Date- September 23, 2019
Location- Lake City
Elevation- 8,668 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 27 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 1,831.2 miles
Weather/Temp- Overcast, 40s
Pain level- cold
Spirits/Morale- fingers crossed
Wildlife encounters- Peregrine falcons x 3, pika x 1,000
Days without shower- 0
Days without laundry- 4
Today was a hell of a rough day – but ultimately rewarding. I emerged from my privy cabin and was hiking by 7:30 am, maintaining a painfully relentless pace. I was trying to go exactly 27 miles over more than 6,000+ ft of steep, high elevation climbs and reach a road into Lake City with enough time to hitch. A tall order with 7:45 pm darkness these days.
The weather wasn’t the best, but it was far from bad. A thick blanket of gray clouds hung over the mountains. Though they looked diabolically threatening, it never rained or flurried (even a little bit) the entire day. However, they did block out every ounce of warmth the sun might have provided. As a consequence, it felt like it was freezing for most of the day – especially atop the many climbs.
The climbs came one after the other… after the other – all rising above 12k ft and closer to 13k feet. They came as follows: 2,000+ ft, 500, 1,000, 500, and 1,400 ft. I took two breaks all day. A snack break before the 1,000 ft climb, and a lunch break with Jetpack and Toast before the second 500 ft climb (when I caught up to them already having lunch). Smiles was somewhere ahead, and Swift was somewhere behind.
All in all, it was a rather uneventful, yet very difficult and beautiful day (view wise). The time crunch of wanting to hitch with daylight to spare was the real kicker. That challenge really pushed the pace of today’s hike over the threshold of what I would call enjoyable. The frigid wind, trying to freeze my hands and face off, compounded my sense of urgency to push the pace even harder.
About halfway up the 1,000 ft climb I heard a screech in the open air void to my left, and turned to see three peregrine falcons partaking in some sort of aerial combat. They were moving so fast! Soaring up and then dive bombing each other while locking talons for a brief moment before releasing. The falcon getting dive bombed would always roll onto its back at the last moment and meet the other with its talons out, and then they’d lock up. It was so cool to watch; this went on for close to five minutes!
The Pikas were all over the place as well. I’ve never seen so many in a single day. On average, they’re about the size of a rat, and look like a cross between a guinea pig, a hamster, a mouse, and a rabbit. They’re ridiculously cute. A lot of times when you see them, they have a mouthful of plants or flowers that they carry back to their burrows for the winter. They’re also very fond of squeaking at you when you invade their space – at least until you spot them and look them in the eye. Then they freeze or run away. All day long their adorable squeaks echoed amongst the rocks; they leaped and bounded over boulders – like little ponies hurdling fences. There were too many to rightly count.
By a little after 5 pm I’d finished the descent from the last big climb and landed on what might be described as a wide open grassy plateau. I was last (as preferred) – except for Swift. Yesterday had been her biggest day ever; so it was a lot to expect her to repeat the mileage over this type of terrain again.
After knocking out 3 miles across the plateau and then another 2 miles downhill to the highway… I found Smiles, Toast, Leap Frog, Sharkbait, and Jetpack all standing there a little before 7 pm. This was a surprise, as well as a bad sign.
Smiles had been there for over two hours and nobody had stopped for anyone. I was down there for half an hour and only one semi went by in the direction we needed. Everybody was freezing cold, and nobody wanted to camp by the highway.
Not so Hostel
What ensued next was a bit of a funny story, but I’ll save the extended version for my future book… Long story short, we began trying to arrange rides to no avail – until I got a hold of a hostel owner in town who said he’d come up and get us.
It was almost 8:30 pm when we got into the tiny town of Lake City. Everything was closed except one small restaurant called Southern Vittles. The six of us piled in and ate hot food to our heart’s content. Before we got our food, everyone was literally shivering. Today had chilled us to the bone!
The hostel owner (a guy named “Lucky”) put us all up in one of his bunk rooms. So, here we all sit.
High Times to Come
I don’t think we’re hiking tomorrow, but this next stretch of trail will be to our last Colorado town. After that, it will be New Mexico! The only catch is… it’s 117 miles to the next town, it’s all above 12k feet, there are no trees, and the elevation change is insane. It’s going to be the toughest stretch of this entire trail, and I’m hoping against hope that the weather doesn’t turn on us too badly.
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