If you followed my previous hikes, you know the CDT wasn't the first time I hiked a long-distance trail in a flip-flop direction. I skipped 22 miles of the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire because of an injury, then returned to finish that section after reaching the northern terminus at Mt Katahdin.
My hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2019 included a triple flip. The first was a flip from the California desert to Washington to avoid higher-than-normal snow conditions in the Sierra. Later, I flipped again to hike the Sierra while the weather remained nice, then made a final flip to finish Northern California.
A few hikers don't like to flip. They think of the trail as a linear, continuous path that should be walked only in one direction. A flip-flop hike isn't unusual, however. Every year, hikers do the same thing Top O', OldTimer, and I are doing.
I know we aren't the only hikers who started northbound on the CDT this year and are now hiking south through Colorado. There aren't many of us, though.
|Date||Monday, July 5, 2021|
|Weather||Clear early, gradually turning cloudy with a late afternoon thunderstorm; temperatures from the low-40s to mid-70s|
|Trail Conditions||A steep climb and descent, followed by a steady climb|
We started seeing NOBO thru-hikers who didn't flip when we entered Colorado a little more than two weeks ago. A large cluster of them passed us between Berthoud Pass and Grays Peak, and I'm sure we missed seeing a few when we took our unconventional detour.
Hikers are still heading this way. I enjoy talking with them, especially the ones I met in New Mexico.
Lately, I've been keeping my eye out for Just Awesome. Our friendship goes back to the first days of hiking the PCT in 2019, and I've been expecting to see him soon on this trail.
I assumed my tent would remain dry overnight. No rain fell, and we didn't camp next to a lake or stream. Oddly, there was still condensation inside when I woke up. There wasn't a lot, though, so I didn't plan to stop and dry my gear today on the trail.
OldTimer and I left our campsite soon after Top O'. We were hiking before 6:30 a.m.
We didn't get far before we saw Top O' again. He was backtracking after taking a wrong turn. The trail had been rerouted in a few places since Gold Hill Trailhead, and he discovered he had accidentally followed a part of the old route.
Shortly before climbing above the treeline, I saw a Zpacks Duplex tent near the trail. There was no sign of anyone nearby. Was it JA's tent, I wondered? I remembered he had a Duplex when I hiked with him on the PCT, but he carried a different one when I hiked with him last fall on the Benton MacKaye Trail.
I didn't want to call out to him because there was no way to know for sure it was his tent. Many hikers use the same one. As soon as I left, though, I had a sinking feeling I was right, that probably was his tent.
My gut had told me to call out JA's name, and now as I continued walking, I regretted not doing that. The trail went up the slope of a long ridge called the Tenmile Range and above the treeline. The climb soon became harder than I expected.
There are more than a dozen mountain peaks in the Tenmile Range, though some only have names with numbers, as in Peak 1, Peak 2, Peak 3, and so forth. Peak 2 is also called Tenmile Peak.
The climb from our campsite went more than 1,800 feet up in a stretch of 3.4 miles. Part of the way up went steeply to a saddle between Peak 4 and a small knob extending from the mountain.
I looked back as I got near the saddle and saw Dillon Reservoir. Torreys and Grays peaks were to my right, though the view was nearly cut off by the knob that formed the saddle.
The trail didn't drop after passing through the saddle. It continued going up along the slope, gradually climbing past Peak 5 for about two more miles.
The sky was bright and clear this morning, and the temperature was pleasant.
The final distance of the ascent along the ridge included a few switchbacks before reaching the top at nearly 12,500 feet. When I looked left to the valley below, I could see the town of Breckenridge, where one of Colorado's top ski resorts is located. The runs for the resort were farther ahead on this ridge.
Interstate Highway 70 and another ski resort, Copper Mountain, were in view on the other side of the ridge. Seeing Copper Mountain so far below me was a little startling when I realized after all the climbing I just completed, I now had to walk down there.
I knew the trail passed near the resort, but when I took another look at the map, I saw the trail went close enough to it to make an easy side trip. Seeing this gave me a thought that made me feel better about the long descent. Copper Mountain was an opportunity for calorie enhancement. In other words, a burger and a beer just might be in my future.
Before beginning the descent to Copper Mountain, the trail followed the top of the ridge for the next half mile. It turned to go down just before Peak 6.
The first 1.5 miles of the descent were easy. Then the trail began to drop steeply.
I met two northbound thru-hikers on this part of the trail. They were Tik and Tok, a couple who made frequent posts on TikTok and Instagram. They were the only hikers I met on the trail who intended to only hike on the official CDT route and not follow any alternates.
Later, I saw some mountain bikers pushing their bikes up the mountain. The trail was too steep for them to pedal up.
Mountain biking is permitted on many sections of the CDT and CT, though this section was obviously not the best section for that.
OT, Top O', and I didn't stop walking until 11:30 a.m. when we crossed a small stream. A wide swath of trees was mowed down here in a past winter by an avalanche. Fortunately for us, the trail was now clear.
It took nearly another hour for us to walk to the central business area of Copper Mountain. Top O' had skied here before, so he was familiar with the resort. That was in winter, of course, and now it looked much different to him.
The resort wasn't fully operational in the summer. When we started to look for a restaurant, we discovered several were closed.
Top O' asked a bus driver for directions, and he pointed us to the central part of the resort where some restaurants were open.
Some there were also closed, but Ten Mile Tavern was open and that suited me. I was able to get the burger and beer I had been craving.
While we ate, I sent a text message to JA, and his reply was heartbreaking. Yes, he said, that was his tent we passed this morning.
OT, Top O', and I left the resort around 1:45 p.m. and headed back to the trail. To get there, we had to walk a short distance up a ski run and under one of the chair lifts.
The clear sky I saw this morning was quickly becoming cloudy and dark. We had a long way to go this time before climbing above the treeline, so I wasn't as concerned about the possibility of thunderstorms as I had been in recent days.
The trail crossed more ski runs and we passed several more day-hikers and mountain bikers. They were all heading back to the resort because of the threatening sky. We didn't see anyone by the time the trail turned to climb as it followed Guller Creek.
Rain began to fall sometime around 3:30 p.m. I stopped to put on my rain jacket, but the rain stopped as soon as it was on. Not surprisingly, the rain started again as soon as I took off my jacket.
This time, the rain clouds showed they were serious. Sleet began to fall and thunder rumbled in the distance. The rain became heavier in the second round.
Not wanting to fall too far behind Top O' and OT, I decided I should keep walking instead of trying to wait out the rain under a tree. As I was about to leave, a weekend backpacker walked by me in the opposite direction. He said Top O' and OT were a quarter-mile up the trail.
That information turned out to be completely wrong. I only had to walk about 50 yards before I found them standing under a tree.
I stood with them, but we soon began to get cold and decided we keep going. The rain wasn't a drenching downpour, but it was heavy enough that we hoped to soon find a spot to pitch our tents.
We didn't find a campsite until 5:30 p.m. Though the site was at 11,100 feet, it was below the treeline. Rain was still falling with an occasional rumble of distant thunder as we set up our tents.
Because of the elevation and proximity to I-70, cell service was available there. When I took my phone out of airplane mode, I received a text message from my sister. She said she and my brother-in-law were in Breckenridge tonight after attending a wedding in Aspen.
Today seemed to be my day for missing people I would have enjoyed seeing.
Seems I'm waiting in line
But would you say if I was wasting my time?
Did I miss again?
I think I missed again, oh
Oh, I missed again, oh
I think I missed again, oh