CDT 2021: Day 68, Rabbit Ears Pass/Steamboat Springs to Indian Creek Road

So many roads, so many roads

Top O' and OldTimer leave Rabbit Ears Pass in Colorado

The 16 miles we walked yesterday to reach Rabbit Ears Pass didn't allow time for completing all of our town chores. OldTimer, Top O', and I had to wait until this morning to shop for our resupply.

We probably didn't need today to be a nero (near-zero miles) day. Still, I didn't mind. I was in no hurry to get back on the trail. I won't say I lacked motivation, but there wasn't much to look forward to in the miles we had to cover. They were all road-walking miles. I've already had my fill of those and didn't wish for anymore.

DateSaturday, June 19, 2021
WeatherPartly cloudy with a close brush with a thunderstorm; temperatures from upper-40s to mid-80s
Trail ConditionsAsphalt and gravel roads
Today's Miles13.6
Trip Miles941.9

The roads may have been a negative part of the day, but the day was also good for several reasons. Steamboat Springs was big enough to offer everything we needed for resupplying. We had to buy enough food for six days on the trail. I was glad I didn't have to buy from a convenience store or Dollar General.

Another reason that made today good was we had an excuse to get extra sleep. We didn't need to wake up until after 7 a.m. because the outdoors outfitter store that sold some items we wanted didn't open until 10 a.m.

Colorado Bagel Company, Steamboat Springs

Before starting our shopping, we stopped at a bagel shop for breakfast. It was in the same shopping center as a Walmart and a grocery store, so it seemed the best place to start our day. The long line outside made us think the food would be good, and it was.

While OT went to a shipping store in the same shopping center to mail home a package, Top O' and I walked to Walmart. We were surprised and disappointed by the selection of items we usually buy for resupply, so we gave up there and went to the grocery store.

A ski shop was also in the same shopping center, and I tried to buy replacement tips for my trekking poles. The store didn't keep those in stock, but the clerk recommended another shop. We then rode the free city bus there and found a much better selection of camping and backpacking gear. I was able to purchase the tips I needed, and a store clerk replaced them for me.

OT was done shopping by then and said he was ready to hitchhike back to the trailhead. Top O' and I wanted one more town meal, so we walked to a nearby restaurant with outdoor seating. While waiting for our order to be delivered, Top O' saw Sunshine walking by. We shouted to him, and he joined us for a few minutes to catch up.

I knew on Day 61 Sunshine was about two days behind us. Though he was in Steamboat Springs today, he hadn't exactly caught up to us. He was still nearly a day behind us and was only in town today because he followed a shortcut.

He was planning to return to the trail the same way he came, so he wasn't going to catch us today. We were pleased to see him and were sure we would see him again soon.

Hitchhiking near Steamboat Springs

When Top O' and I were finally ready to return to the trail, we took a bus to the last stop on the edge of town. We figured it would be easier to hitchhike from there instead of the middle of town. Nearly all cars on the road beyond the city limits would be heading toward Rabbit Ears Pass.

We didn't expect a long wait for a ride, but we stood with our thumbs out for 35 minutes. A couple picked us up on their way to a day-hike in the mountains.

Gravity, OldTimer, and Top O'

OT had waited for us at the parking area at Rabbit Ears Pass. He said he had a chance before we got there to talk to the two couples who drove us into town yesterday.

Rain falling near Rabbit Ears Pass

We were unsure at first if we wanted to start walking right away. Looking across Dumont Lake, we saw a large storm dropping rain. It looked like it might be heading our way.

Firefighters are ready near Steamboat Springs

Some firefighters arrived while we considered whether to walk or wait out the storm. They were positioning themselves at the pass in case they needed to respond quickly to a forest fire ignited by lightning.

OldTimer and Top O' leave Rabbit Ears Pass

We waited about 45 minutes. The storm never reached us, though, so we decided to begin our long road walk. By now, the time was 2:45 p.m., and we didn't want to wait any longer.

Today was becoming a long day. There were no camping spots until near the end of 14 miles of roads, so we had no choice but to walk the whole section in one go.

Rabbit Ears

The route we had to walk made a wide bend around Rabbit Ears, the volcanic rock feature that gave the pass its name. This road walk was the official CDT trail, and there was no alternate route.

We began walking on a Forest Service road, which happened to be the original route of the highway through the pass. Construction on the road started in 1911 and took six years to complete.

U.S. Highway 40 near Rabbit Ears Pass

The gravel road took us 1.5 miles to U.S. Highway 40. This highway replaced the original road through the pass in 1919 and provided a vital route across the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado.

Although I didn't want to walk along another asphalt road, I was glad this one had a wide shoulder. Most highways around here have that because of the massive amount of snow that must be cleared in winter.

OldTimer and Top O' walk along the highway

We continued on U.S. 40 for nearly two miles before turning at Colorado Highway 14 near Muddy Pass. If it weren't for the six days of food I was carrying, this section wouldn't have required much effort. It was all downhill.

Clouds over Rabbit Ears

The "rabbit ears" were in view for nearly the whole route. I kept an eye in that direction. That's where the storm we saw earlier appeared to be coming from, and more appeared to be building now.

It's a shame this stretch of the trail is on roads. It could be a beautiful section if it were on a single-track footpath.

Moving the route away from the highways has been a priority of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition and federal stakeholders for many years. Unfortunately, much of the land is privately owned, so putting a trail through here would require it to be purchased or a permanent easement secured.

Getting to a point where a trail can be built has been slow, though some positive steps have been taken in the last few years. Big Agnes, an outdoors equipment company based in Steamboat Springs, donated $30,000 in 2019 toward the effort. Funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was finally permanently funded in 2020, and additional funds from legislation still pending in Congress, should make a footpath a reality in the coming years.

Hikers like the three of us have to be content for now with the views we have and be glad the highway isn't busy.

northern mule's ears

I appreciated the northern mule's ears in bloom along the road. These wildflowers are similar to the woolly mule's ears I saw in California on the PCT.

No rain ahead

Despite obvious threats of rain to the west and south, the sky was almost clear to the north and east. Because Highway 14 was taking us in that direction, I began to think we could stay dry.

OldTimer and Top O' stop for water

We stopped at 4:30 p.m., where the road passed a creek. This was our first opportunity to get water, and from the reports we read, it might be the only water of good quality for many miles. I decided to carry three liters.

Adding that weight to the six days of food made me grateful for not having any climbs today.

Rain falls behind Baker Mountain

While we stopped to collect the water, I looked behind me toward Baker Mountain. A big storm was in progress on the other side of the mountain. I couldn't tell for sure if it was moving in our direction.

Rain falls in front of Baker Mountain

Within 30 minutes, the storm had crossed the ridge. The whole sky appeared to be full of heavy rain. Now I was certain the storm was coming for us.

The storm front stops

Somehow, though, the storm never reached us. It seemed to stall out within a mile of where we were, and the rain stopped. We never felt more than a couple of drops.

Top O' and OldTimer stop for a break on boulders

We took a break at 6:45 p.m. when we found some boulders at the side of the road. Thanks to the food supply and extra water I was carrying, this was a much-needed rest for me.

OldTimer and Top O' walk on Colorado Highway 14

After we left our boulders, we still had about two miles to go before the trail left the highway. We had to walk beyond that junction because there was no place to camp before it.

Top O' usually used his trekking poles on road walks, but OldTimer and I preferred to tuck ours into our pack. One of OT's poles would not collapse, and when carried in his pack, it looked like a radio antenna. Every time I noticed this, I thought of my friend Radio, who had the same thing happen to him on the AT. That's how he got his trail name.

The CDT turns off Colorado Highway 14 and onto Indian Creek Road

The road walk didn't end when we left the asphalt at 8:15 p.m., but at least we were no longer walking on a highway. The trail turned to follow a gravel county road that went up a ridge.

The sun was setting by this time, so we didn't want to walk much farther before finding a place to pitch our tents. We just hoped to get away from the highway, and if possible, find a spot that was sheltered from the wind.

A view of Rabbit Ears at dusk

We walked for nearly a mile more, but there were no trees on the ridge or low spots away from the wind. The place we settled on to set up our tents was breezy, but it was flat and off the gravel road. I needed large rocks to anchor my tent against the wind.

Rabbit Ears was still in view. The sun had set by now, and alpenglow made the whole mountain appear red as if it were made of molten iron.

In the coming days, we will climb above 12,000 feet. We've heard we will encounter blowdowns and fire damage. There might also be more snow. The trail conditions will undoubtedly be arduous at times. Still, we won't be walking on roads. I'm ready for a break from those.

Thought I heard a blackbird singing
Up on Bluebird Hill
Call me a whinin' boy if you will
Born where the sun don't shine
And I don't deny my name
Got no place to go, ain't that a shame?

Thought I heard that KC whistle
Moaning sweet and low
Thought I heard that KC when she blow
Down where the sun don't shine
Underneath the Kokomo
Whinin' boy got no place to go

So many roads I tell you
So many roads I know
So many roads, so many roads
Mountain high, river wide
So many roads to ride
So many roads, so many roads

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