Thursday, September 23, 2004
Two things were cute today: the weasle on Devil's Thumb Pass (CO13), and
the thought of my little trail struggle two days ago at 8,500'.
My little crack outside of Grand Lake got all the emotions out of the way
for turning back today. At 11,750' on Devil's Thumb Pass, the ground was
ice, the wind was cold, and I was in the clouds. Visibility was about
20', but the white clouds covering the white landscape created a world
that closed in on itself.
I followed the Devil's Thumb Trail up to the pass, which is above
treeline. At the pass, I first saw a CDT post placed for northbounders to
show them the way down from the junction, the way I'd just hiked up. It,
like the other two posts I would find in the pass area, had horizontal
ice, perpendicular to the post, standing out about 6" from the post. The
ice pointed north.
From there, I could see another taller post. I puzzled a bit, but then
noticed the beginnings of a clue under the ice on the pole. I smashed the ice with a
trekking pole. Although the directional CDT sign was gone, I could see its
shape on the pole. It pointed me along the Divide, perpendicular to my
current path. Only there was no path along the Divide, just snow sitting
on top of frozen ground extending into the enclosed white foreground.
I was hiking the CDT, good conditions or not. I'd already invested a
climb of more than 2,000' to get here. The southbound trail was only one
I set out in to the white on a course that felt like the route a trail
would take. I didn't quite feel right, but a CDT post that appeared out of
the white air onfirmed that it was. Encouraged by my first 100 yards, I
continued. The next 100 yards did not bring a post, nor the next 50. I
kept thinking, "I just have to be looking for it a little harder. It has
to be there." I was also focused on discerning the tread. I knew that I
was probably missing a small clue that would tell me where my feet should
be walking. Nothing came as I the visual envelope closed around me and
the insistent wind tried to make me submit.
I began to think about cooking dinner in this cold, crooked wind, about
finding a place to set up camp, about the comfort of the night ahead.
Standing in the wind of white, I suddenly flashed on what it might be like
to have an untethered space walk (EVA-extra-vehicular activity, I think,
I was untethered in the weather. I could not see my last point of
reference and did not know if there was ever going to be a next point of
reference. Was I willing to walk blindly on hope, climbing to greater
altitudes as the evening started?
I decided to head back. I grew anxious to see the post closest to me as I
walked and it did not appear. It's at that point that I noticed that I
had not been leaving tracks on the icy ground. I could not follow my
tracks back to where I'd been.
I knew I could get there, so I just kept on walking. Soon it appeared out
of the white, then the tall post, then the post for northbounders. I got
my wildlife reward during this retreat. The weasle didn't know what to
make of my lumbering orange and black shape emerging from the whiteness.
It finally retreated to its hole only to pop its head up one last time.
It was so cute.
The distraction was not great enough for me to note that once again, I was
northbound on the CDT.
Darkness was less than 2 hours away, so I made a speedy descent, forgoing
dinner until later.
The views to the north began to open up as I walked down. The white
clouds were only local, and to the north, they came and went. When they
were gone, I could see 50 miles into a lower fall landscape free of snow.
It was quite striking until with white clouds returned, closing with
window to the rest of the world.
On my descent, I began to see blue sky. I could look up, back toward the high
valley that held the pass, and see it shrouded in white. I wasn't sure
coming down was the right decision, but I'd made it. I could always be
I hit the Devil's Thumb junction and this time went the third direction,
toward the trailhead, and, presumably, level spots for camping.
It was after dark before I found a nice spot by a quiet stream. I set up
my tent, which still had frost on the inside. It was never warm enough
during the day to melt the frost, even though my tent was on the outside
of my pack. I did a good bear hang and settled into my tent to review the
map and come up with some options. Where did this trailhead road lead?
Where would I come out? Would I be doing MORE roadwalks when there was
perfectly good Divide awaiting my steps?