August 11, 2010
Today’s Miles: 20
Total Miles: 161.7
Breakfast Elevation: 10,080 ft
Dinner Elevation: 10,280 ft
High Point: 11,480 ft
“They call me Crazy,” the man says, shaking my hand.
Wild Bill’s brother from the hostel in Leadville, “Crazy,” is giving me a ride to the trailhead at Tennessee Pass.
He tells me about how he originally came to Colorado to be a sort of professional ski bum, like his brother. He tells me about other hikers he’s met, and about Leadville in general… but it’s often just quiet in the pickup as we roll up the mountainside. He’s doing a paid shuttle service, after all… like a taxi up a road he’s probably driven hundreds of times.
Crazy also cooked the excellent all-you-can-eat breakfast at the hostel this morning. It was quite a crew staying there, compromised mostly of Leadville-100 bicycle racers, with a few backpackers thrown in for good measure. Some of the cyclists were going out today to help mark the course for the upcoming race. Apparently volunteering to do this helps them to secure a registration spot for next year’s event.
The Leadville hostel keeps a cooler of “trail magic” along the trail near Tennessee Pass, and Crazy takes the opportunity to re-stock it with sodas and moonpies and various such goodness. Fresh out of town with a good breakfast in me, what’s more important is that the cooler has a notebook filled with hiker comments – a trail register!
Shelter registers are common on the Appalachian Trail, and greatly add to the social atmosphere and community aspect of the AT… something that’s lacking by comparison on The Colorado Trail. That’s not a complaint, just an observation on the different character of these adventures.
The day begins as a simple walk in the woods, on a trail that’s mostly flat. This is the footbridge at Wurtz Ditch. Exciting! Hmm.
A conspicuous white pickup truck pulls up and stops at the trailhead as I approach Lily Creek Road. I say conspicuous because it has two of those large orange water jugs that you see at sporting events attached to the grill. I remember seeing this truck in (or near) Leadville yesterday – you can’t miss it with those things on the front, like the floating barrels that they attached to Jaws.
It’s a young guy and his daughter, setting up a shuttle for a group of trail runners. Only in Colorado will you nonchalantly encounter this sort of thing on a typical weekday. We have an idle, pleasant conversation, and I continue on my way.
The trail begins to climb over the trees as I approach the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. The sign has a box with a self-registration permit system, and here I meet a middle aged solo backpacker, doing a section hike to Twin Lakes. I take a short break here in the sun, and pass him further up the trail.
The high mountains are fun as I play around for this self-timed shot.
“cause the Rocky Mountain Way, is better than the way we had…”
Good times on the beautiful ridge come to a quick end.
I dip into the trees as gray clouds and drops of rain suddenly arrive. A group of five to ten teenage, unprepared-looking day hikers pass me, going the other direction. Some of them appear not to be having too much fun, making me feel like a comfortable creature of the mountains.
The rain stops by the time I reach FS 104 and the end of Segment 9. I take a relatively long break in a low spot that feels like a narrow gully or hollow. A few trail runners pass at intervals, including the guy I saw with the jaws-barrel-water-cooler-truck this morning.
“Hey, you’re making good time!” he says while I sit on my butt, content with a jar of peanut butter and Snickers. For two of the runners, I take it upon myself to inform them of how many minutes ago I saw the prior runner.
The sun comes out and the trail goes quiet.
I ascend another ridge with a strong sense of solitude.
Darkness falls as I descend several old roads. They lead to an area near an old fish hatchery.
Signs like this mark the trail along one of these old roads, and I wonder if it’s a symbol for the CT. In the old days the Colorado Trail was marked by a deep vertical cut into a tree trunk with a shorter cut above it, similar to this letter i.
There’s plenty of flat spots in the area for camping. But when inspected more closely, every inviting-looking campsite shows evidence of horse dung.
The whole area near this boggy meadow feels creepy for some reason that I can’t explain. It could just be the atmosphere of increasing cloud cover and darkness at sunset, but normally such an vibe wouldn’t make me uneasy.
I move on toward Rock Creek, extremely indecisive about choosing a campsite tonight. Maybe it’s just the loneliness of this trail in the evening that’s beginning to get to me.
It’s so late when I finally do choose a camp that I have to cook dinner in the darkness, and hurriedly finish the meal under a light rain among the trees.