Knowing that today’s stretch of trail is known to lack shade and that temperatures are expected in the high 90s, we wake up at 4:15 a.m. and begin the task of packing up and taking down the tent, making coffee, recovering the bear bags that we hung from a tree limb the night before, and then, as I like to say, putting Humpty Dumpty (aka our backpacks) back together again. It really is remarkable how much we are able to fit into those portable sacks!
We hit the trail before 6 am just as it is starting to get light. We are feeling pleased with our first early start but know we could improve on our wake up-to-departure time. Already we have been passed by the mother/daughter combo, Juli and Eden. Our goal, as with everyone we met yesterday, is to cover as many miles as possible before the heat of the day really hits.
The air temperature is pleasantly cool. I’m in shorts already but comfortable still. There is a viewpoint about a mile down the trail. We drop our packs and scramble up the rocks to take in the gorgeous scene.
The first five miles down to the South Platte River Trailhead is generally through pine forest with several viewpoints which we take advantage of. Then it’s mostly switchbacks that drop us a thousand feet or so down to the river.
There we take the opportunity to hydrate and fill our water bottles and Platypus so that we are prepared to tackle the next 10 miles through the 96 burn area with about 3 liters each. After a pit stop and a few pictures, it’s off for the long haul.
By 10:30 am, we ascend a few miles up from the river, regaining the elevation we lost earlier, and enter the burn zone. This fire took place over 20 years ago, but still virtually no trees have grown back. Although well-vegetated, there is no shade and no place to hide, and now the temperature is really starting to rise.
We make steady progress until we finally break for lunch around 1 p.m. We join Deidre and Jamie, two middle-aged women, and are soon joined by Juli and Eden, who is starting to feel discouraged by the heat and blisters. At age 11 she has already completed the John Muir Trail, so we do our best to encourage her and remind her that, if she can accomplish that, then she can draw on that strength to continue. Still, today is one of those days that challenges all hikers to dig down deep and find a reason and the stamina to carry on.
After lunch, we set off into the mid-afternoon heat which has become oppressive. Our long sleeve shirts are soaked with sweat and now stained with salt patterns. There is a thick layer of scratchy salt on our faces. It’s slow going for a while, and we stop frequently to take the pack off, hydrate, and eat something small to maintain our energy.
But then we get a lucky break: a layer of clouds diffuses the sun, and a light breeze begins to stir the air. The temperature drops a few degrees, and this is the extra motivation we need to pick up our pace and keep moving!
After ducking into forested area for a bit, we emerge into the burn area again and have to cross it to get to our next water source. But this time it’s later in the day and not so hot anymore, so we can enjoy the starkly beautiful scene: dead, charred trees accent rolling hills with arid, desert-like vegetation and outcroppings of rounded granite boulders. Without the trees it would resemble parts of the African savanna.
One recurrent and pleasant distraction today is the number of birds we spy along the trail, including: Western Tanager, Mountain bluebird, a pair of Cedar waxwings, a quail that we scared up into a tree accidentally, several White-breasted nuthatches and a tiny baby bird (as yet unidentified) that I spy in the interior of a bush. It cannot have been out of the nest more than a week and it’s mother hovers near to protect it.
Finally we see the volunteer fire station that graciously allows hikers to fill up on water from an outdoor spigot. We restock our supply for tonight and tomorrow to get us to the next water source and cool off by taking a dew rag and sponging the salt and dust off our faces. It feels amazing! This gives us the pep we need to go another mile to our campsite.
Exhausted we arrive and set up camp, make dinner and hang our bear bags. Before lights out, we catch a colorful sunset.
As we head to bed, we can hear thunder in the distance. Perhaps some rain will cool things off and keep us from feeling the burn again!
Day 2 Trail Statistics
Starting Point: Leaning Rocks Campsite
End Point: Dry campsite, mile 27.5
Segments: 1 & 2
Date on Trail: July 2, 2018