CDT CO Section 4

Day 155: Twin Lakes

Because I had taken so long to get to sleep the previous night, I could sleep in until 6:30, put on my shoes, grab my already packed day bag, and start climbing. Of course, I forgot to pack my microspikes, so I had to go back for those. But One Day and I were climbing Elbert by a little after 7.

It was a four-mile trail or so, 2500 foot climb. We reached treeline around 9 and stopped to put on the microspikes. There were at least six people breaking trail ahead of us, but we caught up to them. One guy (who you’ll see in the video) was walking up in shorts with his girlfriend, but she got fed up with the snow very early and turned around and he forged ahead, leaving the trail and climbing straight up onto the ridge.

One Day and I were wondering if he was crazy at first. Not only was he climbing in shorts (and even I had learned my lesson on that front, opting to wear my snow pants this time), but he was choosing his own path while the group in front of him steadfastly plowed footprints into the ankle- or even sometimes knee-deep snow.

He wasn’t just crazy or stubborn though. He was determined and knew exactly what he was doing, and soon was rushing well ahead of the crowd. One Day and I followed suit, abandoning the trail and shortcutting its switchbacks on the rocks. It wasn’t long before we caught up to the group sticking to the trail. They said they wanted us to go ahead and break trail for them. We went ahead, but we had already decided the official route was a sucker’s game in the snow. We immediately started right up the spine of the ridge, staying in the rocks and visible grasses wherever possible.

Shorts Guy stopped to put on leggings under his shorts, further proving he was actually well prepared for this climb. He lost some of his massive lead in doing so, and even more by actually following the switchbacks. One Day and I cut straight across all of them using our microspikes to full advantage.

I soon caught up to the man and led him way off trail, which had ran all the way around the side of the southern slope in one very long switchback. I just kept going straight up the side of the hill, staying in the visible rocks and out of the blank white snowfields. It was no easy exercise to climb straight up the side of the mountain, and I had to take frequent breaks to huff and puff in the oxygen-poor high atmosphere. I gained a significant lead by emptying the fuel tank. I found a nice sitting boulder at around 13800 feet up and downed most of the rest of my breakfast protein shake. Shorts Guy caught up and we started out again together, still climbing straight up the slope in the rocks.

I pulled way ahead of Shorts Guy again, leveraging my microspike advantage. It actually got somewhat easier to climb closer to the top. Elbert is a fairly gently sloped mountain compared to some others, and the upper reaches had more shallow snow among rocks and fewer deep snowdrifts.

Of the people I had seen, I was the first to arrive at the summit. Shorts Guy came up just a couple of minutes later, and One Day came up a while after that. We took photos for each other all around, and Shorts Guy celebrated by cracking open and sharing a bag of peanut M&Ms, which, no joke, said “Congrats on that thing you did” on the bag.

After all that, I sat down on a rock inside the wind shelter and went thrive quite a few snacks myself and made an orange immunity drink. One Day and I stayed there long enough to see some of the clouds pass away and some views open up. We stayed as long as my increasingly frozen toes would permit. Then we set off finding our own ways back down the mountain.

I wanted to stick to the trail on the way back. Deeper snow is actually much easier to walk in when descending quickly because you can take giant steps without worrying about the impact on knees: the snow cushions each foot fall. A thousand feet down, I crossed paths with the same guys who had wanted us to go ahead and break trail for them, still steadfastly post-holing up the official route. They weren’t that far from the top, but stomping uphill in deep snow is so slow, I thought they might still be 30 minutes away.

Just beyond them, the trail leveled out significantly, even climbing slightly. So, I abandoned it and went straight down the middle of some deep and steep snowfields. I rejoined the trail around where One Day and I had first left it. She caught me a few minutes later, having cut off even one more section of trail by coming straight down the ridge where the trail used to run before the reroute.

The rest of the way back to our campsite looked a lot like the reverse of our climb. We took off our microspikes at treeline. We stopped for several pictures along the way now that the sun had moved to not being right in the middle of the shot. We finally found our campsite just like we had left it and went inside our tents to get ready for the continuation of our day. It was a lot 1:30, and I wanted to be packed and fed by 3 at the latest.

I started by removing my extra layers of clothes and packing up the stuff inside my tent. By the time I was packing up my tent, items scattered everywhere around my pack, One Day had eaten lunch and completely packed, ready to head out. So she went on without me.

I left maybe 30 or 40 minutes later, after finishing an packing and finding a nice spot in the sun to eat my lunch at my usual pace. Then I headed down the trail and turned south at a much speedier pace.

Along the way, I called Bob at the Twin Lakes General Store to find out when they closed. After 4:30 that day, he’d be closed until the next weekend, but he’d get my box out and ready for when I arrived. I figured 4:30 was an absolutely doable deadline.

Even after a wrong turn or two, resulting in a fifteen minute off-trail diversion (which scored me some nice photos of beaver ponds) it still seemed like I would make it with time to spare.

Thirty minutes later, I came to the Twin Lakes Village turnoff, which carried me a mile around the side of the hill to a road leading a mile straight down to town. Near the bottom, I met someone trying to drive a car up that rough, steep, rocky dirt road. A car full of dogs with a half-flat front tire, Minnesota plates, and no backup camera. The driver rolled down the window to ask about a place to turn around. There were none just ahead, so I assisted in directing the effort to reverse down the hill to the wide lot at the bottom. I could spare the five extra minutes that took.

I made it to the general store with fifteen minutes to spare. One Day was outside, saying she was headed to the restaurant across the street to reserve a table for us. My box was there behind the counter, guarded by a sleeping golden retriever named Motu. I grabbed some treats from the store. Bob rung me up and gave me a bag. My plan at that point was to walk to the other end of the lake to Win Mar Cabins for the night, where laundry and showers were available. I woke Motu pulling my box from behind the counter. I carried everything outside and dropped it next to my pack, then joined One Day in the restaurant.

It was a very expensive meal, but it was very good. Smoked Buffalo wings with celery, carrots, and blue cheese. A chicken caesar salad with actual anchovy on. A nice local beer to go with the root beer I had brought in from the store. I learned over dinner that One Day was not interested in going around the lake. But she did say she would be willing to sleep at the Win Mar bunkhouse if she got a ride there.

Back in front of the store, I started packing up my resupply, and it turned out to be way more than I could carry. Of the things I had extra, I gave One Day as much as she wanted, then tossed the rest back in the box to go in the store’s hiker box. Bob came around while the packing process was underway, and after arranging for him to take the surplus resupply and trash into the store (though it was closed), he offered us a ride out to Win Mar since we had been unable to get them on the phone.

So we scrambled to get our packs together and in the back of his truck when he pulled around. We hopped into the cab with him and Motu. He drove us out to Win Mar to find it completely closed up. So he turned around and drove us back to town and offered to let us camp in the backyard of the store. Since laundry and showers and warm beds were completely off the table, we accepted.

The backyard was a mess and full of stuff, including plenty of dog bombs. But one area seemed less beloved of the dogs, and we set up tents there in such a way that we could chat across our open vestibules from the comfort of our sleeping bags. We had a little party with the chips and cider I bought and the candy from my resupply I couldn’t fit in my pack.

When the chips and cider ran out, I zipped myself in and called Mom. Then, I worked on the blog as well as the weak cell service would allow and watched videos and such until my phone battery was nearly dead. I got up one last time to plug it into the outlet on the side of the building, then finally turned in. It was after eleven.

Trail miles: 3.5 or so

CDT CO Section 4

Day 154: S. Mt. Elbert Trail

It was a cold morning and I had no interest in going out into it. I started moving around at 7, shaking the snow off the tent, but One Day and I didn’t leave camp until 9:30. We went 2.5 miles down the trail to the Mt. Massive junction, passing a group of guys on the way. The last guy didn’t seem to even know where they were headed. Then we turned and started climbing. Just a little ways up, we went off trail, picked out the gear we’d need for the day, and hung our packs from trees to wait for us at the bottom.

It was kind of a nice morning at first. Some sun, mostly clouds. Once we got above treeline, the snow started getting deeper and more slippery, so we stopped to put on our spikes. We met a couple coming down who said they had no summitted. They had turned around because of the snow.

We met another crowd of guys on the slope once the snow got deep. They were the same guys from before. They had just missed the junction, turned around, and passed us while we were stashing our packs. We took the lead, but we soon left the trail, choosing to climb up the side of the ridge because the snow has drifted so deeply in the trail.

It was cold enough already, but then the sun started to go away and the wind picked up. Blinding, chilling gusts of 30 mph or more. I had elected to climb with bare knees based on the weather predictions and the temperatures at lower elevations, and soon my legs were coated with ice.

We pushed through the wind and up the slope, and when we reached the saddle between Massive’s two peaks, the wind was torrential and constant. It was only a half mile and 500 feet of climb to the peak, but the rest of the way was a rocky, icy ridge traverse, and we did not feel safe trying to climb that whole being battered by wind occasionally gusting hard enough to knock us down if we were off balance and not leaning into it.

We took some photos and came back down, sticking to the snowy trail this time, moving much faster. Even so, we hadn’t even come down a half mile when it started snowing. It snowed all the way down the trail to where we left our stuff, so at my suggestion, we set up our tents and ate our lunches inside. And because we bothered to set up tents, it stopped snowing pretty quickly.

It was well after three when we came down down from our aborted attempt to summit Massive, and it was about 5 when we set out down the trail again at high speed. After a mile or so, we reached the river and had to stop to de-layer because the hiking had warmed us up. There were a bunch of heavy machines in the parking lot, so I sat in the cozy seat of one of those to change.

We chose to take the road a half mile down to the North Elbert Trailhead, and received the bounteous fortune of a dumpster in the nearby campground, so we paused again to dump our trash. Then, I set out up the hill from the trailhead at the highest speed I could manage. I put on some music to propel me. The sun was setting but I had my headlamp on. An hour into the section, I had to turn it on. Although my socks had been slowly drying from the snowmelt moisture, I had the misfortune of slipping off a log while crossing a creek, but I didn’t let it slow me down. These socks are perpetually moist anyway.

Sooner than I expected, I reached the junction for the South Mt. Elbert Trail. I started climbing. Shortly into this climb, I saw some yellow dots close to the ground reflecting my headlamp. Putting on the high beam, I learned it was a red fox (see video).

When the trail started leveling out, I started looking for campsites. One Day caught up and helped me look. There was nothing truly flat around, but we managed to make do. In fact, my spot behind a tree was actually quite flat if not quite wide enough to erect my tent properly.

I had a lot to do before I could climb into my sleeping bag abs start cooking supper, including filtering water. It was after 10 by the time I could lie down and eleven before I slept.

Trail miles: 10.1

Distance to Twin Lakes: 3 miles

CDT CO Section 4

Day 153: Northeast of Mt. Massive

Again not too much to say, but at least there was something interesting that happened.

Out of camp by 9:20. What immediately followed was a steep climb over a ridge to the top of Long Gulch and across into the basin below Galena Mountain, where I stopped for lunch at the shore of a small lake.

Although there had been a decent amount of sun all morning, the clouds came in around lunch time with a on and off again light sprinkling. Enough to put my Packa on my pack but not enough to wear it like a raincoat for a little while longer. Later, when the cold wind picked up, that became a more reasonable response.

The trail continued through the Holy Cross Wilderness in the trees with very few views. Up over one of the mountain’s ridges, down into the next valley near Bear Lake, up over another ridge, down over Lake Fork, a tributary to Turquoise Lake which could not be seen from the trail, then up over the saddle between Bald Eagle and Sugarloaf Mountains. All of these ups and downs all day felt pretty steep and rocky and just generally spelled slow going. By the time I had topped the last climb, it was already almost 6pm and I had only gone 12.8 miles. The rain was picking up a little bit too.

It was time for supper, so I stopped to fix it sitting on a rock under the shelter of a big fir tree. I had my Packa on as a raincoat while I cooked, but the tree did a good job of keeping that light sprinkle off along with blocking most of the wind. When I finished, it was nearly dark enough to require a headlamp, so I got mine out to prepare for a bit of night-hiking in the rain.

Just as I was about to finish packing up and went to put the headlamp on, I realized a flange that had held the battery compartment onto the head band was gone. It was unusable in that state. Luckily, I had packed out the SteelStik I had bought to repair my sunglasses in Silverthorne, so I just molded a new flange right there on the spot.

Just as I finished, I saw another light bobbing up the hill. When the owner came into range, I said:


“Oh my God! What the hell?”

“Over here.”

“You scared the crap out of me. What are you doing up here?”

“Same as you, I reckon.”

“Is that Blast?”


“It’s One Day.”

I was a bit shocked that someone I had not spoken to in three months (at East Glacier Village when she asked if I could hike with her) was able to identify me in the dark by voice alone, but it turned out she had a reason to expect me there. She had spent the previous day hiking with Ted before leaving him behind in Leadville following the resolution of a lost credit card issue. He had relayed what had transpired during our time hiking together, so she knew I was nearby on the trail.

Anyway, we chatted a bit as we hiked down together, catching up on all the above, as well as the status of the injury that had taken her off trail for a week in Helena and how she had spotted me from a car while zeroing in Grand Lake. Since then, she had been a day or two behind for various reasons.

She stopped at the next water source to collect some water, so I threw in my earphones and chugged ahead into the night. She stayed fairly close behind me through the next section–out of hearing range but her light was occasionally visible. One long descent and one not so long ascent brought me to a small stream with a nice campsite nearby. She arrived there as well as I was starting to unpack. The spot I picked to camp seemed pretty good in the moment and light of the headlamp, but once I had set up and threw myself inside to do everything else out of the rain, I began to see that it was a pretty tilty site. That had some repercussions, but that’s a story for tomorrow because first I slept.

Trail miles: 17.2

Distance to Twin Lakes: 19 miles

CDT CO Section 4

Day 152: North Fork West Tennessee Creek

There’s really not much to say about this day.

I left camp around 9:30am and hiked until around 9:30pm.

I was just under Searle Pass when I started. Coming over it gave some views and put me in the land of the pikas. I heard there was at least one pine marten living up here, but I never saw it. Just lots of pikas running around when I took my first snack break.

The high point for the day was just a few miles in, then I descended for most of the day. Down to Kokomo Pass and down off the ridge following a creek down to a dirt road along the bottom of a canyon. Just before the bottom of the hill, I took lunch beside a creek. It was a sunny day most of the day, but not an overly warm one. Sitting in the shade was too cold when the wind blew. So I had to make a seat in the sun right on the bank.

A mountain biker passed me walking his bike uphill and quipping it was easier downhill.

The trail ran parallel to the dirt road in the valley bottom, passing a waterfall on a nice bridge, then coming back to the road at a trailhead where a family seemed to be packing up their truck. It left the dirt road on a closed forest service road before it reached the highway so that it could climb partway up the ridge and run parallel to the highway, looking down on it, for a mile or so before crossing it. It was a fairly busy, noisy road, and I had to wait a minute for an opening before crossing.

After dropping into another valley and working around the edge of it, the trail climbed up to a road that seemed so thoroughly well-built it may once have been a railroad grade. It was 6pm, so I took supper on a nice rock beside it.

Setting off into the dark along the road, I soon came to a part that proved it undrivable. A fence blocked the trail just before a rotten, collapsing bridge. The trail left the berm for a moment, rejoining on the other side of the bridge.

The road quickly turned into a more narrow footpath-like trail after that. A couple of miles later, I came to the Tennessee Pass trailhead with its enormous privy. There was no trash can, so I kept walking through the night.

A short while later, I came to the junction to one of the mountain huts. There was a wooden bench swing here. I was tempted to go up and see the cabin, but I knew it would be closed until Thanksgiving, and I had miles to do.

It was a few more miles in the dark forest, up and down until I reached the enormous flat clearings at the first crossing of the creek named in the title of this post. I set up camp right next to the trail while trying out my new water filter for the first time. It was blazingly fast, done by the time I had looked back at it.

Sleep by a bit after 11.

Trail miles: 19.7

Distance to Twin Lakes: 36 miles

CDT CO Section 4

Day 151: Guller Creek/Searle Pass

I ended up going down to breakfast first, somewhere around 6:30, but Ted was there shortly after eating next to me. It was what I had come to expect from that sort of hotel breakfast-wise during pandemic times given my experience the previous year. Despite the stack of waffles depicted on the room key, they just had packaged pastries, bagels and cream cheese, yogurt, apples, and coffee. Not much that would stick with you.

I went back to the room to work on the blog a little bit, but after uploading a couple of posts, I decided it was time to walk over to Lowe’s to get what I needed to repair my sunglasses and Packa.

It was a longer walk than it needed to be because of the way pedestrian crossings were laid out on the roads. I stopped for a more substantial breakfast on the way, including a bottle of Gatorade and a bottle of Sprite Ginger, which tastes very different from ginger ale if you were wondering. Getting what I needed at Lowe’s was fairly painless, and I tried to find a shorter route to walk back to the hotel. When I was getting close, I saw Ted on the road walking with his pack. He said he was on his way to REI. I still had the repairs to do before I went there myself, so I tried to arrange a meeting.

It was more than an hour before I checked out of the room, and even more when I couldn’t find my sun hat and went back to search the room more thoroughly. I found 75 cents on the dresser but no hat. I hoped it was buried deep in my pack somewhere and hiked out to REI myself. Since it had taken me so long, I texted Ted to go on without me. Maybe we would meet again further down the trail.

At REI, I swapped out my broken trowel and slow filtration system and got some more stove fuel. I should have taken apart my pack looking for the hat, but I didn’t think of it. Instead, I was thinking of sending in an online order to Jimmy John’s for pickup on the other side of the parking lot.

I went to pick up the sandwich and ate it while waiting for the bus at the adjacent bus stop. I accidentally got on the wrong bus that seemed like it was going the right way at first then turned the wrong way and ended up a couple of blocks further away from where I was headed than where I got on by the time I realized it and got off. The bus that pulled in right behind it was the right bus, but it had to go down all the roads I had just gone down and even return to the stop I had originally started at before it got where I was going. After all that, I had lost most of an hour on busses and could certainly have reached the bus station on foot a lot faster.

I switched to the bus to Frisco and arrived at the Frisco Walmart some ten minutes later. I did all my food resupply there and at the nearby Safeway. While packing all that food in my pack, I took the time to search it thoroughly and found no hat. I guess I must have left it behind on one of the busses headed into Silverthorne the previous day or maybe in the lobby of the wrong hotel. Anyway, I now had a mission to acquire a new hat.

Walmart had lots of hats, but they were all caps of one sort or another. I decided to try the mountain sports store in the next shopping center over behind the Walmart one, but they also had only caps (and one straw cowboy hat). Looking at another outdoor clothing store online, I saw photos of all kinds of cool sun hats, but it was in downtown Frisco and I had five minutes to catch the bus. So I ran back to g the Walmart to get my pack from where I had hidden it and ran back with it to the bus station with 1 minute to spare on the bus I needed. At 3PM, I was riding into the city center.

The bus dropped me a block from the store I was interested in. They had none of the hats from the photo. The handful of sun hats they had were way too small for me. They did have plenty of ball caps and trucker caps and visors though. I checked the clothing store across the street and they had nothing at all like a hat with a visor. So I went back to the first store and got a visor. I could make do with that.

With some 15 minutes to spare until the arrival of the next bus to Copper Mountain, I had time to head down to the public restrooms at the Old Town Hall, get a square of Red Velvet fudge and a root beer from the sweets shop, and still have to sit for 15 minutes with some high schoolers because the bus was late.

One of those high schoolers joined me on the bus. Apparently she lived where I was hiking out from. I asked her about the gig where she was going to play guitar. She was headed to a jazz concert at a resort in the complete opposite direction we were riding and believed she could get there in an hour even after a stop at home. I’m guessing she had a ride because the busses only left Copper Mountain every thirty minutes during peak hours, and my experience with riding these busses for the past three hours said there was no way they would get her there in half an hour.

Anyway, I called home during this trip and some fifteen minutes later, I was in Copper Mountain. Still on the phone, I found my way back to the trail where it worked its way across the bottom of the ski slopes and under the tracks for one of those single-rider car personal roller coaster things you only ever see at ski slopes and in backyards of roller coaster building nuts. I finally got off the phone, put airplane mode on, pulled out my trekking poles, smeared on some sunscreen, and started hiking in earnest.

Other than one random mountain biker, I had the section of trail to myself. It worked its way around the mountain away from the ski slopes first and into a canyon where it followed a creek uphill for several miles. It was all uphill for me all evening, but very gradual. I took only one break when it got too dark to trust my low light vision and my new headphones started crapping out (for reasons related to the cord being too short). I was so most where I wanted to be by then.

I stopped for the night down the hill from the trail in the last patch of trees before Searle Pass. There was a narrow sliver of land behind a tree that was nearly flat and just wide enough for the footprint of my inner tent. Once in my tent, I put on a bunch of extra layers and then cooked supper on the vestibule. It was some time around 10pm when I went to sleep.

Trail miles: 7.0

Distance to Twin Lakes: 56 miles