We finally caught a break today. It wasn’t much of one, but it couldn't have come at a better time.
OldTimer, Top O', and I have had a frustrating string of low-mileage days. The weather and terrain have kept us for the last week from hiking the distances we'd normally walk in a day.
That changed today, though not significantly so. We again had to stop before we wanted because of the weather. At least this time we were able to walk 12 miles. Importantly, those miles put us close enough to the base of Grays Peak to climb it tomorrow morning.
|Date||Thursday, July 1, 2021|
|Weather||Mostly cloudy, with heavy rain and sleet in mid-afternoon; temperature from the mid-40s to low-60s|
|Trail Conditions||A steep climb, then ups and downs above treeline before a long descent|
Despite a hasty setup yesterday when we saw a storm coming, our campsite served us well. Our tents were sheltered and the space was surprisingly flat considering we were pitched on a slope of Stanley Mountain. The summit was about 1,000 feet above us.
When we woke up this morning, we met Crunch, the hiker who arrived late last night.
Top O' was the first of us to leave camp. I left a short time after OT at 6:45 a.m.
When I reached the stream where we found water last night, I stopped to look up at the sky. There was a lot of blue in it, which made me cautiously optimistic about a day of good weather.
Then I turned around to look in the other direction. Now I saw many clouds and less blue sky, and realized I should have known better. This is the Colorado Rockies, after all. The weather is never a given, and you can't be sure where it's coming from. It can be sunshine, rain, sleet, snow, any combination of those, or all of them at once.
There is no point in trying to predict what the weather will do.
Within the first mile of the day, I came upon some blowdowns. Several downed trees crossed the trail, so I had to pick my way over and around them. Somehow while doing this, I managed to turn onto a connector trail that I didn't know was there. Instead of the CDT, I began walking down the Stanley Mountain Trail, which descended toward the Henderson molybdenum mine.
If this error in navigation sounds familiar, it's because I made the same ridiculous mistake on Day 70.
I didn't need much time today to realize my mistake because I knew the CDT only descended a short distance before turning to climb again.
When I returned to the spot of the wrong turn, I found an arrow made of sticks. Top O' or OT must have put it there for me, but I somehow failed to see it earlier.
After climbing for another mile, the trail reached the treeline and continued steeply up. I was beginning to get tired, though it was much too early to be doing that. I ate a quick snack for an energy boost and kept going.
As I made my way up the ridge, I began to see a steady stream of thru-hikers coming down from the other direction. Among them were Speedy G, Pogo, Spider Monkey, Fire Hazard, Walter White, Melon, General, and Jazz Hands.
I met some of these hikers in New Mexico. They were now part of the NOBO bubble we started to see a couple of days ago, and I'm sure we'll see more in the coming days.
Unexpectedly, I caught up to OT at 8:45 a.m. We continued to hike within sight of each other for the remainder of the day.
OT and I passed some marmots and a couple of pikas as we pushed to the top of the ridge. They weren't as curious about us as some I've seen, and were too elusive for me to get a close-up photo.
The trail climbed to a saddle between an unnamed knob and Vasquez Peak. One side of the gap at about 12,000 feet overlooked a deep valley. On the far right of this view, I could see James Peak, which we climbed three days ago. In a direct line from here, the mountain was ten miles away.
As long as I looked in that direction, the clouds didn't appear to be threatening.
The same couldn't be said when I turned to look on the other side of the saddle. Clouds in this direction were much darker. They were packed nearly solid with few gaps of blue sky in between.
Since climbing to the treeline this morning, the trail remained above it all day long. There was nothing around to protect us if a storm popped up. For a long way, there wasn't even a side trail we could dash down if we saw one coming.
As much as this terrain gave a reason to be apprehensive about the weather, it also provided glorious views. We remained above 12,000 feet for 7.6 miles, and while the threat of bad weather was holding off, I enjoyed all of it.
I had become acclimated to the elevation by now, so it didn't affect me much. The footpath I was walking was easy to follow as it rolled up and down along the ridge.
There were patches of snow here and there, but mostly, they clung to the side of the ridge and didn't cross the trail. In the few places where snow crossed the trail, it was possible to walk around it. I never felt like I needed my microspikes or ice axe, which is a good thing. I sent those home weeks ago.
I flipped to Wyoming so I could have a snow-free hike like this. I had no interest in sliding off a mountain.
The trail along the top was rarely steep going up or down. Only a couple of climbs included small switchbacks to ease the gradient. I was glad for this because I didn't have to focus much on where I was placing my feet. I could keep an eye on the sky and the views.
At 10:25 a.m., OT and I reached the top of another unnamed peak before Bobtail Benchmark. This one stood at 12,738 feet. I could see Torreys Peak from there, but it was blocking a view of Grays Peak.
The weather continued to look more threatening, and that threat was soon confirmed when I saw a lightning strike in the distance.
OT and I agreed we should push hard to get over the last high point, Hassell Peak. We could see it when we reached Bobtail Benchmark, and we knew the trail would descend below the treeline after that.
We agreed to keep going and not stop for lunch until after we got on the other side where it would be a little safer. For now, we needed to keep going because there didn't seem to be any doubt of bad weather heading our way.
Although the trail was still following ups and downs over the top of the ridge, it wasn't difficult to walk at a steady pace. The short changes in elevation weren't enough to slow us down.
Before long, we passed where the trail intersected with the Jones Pass Trail, which was part of a route called the Silverthorne Alternate. It used to be the official route and rejoins the CDT at Copper Mountain.
We didn't plan to take the alternate because we wanted to stay on the official route to go over Grays Peak.
There was no indication from the ridge's appearance, but we were crossing above two tunnels on this section. One was the Henderson tunnel, part of the molybdenum mine I saw yesterday. The other one was the August P. Gumlick Tunnel. It carries water to the Moffat Tunnel system, which I described when we crossed Rollins Pass.
After Jones Pass came Robeson Peak. Before we got there, I looked back to the northwest and saw a large rainstorm. This wasn't where I had seen flashes of lightning earlier. Was it the same storm that had moved or a different one? I couldn't tell.
I also couldn't tell what direction the storm was moving, but it didn't matter. We weren't going to escape the rain if it came our way.
Twenty minutes later, I noticed another large, dark cloud. This one was to the southeast of me. It was low, almost scraping the tops of the mountains. I watched it carefully because formations like this are often on the leading edge of a severe storm.
Rain was falling in the distance, behind the descended formation.
As OT and I approached Hassell Peak, the mountaintop became blanketed by the cloud. Thankfully, there wasn't any precipitation or lightning coming from the cloud.
We reached the top of Hassell Peak at 1:20 p.m. Clouds continued to hover low around it.
Oddly for a mountain that stood above 13,000 feet, its name wasn't shown on the USGS topo map.
We didn't stay long at the top. We didn't want to hang around and give the weather a chance to change, and the views were partially obscured because of the clouds. We continued down for about a half-mile before stopping for lunch.
Neither one of us had seen Top O' all day today. As we ate lunch, OT noticed white specks on the mountain opposite us. They appeared to be moving. It took a moment to realize the specks were mountain goats.
We almost took a wrong turn on the descent. The trail came to a junction with another trail, which led to Pettingell Peak. The Guthook app made no mention of the other trail, and we caught our mistake just a few steps after turning the wrong way.
The trail dropped to the treeline and into a shallow valley. Clouds ahead looked fiercely dark as we approached another ridge to go over and enter Herman Gulch.
On the other side of that ridge, we could see why the clouds appeared so dark. A massive rainstorm was hitting the mountains east of Herman Gulch. It was impossible to tell yet if the storm was heading our way, but it looked bad enough to be concerned about it.
We didn't want to stop until we found Top O', and we didn't have to go much farther to do that. When we found him, he had already set up his tent in the gulch, and we quickly did the same.
The spot Top O' picked was protected in some trees and about 150 yards or so from a stream. Though the time was just 4 p.m., it seemed like Top O' had made a wise decision to stop.
After I pitched my tent, I threw my pack inside in case the storm arrived while I was collecting water. That didn't turn out to be the case. Rain didn't arrive until after I returned. There was some thunder, but otherwise, it was just an ordinary shower and not a bad storm.
Our campsite was a little farther away from Grays Peak than where we hoped to stop. Still, we had just 13 miles to go to reach the summit. We decided to get up at 4 a.m. to give ourselves extra time to get there.
We wanted an early start for a better chance of reaching the summit before an afternoon storm came through. As it turned out, however, the timing ruined a chance to see a longtime friend.
Oops, I did it again
I played with your heart
Got lost in the game
Oh, baby, baby
Oops, you think I'm in love
That I'm sent from above
I'm not that innocent