Date- September 4, 2019
Location- Grand Lake
Elevation- 8,386 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 19.4
Distance Traveled Total- 1,473 miles
Weather/Temp- cloudy, rainy, lightning, 70s
Pain level- zero
Spirits/Morale- need better food
Wildlife encounters- 7 moose, Marmots, pikas
Days without shower- 0
Days without laundry- 4
So it didn’t rain last night, but better safe than sorry. I’m sure if I didn’t put up my tarp, it would have dumped buckets. Overall, I was so warm last night that I almost took off my shirt.
It was 7:30 when I started hiking and right away I was dragging. I had about 1,500 feet of fairly steep climbing to knock out, then I’d be on easy street. I tried to eat last night and just couldn’t. Unsure what it is, but my appetite was nonexistent; I couldn’t even force myself to eat anything on hand. Since I only needed to get 19 miles today (with 14 of them downhill or flat) – I figured I’d survive.
The first five miles before cresting Bowen Pass at 11.4k ft took me three hours to complete. About a mile and a half before the pass I spotted a skeleton just off the trail in some trees. It was a large moose. Almost all the bones were there. If the skull hadn’t had brain matter still inside, I would have packed it out. Instead, I packed out the perfectly intact lower jaw that had all its teeth – even the front bottom ones. I mailed it back home from Grand Lake.
After Bowen Pass… things got interesting. I picked up my pace as I let gravity do all the work. About a mile south of the pass, a huge bull moose casually strutted across the trail, pausing for a second to look at me, then continuing its trek up the mountain. It was perhaps 75 yards ahead of me. He didn’t seem perturbed by my presence at all – but perhaps cautious because he kept looking back over his shoulder.
Pressing on downhill, the trail was a green tunnel of Aspens and Evergreens crisscrossed by streams. As the day rolled into afternoon, thunder rumbled somewhere behind me in the mountains while a calm heavy rain began to fall. The air was still warm and the heavy droplets were cool, creating a pleasant contrast that allowed me to bathe in it without my umbrella.
A couple miles from the road I passed into Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail became a gorgeously maintained path at this point so I was able to really turn up the speed.
Within the last mile to the highway, I came across three separate pairs of cow moose with their calves. I would see a pair, take a few pictures and move on – and then 3 minutes later there would be another pair. Lucky I was; it brought my moose count up to 7 for the day – a new personal record!
When I hit the highway, I had the option of doing the Rocky Mountain Loop or just taking the highway 6 miles into Grand Lake. As I mentioned before, I’ve already done the RML, so I’m giving it a pass this year in favor of hopefully giving myself an extra day to stay ahead of any impending cold weather.
It was 3:30 pm when I entered Grand Lake and stopped at a convenience store to grab a Pepsi before looking for somewhere to eat. I was deathly starving at this point and hadn’t had anything since around 9:30 am.
As I was checking out at the register, an older woman in her 60s was in line behind me. I had my pack on and looked filthy. “You look like you’re on quite the journey!” The woman remarked. “A 3,000 mile hike!” I replied. “Ooo, I bet! Look at those massive, beautiful thighs you got there!” She said in the most girlish and flirty of tones. If I would have been drinking my Pepsi, I would have spit it all over the floor in flattered embarrassment. I didn’t know what else to say other than, “Thank you.” It’s a bit uncomfortable and amusing being hit on by a grandma type character. You just don’t expect it.
I had my eyes set on a particular restaurant that I remembered from two years back – Sagebrush Grill. I planned to have a glorious meal there. However, when I got to the front door, it was closed for their annual employee rafting trip. Of all the days of the year I had to get there!
Instead I settled for a Mexican restaurant that ended up being terrible. And for a starving thru-hiker to say that, you know it had to be pretty bad. Alas, my first town meal after a tough stretch was a let down. As I headed further across the small lakeside town, I got caught in a heavy rain. Without looking, I dodged into the closest business/restaurant nearby. I thought it had said “Fat Cat Cafe,” but it turned out to be another Mexican Restaurant called “Pancho Leftys.” I guess both businesses shared the same building, except Fat Cat Cafe was closed.
So, I had a second lunch of Mexican food, except this one charged me 5 bucks for chips and salsa! Welcome to Colorado tourist towns…
I finally checked into the Shadow Cliff Hostel at the top of town and met up with Jetpack, Toast, Shark Bait, and Leap Frog. I wanted to catch them before Grand Lake, and came pretty close. They ended the day out of Steamboat with a 20 mile lead on me. However, they only beat me into Grand Lake by 3 hours, taking the same route as me and skipping the loop. They had a rough time through this section as well.
I spent around three days in Grand Lake last time due to bad weather. Not this year. I’m hiking out tomorrow and forging ahead!
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