Date- September 6, 2019
Location- Winter Park
Distance Traveled Today- 32.6 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 1,520.2 miles
Weather/Temp- cloudy, stormy, rain, hail, snow, windy, whiteout, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s
Pain level- zero
Wildlife encounters- mule deer, marmots, pikas
Days without shower- 0
Days without laundry- 6
I slept like a warm, giant, dirty baby last night. It must seem so gross to you that I sometimes sleep in these vault privys, but I swear it’s not as bad as it seems.
Today was a bit of a disheveled cluster-jam due to weather. I was out of my outhouse mansion by 7:15 and bumbling my way south. The first 3 miles were more or less flat, but then came a 2,000 ft climb. It was fairly graded, but still monotonous.
At the top I took a half hour break to eat a light lunch and then pushed another 5 miles across a lightly rollercoastering saddle. It was late morning (transitioning into afternoon) throughout this stretch. Storms were beginning to form as thunder rolled across the ridges and peaks, while light raindrops peppered me through the trees.
Around this time a text came through from Jetpack saying she’d been trying to get up the 13.3k Jame’s Peak, but the lightning storms had been relentless. She wasn’t going to chance it and was tired of waiting. So, she was bailing 7 miles down a forest service road into the town of Winter Park. I told her I might be in the same boat if the conditions didn’t improve.
I hit the next 2,000+ ft climb a little before 2 pm amidst a light rain and heavy thunder. The trail rose steeply and steadily until it broke the treeline. It left me exposed for the last 700 feet of climbing on a mountainside of rocks and scrub with virtually no trail.
There was almost no wind as the black clouds hung overhead, so I popped my umbrella. The lightning flashes weren’t visible, but the thunder was sounding loudly overhead. I was nervous, but not nervous enough to not proceed – taking my chances with what was there.
Before I’d even finished the last of the climb, the rain broke as the clouds drifted away. There were plenty more to take their place, but for now I had a sliver of sunshine.
Peaks & More Peaks
Once again the ridge roller-coastered for nearly 6 miles as it approached the base of Jame’s Peak – yet another steep 1,400 ft climb. During this time I had a mixed bag of sunshine, rainbows, rain, and a powerful wind.
It was a little before 5 pm when I reached the base of the climb. The wind was now whipping with a biting cold. The majority of the climb up the peak itself was covered in fresh powder. I’d already hiked almost 27 miles to reach this point. However, I still needed to go another 9 miles if I was to go over the peak and reach the first cover on the other side.
Should I Stay or Should I Go NOW
Everywhere I looked there were storm cells floating through valleys, along and over ridges, and across distant ranges. Thunder saturated the air. I sat and weighed my options for close to 15 minutes. Should I persevere and go over the mountain (despite conditions) and possibly get myself in a very uncomfortable or dangerous situation? Lay low and freeze in the storms up there tonight and wait for tomorrow? Or bail down the mountain towards town and continue my forward progress in any way I could – while I still had a few hours of daylight? I chose safe progress.
As a blanket of whiteout clouds began to wash over the ridge and Jame’s Peak, I hurled myself off that mountain. I could see Winter Park far below from where I was standing. So I basically pointed my feet towards town and barrelled down the mountain. I kept to the road when I had to, but every time it bent or switched – I was trucking down sheer tree covered slopes. Oh… it was so much fun and terrifying at the same time! There were countless areas where if I would have lost my feet, I would have been tumbling down on my head. At one point my foot got snagged on a discarded length of barbed wire that was buried in the ground. Aside from nearly tripping onto my face, it tore a small hole in the top of my brand new right shoe. I could have screamed!
It was almost 7:30 when I emerged onto the highway, soaking wet from rain and wet foliage. I was chilled to the bone. Once I was at the highway on the outskirts of town, I’d effectively created a new and easy to reach trailhead for my continued (and thus-far) unbroken foot steps.
I hitched in the direction of town and got picked up by a middle aged man named John (after about 3 minutes), who was driving a black four door Rubicon. I connected with Jetpack, who’d already connected with Toast and Twigsy, and met them for dinner at a fancy Nepalese restaurant called Durbar.
Imagine for a moment, if you will… a fancy Indian style restaurant full of well dressed human beings out for a nice formal night on the town. Now imagine… a dirty, wet, smelly, barbarian-looking individual carrying a large pack, a giant stick, and wearing American flag underwear strapped with a fanny pack walking in and taking a seat like it’s just another day. Yeah – “WTF,” right?! That’s what the collective atmosphere felt like, but nothing was stopping me from having my lamb curry and garlic naan. Not after this hell day!
All in all, it was more than a 32 mile day, even with the detours. Toast, Jetpack, myself, Sharkbait, Leap Frog, and another guy named Sea-biscuit bailed off the mountain due to today’s weather. Twigsy had made it over the day before, and had hitched in from a further road earlier in the day.
I split a room with Jetpack and Toast. The weather is questionable tomorrow. So the plan is to connect our footprints from the highway in town to where the trail crosses the same highway about 12 miles south (at a spot called Berthoud Pass).
With all these detours and rerouting, we’re actually hiking further than what the trail would have been – just missing the dangerous weather over dicey and exposed terrain. We’ll see what the weather is doing tomorrow…
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