Saturday, September 25, 2004
The Jewel in the Crown in Almost a Day
The Jewel in the Crown in Almost a Day
I started hiking at 8:50 AM, stopped at 7:15 PM, and hiked 6.7 miles. My
breaks were short. The terrain was challenging. The miles are also
Jonathan miles, so they are lean. Let's see; Wolf puts me at a much more
respectable 7.5 miles.
Wolf also says that the section from Roger's Pass to Berthoud Pass is "the
crown jewel of the Continental Divide Trail." I tried to hike all 10.3
miles today, but I ran out of daylight.
Right now I'm camped more than halfway up Mt. Flora (CO14). More about
Last night was cold, cold, cold. Tonight I still have ice from last night
in my water bottles (which also tells you how cold it was today). This
morning my shoes were frozen nearly solid. I spent many minutes on each
foot coaxing each into to the shoe. Once I got them in, I couldn't really
tighten them. That would have to wait until after 45 minutes of hiking to
thaw them out. I blocked out the memory of the length of time my toes
were painfully cold, but it was more than an hour. Luckily, cold toes do
not impare basic hiking.
Also, luckily, the first 1.5 miles of my hiking this morning was little
more than basic hiking. The only element added to the basic part of the
hiking was snow. Once I hit the Ute Trail (CO14), which is west-facing, I
was negotiating snow drifts on the trail.
Most of the morning I was within sight of lots of large animal tracks. I
thought for a long time that they might be mountain lion tracks, but
ultimately decided they must be coyote tracks because of the occasional
claw mark as part of the track. Cool. I have to learn my tracks better
though. I should be able to distinguish between canine and feline at a
Once I left the Ute Trail, I spent the rest of the day hiking
cross-country across the tops of mountains. Sometimes I had a faint path
to follow, but it was always under snow. Cairns helped me find the way
too, but mostly I simply had to read the guidebook and follow the Divide.
James Peak was my first big climb, up 1,444' to 13,294'. I was the first
to climb up that side of James Peak since the snow, but once I was on top
I saw prints of someone who had been up from the other side. I enjoyed
lunch on top, taking advantage of the only curved rock shelter up there
that was oriented to shelter me from today's wind. The rest were for winds
from storms coming in the opposite direction.
Then I saw people.
Today's a Saturday, so I thought I might encounter other humans, just not
so many. I saw six people in three parties on the backside of James Peak.
One of the people was Leonard, who knew this area. He gave me lots of
My next section of trail was the hardest I've ever done on any hike: the
notch above Ice Lake (and between James Peak and Bancroft Peak). What made
its difficulty of note was the snow, and perhaps the route I selected.
The drop off on both sides was incredibly steep. I managed just fine, but
would have hated it if I'd taken someone there who wasn't up for it. My
route had three-point climbing, blind backward descents, and too much
trusting that there was no void below the snow.
Parry Peak was next. I'd misread the map and thought it said Party Peak,
which seemed apropos, since Parry Peak is the highest point on the entire
CDT at 13,391'. Party!
Given that all the peaks today were over 13,000', it seem a little silly
to single out one as the highest. They were all great.
After Parry Peak, I got to cross a great saddle with a strong cornice. I
saw the corince as I descended toward the saddle, and admired it for its
Then the low clouds came in and brought a cold wind with them. And thunder.
Weather had been happening all around me, but I'd been pretty lucky. I
decided on an early dinner to try to wait out the clouds and thunder, but
only managed to wait out the thunder.
My navigation after dinner was by GPS and compass. I could see only 20 or
30 feet in the fog-like clouds. So, I set off into the whiteness, at first
making a major adjustment in my course, then refining it until I found the
base of Mt. Flora. I never thought it would be hard to find a mountain,
but it was. My main difficulty was that I forgot that I had to drop
before climbing the peak. I saw the layout from the last peak, but a
snowy, long-ish dinner break expunged that helpful fact. I walked into
the windy, white void, weary of losing elevation.
As soon as I started climbing, hail started falling. Then I realized it
was 7PM. Not good.
I had hoped to make it to Berthoud Pass tonight so that I could hitch to
some place warm and dry. More notably, being near the top of a 13,000'
peak is not the best spot to think about camping. But 7PM on September
25th in Colorado means time to start looking for a flat spot.
Luckily, I did find a reasonably flat spot with not too much snow.
Styrofoam-like bits of hail covered the ground as I set up my tent. I'm
using the maximum number of tent pegs tonight. I can set up with as few
as four, but tonight I have ten. This tent's not going anywhere.
The only sparkling tonight is the frost on the ceiling of my tent.