springs seemed to fit all of our categories and had a great bakery, thrift store and brand new brewery so it now moved into our top 5 places to live.

After a few days of recovery in Pagosa, which also allowed the snow to melt, we moved into the Weminuche Wilderness.  Although, still in the mountains this area was more big mountains rather than big ridge lines.  Most of the snow on the trail had melted so we were able to make better time that way, but the elevation change about dropped us a few times.  We dropped below 10,000' once.  Exactly once.  Then proceeded to climb 2800 feet the next morning, then 4000 more that same day.  Our campsite choices also were incredible.  On a lake.  At 12000 feet.  Pretty incredible.
Camp at 12,500'

Just north of our camp at Cherokee Lake two days into this stretch we saw our first bear.  With the way the wind was blowing it did not smell us so we got to watch it walk through a big bowl.  Incredibly an elk came out of nowhere and decided to follow the bear.  The bear eventually decided it should not let a puny 600 pound elk follow it so turned around and scared it off.  No joke.  Incredible way to start out a day.

We resupplied in Silverton, which not only allowed us to consume a few plates from an all you can eat buffet then drastically overpay for 8 days of food, but also served as a meeting place for two friends to join us.  Jack (who I ran with in college and have proceeded to do a bunch of painful races with) and Kate (one of Sara's childhood friends and one of my high school teammates who we have proceeded to do a bunch of painful races with) decided to jump on the trail with us at 12500' and crush miles.  It took Sara and I 40+ days to get into shape for this section. Jack and Kate opted to go for broke right off the bat.

Jack and Kate recovering in the yurt
The first day with them we went 22 miles and up to 13200' and ended up camping at some yurt maintained by the Friends of the Colorado Trail.  Awesome campsite!  Unfortunately the extra days made Jack and Kate hurt as much as we did the first month.  We then continued to hike 20 miles a day with big climbs and high altitude.  I think Sara saw this as an opportunity to repay Jack for the epic (brutally uphill), beautiful (scarily exposed), fun (really?) bike ride/lesson last year in Salt Lake.  Jack is one of our friends who just goes.  No matter what the activity or terrain or pace he crushes just about everybody, except for Sara 45 days into a backpack trip hiking up a hill.  It was fun, in a twisted sort of way, for Sara and I to see Jack and Kate go through the same pains and exhaustion that we went through our first weeks of hiking.  Painful feet.  Huge blisters.  Extreme fatigue.  Now we were on the viewing end.  Still, our friends are pretty incredible.  Very few people could jump in on a hike like this at 20 miles a day and survive in good spirits.  Going to bed at 6:30 helps, but they are also Trail Crushers (as we named our future rock band).

Last night we stayed in a cabin maintained by a snowmobile club at Marshall Pass (interestingly named for a Lt. Marshall who found the pass in 1873 while frantically trying to get to a dentist Denver, seriously), which is occupied mostly by mice and rats.  Sleep was rough last night as every time we got comfortable our four legged rodent friends would start nibbling on some crumb or shoelace.  We survived though and hiked the last 10.7 miles to Monarch Pass this morning.  The last few days have been in the trees again, which is still above 11,000', but today we emerged back up on open ridge lines where we could see some glorious upcoming mountains.

Just before Monarch Pass.  Sara chowing down, again.
One of Jack's friends picked us up at Monarch Pass and drove us to his place in Gunnison where we are staying for the night.  Originally the plan was to hike straight through since we had a box at Monarch, but we have had some equipment malfunctions that we needed to address.  Sara's back support in her GoLite pack has failed  twice so we needed another new support.  We also switched shelters in Pagosa from our TarpTent (which apparently does not withstand 50+ mph winds on exposed ridgelines) to a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 3.  We are very happy with the tent, but the first night with Jack and Kate a part of one of the poles cracked.  Fortunately we were able to use the field splint to keep the tent up, but it was dicey the rest of the section.  Big Agnes' customer service though is absolutely incredible and they mailed us a new pole set and offered to do anything else we needed.  Both the pack support and pole set, however, did not show up to Monarch Pass so we ended up stealing Jack's car and driving from Gunnison to Salida to find them.  Driving is weird.  Not like riding a bike.  We survived though and now have a new pack piece and a solid tent again, which can withstand the wind.  Big Agnes is headquartered in Steamboat Springs, a future resupply of ours, so we are going to stop by and say thanks for being awesome.  Also, since this was the second time that Sara's pack failed we ordered her a ULA pack that will be in Silverthorne when we get there in 7 days.  Both with Pagosa Springs and here we have been really lucky with having people (my mom and Jack respectively) who can get us where we need to go.
Jack and Sara

Our box today contained some bonus snacks from our parents, and we had a box of goodies from Sara's sister.  Mint chocolate covered malt balls are awesome.  We want to thank everyone who has sent us stuff on the trail (trail magic it is apparently called). This includes our parents, Sara B., and Sara's Aunt Karen & Uncle John. It makes the trip that much more wonderful.

Also, since we were on the trail yesterday, we wish a big Happy Father's day to our dads and any other dad reading this. We will be in Silverthorne in about a week, then on to Rocky Mountain National Park around June 29th or 30th.

Happy Trails

Track and Field

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Pagosa Springs

Quick update from Colorado...

Sara crossing a snow field
Porcupine chose too small of a tree
We had to take a couple days off trail at Wolf Creek Pass to let Sara's plague heal.  We had a beautiful section of hiking between Chama and Wolf Creek Pass with lots of high, high places, windy conditions and epic snow-chute crossings.  Our lowest campsite was 10,747'.  One day we dropped down to a pass at 11,600.'  Sara had picked up a bug at Ghost Ranch we think that kept getting worse.  We took an extra half day at Chama, but that did not kill it.  This last section, trying to hike with a stuffy nose and phlegm filled lungs all above 10,000', did not go to comfortably for her, but we got some good stuff prescribed today and will hopefully be back on the trail in the morning.  We should take just over four days to get to Silverton where we will meet up with our friends Jack and Kate who will join us for a two and one weeks respectively.  Mountains are awesome!

Looking back on the mountains we crossed
 Happy Trails!

-Track and Field