August 10, 2010
Today’s Miles: 11.9
Total Miles: 141.7
Breakfast Elevation: 11,640 ft
Dinner Elevation: 10,080 ft
High Point: 10,150 ft
I can’t feel my fingers as I pack my frost-laden tent. I didn’t bring gloves because I always lose them.
Besides, this is August, I shouldn’t need gloves…
The first few miles are downhill and chilly, so it takes a little while to warm up.
The sun eventually climbs over the ridge.
I take my first long break in the wide, sunny field seen above.
I dry out my tent, sit on that rock, and have a snack.
The sun sure feels nice.
The trail levels out in this flat-bottomed sort of valley as it approaches Camp Hale.
Camp Hale is the historic training ground of the famed 10th Mountain Division, established in World War Two.
Here the division was trained in doing battle through the harshest of winter mountaineering settings – skiing, snowshoeing, climbing, and sleeping in the snow without tents – all with the rudimentary equipment of the 1940s like wooden skis. They went on to be very effective at breaking the German defense lines in the mountains of northern Italy.
Many 10th Division veterans were the key pioneers of establishing skiing as a recreational activity, developing it into the industry and major sport we see today.
This scene of the old barracks or bunkers (Or whatever they may be) is one of the token photos for a Colorado Trail hiker.
The trail climbs an adjacent ridge and re-enters the woods.
The path goes on to cross Route 24 and work its way toward Tennessee Pass, where I’ll be going into Leadville.
The day remains warm and sunny from late morning into early afternoon as I steadily move ahead toward the pass. I’m hoping to get into town as early as possible.
Even more historic artifacts line this natural corridor parallel to the state highway. Another example is seen in the beehive-shaped ovens below, once used in the processing of coal.
I reach Tennessee Pass in the early afternoon, and it’s time to hitchhike ten miles down the road to Leadville.
Hitchhiking is something that all long distance hikers have to deal with. It’s fun to “have done it” in the past, but it’s rare for me to initially enjoy the process… not because of the perceived danger involved, but just because it places me in an awkward position. I feel like a beggar on the sidewalk asking for a dime, as people motor on past me. Some turn their heads and look. Others stare straight ahead.
And that’s just the beginning – there’s always an undercurrent of distrust after scoring a ride. The degree of distrust varies but it’s always there, no matter how normal and harmless each party is perceived to be.
I usually do my best to help drivers feel at ease, though I have to be careful not to seem to be trying too hard. It’s just awkward when when there’s so much edgy, sixth sense turning of the wheels going on, judging each other and all our slightest moves and phrases.
The last time I picked up a hitchhiker was late September of just this last year, 2009. I was leaving Yosemite National Park and stopped for two backpackers, an interesting and friendly young couple. The guy was from England, and the girl was from New Zealand. They had just finished the Sierra High Route, and I’d just done the John Muir Trail. This was an altogether “coincidental” meeting of kindred spirits that had nothing to fear from each other… yet when their backpacks went in the trunk of my car and I closed the lid, I could tell that they didn’t like that – having their gear essentially locked away from them. I wouldn’t like it either. They didn’t speak up about it, but I could just sense it… always that hint of distrust when hitchhiking.
A neat little addition to that anecdote… two months later I was hiking with a backcountry ranger I’d just met in the Grand Canyon. In casual conversation I learned that he’d also done the Sierra High Route, and met the couple that I’d given a ride. Just goes to show how we backpackers live in a small world, and are bound to meet in the most random and often spectacular places.
So now I choose a strategic place along the side of the road at Tennessee Pass, and stick out my thumb. The cars go by for at least half an hour. There’s a large parking lot / rest stop / brake check / tourist pull-out here with a big sign marking the Continental Divide, as well as a memorial for the 10th Mountain Division. Some people pull over, but I don’t approach them. I’m in plain sight and clearly looking for a ride. If they wanted to offer, they’d pull up to me and do so.
Finally a young man in a pickup stops and says “Yeah, sure, I’ll give ya a ride,” very positive and cool. He’s a local sort of handyman and a few years younger than me, I believe. The scenery is great as we roll toward town, approaching what I sense to be the heart of the Colorado Mountains. Mount Massive dominates the horizon, with visible patches of snow under a clear blue sky.
It’s funny that there’s no rain on the day I go to town… it rains every day!
The driver is interested in hearing all about my adventures, and his basic questions give away the fact that he’s completely unfamiliar with long-distance hiking. Even when dropping me at the Safeway outside of town, I get the sense that he still perceives me as a sort of vagrant bum. I guess that’s not far from the truth after all. I find myself explaining to him that I do indeed own a car – it’s just intentionally indisposed at the moment! Heh.
Nobody likes grocery shopping. Well… most people I know don’t like it, and some have even even shared with me a strong, vindictive hate for it.
Do you want to cure that really quick? Go on a backpacking trip!
Supermarkets are awesome. They shock the senses. So much food! So much! Infinite possibilities! I want to be civilized again, so I can go to supermarkets all the time!
And then the part that’s really fun is when I get to sit on the sidewalk in front of the store, re-package the freshly acquired booty into Ziploc bags, do some people watching, and snack on the items that just can’t wait. This is oddly one of my favorite activities when backpacking, just driving home the sense that I’m traveling and I’m free, and in this moment… I am not one of them… those people that hate grocery shopping!
During the process I happen to meet two cyclists pulling trailers, touring Colorado and going on to Wyoming or Utah. They haven’t decided which way to turn yet. One of them is from Vermont, and we talk about The Long Trail. I touch on what of I know of Utah and Wyoming, hoping to aid in their decision – both wonderful destinations. Fun.
After I’m all packed with fresh food at Safeway I walk downtown. There I stop at the local outfitter, pick up a fuel canister, and ask for directions to the hostel.
Looking around town and getting a first impression, it takes approximately one second for me to decide that I like the place. I knew that I would… Leadville is downright cool, and all that a trail town should be.
No yuppified-ski-Colorado-ness here sir, just a good old raw western mining history and fresh, thin air.
I locate the hostel and I’m greeted by some fit-looking older guys enjoying the afternoon on the front porch. They look relatively well-off… not your typical hostel-goers.
I later learn that these guys are some very serious mountain bikers, here to get acclimated for the annual Leadville 100-mile trail race. Leadville is host to a whole slew of ridiculously impossible and insane races.
Even Lance Armstrong has a tough time with the Leadville races.
The owner and operator of the Hostel is a man that goes by the name of “Wild Bill.” He came to Colorado from the south (Louisiana or Alabama or somewhere) as a ski bum for some years. He and his wife chose to start this business after he had a near-death experience involving a heart attack.
Bill customarily shows me around the place, and it’s one of the nicest and overall best hostels I’ve ever visited… though I could say the same about all these places along the CT. They’re different than the Appalachian Trail hostels. Here everyone gets their quiet hours and rest because the super-serious mountain bikers have the run of the place.
The bunk room has sheets and blankets and privacy curtains and… uh, apparently hot air balloons and blimps and Disneyworld too.
I settle in, shower, and take a walk out of town to investigate the local Pizza Hut.
Along the way I spy this liquor store that has a fully-functioning drive-thru window.
The Pizza Hut has a buffet.
The walk to the hostel feels much longer on the return, now that I’ve gained ten pounds of pizza.
In the evening I meet a middle-aged couple doing a section hike of The Continental Divide Trail – Richard and Carolyn. We get acquainted and have a nice time “talking trail” into the night, over a large table with maps strewn all about it. Fingers trace squiggly lines this way and that, as we talk of CDT routes and guidebooks and rains and peaks and treelines and marmots.