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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
For some reason, I looked back into the valley and was stunned to see a pair of moose!
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.
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.
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.
I took a short snack break and moved on. I headed toward the next saddle, putting away mile after mile.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.