John's CDT
Sunday, September 12, 2004
Agita to Bliss to Bluster

Communing elk hunters ended yesterday and began this morning by ruining by my sleep with foul-smelling exhaust and lingering noise. I did choose to camp by the trail, but I didn't think the trail was a commuter route. Usually it's quiet along the trail.

I got out of camp with ease by 7AM sharp. I finished my climb, then began a long descent into a long valley with the North Fork of the Elk River (CO2). On my way, I became concerned about the number of elk hunters in the area. I didn't want to get shot. So, every once in a while, I'd let out a whoop/whoop to let them know I was there. It's a sound I make specifically because it carries further than shouting. I could here it echoing through the area.

Of course, elk hunters don't want human sounds, so after one round, I heard an
"Aw fuck" come out of the woods.

When I reached the valley floor I could see a large encampment; clearly not backpackers. From behind me I heard a shot go off, then the sound of ATVs coming toward me. I stepped off the trail to let them pass. They headed to the mass of blue tarps, white tents and parked ATVs. They were near a junction, so I stopped, confirmed my location, and walked on.

The area had been badly burned fairly recently, but the hills has some aspen that were turning. The golds were exciting to the eye and beautiful on the green, unburned hillside. I reached the business end of the valley having been passed by a man on a mountain bike. I never saw the ranger station or the campgrounds in this area. Instead I headed to the Three Lakes Trailhead, an alternate route that might used to have been the real CDT.

I stopped for lunch, then caught the spur trail. At the trailhead I saw welcome information. Only hikers and horses were allowed on this trail. The mechanical menagerie, including bikes, were prohibited.

My first steps on the trail were bliss. I was walking on duff. Light brown spruce needles carpeted the trail. No wide dusty tread full of rocks and ruts, just a simple trail switching up a forested hillside. After all the exposed road walking and destroyed trails, this simple footpath fed my spirit and calmed my brain.

The climb to Three Island Lake was a bit more than I had anticipated, but not bad. During the climb, I entered the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness. I don't think I've yet had many 1800' climbs yet on the CDT. Something tells me Colorado's going to change that.

I didn't get to bathe in Encampment, so a quick cleanup was in order. I'd hoped for a dive in, but the place I chose to approach the water was shallow and muddy. I waded out, waited for the wind to die down, splashed about, and got out. It felt great. More than 100 miles have passed since I've had access to a lake nice enough to get into.

I continued to climb as I left the lake. The forest found a balance with grassland as I continued up above 10,000'. I'm used to the Sierra where there are not high grasslands. These were so lovely in the afternoon light. The weather seemed to be in transition from mostly sunny to thunderstorms, and the wind was active and blustery. The sun dancing with dark clouds on the open grassland framed and accented with trees created an ever-changing presence.

Soon I left the bowl that was my last climb and walked onto a flatter area with clumps of trees. In the distance, to the south and east, spectacular mountains showed their faces in the warm evening light. The eye that I keep on the weather forced me to take a good look at the map and a good sense of the time. I finally relented. I had a climb coming up that would take me over 11,000' and the hour was growing late. It's getting dark on a cloudy night around 8 now, and the clouds coming my way said with a dark, threatening look, "Put up your tent and sleep in it." So I did. I have burned trees around me, but I told them not to fall on me. I hope that's good enough.

Grasslands and trees with dramatic sky in Colorado

I am so happy to be away from all the intrusions in the wilderness. I guess I like being the only intrusion. It's much more relaxing to be up here in my own world.

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