What a long day of hiking. It’s not that I did a lot of miles, just a lot happened.
The rain of yesterday evening stopped at some point during the night, which was good because of the leaking. I didn’t sleep much, or at least it felt like I didn’t sleep much because of the wet in my tent and bag.
I noticed in the early morning that the wind had shifted about 130 degrees, so that it was blowing directly into my tent door. Lovely, but manageable. A little later, after dozing off, I woke up and looked out. I was still in the clouds. I thought, “I have the time. I’m going to wait until this burns off.”
That decision was a mistake because it soon began raining. The wind carried the rain directly into my tent. I was going to have a cold last morning in Colorado. The CDT always wins.
I got it all together and began hiking. I had on all my wool and my insulating jacket under my rain gear, so I was cosy. At some point I took off my glasses because the water on them made it hard to see. As it was, I could see about 30′ around me because of the fog and clouds.
I generally rely on visuals tied to maps to determine where I’m going, especially when hiking on top of the Divide, like I was today. The fog ruled that out. Both the guide book and the notes on the maps advised to stay on the trail and specifically warned against using the contours on the map to revise the route for less up and down.
I was hiking with my head low against the wind with just a short bit of trail in sight at any given moment. I looked up every once in a while, which expanded my view a bit, but not to the point that I could see any major landmarks around me because of the fog. And I hiked.
At some point, I dropped into, then below, treeline. I wasn’t supposed to do that according to the map. Crap.
I was clearly on A trail, but not a trail on the map. The GPS put me lower than I should have been. Rather than retrace my steps, I made the possibly risky decision to continue on this unmapped trail. At my first major water, I came to a trail junction with a sign. Clearly marked downhill was the Henderson Mine Spur Trail. The sign also said Continental Divide Trail and had an arrow that pointed between the other two directions I could take. I kept on my path, trusting my instincts that this path would lead somewhere useful, or at least a salvageabe position. I crossed the water sources I expected, and the next GPS placement put me right below Vasquez Pass, meaning I had side-stepped Vasquez Peak and the Pass, one of the major ups and downs mentioned in the guide book. Cool, since there were no views anyway.
The trail began to switchback up, and in my climbing and the lack of sun, I lost track of the direction. I moved into a period where I had to trust my compass. I thought I was heading south when my compass told me I was heading north. I had nothing else except this tool to keep me, literally, on track.
I soon determined that the tread was taking me to the top of the next peak on the CDT. Cool. Since it had, I also surmised that I was on the trail that Jim Wolf, author of the guide book, had said to take rather than the cross-country route described and mapped if it could be found.
The map showed that this peak had several radiating ridges. In the whiteness, I could only see the one I’d just come up. I was also under the distinct impression that I was making a giant U-turn, looping back above where I’d been in the trees earlier because of my disorientation. So I set a bearing on my compass based on my map and headed in the direction it told me to go.
It worked like it was supposed to work. I walked in complete trust in the system, and retained a reluctant willingness to backtrack if I needed to. As I continued through the fog, I began to look for the turn that marked what appeared to be the Divide’s departure from the trail. The trail on the map continues straight ahead while the Divide, and the CDT, took a right turn on the side ridge.
I reached a widening point and in my limited field of vision, saw the
trail heading off. (Where there was mapped trail, I saw nothing on the ground.) I let the direction settle a bit and pulled out my compass: right on the bearing it should be. I continued.
As I dropped, the clouds began to open up a bit. I got to see some of the beauty I’d been missing. As the sound of cars indicated that I was close to Highway 40, I got some glimpses across the way. I could see the trail I took down the former ski area to Berthoud Pass when I left the trail in 2004. I was a Berthoud Pass before I knew it.
I got a ride to Georgetown in a new pickup truck. I have special appreciation for a guy that picks up a soaking, dripping wet dirty backpacker in a truck with less than 700 miles on it. Thank you again to the driver on his way back to Denver.
I stood in the rain for a little less than an hour trying to get a ride from Georgetown to Silverthorne after eating two Chinese lunches. Having no luck with the shiny, happy people, I decided I would just get a room and wait for my friends in Silverthorne, Terra and Linda, to pick me up on their way back to Denver tomorrow. I called them to let them know and Linda offered to come pick me up.
As in 2004, I had a comfortable stay in their ski condo. And, as in 2004, they had a third dog with them, Gertie, whose owner is in Spain. I used their garage to begin to dry out my sopping pack.