Colorado Trail, Day 11: Triple Threat

This morning, we get up as soon as the alarm goes off at 5 am. Our tent is sandwiched between Juli and Eden’s and Ellen’s, and, as much as we would like to hit the snooze button a few times, we don’t want to annoy our neighbors. Apparently, it’s an early wake up for the construction site, too, because all of the equipment noise starts up by 6. So much for the peace and quiet!We have a big day in store today climbing about 2500 feet over 12 miles and then going back down again over three more, so we want to get an early start. The whole group is ready to leave by 6:30 or so, and we set off with Layla the dog leading the way. She seems the most excited of us all about the work we have cut out for us today. It didn’t seem all that cold while we are packing up, but suddenly it feels like the temperature has dropped at least ten degrees. We don’t want to stop to get our gloves out, but our hands are freezing. Hopefully, the sun will warm us up soon.

The trail takes us along Ten Mile Creek to start with, and we can see that there were much better camping sites a bit farther down, if only we felt like we could have walked a step further last night to find them.

We finish up Segment 7 by crossing Highway 91 and jumping on to the start of Segment 8 which leads us straight across the ski runs of Copper Mountain ski resort.

Matt and I are bringing up the rear and get a bit behind with all of our picture taking, so we are surprised when we suddenly catch up to everyone dropping their packs just about a mile up the trail right near the resort village. Paul tells us that he is watching the packs while everyone else is doing a coffee run. Apparently, there is a Starbucks right off the trail! We drop our packs, too, and run to catch up. I am not sure if everyone is more excited about the coffee treats or the flush toilets that we can use, especially since there was no good place to use the bathroom at last night’s campsite. Matt is thrilled!

As we are heading back to our packs, the owner of the mountain sports store bids us a good morning and asks if we are hiking the Colorado Trail. We chat a little, but much of our conversation is drowned out by a helicopter that keeps flying back and forth above us with chairlift equipment. Apparently, two new chairlifts are being installed at the ski resort, and today is the day that all the old equipment is being removed, which is bad news for us because they have closed off a small section of the Colorado Trail where they are doing their work.

We grab our packs and look for a way around the closed section. A woman walking her dog offers to show us where we can pick up the trail again on the other side of the village, but that is closed off, too. We thank her for her help and start bushwacking our way through the forest back up to the trail. It’s a relief when we finally rejoin the CT again a few minutes later!

We climb through the forest for most of the morning. There is a lot more water in this section of the trail than what we saw in our first week, and we hope it is a sign of what is to come. We did well with dry camping our first few nights on the trail, but it is always nicer to camp with flowing water nearby.

When we emerge from the forest, we enter a canyon where there are oodles of wildflowers in bloom. We continue climbing up until we reach a stunning elongated meadow and finally get a little break from the climb. We hike the length of the meadow, noting all of the wonderful campsites that we wish we had stayed at instead of the one next to the construction site last night. If only our tired legs could have carried us here!

It has been a while since we took a rest, so Matt takes advantage of a large trailside rock where we can both sit and rest our packs without taking them off. We have a little snack to carry us over until lunchtime, and then we are ready to go again.

Not five minutes down the trail do we come to this view with a nicely-placed sitting log. Argh!

From there, it is one final push to get above treeline, and, once we finally make it, the views seem to go on forever in all directions. It’s just after noon, and there are already clouds building in the sky. We have miles of exposed trail ahead of us, so we pick up the pace.

We soon come across a small trail crew of two older volunteers for the Colorado Trail Foundation who are cutting back willow bushes encroaching on the trail. The man tells us tales of his own time on the CT, and we thank them both for their hard work as we scoot around them. I figure that with all of his experience up here maintaining the trail that he must know something about the weather. I point to some big, fluffy clouds just starting to come over the ridgeline behind him and ask if he thinks the clouds look worrisome. He answers no and then points in the direction where we are headed and says, “Those clouds are worrisome. You best get on your way.”

We continue along, passing the trail down to Janet’s Cabin, which apparently is a backcountry mountain hut similar in vein to a European rifugio where backcountry hikers and skiers can stay with a reservation. Apparently there is a whole network of huts in the backcountry. We make a mental note to check that out in the future.

We decide to break for lunch at the headwaters to Guller Creek, which cascades down the mountainside at a hairpin turn in the trail. We take the opportunity to filter some more water and dry out the rainfly to our tent, which is still soaked with condensation from the morning.

Our next stop is Searle Pass, which we can see from where we are. The clouds are getting darker, and the wind is picking up, so I put on my shirt. Matt says he is going to do the same. After packing everything up, we do our standard double, triple check and head on our way.

The trail up to the pass is classic Colorado with stunning views in all directions, abundant wildflowers, snow patches sprinkled here and there, rocky outcroppings and attractive puffy clouds dotting the blue skies. We have to pinch ourselves to remind us that this stunning landscape is actually got real and not just some movie backdrop.

There are so many different, beautiful things to look at that it takes a while for me to realize that all the white flowers we pass are actually future hippies-on-sticks, perhaps our all-time favorite alpine flora! For all of the years that we have admired them, we have never seen them in their pre-hippie stage. How cool!

Along the way to the top, Matt suddenly turns and asks me, “Where is my shirt?” He had taken out his long-sleeved shirt at lunch, but he forgot to put it on in the midst of folding up the tent fly and packing up. Now he doesn’t have it. In a panic, he throws down his bag and runs back to get it, telling me to continue up to the pass. With the skies getting darker by the minute, I know it is what I need to do, but I am nervous about leaving his bag unattended in Marmotville. No doubt one of those frisky marmots would find his salty backpack straps super tasty.

I go ahead while Matt runs back, and he catches up to me just before arriving at Searle Pass at 12,043 feet. Luckily he has his shirt and an entire, uneaten backpack. We drop our packs quickly to make our trail day number art and head over the pass.

Being able to walk above treeline in these expansive high alpine meadows is simply incredible. We march along, gawking at the views and stopping to take photos whenever we feel it is too good to pass up, which is quite often. If the clouds didn’t look so scary, we might just never leave. How cool would it be to camp up here?!?

We hike as fast as we can, gettting closer and closer to the Ten-Mile Range, first dipping down into Searle Gulch and then climbing up towards Elk Ridge, our high point of the day at 12,282 feet. By the time we finally arrive at the top, the light is beautiful and the threat of a storm seems to have passed, so we take the opportunity to sit and enjoy the views that we worked so hard to have.

While we are there, a solo northbound CT backpacker named Mike walks up, and he seems happy to have a little company. He actually lives just outside of Durango and had to be evacuated from his apartment for over two weeks because of the wildfires there. The worst part of the whole story is that he was all set to start hiking the CT just after the fires started, and he coudn’t get back to his place to get his gear. What a bummer!

We wish him well as he heads on his way north, as we pack up and head in the opposite direction down to Kokomo Pass, our third major milestone of the day. Here the trail begins dropping elevation rapidly, and we pass under impressive sunlit cliffs below Elk Ridge into field after field of wildflowers.

When we begin to hear the sounds of Cataract Creek, we know that our long, beautiful journey has almost come to an end. We take the first campsite we can find and spend the rest of the evening doing our camp chores and relaxing before we pass out in our cozy sleeping bags, both satisfied and exhausted by another magnificent day on the Colorado Trail!

Day 11 Stats

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

End Point: Cataract Creek, mile 131.6

Mileage: 14.4

Segment: 7 & 8

Date on Trail: July 11, 2018

3 thoughts on “Colorado Trail, Day 11: Triple Threat

  1. Super jealous of your wildflower surroundings and your amazing views on this leg of your trip… so beautiful. I also have never heard of “hippie on a stick” and had to look that one up!!!

    1. The wildflowers have been such a highlight of this trip. We aren’t usually in a place during the prime season to be there, so we are especially loving it. We wish we had more time and better cameras/lenses to really capture their beauty. Don’t you just love the hippies?

  2. The sky is so blue. Do you have a polarizer on your camera? I know these posts are about 2 weeks behind, but I heard of mudslides today in the burned out areas near Durango. Are you aware of this?

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