I managed to get up early today, and started hiking by 6:30 am, continuing my charge out of Colorado. Unfortunately, it wasn’t early enough to avoid the mosquitoes, which were just as bad this morning as they were last night.
Leaving camp, I continued along the cliff. The hammock from the missing hiker was still set up just as it was yesterday, so they’ve not yet come back. About five minutes past that campsite, I found another campsite, better than mine, that had also had a great view. I could have easily gotten there yesterday; it was just a question of, how far was I willing to go not knowing for sure where I’d find somewhere to camp.
The landscape, especially yesterday and today, has been quite different than in the mountains to the south, and it’s been a very nice change of scenery. Here, with large misshapen whiteish boulders, grass, and sparse trees, I was getting bit of High Sierra vibe.
A few times within the first couple of miles today, short stretches of snow covered the trail. The last snow I had to walk over was the day after Winter Park, a week ago. I had assumed that by now, between the lower elevation and late season, it would have all melted off the trail. Apparently not.
I passed through a short portion of a much larger burn area, as the trail continued a gradual climb. Cresting over a small hill, I saw a herd of five elk ahead. My presence spooked them, and they all quickly ran off.
After crossing a small creek, the trail went through a marshy wetland. It took some effort to step lightly to not to sink into the ground and soak my feet, and I didn’t entirely succeed.
The trail passed relatively nearby several lakes today, the first of which was filled by the creek I’d just crossed.
A short distance later, the trail crossed another creek that drained into the arrowhead-shaped Luna Lake. This creek was likewise surrounded by a marshy area, and the trail became somewhat indistinct for a short bit.
Making good progress, I stopped for a break a bit after six miles, underneath a small stand of trees that served as a windbreak for the wind that was starting to pick up. The sun had been hidden behind clouds for most of the morning so far, and the clouds were only increasing. Rain clouds darkened the sky in the distance, and a few raindrops blew at me.
Over the course of the morning, I crossed over several more short snow fields. I think I’ve been on snow more today than I had in the last two and a half weeks combined.
The high-elevation point of the day was Lost Ranger Peak. The CDT itself didn’t go over the summit, but it was only about a fifth of a mile off-trail. I dropped my pack at an easily-recognizable rock and hiked cross-country to the flat summit area that ended with a steep drop-off to a valley below.
Leaving the summit, I started a ten-mile-long downhill. It started off very gentle, near the summit, but very quickly became quite steep. Rain clouds moved over the valley I was heading towards, and I put my pack cover and rain jacket on. It became very cold during the brief rain, but once the rain stopped, it quickly started warming up again.
The steep downhill was littered with fallen trees, the result of a fire quite some time ago, but it soon gave way to a meadow that looked similar to yesterday’s meadow interspersed with thin rows of pines; only this time, they were thin rows of dead pines. However, wildflowers thrived well, making the area rather colorful.
Shortly before the CDT departed the Wyoming Trail, I passed a group of six hikers and two dogs that were heading south; I think this was the largest group of hikers I’ve seen in quite some time.
Still making good progress on the relatively easy terrain today, I only just barely missed hiking “12 before 12” (12 miles before 12 pm). Starting ten minutes earlier (or not visiting Lost Ranger Peak) would likely have made up the 0.3 mile difference. Just shy of 12 miles, I stopped for a break at a small creek.
Continuing downhill, the trail entered a forest, briefly crossing through the scar of a fire. This burn area felt a lot like going through the burn areas in Oregon on the Pacific Crest Trail.
The trail dropped steeply off the side of the mountain, crossing a creek a couple of times and descending into a valley. One of my knees started to protest, the non-stop downhill starting to take a toll. Now at least fifteen miles into the day, I was tired — as in, take a nap tired.
Exiting the Mount Zirkel Wilderness at a trailhead, the trail joined a dirt road for a little over a mile, and then returned to trail, cutting what would have been a very long switchback on the road by steeply climbing up a hill on a bit of overgrown trail and dropping down on the other side. I stopped for another break under some shade; after having left the forest behind at the trailhead, the sun also left behind its cloud cover, and I was getting a bit hot. While I was resting (and snacking), another large group passed, with a dog in town and carrying an infant in one of those covered baby backpacks.
At the bottom of the hill, I rejoined the road, . Several cars and trucks passed; this was one of the busiest dirt roads I’ve seen in a while. The area is evidently a popular car camping and fishing spot. I passed several places where people had set up along the road, and in a large meadow surrounding a large creek.
After following the road for another mile, the trail rejoined the Wyoming Trail and climbed back up the side of a hill, heading upstream above the North Fork Elk Creek. Dark clouds brewed ahead, and the wind picked up, racing the clouds across the sky.
A light rain began to fall, and I put on my rain jacket, just in case. I was glad I did, the rain picked for a bit, soaking everything. The trail here was overgrown, so my shoes, socks, and feet wound up getting soaked as well.
The trail reached another dirt road. Across the creek, the road lead to a car campground. The trail continued straight across the road, however, this is where I was stopping for the day. I was just disappointed that someone else had already taken the best campsite — two trucks with RVs had set up near the creek, with several people and a dog in a ring around a campfire.
I followed the road to the campground (really, more of a flat area that allowed camping, than anything particularly established), and scouted out a place to set up camp, giving them a wide berth because of the dog, ultimately picking a spot between them, and another tent that was set up a little further away.
I met the group with the RVs when one of them came over to introduce me to their dog, ostensibly to get the dog to treat me as a friendly and stop barking. They invited me over for dinner and conversation, which I happily accepted. I had a great chat with Mike and Mark (and Mark’s dog, Bella). Originally from North Dakota, and now in Steamboat Springs, they were friends out for a weekend with their kids, who left to drive around on the roads in Mike’s ATV for a couple of hours. They fed me quite well; I was almost stuffed with a stew of meatballs, potatoes, and vegetables — and a couple of cans of beer and soda. They also gave me a sealed frozen bag of white-tail deer jerky from North Dakota. All in all, it was a quite unexpected treat, and easily the best trail magic I’ve gotten so far this trail.
With two days in a row over 22 miles, today is my last full day in Colorado. Tomorrow, I’ll enter Wyoming!