I wake up early and try to get up, but it’s cold and hard to move. There’s frost on the outside of my tent for the first time – my fault for camping where I did, out in the open with no protection but the tall grass. I watch 6:30 turn to 7:30 without cooking, and, giving up on that, I eventually stuff my wet tent into my pack and make my way on down the trail.
Of course there are fantastic campsites just a little further along than where I checked last night. Of course there are. And Sarah and Jane are in one of them! We spend a little time catching up, chatting about yesterday, like we didn’t just see each other two days ago. We speak of what’s ahead – the long climb through the “long meadow” of Segment 8 winding up to Searle Pass, down and up to Elk Ridge, and down to Kokomo Pass just to the other side of it – all of that’s today, with tonight’s camp about 16 miles from here. It’s warmer now, but still hard to move, knowing what’s coming, standing in the company of friends.
I leave them to break camp, eventually; we’re planning on camping in the same spot, so I’ll see them again. So I cross the road and gently make my way upwards, winding under ski lifts and through the wilds of one of Colorado’s havens of consumption.
A small stone marks the entrance to a more-familiar wilderness, one away from the growl-barking dogs and the very confused tourists.
Even now, the up is gentle, and while I’m still pondering Sarah’s words, I’m happy it’s not yesterday. I
screamed at prayed to whatever deity’s in charge of flat land for more breathing time, and said god has clearly heard my prayers, earning it a devoted supplicant. It’s difficult for me, but the constant comparison to prior ups makes it more than doable.
I go to glance at the time, see my phone’s somehow out of airplane mode; Special’s left a voicemail, and I call him back expecting bad news. Turns out he’d been in the area driving home from work, tried to hunt my campsite down last night, but couldn’t find me. I’m sorry to have missed him, but I wonder at my reaction had he knocked on my tent after I’d gone to sleep. I’ll see him on Thursday in Twin Lakes.
There are Nordic-seeming runes carved into some of the felled trees and stumps around, and I forget to take a picture after being passed by a couple of day hikers.
Treeline is a little underwhelming after yesterday, having had towns at my feet, but it’s a lovely day, and Searle Pass is waiting:
I’m a bit surprised by the sign for Janet’s Cabin when I hit it, and even more surprised by the cabin itself. It’s swanky, kept up well, with solar for power and what may or may not be a hot tub1 on the expansive porch. I’m tempted to go investigate, but there’s a lot of finger waggling on the sign, so I take a picture instead.
I dry my things out and get more water at the Guller Creek headwaters, almost losing the cap to my smartwater bottle in the process. A gentleman hiking to Camp Hale and back greets and passes me, and, nine miles in by 1pm, I begin to entertain notions of maybe going further than I’d initially planned. Maybe. The thought makes me forget to eat, or at least not take the time to.
I’m almost up Searle, and a mountain biker walking his bike down the pass stops for a chat. He camped at Hale last night, and apparently there was “stuff on the ground” that necessitated flags and warning signs and and and. I deflate a little, and figure that 16 miles will put me in early, leave me no excuses for not eating. That’ll probably be good for me. Probably.
It’s only a little further to the top of the pass.
There are lots of hikers out for the day, lots of mountain bikers, lots of bleating sheep, way high up on the ridge. I wonder that I can hear them from where I am, and also how the hell they got up there. I look for ways a human could get up there – not me, necessarily, but a human – and my body aches from the thought, even though I’m headed down into a valley. I cross a lot of water, but I have some, and the bleating from above makes even the moving stuff look unappetizing.
I expect more out of the climb to Elk Ridge – again, it’s hard, but less so than I was anticipating.
And then it’s all downhill to Kokomo Pass:
The trail starts this DOWN meander DOWN meander DOWN pattern, and I’m cruising faster than I thought I’d be; I arrive at the 16-miles-for-the-day mark at 4:30pm. Looking around, though, I can only find camping space for one shelter – shelter I know Jane and Sarah will likely need. I consult the guidebook, since camping at Hale doesn’t seem to be a great option, and see that the next listed campsite is at segment mile 20.1 – which’ll make for a 20 mile day.
I grin, and take off down the trail2.
I can see I’m almost down by the time I hit Cataract Falls, aka the point of no (or at least, really annoying) return – camping’s prohibited for three miles after, so I have to make it all the way to 20 miles, and the sun’s getting lower. Still, I make time for a little splashy-splash in the falls before continuing on.
I pass the turnoff for Camp Hale, wander down the road towards the west, where I am near-obsessively watching the sun. It provides a pretty great view, as I turn onto a jeep road.
There’s evidence of former military inhabitants in the valley as I approach the last creek of the day. It’s all graffiti’d up by people with things to say, little positive. I wish, not for the first time, that my camera took better low-light photos.
Then it’s my last up for the day, trying to scout a decent place to sleep among a number of dead trees. I find one, then another, then wonder if there’re any ahead when I spot some northbound hikers. I greet them, ask them if they saw any more likely sleeping spots on their way here, get a negative, mentally decide to settle in before I hear:
“Hey, I know you!”
It’s Snarf, who I’ve met at Continental Divide Trail Coalition events, and his ladyfriend Steph, who I’ve never met before, but I’m learning that folks on the trail are fast friends. I invite them to dine with me in my humble now-campspot, and they agree. They’ve been doing 25-mile days pretty much all the way from Durango, and my good-for-me achievement pales by comparison. It’s so nice to have someone I know to eat with that I actually eat, and am able to give them solid intel on the campportunities up the hill a little ways. They frolic off down the trail into the night, and I turn in as its getting dark, wondering if I’m actually okay with being alone.
Start: 116.8 • End: 137.3 • Day: 20.5
Notable Accomplisments: Two passes in a day! • My first real 20-mile day! • Ate a meal with friends!
 Probably wistful thinking.
 I am quickly stopped by the overwhelming urge to dig a cathole. I’m concerned that, after several such occurrences, I’m making some sort of twisted association between nice aspen groves and the desire to relieve myself.