Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Colorado Trail -- 127 miles from Lake City to Durango -- July 25-30 2007

DAY 1 - 9pm
I am hiking with Mark from Denver. Last night we camped near Spring Creek Pass after dropping food at Molas Pass near Silverton (end of Day 3). I parked my car at the end of the trail in Durango at Junction Creek and Kase drove us 3 hours to the start. Thanks Kase. We hiked 16 miles today. We passed the Colorado trail yurt where Rocco and I went last winter. It was cool to see the same landscape in the summer. We continued south along the ridgeline. Red Mountain, Sunshine, Red Cloud and Uncompagre Peaks tower across the valley to the west. I am carrying my Garmin eTrex Vista Cx Gps and our moving time for the day was 6.5 hours and 8 hours overall. We arrived at camp at 3:30 with tired legs but no other problems. Rocco ate all his food today and is now sleeping soundly at 9pm.
Just as I left camp this morning four large Elk stags with huge antlers came up to the top of a ridge near me. They stopped and stared at me for a bit. They reminded me of my self and my buds out for a walk in the mountains. Saw a large herd of elk at some distance about mid-day. Heard the coyotes howl and bark again tonight at sun down. We expect that we will not get rained on during these seven days. (Power of positive thought) Today the cumulus clouds built and were massive by early afternoon but we did not get rained on.
"The mountains are calling, and I must go..." My heart and passion lies among the spruce and rock under the blazing sky. I am at home under this tarp on the ground. My mind is focused as I walk or climb. I feel the presence of nature; I am protected and enfolded, soaring, open. It is always a marvelous adventure and my body, mind and spirit grow and mature. I learn many lessons about life here. Everything I need to learn is here.

DAY 2 - 5pm
I am sitting with Rocco at 11,600, on a hillside overlooking the Bear Creek Valley. There are high peaks in the 13,000 ft range all around to the south, east and north. Each stands alone with a massive rock summit like majestic temples. We are camped here in a forest of Blue Spruce. Tomorrow we will cross the ridgeline at 12.600 to the west and enter the Wamanuche Wilderness.
Today we hiked about 16 miles in 6 hours. Our route took us 8 miles on a gentle downhill grade through the cow-infested Pole Creek Valley, then 5 miles gently upward through the Bear Creek Valley to old site of Bear Town. Not sure why its named that - must be a bear shaped lake around here or something. Today was a valley day.
There is blue sky now and we are drying our only slightly moist gear in the sun. There are large billowy clouds, but none that look threatening in our immediate vicinity.
We awoke this morning to clouds and, although we did not expect any rain this entire trip, we did have to walk through a brief shower about 11am. I am using the Gatewood Cape from Six Moon Design for shelter and rain gear. It worked nicely during the shower.
I tried to cross the Pole Creek twice by hopping rocks, I slipped twice and got my shoes and socks wet but they are dry now.
It is my third night in the wilderness, which is the longest I have ever been out.
My favorite wild flower is the Indian Paintbrush. In the last several days I have seen it in a dozen colors. I have seen bright red, dark red, magenta, fuchsia, orange, pale orange, yellow orange, yellow, light yellow, white with green, white with purple, light pink, pink and salmon. 14. I also saw the flower that looks like little elephant heads with trunks. Pretty cool.

DAY 3 - 10pm
I am writing from the Alma House B&B, Room 3, in Silverton, CO. At 3pm today just as we reached the track bed of the Silverton Railroad it started to rain. It was 4 miles to Molas Pass, and 2000 elevation gain in the first two miles. We figured we will stay warm climbing and the rain will let up by the time we reach the pass. But it did not stop. Cold and wet we decided to bail to Silverton (7 miles) for the night. We got a ride pretty quickly.
Mark and I seem to be on different schedules and we were crabby with each other tonight. I had a cheeseburger, fries and salad bar for dinner and took a walk down the street to digest. At the Empire Hotel an old played the piano as everyone sang along, The sign said, "This is not a player piano". A punk kid made fun of my "pink (Croc) shoes". I let him know that they were mauve. There were some groovy dudes hanging in a bar with folk music playing into the street. On the side street there was a bar called "Shady Lady" with mannequins dressed as hookers peering from the second floor windows.
Tonight I will sleep in a queen size bed with 10 pillows and two down comforters. I am tucked in already.
Our hike today took us two miles to a high mountain ridge, which we hiked along for a mile. There were 360-degree views of high mountain peaks in all directions. Then we ascended into the Elk Creek Valley, which is in the Wamanuche, for 13 miles. First we descended into a gorge with massive granite walls on either side. Then we walked through lush forest of Fir and Blue Spruce. We saw several waterfalls dropping 500 over rock to the valley floor. Across a tranquil beaver pond, bright green with moss, we passed the stunning vertical rock peaks of the Grenadier Range. I want to return to climb in this area soon. The Silverton train passed its whistle filling the gorge. Then it rained.

DAYS 4 & 5 - 6:30pm on Day 5
I am now poised to finish my hike a day and a half early. It is 20 miles to Durango. I am shacked up for the night in an old miners cabin. Probably lees than 50 years old, it has no windows or doors, but it has a good floor, roof and sleeping platform. Sweet. From the start of Segment 28 the cabin is just beyond the pass a half-mile away. Look left up the hill from the pass. Rocco and I are at 11.500 and I can see all of the San Juans to the east - Wilson Mastiff, the Needles and the lights of Durango to the south. The massive rock faces of Shoshone Peak are close to the southwest. From here the trail drops rapidly and descends into Durango.
Day 4 began with a divorce. Mark woke up at the B&B put on his stuff and said "good bye". I was surprised but indifferent to the change because we were not getting along that well. Mark taught me a lot about through hiking, about pacing myself with consistent breaks, taking care of my feet by putting them in snow or a mountain stream and to wipe myself down with water at night to clean the salt off my body. Feels good! Thanks Mark. As Mark hit the trail, I went downstairs for my breakfast of sausage, eggs, potatoes, granola, yogurt, coffee and a banana to go. I hitched to the trailhead and set out at 8am. I decided to try and finish the trail in 3 days instead of 4. I would try to make it 30 miles today through Segments 25 and 26. That would leave two 20-mile days. I decided I would rest every two hours for ten minutes and try to make 6 miles between rests. I had to really move and not stop but well rested and fed, I was able to keep the pace quite easily. I expected to finish in 10 hours at 6pm.
There is a fat marmot staring at me. I think he lives here. I will go hang my food and after he looks around (and sees the dog) I am sure he will go away.
Anyway, back to the story. About 1 pm it started to rain and that slowed me down a little. I made it 27.5 miles by 7:30 pm. I hiked 20 miles to the west and 7.5 miles to the south. I walked through many beautiful forests - including a mysterious forest of Lindeman Spruce, over several high passes and saw many beautiful waterfalls. At 7:30 I ran into a couple of guys camped. We started chatting and I decided to camp there with them for the night. Aaron from Denver had started from Durango two days earlier headed to Denver. Mike, also from Denver, had started two months earlier and was slowly making his way to Durango. We all demonstrated our gear for each other and compared calories. My Mountain House, Macaroni and Cheese impressed everyone with 960 calories and 70 grams of fat. Aaron said he would like to get together and climb once he gets home. I will keep him in my thoughts over the next month.
Day 5 - After an uncomfortable nights sleep on uneven ground with a dehydrated meal for a pillow, I awoke at 5am. My new strategy is to leave camp at first light in order to beat the rain. It is 23.5 miles to the end of Segment 27 and the cabin that Aaron has told me about. I left camp with Mike and we hiked and chatted for several hours. Under my system I should be able to make it in eight hours. Hopefully I will beat the rain to the 12, 500 section of trail at miles 17-19 of Segment 27. I ate gorp for breakfast and paid for it. At noon I ate my granola and felt fueled up. I learned not to skip breakfast. There is very little water in Segment 27 because the trail runs along the top of a ridgeline. I drank a liter of (treated) red clay puddle water. Is that bad for you? I moved along to the south at a good clip when at 1pm as I approached tree line at 11,500 it started to rain. Then it got much worse with buckets of rain and small hail. Rocco and I found good cover under a large Fir tree. There was much thunder and lightning within a mile. I have learned a lot on this trip about how to stay warm and dry. If it is not raining too hard you should layer up and keep moving because if you stop you will get cold which means you will have to set up camp and get into your sleeping bag. The rain and long distance has been hard on Rocco too. He has a waterproof raincoat from Canine Equipment that wraps his body. It keeps him warm and dry. The last too nights I have wrapped him in my sleeping bag when we have arrived at camp. He falls right to sleep and doesn't move until morning.
Anyway back to the story. So the rain slowed and I heard no thunder for 20 minutes. We made our break for the pass. It seemed wrong to run for the tundra after that storm but I could see that the dangerous weather had blown its load. The rote was very long - 2 miles above tree line crossing summit after summit. The hail was several inches deep in places and the wind at the edge of the ridge was powerful. This was definitely my "Man vs. Wild" moment of the trip. I ran as much as I could and made it over the last summit in about an hour. I descended into a beautiful valley and walked through chest high wild flowers - Queen Anne's Lace and Liatris. I got water for the night and then found my new house.

I awoke at 5 am and was on the road by 6. I had eaten some granola in the middle of the night and more in the morning. Ahead was 6 miles of gentle downhill followed by 4 miles up and 10 more miles down. I decided to try running the downhill sections. I did that and coved 20 miles in just over 6 hours. The spruce turned to aspen and then to ponderosa pine. I reached my car at Junction Creek at about 12:15. I cried victorious as I had beaten the rain that day. I washed up in the stream. Then I drove into town and ate a steak burrito followed by a mud pie blizzard. Rocco and I drove home and arrived back in Denver by 10 pm.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Eagles Nest Wilderness -- July 6 thru 8, 2007

Rocco and I headed up to the area of Mt Powell and Peak C on Friday afternoon. At the trailhead is the Piney River Ranch, an old style camp sorta place in a gorgeous setting with Mt Powell and Peak C at the end of the valley. From the trailhead I could see the col I would cross the next day into the Black Creek Valley en route to the summit of Powell. I could also see the snow couloir on the south west face of Peak C which is the classic route to the summit. Only Class 2 for me on this trip because of having Rocco along.
This trip was my trial run for the 120 mile hike of the Colorado trail into Durango at the end of July. I am ultra-light. My pack is about 8 lbs plus food and water. This was my first time sleeping under my 1lb poncho tarp on tybek ground cover and 3/8 inch thick blue pad. The ground was pretty hard but I figure that most of the time I have to lay on it I am asleep. All my gear worked out well. I especially like the Pepsi can stove that burns denatured alcohol.
We started hiking from Piney Lake at about 6pm. The first thing I noticed was the wild flowers. Everything was in bloom at every altitude. Ever the high tundra at 12,000 feet and above was on fire with lush flowers and plants. We hiked about 3.5 miles, just past intersection of the trail that goes to the col, to a nice campsite next to the Piney River near the falls. There were several good camp sites in this area.
I got up at first light, packed up, and headed up the trail to the col between Powell and Peak C. There is a good trail that climbs and winds over rock, brush and stream. It turned out that there are many flat areas, with water to camp between 10.780 right up to 11,220 at the base of the talus slope that leads to the col.
From the col Peak C looks like a 1500 ft black surf board sticking up from the sand. The mountains of the Black Creek Valley are dark, dramatic, pointed and imposing. The lakes are bright blue. The route to Powell is just to the left 1600 ft up the grass ramp. First you must descend 100 ft to get to the bottom of the ramp. I did so by glissade. I noted that the snow was pretty soft already at 8:30 am.
I climbed to the summit and met a fellow from Steamboat Springs there. He was out on his own camping and climbing. We identified all the surrounding peaks together and off he went toward Peak C. My plan was to descend via the north face of Powell into the cirque below Powell and Eagles Nest, then work my way over the ridge into the Black Creek valley to the south and camp there somewhere.
But, the four summits of Eagles Nest were calling my name and regretibly I fell under their spell. The summit is one mile away and the most direct route is a clas 3 and 4 ridge line. According to by guide book, Joe Kramersic's Mountaineering in the Gore Range, there is also a Class 2 route. From the summit of Powell you would head west and drop about 1500 feet into the Cataract Creek Valley, then head north along the ridge for about a mile to just beyond the low point in the ridge. From there you can climb to the summitt on Class 2. But I was stubborn and refused to descend. So Rocco and I scrambled for several hours over Class 3 rock mostly above 12,800. About the time we finnally got to the Class 2 access, the dark clouds were building and it was clearly time to descend. So I ended up in the Cataract Creek Valley for the night. It was pretty and I camped near the upper lake. But I was really angry with myself for my terrible decision making for I have learned all these lessons before: Don't be a peak bagger!! Don't set out on a 3 hour trek to a nearby peak at noon!! Get on your route and stick to your plan. On the positive side it was some excellent route finding experience and some good strenuous climbing.
The next morning I woke up and hiked out by 11am. Eagles Nest was calling again but I didn't listen this time. Who wants to slog up 2000 feet of talus for a view I've already seen. I was proud of myself for resisting. I enjoyed a rather thin cheeseburger at the Piney River Ranch. I was going to take Rocco canoeing but $25 per hour was more than it was worth.
One day I will return to the area. I will leave Rocco at home, I will camp in the Black Creek Valley, I will climb technical routes on Peak C and the surrounding peaks. Perhaps in September. Any takers?