Wyroaming: steamboat to encampment to rawlins to lander

“What is tea but dirty water with a fancy name?” — The guy who writes all the CDT maps, Jonathon Ley, always has a few good lines in his notes about water sources or different routes. This one really resonated with me, especially as I scooped up water from a pond that smelled like the demolition zone of cows’ morning routines. Well, it wasn’t awful, but I knew there was some serious cow poo in there. Whatever, that’s what my filter is for.

I’ll back up to Steamboat. Staying at Pink’s place was amazing, and we even got to tube down the river one day (did I already write about this?). We really bro’ed out, as you can tell by the naked cooking party… While in Steamboat, I finalized some plans with some friends to meet up in West Yellowstone on August 8, which means I had to hoof it through Wyoming in order to make it up there on time. I am also stopping by Rimrock Ranch over towards Cody, so I have to make enough time to detour over that way through the Thorofare, southeast of the national park.

Basically, this all meant I had to do high mileage for the next long while. I’m up for that challenge, but unfortunately it also meant setting out on my own for a bit. My trail friends are probably capable of doing more miles than I can, but to save time, I wouldn’t be resting in towns, so I’ve ended up ahead of them. Hiking alone is a much much different experience, which I’ll get to.

I hitched out of Steamboat alone and eventually got a ride from a young couple headed to Red Rocks for a Portugal the Man concert (is that the band? I feel like they have some sort of punctuation in their name like Portugal. The Man… Some indie stuff that I’d probably like). I did 20 miles starting after noon and made it into the Zirkel Wilderness, Colorado’s last hurrah. It’s pretty pretty.

The next day was a large one. I was trying to make it to the border, but couldn’t night hike in the forest alone on account of imaginary serial killers and zombies. I camped three miles from the border and passed it in the morning. I smiled so hard when I made it. I gave a howl and fist pumped a few times and then looked around to see if anyone saw me… Nobody for miles.

In Wyoming, I walked through the rolling hills of the Medicine Bow National Forest and across some exposed ridges during some not so  casual thunder. Oh well. Dropping down into some of the valleys, there was a ton of swampy trail, and I couldn’t avoid getting my feet soaked.

I made it to the road that night where I’d hitch into Encampment to pick up my new shoes and maps from the post office. There were no cars that drove by the right direction after 7pm… I slept at the trailhead and got a ride instantly in the morning from the first car that passed. The town was tiny. Pretty much a bar, a post office, and an antique store with AWESOME coffee. Best coffee on trail by far. The lady was so nice and let me charge all my electronics and spread my maps out everywhere. Her coffee was pour-over drip and she had freshly roasted beans from Mystic Monk Blend, a coffee roastery run by monks somewhere in Wyoming (I forget where, maybe Gillette). That cup of joe reminded me of the good ole days waking up on lazy Saturdays during sophomore year to the sound and smell of Antony making coffee. #clarkthree

I hitched a ride back out to the trail that same morning and made it 20 miles through the afternoon into the early evening. The next day was my biggest of the trail yet (and probably for a long time), 45 miles. I dropped down into what was basically desert (think no trees, sagebrush, rolling hills, dirt road, and lots of cows), so it was easy to do lots of miles very quickly, despite the heat.

I ended up carrying 4 liters of water about 34 miles from Muddy Creek into Rawlins, the next town, because the rest of the water sources were too alkaline and salty to drink from. Yikes.

Honestly, besides my sore feet and being bored every now and then, that big day went extremely well. I almost lost a little piece to my water filter in a swamp in the pitch dark, but I found it after some swearing and will power. The evening was quite nice. It cooled off and the stars came out. Then, around 10:15pm, the nearly full moon rose in the east. Moonrises are my favorite. Makes me feel like I’m in an animated movie… I played guitar as I walked and sang about random things like my foot pain or my armpits or my boogers. I also read as I walked. I only stubbed my toe once or twice!

I was pretty beat by 1am and fell asleep. My alarm was set for 5am since I had to make it to the post office in Rawlins by noon the next day. When it came time to wake up, I’ve never wanted to sleep more in my life. Hiking late really makes you appreciate your Zzz’s. For real. I decided to walk the rest of the way on the highway alternate, as the official, designated route was cross country, hard to follow and made for slow miles. The highway was boring, but made more interesting by two rattlesnakes. The first one I saw in the middle of the highway, so I went closer to check if it was squished or not. Nope. It was very alive and rattling and lifting its head up to warn me away. I’ve never seen a rattler up so close before. Well… a few miles closer to town, I was facetiming my mother while walking on the highway like a good son when I suddenly screamed “farts! Butts! Silly socks! Nuts in a cannoli!” (actually much much worse versions of those expletives). I hadn’t been paying attention to where I was walking and stepped within a foot or two of a green rattlesnake that coiled up like it was going to strike me. When I noticed, I immediately hopped and ran away whilst spewing the chain of curse words at my confused momma. That was probably one of the more life threatening events I’ve ever experienced… I was very close to town and in cell service, so if I got bit I would’ve survived, but still. Yikes. Snakes suck.

I made it to the post office on time and spent the night with Cloud and Handstand. A motel bed has never felt so good. I headed out in the morning with Handstand. We had another close encounter with a rattler. Jeezypeezy.

I was entering the Great Divide Basin and had 120 miles of walking through what was called the “Red Desert”. It was indeed very desert-like, but the water situation wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. It was never more than 15 miles between water sources, which is actually pretty darn good. Some of those were nasty cow water, but I was never scared of being dehydrated and too far from water. Instead, I just had a bunch of little issues like my toe joints swelling up and rubbing the tops of my shoes, or my water being super warm, or my snickers melting.

Anyways, I really enjoyed the basin even though I exhausted myself doing big miles to get to Lander (30, 40, 43, then 10 or so this morning). There is so much wildlife out here in Wyoming. I’ve seen four huge bull elk and a few cows within 50 yards, tons of deer, wild horses, rattlesnakes (ha), pronghorn/antelope (they run so fast!), two owls at night, and hundreds and hundreds of curious cows with a few bulls intermixed.

I also got to walk on the Oregon Trail yesterday which brought back fond memories of Pioneer Day with Mrs. Friddell in first grade.

As I said earlier, I’ve been traveling alone since Steamboat pretty much, but have camped and hiked with Handstand and Squirrel a few times. Hiking alone is both amazing and difficult. It’s freeing in the sense that you do whatever you want when you want, but challenging in that you have to set goals for yourself and push yourself when no one is there to support or encourage you. You don’t have anyone to talk to, but I still talk to the moon and the cows. I think more deeply about my future. I wonder why I am really doing this. Then I see ten antelope go running into the sunset, and I smile. I’m out here to walk, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s not too complicated.

coming up: the wind River range, the lava mountain fire (I have to detour around it), the Thorofare, Rimrock Ranch, and a meeting with good friends

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Caption contest
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My little geeetar

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Ziiirkel wilderness

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finally finished with CO!
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No cars to hitch for into encampment
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Second night in Wyoming, wow

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So far no angry ranchers

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This isn’t the one that nearly got me
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Yum

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Oregon trail!

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I see the winds!!

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Colorado cruisin’: thru breck and georgetown and grand lake to steamyboat

Oh golly where to start. I’ve really been lacking on the bloggy posts and for that I’m sorry. As a result, I may be missing some detail, but I’ll try my best.

Leadville was pretty cool. On the way out, Titan and I were hitching together and ended up getting a ride with another trail buddy, JuddLight. Our ride didn’t speak any English, and we actually ended up going down the wrong highway (oops). We hopped out, got a quick ride back into town from a mountain biker, then got another ride after a little while to Tennessee Pass. It was 6:30pm by the time we started hiking. I did 8 or 9 miles that night. RightOn and Cowboy were camped somewhere, and I couldn’t find them or Titan or JuddLight anywhere as it got dark. I kept walking the trail, now uphill, and found a spot just off the path to set up my tarp. I heard thunder in the distance and spent my first night alone in a while. I was so tired I didn’t even eat dinner.

I woke up at 4am to someone walking by… Interesting… Then at 7am or so, Cowboy came walking by. He was embarking on a big day, as he had friends from college to meet up with in Grand Lake. I didn’t realize I wouldn’t see him for a little while.

That next day I walked alone up over a pass or two and walked by many southbound Colorado Trail hikers. I was getting tired of having to talk to them or answer questions about water (it’s everywhere, jeezypeezy) or listening to them warn me about snow (oh no!), but a lot of them were cool so it’s all good.

I ended up walking by Copper Mountain ski resort where there were hundreds of people listening to a free concert by Three Dog Night (“Jeremiah was a bullfrog!”). I was quite overwhelmed, but still managed to grab a coffee where I chilled out and waited for the boys. After a bit we grabbed tall boys for the trail and headed out towards breck. We got held up by the rain so we pitched my tarp and played some magic cards. We didn’t do many miles after that… Story of Colorado…

The next day we walked into Breckenridge where we ended up crashing at JuddLight’s friend’s for 4th of July to watch the fireworks. Pretty amazing fireworks.

Leaving Breck, I almost got run over by a ton of mountain bikers on trail. Technically I have the right away so it sorta ground my gears… The next stretch was gonna be tough. We were taking the Grays-Torrey’s route which ended up being a ridiculous amount of up and down along ridges leading up to two 14ers, Grays being the highest point on the actual divide! Despite the difficulty and the howling wind (it was rough I thought my left ear was damaged and my sleeping bag almost blew off a cliff one morning), those next few days of hiking were probably some of the most scenic and rewarding of my life alongside the Sanny Juans. We also saw a bunch of mountain goats. Neat!

After Grays and Torrey’s, we headed into Georgetown to stay with a friend of RightOn’s from the PCT. It was a great stop, and we watched some DVDs, but I had actually only planned on going from Twin Lakes to Breckenridge to Grand Lake. I was torn, these town stops were fun, experiencing Colorado, but I was falling behind schedule.

From Georgetown, we crossed i70 and climbed back into the mountains. We had a great campsite that night and watched an unbelievable sunset over jagged mountains. The sun went down and dusk came out in full brilliance. That orange glow to light blue and pink cloud wisps deepening to darker blue and purple, topped off by a crescent moon is possibly my favorite image on this trail so far, full moonrises make a good run too.

The next day was our last day of intense peak climbing in Colorado. JuddLight caught a Pokemon on top of a 13er, and we also did some fun, exposed scrambling along a cliffy ridge leading up to James Peak.

The day after that we cranked miles extremely quickly and made it to Arapahoe Valley Ranch where a trail angel, TickledPink, was waiting with some beers and brats. We also played some horseshoes, what fun. Cowboy was waiting for us there too! Great to see him again. He’s the longest trail friend I’ve had, meeting him just before Lordsburg.

The next day we slack packed (Pink took all the stuff in our packs) and ran to Grand Lake for 14 miles. After that, we rented bear cans and headed into Rocky Mountain National Park to meet Uberdude at a campsite he reserved. Haven’t seen him since Pagosa Springs! It was great to camp with him again.

The next day I hiked the rest of the RMNP loop and hitched back into town with a ranger. I resupplied for Steamboat and we headed out in the late afternoon. The next morning I took off on my own and ended up alone until Steamboat! I did a great 25 mile solo day and climbed over Parkview Mountain (my last time over 12k’?). The day after that I actually did a 38ish mile day towards town and camped alongside a highway. I thought I would be super uncomfortable and scared about getting in trouble or something, but I was so tired I fell asleep immediately.

The next morning I walked the remaining 4 miles and hitched into town to stay at Pink’s place (thanks Pink!!) with a bunch of other hikers. Great stuff. I watched the Secret Life of Pets and also tubed down the Yampa River. I even helped some locals water their plants.

There’s only 60 miles left of CO! I’ve loved the trail through Colorado, but it’s time to get out of here and keep moving. I’m hoping to do big miles through Wyoming, especially the Great Divide Basin. Apparently there’s a 40 mile water carry somewhere in there.

This is kind of random but I’ve made some serious gear changes involving getting my guitar back in Grand Lake and also ditching my puffy jacket and beanie and stove to compensate for weight.

For now my mind is focused on the future: desert then the winds then Yellowstone. After that I have no clue what to expect through Montana until the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier. Back to business! When in doubt, hike it out.

Cheese Sauce, Magic Cards, Mini Golf, and Rain: Salida to Twin Lakes to Leadville

Salida was a blast. Pretty neat little town. Unfortunately the hostel was all booked up so we had to stay on the outskirts of town. That didn’t stop us from hitting up the Vick (local bar) to play some intense ping pong, darts, and shuffleboard. It was also fun befriending a few locals. Good times, good people.

The next day, Charlie came up to visit me from Colorado Springs. We go way way back, and haven’t seen each other in a while, so it was awesome seeing him. He brought a couple fly rods, so we drove down the Arkansas River and found a few fishing holes. We tied on a few hopper-droppers, and I happened to hook into a huge rainbow trout with a purple nymph. I was standing above the river on a small cliff/jumping rock. The rainbow jumped a few times as I hooted. “Keep him on! I’m getting my waders on and the net to land him!” Charlie yelled from the car. 20 seconds later, as Charlie was getting in the water, my rainbow dove deep under the cliff overhang and snapped off my line. Shucks. Still, I had a huge adrenaline rush and was reminded of why I love fly fishing so much.

After that, we picked up Cowboy, RightOn, and Titan and headed for Walmart. We resupplied (I got way too much food), bought a ton of Magic the gathering cards, a wiffle ball golf set, and stocked up for a little barbecue. That evening we camped at a BLM campground for free and cooked brats, corn, and burgers over the fire. Yum. We then headed into town in the back of the pickup truck of Titan’s friend from the AT, Solitude. Awesome guy! The Vick had a band from Fort Collins playing, Von Stomper. They were pretty good. The banjo player didn’t have shoes. Later on in the evening a few women dressed in robotic silver were on the street dancing to electronic music. Everyone ran out to dance with them. The morning afterwards, Titan, a bit groggy, said, “I can’t believe I danced with shiny women in the street.” I don’t know why, but that’s been one of my favorite quotes from the trail (as in my adventure as a whole including town stops) so far. After we returned to our campsite after midnight, we started the fire up again and had some late night burgers. Mmmmmm…

During our barbecue, all of my hiker friends named Charlie “Cheese Sauce” because he insisted on putting queso sauce on everything. What a great name, Cheese Sauce Charlie. Has a nice ring to it.

The next morning we shuttled Solitude’s car up the trail about 28 miles so he could join us for two days. We then crammed into Cheese Sauce’s car and drove up to Monarch Pass. There we said goodbye to Cheese Sauce and got ready to hike the afternoon. I can’t thank Charlie enough for coming out to visit me. It was so fun seeing him and also introducing him to some of my hikertrash buddies.

Hiking out was tough. I was pretty tired from two nights of partying and little sleep. Eating a disgusting chili dog at the pass didn’t help either. After about 8 miles or so, I stopped for a break along a ridge overlooking the gorgeous divide and read Lord of the Rings for an hour or so. All of a sudden I heard some hooting and hollering. About a quarter mile away on a mountain saddle, my friends were playing the first round of mini golf. The hole was a cairn. If you take a look at my Facebook page I shared some of Solitude’s videos of us playing.

After that we dropped down to a beautiful lake and had an excellent camp site. We played Magic the whole morning after that and didn’t get hiking until 1! We still were able to do the 18 miles to Solitude’s truck. We had another great fire that night and enjoyed our last night with Solitude. I said good bye before I went to bed because he had to get up early to drive back to work.

The next couple of days to Twin Lakes were stunningly beautiful and also difficult. For some reason (obviously all of the partying in Salida, magic, and golf) it was tough for me to get back into my hiking rhythm. Steep climbs up and over passes took it out of me as I struggled to get 20 miles a day finished. It was also tough waking up early, and I often didn’t get started until after 8, which is pretty late.

As we approached Twin Lakes we started seeing southbound Colorado Trail hikers. It’s really fun seeing non-thru hikers on trail, or as Titan calls them, muggles. They are often very confused by the size of our packs and our walking from Mexico to Canada, but my favorite thing is seeing them react to Cowboy Stripper’s jorts which are extremely short now. It’s tough walking behind him, you look up and catch a huge glimpse of pale-hairy-upper-man-thigh, but seeing people walk past him with horrified expressions on their faces or doing confused double takes is well worth it.

Twin Lakes was cool. We sort of had to take a road walk out of the way in order to cross a river over a bridge that was simply unfordable at the time. Wading through raging, chest-deep snowmelt sounds fun, but you know what’s not lame? Safety.

We hung out at the general store for a while and played a few rounds of mini golf. We hiked out that night to camp underneath Mt. Elbert. The next morning we got an early start and summited Elbert (tallest peak in Colorado at 14,439′). We started going down the mountain just as the rain moved in. Since then it’s been on and off raining constantly. The other guys were saying it reminded them of wet, rainy Washington on the PCT.

We made it to a trailhead about 13 miles from Tennessee Pass where we would hitch into Leadville, so we camped, pitched tarps and slept through some heavy rain at night. I pitched my tarp kind of high, so I got a little bit of splashing into my groundsheet and toe box of my sleeping bag, but it wasn’t bad at all.

The next day we walked the rest of the way and arrived at the pass. I didn’t even have to break stride to get a ride because another hiker ahead of us had flagged down a pickup, so four of us jumped in the back. That was easy!

Unfortunately it looks pretty rainy and stormy for the next few days, but we’ve been lucky on weather so far. I’ve been carrying rain gear and my tarp this whole way so it’s good to put it to some use! Off to Breckenridge!

By the way, I’m picking up my guitar in Grand Lake! Which should be another week or so…

 

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Lake City to Salida

*started writing this in Salida then had to get going so finishing this up after the fact in Leadville*

Walking on trail, actual trail with little to no snow, is awesome. I was able to cruise through this past 100 mile section with ease. Quite a change from the snowy, scary San Juans.

The first day was a toughie. We did about 6000′ of uphill that day, capped by summiting our first 14er of the trail, San Luis Peak. After that, we dropped down to much lower elevations — 9000-10500′ — for most of the rest of the way. The mosquitos are now in full force. Not having bug spray or any sort of bug protection under my tarp is a little rough…

For some reason, towards the end of the section I decided to book it as far as I could in one day to a cabin only 10 miles away from Monarch Pass where we would hitch into Salida. I made it about 38 miles before I ate a ton of double stuff Oreos then felt so bad I had to call it a night.

The next morning I walked the rest of the way to the cabin then had the entire day to myself to read the Two Towers on my kindle. So glorious. Arrived in Salida the day after that…

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Hanging out in the hostel in lake city

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Found this fireball on the cairn
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Cowboy

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San Luis peak, first 14er!
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After 22ish miles and 6000′ of up vertical

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Trail magic near the highway!
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I h8 mosquitos

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Camp morning after a 38 mile day
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Just before the cabin I never took pictures of

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I walked around this, they climbed over it