Getting the miles in is all about time management. Sure, you have to have gather the motivation to start hiking early and keep up a good pace while you’re walking by staying fueled and hydrated. Taking breaks can even help with this pace. But whenever you’re not hiking, you ought to be getting multiple chores done at once. For example, nowadays my gravity filter has gotten so slow it takes over an hour to filter two liters. So I need to be filtering any time I’m stopped for more than a few minutes. I can blog while my meal cooks while my water filters. I can eat while Nuun tablets dissolve. I need to cut time spent not hiking down to the minimum while getting done what needs to get done.
I really felt the need to get that hiking work done as efficiently as possible. With only two full days of food in my can, snacks dwindling, mobile battery nearly empty, and out half a charge on my phone, I wanted to get into town ASAP. On top of that, if I couldn’t get into town before noon on Saturday to get my package at the post office, I’d have to zero or bounce it again. And who knew if I would end up needing that extra ice traction it contained before I could catch up to it again?
I woke up thinking I had overslept, but despite the light, it wasn’t even midnight yet. I thought maybe my headlamp had turned on in the night, but the light was just the moon getting low enough to peek under my tent flap and give everything a blue electronic glow.
After a couple of hours, I passed a lone cow who that bolted deep into the woods before descending to the edge of a meadow containing the rest of the herd. At this point, the ATV track doglegged back up the hill while the Grizzly-Helena Trail turned off into the meadow and became a single-track horse-and-footpath. It was a much more comfortable walk.
I woke up again at the usual time and hiked out again at the usual time. The trail was similar to how it had been for a few miles: rocky ATV trail, frequent water crossings, lots of ups and downs (only occasionally steep), passing little lily pad duck ponds along the way. At one point on one of the climbs, I stood and slammed the crown of my head into a blowdown that crossed the trail at exactly head height where I couldn’t see it through the brim of my hat. It’s either risk your neck occasionally hurting all day from such an impact or have a face constantly peeling from sun exposure.
Later in the morning, I came to a creek crossing and took a long break. I didn’t want it to be a long break, but I had things to do that couldn’t be ignored. The whole time, though, water was filtering. I took a liter of the filtered water and made a vitamin drink with it before I hiked on and dumped the unfiltered water on the ground. There was a surfeit of water all over the trail, so never any need to take any unfiltered water when I was ready to hike out again.
I stopped again after hiking down into the majestic Red Canyon, finding a spot in the shade of a steep rock wall right next to the Roaring Fork. I ate lunch while filtering more water, again dumping the unfiltered remainder before hiking out.
Although I had initially calculated that I could make it to the junction with the Rainbow Lakes trail by 5, then after lunch modified that to 5:30, the trail ended up taking a very disregarded route than was on the old map I was using (and not for the first time since I left the CDT). I pulled some water out of the creek just before climbing the last hill to the ridge where it was and arrived around 6pm. I stopped and made dinner, filtering water as I did. I dumped the unfiltered water, put on my headlamp, and started hiking speedily up the ridge toward the divide as the sun disappeared. I figured I could reach Upper Slide Lake some five miles away by 10pm if I pushed.
I had climbed all the way up to Rainbow Lake by 8:30. I think it would’ve been cool to see in the day. It was Big enough it took over 15 minutes to hike from one end to the other at full speed. I expect it looked similar to lower Green River Lake.
At the top end of the lake, I began climbing the steep hill next to the falls on the creek (Norris Creek) that fed the lake. I also would like to have seen those cascades in the sun, but they were quite nice to hear and peaceful in the moonlight. Before climbing that steep hill, I pulled some more water out of the creek, but that was a mistake. It turned out I would cross that same creek an hour later, and I wouldn’t have had to lug that weight up the hill if I’d waited.
The third and final hour of hiking after dinner was the hardest. That super energy was gone and there were a lot of steep, rocky climbs. I had to pause frequently to let my legs recover. Also, I had made it up to well above 10.5k feet in elevation. When I found a nice field to camp in with a relatively flat and rock-free spot, it was 10pm and I was maybe a quarter mile shy of Upper Slide Lake. The elevation was about 10,740 feet.
After setting up my tent and climbing in to get a few winks, I discovered there was a rock bulging out of the ground directly beneath my tailbone. It was too late to move the tent and impossible to move the rock, so I put a few more bags into my mattress and dealt with it. I slept pretty well.
Trail miles: 5.1 (actually hiked 21.5)
Distance to Steamboat Springs: 28 miles