Colorado Trail, Day 10: The Tenmile Trial

The alarm goes off at 5 am, and it’s off to the races! A quick shower and pack up, and then it’s off to get a breakfast burrito from a shop that conveniently opens at 6. Lucky for us, two veggie burritos are freshly made and ready to go. I grab a cup of coffee as well. We have one ripe avocado (perhaps our favorite food) that must be consumed before we leave town, so we ask the owner for some salt, and he kindly obliges. It is the perfect way to send us off on the trail.

After scarfing down our burritos, we grab our packs and head off to catch the first shuttle bus of the day that will drop us back off at the trailhead. I chat briefly with the bus driver who kindly explains how to find the trailhead from the bus stop. He says moving to Summit County 10 years ago was the best thing he ever did. Now he hikes, skis and climbs peaks in this gorgeous place all year round. Smart guy!

Within a few minutes we reach the stop, and he cheerfully sends us on our way. One other couple gets off, immediately hitting the trail ahead of us, and that’s the last we see of them for the day. We take our time switchbacking our way up the hillside that rises above the highway. This area was affected by a fire a few years ago, but the vegetation is already starting to come back nicely. We enjoy the birds and flowers as we mentally work our way back onto the trail.

Thirty minutes later we can see the bus from Breckenridge stop at the trailhead and our trail companions jump out. We know they’ll catch up to us soon.

Soon after we enter treeline we come across the Llama Brigade, and they have a crazy story to tell! Apparently Chico the Llama (aka Butthead) went on strike and refused to carry his weight or get off the trail to avoid mountain bikers, so Kathy had to call for a replacement. When the new llama, Tomas, arrived, Carlos pitched a fit and ran off down the trail. Nine year-old TJ had to run over a mile to catch him, while Kathy was frantic and had the local sheriff helping out. All turned out well in the end, but Kathy and TJ were taking the day to rest rather than push on. This will likely be the last we see of them, so we wish them well.

We continue to hike higher into the forest and through a more recent burn area. We know that ultimately a burn is good for the health of a forest, but this area still looks quite devastated.

Eventually, we reach a forest service camp which turns out to be the ideal place for EVERYONE to fill up on water. A convergence of 12 or so hikers meet up all at once. It’s kind of a crazy scene sorting out who’s who, but everyone is in a great mood. The sun is out, and the scenery is really spectacular.

At this point, the trail ascends steeply, and we really have to work hard over the next several miles to make progress. Luckily, the gorgeous wildflowers and mountain scenery keep drawing us forward.

In the back of our minds, too, is the very real concern of getting caught above treelike by an afternoon thunderstorm, which is common at this time of year in Colorado. We’ve experienced it twice already, but today we know we’ll be exposed at a higher elevation for much longer, so the incentive to keep pushing is there.

We meet a lovely woman, Ann, along the way with whom we chat about hiking photography. She has just purchased the same camera that Alison is using (Sony A6300 mirrorless) and is eager for advice. Turns out she is quite an avid hiker, so we are eager to hear about her adventures. One recent adventure was completing the Arizona Trail (AZT) which we have some interest in, though the water situation there sounds quite challenging.

As we make our way above treeline, we encounter a work crew from the Rocky Mountain Youth Corp who are busy repairing the trail by installing a turnpike made of heavy rocks to protect the trail from erosion. We chat briefly about their work before pressing on. Looks like a hard, but rewarding summer job!

For the next several miles, we work hard as we ascend on switchbacks and crest the Tenmile Range between Peaks 5 and 6. We are exhausted by the effort but rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the surrounding ranges. We see a few picas scampering among the rocks and spy several marmots sunning themselves on the rocks as we walk by.

We snap a few quick pics and throw our packs down in the grass with a view toward the ever-darkening clouds. We eat a hasty lunch and begrudgingly hoist our packs on again as we hear the distant rumble of thunder. Though beautiful, this is precisely where we don’t want to be if this storm gets real, so down we go.

We’ve got about two miles of downhill hiking to get below treeline where it will be marginally safer if the storm hits. Along the way, our companions pass us just at the point where Alison hears (and then locates) a male and female ptarmigan with their amazing camouflage making it nearly impossible to pick out among the rocks. But there’s no time to linger, so we keep a pace and move downhill quickly.

As luck would have it, all we have to contend with is a few raindrops and no lightning. Still, better safe than dead, as they say!

We finish the Tenmile Trial on a 2500 foot descent all the way down to Tenmile Creek, where we all end up camping tonight. The site has good access to water, but it’s a cramped space for five tents. Worse yet, it is located close to the highway and an active construction site. It’s not the most natural location, but we all make the most of it, soaking our aching feet in the icy cold water and chatting about the trail as we cook dinner in a close circle around our stoves. Already our minds are turning toward tomorrow’s adventures, but, first, we are due some much needed rest! Buona Notte!

Day 10 Stats

Starting Point: Gold Hill Trailhead (Frisco), mile 104.4

End Point: Tenmile Creek/Copper Far East Parking Lot, mile 117.2

Mileage: 12.8

Segment: 7

Date on Trail: July 10, 2018

4 thoughts on “Colorado Trail, Day 10: The Tenmile Trial

  1. Frisco is one of my favorite mountain towns. We’ve visited often. I love picas. Hope you managed to capture an image. They are a rare find and scientists are keeping an eye on them in regards to global warning. If temps warm up too much, it means the demise of the pica.

    1. Interesting. We have seen lots of picas scampering about, so they appear to be doing well here in Colorado. We wish we had our long lenses to get some good photos of all the great wildlife we are seeing, but they are too heavy to carry on a long trail like this. It kills us to miss all these incredible photos!

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