Leaving Rawlins took a little more effort than I had expected. Wyoming was an absolute treat to hike through, but it took some momentum from my stride and has now put me in a position where the essentials on this trip are overwhelming. By essentials I mean covering 25-30 miles everyday in Colorado, something that might prove to be extremely difficult due to the altitude and steep vertical gains. Staying warm while at elevation and avoiding hypothermia. Staying positive in an environment that slowly degrades the mind. Finding a way to beat the weather. Seems almost impossible, right? Maybe. Maybe not.
The old CDT out of Rawlins is a road walk for around 30 miles with hardly any water. Mayor decided to stay another day while Red Bass, Funny Bone, Stomper and I decided to head out of town and get 15 or so miles in with a little bit of night hiking. As we approached the double digit mark for the afternoon, the weather took an interesting turn, putting on a show that has transcended my notion of Mother Nature. I've seen plenty of lightning storms, but none that have struck awe into me like this one. The cell began with an approaching cumulonimbus cloud rolling in from the West illuminated by the sun, causing an angelic glow to pierce the sky. On an open road with no possible bail out, we just continued to walk, and with not much more than a drizzle, the clouds danced above us shifting and changing hues.
To our east on the other hand, an electrical storm was beginning to take shape on the horizon. Slowly, it moved within a half mile of us but never threatened. Instead it stayed at bay, providing bolt after bolt that would strike the distant ridge. Eventually, I had to stop and take it all in. I set my tripod up and learned the pattern of the storm. A bolt of lightning followed by a boom of thunder 30 seconds later. The a flash of lightning, with a proceeding pause of about 45 seconds. Those seconds where the skies are dark and the air is calm hold great curiosity and anticipation. I knew there would be a bolt sometime after that, I just wasn't sure when. Trying to feel the rhythm and find any reoccurring pattern was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
After every flash of lightning I would wait out those defeaning seconds and wait for the right opportunity to press the shutter. With the bulb mode setting, when I release the shutter is when the photograph begins to process. I would see the bolt then release. It became second nature and had a sense of logic to it. Why wouldn't it continue in that pattern for a period of time? I was trying to make sense of an electrical storm in the middle of the continued Wyoming Basin. Ridiculous.
Anyways, after I caught the images you see above, we kept hiking to our destination, the Teton Resevoir. Located about 16 miles out of town, it was our only water source for the day. We all arrived around 10 or so after the storm subsided and the Milky Way showed up once again. We hiked down to the far end of the lake and camped next to a man made bathroom which for some reason is always a bit comforting. After a quick dinner consisting of mashed potatoes and ramen, I snapped a few Milky Way shots above Funny Bone's tent then headed to bed.
The following day we made up a few miles by doing a 26 mile day I believe which set us up for an easy 20 into Encampment. We were finally going to be getting back to elevation. Finally. Not only elevation, but trees. Pines and Aspen had been pretty scarce for the last few weeks so it was going to be a treat to be able to sleep under them once again. The Great Basin was difficult for a multitude of reasons, heat being one, exposure, and repetitiveness being others. But really, it was just the mundane simple movement for so many miles that caused me to lose interest.
It was boring for a lack of better words.
Arriving in Encampment on a 22 mile push in under 7 hours rejuvenated me for a short while. I got to Battle Pass where the wind began whipping and the brisk air at elevation began to make me cringe as it smacked my knees. I stuck my thumb out hoping to get into town before the PO closed. The original plan was for all of us to arrive, get our boxes, and head out the following morning. These Wyoming towns have had a different plan for us though. We immediately got a cabin in Riverside, a small town a mile down the road and got ourselves a meal at the Mangy Moose, a local watering hole that attracted everyone and everything. The night continued as it wore to the evening where eventually everyone subsided into their quarters and fell asleep. We were just happy to be avoiding the ever present and approaching weather. We knew it was going to drop in temperature and get cold, and that it did.
The next day, every local that passed us in town explained that it would be a terrible decision to go back to the Pass, and just as we were contemplating what to do, a guy by the name of Parr came up to us and offered us his new cabin to stay at. Coincidence? I think not. An old Forest Service cabin that he had been renovating awaited us. We decided to zero and enjoy the town, the townspeople, and of course the food. The day was swept away into a sloth like meandering of sorts. The next thing I knew, it was morning again and there had been 6" of fresh powder dropped on the ridge with the temps in the low 20s. We made the right decision, however; what we didn't expect was for it to lead into another zero. A double zero has winter is approaching and the San Juans are beckoning. The weather up at the pass though hasn't subsided, and it was still frigid in town. Also, Parr was just too kind of a dude and didn't mind that we stayed another day. This time though, we rented movies. Stomper had never seen The Big Lebowski so we all knew it was going to be a treat for him to enjoy such a classic this late in life.
We pretty much waited out the entire first storm of winter in an old Forest Service cabin with good friends, a pellet burning stove, and the best hospitality of the whole trail. The second morning we were invited to breakfast by Janice and Gary, the owners of the thrift store and Encampment residents. It doesn't get much better than that. The kindness of strangers to bring us into their homes and feed us is something that is just so genuine and real out here. It happens more often than one would think, too. Once again, town had gotten hold of our spirits and kept them in its grasp.
Thru Hiking is immensely overwhelming when weather is staring you down 3,000' higher than where you're currently at. It becomes much more demanding and exhausting, especially after 1,500 miles along the CDT. The towns and mostly people in the towns, whether that be my other thru hiker friends or the locals, make it challenging to leave. It becomes a vortex, pulling in any energy and making you question your entire endeavor. If you've ever hiked a long trail, you know that the fatigue sets in around the halfway point, or around 1,500 miles. Physically exhausted would be an understatement. The mind yearns for copious amounts of food and sleep while the motivation continues to dissipate. It's inevitable that most thru hikers will feel this way at some point. I felt like this last year around the 1,600 mile mark. I'm feeling it now. The added pressure of attempting to beat the weather and not be miserably cold adds another element to the hike.
We broke the spell and headed out the next morning getting a 19 mile jump to the border of Colorado. We hit Battle Pass and immediately my thoughts changed. Evergreens replaced shrubs and Aspens replaced empty space. Water was flowing and the air was brisk as a subtle breeze swept through the forests. The first snow of the season was still remnant and we were going to be sleeping essentially at the Colorado border. Another milestone and another burst of motivation.
That night we camped about a mile before the border and enjoyed a fire right before bed. We shot the shit as we normally did but this time we could all sense a bit of caution in our voices. It was cold, starting to spit snow, and just different out. The weather was now in the process of transitioning to continued cold weather with occasional snow, soon to change again to much worse. As condensation built on the walls of my tent, I slept cozily in my quilt, contemplating how I would deal with the extended cold.
The thoughts disappeared as I sunk into REM.
Approaching Colorado, we were left with a decision to follow the fire reroute on trail for the Big Red fire, or continue on the CDT. We chose to abide by the reroute of course. Crossing into Colorado with the group I've been hiking with was indeed an accomplishment in itself. We had somehow stuck together 1,000 miles on the most ridiculous trail. Somehow all of us had formed a bond that wasn't broken by town days or mileage. It's been some of the most exciting and hysterical days I've ever had out here with them. What a morning and start to the day.
The cool air sat into my bones as the sun began to burn off any remaining moisture. We had roughly a 30 mile road walk down FR550 and 129, which would eventually lead into Steamboat Springs. The road snaked through the Colorado countryside which was a splendid sight to see at this point in the year. The aspens had turned to a golden yellow and the bright blue skies provided a immense amount of warmth as the autumn sun shown down upon us.
We slowly chipped away at the miles as the day turned into afternoon and afternoon to evening. We hit a couple of small general stores before arriving at a restaurant where we inhaled a pizza before making another irrational decision; get to Steamboat Springs as quick as possible.
We decided to down some caffeine and pull an almost all nighter to set ourselves up to enjoy Steamboat Springs as much as possible. Mayor and Red Bass and I ingested the caffeine via espresso shots and five hour energy and started our push with a hopeful 26 miles into Steamboat. I knew I wasn't hiking for 24 hours this time, so the 45 miles that we did by the end of day (morning) didn't feel too bad. About halfway into our night hike we came across the Glen Eden where the owner, Chris, bought a beer and a shot for us. Colorado was already shaping up to be a welcoming state. We pitched our tents on the side of 129 in a gravel parking lot in sub 40 degree weather right next to a few rotting animal corpses and fell into sleep not too long after we left the bar. Well, 7 miles after or so. Exhausted. That much further into Colorado. Ready to get to Steamboat Springs.
Yesterday as we crushed the last 7 miles into Steamboat, I couldn't help but feel a sense of urgency. Yes, I made it to Colorado, yes it's going to get cold, and yes I'm ready for it; however, there is going to be real danger with hypothermic temperatures, deep snow, and howling, bone chilling wind. I had some cold gear mailed to Steamboat so today I picked it up, and now feel much more relaxed about the snow. Another layer of fleece, a fleece hat, rain mittens, and a balaclava now top off my snow set up. It's intimidating hearing from every other southbounder how cold and wet Colorado is right now. I haven't gotten hit yet, but tomorrow when I leave town there might be a new story to tell.
This section coming up is going to determine the entire outcome of this trail and where I stand with my own abilities and mindset. I knew that this trail would test my limits, and to be honest, the first half of this trip has been a pleasure cruise so far. Aside from a few anomalies, everything has been standard issue so far. We haven't had any extreme weather besides some heat at the beginning, and not much challenging terrain minus a few steep ascents and descents, some blowdowns, and constant exposure. I've endured cold weather before while thru hiking. Last year on the AT in GSMNP, it reached the teens nightly, and on one occasion hit a low of 8 degrees. It snowed, iced, and froze the trail. It went just fine, but it was only for a week before it cleared up.
I have just under half of the CDT to hike still. 1,400 miles to hike remain. The average elevation for the remainder of this trail sits above 10,000'. The remainder of Colorado will be the true test of my will and desire to finish this trail.
With Winter at my heels and the cold setting in, I guess it's time to get going.