Date- September 17, 2019
Location- Tincup Pass
Elevation- 11,076 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 27.7 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 1,710 miles
Weather/Temp- WINDY, cloudy, rain, hail, 40s, 50s,
Pain level- Cold
Wildlife encounters- Moose x 5, whitetail buck, peregrine falcon, porcupine
Days without shower- 3
Days without laundry- 10
Today was rough! It was cold and windy… it was wet and exposed. Today was really TOUGH!
I slept like a baby last night and was up and hiking at 7:30 am sharp. Jetpack and Twigsy had already started hiking almost an hour and a half earlier, but I managed to beat Swift to the races.
Within the first mile and a half I ran into a cow moose and her calf just off the trail. It was close enough that I walked off the trail to give them a wider berth, since mom was staring me down.
It was overcast and a bit foggy as I knocked out a 500 ft climb and then began a long descent into a valley. Once in the valley I was faced with making a choice: Do the Collegiate West Mountain Range – high route… or Collegiate West Mountain Range – low route. It looked as if the clouds were breaking, but it was still very windy. I opted for the high route, knowing it would have me on an exposed roller coaster ridge-line for nearly 15 miles.
This was a risk, but it was one I needed to take. The weather is only going to get worse (colder) as time goes on. I know I have what I need to contend with most of it, so there’s no point avoiding what’s coming. I might as well start getting used to it.
No sooner did I take the high route junction, I came across three more moose on the side of the trail – two bulls and a cow. I took some pictures and kept moving.
The first order of business after snaking through the valley was a 2,000+ ft climb up to a ridge. As if ordained, it was sunny for the entire climb up until I broke through the tree line. After half a mile of open terrain, it rained and hailed for about 15 minutes while the wind howled too hard for me to use my umbrella. Luckily, the wind was so strong that it dried me off completely within a few minutes of the rain stopping.
Layers Upon Layers
Alas, slightly after noon, I came to the point of no return. The trail was about to climb onto a completely exposed ridge for the next almost 15 miles. I was at a pass that had a highway going over it. The rain poured down while the wind sustained over 30 mph. This was it. I could hitch to comfort or continue into what was sure misery. There was no lightning, so I chose misery.
Bolstered by the confidence of having three mid layers, I wasn’t worried about compromising one of them. I prepared myself for what would surely be a foolish decision. I put on my rain pants, one of my Melanzana mid layers, and my rain shell jacket on over that. Then, I put my beanie, my balaclava, and the hood of my Melanzana and rain shell up over those. I put my rain shell mittens on, and activated two “hot hands” (hand warmers) to put inside the mittens. You might say I was NOT fooling around. This was the most layers I’ve worn while hiking since Maine or northern Washington.
Onward and Upward
I climbed onto the ridge amidst a thick cloud of rain and mist. The wind was ridiculous and I soon pulled the balaclava over my mouth and nose. Droplets of water stung like pellets as I held up my hand to shield my eyes.
The climbs across the exposed ridge were 400 ft, 400 ft, 800 ft, 1,000 ft, and 700 ft, in that order, respectively. The first three climbs were a mish-mash of rain and hail driven by unbelievably powerful winds. At one point a small ball of hail was driven into my left eye; it was stuck under my bottom eyelid for several seconds before melting. That was an uncomfortable and painful first.
I slogged over climb after climb, never pushing too hard for fear of overheating in all my garments. A slow and steady pace was enough to keep me from getting too hot or too cold.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t too far into the afternoon before I realized I would be hiking at night in order to reach cover. I just couldn’t go fast enough to beat the 7:45 darkness.
When I was on my second to last climb of the day, I spotted a porcupine walking along the trail ahead of me. As soon as it spotted me, it took off as fast as it could – which was about 1 mph. I quickly caught up to it and took a short video of it running into some shrubs and disappearing. I’d never seen one above 12k feet, yet here it was!
It was dark when I reached the top of my final climb and still had 4 miles to reach the tree line and safety. I was so exhausted that if I could have thrown my stuff down right then and there, I would have!
Is that YOU?
It was close to 9 pm when I finally reached the valley floor at Tin-cup Pass. I looked around a little bit and didn’t see the glow of any lights or tents right off hand. As I looked around a little more, I finally caught a glimpse of a red light. I whistled and then heard Jetpack call out my name. She and Twigsy had found a raised spot a little above the valley. They hadn’t been there even an hour and were just having dinner.
I joined them and cooked some spam before cowboy camping beneath a nearby pine. The sky has been clear the last few hours, so I’m taking my chances…
It’s almost 11 pm and Swift still hasn’t shown up. This would have been a tough day for her, but hopefully she found somewhere warm to sleep.
Going to try and get into the town of Salida tomorrow…
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