Colorado Trail, Day 20: Dodging the Raindrops

It feels so good to slow down and take it easy. That’s what summer vacations are all about. Yet, even on a 490 mile-long hike that we carefully planned to complete over a leisurely 42 days, it’s easy to get caught up in the get-up-and-go mindset that we associate with our everyday work lives back home.

Once in a while we find ourselves rushing to get to camp in the evening or packing up camp and hurrying to get on the trail in the morning. Often, when we get passed by faster hikers, it’s easy to compare our slower pace and get down on ourselves because we can’t hike as many miles or cover them as quickly. And then we stop and remind ourselves of why we are here in the first place. “The point of the journey is not to arrive…anything can happen.” (Rush)

So yesterday afternoon as we were making our way through Mineral Basin, we were struck by the expansive landscape and the profusion of wildflowers…and we just had to stop and take it all in.

And once we did, we decided to call it quits for the day and spend the afternoon relaxing in the soft grass of our campsite among the boulders. I even played “Blue Sky” by the Allman Brothers, which always puts me in a good mood and takes me out of the competitive mindset, bringing me back to a deeper, truer sense of myself.

Why am I telling you all this? Because, twice in the last 24 hours we’ve crossed paths with other hikers who, upon hearing of our “slow plan” for the CT, have said, “You guys are doing it right. Take your time and enjoy it!” Hearing that kind of positive validation as we near the midpoint of our journey gives us a real boost.

So, when we wake up up this morning and peak out of our tent to see a beautiful sunrise, we take the time to soak it in and enjoy our coffee, even if it means leaving a few minutes later. Something about Mineral Basin just strikes us as unusually special. It’s worth it, from time to time, to be flexible, shake up the plan and go with the flow, right?

As we set off this morning, the sunlight is peeking through a soft blanket of wispy clouds. We continue through Mineral Basin, first skirting Mt. Kreuzer along a narrow parapet and then up to the ridge below Mt. Emma Burn.

Then it’s down another 700 feet contouring the basin before heading up to another ridge that we think is the highest point on the CW route. All day we undulate from 12,500 down to 11,000 and back up again, four times in all! Our legs are getting a serious workout, but after resting yesterday afternoon, we feel up for the challenge.

We cross several boulder fields along the way today. The trail here is especially impressive for the quality workmanship that went into pathfinding and then moving rocks and filling in the gaps to make a reasonably level walkway for hikers.

Once over the last ridge we descend all the way down to the North Fork of Chalk Creek. It’s getting quite warm, so we decide this is the ideal place to break for lunch, zip off the pants legs and cool our feet in the creek.

After lunch we begin ascending again toward the pass above Tunnel Lake on gentle switchbacks through pine forest. It’s pleasing to our feet to walk on soft earth covered in pine needles. The clouds, we notice, have been steadily building over the last two hours.

As we emerge once again above treeline, we can see the skies both in front and behind us have turned an ominous gray color. It’s gotten considerably cooler, and the wind has picked up.

We soldier on until a few raindrops hit us. We are totally exposed, and there is very little cover, so we drop the packs, put on our rain gear and pick up the pace hoping to make the pass before we get soaked. I can see sheets of rain falling off to our left down the valley and pray the wind is not bringing that our way. As luck would have it, we dodge the rain in both directions and hike the rest of the afternoon dry.

We descend past Tunnel Lake and notice a tent camped just below. Little do we know, this is the last attractive tent site for miles! We pass a creek with flowing water and stop to top off our water bottles for dry camping tonight.

We descend to the junction near the old Alpine Tunnel left over from a train that ran through here over a century ago. The trail takes us down to the old railroad bed which we follow for several miles in search of a campsite. The only ones we find are either too exposed to potential wind and rain, or too close to a rock wall that does not look so stable. The unpleasant idea of a boulder falling on us and crushing us in our sleep keeps us searching for a better option.

Eventually we pass a few hikers heading up the trail who tell us that there is no room at the campground in the abandoned mining town of Hancock, which is farther than we planned to hike anyway. We settle for the only flat site on the side of the path we can find. It’s tiny but suits our purposes. As we are setting up the tent, the raindrops start to fall and we are forced to move in to our cozy spot quickly.

Deep Dish passes us as we are setting up. He was able to hitch into Buena Vista, but his resupply package never made it, so he had to shop for groceries there instead. We bid him luck in finding a site, make dinner and turn in, once again exhausted but satisfied with the slow pace of the Colorado Trail.

Day 20 Stats

Starting Point: Mineral Basin Trailside camp, mile 226.6
End Point: Trailside camp along railroad bed, mile 241.9
Mileage: 15.3
Segment: CW 03-04
Date on Trail: July 20, 2018

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