August 1, 2012
About 17 miles
There are several opportunities to take side trails and climb 14,000+ feet peaks from various parts of the trail. In my preparation guidebook, the author interviewed past thru-hikers and asked them which, if any, side trips they had taken. Several had mentioned that they had climbed Mt. Massive, and that was in the back of my mind to do, as well.
I headed out just after 7, with 12-13 miles to hike until I reached the intersection to the Mt. Massive turn-off (not good timing at all!).
During my walk, I came across a couple of grouse walking on the trail ahead of me. Seeing animals is my favorite part of hiking. And for the first time, I saw a male grouse with his tail feathers fanned out, in hot pursuit of a female who wanted nothing to do with him! It was very amusing to watch.
I traveled through more forest, as well as some very dry, arid sections.
At 1:20, I reached the turn-off to Mt. Massive. It had started to rain, and things weren’t looking good for me in terms of climbing this mountain. I also had no idea how tall it was, what altitude I was currently at, or how long it would take to climb it! I decided to call Laura and see if she could google some information on it for me. She did not answer either her work or cellphone, however. Then, I realized that if I had reception to call her, I could just google it myself on my iphone! I discovered that it was indeed a 14,000+ foot mountain, which is never smart to climb on any afternoon, never mind an already rainy one! I looked up at the skies and saw more black clouds. I would have to give up this side trail, and I felt greatly disappointed. I sat in the rain, studying my guidebook, and discovered that Mt. Elbert was only several miles from where I was! Mt. Elbert is the second highest mountain in the lower 48 states (after Mt. Whitney) and I was definitely going to climb it! I hadn’t realized that I would be coming upon it so soon, however! Although I wouldn’t be able to climb Mt. Massive, I could set myself up within striking distance to climb Elbert the following day.
I passed a large group of teenaged girls marching along in the rain and eventually made it to a road and the end of segment 10. Two cyclists were looking for the point at which the Colorado Trail picked up again, and I pointed it out to them. We all took a break by the river, joining a third cyclist who was already resting. I collected water and listened to the banter of the cyclists as I filtered. They were also participating in the Denver-Durango race, but were traveling towards the back of the pack. And they didn’t care to chat with me. (I find that it is the most athletic and in control people who have the most left-over to give to others). I felt lonely among them.
After they took off, I got out my maps and guidebook pages to try to figure out which trail I wanted to take up Mt. Elbert (the north or the south) and where I should camp. In a third of a mile, I reached the turn-off to the Mt. Elbert trailhead. Two day hikers were hiking toward me, and I asked them if they had just hiked Mt. Elbert, “Yes, we did!”. I told them my situation and asked them for their advice on which trail to take. They were quite friendly. I decided to take the north trail off mile 1.3 of the 11th segment of the Colorado Trail, and descend the South trail, rejoining the CT at mile 4.5. THis would mean that I would have to climb Mt. Elbert with my full pack! I hiked on and ran into another person who was just finishing his Mt. Elbert climb. He asked me if I was trying to head up the mountain tonight.
I began to look for a place to camp, although part of me wanted to press on and get a better head-start on tomorrow’s climb. As I looked down into a valley below, I saw what looked like good camping territory. I paused and thought about what to do. Stop, or continue?
I decided to check it out. It started to sprinkle and thunder rumbled. I looked at my options for setting up and went back and forth between a couple of places. I had to hurry! As soon as I got my tent staked, the rain fell harder, and all of a sudden, hail pelted the ground! I would not be having dinner again… I hunkered down and waited out the storm. For the next 2 hours, it rained, thundered, and lightninged. Some water leaked into my tent, but it was containable. The pine trees never stopped dripping, just as they had not the night before I reached Tennessee Pass. I got out of my tent at 8pm to brush my teeth and go to the bathroom. The end of my sleeping bag had gotten a bit wet, but it wasn’t bad.
At 1:30 in the morning, I heard a loud group of girls walking along the trail above me! Maybe they were heading to watch the sun rise on top of Mt. Elbert?