While the switch to solo hiking has certainly been a huge challenge of its own, the actual hiking from my first week alone is well worth mentioning.
To start, within 30 minutes of waking alone I was hailed on. Big hail, the kind that hurts the head and neck. I then had a lightning storm a few hours later where I actually heard the sizzling sound of electricity as a bolt struck down close to me. I slept in wet clothes and a damp tent that night.
The first day and a half were a hard walk down memory lane as I retraced steps Julie and I walked last year on the CT. But after Georgia pass, the CDT split from the CT and I met up with a 29 year old thru hiker named Green Flash, and we spent the rest of the day above tree line trying to find our way and dodge afternoon thunderstorms- monsoon season has arrived in Northern CO. The ridge walk along the divide was challenging as there often was no trail, only occasional rock piles (cairns), and random posts with no signs. There was plenty of up down too as we found our way. It was fun though and we had plenty to talk about as he is a fellow adventurer, having traveled much of the world over the past seven years. We camped alone though, our routes taking us different directions to finish the day.
The next day was awesomely brutal. I started near 10,000′ and made my way up a steep climb to Argentine pass, then up Mount Edwards at 13,800’+ before scrambling along the spine of a ridge that resembles a knife’s edge with steep drop offs on both sides. From here it was up to the highest point on the trail, Grays peak, at 14,200’+. My route had me take a steep, straight shot up the eastern slope before descending the nicely graded trail with switchbacks that all the peak-bagging day hikers use. My day wasn’t done though as I finished my day with another 3000’+ climb with miles of hiking above tree line. I finished after dark and just got down to sub-alpine for a cold night of camping.
The next day was another ball buster with three big climbs and another 30+ mile day, making it my third day in a row with more than thirty miles, despite climbing between 7000′ to 10,000′ per day. The latter part of the day was the toughest with a big climb up James peak followed by possibly the most miserable, stormy, windy and rainy above tree line walk I’ve ever done. The rain pelted me with such force and I purposefully stayed away from the edge because the wind was so strong. Fortunately, I’d just met a great couple, Mike and Carrie. They are teachers and section hike one month a year and are getting their triple crown that way. We talked and suffered together before eventually getting out of the wind to camp together for the night.
My last day had less elevation gain but it did have a deadline as Julie was picking me up in Grand Lake. I thought it’d be an easy 30. Nope. The first part flew by and a nice guy even gave me a cold Gatorade. However, I then encountered possibly the most frustratingly difficult section of trail I’ve ever hiked in the Knights ridge. The issue is the downed trees. There is a bark beetle problem in CO that has killed a huge amount of trees out here. On this ridge, most of the trees are down and piled on each other like matchsticks. The trail was lost to me, I climbed over and under countless trees, snagging myself and my pack frequently on branches. It took forever. But I made it through…
Right in time for the afternoon storm. I entered Rocky Mountain national park with thunder and lightning. I was late and practically running the trail. And then I saw a bull moose. And then I saw two more. In fact, over the next thirty hours, I’d see nine moose total. They stood and stared while I took their pictures, bulls, mamas, and calves.
I eventually made it, only 36 minutes late. Julie had a car full of goodies and all the hugs and kisses I’d missed from 4.5 days alone in the woods. Not only was it hard without her, but it was probably some of the toughest hiking I’ve ever done. I felt good about it though, even though I’ve been dragging a bit the past few days as a result. But this is the trail and I’m in, so bring the mountains! Actually, I think I may be through the biggest stuff, but either way, the trail has got plenty more good stuff to come.