Date- September 10, 2019
Elevation- 8,730 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 28.6 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 1585.4 miles
Weather/Temp- cloudy, windy, 50s 60s,70s
Injuries- rotten toenail
Pain level- moderate
Wildlife encounters- mountain goats
Days without shower- 0
Days without laundry- 3
Today was brutal for me, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
First of all, you must know that mountains over 14k ft (AKA: 14’ers) are like celebrities in Colorado, Utah, California, Washington, etc. There are hordes of people (peak baggers) on a mission to summit all the 14’ers they can – especially within a certain state. Colorado has more than fifty 14’ers, and no shortage of people obsessed with climbing them all. Grays Peak was no exception.
I reached the trailhead parking lot a little after 8 pm to find dozens upon dozens of vehicles on a Tuesday morning. The parking lots were full, and as I continued up the trail and the mountain came into view, I could see well over a hundred people scattered across all levels of progress going up, down, or on top of the mountain.
There are actually two 14’ers right here, and they’re connected to each other by a short ridge-line. The other 14’er is called Torreys Peak. So people were trying to kill two birds with one stone. It felt like a zoo to me. If I’m being honest – had I known it would have been this crowded, I wouldn’t have come this way. Alas, I was here and I was going up.
As strong as my trail legs are, I had a hell of a time getting up to the summit. It wasn’t terribly steep, but the elevation got the best of me. Once I’d crossed above 12k ft, I was breathing hard and my legs were like sand bags. When I crossed over 13k ft, I couldn’t look up without losing my balance and stumbling. All in all, my progress up the mountain stuck to a painful 1mph.
The wind and cold were relentless. The majority of day hikers were bundled up to the max. I didn’t have that luxury, but I did keep my base layer and hood on.
It was a little after 11 am when I reached the summit and took shelter from the wind within a pile of rocks that were built just for that purpose. I spent more than an hour up there resting, taking in the views, and eating lunch. The longer I sat up there, the better my lungs and head felt. The speed of the adaptation process was incredible. Even when the next few hours were spent trekking just under 14k ft, I never felt the shortness of breath or vertigo again.
Mack the Knife
The real monotony began on the way down from the summit. This is where the day hikers disappeared and it was just me. The trail became nothing but rocks, scree, and loose dirt. But that’s not all. For more than a mile the trail became a knife’s edge scramble along a ridge-line leading up to the summit of Mt. Edwards at just over 13.8k ft. I’m being serious as a heart attack when I say there were sections where your feet were mere inches from a sheer drop of more than a thousand feet; and there were many more sections where an unlucky trip or stumble would send you to the hospital or the morgue.
It felt as though this ridge-line took hours to complete, despite only being a couple miles long. You were hardly ever hiking – mostly just scrambling, route finding, or picking your way cautiously over rocks. I was exhausted by the time the trail finally took a dive into a valley… over more scree and rocks.
Keep Moving Forward
On the valley floor on a forest road (a little after 3 pm), I only had a little over 10 miles completed for the day. I was beat! I couldn’t stop this early, but I would have to go another 11 miles to find the nearest cover and shelter to camp. Could’ve camped in the valley, but that would be freezing and it would mean I’d basically have to call it a day at 10 miles – which I wasn’t going to do. The crappy thing about going another 11 miles was that I’d have to gain almost 4,000 more feet of elevation across ridge-lines and a big climb. The idea of that made me want to go to sleep right then and there, but I pushed on down the valley towards the next big climb.
By some miracle, my phone got service and a text came through from Jetpack. She was in Silverthorne, was getting a room, and said the town had EVERYTHING!
Had I not heard from her, my brain never would have asked itself this next question and hatched the subsequent plan: “How far am I from Silverthorne by foot?” I looked at my topographical map and examined my position relative to Silverthorne – approx 13 miles away as the crow flies. I looked at the forest roads, back roads, paths, and highway needed to connect myself with Silverthorne. It only seemed like they would add a few miles onto the direct distance.
“Well,” I told myself, “I’ve done Grays Peak. I guess I feel alright doing whatever I want now…” I made up my mind to find my way into Silverthorne that night – come hell or high water. I just needed to keep moving forward.
It was 4 pm and it would be more than 16 miles to Silverthorne from where I decided to head in. If I moved quick, I could get in a little after 9 pm. So that’s what I did.
One of the beauties of the CDT is the flexibility to pretty much hike it however you want. There are certainly ways to abuse this train of thought; but for the most part, making up your own routes is a blast and one of the bigger pros to hiking this trail. Over the next 5+ hours I connected trails, forest roads, residential roads, bike paths, and part of a highway into the heart of Silverthorne where I met Jetpack at the La Quinta Inn.
Once again, walking into the lobby of the hotel at nearly 10 pm looking the way I did garnered some reactions. There were three people trying to check in when I entered the lobby. As I passed by… all of them took several steps back as if I posed some sort of danger. It was comical as hell. However, once I got a look at myself in the elevator mirror, I could see why. With my pack and all my straps, my water bottles attached to my shoulders, a stick in my hand, a wind burnt face, and a jet black shirt with American flag shorts – at first glance I probably looked like I was strapped for a fight or going to war. I deff didn’t look like your average person out for a normal hike. I looked… SCARY!
It was a hell of a day and I have no regrets! As far as I’m concerned, I’m getting the best of both worlds right now. I’m having my cake and eating it too.
The plan is to finish the alternate tomorrow and reconnect with the CDT. It should be a fairly easy day… I think.
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