As can be expected from having gone to bed so late, I got up late as well. My tent was absolutely covered in a layer of frost, but things had warmed up enough by the time I was ready to pack it up, I could just brush off the remainder. It took a little extra time to mop up the water inside my tent and on my mattress. The narrow strip of level unmaintained trail on a hillside I had squeezed my tent into had led to a lopsided setup that left one side somewhat unprotected from weather. I carried that extra water out in my damp towel.
I loaded up and hiked back to the trailhead parking lot. Here I learned that what I had thought was an information office was actually a warming hut for backcountry skiers. It had probably been open the night before but I had not bothered to check because it was dark inside. The bathrooms inside were pit toilets with no water supply. I would have to make do with the water I had managed to filter the night before and had turned into breakfast for the first several miles of the day. On the other hand, there were trash cans in the bathrooms, so I wouldn’t have to carry that up the hill.
Climbing a hill on the other side of the pass is what I had to do next. The weather was beautiful and sunny and I had some great views from the ridge once I got above the low clouds streaming through the pass. It was a couple of miles of climbing before I reached the ridge top, at which point the rest of the day would be just rolling hills along the ridge.
At first, I could look down and see the highway, then later the highway went off down a different canyon leaving a view of some sort of plant or mine. In the other direction, just a desolate bowl in the middle of the Vasquez Wilderness. I met a few hikers on the Divide, all going the other direction.
Around 2 or 2:30, I came down the side of Stanley Mountain into the gulch between it and Vasquez Peak. The trail ran along the face of the latter, coming low and close to a trailhead. At the junction ease was a stream, so I took lunch while filtering a liter of water to make some orange vitamin drink. I hiked back up to the shoulder of Vasquez Peak and onto the Divide ridge again, and as soon as I was out in the sun, I was sweltering. I had already taken off my jacket at lunch, but now I had to stop and take off my snow pants too.
Within an hour of hiking on the ridge, cold winds were carrying low clouds right over the lip, chilling me to the bone. I had to stop again, sitting down on the windy hillside to put back on my pants and jacket. I probably should have put on my Packa also, but it seemed like an unnecessary inconvenience at that point since it was not supposed to rain.
The ridge walk continued ever more enveloped in fog as the night fell. Just after 7, with the sun almost gone, I came onto the back side of a peak that was wind protected enough to be free of the clouds spilling over either of its shoulders and got one final sequence of sunset views right up to the southern edge of the Vasquez Wilderness. Then it was back into the fog and driving wind, climbing up over rocky peaks by headlamp with only a few feet of visibility. Luckily, the trail was clear enough to follow even with this handicap.
It got harder to follow as the snow on the trail got thicker. At first, the addition of snow made the trail easier to follow since the snow was only in the trail bed. Then there started to be an even coating all around the ridge top. It piled up in places where the trail climbed over boulders and up high stairs.
Running low on energy, I took one last break on a random slope that happened to be wind-protected. I got a good look at my pack. Frost was building up on the outside of it, mainly on the windward parts. I began to wish I had put on my Packa earlier. There was frost on my pants and the fingertips of my gloves too, though that wasn’t much of a problem. It fell right off when brushed. A thick layer of ice was building up on my poles though.
My headlamp blinked off six times, two groups of three flashes. The low battery signal. I was still 4 miles from a weather-safe place to camp, and there was no way to keep hiking without the light. It wouldn’t just die all of a sudden though. It would keep running in the lowest brightness setting and run the batteries out completely, fading as they went. I hoped it would last me a few more hours.
I crossed a road that descended into the valley, a shortcut low route to Silverthorne that cut off some of the best mountains on the trail. I crossed it and stayed on the ridge. Though there was snow all over more, it was briefly much easier to follow the trail, as a mountain bike had passed this way earlier and I could just stay in the tracks.
When the trail got rockier and started climbing up to over 13000 feet again, the tire tracks disappeared. I had to start carefully analyzing the shape of the snow and rocks ahead to stay on the trail. It was still possible because, even in the thickest snow blanket, there was a slight depression in the snow following the trail path.
When I started coming down off that last high point, I didn’t even trust it at first. I knew there were supposed to be some switchbacks to kick off the descent into Herman Gulch, but there had been plenty of sharp turns in the trail along the ridge, and plenty of longer descents. It took several minutes of descent and a couple of those turns before I believed it. I was so happy. It was late. I was pretty tired. My feet were aching.
But I didn’t want to stop until I was down in the trees on the Herman Gulch Trail. And the trail had to torture me a little by making me go back uphill coming down into the gulch. Finally, I reached the wide day hiker trail heading down canyon. I kept leaving the trail to head into the woods below searching for a single flat spot wide enough for a tent, but it’s pretty hard to do with five foot visibility radius. Wander and hope. I was another third of a mile back down the trail when I finally found a barely suitable spot not far from the trail. Not ideal since that meant day hikers noisily passing my tent in the morning, but I did not want to walk a single step further.
I started water heating to boil for supper immediately upon unpacking. I wanted it to be ready to eat by the time my tent was set up and I was inside. And indeed it was. I boiled more water for dessert in the vestibule from the comfort of my sleeping bag. After all was settled and I could sleep, it was almost half past midnight.
Trail miles: 17.3
Distance to Frisco: 71.5 miles