Day 27 of the Colorado Trail

August 16

18.3 miles

A day of indescribable beauty, amazing animal encounters, and of course, the ever-present fatigue!

My day started with an uphill climb, beginning in the forest, and then opening out into the exposed tundra of the Continental Divide. The beauty was overwhelming! I could see red-striped mountains to my right and amazing views in every direction. And no one else was out here! It was unbelievable! This, right, here, is exactly why I had come out here to hike!
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I stopped often in wonderment and took many pictures. There was a steep climb ahead and at one point, I saw that there was a small side path to the peak of the mountain I was climbing (the Colorado Trail wound around the mountain). I decided to check it out. (I would much rather climb extra distances for views than to get water…). I carefully made my way down, and continued on a winding path around different peaks.
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Eventually, I headed down to the dirt road, walking along the embankment above the wide gravelly path to avoid slipping in this steep descent, and reached the end of segment 22. I was tired! The road continued uphill, and around a hairpin. I was moving very slowly. A car headed toward me and the driver seemed strangely proud that he slowed down to avoid hitting me. (Ummm…thanks?)
Once I made my way back onto the trail, a pack of ATV riders with masked helmets covering their faces rode past me. It was a bit eerie. When the CT turned off this path to the right, I was happy to be alone and in peace again. I came out to another expansive landscape, where the trail led under a rim.
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It was time for lunch and I looked for a soft patch of grass to sit on, but it was all a bit scraggly. I had wanted to reach the next water source so I would only have to stop once to collect water and eat, but it wasn’t appearing! So, I just sat down and ate. As I continued on, I saw a wooden stick with a CT marker on it with an upright black animal holding onto it!
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The animal remained perfectly still as I walked towards it and I couldn’t figure out if it was real or not! Was this a stuffed animal, or maybe wooden? Did someone place it here as a joke? I yelled out to it, “What are you?” afraid that it might move towards me suddenly. It remained perfectly still! I took my camera out of my pocket and took a picture. Suddenly, it dove under the rocks! Holy cow! That was a bit creepy!
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A little ways ahead, a squeaky marmot stood on its hind legs, blowing out whistles. I took a video of him.
My guidebook had said that there would be 1,500 feet of climbing for this day, but as I continued to climb, and could see that there was even more ahead, I couldn’t believe how wrong it was! I had already climbed more than that in the first half of the day! This was psychologically hard to adjust to. I was extremely tired and my head was stuck in mileage calculations. How far had I hiked so far and how many miles did I have remaining? I pressed on and on, always looking at the next climb up ahead.
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For some reason, I looked back into the valley and was stunned to see a pair of moose!
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I had walked right passed them and hadn’t seen them because I was so stuck in my head, thinking about how much work I still had ahead of me! I walked back down the trail to get a better view. What an incredible sight! One of them galloped into the swampy bushes and became completely hidden from view. I called to the other one and he looked up at me. I was so glad that I decided to look back at that moment!
I made my way around more interesting sculptural rock outcrops as I climbed to the next saddle.
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After this pass, it began to rain and then hail, but it didn’t last long. Slowly, I made my way down toward a pond.
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It was gorgeous! Part of me wanted to stop and camp there, but another part of me knew I had to keep moving. Every mile that I didn’t hike today would only mean additional miles for the next day and day after. Dark clouds were also hovering.
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I took a short snack break and moved on. I headed toward the next saddle, putting away mile after mile.
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As I continued through another rocky part, I found more playful marmots. I stood and watched them play with each other. They weren’t at all afraid of me.
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As I continued on, another marmot ran down the trail toward me. Alarmed, I yelled, “What are you doing?” at it and it dove into a rock cairn.
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I came out to another open grassy section and climbed up, looking for the intersection with a camping spot 300 feet off the trail. I arrived at 6pm, and had to figure out which way to turn. I made my way down through some bushes and into a little area my guidebook described as a “meadow”. The ground was very lumpy, had big dirt holes all around, and the grass was very thick. It was definitely not ideal for setting up a tent, but I had no choice.
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I was at an elevation of 12,500 feet, in completely exposed terrain, all alone. I set up my tent, put on my warm layers, and set my stove up outside of my tent. I couldn’t see the flame and slightly burnt my fingers for the first time on this trip. I hoped it would not storm tonight! I got out of the tent several times to take pictures of the setting sun behind the rocks and nestled my body into the dirt divets.
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It was cold, but not as freezing as I thought it would be at this high of an elevation. I felt a bit on edge in the surroundings I was in, all alone, but remained very calm and stoic, gathering my internal strength. Surprisingly, I ended up getting one of my most restful nights of sleep on the trail.

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