Leaving town Groucho and I receive rides from 2 excellent humans. First Clint who is on his way to get dental work in Silverthorne. He offers us a joint (we are in Colorado after all) as he confesses he doesn’t have enough money to pay for gas home. Lucky for him our practice is always to offer hitches gas money. The $10 I offer is exactly what he needs. The ride is exactly what we need. Win win.
Clint drops us at trail which turns out to be a 10 mile paved road walk. But then comes Bret, a buffalo and cow rancher whose property goes right by the trail here. He gives a ride even though it is out of his way. Such a great dude. We enjoy hearing his ethos about raising meat and hunting elk. For 4500 people can pay Bret to stay on his property and shoot, slaughter and pack out a wild elk with like 75%+ success rate. He takes such pride in feeding his kids wild, non-chemical meat. I respect it.
Bret drops us at trail which is actually a dirt road. We walk for 15 miles until we reach a flat spot with a snotel sensor. We sleep here since most of the snags have been cut to protect the snow measuring equipment.
The hills turn to mountains. Suddenly elevation gain is back in full effect as we pass landmarks with ominous names like troublesome pass trail and never summer gulch.
As the air thins, the trees spread out and we frequently walk above tree line. Beautiful – but affording us a view of encroaching thunder clouds every afternoon around 4pm.
I reflect on winter approaching: the frost on our sleeping bags, the scattering of dry snow when it’s precipitating above 11,000 feet, and these long above tree line sections. I realize I am triangulating signs from the universe… what does it add up to?
I think of CDT thru hiker Otter who died from exposure last year in a campground in northern New Mexico. He’s on my mind because 2 recent hitches, first our Rawlins angel a few days ago, and then just yesterday Bret, mentioned him as an old friend. Someone they hosted or gave a ride to. Someone they remembered. The repetition makes me alert. When is winter coming? And how best do I live my life so I can embrace each day?
Groucho is ill. Very ill. Doubled over. Groucho is strong and usually crankiness is the only sign of pain but today it’s visible. He needs long breaks, and to sit, and to dig multiple cathodes. Altitude? Food poisoning? Giardia?
By 6pm we reach a clearing and see Curtis already set up. He too, it turns out, has been slowed today by the stomach bug. We camp with him hoping both buddies will feel better tomorrow.
In the morning, Curtis asks where the nearest bail out point is. “Nine miles… But over the next 13,000 foot hill.” Hearing he feels worse we insist on hiking in proximity till the road where he wants to hitch.
The terrain is open country ridge walking. Again above tree line. Very difficult, even though I am healthy. I feel so bad for the poopsie twins. We summit Parkview Peak with a cool old fire lookout and take a long break. Then descend a mile in 45 minutes- very slow- cause it’s basically loose rock.
We reach the road but no one will pick Curtis up. The poopsie twins rally and decide they can hike on. Another 27 miles to town.
We encounter so many raspberries. I say to Groucho “I have to say I’m a pretty good berry spotter.” He replies “That’s true that’s one of your many talents. Do you think it’s genetic?” Haha. Totally since my dad has been foraging roadside berries into discarded mcdonalds fry containers since I was a small kinder.
We summit Bowen pass at dusk and descend rapidly to the cover of trees to camp with Curtis. Passing not one, not two, but SEVEN moose at the creek. Amazing world.
We wake to rain at 5:30am. No matter it’s another town day! We pack up and race thru the Never Summer Wilderness as it pours for hours. All downhill tho, so we reach town by 1pm. Right on trail is the glorious, volunteer built Shadow Cliff lodge and hostel. A beautifully homespun, loosely spiritual community where instead of 80’s movies one can spend hours playing board games with strangers.
Curtis has decided. His hike is over. It’s not the same without Christiana, and sable’s old paws are cut up. It’s time for them to call it.
Groucho and I decide to take a zero. It’s cheap to stay and so comforting here.
Grand Lakes sports excellent pizza, good coffee and a nice outfitter. We enjoy free computer time at the library and more board games with new friends – hikers, volunteers and travel weary road trippers.