Things rarely turn out how we envision them to be, and that was the case with Part 3 of our CDT hike, the section from Copper Mountain to Steamboat Springs, which I originally skipped the first time through. We could have never guessed the curve ball that Mother Nature would throw at us, but we dealt with it the best we could and are happy to say we are officially finished with the CDT hike. Here’s how it all went down…
After Matt officially finished his hike at Monarch Pass, just outside of Salida, we managed to hitch just two rides up to Copper Mountain that same day in order to begin the final piece of our CDT hike. We arrived in time to hike the 15 miles from Copper Mountain to Breckenridge and even scored a sweet resort hotel room for a great price in Breckenridge. It was a great beginning to the final leg of hiking.
We awoke to rainy, cloudy skies the next day in Breckenridge, with a crisp breeze in the air. Fall had definitely arrived and I was nervous, wondering if we’d taken too much of a gamble with leaving too many high elevation miles for the end. We still had a 14,000 foot peak to hike, along with several 13,000 foot peaks, and many miles above 12,000 feet. Last year on the Colorado Trail it snowed above 11,000 feet on 9/12 and we were starting our section on 9/11. Without much of a choice but to keep walking, we left Breckenridge early in order to get in the miles.
The first part of our hike shared the Colorado Trail, a well-maintained, well-groomed trail which made for easy, fast miles, despite some fairly good climbs. As soon as we left the Colorado Trail that afternoon, all hell broke loose. The trail was nearly non-existent as it followed the top of the divide for 15 miles, offering steep climbs and descents over the tops of the mountains. Next the rains came and poured on us with a forceful side wind, and we were so fogged in we could barely see 100 feet ahead of us. We stopped at dusk that night and camped at nearly 12,000 feet in a cold, foggy, windy, rainy campsite. Ugh.
The next day didn’t get any better. It misted on us for much of the morning until we finally dropped a few thousand feet into the trees. Unfortunately, after dropping all that elevation, all we had awaiting us was a near 4,000 foot climb to the top of Grey’s Peak at 14,200 feet, approximately. The climb consisted of nearly 3,000 feet of climbing to Argentine Pass, then more climbing to Edwards Peak at 13,800, then a 1.5 mile walk along the spine of the mountain to the top of Grey’s Peak. At that point it was raining sideways and we had to maneuver over wet rocks along a knife’s edge portion of trail. From Edward’s Peak to Grey’s, it took nearly 2 hours of relentless concentration and effort to make progress on the rocky ridge. The one redeeming value was that we came within 10 feet of a herd of shaggy white mountain goats, a rare occurence and certainly a once in a lifetime experience. It seriously made my day and possibly even the hike. That’s how special it felt to see them that close in such a crazy situation with the weather and terrain.
That evening we finally dropped down from the climb, only to camp in a cloud of fog at 11,500 feet, and that’s when things really fell apart. Our tent leaked in the rain all night and not only did all our clothing get wet, but our down sleeping bags got completely soaked. Our sleeping bags were our one piece of gear that we couldn’t afford to get wet, as they could save us from hypothermia, so the fact that they got wet really hurt our chances of moving on.
The next morning we packed up all our soaking wet gear and walked the next 6 miles to a trailhead at I-70, debating what to do. There was no sign of the rain letting up, other hikers we had met said it would be 5 days before anything cleared, the exact amount of days we had left to hike, and all our gear was soaked. We were cold and exhausted from the previous day’s efforts to not only hike, but to also stay warm at dry.
At the trailhead at I-70, we made the decision to get off the trail because of safety concerns with the continuous rain and cold temperatures. We knew we had many more miles in high elevation to go and didn’t feel good going on with wet gear and without the opportunity to dry it. After trying to hitch a ride for 2 hours, a state trooper picked us up after he learned of our situation and took us to the nearest town. From that town we hitched another ride to the town of Frisco, then drove a rental car to Steamboat Springs to stay with our friend.
Once in Steamboat we learned just how bad the flooding was across the state and we learned that part of our upcoming trail had actually been closed because of flooding in Rocky Mountain National Park. We weren’t imagining that the situation was dire and felt better about our decision already.
Plan B was then hatched in order for me to finish the hike. I planned on connecting my footsteps between the towns of Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge by running the highways between them. Matt was going to drive the rental car as I ran and support me with water and food along the way. We started the run at 7am on Saturday morning as I headed out of Rabbit Ears Pass on Route 40. I had about 85 miles to run to get to Breckenridge and planned on running as many miles as I could until 5pm that day, leaving the rest for the next day.
After 10 miles on the busy highway without much of a shoulder to run on, I called it quits. It felt too dangerous to be that close to high speed cars, and didn’t feel like the right ending to the trail. I felt a little like Forrest Gump as I ran along the highway, with long stretches of road ahead of me, but decided against continuing on. My CDT hike would have an asterisk and I had to be ok with that.
Finally at Peace
In those final miles both on the trail and on the road, I came to terms with the hike. I have 170 unfinished miles, with 2,850 completed miles, and I’m ok with that. When I got back on the trail in Steamboat back in July, I told myself that just to get to Canada would be an accomplishment. I did not only that, but I also made it the 288 miles from Chama to Creede, the section that was originally closed because of fires, and I made it another 60 miles until floods forced me off the trail once again.
If the saying is true, that it’s all about the journey and not the destination, then I have had a successful CDT hike. It’s been one hell of a ride, I have amazing material for a fantastic book about the hike, and I really did help Matt accomplish his dream of completing the three big hikes, the AT, the PCT, and the CDT. From Steamboat until the end of his miles, I never once thought about quitting again, and Matt said it was the most positive I’ve ever been on a hike…ever. I’m incredibly proud that I was able to be that positive, that we were able to cover so many miles and still have fun with it, and most of all, that I was there on August 29th to spend his 33rd birthday with him. I really did find good in every day that I was back on the trail and that is worth more to me than any accumulation of miles.
That’s it. Just like that, the CDT is finished. I finally feel at peace with it all even though I left some miles on the table. It’s doubtful I’ll ever come back to finish them and I’m ok with that. It was an amazing journey that I’m proud to say I did and I’m looking forward to writing about it and sharing all the untold stories with everyone else.
Thank you to all our friends and family for all the love and support. I’m sorry if it’s a disappointment that ultimately, I didn’t complete the thru-hike, but I had one amazing CDT experience, and after going through what we did for the last 4 months, I’m happy we both came out of it healthy and happy on the other end.