Colorado Trail Day 15 – Indian Trail Ridge

On day 15 we hoped to make it to Durango and finish the CT, but weather again conspired against us. 

on pass at 12,000 ft
on pass at 12,000 ft

We started on the side of Hermosa Peak.

getting going
getting going

Blackhawk Mountain

We had a bunch of climbing to do past Blackhawk Mountain.

Blackhawk Mountain
Blackhawk Mountain
view on way up Blackhawk Mountain
view on way up Blackhawk Mountain
on pass at 12,000 ft
on pass at 12,000 ft

Indian Trail Ridge

Up to this point we hadn’t seen any big wildlife. I had hoped that we might see a bear, but no such luck. However, on the descent from the pass a marmot got between Kyle and me within the trail gully and ran for several feet before darting off trail. It was pretty funny to both of us. I got the action on the video below.

We kept pushing to get to Durango by end of day, but the predictable afternoon thunderstorms got us. At one point we had to get all our head-to-toe rain gear back on. That included our fancy green dishwashing gloves which worked really well at keeping our hands dry.

waiting out the storm
waiting out the storm

The 3pm storm let up around 4pm, and we again got on our way. But near 5pm another was brewing, and since we needed to climb back up to 12,000 ft on the exposed Indian Trail Ridge, we decided to call it a night.  

setting up as fast as possible
setting up as fast as possible

We had one more night with beautiful views.

not a bad final night on CT
not a bad final night on CT

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Colorado Trail Day 14 – Hermosa Peak

Wildflowers, wildflowers, wildflowers.  The downside of doing the CT in July is the predictable clouds that gather every afternoon and become major thunderstorms which leave the trail a muddy mess. But the big upside is that wildflowers are abundant, particularly at the highest elevations.  

such a great view
such a great view

Molas Pass

We started the day bright and early at 7am at Little Molas Lake on the pass, but the weather looked dire.  It was cloudy and misty, and I hoped that it would burn off.  

starting on Molas Pass in the rain
starting on Molas Pass in the rain
flowers overgrew the trail
flowers overgrew the trail

It did – mostly. As the sun rose, it became clear how pretty this segment would be.  Huge views and meadows of wildflowers for the entire day.

Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)
a small waterfall
a small waterfall
wildflowers becoming more varied as we climb
wildflowers becoming more varied as we climb
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

The Climb

This was another day of big climbing up to a saddle at 12,500. The views became more stunning as we ascended.

climbing to saddle
climbing to saddle
looking to Rolling Mountain
looking to Rolling Mountain
the saddle/summit, of course with a snow field to cross
the saddle/summit, of course with a snow field to cross

The Summit

Finally we hit the summit at noon. We had a huge downhill in front of us and were excited to get back on the bikes.

looking down from saddle
looking down from saddle
wildflowers galore
wildflowers galore
wildflowers galore
wildflowers galore

As we descended we came upon a group of young women setting up camp with their horses.  It was so Colorado.

horses noshing at a beautiful spot
horses noshing at a beautiful spot
raging stream in distance
raging stream in distance
climbing up out of valley
climbing up out of valley
Grizzly Peak (no we didn't see any bears)
Grizzly Peak (no we didn’t see any bears)

Hermosa Peak

By 4pm we had luckily avoided rain, but the sky was getting dark with thunderclouds, so we decided to park at the base of Hermosa Peak for the night.

Hermosa Peak
Hermosa Peak

We ended up near a stream on the side of a rock fall.  

Kyle filtering water
Kyle filtering water

I got no sleep that night as every so often a big chunk of rock would tumble down the mountain and scare the s*^t out of me.  

such a great view
such a great view

But at least we had a great view out of the tent again.

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Colorado Trail Day 13 – Silverton

The pièce de résistance of the CT is the San Juan mountains, and we got deep into them on day 13. The views were simply stunning, one after another.

13,271 ft high point of Colorado Trail
13,271 ft high point of Colorado Trail

Physically, it was a tough day. We had to make up time lost from weather on the prior day, and 20 miles of the riding was bouncing (4000 ft) between 12,000 and 13,000 ft. But the final descent of over 3200 ft from Stony Pass down into Silverton put huge grins on our faces.

Heading to the CT Summit

We made the right decision to stay put in the fog the night before and enjoyed a great sunrise.

waking up after stormy night
waking up after stormy night
great views in the clear sky
great views in the clear sky
the slog up to the summit
the slog up to the summit

By 8:30 am we made it.

13,271 ft high point of Colorado Trail
13,271 ft high point of Colorado Trail

Bent Peak

We continued on the path toward Bent Peak.

on way toward Bent Peak
on way toward Bent Peak
on way to Bent Peak
on way to Bent Peak
wildflowers starting to show
wildflowers starting to show

Carson Peak

Then we started up toward Carson Peak, and ran into through-hikers John and Sarah from Denver (they had passed us in the fog the night before). Their water system failed that morning and they were boiling water stream-side. They had at least a day or two before hitting Silverton. I believe in trail karma, and since Kyle and I both had Sawyer Squeeze systems, I gave them mine, and they were so thankful. The positive karma worked out too, as even though it got really dark and grey, we didn’t have any rain for the entire day.

we gave John and Sarah one of our water systems
we gave John and Sarah one of our water systems

We then continued our climb up the valley below Carson Peak.  At one point we heard a huge group of coyotes crying.  

up the valley
up the valley
rock formations up valley
rock formations up valley
looking down valley
looking down valley

Cataract Lake

In the next valley we came upon Cataract Lake.  

Cataract Lake
Cataract Lake
huge columbine clusters
huge columbine clusters
a few waterfalls under snow
a few waterfalls under snow
more wildflowers
more wildflowers
even more wildflowers
even more wildflowers
second to last climb of day
second to last climb of day

Stony Pass

At about 3 pm we ascended the final climb of the day up to Stony Pass. We heard a huge herd of sheep on a distant mountain all bleating their brains out. It was a cool sound to listen to.

more wildflowers on way to Stony Pass
more wildflowers on way to Stony Pass
just below Stony Pass
just below Stony Pass

At Stony Pass, we cyclists have to get off the CT because the Weminuche Wilderness is protected, and I was prepared to be disappointed riding the road down into Silverton, but I was wrong.  It was a wicked fun and steep descent through huge wildflower meadows with stunning views.  CT hikers don’t get to see this, but I’m so glad we did.  We’ll come back and hike the Weminuche some year and have the best of both worlds.

just below Stony Pass
just below Stony Pass
cars beware - a sharp turn on a cliff
cars beware – a sharp turn on a cliff

We have come 350 miles and ascended 60,000 ft.  We get back on the trail tomorrow, and have only four segments left.  

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Colorado Trail Day 12 – Carson Saddle

We started the day on the Spring Creek trailhead off highway 149 with the goal to get to the high point for the Colorado Trail at 13,271 ft. 

climbing rock outcropping at 13,000 ftclimbing rock outcropping at 13,000 ft

But weather became a problem as a huge thunderstorm hit just as we were to climb a big rock outcropping, and then dense fog settled in. 

Climbing to 13,000 ft

We spent much of the day climbing and hike-a-bike on really rocky and muddy terrain.  

starting at Spring Creek Pass trailhead
starting at Spring Creek Pass trailhead
it was really muddy this segment after all the rain
it was really muddy this segment after all the rain

As we ascended, we had to ride through a rocky plateau that was really difficult.  We ended up hiking much of it.

taking a break at 12,000 ft on a plateau
taking a break at 12,000 ft on a plateau
our first big view this segment
our first big view this segment
cool moss in the forest
cool moss in the forest
a storm was brewing
a storm was brewing

The Thunderstorm

At noon we reached 12,600 ft and a big rock outcropping. We wondered if we had to climb it, and then saw other bikepackers coming down from high atop. At that point the first big clap of thunder hit. We knew we weren’t going higher anytime soon, and we pitched our tent as fast as possible. The other bikepackers going east did the same thing. The wind shook the tent violently, and I hoped and prayed that we were low enough to not get struck.  

the storm gathering
the storm gathering
same vantage point about 30 minutes later
same vantage point about 30 minutes later

After a few hours the rain stopped, so about 3pm we packed back up and headed up the rock outcropping. The views with mist lying low in the valleys was spectacular.

climbing rock outcropping at 13,000 ft
climbing rock outcropping at 13,000 ft
mist in the valley below
mist in the valley below

The Fog

After we got to the top of the outcropping (and it was a difficult hike-a-bike on scree) it flattened out a bit and we started a gentle descent. Then the fog rolled in around 3pm. Since we were on this trail for the views and photos, we decided to park for the night. I figured it would clear up overnight like traditional Colorado “monsoon season” weather in July.

through hikers in the mist
through hikers in the mist

At 5pm the fog dissipated a bit, and I contemplated getting back on the trail, but Kyle was comfortably in the tent watching his Youtube videos, so we just stayed put. I stepped out to take more pix.

looking west
looking west
looking east
looking east

It was a really windy night at 13,000 ft. At one point, the sustained wind had the tent collapsed on both of us, but the minute the wind stopped, the tent popped back into shape. I have to say I really like this ZPacks Duplex. It’s weathered big winds and rain almost every day, and we’ve been dry. However, the winds did keep us up for most of the night.

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Colorado Trail Day 11 – Highway 114, Gunnison

The 11th day of the CT would also be short. Our primary mission was to get to highway 114, where Cris would be waiting with burgers, fries and sodas to shuttle us into Gunnison for a two day break. She’s so good to us!

We awoke on Sargents Mesa to a spectacular sunrise.

wow
wow

On the trail we came upon several fearsome mountain creatures.

be afraid
be afraid
a little down before more ups
a little down before more ups

At the final summit for the day we bumped into through-hikers Xi, who just finished his degree at University of Denver and was doing the CT before returning to Beijing, and Cassidy.  We had met Xi at a stream the day before.

Xi and Cassidy at final summit
Xi and Cassidy at final summit

When we met Cris at the highway, we picked up two through hikers, Emily and Zachary and their dog, who were also headed to Gunnison before returning to the CT.  I pity poor Cris – we had been on the trail for days and were really ripe. She had all the windows down for the whole 45 minute drive down.

We get back on the trail tomorrow, and hit the highest point of the CT at 13,000+ ft.  The views of the San Juans get even more epic from this point on.

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Colorado Trail Day 10 – Sargents Mesa

Day 10 up to Sargents Mesa was short.  For most of the day we battled bowling ball sized rocks in the trees.  We both were tired from all the rock hopping and climbing and wanted to kick back, relax and enjoy the scenery.

Mt KIA/MIA, named for those killed/missing in action
Mt KIA/MIA, named for those killed/missing in action
near Windy Peak
near Windy Peak
looking down on Marshall Pass Rd
looking down on Marshall Pass Rd

Sargents Mesa

As we climbed up to Sargents Mesa, the lightning and thunder became more ominous.  The top of the mesa is near 12,000 ft and exposed, so we pitched the tent near a stand of trees.  

on Sargents Mesa
on Sargents Mesa
with a view
with a view

We saw a few more intrepid CT hikers pass us as the thunderstorm grew. After it passed, I set up my hammock and just kicked back to enjoy the view.

enjoying the view
enjoying the view

Soldierstone

Up on the mesa is a war memorial called Soldierstone, constructed in the 90s with private contributions organized by a retired US Army soldier named Stuart Allen Beckley who served during the Vietnam War.  

Soldierstone is an odd memorial – not well marked, not near any major parking, on top of a mountain mesa, honoring foreign solders who helped US Forces.  I finally found it after looking for about 30 minutes.

hidden in the trees
hidden in the trees

It was particularly solemn with the silence and dark clouds of next thunderstorm approaching.

Soldierstone
Soldierstone
Soldierstone
Soldierstone
there are several plaques that surround the memorial
there are several plaques that surround the memorial

As I walked back to the tent it started to rain.  It rained almost all night.

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Colorado Trail Day 9 – Marshall Pass

As much as day 8 was “meh”, day 9 up to Marshall Pass was the exact opposite.  We had an huge climb (5200 ft over 24 miles), experienced a crazy small-world situation on the trail in the middle of the forest, rode along the Monarch Crest at 12,000 ft as a huge thunderstorm grew and then dumped on us, met cool through-hikers from San Diego, and helped a poor guy who shattered his shoulder mountain biking.  Despite all the rain, it was an epic day.

yes, those are kitchen gloves, and they work!yes, those are kitchen gloves, and they work!

 

Down from Shavano

We awoke on the side of Mt Shavano, and headed down early in the morning to cross highway 50.

stopping to recharge our phones
stopping to recharge our phones
heading down to highway 50
heading down to highway 50

Beginning the Big Climb

Most of the day would be climbing up to Monarch Crest.  

South Fooses Creek
South Fooses Creek

Shortly after we crossed South Fooses Creek, we came upon another bikepacker coming toward us. We stopped and he said, “I believe those are my bags on your bikes.”

It’s A Small World After All

A bit of backstory – in early June I bought new Specialized Stumpjumper bikes to ride the CT.  Shortly after we got them, I searched for bags that might fit in the frame gap, but found none.  So then I searched for a custom manufacturer and came upon Greg Hardy at Rockgeist in Asheville, NC.  After I sent him a cardboard pattern, he was able to build two bags for me fast – about a week. They are great high quality bags, and have withstood lots of mud, 60 mph wind in the bikes on top of the car,  and frequent zip/unzips as the packs store most of our food.  

a Mudlust bag that fits perfectly
a Mudlust bag that fits perfectly

When I got them, I sent Greg a pic showing how well they fit into the frame. He was happy and told me he too was doing the CT from Durango to Denver in July and that we might see each other on the trail.  I thought the chances of that were remote with the breaks we were taking, the reroutes, etc.

I was wrong.  We had just bumped into Greg in the San Isabel forest in the middle of nowhere!  So we took a bunch of pix of his work.  

Greg Hardy of Rockgeist
Greg Hardy of Rockgeist

Just as we were about to depart, four mountain bikers came down the same path, and stopped.  

it's a small world after all
it’s a small world after all

One of the guys says, “Ed?”  I say, “Yeah?” And he responds, “It’s Nick.” It was Nick Thelen and friends from Colorado Springs up for the day doing just this segment! Nick is the guy whom I consulted with to prep to do the CT, and also who advised I get the Stumpjumpers. What a freakin’ small world!  

Wilflowers Galore

We took our pix and got on our way.  The wildflowers were strong on this segment.

wildflowers starting to show
wildflowers starting to show
wildflowers galore
wildflowers galore
columbine
columbine
more wildflowers
more wildflowers

The Summit

After a tough day of climbing, the summit was in sight, but the final stretch was on an even steeper slope.

the final push
the final push
we made it
we made it
we climbed all that
we climbed all that

But we didn’t have time to stop for long, as a major storm was on the way.

storm clouds brewing
storm clouds brewing

We got on our bikes and proceeded to climb up Monarch Crest.  I was a bit nervous as lightning and thunder got bigger, but we didn’t have many options – we had to get down to Marshall Pass.

up and then down to Marshall Pass
up and then down to Marshall Pass

This is what we had been working toward for days.  The video below really captures how pretty the area is on top of the world.

The Descent

As we descended we met up with through-hikers Ethan and Lannie, two more really cool people from San Diego.  We would see them several more times in the coming days.

Ethan and Lannie from San Diego
Ethan and Lannie from San Diego

We continued our descent, and then came upon two guys from Houston walking their mountain bikes down.  We asked if they were ok, and one said, “No, I think I’ve broken my shoulder.”  We discussed how we could help, and settled on the following.  First, we gave them a sling and Ace bandge we had in our med kit (Kyle and I took a NOLS Wilderness Medicine class in March and were prepared). Second, I’d text them using my InReach, and if I didn’t receive a response in a few hours, would call 911.  Third, Kyle and I would go down and see if there were any cars in the Marshall Pass parking lot and ask for help.

We got going, and then the skies opened up.  For the first time, we had to put on all of our rain gear mid-day.

yes, those are kitchen gloves, and they work!
yes, those are kitchen gloves, and they work!

When we got to the parking lot we found two kayakers from Sedona, AZ about to leave.  I explained the situation, and they hung out for an hour until the Texans came down, helped them get their bikes onto their cars, and then headed down to the hospital in Salida.  Such great people in the mountains!  

I got a text back from the gentleman with the shoulder issue – he in fact had completely shattered it.  I’m still amazed at his pain tolerance and composure.

We finally settled down and pitched tent in a cow pasture.  It seemed that the rain had re-hydrated every damn cow pie in the whole field, and I stepped in several.  But it was a good day.

Marshall Pass
Marshall Pass

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Colorado Trail Day 8 – Mt. Shavano

We got back onto the trail on Sunday the 16th in the middle of the Collegiate Peaks with the goal of getting to Highway 50.  We got close, camping below Mt Shavano.  By the time we quit we had climbed 5000 ft over 28 miles.

starting the day near Mt Yale
starting the day near Mt Yale
just past Princeton Hot Springs
just past Princeton Hot Springs

It wasn’t an overly exciting day – in fact Kyle said it was strictly “meh” as we were in the trees for most of the day.  We did emerge from the forest on occasion for some good views, but we both were anxious to get up high and see the big views that the CT promises.

Mt Princeton
Mt Princeton
several water options on this segment
several water options on this segment

Cool People

One of the things Kyle and I like most about the CT is that we’re meeting some really cool people.  Hiking the Colorado Trail attracts an eclectic mix of people of all ages.  When we pass hikers on  our bikes we always stop and talk with them about what direction they’re hiking, when they started, where they’re from, etc.  Hikers are usually curious about what we’ve got in our packs.  

The one consistent thing we’ve found is that everyone is upbeat and happy to be out on such a beautiful trail.   And depending on how fast you are, and how many breaks you take, you usually bump into these same people over multiple days. Then you are able to catch up on what happened in the interim.  Lately that has been primarily about how much rain we’ve gotten and how soaked we are.

fun CTers - kate, anthony, jen, tim
fun CTers – kate, anthony, jen, tim

Mt Shavano

We stopped for the day on a relatively flat spot near the Shavano camp ground.

another raging stream crossing
another raging stream crossing
finally trying out my new Hummingbird Hammock
finally trying out my new Hummingbird Hammock

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Colorado Trail Day 7 – Buena Vista

Day 7 was much better than the prior day.  We woke early with the mission to make up lost time and get to Buena Vista, where Cris would pick us up for a few days of downtime.   

headed down to Twin Lakesheaded down to Twin Lakes

We got on the road around 7am and headed out of Leadville toward the mountains. It was cold (in the low 40s) and misty from all the recent rain.

normally you could see the majestic Collegiate Peaks
normally you could see the majestic Collegiate Peaks

Mt Elbert Trailhead

Finally we made it to the Mt Elbert trailhead.  

Mt Elbert trailhead
Mt Elbert trailhead
Floyd Landis' influence?
Floyd Landis’ influence?
nope
nope

We found many downed trees on this segment.

next year Kyle and I will volunteer to help with trail cleanup
next year Kyle and I will volunteer to help with trail cleanup

Later in the morning the mist finally lifted, and we took off our jackets.

it started to warm up mid morning
it started to warm up mid morning

We then descended down to Twin Lakes.

headed down to Twin Lakes
headed down to Twin Lakes
Twin Lakes
Twin Lakes

Twin Lakes

At Twin Lakes  we met Jay and Renee.  Renee is solo bikepacking the whole trail and is the only other CT bikepacker we’ve met so far.  I hope we’ll see her later on the way to Durango.

Jay and Renee
Jay and Renee

We stopped to rewater and take a few pix.

another storm brewing
another storm brewing

Then we got back into the forest and started ascending the last climb of the day.  

back on the trail
back on the trail
lush forest from all the rain
lush forest from all the rain

We were both running on empty.  Finally we hit the summit, and shortly after came out of the trees for a spectacular view. 

big surprise view on final descent
big surprise view on final descent

At the bottom of the trail we met up with several other thru-hikers who had watched our fast descent.  And there I had two bars of cell coverage and called Cris to pick us up.  We then headed to Salida for two days of again sitting on our butts.

We are now half way through the CT!  We’ve traveled 210 miles, climbed 25,750 ft in elevation, and descended 23,500 ft.

We head back onto the trail for three or four days on Sunday, and from this point on it gets really remote, but holds the most epic views and mountain biking.

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Colorado Trail Day 6 – Leadville

As great as was day 5 up and over Searle Pass, day 6 into Leadville was a downer. The morning started ok, although we had to shake down everything as it had rained hard all night.

morning mist from the night rain
morning mist from the night rain

We started our climb up toward Tennessee Pass, and passed more wildflowers.

on way toward Tennessee Pass
on way toward Tennessee Pass

But again, since we cannot go through the Mt Massive protected forest, we had to get onto the road and route through Leadville.  

on road to Leadville
on road to Leadville

Once in Leadville, I had to stop by Floyd Landis’ shop.

no one was home
no one was home

As planned, we then stopped by Subway and loaded up with 12″ double meat BMTs. One huge benefit of this ride is that I can eat anything and still lose weight.  

But while at Subway we noticed how dark it had become.  We looked up the weather on our phones, and the prediction was 100% for rain. So, we made the decision to stay at a hotel just outside of Leadville, and spent our afternoon binge watching Storage Wars. Sure enough, a short while after we checked in it started raining, hard, for several hours.  We made the right decision.

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