August 30, 2010
Today’s Miles: 13.4
Total Miles: 417.4
Breakfast Elevation: 11,700
Dinner Elevation: 12,000
High Point: 13,270 ft
My tent gets pummeled by rain and hail throughout the morning.
I drift in and out of sleep. The weather is a great excuse, but it’s easy to forget how lazy I can be on a long distance hike. I’m afraid to calculate how many hours I sleep every night, because it’s probably about ten. To me it’s all part of the allure of a solo trip like this – the freedom to do most anything – and that includes sleeping as late as I please.
One of those seemingly insignificant memories that sticks with me happened when I was nineteen years old, and an aspiring Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. I was on a practice hike (Actually my second backpacking trip ever, and my first solo trip).
I met two southbound thru-hikers that were only a few years older than myself at the time, so naturally they were something akin to rock stars to me. The thing I never forget is that they set their alarms at 5am every morning to begin their day of hiking – that was their life.
The Colorado storms in came in waves throughout the night. They sounded like the most violent storms I’d experienced on the trip so far, lasting into the morning.
When the next line of precipitation doesn’t show up with its periodic regularity, it draws me out of the tent and soon I’m breaking camp.
Jarosa Mesa in the late morning
I climb up to the mesa and join the Colorado Trail. Clouds and threatening weather are still all about, but if there’s a time to begin the day’s hike, it’s now.
Peaks come into view to the west as I cross beyond Antenna Summit.
Yes, that’s fresh snow that was not there yesterday.
Yes, this is August.
It’s very windy again in the highlands, and the weather will do strange things today.
When I say “strange things…” what that really means is that once every hour or two, a dark cloud will roll over the hillside and blow horizontal hail in my face for about fifteen minutes. All the pictures seen here are taken during the relatively mild interludes.
The trail looks like this for much of the way to Coney Summit – rounded grasslands that drop off abruptly into talus slopes. These are not dramatic peaks so much as it feels like a highland wonderland – the “balds” of the southern Appalachians on steroids.
I mention Coney Summit because it’s the most significant feature through this segment of the trail – the official highest point on the Colorado Trail at 13,271 feet. It’s a moot point after doing a few fourteeners.
What strikes me as more significant, especially in this weather, is that the trail will not dip below 12,000 feet for over 30 continuous miles, not even once.
The trail appears to be mildly graded through here, but it transforms into steep, rocky switchbacks over the high points, like seen above and to the left.
It’s in these places with altitude and strong winds that the term “sucking wind” takes on a new significance.
It’s after a brief wall of rain and hail that I meet a pair of mountain bikers descending a high, steep set of switchbacks. They look reckless to me, as though pursued by the devil himself.
It’s been only me and the marmots in this strange land, and I’m mildly shocked to see people with wheels in this high world. They come just after the appearance of a momentary rainbow, and our short conversation touches upon the joy of the wild experience at particular place and time.
This trip has nourished a greater respect for mountain bikers out of me. The official stance on riding a bike through this section as stated in the Data Book is “Segment involves terrain challenging to bicyclists and a detour is recommended, but not required.”
Walking over the terrain firsthand, it seems as though this translates into “It’s legal, but good luck with that, pal.”
I find that the best way to deal with sideways hail blowing in your face is to scream at it.
The images above and below are immediately prior to one of those onslaughts of hail.
Of all the weather of the day, this wave has me concerned the most because it lasts the longest, with no sign of slowing down as I close in on the Coney Summit high point. It blows cold directly in my face, slowing me down. Part of the concern stems from the need to wear almost all my layers, and the inherent worry of getting all these clothes wet.
Usually hikers don’t have to worry about these things in August.
The nasty cloud doesn’t last as long as I’d feared. The above photo looks back at it, some time later.
I’m singing like a madman over Coney Summit. I power into the wind and all creation, hiking faster and unnecessarily toward my physical limits, as though to challenge the world and all existence… or maybe just to challenge myself, as no one is around to hear or see anything anyway, whoooooo!
It’s one of the moments after enough time on the trail where all escapes me but myself and the great big wild surroundings. Hello endorphins.
Beams of evening light illuminate even more passing torrents of precipitation. Nothing could be more pleasing to the eye. Bring it!
The hail arrives as I begin a 1,000 ft descent to the Carson Saddle.
I leave the grassy ridge of Coney Summit, pass the jeep roads and mining ruins of an obvious travel corridor, and enter the proverbial gate of a steadily ascending gulch.
“Gulch” is too harsh a word for a place as beautiful at this. I’d prefer the term “river valley,” but a river valley requires a river and I suppose this is only a stream.
Daylight is rapidly expiring so I stomp off the trail, below it to the bottom of this valley in search of a campsite. I find a suitable place among the bushes and brambles to call home for the night, once again cooking dinner in the cold and dark. I finish the last bites just in time before more raindrops fall.