CDT 2021: Day 86, Tennessee Pass to Galena Mountain

Looking high, looking low

Top O' and OT walk on the CDT

Getting into and out of a town can often be an ordeal during a thru-hike.

An extreme example of this happened when I was hiking in the Sierra on the PCT. I needed to resupply in Independence, which required hiking an extra 7.5 miles off the trail just to reach a trailhead. From there, a 30-minute ride was needed before getting to town.

Resupply stops aren't always that difficult, but they usually involve walking at least a few miles to a road. Hitching a ride, calling a trail angel, or requesting an Uber driver is almost always needed after that.

DateWednesday, July 7, 2021
WeatherMostly cloudy with temperatures from the upper-40s to upper-70s
Trail ConditionsEasy, moderate elevation changes; later a steady climb with only a couple of steep sections
Today's Miles11.7
Trip Miles1174.8

The least troublesome resupply stops are where the trail goes through a town. We had a few towns like that in New Mexico, and Rawlins was one in Wyoming. So far, Grand Lake has been the only town in Colorado where the trail passes through it.

Our resupply stop today was in Leadville, less than eight miles from our campsite. The road into town was just six-tenths of a mile away. We knew it wouldn't be difficult to get to town, but we had no idea how easy the trip there and back would be.

Top O' follows on the trail

OldTimer figured it would be harder for all three of us to get a ride at the same time than if we did it individually. He left our campsite several minutes before Top O' and me to get a head start.

Top O' and I began walking to the road at 6:30 a.m.

Ruins of stone coke ovens

We didn't go far before we found some stone ruins next to the trail. There wasn't any kind of sign nearby to explain what they were, but they most likely had been beehive-shaped ovens used to "coke" coal. That's a process to carbonize coal in an oxygen-deficient environment. The coke would have been loaded onto train cars and transported to an ore smelter or steel mill.

Downtown Leadville, Colorado

OT was already gone from the trailhead at U.S. Highway 24 when Top O' and I arrived. There wasn't any traffic on the road, so we were unsure how long we would need to wait.

A Colorado Trail hiker arrived at the trailhead about the same time we did. Top O' and he suggested I take the first ride to be offered. They said they would stand away from the road to wait for another car. I didn't think this was necessary, and just as I turned around to tell them that, a car pulled up. The driver and his wife offered all three of us a ride. I hadn't stuck out my thumb and had my back turned to the road, and we already had a ride.

The couple who picked us up was from Leadville and knew all about the CT and the CDT. They agreed to drop Top O' and me off at the Safeway store and then take the CT hiker to a hostel. The store was on the edge of town and within easy walking distance of the downtown business district.

OT was at the grocery store when we arrived. He waited for us while we did our shopping, then we made the 15-minute walk to downtown Leadville.

A sign posted in Melazana's window

I wanted to go first to Melanzana, a store that sells a line of fleece clothing. All of the items are made in Leadville and are only sold in their downtown store.

Kim and I already own Melanzana pull-over hoodies, and we like them so much that I wanted to buy another one for each of us.

When I arrived at the store, however, a sign said the entire inventory was sold out. I don't know if this was a result of high demand during the holiday weekend or due to production limits related to COVID-19.

Top O' and I then walked across the street to eat a second breakfast at Silver Llama Market and Eatery. When we finished, I walked to the post office to mail home a couple of cold-weather items I no longer needed.

Then when I saw OT with a strawberry milkshake, I instantly craved one. Thank you, hiker hunger.

Our town chores were already done and the time was only 10 a.m. We could have attempted to hitch a ride back to Tennessee Pass then, but instead, we sat on benches and relaxed. We talked to other hikers who walked by.

I learned from a hiker that the Melanzana store was open now, so I decided to double-check if there was clothing available to buy. After standing in line for a short wait, I discovered the only way to buy hoodies was to make an appointment. The first timeslot open was four days later.

Pullover hats were the only items available to buy without an appointment. I hadn't been happy with the one I was using to keep my head warm at night, so I bought one.

OT, Top O', and Gravity riding in Lunar's SUV

Top O' had struck up a conversation with Lunar, who was trying to complete sections of the CDT he hadn't yet finished. When I returned to where they were sitting, I learned Lunar offered to drive us back to Tennessee Pass. He had an SUV to drive from section to section on the trail.

If that wasn't enough great trail magic, he offered us beers and said he might be able to drive us to Wyoming when we've finished hiking in Colorado. His only condition for this was we'd need to be ready to go by July 18.

Could we walk about 220 miles in the next 11 days? This seemed a little much, but it was an intriguing offer and worth a try.

10th Mountain Division memorial

We hung out with Lunar a little longer at Tennessee Pass and drank our beers. I also wandered over to a stone memorial erected near the trailhead to recognize the contributions of the 10th Mountain Division and honor soldiers killed in World War II.

We were back on the trail by noon. Our resupply trip couldn't have gone more smoothly, and we saved valuable time by getting back on the trail without an unnecessary overnight stay.

A sign warns about live ammunition

Not far from the trailhead, I noticed a warning sign. It was a reminder that the 10th Mountain Division had trained here with live ammunition during the war. Though that was seven decades ago, the possibility of unexploded munitions remained in the area.

When I saw this sign, I was reminded of a similar one on the PCT in California.

Top O' and OT

The trail took us through a pine forest. There wasn't much elevation change at first. The trail was easy, but we didn't go far before deciding to stop for lunch.

A sign warns the bridge ahead is out

Another sign was posted farther down the trail. This one was hand-made and warned that a bridge was out. Oddly, there was no mention of a detour. When we found a comment posted in the Guthook app that said the bridge was not out, we agreed there was no reason to change course.

The bridge is not out

A bridge in perfect condition stood over the stream at the bottom of the hill.

West Tennessee Creek

We crossed two more bridges a mile past the first one. They went over two forks of West Tennessee Creek, lovely streams that are tributaries of the Arkansas River.

Jibz and Crocs

We continued walking without stopping for the next hour. I was lulled by the gently rolling terrain, enjoying some solitude as the trail followed a smooth path in and out of forests and meadows.

Seeing some hikers ahead snapped me back to consciousness, though it took me a second to recognize who OldTimer and Top O' were talking to. They were Jibz and Crocs.

It was fun to see them and catch up, especially since I had begun to think we had seen all of the northbound thru-hikers we would see.

Jibz and Crocs admitted they had fallen behind most of the NOBO thru-hikers but didn't seem to mind. They said they were happy to hike at their own pace and just wanted to enjoy the trail.

Clouds ahead

When the trail crossed another meadow around 3:45 p.m., I looked up and saw the sky was a little darker. There were more clouds, and though I couldn't tell for sure because of some trees, it looked like rain might be falling in the distance. I didn't hear the rumble of thunder, however, so I decided there was no reason to be concerned about the weather.

Entering Holy Cross Wilderness

The trail entered Holy Cross Wilderness at the other side of the meadow. This area was named for a mountain within its boundary, Mount of the Holy Cross. A natural phenomenon of snow caught in a deep vertical crevice and on a horizontal shelf near the summit of the mountain reminds people of a cross.

When trappers, prospectors, and explorers first saw the cross on the mountain, they tried to describe it to others. A photograph taken in 1873 by William Henry Jackson allowed everyone to see it and stirred more interest in the mountain.

More than 150 miles of trail traverse the wilderness area, but the CDT follows only 5.7 miles near the southern boundary. The cross isn't visible from the trail.

A mountain in Holy Cross Wilderness

Soon after entering the wilderness, I began to make the first significant climb of the day. It was a little steep but not too strenuous as it went up 530 feet in the next eight-tenths of a mile.

The trail climbs in Holy Cross Wilderness

Although the climb wasn't steep enough to slow me down much, I stopped a few times to appreciate the scenery. I had already seen some nice views today. These were "wow!" views.

A ridge in Holy Cross Wilderness

I passed a deep, glacier-carved valley with large exposures of granite. Ponderosa pine trees filled in where they could between the rocks.

Moser Lake

After climbing to about 11,700 feet, the trail made a short descent and crossed a large park. Moser Lake was here, which could be better described as two small, neighboring ponds.

I caught up to Top O' and OT at about 5 p.m. We talked about where we wanted to camp and decided to start looking for a spot after we crossed the next trail junction. That was 2.2 miles ahead.

Rain on the horizon

The trail continued to descend again, but not steeply. Here, an expansive view opened on the way down to show another valley. I couldn't tell for sure, but it looked like rain was falling on a distant ridge.

Descending trail

The trail made a couple more short ups and downs but mostly went down. My stops for photos along the way caused me to lose track of my friends again.

I stopped at a stream just before arriving at the trail junction that Top O', OT, and I talked about earlier. I collected some water and filtered it because I figured I would be stopping to camp soon.

As soon as I walked past the trail junction, I began looking for where they might have stopped. After walking for more than a half-mile, I still hadn't seen them. Now I was beginning to wonder if I had just walked past them. There had been some potential campsites along the way, so I thought maybe I simply failed to see them at one.

Bear Lake

I decided to backtrack and make sure I didn't walk past where they stopped. Though I found a couple of hikers camping in one spot, they told me they hadn't seen anyone else go by.

Did OT and Top O' turn to look for a campsite on a side trail leading to Bear Lake, I wondered? This didn't seem likely, but the side trail was past the trail junction, which would fit with what we discussed. I continued back to the trail and walked to the lake. There weren't many camping spots here and no sign of Top O' and OT.

Mosquitoes buzzing outside my tent

Frustration was starting to build. Did I walk past them a second time? Did they keep walking farther than I had expected? Why didn't they just stop at one of those campsites I saw?

I had many questions and no answers, so I decided to continue going in the direction they most likely went. If I didn't see them by dark, I would just camp at the first spot that looked good.

The trail made another climb and this one was steeper than the others. There were no places to camp along the way. I found OT and Top O' at the top of the climb, about 1.2 miles from the trail junction. They had been true to what we agreed. I just made the mistake of assuming they stopped earlier when I began to see open campsites.

Their tents were set up in a wide area that the Guthook app labeled as a saddle, though it was not a saddle as most people would define the term. It was on a shoulder of Galena Mountain, and there was no mountain on the other side to classify it as a saddle.

OT and Top O' had been there so long that they were already finished their dinner. I was exasperated, but not with them, only myself. My anger quickly turned to the large mosquitoes that were mounting a series of kamikaze dive-bombing attacks in my direction.

I hastily set up my tent, threw in my gear, leaped in, and zipped it shut. I didn't exit until morning. The mosquitoes continued to hover around and try to penetrate the tent's netting. Their high-pitched buzzing continued well past sunset.

I take a little powder
I take a little salt
I put it in my shotgun
And I go walking out

Chooba chooba (chooba chooba)
Wooly Bully (wooly bully)
Looking high (looking high)
Looking low (looking low)
Gonna scare you up and shoot ya
'Cause Mister Charlie told me so


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