August 16, 2010
Today’s Miles: 19
Total Miles: 230.2
Breakfast Elevation: 12,500 ft
Dinner Elevation: 10,280 ft
High Point: 14,197 ft
I wake after sunrise. The morning is cold.
Today I hope to make it to the summits of both Mount Belford and Mount Oxford, but I don’t like the look of these early wispy clouds.
The views at Elkhead Pass are glorious in the crisp cool air.
I drop my pack behind a rock and move up Mount Belford at a brisk pace.
Some unfriendly-looking clouds quickly take shape.
The view above looks back down toward Elkhead Pass.
The clouds continue to move in, but I see no thunder or lightning.
A first look to the east, and I’m amazed.
The wind blows cold and strong as I reach the summit of Mount Belford. Here I meet a lone hiker in what will be my only human contact of the day. We’re equally surprised at how fast the weather has moved in.
Mount Oxford is still a two hour round trip from here – minimum.
There’s no rain yet, but it’s surely on the way. I think I can make it safely enough, but decide that the jaunt to Oxford isn’t worth it. There’s a considerable elevation loss and gain of about 700 feet, both ways. That’s to be taken seriously at 14,000 feet, even without a full backpack… and especially given the sure threat of foul weather.
I descend back to Elkhead pass, and down into Missouri Basin.
The trail on the far side is rocky and rough. It has me hobbling downhill with my troubled right foot.
The rain finally comes, but it’s light. As I scan the peaks, I have a brief pang of regret for not going for Mount Oxford, though I tell myself that the breeze here in the basin could be a completely different story up high.
There’s a great sense of solitude in the wide open basin. It has an otherworldly feel to it, alone and enclosed by craggy ridges in the gray quiet.
I meet the Pine Creek Trail. It’s aptly named, as it follows Pine Creek east along a valley floor, where I’ll rejoin the official Colorado Trail.
Mosquitoes mesmerize me, hypnotizing a short break into a much longer one. I sit alone on a rock for almost a full hour, coaxing them into landing on my skin so I can swat them dead.
No particularly interesting thoughts consciously go through my head.
This is occasionally the ever-so stimulating existence of a solo thru hiker.
I feel that each single dead mosquito is a small service to mankind, and to all warm-blooded mammals in general. Mosquitoes are the work of the devil. You’re welcome.
The rain starts coming down much harder as I continue down the Pine Creek Trail. The day seems to become just a matter of putting in the miles. My camera is packed up and dry when I discover the most interesting sight – an old miners’ cabin. It’s so cool looking, tucked into the mountainside with an enclosing fence and various relics. It looks exactly like the homestead from Jeremiah Johnson, and has a palpable feeling of history and past residence, something missing from similar sites.
The rain is steady and soft as I explore the grounds for a moment, and take my leave… a brief yet sublime, peaceful experience.
I rejoin the Colorado Trail in an altogether dampened state of mind. There’s a break in the rain, and again I rest on a log for a while, dulled in the dim atmosphere.
Relishing a Snickers with peanut butter is the highlight of this break. I’m low in the woods again at 10,000 feet. The high dramatic peaks are behind me, and I feel as though it’s only a matter of time before the rain starts again. Maybe I’m just disappointed that I only did two of the possible 14ers.
My foot aches, and again I entertain the thought of leaving the trail. I wonder what goes on in the outside world, sitting at this trail junction by a creek. There’s nothing but this place in the middle of nowhere on a Monday afternoon, and the 1,400 foot climb immediately ahead.
My mood brightens as I make the climb. Chalk it up to endorphins.
…and the sun comes out!
The sun doesn’t last too long, and an all-out thunderstorm catches up with me. There’s bright flashes of lightning as I stride ahead through the forest, contouring along the side of a ridge. It’s exciting and great fun, and now I love being the backpacker plowing through a wet storm, as though it’s an everyday occurrence.
It is an everyday occurrence!
The flashes jump right before my eyes as I watch my steps on the trail, releasing small doses of adrenaline. One or two of the strikes are quite near, as thunder echoes off the mountainside. The rain is heavy.
The storm passes.
I continue into the evening, flirting with darkness. Another round of rain arrives. It’s much colder this time.
I’m thankful to locate a suitable campsite, just in time as the rain gets heavy again. I set up my tent and situate my gear for the night with speed and precision, diving into the dry interior in the midst of a damp chill.
Punctuated drops strike the rainfly with a soothing rythm, as I’m dry and cozy despite the circumstances. It’s empowering to set up a shelter in wet, undesirable conditions, especially at the end of this long day of solitude.
Tomorrow I’ll be in town, and I eat a huge chunk of salami in my tent for dinner. It’s delicious. The animal fat sits heavy and content in my belly, as another round of thunder and lightning arrives after dark.