On our way out of Steamboat we knew that there was an approaching storm cell. It was scheduled to hit us within the first two days of being out on this stretch. We hopped on trail after a zero day in Steamboat and began our road walk back towards an actual trail, not a jeep road. The headwind made for an interesting few miles as we trudged through the first day. The Aspens laced the edges of the road and the further we walked, the higher we got and the more colors that started to pop. Bright yellows and oranges filled the forests and we decided to camp not too far from the junction of trail and road.
We had perfect weather that day, and it ended with a perfect night. In bed by 8:00 P.M and ready to crush the next morning. We left town with a big group so our camp sight was pretty packed that night. We camped with Merlin, Hummingbird, Stomper, Mayor and Red Bass. This group just keeps getting better and better. Everyone out here is likeminded to the point where there is generally no tension or friction between anyone. All great friends. All pursuing the same goal.
The following day we had plans of going up and over Parkview Mountain before the weather hit. For the entirety of the day, it rained on and off, demanding that I change layers more than a few times throughout the day. The temperature was perfect but the storm clouds were constantly moving, allowing for very little prediction on the weather. Colorado is constantly changing and the weather, regardless of what the forecast says, is incredibly volatile.
We got a good jump on the day until I realized that there was small rip in my pack that needed stitched. The seams were coming out of the back panel, exposing both the insides of my pack, and my sleeping pad, and with an impending rain on the horizon, I had to prevent any moisture from entering the pack. After about a half hour of stitching, we continued on the ascent. We essentially ran the ridge the entire remainder of the day. With perfect tread and descent weather, we finally were able to put in some solid miles. Long climbs with nicely graded switchbacks provided some of the more enjoyable hiking I've done recently. Recently the CDT has been quite honestly a lot of road walking, avoiding bad weather, and a routine to some extent. It's been mentally exhausting, so being back into the mountains and actually hiking the trails of this great country was a breath of fresh air.
Arriving at the base of Parkview with a 2,000ft ascent staring at us, we had a decision to make before nightfall; wait for Stomper to catch up, or hike up and over the ridge. We chose to wait for Stomp and camp at the base. The weather was supposed to break in the morning, giving us a window to get over Parkview, a 12,400' peak that was supposed to be one of the more scenic sections in Northern Colorado.
We set our tents up well before 7:00, calling it an early night due to the weather moving in and it getting cold. I pitched my tarp, Mayor rigged his up, and Red Bass crawled into his tent as the sun set. I woke up around 3:00 am to go to the bathroom and was shocked by how many stars filled the night sky. I didn't bother to grab my camera because my hands were frozen, but I'll tell ya, they were shining through the darkness.
Morning came within an instant and we awoke to Stomper camped not 100 yards from us. We broke camp relatively quickly and started our morning off by beginning the 2,000' climb. We were presented with bright blue skies, a crisp 28 degree morning, and pleasant switchbacks for the first mile or so. As the ascent became steeper and geared toward the ridge, the wind picked up and began bashing into my side. I move fairly quickly uphill so keeping warm has never been a problem for me. Walking along a ridge at about 11,000' at 8:00 am is by far the best way to enjoy a morning in the mountains.
With each false summit we clipped, the wind picked up speed and the temperature became almost unbearable. The climb went from steep to almost straight verticle as the emergency shelter at the top became visible. Altitude doesn't affect me much so I have an advantage over others, but nonetheless it was a hell of a climb. Something we hadn't done in a little while. As I summited the peak, my legs were wind burnt and my hands numb, but I opened up the door to the small emergency shelter and embraced the warmth. I slammed the door shut and immediatsly opened up the little pill bottle which held the trail log for the shelter. I signed my name, threw on my leggings and wind pants and awaited for my friends to arrive.
Red Bass, Stomper and then Mayor arrived in order, all ecstatic to be at the small shelter. We warmed up, chatted a bit and then made a break for it down the ridge to the highway. We knew the weather was rolling in, we saw the radar and the literal clouds moving in from the west. The ridge leading to the highway was nothing short of breathtaking. Both literally and figuratively. Similar to Franconia Ridge on the AT, the ridge leads the entire landscape for miles, constantly beckoning ahead. The visibility was almost perfect giving us the best view we've had in quite some time. Rocky at first, the trail is a beautiful single track that turns and weaves on the Divide. It slowly turns into a beautiful dirt trail, allowing for a quick pace down the mountain which was a good change of pace compared to the arduous climb up.
Turn after turn presented a new view of the valley below. The clouds hung below us while the wind whipped in the approaching storm.
Stomper, Red Bass, and Mayor trekking along the lower ridge
The descent to the bottom however was some of the best hiking I've done. It reminded me of the AT, and anything that does that is good in my mind.
Funny enough, after just around an hour of waiting for a ride, the hail started to drop as the temperature plummeted. A Subaru passed us and just as we were about to start cursing the driver, we heard the brakes of the car, and saw the driver turning around. When this happens while waiting for a hitch, it's incredibly exciting because that usually means a ride. As he pulled up with his wife in the passenger seat, I recognized him but couldn't place it. He asked if we needed a ride and if we were thru hiking, and of course we responded yes to both. Immediately after he looked at me and asked, "Are you Puma?" A little taken back, I responded with a yes and he proceeded to introduce himself as Wildhair. In my head I was incredibly stunned because I had remembered Wildhair from the AT last year. He was at Shaws the same time I was and he had hiked with Buckeye and some others. "Holy shit, dude!" I gasped. I hadn't seen him for almost a year, and he looked completely different without a beard. I still have a beard and pretty much look identical with longer hair. It was easy for him to recognize me.
First off, I couldn't believe that someone I knew had picked 4 of us up was taking us to the town. I couldn't believe that everything lined up that perfectly for Wildhair to be driving over 125 as we were waiting for a hitch. I could have hiked on. I could have taken a break for 5 extra minutes and missed him. So many variables could have changed the outcome, but here he was, and here was the AT working in mysterious ways once again. It has a habit of doing that and putting you where you need, exactly when you need to be there. Even when you're not hiking the AT. Such a strange world and an even stranger energy around that trail. It's magnetic and so inexplicably unpredictable.
Anyways, we caught up during the 30 minute drive to Grand Lake and exchanged stories of the last year and my time on the CDT up to that point. It was so welcoming and comforting seeing someone from the same year I hiked. It was unimaginable being picked up by someone I knew, let alone hiked around. I couldn't have fathomed that if I tried.
Wildhair and his wife dropped us off into Grand Lake, and he was on his way. We meandered throughout the town before heading to the hostel, Shadowcliff, where we have been the last day and a half waiting out the storm. The Divide got hit pretty bad with wind, snow, and sub 20 deg temperatures.
Colorado has been extremely brutal and we've only been here a short while, but hopefully this weather is just a cold snap and the heatwave come through. As I'm finishing up this paragraph, we are currently getting ready to hike out of Grand Lake and be on our way to Silverthorne. We originally planned to take the Grays route but with the lack of time we have remaining, the low route is calling our names. We need to make up miles and time, so the time has come to buckle down and embrace the brutality.
This trail doesn't let up, but either do I. Forward progress is essential and there's no room for error at this point.