After discovering yesterday that I was near the same spot I camped at 19 years ago, I was excited about hiking over Lost Ranger Peak this morning. I had good memories of walking on this same route the last time I was here.
|Date||Thursday, June 17, 2021|
|Weather||Partly cloudy, with temperatures from the low-40s to low-80s|
|Trail Conditions||A long and steep climb, followed by big ups and downs with some snow|
As I pointed out yesterday, my first backpacking trip in the western U.S. and above 10,000 feet was fifty years ago. I went to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. It was 19 years ago when I hiked in Mt. Zirkel Wilderness.
Although I have many mental pictures of those trips, I can't remember how I physically handled the hikes. I wish I could recall if I was exhausted every day or if I handled the mountainous terrain with ease.
I have never been an athlete, so I don't presume I was fit enough then to sprint up steep climbs. Still, my experiences were assuredly different as a 15-year-old or a 46-year-old than they are today.
Then again, maybe I shouldn't dwell on the differences. I don't need more reminders of how much I've aged. I already have enough of those.
I left camp later than Top O' and OldTimer again this morning. Part of the delay was because I had to stop for water right after leaving the campsite.
I didn't collect any from North Lake last night. I had enough from when I stopped at the last stream before the lake. That wasn't enough for the next stretch of trail, however, so I needed to collect and filter some from the stream that fed North lake.
The trail continued for a little more than one mile, then made a sharp right turn to go toward Lost Ranger Peak. The mountain was 11,934 feet high, and though the trail didn't go directly over the summit, the trail went to less than 300 feet below that.
It took 3.6 miles to make the 1,500-foot climb, which wasn't extraordinarily steep. I was grateful for that because the altitude made the climb taxing enough.
I had another reason to be grateful, and that was we were nearing the end of this trail section. That meant I wasn't carrying much food to weigh down my pack. We will be going into Steamboat Springs tomorrow for our next resupply stop.
When I turned to look behind me, I had an outstanding view of Big Agnes and Mt. Zirkel. I was surprised by how little snow I saw in the nine miles between me and those other mountains.
Did those two southbound hikers I met yesterday exaggerate how much snow there was up here? So far, it seemed that way. The trail was clear.
Without snow to blanket them, some wildflowers were in full bloom. The bright yellow of Ross' avens flowers showed brightly against their thick mass of green stems and leaves.
Prairie pasqueflowers weren't as showy but were equally beautiful. Purple petals extended from short stems in small clumps.
The word "pasque" in this plant's name is derived from the Hebrew word for Passover, "Pasach." The blooms often appear around the time of Passover and Easter, when the last of winter's snow is melting.
I continued to steadily climb to where the trail flattened near the top. This was alpine terrain, with low grasses, lichen, and rocks. I didn't mind that OldTimer and Top O' were so far ahead I couldn't see them. I liked the idea of having the whole mountain to myself.
I had little doubt now that climbing mountains was easier at age 15 or 46. The distance and steepness of this climb weren't so demanding, but I was feeling the altitude.
Still, I kept moving forward and up, taking only a few breaks now and then to catch my breath and enjoy the views.
I found OldTimer soon after I crested the top of the climb. Top O' had gone on ahead, but OT was here because he discovered he had cell service.
I checked for messages too and sent one to Kim, then continued walking shortly after OT left.
Unexpectedly, I found more snow on the south side of Lost Ranger Peak than on the north side. It was spread in large patches across the terrain ahead. Where the footpath wasn't covered in snow, it was narrow but without many rocks.
The trail didn't drop much from the high point. The first mile descended about 350 feet. From there, the elevation in the next 2.5 miles didn't vary more than 250 feet.
I caught up with OT and Top O' at 10:30 a.m. when we stopped to collect water from a stream. It flowed from a patch of melting snow about 20 yards away. You don't find water much fresher than that.
The ground surrounding the stream was thick with the pink blossoms of alpine laurel, also called western bog laurel. These short plants thrive in the wet meadows of subalpine and alpine zones, and that was evident here.
Though beautiful to look at, alpine laurel is highly toxic when eaten.
When I looked back toward the summit of Lost Ranger Peak, I remembered seeing this view during my 2002 trip. About as much snow was here then as there was today. That trip, however, was about two weeks later in the year.
Lost Ranger Peak straddles two ranger districts, the Hahn Peak/Bears Ears District and the Park Range District. It's not difficult to guess that the mountain is named for a ranger who got lost here.
Locals say a ranger became lost on the mountain when rangers of the two districts planned to meet at the top. The story has a couple of variations. Hahn Peak/Bears Ears rangers say they rescued a ranger from Park Range District, and Park Range rangers say they were the ones who rescued a Hahn Peak/Bears Ears ranger.
I followed the trail across the flank of the mountain. Except for when crossing patches of snow, I didn't feel quite as old as did on the climb. This section of the trail was easy and the weather was pleasant.
More alpine wildflowers appeared on the rolling terrain. The tiny blue ones are called sky pilot. They rarely grow lower than 10,000 feet above sea level.
Sky pilot is often found in the Sierra Nevada of California, but I didn't see it there on my 2019 PCT thru-hike. I didn't walk on that part of the trail until early September, which was past the flowering season for this plant.
Another dainty blue flower was growing nearby. It was the arctic alpine forget-me-not. It is also never found growing below the treeline.
I ran into some difficulty finding my way when I came to where pools of water stood among piles of snow. The trail was covered and I couldn't find any footprints across the snow. I got turned around and headed in the wrong direction before stopping to check my location.
When I realized I was off the trail, I used my Guthook app to guide me back. This would have been a place to easily wander off too far without an app or map. If a ranger could get lost here, surely I could.
I caught up to Top O' and OldTimer again at the next stream. We collected more water, then ate lunch while sitting on boulders.
This was only our third day of being back in Colorado, but we were already getting a full taste of the Rocky Mountains. The trail remained above the treeline for most of the day.
I hiked alone again in the afternoon, which I tend to do because I enjoy it. I can set my own pace and stop or not stop when I wish.
There were bigger ups and downs in the afternoon, but there was never a steep climb or descent.
I stopped once when I found a stream that wasn't identified by a waypoint in Guthook. It was a convenient place to get water and I was unsure where we would be stopping tonight.
Though the trail was now lower in elevation, there seemed to be more snow. It was frequently piled high across the trail, but there was usually a way to walk around it.
Late in the afternoon, the trail disappeared under a long stretch of snow. This could have been a troublesome section, but surprisingly, it wasn't. It wasn't soft enough to cause post-holing.
I learned later that Top O' and OT wrote a message in the snow to let me know I should get water, but I failed to see it.
I may have missed their note because I was paying attention to the sky at that point. I could see what looked like rain or sleet falling from a distant cloud, and I was trying to figure out if it was heading in my direction. It never rained on me.
I didn't stop until 6:45 p.m. This time, I saw a message left by OT and Top O'. They made arrows on the trail, which I couldn't miss. These were helpful because the campsite they selected wasn't easily visible from the trail.
Although I didn't see their message about getting water, OT shared some with me. He intentionally carried extra in case I missed their note.
The mosquitoes were not as bad tonight as they had been the last couple of nights, but they were still in sufficient numbers that we didn't remain outside for long.
A young hiker found our campsite a short time later and joined us. He told us his trail name was Cot, and that he had started walking from the Mexican border on March 21. He pushed through the San Juans despite all of the snow.
Cot seemed thrilled to be camping with us. He said he didn’t often have a chance to camp with other hikers. Most either flipped like we did or waited in Chama before going north.
Of course, we had to ask Cot for an explanation of his unusual trail name. He told us that when he started hiking, he had never been on a backpacking trip before. Unsurprisingly, he made a few mistakes, but perhaps the most regretful one was the three-pound cot he carried. In all, his pack weighed 65 pounds when he started out.
He eventually got rid of the cot, but his pack still weighed much more than I would be willing to carry. I had to shake my head and laugh, though quietly to myself, when I heard his story.
I also admired him. Cot overcame his cluelessness about backpacking with brute strength and blind determination.
The old adage, "Youth is wasted on the young," came to mind. Sometimes I wish I could be young again, though not often. I'd be satisfied with not growing any older.
When I'm lyin' in my bed at night
I don't wanna grow up
Nothin' ever seems to turn out right
I don't wanna grow up
How do you move in a world of fog
That's always changing things
Makes me wish that I could be a dog
When I see the price that you pay
I don't wanna grow up
I don't ever wanna be that way
I don't wanna grow up