The Colorado Trail: Day 21
It rained today. It rained, and it rained, and it rained, and it rained. And then it blew. And then it became cold. It was a hard day on trail today, but I’m here writing this, so I must have survived.
Honestly though, the gods of the trail looked down on me today and offered a challenge, but sandwiched it in blessings. Last night while I was writing my trail journal raindrops started falling on my tent fly. It’s funny too because I almost didn’t put my tent fly on, but as I was about to crawl into my tent, I looked at the clouds off in the distance and thought to myself, “If I don’t put a tent fly on tonight, it’s surely going to rain. What the hell—it only takes a minute.” Lucky I had that thought too, because it wasn’t but an hour later that the rain started falling lightly.
As I wrote my journal the rain fell lightly, and had stopped by the time I went to sleep, but late in the night I awoke to the sound of heavy rainfall and I thought again that it was good that I’d put my fly on before the darkness fell. It kept me up to an extent, but I was so tired from my lack of sleep in Leadville and the night before that I slept hard.
When I woke up the rain had stopped for a bit, but I had cell service being that I was near the highway and so I checked the forecast to find that today was going to be a rainy one. I also knew from looking at the maps’ vertical trail profile that there was going to be a big climb between where I’d camped near the Copper Mountain Ski Resort and Breckenridge where I needed to get today for my resupply. So not only was I going to hit rain, but it was going to be falling during a heavy climb.
As I wrote last night though, I look at these kinds of things with a greater level of ambivalence than I used to on prior trails. Anymore when it rains, I deal with it. Where there are climbs, I deal with it. When it rains during climbs, I just deal with it. It’s not something that I want to see happen, but there’s not much you can do out here but deal with it.
The gods blessed me with enough clearing in the rain to break down my tent, but within thirty minutes of my starting to hike light rain started to fall. I dawned rain gear for about an hour and started climbing, but the rain stopped for a bit and I was able to get to about 10,500ft (started at around 9,500ft) before it began to rain again. I pulled out my umbrella and continued hiking.
About half way up the mountain I saw two people huddled under a tree. I asked if they were thru hiking, but immediately realized that they were not by the size of their bags. “Nope,” they said, “just hiking to the top and back.” Then I looked closer and saw that they each had a lit cigarette in their hands. I felt bad for them. I tried to imagine how hard it must be to climb a mountain with a tobacco addiction. I don’t mean to be rude to those of you out there who smoke, but it pains me to see people killing themselves in that way. I used to smoke pot on the trail every day when I was on the PCT, but I’ve quit since then. Although I’m very pro pot, I have to admit that now that I’m sober from it, I breath a whole lot better, and I know that tobacco is a lot worse than cannabis on the lungs. The two of them made me think about the people in my life who I love and care about who have tobacco addictions. I thought of one person with whom I work in particular who I care about deeply, and I wondered if I could tell him that I’d pay him twenty dollars a week if he’d stop smoking... (sorry I don’t mean to go off on a tangent, but the mind wanders on these trails, and I have a lot of time to think).
At around 11,250ft elevation I broke the tree line, but by then I was literally in the clouds. Rain was coming down slowly, and I was still protected under my umbrella and only wearing running shorts and my short sleeve T-shirt. So far so good. But by the time I reached 11,750 the wind started to kick in, the temperatures dropped, and the rain became heavier.
If you could only have seen my skill today! I was able to stay holding up my umbrella, and do a full gear change out of my sweaty clothes, into dry clothes, and then into rain pants and my rain jacket, all without letting my umbrella blow away, and all while staying dry. I’m a damn professional by now! And I’m glad that I did the gear change when I did, because every step forward from that point forward was rougher, and rougher, and rougher. Within a half mile of the ridge the weather reached a point that I can comfortably call the worst that I’ve ever seen on trail. I’ve seen days on trail where the bad weather lasted for much longer than this storm did, but in terms of acute brutality, today was as rough as I’ve ever seen. Visibility couldn’t have been farther 25 feet, wind was probably blowing 40-50 miles per hour, and rain was falling in from the side—not from above, but from the side. It was the first time that I’ve ever had to hold my umbrella beside me and walk into it like a shield to make progress. It was rough. But in the midst of it, I was also thinking to myself, “are you really sure that you want to hike the CDT?” And the answer was unambiguously “yes!” It also helped to know that I had a hostel and the town of Breckenridge to get to after the trail today.
I was looking at my maps from time to time on the way up the climb to see when the top of the peak would be reached, because from there I knew that it would be downhill all the way to Breckenridge, and although I never realized when I hit the peak, there came a point when I could feel that the wind had slowed by about 90%. It was as soon as I dropped down the north side. The rain was still heavy on the north side, and the visibility wasn’t any better, but the wind slowed as soon as I dropped off the ridge.
About a mile down from the heavy wind and rain I met two young trail runners who were in shorts and T-shirt’s. I couldn’t believe that they were up there, and they both asked me how much farther to the top. I told them that I didn’t really know but that the weather was a lot worse on the other side of the ridge. They looked at one another with some hesitation and then continued on their way. About an hour later they caught back up to me and we ended up hiking the rest of the trail down to Breckenridge together. They both live in and around Breckenridge and gave me a ride into town and let me use their shower while I waited for the hostel to open. We also went out to pizza together and I can say with full sincerity that I made two really good friends in them today. They were super good people—like most people that I’ve met in Colorado—and they even offered me to stay at their place if I needed, but since I already had a room at the hostel paid for, I had to decline. But they were just another example of how good the people in this state can be!
I’m in the Fireside Inn and Hostel now, and I’ll probably be here for two nights. I want to be out on trail, but after waking up this morning I realized that I need to get my resupply box from the post office, but today is Saturday (post office closed at 1pm) and tomorrow is Sunday and it won’t be open at all. So I’ll rest here and maybe work on some writing, and then Monday I’ll get my resupply box and it’ll be four days to Denver and the unfortunate end of the trail.
Will write again soon.
P.S. Did I mention that this hostel has a hot tub? Major bonus!