• Brandon A. Kelone

The Colorado Trail: Day 9

What can I even say? How do I even start to put it into words? I guess in short, I can just say that I love thru hiking. I love it with my entire being. It changes me into something more simple than I was before I came out here. It reduces me to something more true to who I feel like I’m supposed to be. I never want for it to end, and as I lay here writing this tonight, I know that this kind of life will always be with me for the many years that are still to come. 

I’m happy to say that last night I slept like a log. As terrible as my sleep was while I was in Lake City, I think that last night made up for it. I can see that now that I’ve adjusted to life on the trail I sleep so much better in my tent than I ever do in a bunkhouse hostel. For the record, I still have nothing but praise for "Lucky" and the Raven’s Rest hostel in Lake City, but I just don’t like how trail towns affect me. I came out here to be in the wild, and although I love trail towns, I love the trail all the more. I’m glad that it only took me a half day this time to get back into it too. When I first started this trail I feel like it took the better part of two or three days before I was really in thru hiking mode... and to be honest, maybe it was more than that. Maybe it was five days... maybe I’m not even there yet. I feel like every day I’m becoming more and more a part of this experience, and I’m loving it in new ways with every bend of the trail. Even though this isn’t my first thru hike, in a lot of ways I feel like it’s the first thru hike that I’ve undertaken where I really know myself and understand my relationship with the trail. 

I would like to have gotten an earlier start this morning, but I needed the extra sleep, and so I forgave myself for sleeping in an additional hour beyond what I normally do on trail. Considering how much sleep I missed out on during my time in Lake City, I figured that I deserved it. I want to tell you that first thing out of bed this morning I was all into the trail and loving my time out here, but truthfully, it took probably two hours of waking up and getting going before it all came back to me. I also have this suspicion that I still needed to work the pizza and cookies of Lake City out of my system. I guess I have to admit that although I didn’t want to feel guilt for my trail town indulgences, the impact that they had on my body quite sucked. I don’t know that I’ll be eating like that in the future towns... although that pizza and tomato soup was really damn good!

The trail wound up and down a couple of mountain passes this morning, but within a couple of hours I was in a blissful place again, like a kid who is falling in love for the first time. I was enamored by every corner and bend of the trail and by noon I was even enjoying the climbs again. 

I stopped at a water source at noon, ate an avocado (my new favorite thing to bring with me out of a trail town—it used to be Cheetos, but now the feel of an avocado can't be beat!), filtered some water, took some pictures, and carried on my way. Along the path I met a number of day hikers who had climbed up San Louise Peak, which can be accessed via a short detour off the CT. I had no plans to hit the 14’er during my thru hike, but as I talked to some of them about the views up top, I tried to remind myself that there are faster ways to get to Denver than to walk. I didn’t come out here to get from one point to the next; I came out here for the experience of the trail, and just like I had almost passed up the opportunity to swim in Molas Lake a few days ago, I realized that if I passed up this detour, it would be a regret, and there are no regrets allowed on trail for me this year. So I dropped pack at the trail junction and slack-packed up to the top. 

I felt like a fairy without my pack on. It was quite surreal, but by the time I was at the top I was slowed again just by the lack of air. But of the few 14,000 feet peaks that I’ve climbed before this one, I have to say that this was the easiest. First off my physical condition is better and I’m strong from being on trail now for almost ten days, but the approach to the top is really well marked and easy to get through. 

I’m unendingly grateful that I took the time for the detour. The views up there were to die for, and I had the peak to myself, with only two other hikers who I saw on their way down while I was climbing up. Also, the fact that Zeus didn’t make an appearance today made the climb quite nice. 

I didn’t spend much time up there on account of the fact that it was quite chilly and that I was worried about marmots getting into my backpack while I had it abandoned at the trail junction, but I want to say with all of my being that once again, that detour was totally worth my time. I felt alive up there in a way that is hard to put into words. 

After my ascent up the peak (14,022ft) the trail dropped progressively down and down and down and down to where I currently rest at around 10,000 feet. The valley that the trail dropped into was breathtakingly beautiful and made for a cool juxtaposition from the mountain peak that I’d been upon only a few hours before. The peak was barren and dead, but this valley was full of life with a river flowing through it, green trees all around, several deer along the way, and something that I hadn’t yet seen on trail before today—elk. I saw what must have been 15 of them beside a beaver pond off in the distance. 

Eventually the trail dropped back into aspen trees, which I hadn’t seen since the day that I left Molas Pass. It was good to see them again. The smell of aspens is something that I always forget about until I’m in them again. I love it so much. 

As the trail dropped farther and farther I eventually ended up in cattle grazing country. I’m not much of one to like hiking in cattle land, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the people in the hostel headed SOBO made it out to be. In all honesty, I rather enjoyed the landscape, and the cattle really didn’t bother me until I was getting ready to set up camp. 

Before camp I had a warm dinner beside the creek about five miles back. I was in love with life and the trail and this experience as a whole. It may have been my first moment on trail where I really remembered what it feels like to be thru hiking again. It’s a feeling that I struggle to put into words. I don’t come out here to take pictures, or to hike, or to camp... I come out here for something more surreal and primitive and ineffable. It’s a feeling and an experience that can only be understood by those who have been here themselves. It really is like being in love. 

I set camp here on a hill overlooking a river down below. There were cattle all around as I tried setting up camp, and for a moment I was actually kind of worried that they were going to try and rush me, but since I’ve set my tent, they seem to mostly be leaving me alone. So I can’t really complain; not that it would do me any good even if I did. 

As I lay here writing this now I’m about 75 miles from my next resupply. My plan is to catch three 25 mile days and then hit town early on my fourth day. That’ll put me in Salida on Friday for a resupply and relaxation. I’m planning on staying at the hostel there—despite the bad that I said about my being in the last trail town. I had a friend who completed the CT about a month ago and his little bit of advice was to take a zero in Salida. It’ll be a town with enough amenities that I won't have to struggle with my resupply much... I also heard rumors of a place with a hot tub, so I might look into that. 

That’s it for tonight. I need to get some rest.


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