Tag Archives: thruhiking

Day 14. Mount Princeton Hot Springs.

7/13/16

County road 343 to Mt. Princeton Hot Spring Resort.

10.9 miles

We get up and Ed cooks us some eggs with pizza sauce from last night. A sort of pizza omelette. It’s delicious. He’s also got a thermos of hot coffee which I mix with 2 carnation breakfast essentials to make a caffeinated mocha drink. 

We hit the trail at 8 am as we are only going about 11 miles to Princeton Hot Springs Resort where Ed is going to meet back up with us and drive us into Buena Vista for a resupply. 

The morning walk is a 1000 foot climb and then levels out pretty good for much of the day. We mostly hike together, talking and taking pictures of the beautiful wildflowers that are growing on the open hillsides. Skyrocket, bellflowers, scarlet beardtongue and Indian paintbrush are the favorites. I talk to Leah a bunch about her travels and I get the urge to travel abroad. She was in Turkey for 6 months and it sounds amazing. I want to eat a ton of food from different cultures. I may have a chance to go to Thailand this winter and it doesn’t take long for her to convince me to visit Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia while I’m over there if I get to go. 

One of the best things about backpacking in the mountains is drinking ice cold mountain water.

Skyrocket

Bellflower

Indian Paintbrush

We hit a road around late morning/ early afternoon and follow it down several miles to a desert valley. The plant life and scenery is pleasantly different and even though the shade is gone, it isn’t uncomfortable. We walk across a parched field and find some more bones for Rapunzle. She’s tying them all to her pack and is going to keep them as a fun, if creepy trail momento.  

Rapunzle’s bone collection. So far a pelvis and some vertebrae.

There’s a little ranch where you can rent horses near on the roadwalk.

Badass hiker family: Rapunzle, Sara and Leah.

The smoke is closer

Entering Princeton Hot Springs Resort 

As we walk into Princeton Hot Springs we can see some pools and a water slide with kids running around and sliding down it. We get to the general store and lay in the shade on a perfectly manicured patch of grass. I get a big bratwurst to eat before Ed shows back up. He takes us into town and the first place we stop is a brewery. We all get some good beer and I get a dozen chicken wings. We laze around there, charging phones, digesting. The next stop is an outfitter. Leah has been wearing minimalist Altras and her feet are hurting pretty bad so she gets a new pair of shoes. On these rocky trails you definitely want a thick soled shoe or you’ll be feeling all the sharp pointy rocks. 

The next stop is the City Market. Just another name for Krogers. We get some more food to last us until Gunnison and then we jump over to an ice cream shop and get some cones. We are so spoiled today. And the fun isn’t even over. Next stop, hot springs! We head back to the trail where it meets the hot springs resort and for $18 we get to soak in natural hot springs that have been diverted into a 105 degree pool and a 95 degree pool. There is also a cold, rocky stream near the pools as well where hot water pours in. You can sit in the stream with icy water on you while being blasted by a stream of hot water coming from a pipe above. We go back and forth between the different waters, very relaxing and hopefully good for our sore muscles and tendons. It certainly feels good on them. We hop out and then sweat ourselves out in a sauna room. It’s hard to breathe in it but it sure feels good. We laugh about how it smells like feet. Then we take a shower and dry off before heading back to the trailhead. 

It’s getting dark as we walk to a campsite. The mosquitos are out in full force. The worst I’ve seen yet. We set up in twilight but the moon is very bright tonight too. You can see large, jagged, crumbly white mountains in the moonlight nearby. We eat and chat until we’re too tired and call it a very relaxing day. Hey, we’re on vacation after all!
Roof kittens at Princeton Hot Springs!

Day 12. Collegiate East.

7/11/16

21.9 miles 

Twin lakes dam to Frenchman creek

We woke up from the cabin, ate oatmeal for breakfast and then the lady at the cabin drove us to the trail. The morning was warm and breezy. It’s fun hiking with new people and the ladies are a high energy, fun loving group. We hike until we reach the CDT/ CT branch point in the trail for the collegiate west and east routes. I decided to do the east route because my knee is still tender and if I need to get off trail there are many outs. Also if I do the CDT next year I’ll do the collegiate west route anyway. Mush decides to take the west route, while Rapunzle, Leah, Blistfull and I take the east route. We say bye and I think they’re going to meet back up in Salida. 

Sara (Blistfull), Rapunzle and Mush

Ohhh! A yummy bolete!

Never mind…..

Cool longhorn beetle

Rapunzle on the dry side of the mountain

Sego lily! 

The hike in the morning is in a pretty dry, sagebrushy area with cacti and yucca showing their faces on the decent towards clear creek. The air is hot and the sky is blue. We make it to clear creek which is a beautiful, crystal clear and fairly large creek and take a lunch break. 

Monument Plant

Bristlecone Pine

Then it’s a steep 4.5 mile climb up to the top of a ridge. My knee is hurting but not in the same place as before and not as painful as before. We take another break up top and look at the nice views. Then it’s back down 1000 feet and back up 1000 feet to the top of a second ridge where there are some bristlecone pines growing in the breezy open areas. Bristlecone pines as you may know are the oldest living non-clonal organisms on earth. Some trees in California are more than 6000 years old. There were still mammoths alive and walking around back then. 

I meet a hiker named Chelsea who looks like the classic hippy. She’s got dreads, piercings, and a chill happy go lucky attitude and rocking and old school military style external frame pack. She’s waking the trail after coming from the PCT where the snow in Washington was too deep to do anything. Since she had no maps she decided to hike northbound that way she runs into lots of hikers so she can ask where to find water, trailheads, etc. Whatever works! 

Great wildflowers were abundant much of the evening. Here are a couple of the lookers.

Whipple’s Penstemon

Silky Phacelia

We make it to the creek we wanted to camp by only to find no place to camp so we continued on another 2 miles to Frenchman creek where there is plenty of rushing water and campsites where 4 other hikers are already set up. We eat dinner together, chat and I help Rapunzle patch a hole in her sleeping pad. It worked! We snuggle in our shelters away from the abundant mosquitos and hit the hay.

Day 8. Maroon Bells

7/7/16

Miles: 10ish

We get up around 5 am and quickly pack our gear. It’s customary to start a hike up a 14er as early as possible to avoid running into afternoon thunderstorms in exposed areas near the top of the mountains. We drive over to the closer trailhead with Dustin meeting us there too. He has a big van that he’s using as an adventure vehicle. It’s filled with climbing gear and a place to sleep. He is trying to climb the 100 highest summits in Colorado in just a season. Hitting several peaks a day for the next several weeks. 

We walk out to a magnificent sight I know I’ve seen before in calendars and post cards. The sight of the maroon bells with a lake and aspens in the front ground. Even though it’s twilight there are several photographers with tripods set up to capture the scene. We walk on past them and into a hiking trail. We pass another lake and a sign warning of the dangerous bear and moose activity in the area. The hiking trail continues next to a creek but Twinkle and Dustin say they see the route up a pile of rocks. Looking closely a more worn part of the rocks appears trail like and we take it. We eat a quick snack and then continue on the rocky trail until it gives way to a clearly visible dirt track that goes right up the side of the mountain, and very very steeply. I’ve never been on a trail that steep in my entire life. I guess because it’s not a hiking trail but a climbing trail. Makes sense. We trip and scramble up it and occasionally have to climb up some rock formations. I get a little bit worried I’ll have trouble getting back down by myself if the others continue on. 

Maroon Bells

Some pretty killer light

Chance and Twinkle

Dustin the mountain climbing addict

​​

Even at 14,000 feet life exists

I found a rock that looks like The Starry Night by Van Gogh.

Chance and me

After the trail gives way to a large scree field with rocks the size and shape of car batteries, it gets kinda fun and kinda scary. We all walk parallel to each other because we knock lots of these rocks loose and they go sliding down the mountain. Getting hit in the face by one of these would be game over. After an exhausting scramble up this we make it to the ridge and get an out of this world view of the surrounding area. Towering mountain passes are below us, red, orange, green and white painted mountains all around, it’s so beautiful. I’m pleased to have made it this far. If I don’t make it to the top that’s okay. I have all the views at least. 

Mountain Goat wool!

Mountain goat tracks

Lots of pretty lichen​

​​lunch on the rocks

The top!


With my favorite deputies

After a break at the ridge we need to follow the spine of the mountain towards the top. The trail is gone and now it’s a “route.” There are some cairns that loosely mark which way to go but you can really go up anyway you want. We climb up some rocks that make me rather uncomfortable. A slip would become a very serious injury or send you tumbling down the mountain to oblivion. The whole mountain seems to be made of crumbly rocks that give way when stepped on. It doesn’t help that Twinkle was telling us a story about how he heard of a couple that got married and climbed these mountains for their honeymoon and the wife slipped and fell to her death some years ago. Anyway I decided to push on with growing anxiety that getting down is going to be the real challenge. There are mountain goat footprints and wool all around these craggy rocks. It’s crazy that they happily come up here with no worries. 
After hours of climbing this dang scary mountain and following Twinkle and Dustin’s advice, Chance and even I make it to the very top of Maroon Peak. 14,163 feet up. My first Colorado 14er. The view from up here is probably the best I’ve ever had in my life. There is color and mountains everywhere. You can see the lakes where we started the hike this morning and see many other nearby 14ers. We eat a snack and catch our breathe. 

Now for the really scary part. Going back down those steep, crumbly scrambles. Chance is visibly nervous like I am about getting down, but at least now we know what we have to go down. We’ve already seen it and now it doesn’t seem too bad when I think about it. As it turns out, I liked going down a lot more. I wasn’t exhausted by the climb and have the advantage of being tall and flexible. I start to love it. My knee doesn’t hurt either. I guess it could just be because I’m so in the zone and high on adrenaline. 

Look careful and you can see Chance on the scree

The “trail” is steep

One more obstacle awaited us once we reached the ridge we came up. That big rocky scree field. It was okay going up, but for some reason, the rocks seemed much more inclined to give way and slide down the mountain with you on them on the descent. Lots of ankle twisting, you can’t trust any rock. A few times I took a step and all the rocks in a 5 foot radius of me started shifting down the mountain. I just jumped off them as quickly as I could and finally we got to the solid ground with dirt and plants. From here there is a visible trail, though extremely steep, down all the way to the creek where the hiking trail is. We slip and fall frequently down this steep track. One time I fall right in my ass so hard I see a flash of blue on impact. I have little blood blisters where I’ve caught myself falling on sharp rocks. 
We finally reach the hiking trail and Dustin splits off to go hike another nearby 14er. The guy is a mountain goat! We run into dozens and dozens of people now as we walk back towards the lakes. Lots of families and for some reason old men with young Asian ladies. Like a lot of old me with young Asian ladies. Enough that it becomes a conversion between all of us. Why? Anyway we hike past everyone and by the time we reach the first photogenic lake, about a hundred people are there taking pictures, fishing, etc.

We hop in Twinkles car, exhausted and drive to the closest Wendy’s to feast. Then we drive towards Vail where Chance and I will be staying at Twinkle’s bachelor house where other wedding guests are staying. We get there and take showers, eat food and relax/recover from today’s adventure. Later we meet a bunch of Twinkle’s friends and play euchre with them. Yay Midwesterners and the great card game! Twinkle’s sister and some more people show up and we start playing drinking games until we pass out from exhaustion. 

Back down.

Day 7. To Leadville.

7/6/16

Miles: 11.6

Total: 142.6
131 to Leadville

We woke up and waited about an hour and sure enough Christian showed up. He told us the whole story of how he left his bag and had to go back and get it. He couldn’t make it to our camp before it got dark so he sleep right up on the pass. 

The walk in the morning dropped us down into meadows and sagebrush. Because of all the rain we’ve been getting everything is lush and green. A cowboy and his dog are riding around a heard of sheep. We stay near him for almost a mile or so. We pass by the 10th mountain division military barracks from World War Two which still sit right on the Colorado Trail. They’re all graffitied with “Cops ruin lives.” Which have then augmented by others to say “Cops ruin lives of criminals.” We take a break on a bridge near the barracks and soak up some sun. I managed to contact Twinkle Toes and he’s arranged to get me tonight when we reach Leadville. Not a Chance will be with him too!! ​


The rest of the day is hiking through the lush and very scenic meadows all the way to Tennessee Pass. Just before then I run into a hiker northbound CDT hiker who say, “Hey! Don’t I know you? Sheriff Woody, right?” Sure am! Turns out the hiker is a guy named Ledge who I ran into last year on the Arizona Trail near Pine! The trail world is so small. We chat for a bit and then move on. We get to Tennessee pass and there is a good amount of traffic there. Should be an easy hitch. Just a few minutes after we stand there with our thumbs out, a van pulls over and a guy gets out. He seems excited to pick up hitch hikers but then has some sort of internal conflict. He says he needs to go ask his wife and mother if it’s okay to take us. But before he even does that he says, “Yeaaaa I don’t know if I can. It’s just, I don’t think they’d want me to.” We say it’s okay and he drives off. Why even pull over? After getting blue balled it takes us 45 minutes to finally get a ride. Turns out it’s a lady we passed earlier today while hiking near the barracks! We had chatted for awhile there and she remembered us. Easy ride into Leadville.


Once in town out first priority was food. We find a subway and gorge ourselves and utilize the wifi. Gordon goes to buy food and comes back with some cards as well. We play rummy until it is time for them to head back to trail. This is where I get off for now. Twinkle is going to meet me at the subway at 6 pm and I’ve got lots of time to kill. I say farewell to my friends and then head to the Leadville Hostel where I have a resupply box. I get there and chat with the caretaker for about a half hour and then go to a coffee shop to charge my gear and use wifi until it’s time to get picked up. I head to the subway and soon after Twinkle and Chance show up! Some big hugs and a sandwich for them, we are en route to Aspen. I had no idea where we were going, all I knew was they were giving me a ride. “We’re heading to the Maroon Bells!” Twinkle says. Tomorrow he, Chance, and their friend Dustin are going to try to climb to the top of Maroon Peak. We drive up and over a pass and through Aspen on our way there. We reach the trailhead after dark and decide to stealth camp in the weeds up on a hill to avoid detection until morning. I’m going to try and go as far as I can with them tomorrow, but I’m not much of a mountain climber, precipices freak me out so I don’t know how far I’ll get! So much for a rest day!  

Cowboy camping in the weeds.

Day 6. Storms and Passes

7/5/16Miles 21.8

Total: 131
There’s a long steep climb up to almost 12,000 feet early in the morning. We pop above tree line and squeaks of marmots and pikas are in the air. I geek out over the abundant alpine wildflowers. Christian left camp before Gordon and I are even up. Gordon is moving slowly today, the elevation seems to be hitting him hard. I catch up to Christian near the top of the ridge and he’s playing in a large snowfield. He takes out his groundsheet and try’s to sled down it but with little luck. We wait for Gordon at the top of a pass and can see some rain coming our way. When Gordon catches up he’s looking rough and said he was dry heaving coming up the hill due to the elevation. After a quick snack and some photos we rush to get below tree line before the storm reaches us. It becomes apparent we can’t outrun the storm but can make a beeline for a ski lift building to take shelter in. About a quarter mile off trail. We rush as fat as we can in the direction of the building but the mountainside is rocky and very steep. It’s hard on out ankles. I make it to the building just as it starts raining. Turns out the door is even open! We go inside and it’s warm. There’s nobody there or course and we take a lunch break inside. Even a toilet! We wait out the storm and ate reluctant to leave the warm of a building in the middle of nowhere. 


After the rain passed we started down the mountain. My knee started to hurt a lot and I started thinking about a plan B if I can’t walk any longer. I thought about flying back early or finding some other activity to do in Colorado that doesn’t involve walking around much. I decided to see how my knee feels after Twinkle’s wedding. I’ll be off my feet a few days and then maybe I can get back on trail. We get to copper mountain resort right as a big thunderstorm rolls in and starts hailing on us. Gordon and I make it to an apartment building and take shelter in a hallway there. Christian holes up somewhere in the woods. Once we regroup the sun comes out again and we look for extra food at the copper mountain resort. We find a convenience store there and buy some more food. I get a huge cinnamon roll. That damn thing has 1300 calories in it! 

Alpine primrose

We hike out of the busy resort and are in low forest for a bit. I find a perfect group of Calypso orchids there and take some photos. This is such a cool little plant and one I’ve always wanted to see in bloom. The trail starts to gradually rise up to Kokomo pass. On the way up we wait for Christian to catch up but he never shows up so we keep on hiking. We want to get to lower elevation before it gets dark. We have a long time above tree line ahead of us. Once we reach the ridge there are beautiful views all around us and we soak in all the wildflowers and vistas. We walk for hours in this before reaching Kokomo pass. It’s getting chilly and the sun is getting low so we head down it and look for he first flat spot where we can tent to wait for Christian to catch up. It seems strange we haven’t seen him in hours, he’s pretty quick even though he hikes in crocs. We set up camp near a stream in a small meadow. We gather lots of wood for a fire and eat. It gets dark and there is still no sign of Christian. “At least the foxes shouldn’t bother us tonight now that we have a fire.” I say. Not 30 seconds later a fox walks right into our camp about 15 feet from me. “You gotta be shitting me.” At 11 pm we see a light coming down the trail. About time! We’ve been worried Christian broke a leg or something. Then we notice the light is moving way too fast for a hiker. A thru biker shows up and asks if he can borrow out fire for some warmth and to light a bowl. Sure. We asked him if he saw a hiker with a blue backpack and sure enough he did, although he was very far back he said. Turns out Christian left the top of his backpack at the copper mountain store and walked back miles and miles to get it. He’s gotta be so pissed off. We figure we won’t see him until tomorrow for sure. The biker stayed and chatted for more than an hour before he finally continued on into the night. We fall asleep around midnight. 

Flax
Alpine spring beautyCalypso OrchidWild columbineparry’s primrose3 marmots, one rock

Day 5. 4th of July

7/4/16
Miles: 5.1

Total: 109.2 

We woke up and lounged around all morning. We watched Independence Day, and I always forget how much I like the bizarre plot of the movie. We heard that there is a parade though Frisco starting sometime around noon. We decided to go to The supermarket to resupply and I bought a knee brace. The store was weird in that they didn’t sell any produce at all. Sad but oh well. Then we walked across the street to the Native Roots Colorado store where they sell cannabis. I had to check it out! The store was pretty cool, it had a room where medical cannabis is sold and a room for recreational products in every and all configurations. Bud, edibles, tinctures, patches, dabs, shatter, salves. You name it, it was there! You stand in line and wait until a salesperson can give you their undivided attention at a specific booth. I asked all kinds of questions about different strains and what they do. I talked about how I was doing the Colorado Trail but my knee kept hurting and the guy said oh man you should get a salve! It’s a THC and CBD in mixture of coconut, avocado and a bunch of other oils. It was cheap and I have nothing to lose! We took the free bus back to Frisco and hopped off right into a Fourth of July parade. We gotta stay for this! Floats go by and throw candy and Popsicles at us. A red bull girl gives us some sample tangerine red bulls. People on some of the floats scream, “Love the shorts man!” at me and toss me candy. 


We see what looks like a garage sale with a bunch of crappy junk out on a table when a guy comes out and says see anything you like? Only somewhat interesting this is a large burl cut from a tree but clearly we aren’t buying that. That’s when another guy that’s clearly drunk comes out and starts talking to the three of us. He glances over at me, looks at my American flag shorts and tells me, “You’re a fucking homo.” His teeth are rotting and he starts yelling about how he’s getting “fucked up in there.” His friend tells him to please go back inside. Then he asks Gordon and Christian if they are cops and sticks his dirty finger into Gordon’s nose. Then he does the same to Christian. I dodge his attempt to do the same to me. Finally he says, “Okay you guys smoke right? Well here I’ve got these” as he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pill bottle, trying to keep it hidden in the crowd of people. “These are marijuana pills, they’ll fuck you up. Just asking $20 a pill.” The pills were clearly some kind of prescription drug, not weed pills. No thanks. As we walk away Gordon says, “I’m pretty sure we just met the biggest asshole in Colorado.” We walk around the festivities and fill up our water bottles from a spigot on the back of a gas station before getting on the bus back to our trailhead. 

We only hike out about 5 miles up and out of the Breckenridge/ Frisco area. We find a sweet campsite with just enough space for our tents next to a. Old stream that has a beautiful primrose plant blooming in it. We make a fire and hang out until it’s dark. 

Day 4. Night Terrors

Miles: 22.2
Total: 104.1

Imagine you’re fast asleep, warm in your shelter. You wake up to an occasional pitter patter of raindrops knocked loose by the wind from the tree above you. You fall right back to sleep. Then you wake up to what sounds like a twig falling on your shelter, but it sounds a little odd. You can’t figure it out so you go right back to sleep. Then you are awoken to the sound of your shelter being shaken back and forth violently and you can see just the shadow of a large furry animal moving around just 2 feet from you and it is pushing into your shelter towards you! Welcome to my morning! With my senses all foggy from just being awakened by an animal thrashing the side of my little tarp tent my first reaction was to smack the side of the tarp to try and scare the attacker away while simultaneously uttering, “UHHH! Yaaaaa! Wuaaaahh! Ahhhh!” There wasn’t time to think of words, just primal fear sounds. After smacking the side of the tent I could see the animal, either a big fox or coyote, from the 6 inch gap under my tarp where the insect netting is. Because I had no time to find my flashlight I could only see this large animal’s outline. It was undeterred by my smacking towards it at first, then it grabbed my tent and something in the tent and tried to run away with it, the insect netting prevented it, I saw the creature run away about 20 feet, then change its mind and run right back at me and grabbed onto the item again and try to pull it away but by now I had the flashlight and I was screaming at it as it pulled away. Finally it ran off and my fellow campmates Gordon and Christian were awake and hopped out of their tents. I got out too and looked around for the suspect but it was gone. I found that it had pushed its face into the netting far enough to reach my food bag, then try to pull it through. During the shaking it ripped a hole in the netting. It almost pulled the bag out through this hole. Gordon noted that the animal also apparently managed to sneak into his vestibule and chew up some of his trash without waking any of us up. Sneaky bastard! At this point we decided it was probably a good idea to hang our food tonight. I’ve backpacked thousands of miles and kept my food in the tent with me and never had a problem or heard of anyone having a problem. The point of doing this of course is to prevent animals from getting into your food. Mice, squirrels, chipmunks, and bears can all figure out a bear hang pretty easily. Most animals are deterred by the human presence near the food. But last night was that night that we fear. I thought a bear was coming in. 

Just couldn’t get it through that hole.

We tried going back to sleep but were too shaken up. After about an hour of messing around on our phones the animal wandered right past Gordon’s shelter. We all said fuck this were not going to be able to sleep and decided to make a fire. Since it had rained for hours finding dry wood was a little difficult but we managed to find some under a bunch of thick canopied limber pine and other conifers. After many tries we got the fire going by using a backpacking stove to light up some small sticks. We got the fire raging and warmed ourselves up. It was very cold out at 11,200 feet where we were camping. We hung out and talked for a few hours until we half cowboy camped near the fire, dozing a few minutes at a time until we had to get more firewood. At 4 a.m. we decided to pack up and start hiking. We hit the trail around 5. 

Christian hikes with this tortured cat strapped to his pack. He was forced to buy it after accidentally breaking a ring in a store.

The hike up Georgia Pass was windy, cold and foggy. There were some snow patches left and I saw a snowshoe hare! Near the top of the pass alpine plants were blooming everywhere! Just a few inches tall and blooming in bright blue, yellow and white. As we descended the pass it began to clear, giving way to picturesque misty mountain views. My right knee also started to really hurt when going downhill. I tried downing a bunch of ibuprofen to dull the pain and it helped a little. 

Alpine forget-me-nots!


Most of the hike today was beautiful mixtures of coniferous forests and meadows. Unfortunately some of these meadows exist only because of the devastating mountain pine beetle which have killed off most off the pine trees in some areas. It is an unusual forest pathology issue because all the players in this destruction are native to the areas the damage is occurring. This beetle usually only attacks weak or dying trees. What caused this outbreak of the beetle to occur is that several years of hot and dry summers and mild winters stressed out the trees to a point where they’re all suitable hosts. I study bark and ambrosia beetles for my graduate degree so this hits close to home.

Area devastated by mountain pine beetle
We finally made it to the highway where we could hitch into Breckenridge just as my knee felt like it was going to give way. Then it started to downpour. We took the free bus to town and got some gourmet pizza and then unsuccessfully looked for a place to stay the night. It’s the 4th of July weekend and the town is insanely crowded. After much frustration we find a hotel for a reasonable price in The nearby town of Frisco. Christian, Gordon and I make it to the hotel on the free bus. The clerk there says, “Ifa you wanna to smoka da ganja, just go take a walk, don’t do it in da room.” We try to watch some tv but it’s stuck on the History Channel which is running a marathon of American Pickers. Oh well it’s something on the magic picture box. I fall asleep early and it’s one of the best nights sleep I’ve had in a very long time.

Day 34. Done! Oh Arizona, it’s Been Real.

4/9/15

Mile 773 to 801. 2 miles on highway 89, 28 on trail. 30 miles. 

Woke up early and was out of my room and waking down highway 89 at 6:10. 2 mile a road walk to the AZT trailhead. It was very cold. Maybe upper teens? My hands and face were painfully cold and as I walked, moisture from my breath collected on my mustache and froze into little ice balls that I occasionally picked off.   

 

The morning finally warmed up a bit as the sun rose among the ponderosa pines. I was just smashing the miles again. Another flat day for the finale. I walked down a wash for most of the morning and it finally opened up into a sagebrush flat with a view of the vermillion cliffs off in the distance. That is Utah! I can see the end!  

  Original gangster trans fat

Original gangster saturated fat

Oh my god cholesterol!!!

 Utah in the distance!

For the rest of the day these beautiful rocks got closer and closer. I thought the AZT ended in some scrubby desert in the middle of nowhere. But the trail began to head down a hill and then some switchbacks with an insane view of the beautiful vermillion cliffs the whole way. It was so beautiful. Birds were chirping and the wind had stopped. It was dead still and I was in awe of the last of the AZT.  

                       

As I made it to the terminus I looked around for a monument like the mexican border one but never saw one! Maybe I’m an idiot but I didn’t find one. As soon as I reached the parking lot I heard someone say, “Woody!?” It’s Coughee! He’s been hiking around the area and says its just insane everywhere. I got to the terminus much faster than I had expected. I told Coughee I’d be there 4-5 PM so I was surprised to see him when I got there at 2 PM. 30 miles by 2. The last half of the trail is a moving sidewalk. I’m done! I can’t believe it! It seems so long ago I started but at the same time not. The terrain was so different along the way that it seemed I was in totally different places than just Arizona. 34 days. 1 day faster than my goal, but since I had to skip the snowy area on the north rim I was spot on with my goal. 
We’re heading over to Zion national park to meet up with Twinkle, Rice Krispies, Big Sauce and Guthrie who we hike the PCT with last year. A bunch of them are doing a 100 k race tomorrow. As we pay the fee to get into Zion we have no idea what we’re about to drive through. The place is just out of this world. Massive pink and red monoliths, thousands of feet high. It’s like a gigantic red Yosemite valley. I had no idea this place existed. I have to get back here some day just for this park. Coughee and me both just looked out the windows with our mouths agape. The layered rock was decorated and had pines growing very sparsely among the cracks in the cliffs. It’s a park like no other.   

         

Meet up with our buddies at a sick campsite in BLM land next to a river lined with cottonwoods and surrounded by beautiful mesas. What a way to end this trip!

 Left to right: Coughee, Guthrie, Big Sauce, Twinkle, Me, and Rice Krispies.

Thanks so much for following along with my adventure! There will surely be more to come. If anyone has any questions about the AZT please feel free to ask me on this site or by emailing me at mberger3@mix.wvu.edu

Day 28. Fresh Prints of El Bear and Attempt to Summit Humphreys Peak.

Miles. 10. Some on AZT some off.
We slept in until about 7:30 because it was really cold and I wanted to wait for the sun to warm the area. It sure did get very cold last night. Enough to completely freeze the top of a small pond that was liquid last night. I stayed pretty warm until about 4 AM when I started getting chilly even with all of my clothing on.  

 Oh the aspen.

We ate breakfast pretty quick, jammed in the Guthmobile and drove to the trailhead. It is about a 9 mile hike one way to the summit of Humphreys Peak at 12,637 feet. We leave all our camping gear and only take cameras, food and water so we can cruise up the mountain. It’s easy hiking up the trail almost all the way until we hit snow. In the first large patches of snow we see some relatively fresh paw prints from a very large black bear! 

   

We get to a trail register and were only the second group to hike this trail this year. The last group was back in mid February. Then the trail gradually becomes completely snow covered, occasionally snow free on the south facing parts of the tail. The whole area is covered in many feet of snow. It’s early in the morning so it’s hard and crunchy so we can walk on it like a smooth rock free path. Hopefully it won’t get all soft and become posthole city like the Sierra Nevada did in the afternoon on the PCT. 

   

As were walking on the snow we hear a loud fluttering sound and in a tree is a big dusky grouse! Also called a blue grouse, they live on the north rim of the Grand Canyon and were introduced into the San Francisco Peaks back in the 70s! Apparently that was a success because they’re still here! And beautiful birds! This guy was flaunting his tail feathers and stayed put so I could take lots of pictures! 

       

We finally get up to the saddle that looks down into the eroded caldera of the stratovolcano that is the San Francisco Peaks and the views are amazing. It’s looks just like the Sierra Nevada on the PCT except instead of being a chain of mountains, it’s a ring of mountain peaks with lots of tiny volcanic hills off in the distance. You can also see flagstaff way down there, pretty small city really!  

     

The saddle is mostly open and free of snow in an area where we take lots of pictures and eat some food. It’s also covered in Rocky Mountain bristlecone pines! A distinct population, the only one in Arizona, the next closest place they grow is hundred of miles away in central Colorado! I always wonder how the hell such populations of alpine plants get so far apart. Maybe they grew everywhere In between during the ice age and got stranded at colder areas as the world warmed up? Or by some miracle the seeds got carried hundreds and hundreds of miles by some extremely serious wind, or a very alpine loving seed carrying bird that didn’t feel like eating the seeds but dropped them 500 miles later? Sure pine seeds have a little wing on them so they flutter around in the wind but they’re really a short distance dispersal kind of seed. Anyway, somehow they’re here and it’s amazing!  

 

We start walking across the mountains towards the peak and it didn’t take too long to figure out this was not looking very safe. The trail is buried in 6-8 feet of snow in some areas and it is crazy steep snow. Almost sheer drop. One slip and you’re sliding down the mountain a slamming into trees on the way down. There’s no way you could stop yourself. A little farther and we can see where a recent avalanche has plowed through some sorry looking trees. The trail goes right thorough this avalanche chute. On top of this the snow has a crust about half an inch thick and underneath it’s all dry powder for feet. I can stick my trekking pole all the way down until it’s buried with little resistance. This seems avalanchey to me. Easily moved powder feet deep. We unanimously agree not to keep going towards the peak. We really all want to be on the highest mountain in Arizona but we don’t feel like risking ourselves to do it. We made it up to 11,000 feet and got some killer views so we are satisfied! It’s okay to turn around. We eat a bunch of food and hang out at the saddle for an hour or so.  

 Avalanche wiped out some trees down thar.  

That sign be buried! 

  

 The snow is deep and steep! 

 

We head down the mountain and are postholing regularly but nothing as bad as the PCT. The snow has all become soft and it takes much more energy to walk on. We pass where the grouse was and he’s still flaunting sassily in his tree. We make it down the mountain with soaking wet feet and pass a few day hikers near the bottom of the trail. We cram into Guthrie’s car and head into town for a celebratory feast at McDonalds. Big Mac, 2 pies and an ice cream cone for me! Guthrie takes off to find a place to camp and Michael and me hit up the grocery store. I get a dozen eggs and an angel food cake. We book a room back at the Motel DuBeau after the Grand Canyon hostel messed our reservation up. I eat more than half the angel food cake and write this! What a kick ass day! ALSO! My amigo Coughee may be coming around soon to hike the Grand Canyon with me! Hell yea!  

 

Day 20. To Pine!

3/26/15
Mile 434 to 464. 30 trail miles plus 1 more to Pine on highway 87. 

I dreamt about eating a cheeseburger and fries covered in malt vinegar. I’ve been craving malt vinegar so much lately. What a weird thing to crave right? It got quite breezy during the night but other than that it was a good nights sleep. I’m sleeping better almost every night out here which is nice! Not to mention I go to sleep at 7 pm and wake up at 6 am! 11 hours of sleep every night! It’s really the best. I love mornings, it’s cool out, you can walk fast without getting too hot and I just like the light. At home I never see the sun rise. I’d usually sleep in until 11 am at least every day and stay awake until 2 or 3 am. Out here I’m back in the natural human cycle be awake during daylight and sleep when it’s dark.  

 

Hit the trail at 6:30 and had a fairly large and frustrating downhill that was steep, rocky and overgrown with thorny plants again. Lucky this was only a couple miles. The trail then hit the East Verde River, the largest river I’ve seen yet in Arizona. It was possible to not get my feet wet with a lucky trekking pole vault into a rock and to the other side where there was a peppermint plant growing on the bank! Smelled so good. 
   Came across this horse near the river. He smelled really bad and started following me for a bit. 

   

Then the trail went steeply up towards a mesa that I’d be on much of the day. It looked like beautiful walking looking at the topographic map, smooth very slowly climbing almost all day. The trail disappeared into a scree field at one point and I just could not find any cairns so I pulled out my GPS app that had been spot on every time about where the trail was in relation to where I was… until now. According to the GPS this is the trail!  

 The trail? Probably not.

I finally figured it out after climbing up this mountain thingy and saw the trail off to the east. At the top of the climb the trail did indeed become a wonderfully flat open area for miles and miles! Also cows were everywhere and they make their own trails. A lot more cows hike the AZT than backpackers do so they’re the ones keeping the trail looking trail like, trampling down the plants that grow on the trail to make it visible. The downside to this is cows also like to go wherever the hell the want. So there are all kinds of trails all equally worn going in all directions. The AZT trail builders solved this problem by building cairns to mark the trail. There have been cairns in other sections here and there but they did a marvelous job in this section with cairn building. You can almost always see the next one in the distance so you can ignore the cow trails going all over. Just keep finding the cairns! A bad part about this section however is its just all rocks. The trail is flat elevation wise but it’s rocksss. Rocks the size of softballs, but sharp and jagged. Ankle twisters and balance killers.  

  Nice Mesa!  A cairn made with weird rocks.  

The rocks. Worse than Rocksylvania! Just not as long.

Later in the day the trail got steep for a mile or two and once again all rocks! You could still make good time but I could feel blisters starting to form on my heels from not being able to get a solid foothold on a rock, as it rolled underneath my foot would smack the ground or other rocks and this constant beating did finally give me my first blisters of the trail. They’re pretty small, but still unwelcome.  

 This steep scree field IS the trail. It’s like this for a good long climb.

Almost all of the final 12 miles in passage 26 were on roads. After the Mazatzal area I was perfectly fine with this. Wide open and flat, no thorns near me. I crushed these final miles to Pine, listening to Gustav Holst’s “Mars” which seemed so appropriate with the red rocky plains all around. 
   That’s some good camouflage!

They puff up to look bigger when you pick them up. They don’t even run! He just let me pick him right up off the rock!   Easter chocolate or dried mud?

 This is one of those moments that I truly love. Maybe just leaves to you, but I immediately recognized these leaves as a Mertensia species, often called bluebells. I have some I grew from seeds at my house in Ohio and when you care for a plant from seed to  flower you really know it! Sure enough a few hundred feet later I saw a blooming bluebell plant. The thing is they’re never really common, and these two species are in opposite habitats on different sides of the country! I love it!

 I made it to the highway at 4:30 and began the 1 mile walk to THAT Brewery whom I called earlier and booked the last cabin they had for the night! I tried hitching the mile walk but had no takers even though about 30 cars passed me. When I got to the brewery I payed for my room, just $35 a night on weeknights! It’s got just about everything I want like a TV with cable, shower, AC, queen bed, microwave, fridge and all the normal hotel stuff! Plus it’s 50 feet from a BREWERY. I took a shower and then went right for the food they brewery serves. Got a burger with fries which I covered with malt vinegar. My dream realized. Also got their signature beer and it was good! And just $3! This place rules! Zero tomorrow. 🙂
   

 If I didn’t have toenails this would have hurt.