Tag Archives: thru hike

Day 5. Bushwhacking

12/19/16

Distance Hiked: about 29 miles

I fell asleep quickly for once last night but woke up ice cold and shaking. I hoped it was at least 2 a.m. It was just 10 p.m. My sleeping pad had almost no effect against the icy ground. It was cold to the touch. I sat up and warmed up pretty quick. The air isn’t unbearably cold, it’s just the ground sucking my heat away. I can’t stand 8 more hours of cold and shaking so I formulate a new plan. There’s still a good bit of traffic on the main road here, I could hitch into Julian but I don’t know where to stay. Because I have no phone service and none of the wifi networks at the restaurant, campground or tackle shop work, I can’t look up prices for hotel rooms. My only alternative is that the public bathroom for the campground is open. So that’s where I go. It’s not heated at all, but it blocks the wind which has been getting stronger. Also the ground in there is dry and not made of ice. 

I set up my sleeping pad and quilt on the ground near the sink and fall asleep fast. Wake up and it’s 4 a.m. Yes! Finally some good sleep! By then I’m shivering here too. It it’s so close to morning that I hold out until 4:45 when I pack up all my gear. 

The morning hike is cold and my hands are bright red. The hike to engineer road is lined with big oak trees, manzanitas and other shrubs I don’t recognize. 

Once the trail met engineer road, it was roads all day. Walking down down down the mountain, there were some Coulter Pines growing along the road. These trees are super cool and notable for having the heaviest pinecones in the world at up to 11 lbs! They’re dense like a block of wood and have jagged spines on them to boot! These trees have a very small natural range and only exist in isolated groves in California. They also occur along the Pacific Crest Trail where I found some even bigger cones in 2014. I also wrote a blog post about them which you can read here >>>> Coulter Pine

Coulter Pinecone near Cuyamaca Woods. This is a “small” one this one was about 4 lbs

Here’s a bigger one I found in 2014 on the PCT.
And an even bigger one from the PCT!!!
Little skinny acorns are new to me! I’ll have to look up what species this is. 

A cool burl on an oak

The trail briefly enters the Inaja Indian Reservation for a few miles. I didn’t see anyone around here and only a few isolated houses, one with all the windows smashed in.  

After walking through some ranch land, the road meets trail for a short stint that descends to cedar creek waterfalls and the back up and out to civilization. The trail here is well maintained and cruiser. Had a good time flying down the mountain and had a snack at the bottom. After that I ran into a fair amount of day hikers heading down to the waterfalls. I listened to Disney songs and flew up the mountain. At the crest of the hill, you can see a building and a bunch of palm trees. Right over the top you get a view of a bunch of houses and roads that lead towards the city. I eat lunch at the picnic table there and use the pit toilet which is the cleanest one I’ve ever used. 

The trail skirts down the mountain to the valley floor and up to the left


A very cartoony cactus

This is where the day took a turn for the stressful. I followed the trail on a bunch of dirt roads that went into rural neighborhoods and then the route the trail takes on my maps and gps end at a guys house. The gps track takes you right into his fenced backyard where a bunch of adolescent emus or ostriches were running around. He’s also got a sign that says no trespassing right on the fence. It looks like the road used to connect to another road there but you can’t get to it without hopping in people’s yards with beware of dog signs. I say what the hell and have to backtrack a half mile to get to an alternate route that drops behind the people’s houses on national forest property. You’re free to walk wherever you want there, but unfortunately it’s a bushwhack with steep terrain and many gullies had formed from water rushing down any topography. These were hard to get into because thy were filled with shrubs and loose rock. I walked around awhile at the first one trying to find a way into it. Just as I was getting frustrated, a coyote appeared and looked at me, it was on the same side of the gully as me and then ran down into it and right up the other side in almost sheer scree! I followed where he want and then slid down the gully and walked right up the steep scree too! It looked too steep to climb but you could dig into the loose wet scree pretty well and climb out! My spirit animal showed me the way. I went in and out of about 10 gullies like this before I finally made it back to the truck trail away from private property. 

I followed this trail into the evening and planned to camp where I saw a nice flat spot on my map before the steep bushwhack up El Cajon Mountain in the morning. Before I could get there though,  the road was blocked by a gate saying private property, beware of dog. It was getting late and now I was worried I wouldn’t find a flat spot before dark. The alternative route was to follow the spine of the mountain for a mile and a half or so. This was the thickest of all the bushwhacking which dense shrubs 10 feet high. After shredding my arms and legs for over an hour I could see a spot where I could drop back to the truck trail on apparently public land? I had to climb down these big round boulders and try not to trip and snap my leg in the middle of nowhere. Once back at the road I followed it past some old rural folk refuse. Old washing machines, machine parts and a flipped over car. Once again I came to a fence blocking the road. I was right at the spot to bushwhack  up the mountainside. Only about half a mile of whacking but it’s super steep and there is of course no trail. I figured I didn’t have much of a choice. I ate a bunch of candy and powered up the mountainside. It was tough but not as bad as some of the earlier bushwhacking. Exhausted and mentally worn down I used the little daylight I had to set up my shelter and snap some photos. I was right at the crest of the mountain, with only another mile and a half of bushwacking In the morning to go. Then I got paranoid that being on the crest of the mountain I was going to be blasted by wind all night keeping me awake and cold. The only flat spot was a slab of granite so I weighed down my stakes with rocks. The shelter was sturdier than I ever have had it before. Then I thought about all the deer I saw on the way up here. Then I thought the mountain lions must be up here too. All the caffeine I had during the day had me edgy to start and then the stress of bushwhacking alone all evening resulted in me having anxiety all night. The caffeine kept me awake and the stress kept me uncomfortable. I talked to friends and family on the phone to kill time and then listened to podcasts until I finally drifted off to sleep. 

The climb down the boulders to the road

RIP

Super tired, but man what a sight

Day 3. Desert Hills

12/17/16

Distance Hiked: upper 20’s

Woke up at 5 and was walking at 6. Watched the sunrise as I walked through downtown Borrego Springs. I can see snow dusting the tops of the mountains I’m about to climb, but it’ll probably melt by the time I get up there. The temp seems to be in the low 40s but it’s comfortable walking with the sun shining. The hike up the mountain was reasonably steep, a gain of more than 3500 from the hotel. Little moss and lichens are very green and seem super excited from the rain. Up the mountain I moved from desert floor plants to hillside plants like ocotillo, barrel cactus, agave and teddy bear cholla to junipers, manzanita and other shrubs at the high elevations. Some snow did last until I got up there! But not much. 

All the sand and dust that didn’t wash out of my hair has made it feel gritty and look crazy

Sunrises for days

Cold morning walk through Borrego Springs

An ant empire. Their monumental construction project casts a shadow with the morning’s first light.

Good old teddy bear cholla

These lichens that bake in the sun for 99% of the year look visibly happier from all the rain

Pretty little mosses rejoice too

Some clever caterpillars snuck into the fortress of a barrel cactus’s spines to pupate. Looks like the one on the right may have been attacked by some smaller insects

That farthest hill in the upper middle of this photo is right near where we got sandstormed and the Salton Sea is barely visible just beyond that.

There’s a spine in my hind!

A little bit of snow 

I got to Pena spring and found some flowing water deep among some willows and shrubs. The water was great, a little peat aftertaste but not bad. The ground was frosty here too. You skirt the top of the mountain for a bit and then descend into grapevine canyon, which is beautiful and an easy walk. I passed by Stuart spring which was a piped spring with a trough, which was full and flowing. Soon after that was Angelia spring which was near some cottonwood trees but I couldn’t see any water there. I didn’t look for long though, I’m heavy with water. 
I think there’s a more legit flow somewhere around Pena spring but this little grass flow led me to a spot good enough

Stuart Spring, full trough and flowing

This is an old fruit of the wild spiny cucumber (Marah macrocarpus) 

In the evening I dropped down to a highway and then slowly up and through a mountain pass/ wash that was packed with cool plants and cacti. It was steep on both sides and water clearly had just rushed through it yesterday. I ran into a guy with an RV there and talked a bit about hiking. Once I started coming down the other side of the wash it was getting dark at 4 pm. Winter sucks. I rushed down into the valley with the idea of leaving mountainous areas for the wide open desert where I figured less large animals would want to bother me. I set up camp at 4:45 just as it was getting too dark to see and ate dinner. Then curled up into my sleeping bag for the night. I love sleeping in the wide open.

Lots of barrel cacti in the canyon! 

Other side of the canyon opened into flat desert 

Day 2. Storm Zero 

12/16/16

Distance Hiked: 0 miles

Taking a zero today due to the insane sandstorms and heavy rain. Conditions are suppose to improve by tomorrow morning. For the sake of time and not having to find a way back out to a random part of a wash I’ll have to just miss those 15 miles from the sandstorm to Borrego Springs. 

Coughee and me go to the nearby Arches restaurant for breakfast and I eat some big pancakes. 5 other diners are at a table near us and asks if we’re the two guys who got caught in the sandstorm last night. Yep. The lady at the front desk supposedly told of our struggle. We chatted with them for a bit while looking out on the golf course you could see the sandstorm still raging in the desert. 

There are grapefruit trees planted all over, filled with fruit so I grab one to eat. As soon as I bite into it, my tongue goes numb. Coughee tries some too and his tongue goes numb. We think pesticide on the outside of the fruit maybe did this, since we had no knife to cut it, we just bit into it. The effect lasted many hours. Wont try that again. 

As we’re just laying around with nothing to do all day Coughee makes the decision to go home because he is moving to a new house with Sherrie in a few weeks and he feels bad that she’s doing all the packing. I’m sad that he’s leaving but he’s just being responsible. His friends are coming to pick him up and take me to resupply. We lose power in the hotel for about 30 minutes. Wind must have blown some power lines down. When Shane and Moose arrive, we head to buy some food at the grocery store when we find out the whole town is still out of power. The grocery store says they can’t sell us anything and we go to the liquor store instead because it’s the only place that’s open. They had enough snacks for me to resupply a few days. We get back to the hotel and I say bye to Coughee and his friends. Power is out at the hotel again for a few hours, it comes back on and I pass out by 8 pm. 

Day 1. Awesome Desert Scenery and the Storm.

Day 1 

12/15/16

Distance Hiked: About 22 miles

We woke up at Coughee’s house at 5 am and had a quick breakfast and then hit the road. Coughee’s buddy Shane drove us down towards the Salton Sea and we cached water about 15 miles from the trail starts that way we don’t have to carry water the whole 38 miles to Borrego Springs. After hiding 4 gallons in the bushes we drove back to the main road and to the “beach” of the Salton Sea. 

We thanked Shane and said bye as we walked down to the Salton Sea’s shore. This “sea” stinks like ass and fish. It used to be fresh water after humans accidentally let a river pour into the valley, filling it and making an inland sea. It became salty because no new water flowed into it and no water ever left it, so as it evaporates in the burning desert sun it concentrates all the salt in the water that’s left. The shore is lined with piles of old barnacles and petrified fish. Some pelicans and seagulls and a heron were in the water. There was a coyote and a dog running around the shore line as well. 

The morning drive to the Salton Sea
Hiding our water in bushes

Fish everywhere

The salty shore

Glasswort grows all around the Salton sea. It’s a salt loving plant.

There actually was some water in the wash but it looked really salty and gross

We walked until we hit the wash we’re supposed to take and hit the trail. The morning was chilly and cloudy and the walking was easy. We walked under the highway and ate some snacks when 4 dune buggies went flying up the wash. The scenery got interesting as there were cuts in the sides of the wash. Crazy rock formations were sticking out someone carved one into a dick. 

A petrified tree?

Ancient shells coming out of the walls

There is a “PP” in the wash

When we cross countried from wash to wash the area was absolutely desolate. Just rocks on the ground everywhere as far as you could see. Eventually we made it to our water cache and ate some lunch as we filled up all our water. Then we walked towards some badlands and snakes our way through the crumbling, painted hillsides. I didn’t even know there were badlands out here! It was beautiful. 

Magnificent desolation 

Mud balls?

Wash through the badlands

The badlands

We hopped out of the badlands and walked towards a mountain we knew was in the direction we wanted and crossed more rocky areas where we came across a bomb that had been dropped out of a plane! It was just an empty shell so I’m assuming it’s some kind of practice bomb. Looked like it had been there a long time. As the sun started to set the lighting and the clouds became unbelievable. Lenticular clouds formed over the mountains and the sun began to shine. We walked until it was dark. 5 pm. Set up a cowboy camp and ate dinner. We had some service and looked at the weather forecast. Probably no rain but we had a high wind warning. 30 mph winds with 60 mph gusts on the desert floor starting tonight until tomorrow evening. As we got in our sleeping bags the wind began to pick up. Let’s see how this goes. 

We found an old bomb!

Lenticular clouds!

Some of the coolest clouds I’ve ever seen

There is life out here! 

We wake back up around 9:30 pm to the wind blasting us with sand and dust so we try to tuck ourselves in our sleeping bags and just hunker down. After about 20 minutes of this we both agreed it was hard to breathe because sand and dust was just pouring into all the cracks and crevices of of our bags. We got up to pee and the winds picked up to probably around 50 or 60 mph. My pee blasted away into just a mist. The full moon was out so we could see that the entire desert floor was just cast in a sandstorm. If you faced the wind, sand and dust pelted your eyes and got in your mouth and nose. It’s still about 15 miles to Borrego Springs, and 10 miles to the nearest road. Unfortunately the trail to Borrego Springs takes to head on into the blowing sand and wind. We came to the conclusion we couldn’t stay where we were. It was just too exposed and if this was supposed to last until 8pm the next night, we’d choke on all the sand. If you’ve never been in a sand storm before, I think you can imagine how shitty and scary it really is. We had some cell service and got a call out to a Borrego Springs deputy, letting them know we were out there but not in grave danger, but in trouble. 

We threw all our gear into our packs haphazardly and started walking west with our heads down into the sandstorm. The sand stings when it hits you and our eyes got full of sand and you could feel it all stuck under your eyelids and scraping your eyes at the same time you’re eating and breathing the sand and dust. Shitty. If only we had goggles and a respirator, we’d have be okay. Finally after about a mile and a half of walking, the winds calmed a little and we could walk without our eyes being pelted. We found a big bush in a wash that blocked the wind almost perfectly and decided that we were safe there and could camp out until morning. We tried calling the deputy back to say we’ve found shelter for the night but we couldn’t get through. Finally he called us and said he was near us, and that he still wanted to talk to us and make sure we’re okay. He drove up the wash in his 4 wheel drive Ford Expedition and told us he recommends we leave with him because it’s about to pour down rain in the mountains and even the desert. Our bush in the wash would be flooded and then we’d be stuck in the blasting wind and rain with no trail to follow, as the trail is this wash almost all the way to Borrego Springs. We take him up on the offer. 

He goes flying through the washes in his car at crazy speeds, clearly enjoying cruising around the sandy bends. As soon as we reach a paved road it starts raining. He says he can drop us off at the campground near Borrego Springs but doesn’t recommend it because it’s going to flood everywhere and be windy. He says, “Sure you don’t want to go to a hotel?” We agree, let’s go to the hotel. He drives through town and then out to a dirt lot and stops the car. He asks us if we need to use the bathroom. There is a pit toilet there and he opens the door and says here you go. Uhhh is the hotel around here? He says nope this is Hellhole Canyon. Then he asks us for our IDs and spends about 10 minutes typing stuff into his computer while we stand in the stinking pit toilet to get out of the cold, windy rain. Finally he comes back and says we’re good to go. “I thought you were taking us to a hotel?” He says, “Oh yea, I can do that.” Ummm okay. I guess he forgot where he was taking us. Anyway we hop back in and head back through town. He’s a nice guy and we chat him up about how often he gets called to pick people up out of the desert. Says he gets lots of Europeans who want to experience the desert in the summer and end up roasting out there. Finally we get dropped off at the hotel and we check in to a room. The lady is very talkative and we chat about what just happened to us. 

In the room we scrape sand out of our ears and the corner of our eyes. Boogers that are mostly stone are mined out we hack crap out of our lungs. We take quick showers and hit the hay. What an insane night it has been. A whole new terrifying natural disaster to experience. Still happy though! 


Thanks for the save!

San Diego Trans-County Trail Gear List.

I’m starting my thru hike of the San Diego Trans-County Trail on Tuesday!

This trail is about 155 miles long and goes from the the Salton Sea in Southern California, through the Anza-Borrego Desert, into the actual city of San Diego and ends at the Pacific Ocean near Torrey Pines. The trail is really more of a route, meaning there is no trail at all for much of it but rather you use a compass and map to follow the route through washes and towards landmarks.My gear list for this hike contains much of the same items as the Colorado Trail hike I did earlier this year, with a new few bits of gear like the Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket that I’ll mostly be using as a wind breaker. I’ll also be carrying all this in a new backpack from Pa’lante Packs, made by my friends Handy Andy and John Zahorian. Together they make and just started selling ultralight, minimalist backpacks. These guys are monster hikers. Handy Andy holds the fastest known time (unsupported) on the John Muir Trail, hiking all 211 miles of it in just 3 days 10 hours 59 minutes! John Z just set the Colorado Trail fastest known time (unsupported) this summer while I was actually on the CT. He managed to hike the entire 485 miles of the trail in 9 days 12 hours and 32 minutes! He carried all his food from start to finish with zero resupplies. These dudes know what they’re doing. So I’m trying out one of their packs to see how it works!

Here’s what I’m bringing.

Backpack and Water Treatment and Storage:
Pa’lante Packs 40 liter backpack 13 oz
Sawyer squeeze mini 1.7 oz
4 1 liter smart water bottles 8 oz
Subtotal 22.7 oz

Sleep system
Six Moon Designs Wild Oasis tarp tent with insect netting 13 oz
6 Aluminum tent stakes 3 oz
Enlightened Equipment Enigma 20 degree down quilt 19.4 oz
Z Lite sleeping pad 10 oz
Subtotal 45.4 oz

Clothing in Backpack
Undershirt 7.2 oz
Long johns 6.9 oz
Go lite down jacket 7.5 oz
Spare socks 3 oz
Enlightened Equipment Sidekick booties 1.5 oz
Outdoor Research Helium II ultralight rain jacket 6.4 oz
Subtotal 32.5 oz

Miscellaneous Items
Head light with batteries 2.8 oz
Sunglasses .7 oz
Toothbrush and toothpaste 1 oz
Compass .8 oz
Tiny Swiss Army knife .5 oz
Sunscreen 2 oz
Tenacious tape, sewing needle and dental floss .2 oz
Subtotal 8 oz

Electronics
Chargers 2 oz
Anker battery 15000 mwh 11 oz
Canon PowerShot SX50 HS Camera, Raynox DCR 250 Macro lens, case, battery and charger 30 oz
Subtotal 43 oz

Total Base Weight 151.6 oz or 9.48 lbs

All the gear out of the pack!

Everything in the pack!

I’m very excited to get back into the desert and see all the different plants and animals. Also want to get out of the freezing cold and wet days here. I’ll be doing another daily blog for this trail so stay tuned!

Day 21. Great Sand Dunes National Park.

7/20/16

Ate some breakfast and then walked to the airport where the rental car service is. Luckily the airport is only about a mile walk from the hostel. I wait there until they open and then drive back to the hostel in my fancy car. I pick up M&M and drive him back to the trail, which just so happens to be on the way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, somewhere I’ve always wanted to see. Along the way I pick up a hitch hiker just out of Gunnison and turns out he’s a hiker I met weeks earlier who’s also heading to the same trailhead! We talk about all the animals and other things we’ve seen along the trail. Once we get to the trailhead I say farewell to M&M and the other hiker (who’s name now escapes me). 

Once I’m back in the car and heading to the dunes I listen to all my favorite songs and get pumped up for the dunes. I can see them in the distance, almost 50 miles away, as a pile of tan mountains just below a huge mountain range. 

At the park I fill up on water and check out visitors center. I have to get to the highest dune, Star Dune. A pile of sand 750 feet tall! From the visitors center you have to cross a river to get to the dunes. At this time of year it’s just several disconnected small streams that occasionally disappear below the sand. Dozens of people are playing in the creek and at the base of the dune field, but only a handful of people are up on the higher peaks. 

This little grasshopper has adapted well to the dunes! Unique places almost always have unique plants and animals inhabiting them.

Other insects were just dead in the dunes. Likely blown there and roasted. I’ve seen a similar situation on glaciers and snowfields. 
The walk up the dunes is extremely exhausting, way more so than I would have thought. Every step you slide back, the ground is uneven and it just drains your energy. But once I got up high and away from everyone I had the dunes and the view all to myself. The environment was surreal. I could have been on any terrestrial world. Just rock and sky. 

If you ever get a chance to visit this place I highly recommend it. What a great place to think about our place in the world and the universe. 

Once my fun in the dunes was over I went back to Golden, CO and hung out with Guthrie and stayed at his house for the night (Thanks again Guth!) My Colorado adventure ends here. Until next time! 

Sheriff Woody

Day 19. Wanderlust Hostel.

7/18/16

Miles: 0

We wake up at the same time we always do and crawl out of our tents to find pooping spots. We are right next to a road and in an open field. I walk at least a quarter miles to trees and do my thang. When I walk back Rapunzle says, “Oh there you are! Perfect timing!” Grover’s wife just dropped him off at the trail and she’s willing to take us to Gunnison! Kyle was going to take some of us but 5 hikers and 5 backpacks won’t fit into his Mini Cooper so we had planned to hitch. How perfect it all works out sometimes. 

The 40 mile drive is beautiful. Open expanses of grassland with distant mountains gives way to a red rocked canyon system that we drive through. I see a whole group of about 15 big horned sheep on the cliffs at one point! Grover’s wife drops Rapunzle, M&M and I at the Wanderlust Hostel. Leah, Sara and Kyle are still in their way here. It’s only 8 am when we get to the hostel. We meet some other hikers inside and hang out until our friend show up. Then we borrow some bicycles and go to a breakfast place in town. It’s cheap and delicious. When we get back we meet Amy, the owner and take turns taking showers. We all throw in some loaner clothes while we wash our hiking stuff. The clothes are amazing. I grab a flowery shirt and some super hippy pants. M&M wears a shirt covered in fake bloodstains. Sara, Leah and Rapunzle wear hippy dresses. 

Wanderlust Hostel

I can’t play any instrument

Next stop is the Safeway where we buy all the food we’ve been fantasizing about the past week. People stare at M&M’s bloody shirt and my creepy resemblance of to Charles Manson. I get a bunch of fried chicken, cheesecake, orange juice and Leah and I get two Ben and Jerry’s pints to share. EmpowerMint and half baked. Ohhh yes. We walk home and all of us eat until we’re sick. Then we put on Forrest Gump. After that we watch Bridesmaids. We meet a guy named Strider and a couple other hikers and talk about past thru hikes. Hostels are such a fun part of a thru hike. 

The Manson family goes shopping

Around dinner time we went to Anejos Mexican restaurant and got some huge cheap margaritas. Leah and me were still to full to eat any food but happy to have some drinks. M&M, Strider and Rapunzle feast again. Sara isn’t feeling too well after eating so much so she stays back at the hostel. By the time we finish one margarita we head back to the hostel but hit up Safeway on the way back. Turns out grocery stores only sells 3.2 beer unfortunately so we had to make a second trip to the liquor store and get a 6 pack of shock top. 

Back at the hostel we all laugh and talk until 10 pm when a lady comes out and says it’s quiet hours. We tipsily eat some cheesecake before bed. I am pleased. But tomorrow the girls and M&M will keep on hiking without me 😭 I only have off until the 21st and need to rent a car and drive back to Denver to catch my flight. We’re a trail family! I don’t want to leave. 

You know, just ordering food. M&M’s bloody shirt catches some glances.

Margarita night!

The Pitz.

Day 18. Last Day on Trail.

7/17/16

Miles 14.0

Total: 302.4

The wind died down in the night so we knew the morning as going to be a mosquito hell. We all take our morning poops and tell our horror stories of how we all had dozens of mosquitoes on our ass cheeks. They suck all the joy out of life. I think we need to make it our goal to annihilate all mosquitos from the face of the earth at any cost. I think this and they aren’t even giving me a debilitating or lethal disease like they do elsewhere in the world. Mosquitos = humanity’s number one enemy. 
The morning sun lights the lake and mountainside. We walk out for our lazy hike to highway 114 where we will camp. It’s only 14 miles and we have all day. The mosquitoes seem to intensify during the first mile of our hike until we make it to an open meadow where the wind sends them far away. Hopefully straight to hell. 

The morning light on the hillside

We leapfrogged this guy and his puppy all morning. It’s nice to see backpacking puppies! Always brings a smile to your face.

The day consisted mostly of medium sized ups and downs, rather steep at times but over quickly. Lots of pretty wildflowers were blooming on the hillsides. As we climbed the last steep hill of the day we charged up it, huffing and puffing. Sara went to the side of the trail and started hyperventilating and gasping and it was very startling. Turns out she has asthma and had an attack. We grabbed her inhaler and Leah breathed with her to calm her down. After a few minutes she was all better. We took a nice long lunch break to recover. 

Rapunzle’s bone collection is growing!

Fireweed!

Some kind of gentian?

Cool blue larkspur

The last few miles of the section was on a dirt road which made for easy group walking. To make things even sweeter, wild strawberries were fruiting all along the roadside. We took a couple stops to collect the delicious little morsels. We crossed the 300 mile mark today as well. It was marked by “300” written out by pine cones in the trail. We decided to one up this by writing out 300 with our bodies. 

300 miles!

We had to reenact it

Lots of little strawberry patches along the roads! Super sweet little treats.

Right before the dirt road meets the highway we run into a group of people who we had crisscrossed with during the day. Their parents were there with a car and setting up a car camp. They offered us some twinkies and little Debbie fruit pies which we very happily accepted. I was completely out of food and hungry so these really hit the spot. 

When we hit the highway it’s a .4 mile walk to the trailhead which is a large parking lot. Storm clouds rolled in and we raced to set up our tents before the wind and the rain. I found a little underpass where water flows under the highway. I ran to it and hid in there during the brief storm. I wasn’t alone though, dozens of swallows had built their nests in there and were flying out and around me while I took shelter. It was a bit smelly. The rain let up a bit and I joined everyone else by their shelters. I went in Rapunzle’s shelter and we hung out and talked to the rest of the family as the rain finally stopped. 

The little tunnel I waited out the storm in.

Cool swallow nests.

Our little shelters in the storm

After the storm I walked around with my macro clip on my iPhone and took lots of pictures of cool little insects in the shrubby landscape.

Cool little beetle

Tephritidae

Dirty hiker hands. Still gotta eat with them!

Weather turned nice!

Sara’s friend Kyle is coming to camp with us and is also rumored to be bringing trail magic at around 6 pm tonight and it’s only 4. We kill time by playing a game that M&M teaches us. At about 7 pm a white mini cooper shows up and out comes Kyle with two pizzas, a 6 pack, bottle of whisky and sour patch kids. We are starving so we this is some major trail magic. The pizza is crushed by us in minutes and we pass around the bottle of whisky. We happily feast on sour patch kids and then I pull out my MP3 player and start playing Disney songs. Kyle fits in immediately when he starts singing “Prince Ali” from Aladdin with me. Time flies by as we take goofy videos of us howling and cramming into Leah and Sara’s Big Agnes. We pass out easily. 

Gunna miss my hiker family!
My last night on trail went out with a bang as we enjoy the trail magic and sing Disney songs!

Day 17. Wildflowers!

7/16/16

Silver creek trail junction to baldy lake.

18.4 miles

We slowly got up and ate food. The morning was sunny and we got hot quickly. We made it to tank seven creek, one of the only water sources today, and met a thru biker there. He’s from Columbus, Ohio and studied American Chestnut trees at Ohio University. This is crazy because I also work in a lab that specializes on American chestnuts, or more specifically the pathogenic fungus that killed all of them, Cryphonectria parasitica which causes chestnut blight. We nerded out for a bit talking about what we did in each of our studies. He researched how the tannins in chestnuts leaves will affect forest soil when we recover the tree. 

Fantastic view in the morning. 

After the creek the trail slowly ascended, going through beautiful meadows for hours. Tons of wildflowers were blooming here. Many with whimsical names such as monskhood, pussytoes, shooting stars and elephant’s head. I stayed in the back of our group, taking time to look at and photograph these beauties. 

Elephant’s head! How freaking cool!?

Monkshood

Shooting Stars
Fleabane

Beautiful meadows much of the day.

Western Bistort. Their smell is… Uh like turds.

Rapunzle has been collecting animal bones along the trail and today we found the bone jackpot, an entire cow skeleton. It had been pretty rotted away and was very exposed. Although she’s been looking for a skull, a cow skull was very heavy and even one side of the jaw weighed more than a pound. A tooth would be cool we say! As we play with the bones I decided to reenact the 2001 scene where the protohumans learn to use tools. I grabbed a femur which still had the tibia attached with a tough ligament and in monkey fashion tried breaking the jaw open with the femur to get a tooth. After a few unsuccessful hits, the femur and tibia swung shut and crushed my hand on a final blow and chopped a nice bit of skin off. My pointer and middle finger on my right hand started bleeding pretty good. Fuck. I just cut my fingers open using a rotting cow leg. I got to have some nasty bacteria in that wound. I pull off a piece of skin that is dangling and the rest of the crew get out their first aid gear. I wash it with water and hand sanitizer. Then Leah used a syringe to blast away the blood and dirt. Then we dried it and I put on some neosporin and band aids that Tyler had. Oh well, that was stupid. 

You win.

We eat lunch at Sergeants Mesa which is a beautiful meadow with views of mountains all around. The meadow has lots of flowers and cows in it. We relax in the sun and I try to catch a butterfly I’ve never seen before. There are so many flies on this trail it is driving us all mad. No matter where you are on the trail there are flies all over you. All they do is fly around your face and land on you over and over. Never biting, just being very annoying to the point where each kill is rejoiced. Yesterday I breathed one in while hiking and had to swallow it with a gulp of water. Nasty little shits. 

Sergeant’s Meadow

Death camas flower

After lunch we walk the trail together playing a game of “would you rather.” We just think of nasty things you’d rather do and laugh for a good hour at this game. We reach the side trail for Baldy Lake which is half a mile off trail and down a steep hill. It sounds like it’s going to be a swampy mosquito infested campsite, but when we reach the lake it is a beautiful blue green snowmelt lake with steep rocky scree all around it. The water is clear and filled with little arthropods. We eat dinner and then sit by the lake as the sun sets behind the mountain. I try fishing for trout with some fishing line and a hook I found the other day, tied to my trekking pole and a bobber of carved wood. There are lots of big leeches in the lake and I try using one as bait. I have no luck so Leah takes over. Unfortunately we have no luck but all hang out and converse anyway. As the sun sets we head to our shelters and kill all the flies and mosquitoes that got in during setup. There are even more mosquitos here than the last campsite. Each person has a personal swarm of about 20 mosquitos when the wind isn’t blowing. 

Getting water at our lake

Family dinner!

Big old clump of Colorado Columbine!

Nice Penstemon

Rapunzle and the sunset

Soaking in the beauty

Day 16. Best Day Yet.

7/15/16

19.4 miles Cree creek to silver creek trail junction 

Another morning of us all waking up and packing at the same time. We hit the trail at 7 and start a steep descent to highway 50. This causes my knee hurt fairly bad. At the bottom we begin a large climb which starts as a 2 mile roadwalk before becoming single track. We pass a lake filled with trout and I find some loose fishing line and a small hook for the possibility of future fishing. We also take turns at a vault toilet here. 

Smokey got swoll

Once the single track starts the trail is rather lush and moist. We hike together singing 90s songs. Backstreet Boys, Brittany Spears, Arron Carter and the like. The trail climbs to just shy of 12,000 feet but it’s a gentle climb until the top where it gets very steep. Once you get over the pass you reconnect with the CDT and the west collegiate route. There is also a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains. 

I think this is a Lewisia species!

I slow way down in this area while listening to my favorite songs. Tyler cruises ahead to a shelter that’s on trail a mile and a half away. I wait for the girls to catch up and take tons of photos of the views, flowers and insects in this alpine environment. 

One of the most beautiful spots on the trail.

Such a fantastic area

The best

Check out that valley

The flowers are on point

I love the lichens up here!

This is a Hemipteran that’s mimicking an ant! 

Bluebell buds!

Miss campion

Lichen macro

Alpine Stichwort

We reach the cabin and eat lunch. I walk down the hill and find a spring where water is gushing out of the ground. Because we’re high up water has been pretty scare and looks to be the next few days. Leah and I talk about how bad we want some Ben and Jerry’s and how we’re all going to have a hiker family movie night in Gunnison at our hostel. We also look to see if there is a karaoke bar in town. We break next to a spring and all five of us have good conversations. We’ve had some deep talks today. We also decide to give our hiker family a surname of Pitz. For our delicate hairy armpit scent of course. 

The rest of the hike is gentle ups and downs to Silver Creek trail junction where water and campsite are. We get there just as the sky looks like it may rain on us. It’s very breezy for a bit but as soon as it dies down, a hoard of mosquitos descends on us. Definitely the worst yet. They seem completely inescapable on a thru hike. Even Arizona had buggy spots. We meet two other hikers already set up there. Aslan and Wise Guy. Two 20ish hikers that hiked with Gordon and Christian for a bit after I got off for the wedding and knee healing. Rapunzle and I talk about the pros and cons of the Appalachian trail and how it compares with the Colorado Trail with Aslan who has been looking into the AT, PCT and the Pacific Northwest Trail. To escape the scourge of flying syringes we all head into our tents around 7:30.  

Mountain pine beetle damage in the forest