I woke up before the 5am alarm, put on my long underwear, and got on the trail by 6.
It was all climbing at first, up into a higher canyon Hallett Creek flows from, then up the wall of that canyon on a series of switchbacks to the top of Flattop Mountain. I was thankful for the extra layers because even with the intense climbing, I was never overheating. I was in the shade all morning, the sun only lighting the tops of the mountains behind me and never reaching into the canyons until well into the 9 o’clock hour. Around 8:30, I was far enough up the canyon wall to finally get into the sun, so I took a 45 minute break to snack, eat, drink, remove layers, and prepare for the sun.
A few minutes after I started hiking again, I was on the mountaintop plateau. By 10am, I reached the trail that had been closed until this month and was now limited to backpackers only. A few minutes later, I was at highest point I would reach for the day, around 12250 feet. It was all downhill from there. And so I was coming down fast.
I entered the Tonahutu Creek canyon behind a nice elk bull. Who knows why he came there. The whole canyon was completely burned out by fire earlier this year. I took one break at noon near the top of the descent and cruised two miles in no time to the bend in the creek, where I saw the only other backpackers I met on the trail, a father and son headed up to the next campsite with plans to go fishing in the Haynach Lakes the next day. After 5 minutes, I headed on, thinking about what time it would be when I reached the next trail junction.
I was hurrying to reach town before the post office closed so I could pick up my winter clothes. But at this point I thought I should pause to check out the actual hours. I learned that it closed at 4pm instead of 5 like most places, which meant I had a little over two hours to finish the 5 miles I had left to hike, and that assumed I got a hitch as soon as I got to the highway. If I walked into town, it would be 6 miles.
Welp. I canceled my plans to take a break and filter some more water and picked up the pace. I did the last 4 miles down the creek at
breakneck blistering pace. (Honestly, I don’t get why people talk about “breakneck speed.” I could see a breakleg pace, like if you’re riding a fixed wheel bicycle with your feet strapped to the pedals down a steep hill, but no matter what you’re doing, your head and torso should be going the same speed, so how are you going to break your neck? I could see someone arguing that something stopping one but not the other when you’re going sufficiently fast could result in a broken neck from the inertia, but then it’s not the high speed that broke your neck but rather the high second time derivative thereof. We really ought to be referring to breakneck jerk, no?)
I reached the highway at 3pm on the dot, 3 hours since my last snack break, but I kept the pace down the highway. I walked the last mile to the post office and got my package at 3:30. Goal achieved, I felt like a runner at the end of a marathon. I was lightheaded and weak. Everything went out of me. I ate a snack bar and drank the last of my water, then strolled slowly and effortfully down the tourist street of an unappealing Colorado town.
Imagine South Park, but slightly more expensive and upscale and maybe even more tacky. You’re probably picturing Grand Lake. I was glad I wouldn’t be in that hellhole very long.
At the far end of the street, I took a seat at the window bar at the Sagebrush BBQ & Grill. It was got 4pm, and my ride arrived at 5. Just enough time to get down two full glasses of watery, two beers, a half rack of ribs with fries and beans. It was very busy and full of locals, and service was hard to come by, yet the food and drinks came as fast as you could order and were very good. I felt better immediately.
Then, Six showed up at the door with unexpectedly long hair, and it was time to catch up on a two hour car ride into the city. Lakewood, a suburb of Denver, is the real Colorado. It’s everything you imagine when you think “Colorado”: a vast plain of indistinguishable houses with mountains on the horizon, great craft beer, weed dispensaries, homophobic bakeries, homicidal white guys, mass shootings… it’s basically the American ideal. Good to be in the real Colorado finally.
After a shower and with the laundry laundering, me and Six and Dangerpants spent the next several hours catching up over Indian takeout, root beer, and other beer. I slept in a real warm bed in my own room.