Date- September 9, 2019
Location- Side of road/trail
Elevation- 10,276 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 25.2 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 1,556.8 miles
Weather/Temp- cloudy, windy, 50,60,70
Pain level- cold
Wildlife encounters- mule deer, marmots, pikas
Days without shower- 2
Days without laundry- 2
Jetpack and I were in front of the motel hitching by 6:20 am. It wasn’t 5 minutes before a white pickup truck pulled over and scooped us up.
I can’t recall the middle aged man’s name, but he’d grown up as part of his family’s circus his entire life. The circus had been around since the mid 1800s, I think he said. I haven’t tried to look up the name, but I believe it was called “Zeppa.” At least that’s the name I heard.
What a Clown
Anyhow, the man was the head clown in the circus. When I asked him if he had any good stories from his career – they were all about lions escaping during the act in cities or malls, or about accidents people had while performing stunts. He was a really cool, nice guy who’d obviously lived an incredibly intriguing life. I wish we could have had more time to delve into it.
We were hiking out of Berthoud Pass by around 7 am and tackling a 1,100 ft climb right off the bat. For the first 17 miles of the day, 95% of the trail was completely exposed ridge-line between 10k ft and 13.2k ft. And the wind… THE WIND! It was whipping all day, sustaining 25mph or higher most of the time.
The views were insane, but the wind took a lot of the joy out of everything today. It blew my hands numb, my face numb, and the rest of my body was cold to the bone. Since most of the day was just climbing, I couldn’t bundle up too much for fear of soaking my layers in sweat.
Every 15 minutes or so I would have to clamber behind some rocks or a berm to get out of the wind and let my hands and face thaw out. My nose became simultaneously runny and dry, subsequently giving me a minor nose bleed.
Jetpack had been ahead of me for most of the morning when I took a long lunch break near a pass. There was a forest road going over this pass, bisecting the trail, and I noticed a couple hunter’s vehicles parked on it. The road at this particular pass also marked an important junction. It was the start of an official alternate route that cut approx 40 miles off the official CDT and went straight through the town of Silverthorne.
Make the Climb
If you took this alternate, then you were bypassing the climb over Grays Peak – the highest point on the CDT at 14,255 ft. Both of us had decided not to do the alternate, and go over to Grays. This was a tough decision because the temptation of getting further ahead while weather and temperature conditions were noticeably declining was indescribably strong. Still, we decided to do the more difficult thing.
Sadly, when I finished lunch and was crossing the road, a hunter got out of his truck and hailed my attention. He told me Jetpack had come through and decided to do the Silverthorne alternate. When she had gone by, she left the message with the hunter and asked him to pass it along to a “big guy in American flag shorts” if he saw me. Message received!
I was disappointed to hear this. What’s more, I was also very tempted to follow suit. I spent a good deal of time debating whether to cut distance and save time, or partake in what would almost certainly be prolonged misery. I chose misery. Mostly, I really just wanted to go over the trail’s official high point. It was too much of a milestone to pass up.
For another several miles I endured more exposed ridge walking while getting battered by icy winds. Eventually the trail took a dive into a wooded valley and I could walk leisurely once again.
I’d lost a lot of time while intermittently hiding from the wind along the ridge. Honestly, those wind breaks were probably the only thing giving me the endurance to continue. Jetpack had soldiered forth through the wind without any breaks. That could easily have factored into her decision to take the alternate. She’d just had enough and wanted to get lower to get out of it. That wasn’t hard to understand.
When darkness fell I still had 7 miles to get where I ideally wanted to be – at the trailhead to Grays Peak. I walked another 5 miles in the dark before happening upon a flat campsite that was too good to pass up.
It’s pretty damn cold, so I set up my tarp for added insulation. Even though I was really tired and just wanted to go to bed, I cooked some Thai noodles and Polish sausages in my new pot and frying pan. There is no way I can not eat tonight and expect to do what I have to do tomorrow.
I’m really excited because this will be my first time climbing over 14k ft. I’m also anxious because I’m anticipating the elevation and thinner air to kick my ass. Tomorrow ought to be interesting.
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