The day was sunny as Lina, Nancy, Eric and I all set out from Grand Lake across the southern portion of Rocky Mountain National Park on our way to Steamboat Springs, CO. The few puffy morning clouds would mean nothing back home in California, but here, high in the Colorado Rockies, in the Never Summer Wilderness of the Arapaho National Forest, they meant thunder and rain by the afternoon.
Climbing Cascade Mountain after lunch the first flashes of lightening in the distance gave us warning. Before we left the forest for the exposed ridges of the Divide the storm had caught us and the thunder boomed directly overhead. We ducked into a small copse of trees and huddled under two trekking umbrellas for forty-five minutes as hail turned to a light rain and the lightening moved off. A circle of sun bathed the top of the mountain which was ringed with clouds and rain and lightening and we made a dash to get over it before the storm returned.
That evening we fell asleep to the soothing sound of rain on our tarps, on the softest forest floor we’d found in many days.
The next morning we climbed Park View Peak, a 3,000 foot killer that left us breathless and out of water. Part way down the far side we headed into a drainage to find a spring. The climb back to the trail was a long one, over easy, if steep, terrain. Eric looked at his map and saw that by heading down the little creek and back up Haystack Peak on the other side, we could save several miles and the climb back to trail. It looked good to me and after a hesitant complaint by Nancy that there might be blowdown in that thickly forested canyon we blithely headed down the little creek.
Good Lord what a mistake. The forest began openly enough but by the point of no return, when a climb back to the trail seemed just as bad as continuing, the woods had become a tangle of downed trees and branches. A few elk seemed surprised any humans had penetrated their usually deserted forest and a lone porcupine waddled off when we came close to get a few pictures.
Forward and back we traced and retraced our steps looking for the best way through and it seemed forever till we reached the bottom of the canyon and started back up Haystack Peak on the other side. But there was no let up until we reached a ridge line that offered some opening in the trees. I could see an avalanche chute ahead and a large treeless stretch in the direction we wanted to go, but a short way in, the clearing turned into a tangle of young aspen growing so thickly that we had to push and claw our way through.
I reached trail first and gave a holler to the others that there was hope above, but when Nancy and Lina made it through, we all just sat in the trail, exhausted and scratched to pieces. Lina’s leg was bleeding and so was mine. Very little was said, but there was a pained eloquence in that silence. Eric Joked that he’d always wanted an alternate trail named after him and it was dubbed, “Bow’s Folly Trail.” But after admitting my complicity in the disastrous adventure, they renamed it,“Boy’s Folly,” and swore never to blindly follow our lead again. Probably a very smart decision. We camped early at aptly named Troublesome Pass.
We hiked through the Rabbit Ears Range all the next day, slowly descending from the high country to aspen and beaver ponds. After a long road-walk on the last day of this stretch, we hitched into Steamboat Springs with a young guy who packed us all into his little old vehicle with his big friendly dog and didn’t care that every time we hit a bump his car bottomed out. He just kept driving.
Steamboat Springs is a lovely town of hot springs and mineral pools. At the entry to town a large lake of sulfur water has been turned into a city park and their are several public mineral springs in town and out. A mix of historic buildings, good restaurants, shops and brew pubs, it also has the newest and best staffed library on trail. It was bigger than some junior college libraries I’ve been in, and all for a town of 11,000. Colorado has spent its tax money wisely and clearly values literacy. It made me sad for the terrible state of libraries back home in California.
We took a zero day and spent the afternoon in that library catching up on emails when the first real gully washer hit the mountains. From the first crack of lightening till the last, an hour later, the skies poured rain and hail in such torrents that within minutes the parking lot was a sea of runoff. People were soaked in the several seconds it took to get to their cars and the gutters overflowed. The river nearby threatened to crest its banks. As the thunder shook the building it was wonderful to watch from inside, dry and warm for once. Just at closing the rain tapered off and we were able to walk to dinner in a light drizzle.
Mount Zerkel was the last high mountain we had ahead of us on our way out of Colorado. After that we would enter the sage brush plains of Wyoming and eventually the Great Divide Basin, beyond Rawlins, Wyoming. This was a section of desert ringed with arid mountains that deflected water away from the Basin. What little drained in never found its way to the Atlantic or the Pacific, but created the alkaline pools that killed cattle and became the signature disaster for waterless pioneer wagon trains. Cattle bones near a water source are never a good sign.
There were three ways across this desolate section, over either of the ranges that encircle it, higher, cooler, longer waterless routes, or straight across, ferrying water long distances from spring to cattle watering hole for over a hundred miles. We had a week to decide, but our next stop would be Rawlins Wyoming. We were nearly done with the Colorado Rockies and the hardest hiking I’ve ever done.
"How narrow we selfish conceited creatures are in our sympathies! How blind to the rights of all the rest of creation!"
If you would like to follow our daily journals, Google: Postholer.com/Shroomer, Postholer.com/Nancy or Postholer.com/Dirt Monger. An interactive map of the CDT on the bottom right of our journal pages will show you our current GPS Spot location. View it through Google earth and you can see where we’re camped for that night. You can follow Brooks Wilson’s trail journal at www.brooksmapped.blogspot.com