Photo courtesy of Andrew King - D4 Productions

Monday, December 30, 2013

Colorado Trail Day 7 - Timberline to Gold Hill

Patience and perseverance has gotten me through the last 6 days.  With 150 myles to go there is no more patience, it's all out now.  Little did I know this would be the most challenging day yet.

Up before my 3 AM alarm, I didn't get a wink of sleep last night.  Thinking about everything that has transpired and what lay ahead - my mind was racing.  I was exhausted mentally and physically.  But as weird as it may seem, I didn't have to think about what I was doing anymore, everything was automatic.  My shins were holding up (thanks -in part- to the painful ice bath) and the energy from the crew started to grow as we got closer to Denver.

Setting the SPOT
Matt and I loaded up the truck around 3:45 and headed to the Timberline TH just a quarter of mile down the road.  At 3:55 we set off with a full moon as our beacon.  For the next hour and 5 minutes was banked time into day 6.  My original schedule had me starting from Tennessee Pass today so I was still 13 myles behind the plan.  Just like most days, we started off with a climb, this one was 1500 ft over the next 4 myles.  By the time 5 AM came around to officially start day 7, I had only gone 3 myles, meaning I was still 10 myles behind schedule.  It was great having Matt back on the trail with nonstop conversation about this adventure from different perspectives.  When he wasn't with me on the trail, he was helping the crew out with logistics and made the comment "It's much easier being out here on the trail..."  No doubt.  All I had to do was to get from A to B.  The crew had to risk driving with weary minds, organize logistics, and prepare food.

Timberline TH about to begin with Matt Trappe
The sun was starting to come up over the Ten Mile range as we worked our way through Holy Cross Wilderness.  What a beautiful stretch!  Shortly after we exited the wilderness area, we entered the 10th Mountain Division Hut area while crossing a myriad of roads and some very nice bridges.  The amount of work that went into constructing and maintaining the Colorado Trail was -and is- a Herculean effort.  Just before getting to Tennessee Pass, as we crossed over one of these nice bridges, we encountered a couple of overnight backpackers and it was clear they wanted to talk.  I was always reluctant to tell anybody what we were doing but it always came out when they wanted to know where we started....  (sheepishly) "uh... Durango? 7 days ago..."  I knew once it was known, the conversation would be extended and that takes time, time we didn't have.  At any rate, I never wanted to be rude so we stopped and talked to these two -very nice- gentlemen who were doing the entire CT over several summers.  Everyone has a story on the CT, all a little different, but we share something in common: the thirst for beauty, adventure, and solitude.

Holy Cross Wilderness just after sunrise

One of the nice bridges along the way

A little blurry but the two backpackers insisted on taking our picture

Just past 8:30 AM we arrived at Tennessee Pass.  Not particularly fast for the last segment (~3 MPH) but I was happy.  The crew was set up with the same breakfast burritos as Clear Creek from yesterday...  been thinking about those burritos ever since.  I've also been thinking about time.  If I were to stay on pace with the schedule I would now arrive at Waterton Canyon ~8 days 2 hours and some odd minutes.  Thinking to myself "I still have a really good shot of getting under 8 days...."  My thoughts really weren't that clear, it took me the better part of the day to sort that out but I knew I was in the ballpark.  At any rate, I wanted to be quick with the stop while my energy was up and the day was young.  I was pretty sure we'd see Bill Dooper again at TN Pass but he was nowhere to be found.  I later found out that he'd been there around 7:30 AM and had since left because he thought he'd missed us.  Makes sense, 8:30 AM is kinda late for Bill.

Rick greeting me at Tennessee Pass

Down the railroad grade paralleling Hwy 24, we were running side by side on the double track.  It was clear with the chatter that I was buzzing with energy.  I wouldn't call it one of those euphoric running spurts, but we were running and everything else around was a blur.  Double track turned into single track and this trail started curving away from Hwy 24 back to the 10th Mountain Division Huts.  I made a comment that this didn't seem right because we should be making our way back to Hwy 24 and cross over to Camp Hale.  We kept going, the trail kept looping back around, and finally I knew this trail wasn't right.  Matt had his cell phone and looked up our location on Google Maps...  sure enough we were way off.  Matt ran back toward the double track -probably just over a mile- and located where we went wrong.  It was an older CT blaze but clear as day.  I was pissed!  More-so because we had been making good time for the last few myles and all that time was lost - 45 minutes and a couple myles out of our way.  I became silent and processed what had just happened.  At the same time, Matt was good about verbalizing reality "we can't do anything about it. It's over and just need to move forward"  Words of simple wisdom.  It was my own mistake for not paying attention and with Matt's words, I let it go, at least I tried to.

Focused and trying to move forward
The 7th day and a little smile.  All better.

Soon enough, we arrived at the Hwy 24 crossing with a very familiar -and unique- vehicle sitting on the side of the road at a pull out.  No mistaking this green VW Westfalia - it was the Kunz'!  They were on their way to their scheduled event when they decided to turn the bus around and continue on this adventure.  Rob jumped out and said "Do you mind if Sylvia goes with you for the next section?"  I was a little perplexed but Rob put it in perspective "what you are doing here is far more amazing and we want to help you as much as possible".  I was blown away.  Twenty minutes ago I was pissed off and now I felt ashamed.  Even though the anger I felt was towards myself and never let it be known, I felt like that negative energy replaced all of the gratitude I should be feeling towards everyone.  Poof!  It was gone when the Kunz' once again joined the caravan and Sylvia brought her positivity as we made our way to Camp Hale and then further to Copper Mountain.

Through Camp Hale on our way to Kokomo Pass
The CT parallels the road leading through Camp Hale so Rob was able to give us a couple of water stops and "a show" along the way.  I'm still laughing as I type this because it's -obviously- etched in my mind.  I think Sylvia was a little mortified.  He would have been a great cheerleader the way he was jumping around hootin' and a hollerin'.  It helped pass the time through Camp Hale - very boring and flat.  You'd think the pass is no more than a mile away based on the ridge line, but it's actually 5 myles while being hot and exposed.  Rob finally met us at the last possible place before the trail turned uphill for the grunt over Kokomo Pass.  I was a little concerned because my crew was supposed to meet us somewhere in here.  Rob had driven up the road as far as he could and turned around because he said it was nasty and couldn't find them.  Later I found out that they thought they missed us so they made their way to Copper Mountain.  In reality, because of our detour, we hadn't crossed Hwy 24 yet.  The Kunz' saved our bacon there because that stretch is nearly 20 myles from Camp Hale to Copper Mountain.

Four myles and 2500 feet to get to Kokomo pass.  I felt solid on the climb, and if I remember correct, we got to the pass in an hour and 15 minutes (3.2 MPH).  My climbing ability gave me confidence for what lay ahead but once at the pass I felt dizzy and a little out of sorts.  I remember very vividly eating a huge brownie with frosting to cure the dizziness.  Oh man, it tasted sooo good but it hit my gut like a lead weight as we made our way to Searle Pass.  I once again entered a food coma.  At the time I didn't know what was happening because I was dizzy and couldn't stay awake.  I finally sat down on the side of the trail and could not move for about 10 minutes.  I should of stuck to my standards of EFS liquid shot, Justin's nut butter, and Peter Rabbit fruit and veggie liquified packs.   I finally got moving and soon arrived at Searle Pass as the clouds were thickening with lightning and thunder cracking really close.  We stopped to put on the rain gear -quickly- and were on our way down to Copper Mountain.  Within minutes it was pouring and the lighting was striking very, very close - scary stuff.  That was enough to get me out of my food coma and enter into a euphoric running spurt.

Pulling into the Copper Mountain parking lot
I really don't know how fast I was running but I did not feel anything.  I was floating over the rocks like a hovercraft, legs were numb, and lungs felt as big as hot air balloons.  It was now around 4 PM and within cell phone coverage so Matt had been in contact with the crew.  Because we were running low on water my Dad made his way up the trail from Copper Mountain to give some aid.  Not really stopping (just long enough to down a bottle of water) because I didn't want to lose my mojo.  We made our way past Copper Mountain, across Hwy 91, and were greeted by Rick.  I turned into the parking lot where the caravan of cars were circled and only wanted to sit for a little bit because of the nasty looking clouds coming our way.  Just before sitting down both my son's, Myles and Jaxon, came out from behind one of the vehicles and gave me the best hugs I have ever received.  I still get emotional thinking about this moment.  This was the defining moment of this adventure and would give me the momentum to get up over Ten Mile range and finish strong.

Myles greeting me

Most memorable moment of the Colorado Trail
So much for a quick stop, I wanted to stay forever.  These comfortable pit stops were already hard to leave, and now adding my boys to mix, it becomes heart wrenching.  But I know it's still nip and tuck with the time so our conversation shifted to what time I needed to be to Gold Hill and how much further I need to go today.  The crew wanted me to push past Gold Hill another 5 myles with an easy access road, which sounded like a good plan to me.  As I left, now with Rob Kunz and Gavin McKenzie, my boys escorted us out and shortly after parted ways.  I needed music to keep this powerful emotion going over the top of Ten Mile range so I put my headphones back on.  We were climbing really well and as we cleared the trees a couple of guys were coming down so I took out my headphones just in case they said something.  Sure enough, they said something to the effect "you guys going over the top?" followed up by a "well, good luck".  Those nasty lighting and thunder producing clouds that chased us off of Searle Pass earlier were now growing in size and following us along the top of the Ten Mile range.  Uh-oh.  Before we could start our descent down the Breckenridge side, the rain started to come down hard and we were soaked immediately.  I had left all my barrier stuff at Copper because it was already wet and it was hot.  Not only was the rain coming down but lightning was all around us and for a brief moment -very brief- I thought about going back down to the comfort of my family.  We were in trouble with 10 myles to get to Gold Hill.  Our only hope was for the rain to stop and get into the trees.  We hustled the best we could but I was frozen and had no energy.

Atop Ten Mile range right before it started to rain

We made it into the trees, and for the moment, the rain had stopped as we turned on our headlamps.  It didn't last.  Within 10 minutes it started back again and I was still soaked from the first round.  We were in trouble, better yet, I was trouble as I started to shiver.  I needed a miracle and got it from a lone mountain biker who had set up camp and made a fire right next to the trail.  He invited us in to huddle around his fire and I cannot tell you what a flame does to the soul.  We spent 5 or 10 minutes, not totally dry or warm, and were on our way with a little pep in our step.  Before we left I gave that guy some cookies, Justin's almond nut butter, and some other goodies for igniting our soul to which he was ecstatic.

What had happened to our friend - the Sun?
Off and on rain all the way down to Gold Hill but the good thing was that we were at lower elevation so it wasn't as cold.  Although now my headlight was dying and I couldn't keep the pace.  Just about that time Gavin took out one of the brightest spotlights, I mean headlamps, I have ever seen.  This thing lit up the mountain side but also gave me enough energy to make it to Gold Hill.  We saw the lights of Hwy 9 and Breckenridge below so that also helped, but as the trail zig and zagged the lights weren't getting any closer.  The darkness once again was messing with my ability to judge distance - the last 3 myles seemingly took a few hours.  It was very frustrating while being completely soaked.

Finally the lights from our crew vehicles came into view and were once again circled up at Gold Hill.  As soon as they saw our headlamps, they all started honking and cheering.  We had made it!  Once there, people got out to greet us -briefly- as we were whisked away to the warm and dry RV.  I sensed concern as they saw how soaked we were and the ten mile stare in my eyes.  It was 9:45 PM and the rain was coming down in sheets at this point so I did not want to go the additional 5 myles as suggested earlier.  As I scarfed down my food with dry clothes on we quickly discussed the timeline.  If I were to keep going that night I should have arrived at the next access around 12:30 AM and then the North Fork of the Swan River at 3 AM.  I couldn't do it.  My drive and will power were crushed and decided I needed a few hours to get warm and refuel.  We came to the decision that I would be on back on the trail at 2 AM with Rob and hopefully the storm would pass.  I finally got horizontal at 11:30 PM and set my alarm for 1 AM.  The night before I hadn't slept and tonight, if I'm lucky, I'd pass out for an hour.  This would turn out to be the last time I get horizontal in the RV.  A total of 6 days 16 hours and 45 minutes to this point.  A little over 100 myles and 44 hours to break the record.

Myles: 51.8 (380.7)
Time: 17h 50m (118h 9m)
Elevation: 9,867 (73,711)
Myles to go: 105.1
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