Category Archives: Wilderness

Tahkenitch Dunes Loop

It is March and a stretch of good weather was upon us so where could we get-away for a short backpacking trip. Oh yes, I remembered checking in with the Forest Service Office in Reedsport a few years back asking about backpacking in that area. They mentioned the Tahkenitch Dunes area but not with my dog between March 15th and September 15th. Well this meant that I needed to do this trail now, so on March 9th Brook and I set out for this new coastal backpacking overnighter. The weather was perfect and we were due for a full moon. It was a great trip. The overall loop is about 6 miles. The inland portion of the loop does take you through a really nice Sitka Spruce and Douglas Fur forest to a high point of about 400 ft. After 2.5 miles you cross a bridge at the north end of Three Mile Lake.

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From the bridge it is about a quarter mile to the beach across the actual dunes.

Looking North at a Beautiful Stretch of Oregon Coast

Looking North at a Beautiful Stretch of Oregon Coast

Once on the beach it appeared we were alone, however, it was evident that vehicles could use the beach typically for fishing access. We hiked north looking for a good campsite. After setting up camp we prepared for some serious chillaxing. However, we were soon visited by a fairly unique recreational vehicle.

I have to admit both Brook and I were wondering who these folks were with a beach outfitted rig complete with a couple of Trump Flags. Brook and I did have a nice visit with these 2 fisherman who had caught some ocean perch. I stayed clear of any political discussions. As evening approached the cool breeze from the north was getting nippy, but the sunshine made it all good. Brook and I spent the rest of the evening enjoying our beach.

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Brook had a great time playing with sticks.

And we were treated to a beautiful sunset.

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Brook really enjoyed running on the sunset beach.

The full moon made for a great dimly lighted evening. I hung out in the tent until the sun rose to help dry everything out.

The second half of the loop took us up the beach until we cut back over to the actual Tahkenitch Dunes Trail.

We crossed the intersection for the Tahkenitch Creek Trail which looks like it would offer an even longer loop option. Overall this was an awesome overnight trip.

Conquered The Lost Coast Trail

The Lost Coast Trail in northern California is one of the few Coastal Wilderness treks in the US. The 25 mile north section from Mattole Beach to Shelter Cove is a challenge because of a couple 4+ mile low tide only passages. BryceGregTrailheadSo other then working out your logistics correctly it is a fairly straightforward backpacking trek. Of course in December of 2015 I did not get my logistics correct and mother nature hit me with an epic storm. I failed in my first attempt at the Lost Coast which is documented in my most read trip report “I lost to the Lost Coast Trail“. Retuning to conquer it allowed me to remember the pain and rejoice in the new success.

I really appreciated Bryce, an experienced wilderness survivalist, joining me for my return to the Lost Coast. With 2 cars you can pull off your own shuttle between Shelter Cove and Mattole, however, it is brutal. I think I would rather just do an out and back from Mattole and avoid the Shelter Cove roads. After way too much driving we did end up about a mile down the coast from Mattole and had an excellent first night on the Lost Coast.

The second day included a visit to Punta Gorda Light House which also is home to a rather large population of Elephant Seals.

Punta Gorda Light House around the Point

Punta Gorda Light House around the Point

Low tide was at 4 pm so we could take our time working through the 1st hazard zone for our second night at Spanish Flat. Punta Gorda was holding up well but the our treat was being able to pass by a couple hundred Elephant Seals. Calving season had just ended and a team of researchers from Humboldt State University were trying to gather data and tag the 102 new seal pups. I think we saw Elephant Seals for about 2 miles.

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This up close view of the elephant seals was awesome but now we needed to put in some miles to get through the first 4 mile hazard zone.

This was also when I started recalling my bad memories from my first attempt at the Lost Coast. But this time I did not have to jump in the ocean so the hike to Spanish Flat was quite enjoyable. Our only challenge for getting past the low tide zone was to wait for the tide to go out and then time the waves at a few of the points.

Once you are beyond the first hazard zone you are greeted with a nice long trail up on a grass shelf to get you to Spanish Flat.

Instead of having to stop and dry out I got to enjoy the beautiful scenery. We were able to camp at the same spot I had ridden out the first day of a storm back in 2015.

This day was all about being perfect. Fairly warm, plenty of dry firewood and the formation of an excellent sunset.

The sunset was awesome. The next morning was beautiful as I said my goodbyes to the Spanish Ridge that I had to climb over to seek shelter from the typhoon in 2015.

Spanish Ridge

Spanish Ridge

The remaining hike was new terrain for me. I took this ocean video before leaving.

Now on too Big Flat and the 2nd high tide hazard zone.

I think the temperature was 60 and we were hiking in shorts and it was February, this was as good as it gets.

Jane from the San Francisco area

Jane from the San Francisco area

About this time we met Jane who we ended up hiking with to our next campsite that night. We come into the Big Flat area and realize that a fair number of California Surfers had either hiked in or flown in via private planes to surf this area. Some had been there for many days. One dad said it was a constant task to feed his three teenage boys who were out surfing when we passed by. Check it out.

Soon after Big Flat through Miller Flat we entered into the 2nd hazard zone, but I did not feel that it was as difficult as the 1st.

Plus we didn’t actually make it all the way through as we decided to camp at Buck Creek which would require that we get an early start the next morning to finish the 2nd hazard area.

We had about 6 miles to hike out to Shelter Cove, but it did include some great scenery.

Black Sands Beach was very nice and empty on a Saturday morning.BlackSandsStream

We said goodbye to the Lost Coast Trail from the Black Sands Trailhead.

View North from Black Sands Trailhead

View North from Black Sands Trailhead

Then the grueling shuttle over to Mattole from Shelter Cove and then up and over the mountain to Ferndale.

Heading over the Mountain to Ferndale

Heading over the Mountain to Ferndale

We had brews and fish at the SeaQuake Brewery in Cresent City and then spent a night in Jedediah Smith State Park before driving home to Oregon.

 

Remembering the “Good”

Facebook greeted me this morning with a memory from 8 years ago when when Bryce Mitchell and I were in Cameroon, Africa, working for our NGO GeoAid, providing humanitarian aid for the Baka Pygmies in the Eastern province near Lomie.

GeoAid Team in Lomie Cameroon

GeoAid Team in Lomie Cameroon

Bryce (center) was our Director who had stepped into the role replacing his father who had unexpectedly died 6 months earlier. Tribute to Bill Mitchell

Last week I was playing golf at Chehalem Glenn in Newberg, OR, remembering that fatal day when Bill Mitchell died from a massive heart attack on the 9th hole. It was 8 years ago this week when Bryce and I were in Cameroon shoring up GeoAid with his new leadership. Unfortunately GeoAid no longer exists due to the collapse of the mining operation that supported the effort. However, much Good was accomplished.

Tomorrow, Bryce and I head to the north coast of California to backpack the Lost Coast Trail.

Lost Coast Trail - Punta Gorda Lighthouse

Lost Coast Trail – Punta Gorda Lighthouse

I have documented how this is a return to conquer for me but now I realize it was probably meant to be a reunion for Bryce and I to remember all the good that GeoAid accomplished thanks to Bryce and his Dad. The weather report for the Lost Coast could not be any better for this time of year. This is going to be a great Adventure.

Steamboat Springs Ski Bum

Historical Posts representing Adventure Continues: Second Quarter

It is the middle of autumn 1976 and I no longer have a job at Rabbit Ears Lodge nor do I have a place to live. But I was fortunate to get a job as a maintenance man for the Holiday Inn in Steamboat Springs. I guess my resume was strong with a few months experience as the maintenance man at Rabbit Ears Lodge. So Steve (Indian? Friend from Rabbit Ears Lodge) and I headed into Steamboat. I went to work and Steve looked for a place to live. We met at the Tugboat that first evening when Steve was excited to tell me that he found us a place to live just above the Tugboat with a couple of girls from New Jersey. Seems like I remember thinking, oh well, The Adventure Continues. Turns out it was a fairly sweet deal. The girls had the lease on an apartment with a main bedroom for themselves and a loft for Steve and I right in the heart of Steamboat Square or “Party Central”. I can’t remember if Steve got a job, but he did pickup some income dealing pot to the locals.

Our female roommates were not really our type so there were no sexual tensions, however, we sure did have some spats about the use of the apartment. Steve and I quickly became socially connected which in turn helped our roommates. TugboatBar-GrillIn many respects the Tugboat was our living room. We spent a lot of time playing pool and forecasting how great the ski season would be. The Tugboat and Ski Time Square was an iconic landmark during the development of the Steamboat Springs Ski Resort. Across from us was the Sheraton Hotel that encompassed the entire ski base area. There were a few condos and and some private homes, but hardly the ski area development that now covers everything down to highway 40. I was officially living the life of a Ski Bum waiting for it to snow.

My job at the Holiday Inn typically focused on fixing the plumbing but I would also be called on to drive the hotel bus which was actually a converted school bus. Not sure if I got a commercial upgrade to my drivers license but I probably should have. I did have a stressful/embarrassing event when I was tagged to drive a group of visiting travel agents around Steamboat. They wanted to go up on the mountain as far as the roads would take us, however, a blanket of 4 or 5 inches of wet snow greeted us on a dirt road which may have been today’s Apres Ski Way. Well as I started up the incline I lost traction and the bus started to slide back down the hill. Luckily nothing was up there and we only ended up stuck. This was before cell phones so after apologizing to my passengers I had to hoof my way to a phone and call for help to extract our guests off the mountain.

This time in Steamboat for me was a search for my rite of passage into my adult future. This also translated into how to manage that freedom that comes with adulthood. Sex, drugs and rock-n-roll consumed our free time and I was taking it all in while trying to manage my consumption. This small community of 20 somethings was burning the wick at both ends and I was starting to question the sanity of such an existence. Luckily I had a serious girlfriend back in Indiana who helped to keep me grounded in discussions about a more stable life passage. However, I guess my adventurous spirit justified taking it all in. Keep in mind that America was coming out of the Hippie movement which glamorized trips on hallucinogenic drugs such as psilocybin and acid. Regretfully, I agreed to take an acid trip which was about a 24 hour commitment initially to wild hallucinating fun that faded into the painful reality that your body was not supposed to be treated this way. I do remember a fairly comical event from that trip. There were a few of us who ventured out into the night wanting to play in the snow. We found ourselves over at the Sheraton’s outdoor swimming pool that was empty and frozen. We thought it would be fun to slide down into the pool on the slick icy coating. We ended up in the deep end where there is that gradual drop-off from a depth of about 4 to 9 feet. And of course we could not climb back up the incline due to the ice. I can’t remember how long we were there contemplating our predicament, but it was a bit hilarious. I’m not sure how we did get out, but it gave me a a good reason to avoid hallucinogens forever thereafter.

I had come to understand that this loose life style was not for me, but I had to navigate this current environment as best I could. Thankfully, I did benefit from the experience that this beautiful Colorado ski town was offering. I explored the surrounding area of Routt National Forest and Steve and I actually went backpacking up to Gilpin Lake. My passion for this place was growing so I was looking for a way to continue a life in Steamboat Springs, although on a more responsible path. I had even heard about the curse: In 1881, Colorow, a Ute Indian leader declared: “Those who come to the Yampa Valley to live will never be able to leave.

GregConnieCindyVW

Future Wife Connie who is still my Wife (& my dog Cindy)

My girlfriend, Connie, and I would talk about what it might be like if she joined me in this beautiful place. Out of those conversations my heart moved me to officially propose marriage over the phone and her acceptance included the stipulation that I come home to validate to her parents that it was going to be OK for their 20 year old daughter to quit school and move to Steamboat Springs. OK then, I got off work on a Friday afternoon and drove 22 hours straight to Indiana to ask for Connie’s hand in marriage and arrange for a way that she could join me at the beginning of the year in Steamboat. I must have sold myself well but I think this really happened because Connie’s parents knew she was going to do this with or without their blessing. I drove back to Steamboat an engaged man with a lot to think about. 

It was early December and there really wasn’t any snow on Mt Warner, Steamboat’s ski mountain. Everyone dependent upon the ski industry was getting really nervous. They were trying to trigger snow by seeding the clouds with silver-iodide, they were even enlisting Indian medicine men to offer their influence. But it didn’t snow, we were officially in a drought. If the ski area lost the Christmas revenue it would be a disaster, so the local merchants loaned their physically capable staff to go up on the mountain and shovel snow out of the woods onto the ski runs in order to officially open for Christmas. I participated in this effort which generated a weird kind of camaraderie but it didn’t really work. The Ski Corp officially closed right after Christmas and the snow making equipment industry was launched. I opted for new plans to bring Connie out to Denver at the beginning of the year, where we would find jobs and reevaluate our next step. The wedding was planned for May.


Next Post: Move to Colorado

Steamboat Ski Resort closed and I made plans for Connie and I to move to Denver. Connie started to adapt to Colorado and I found myself in a strange job as a chemist. The groundwork was being laid to end up in Boulder to finish my degree.

Exercise so the Adventure Can Continue

I do love to take off on a strenuous backpacking or hiking trip most anytime of the year with most treks concentrated during the warmer months. However, as a 65 year old man with 2 artificial hips, a suspect back weighing in over 200 pounds, I have to be careful not to overdue it. That means staying in relatively good shape year round which is only getting more difficult as the years pile on.

Hiking on the Chegwyn Farm

Hiking on the Farm

This translates into a push for daily exercise which is primarily accomplished thanks to my dog, Brook’s, need for exercise. We are fortunate to live on the outskirts of town next to a farm that provides ample routes for interesting dog walks. Brook and I probably average 4 miles a day of flatland hiking but that is not enough to keep me ready for the hike we went on yesterday. 

Every week, typically on a decent weather day, I motivate myself to take on a hike that includes a vertical climb.

Trappist Abbey Hike

Trappist Abbey Hike

Many times that may be a 5 mile loop up and around the Trappist Abbey which gives us a 1000 foot vertical. Yesterday, 12/26/2019, we took on Elk Mountain in the Tillamook State Forest which is only a 3 mile round trip but the 2000′ vertical over such a short route is punishing. One of those hikes where you do have to stop many times to let your heart slow down. A hike where an old guy does think about turning around before the summit, but that cannot happen. Of course the reward of making the vista summit is worth it, but the true reward comes from your sore legs that confirm that your body can still perform.

ElkMtnSummitYesterday was a beautiful cold sunny Oregon day in the coastal range which was ideal for the Elk Mountain climb. The trail was in excellent condition partly due to the frozen ground.

The views are better in the winter when vegetation is at a minimum. Overall, Elk Mountain is a great hike that will challenge any physically fit hiker. So I feel good that I only have some sore legs which tell me that I am still able to participate in my passion.

(See previous backpacking Elk Mountain Post – Mountain Top Experience)

What is the correct prescription of exercise for an old guy like me. I have had 65 years to learn what my body can handle. I have paid the price for being out of shape and then over exerting myself which might typically lead to back problems. I was young enough to recover and learned to be more cautious but I was able to cheat on staying in shape. Those days are over, My greatest fear is that I will injure my back causing me to become out of shape which I know will severely impact my ability to pursue my passion. Thank God, I have avoided these back injuries for many years but only because I know that I must keep my overall body strong. A back is protected by all of your muscles working in harmony. Routine exercise is a requirement for living my dream so the Adventure Can Continue.

My Dog is Complicated

My dog Brook, @AussieBrook, and I just returned from a perfect backpacking overnighter to Tom, Dick & Harry Mountain. The weather was perfect thanks to a temperature inversion that kept the Portland area under a blanket of fog. This was important because I really needed to give Brook a positive backpacking experience since our early summer outings had soured her on the whole backpacking thing. You see, Brook, an Australian Shepard, is complicated. She is a typical Aussie in that she wants to herd, protect and keep me aware of everything.

She is 4 years old and has been backpacking with me for 3 seasons. The problem relates to how Brook will totally sacrifice her own comfort to ensure that I am protected. This translates to her only sleeping outside and typically finding a strategic vantage point from which to keep watch through the night.

WetBrook

Hiking out in a snow/rain storm 6/19

Frankly, I would rather she slept in the tent to help keep me warm, but I do appreciate her concern. However, as I mentioned, Brook is complicated. I have never had a dog that I needed to negotiate with. This year those negotiations centered around her deciding that she did not want to backpack with me. This objection relates first to the fact that she hates to ride in a car, I think this relates to her not having control of her environment. However, the real objection arose from our early season treks where she was the victim of some really bad weather. The photo above is from an overnighter to Ramona Falls in early June to investigate the Sandy River crossing in preparation for an upcoming Timberline Trail Trek with friends.

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Morning at Eden

On that Timberline Trek Brook showed her disinterest in the overall trip but cooperated just fine until the weather deteriorated. After we got hit with a snow storm, Brook disappeared by positioning herself back up the trail letting us know that she was done. In this negotiation with her we agreed to end the trek. Back home when I was preparing to go on my Lofoten Norway adventure it was obvious that Brook wanted nothing to do with it. This was OK at the time because Brook was not invited to Norway or the later Colorado Trail treks, so essentially Brook got her wish and had the summer off from backpacking. Since returning home I have been looking for an opportunity to take Brook on a positive outing. I even purchased her a new winter jacket to help get her through those cold nights.

Well our recent overnighter to TDH mountain was all that I had asked for and better. From my perspective the view from TDH of Mt Hood and the many other mountains to the north is a backpackers treat. BrookJacketClear skies is a must but getting comfortable temperatures in November was more then I could have hoped for. We made it to our campsite around 4 pm and setup camp in preparation for darkness to hit early. As the sun went down it got really cold, probably got to 38 but the breeze was out of the west and it felt good. Brook ended up laying next to the tent close enough to be laying next to my legs. Again, I would have loved to have had her in the tent, but at least she was staying close. The first time I got up I could tell the temperature was rising, it felt great and I could tell that Brook was also happy with it. She hung out next to the tent until about 1 am which was a real positive. Overall she seemed very happy at sunrise and showed her appreciation with many kisses.BrookKiss

The morning was spectacular with an awesome view of Mt Hood. Brook had a wonderful time terrorizing the local squirrel population as I enjoyed a leisurely morning taking in the view.HoodGood

I think Brook may be mellowing a bit in her objections to backpacking, but I will make sure that our next outing, probably next Spring will be a pleasant one for her.

HoodWide

However, I leave this trek with a concern. I do not think I have ever seen so little snow cover on Mt Hood.

These views of the south side of the mountain are from 110519 and 110818. The problem is not a lack of snowfall but more rapid melt-off due to higher temperatures.

Flowers of the Colorado Trail 2019

Here is a compilation of photos and a few videos taken on the Colorado Trail. The 3 section trip reports are also posted.

 

Colorado Trail Collegiate West

Monarch Pass

In Lake City I needed to reevaluate my overall trek goals. I was not making the milage to easily complete the CT before winter so I decided that completing the entire Colorado Trail was not going to happen. I had received many reports about how hiking through the open range cattle and the affect they had on water sources was not overly desirable. So I decided to skip the next couple of sections, primarily the Rio Grande National Forest. So I hitched a ride over to Gunnison to set myself up to return to the CT at Monarch Pass. My overnight visit to Gunnison proved to be one of the most enjoyable town visits of the adventure. Great beer at the High Alpine Brewery and and a great steak at the Ol’ Miner Steakhouse.

I was rejoining the CT on August 30 near the northbound entrance to the Collegiate West Loop. After a few miles I came upon a confusing sign which signaled a detour around Monarch Ski Area due to timber work being done. I knew there was a detour on the CT but I did not get the message partly due to the location of the map and also possibly due to my being colorblind and not really seeing the red and green lines on the map. I ended up hiking into the Monarch Ski Area where the Director of Operations rescued me by driving me back to where I should have been. He was truly interested in why I screwed up and I think he planned on changing some of the signage. I would say that Monarch Ski Area looked like a very nice ski mountain.

Monarch Ski Area

The trail again kept me above tree line and I did catch some rain showers on that first day back.

I had another great campsite above Ross Lake Reservoir next to a small lake. The next climb was up the Middle Fork of the South Arkansas River which took me over to the Hancock Lakes where I had another awesome campsite.

This was Labor Day weekend so I was sharing the area with weekend campers. The following day, Sunday, took me up the Alpine Tunnel Trail which much of it was the old railroad bed.

Along the way there were historical signs documenting the challenges of that railway line through the mountains.

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Again this was beautiful country and I ended up with a sweet campsite next to a stream where it was perfect to have a fire. Labor Day brought more of the same beauty and perfect weather, but I knew bad weather was on it’s way.

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I ended up with another great campsite that I was alerted to in the Guthook Guide App and that evening gave me one of the best sunset cloud shows I have ever witnessed.

The day before I had broken one of my trekking poles but I determined that I could make it due if I could tape the seam together. As is my luck a SOBO backpacking couple came along just as I was working on this and they gave me much better tape to accomplish my task.

September 2nd would take me to Cottonwood Pass which presented a decision point.

Cottonwood Pass

I would need a few more days to get to Twin Lakes and a few more to Leadville. In those days I would need to cross over Lake Ann Pass and Hope Pass both substantially exposed. The thunderstorms that were coming were actually forming as I approached Cottonwood Pass so I decided to hitch a ride into Buena Vista and reevaluate my situation. After confirming how bad the next 5 days of weather appeared and discussing with my wife how it would be nice if I decided to head for home to help with watching our 15 month old grandson, I decided I had experienced the best of the Colorado Trail and that there was no need to weather the coming storms. So the Colorado Trail Adventure was over, but it was an awesome adventure whee I believe I experienced the best of the CT. A few day later when I was beginning my drive home I took this short video of the storms where I would have been hiking.

So I felt good about my decision.

Colorado Trail – Silverton to Lake City

My first week on the Colorado Trail, Durango to Silverton, was awesome and my visit to Silverton was successful for resupply, beer and and great steak dinner at Handlebars. I highly recommend the Avalanche Brewery and the Sultan IPA which is just a few doors down from the Blair Street Hostel. Overall Silverton is a great mountain town, however, they are a bit obsessed with OHVs. I did take a zero day mostly to allow my tired body to recover.

Jan, who runs the Hostel gave shuttle rides back to Molas Pass for $5 so I was back on the trail on August 23rd. Molas Pass is at 10886′ but you then hike down to the Animas River and the train tracks at 8918′. I did get to see the Durango to Silverton Tourist train go by and it did look like a good ride.

After the river you climb up the Elk Creek Canyon to above 12000′. I climbed as far as I could so to set myself up for the final hard climb the next day. I settled for a nice campsite in the trees where I had deer guests and learned a lesson about keeping my backpack close to the tent. Rodents chewed my shoulder strap where my handkerchief was attached and nearly severed that strap. I was fearful for the rest of my trek that the strap was going to break apart. This campsite also presented the most aggressive mosquitoes that I encountered. The next day would include the 5 avalanche debris fields that created some delay, however, routes had been created through them that were not too difficult.

The climb out of Elk Creek Canyon was a serious effort, but the beauty was inspiring. There was a stretch that got a bit technical but mostly it was about the altitude.

I maintained a slow but steady pace to finally arrive at what would be days above tree line. The view from the top looking back was awesome.

Back Down the Elk Creek Canyon

Once above tree line the wind became an issue, but the weather was good which allowed for various exposed campsites.

I ended up camping next to a small lake that appeared to have fish in it. Hiking above tree line reminded me of the Lofoten Islands but in a special Rocky Mountain way. Yes, the Rocky Mountains are really big rocks that dominate all of the vistas. Simply gorgeous.

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My next campsite was again exposed but perched above a beautiful valley.

The following day I needed to position myself for the ascend to the CT High Point. The campsite again provided a fabulous view.

The High Point on the Colorado Trail is 13,271′ but you don’t sense that it is a high point since it is such a gradual climb. The wind was really blowing but the skies were blue and the temperature was fairly nice. The views continued to be amazing as I approached a view of Lake San Cristobal next to Lake City. I needed to get to water that was near a Yurt where a herd of sheep were being managed. The sheep covered the trail but were no problem to move through. I decided to hike on far enough to get away from the sheep. I again camped on a totally exposed hillside. The following day I passed open range cattle grazing. I needed to get to Spring Creek Pass Trailhead in time to catch a 12:30 pm shuttle back to Lake City. I stayed in the Ravens Rest Hostel making plans for what would be my next section.

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Colorado Trail – Durango to Silverton

I felt like this was the season I needed to take on the Colorado Trail. My trek in the Lofoten Islands of Norway got me in pretty good shape but it also meant I would get a late start on the CT. That translated to starting in Durango with the northbound goal of hiking to Denver. Normally I don’t focus on the through hike concept but I did initially hope to complete the entire CT. I was definitely onboard for the complete CT during my first week on the trail. 

I knew that acclimating to the altitude was going to be critical for an old backpacker who was coming from an elevation of about 300′ in Oregon. So driving to Colorado was an excellent way to acclimate. Over about a week I adapted myself to the higher elevations of Colorado which enabled me to at least survive those initial days climbing up from Durango into the San Juan Mountains. Overall I believe that a late start on the CT is enhanced by taking on the northbound approach. Some positives were guarantees of maximum beauty in the San Juan’s, good water access thanks to a good snow year, and the sun is typically at your back (helpful for solar charging).

View from Gudy’s Rest

I was able to leave my car with a friend in Colorado Springs and receive a ride to the Durango Junction Creek Trailhead. I spent the night at the NFS Campground and started out on August 15th. I knew that the elevation climb over the next couple of days would be the greatest vertical change on the entire CT, close to 5000′ to Kennebec Pass but much more than that with the various undulations. The vertical alone would be tough but climbing from 7000′ to 12000′ feet is the real challenge. Once I reached 11000′ feet I was sucking air. Climbing at high altitude was slow and tiring, but thankfully I was not getting sick so my acclimation had worked.

Junction Creek

The first day turned out to be longer then I might have planned, but water and campsite options dictate your decisions, So I had to go 14.5 miles with about 4000′ total ascent to Junction Creek for my first night. Yes you can push yourself the first day, but I sure was tired sharing the limited campsite space with about 15 other SOBO backpackers. I was getting acquainted with my various navigational aids: Guthook App, CT Databook, and my Garmin InReach Mini. Goal for Day 2 was Taylor Lake which I knew would push the altitude envelop but would set me up for the next days at that elevation. However, the 4000′ climb to Taylor Lake was brutal since high elevation took its toll. The last 500′ I would go about 20 feet and then rest, but I only had to cover about 8 miles so I had the time to slog along. I did have a bit of a headache at Taylor Lake, but nothing bad.

 

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The trail to Taylor Lake was truly stunning. The beauty of the San Juan’s was exploding in perfect weather. Taylor Lake turned out to be a very nice campsite.

Taylor Lake

Day 3 would mean mostly hiking around 12000′ which amplified every uphill section. I was encouraged though because my body was not rebelling and I had hopes for getting stronger.  However, water was known to be scarce in this section with a small seep of a stream as it was called as the only water for 22 miles.

The seep came after 7 miles which made for an easier day since that was my only campsite option. Unfortunately the seep occurred in a few places and from my northbound approach I ended up choosing to filter water out of the less desirable seep which ended up clogging my Katadyn water filter with mud. Oh well, live and learn.

But I did take advantage of the great viewpoint campsite just north of the seep. The following day meant 15 miles to the next reliable water, however, the terrain was not that tough so it turned out to be a good but I was tired. A strong motivator was the incredibly beautiful scenery that epitomize the San Juan’s. I do believe this is the most beautiful portion of the CT.

On my 5th day on the trail I was beginning to understand my challenges. One problem I have is loss of appetite while on the trail. This was not going to work for a sustained period of time so I would need to increase my calorie intake. I decided to address this issue in Silverton when I resupplied. Yes, Silverton, now I was starting to think about those nice cold IPA brews that I would have in town.

Blackhawk Pass presented some of the best hillsides of flowers that I saw on the CT. But not just here, the flowers were awesome throughout my CT Trek.

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I was truly in heaven. The weather was fabulous and the scenery was amazing. My last night before Silverton was the beginning of many nights of being totally exposed above tree line, but the weather was cooperating. However, this day ended up being filled with smoke from a controlled burn.

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My final push into Silverton at Molas Pass presented the most risky weather situation I had to deal with. Storms were forming but I felt like they were going to miss me to the south. Wrong, they moved north and overtook me when I had very little cover.

The hail was large enough to hurt so I had to essentially dive into a tree and hope that lightening would not choose that tree. I was lucky because a strike occurred very close as in the light and the sound were simultaneous. I was able to finish out the segment and hitchhike a ride to Silverton from the Molas Pass rest area.

 

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