I woke with my 6am alarm but that wasn’t nearly enough sleep. I managed to sleep in until 8 and then the day hikers started rolling by on the very popular trail. I was packed and careening down the hill by 9:30. By 10:30, I was at the trailhead. It was nothing but a paved lot (the black gravel of asphalt but none of the tar) with two Porta-potties and a cell tower at the other end (AT&T, worse than useless to me).
Oh and one other thing that made it like no other trailhead I’ve seen. Across from the tower behind a concrete barricade lining a strip of leveled land marked by piles of that same gravel as if the DOT had wanted to build a road and never got around to it was a pole with a power box connected to a WORKING POWER OUTLET.
Of course, I knew it would be there. The Guthook comments promised it existed. They didn’t get across how much of an oddity it would be stuck to a piece of plywood on a pole behind a barricade, but I had been counting on its presence nonetheless. I had planned my whole day around sitting in a parking lot next the the Interstate highway putting enough electricity into my headlamp batteries to be able to safely continue hiking after dark.
And that’s what I did. Of course, it wasn’t all just waiting. I filtered 2 liters of water from the creek (pretending I could still trust my filter after it had been out in the cold for so long the previous night), wrote a blog post, made and ate lunch, called home, etc. But I was there for nearly 6 hours, and there was a lot of time in between that for waiting.
I spent some of that time chatting with people. An old lady about where to see the Colorado state fish, the Greenback Cutthroat Trout. A fisherman about the same thing. (I wouldn’t actually get to see one unfortunately.) A man who had come to do maintenance on the cell tower generator about hiking and work in the time of COVID-19. A Forest Service guy who came to clean up litter and agreed to take my trash too. But best of all, my call home was interrupted by a woman who wanted to give me a ton of trail magic. I talked to her for an hour, and in that time, she gave me an extra two day’s worth of food, enough to save me having to go into Breckenridge. Some cookies. A ton of chewy bars (on which I was running low). Little tubs of peanut butter. Indian food MREs. Precooked Basmati rice. Breakfast mix ingredients. She tried to even give me a Sawyer Mini water filter, but I didn’t know if I could trust someone else’s water filter either.
She was a former PCT thru-hiker who had had to quit hiking due to leg injuries and was just out scoping out some trails. She goes by the trail name Slowcahontas. And by herself she probably just added at least fifteen miles to where I’ll be in a week.
Our conversation was interrupted by a young lady who had lost her keys. And I took that interruption as an excuse to get hiking… but first Slowcahontas had to show me her new toy: an electronic hand warmer / mobile USB battery. Then, I finally gave my regrets and packed up to get hiking. It was 4pm.
I went under the Interstate (just east of the Eisenhower and Johnson Memorial Tunnels if you were wondering) and found a short road that ran over a beautiful bridge built by the CDTA to get me over Clear Creek and onto a paved bike path. I was just walking down that bike path for the next four miles. Even though it ran parallel to the creek, I rarely could see the creek (and when I could, no trout in sight).
A quick note about the weather: it hailed/rained briefly while I was in the parking lot eating lunch. Then it was clear for a couple of hours until right when I left, sand-caked rain gear on. For the entire next three hours, it was raining off and on. Usually lightly sprinkling. Sometimes heavier. Always at least misty.
At the end of the bike path section, I met a familiar face. A hiker was packing up after a snack right next to a bank of portapotties and trash cans. It was Ted, with whom I had shared the shelter atop Parkview Mountain. I had assumed he was way ahead of me by dint of being a faster hiker, but apparently he has a weakness for towns and had taken consecutive zeroes in Winter Park (which I had skipped) to get a day behind me. I learned all these as we caught up, chatting all the way up the road to the Grays Peak trailhead and beyond.
Quick summary: this was his first long trail. The longest trip he’d done before was five days. He didn’t even plan to do this much of it. He started on July 11 telling people he was going to do part of Montana, thus giving himself an out if he hated it, but ended up liking it all enough that he had just kept going. And even though he didn’t take zeroes very often, he had ended up way behind the bubble with me because he liked to stop in every single town along the way (although I guess I’m still slower on the whole since I started at Canada earlier).
Despite being faster on that long climb up to the trailhead, he stopped and waited for me when I needed to catch my breath. He stopped and had a snack with me at the trailhead even though he had eaten far more recently. And then he kept my pace climbing up into the snowy glacier-carved valley below Grays Peak where we made camp side by side.
A series of misfortunes occurred during the tent set-up process. The flattish ground we found near the trail was pocked with tufts of grass and rocks once the snow was cleared away. Not ideal but doable. I set up my tent, looking tiny in comparison to Ted’s comically large Gossamer Gear Two. (When he switched from car camping to backpacking, he wasn’t quite ready for the tiny home lifestyle.) I started pumping up my air mattress, but the pump sack had a blowout after three pumps and I had to finish inflating by direct oral contact. I stood up from this, stepping directly on my sunglasses which I had put on the ground cloth to get them off my head so I could put my hood on right. I snapped off half of my custom JB Weld nose piece. Luckily, the frame and lenses were undamaged. When I finally climbed into my tent to change and warm up, I discovered there was a rock sticking straight up right in the middle of my back. I spent the next ten minutes fighting to wrestle that rock out of the ground using my trowel as a lever. I broke the tip off of it while prying with it. It was really quite a large rock buried quite deep with another adjacent rock holding it down. But I did get it free.
I cooked some Indian curry in my vestibule and mixed it with the Basmati rice. It snowed a little and the ground was very cold under the mattress. It was just below freezing around the time we were setting up according to Ted’s thermometer, but it seemed likely to drop into the low 20s overnight. I put on a extra layer, and even so, I needed my sleeping bag over my head while I was cooking not to shiver at all. That’s just how things are this time of the year above 12000 feet. Even with all those extra clothes and that thick down sleeping bag, it was going to be a chilly night.
Trail miles: 10.6
Distance to Frisco: 60.9 miles