CDT 2021: Day 69, Indian Creek Road to Arapaho Creek

We're all confused, what's to lose

A large field of northern mule's ears

Although OldTimer, Top O', and I finished the long section of asphalt highway yesterday evening, we still had more road walking ahead of us. Thankfully, the road would be much different.

DateSunday, June 20, 2021
WeatherClear in the morning, then becoming mostly cloudy; temperatures from the upper-40s to low-80s
Trail ConditionsGravel roads, dirt roads, and abandoned roads
Today's Miles19.1
Trip Miles961.0

We stopped last night on Indian Creek Road. We had to continue on this gravel road today for several miles. It transitioned to a rugged dirt road. Later, the trail turned to follow a single-track footpath, but not until late in the day.

Gravel roads don't offer the break from civilization I am seeking on this hike. Admittedly, I don't dislike walking on them as much as on asphalt roads, but I will always prefer walking on a single-track trail.

Sunrise over Spicer Peak

Because Top O', OldTimer, and I walked yesterday until around 8:30 p.m., we agreed to give ourselves a little break this morning. I wanted to sleep in later but woke up around 5:30 a.m. That is about when I usually wake up on the trail, so I had to settle for resting an extra 30 minutes before I got up.

The sun was rising above Spicer Peak by the time I climbed out of my tent.

tufted evening primrose

The air was chilly at first, but it warmed soon after we began walking.

The first part of today's hike went over a ridge, then dropped to follow Indian Creek for about 1.5 miles. We stopped to collect water where the road was closest to the creek.

A few tufted evening primrose were blooming next to the road. The flowers were wide open now, but they never stay that way for long. Just as their name suggests, the blooms open in the evening and close again in the morning. The flowers turn red as they age and wither.

I also saw this flower in the New Mexico desert.

A gravel road passes through aspen trees

I didn’t walk far before the extra weight of my six days of food began to wear on me. This feeling was made worse as the sun raised the temperature. Top O' and OldTimer must have felt the same weariness because we made several short stops in the morning for no particular reason.

Entering Routt National Forest

After winding through stands of aspen trees, the road took us across some large fields. Northern mule's ears filled one of these, making it look like a farm of sunflowers. Corn lilies grew tall in another field.

With no cover of trees in these fields, the full sun beat down and added to my fatigue.

Nearly-all white columbine blossoms

A little relief from the heat came when the road entered another forest. I saw some columbine here that didn't look like any I had seen before. The flowers are usually two-toned. These were as well, but the petals that are often lavender were nearly white.

Columbine usually grow at elevations of 6,900 to 12,100 feet above sea level. I have some red and yellow columbine growing in my yard at home, and that elevation is 800 feet. The flowering season in Tennessee seems to be much shorter, but they faithfully return each year.

Top O' and OldTimer

We planned to stop at a spring for lunch, but I found Top O' and OT taking a sit-down break at 10:15 a.m. Now I knew for sure I wasn't the only one feeling the heat.

A view across a deep valley

The first six miles of the day took a modest climb of under 1,000 feet. I barely noticed this compared to the next six miles on the way to the spring. The trail climbed another 1,500 feet, with the grade becoming steeper the farther it went.

The second six miles were also where the trail transitioned from a well-groomed gravel road to a rugged dirt road.

Distant views began to appear along the way. We followed the road to an elevation of nearly 11,000 feet before stopping at the spring, which was at 10,800 feet.

A view of distant snow-capped mountains

The trail made another climb after our lunch stop, tacking on extra elevation to get us to nearly 11,500 feet. We were now above the treeline and had open views. If the sky had been less hazy, I would have been able to pick out some 13,000-foot mountains. As it was, I could barely make out the white snow on their peaks.

I wished these mountains had been more visible because I knew the trail was taking me in that direction. One mountain that I could have seen better in clear conditions was Grays Peak. It was the only 14er standing in that direction.

The CDT goes directly over the top of that mountain. In a straight line from where I stood, it was 56 miles away. It will take us 150 trail miles and nearly two weeks of hiking to get to Grays Peak.

A view of a distant fire

I paused at the top of the climb because I found cell service was available there. Today was Fathers Day, and this spot gave me the opportunity to talk to my family.

I was far behind OT and Top O' by the time I began the descent from the top. Instantly, smoke rising from a distant fire caught my attention. It was too far away and too far west to pose a threat, but I was nonetheless concerned.

I hate seeing big fires like this because they tell me the conditions are right for them. More are likely, and I might not be so lucky the next time one flares up.

The trail descends to below the treeline

The sky was gradually becoming cloudy in the afternoon, and by 4:30 p.m. it was mostly overcast. Was rain on the way? I couldn't tell, and as was proven just yesterday, accurately predicting the weather around here isn't easy.

Somehow, perhaps while my attention was on the sky instead of the trail, I missed a turn at a trail junction. I didn't discover my mistake until I reached another junction and checked the map to see if I needed to turn there.

A steep mountainside slope

The good news was I was only about a tenth of a mile from the trail. The bad news was I didn't know how to get back on it without backtracking.

I followed the road because the map made it look like I could find the trail that way. Instead, I wound up at a dead-end that didn't appear on the map.

My only options now were to backtrack or to bushwhack down the mountainside. The trail was so close I could almost see it.

All hikers hate to rehike miles, and I chose to bushwhack. Unfortunately, the descent was steep. My route required extra care to navigate over and around several dead trees without tripping and falling headfirst down the slope.

A single-track trail on an old logging road

Back on the trail, I now followed what looked like an old logging road. It was a single-track path, and as I've said before, this is what I prefer to walk.


Next was one of those "be careful what you ask for" situations. I didn't get far before discovering the trail had not been maintained in a long time. It was overgrown with weeds and clogged by blowdowns.

Arapaho Creek in Colorado

I continued down this rough, descending section until 5:50 p.m. when I arrived at Arapaho Creek. I knew OT and Top O' intended to pick a place to camp nearby, but I was unsure how close to the creek they would be.

The best choice for me was to collect and filter water first, then continue until I found where they stopped. As it turned out, I didn't have to go far before finding them.

I was surprised to learn I didn't lag as far behind them as I thought. They hadn't been here long and were still setting up their tents.

Top O' and OT told me they missed the same turn at the trail junction I did and also had to bushwhack. Despite that confusion and difficulty, we were together again with no harm done.

Still, I might not have felt so upbeat about the situation if I had known what we would be facing tomorrow.

Back to back, chicken shack
Son of a gun, better change your act
We're all confused, what's to lose
You can call this song the United States Blues


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.