A long stretch of the CDT across the Vasquez Mountains

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains

Day 79, Berthoud Pass to Stanley Mountain

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Today was another one of those days. By that I mean it was a day when the weather didn't cooperate with our plans. OldTimer, Top O', and I were forced again to cut short our hike earlier than we wished.

This day was the most frustrating of all because we weren't able to even hike five miles. We didn't get caught while walking on an exposed ridge in a thunderstorm, though, so I guess I should be thankful for that.

Weather Mostly cloudy, with heavy rain and sleet in mid-afternoon; high temperature in the low-60s
Trail Conditions A steep climb and a long descent
Today's Miles 4.8 miles
Trip Miles 1,077.8 miles

Some of the blame for our latest short mileage maybe can be put on us. We were slow to wake up and get started this morning. Who could blame us, though? We were sleeping in a cozy house. This was the first time we had a solid roof over our heads since leaving Steamboat Springs 12 days ago.

Sasquatch prepared a delicious breakfast for us, with sausage, bacon, and eggs. Then we left for the 90-minute drive back to the trailhead at Berthoud Pass.

Our stay with him was a testament to the nature of the hiking community. A brief encounter on the Benton MacKaye Trail led to a chance meeting in New Mexico, and that turned into a generous offer of trail magic. I was grateful for Sasquatch's kindness and generosity, and I know Top O' and OT were too.

Climbing from Berthoud Pass

After Sasquatch delivered us to Berthoud Pass, we offered our thanks to him again and began hiking at 10:30 a.m. This may not be the last time we see Sasquatch on the trail, however. He said he might attempt to hike up Grays Peak when we do that, which would be the day after tomorrow.

Looking back to Berthoud Pass and U.S. Highway 40

The trail began an immediate climb after we crossed U.S. Highway 40. The first 1.7 miles went up 1,100 feet.

We hadn't gone far before we began seeing NOBO thru-hikers again. It was obvious we were starting to hit the bubble of hikers who waited in Chama when we decided to flip to Wyoming.

The first hiker we met was Sugar Mama. She gave us some disappointing news: We had just missed No Keys and Lone Wolf. They crossed the road and began the climb on the other side of the pass only a few minutes before we arrived.

Magic Hat was another NOBO thru-hiker we met. His dad was hiking with him for two weeks.

Climbing above the treeline

We didn't have to climb far before the trail took us above the treeline. The weather was pleasant, though the look of the clouds made me wary of what might still be to come. Every time I looked up, the clouds seemed to be just a little darker than before.

Entering Vasquez Peak Wilderness

When we reached the top of the climb, the trail entered Vasquez Peak Wilderness. The CDT would remain inside the southern boundary of this protected land for the next seven miles.

Endless views were now open to us on the top of the ridge. Of course, that also meant we were exposed, with no place to run for shelter if a thunderstorm should develop.

Crossing the rolling top of the ridge

The trail meandered over the rolling top of the ridge. Although snow was still collected on the side of the ridge, we never had to cross it.

When we found some boulders stacked just off the trail, we decided to stop there for lunch. A NOBO thru-hiker happened to come by then. Her name was Tobey, and she stayed to eat and chat with us.

A distant storm

We decided to cut our lunch short when we heard the rumbles of a thunderstorm. To the east of us toward Mt. Flora, which we crossed yesterday, a full-throated thunderstorm was underway. That was less than five miles away.

We knew we couldn't outrun a storm like that, but there was no sense in just sitting there either. We packed up quickly and resumed our hike across the ridge.

More northbound hikers came by, but none of us wanted to stop long enough to talk. We had the same urgency about getting off the ridge.

Looking toward Vasquez Peak

The sky didn't look better to the west toward Vasquez Peak. At this point, I wasn't going to stop for anyone or any reason. I didn't even pause to take photos when the trail went over Stanley Mountain.

The farther I walked along the ridge, the more I became aware of a distant humming noise. It didn't come from the clouds, though at first, I wondered if a drone was flying overhead. I decided it couldn't be that because the pitch of the hum was too low, but I was still curious about what was making the sound.

Henderson molybdenum mine

After going over the top of Stanley Mountain, the trail went to the edge of a deep valley. From there, I could see the source of the constant humming. It came from the Henderson molybdenum mine.

Porphyry molybdenum is extracted from a large underground mine, then the ore is brought up to the surface on a 10-mile conveyor tunnel, followed by another five-mile conveyor system to a mill.

Molybdenum is an essential element for human health. It first came into wide use commercially during World War I when it was added to metal alloys for armor plating and large gun barrels. It continues to be used in alloys but now has many other uses in chemical compounds for coatings, adhesives, and lubricants.

The CDT descends below the treeline

On the descent from Stanley Mountain, I met another northbound hiker. She said to me, "I'm not Baguette."

I had to do a double take because I knew she wasn't Baguette, but until she said that I didn't catch a resemblance. There was a slight one. She told me her name was Lizard, and the reason she said that was Top O' had just mistaken her for Baguette.

I knew this hiker couldn't have been Baguette because I've been in touch with her since she left the CDT a month ago. She's still healing and hopes to be back on the trail in two or three more weeks.

The trail continued down the slope of Stanley Mountain and dropped to just below the treeline. I caught up to Top O' and OT there. The wind was picking up, and the temperature was noticeably dropping, so we stopped to discuss our situation.

Although we had expected a storm to come through earlier, it hadn't yet arrived. Bad weather now seemed more certain. We thought we might be able to at least go a little farther because the map showed the trail would stay below the treeline for about another 2.5 miles.

Just then, sleet began to pelt us. We knew that usually happened on the front edge of a big storm, so there was no need for more discussion. We immediately backtracked a short distance to where we had passed a few spots suitable for tents.

Tents set up near the trail

We had to scramble to set up our tents before the worst of the storm hit us. I was throwing my gear into mine right when the clouds let loose with heavy rain.

The time was just 2 p.m., much too early to stop, but the weather didn't give us a choice. I stayed in my tent, listening to music until the storm passed.

A stream near Stanley Mountain and Vasquez Peak

That didn't happen until nearly 5 p.m. The sun came out, and we crawled out of our tents to reassess the circumstances. At that point, we decided, there was little to be gained by repacking and trying to add a few more miles to our day. We wouldn't get far before the trail climbed again to above the treeline. There weren't likely to be any campsites for several more miles after that.

I hadn't yet collected any water today, but a stream flowed about a hundred yards away. I got some there and then prepared dinner at 5:30.

Rain returned at 7:15 p.m., though this time it ended after only 20 minutes. Gusty winds came with the rain and continued after the rain passed.

I heard a hiker walk by my tent at 8:45 p.m. He set up a tent nearby. I wondered if he got lucky and was able to traverse over the exposed ridge between storms.

We will have to cross that ridge tomorrow. I'm hoping the weather will give us a break and let us walk as far as we want. We'd like to get far enough to camp close to the base of Grays Peak. That will set us up for an early morning climb to the top the next day.

By now, I've learned not all of my hike is in my control. I can only "play the game" as best as I can.

A good friend of mine used to say, "This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains." Think about that for a while.

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