Rabbit Ears Range. Never Summer Wilderness. Rocky Mountain National Park- wow! Stalked by a mountain lion? Grand Lake ice cream binge.
I grabbed a sandwich to eat and a sandwich to-go from Backcountry Provisions on the way out of town. Until next time Steamboat…
I got an Uber up to the Continental Divide at Rabbit Ears Pass just east of town on US 40. It was already 4 p.m., and I wanted to get to camp early to set up my new tent before dark, so I wasn’t expecting to get in many miles today. I arrived at where the trail started and the trail through this section was actually a road walk, state road CO14. Given that I was already in a car and that more than anything I hate pavement road walking, I asked the Uber driver to take me the 10 miles down CO14 and save me the fun of road walking and roadside camping.
After the 10 mile road section, the ‘trail’ took a turn to the east into a well maintained gravel road. As we pulled in two other hikers Mud and CheeseSnake were starting the walk down that road, they’d skipped the 10 mile road walk too, so I didn’t feel too bad. Given the road was in great condition and I had an Uber driver with a Subaru, Mud and CheeseSnake jumped in and he gave us a ride another 10 miles until the road became more rugged. I would never get a ride around actual trail, but where the trail is a road it seems that most hikers get a ride through it if a car happens to come along, which often it doesn’t on the more remote roads but does on the roads near towns. Some hikers are very pure to the CDT experience and literally connect their footsteps from Canada to Mexico or vice versa, I have so much respect for these dedicated hikers. She-Ra last year for instance is an inspiring model in this regard, you should check out her blog, she did the CDT nobo last year and has done some very awesome packrafting adventures this summer too: SheraHikes.
I hiked with Mud along the gravel road for 5 miles before we decided to camp. It was a really pretty afternoon, soft orange light filtering through the trees and some wild looking clouds courtesy of a nearby forest fire. We came across a great spot to camp just off the road and decided to set up camp a little early. It was pretty exciting setting up my new tent, my new home! My right knee was bugging me a little so I spent some time stretching before jumping into my sleeping bag for the night.
I slept so well last night! I love my new home, love it. So spacious and warm. My Zpacks solplex tarp tent is so amazing for 1 pound, but for fall in Colorado it wasn’t going to keep me warm enough, so the extra pound and a bit for an actual tent I think will turn out to be a good investment.
The morning started off with some bonus miles. I should have turned off the gravel road onto a trail after a few miles, but somehow I totally missed it and walked an extra half mile down the road before realizing I was off-route. Not wanting to backtrack all the way I navigated my way down to it cross country.
The trail today was a mixture of ridgeline and valley walking, so lots of ups and downs, nothing spectacular but very nice walking. I saw Mud late in the day, he’d set up camp in a valley before the climb up to the ridge leading to Parkview Mountain. Armed with a clear weather forecast and my awesome new home, I wanted to camp up on the ridge and so I kept going an extra mile or so. Good thing I did as the sunset was very stunning.
I set up my tent behind some shrubs to get a bit of protection from the wind, but it was going to be a cold one tonight thanks to the clear sky, wind, fall temps and being at 11,200ft. It got very cold quickly, so I ate dinner in my sleeping bag. Dinner in bed, in my new home, was very satisfying, I would never have done that in Grizzly country.
Well, I didn’t make great mileage today. The day started with summiting Parkview Mountain at 12,300ft and being the CDT there was no or barely no trail and the descent was a steep rocky form of hell. But it was definitely worth it, the summit view was very dramatic. There was a little shelter on top, I think a fire lookout of some sort, that I hung out in for a while to stay warm and eat my morning snack. The inside was covered in “i was here” type comments written on the wall. It was cool looking around seeing the names of some of the hikers that I’ve met this year or last. Cookie Monster was even up there! If you remember, I hiked with Cookie for a few days from the Mexican border when I started the CDT in 2015. I added my own to the wall and started the descent from hell.
My knee was still bugging me a little so I decided to bust out my band for the first time in months. Andrea, my PT, had me use the band to activate my Glute Min muscles back when they were being lazy and letting my knees do their work. It has been in my bounce box since Glacier and I just added it back into my pack in Steamboat. Glad I did as it definitely wakes up any lazy Glute muscles quickly.
Aside from briefly seeing Mud in the morning up at the summit of Parkview Mountain, I didn’t see anyone all day. I love the solitude on this trail, in this overly populated and busy world, it’s so rare to be able travel many miles through incredible country without encountering other human travelers. I passed an information board for the Never Summer Wilderness and enjoyed reading this passage from the Wilderness Act, Wilderness is… “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
I set up camp at 11,300 ft just below Bowen Pass in a little meadow by a spring. It was a very cold night, but my new home kept me toasty warm. I ate dinner and breakfast in my tent, it was cold! I’ve actually slept with my food the past 3 nights, a habit I should probably break before I get too comfortable with it. Most hikers sleep with their food, but there’s definitely good reason not to with black bears around. They aren’t looking to eat me, but they definitely try to get at human food if they smell it.
I woke to Elk bugling, if you haven’t heard the sound of an Elk bugle, you should listen to this YouTube, it’s a very weird and slightly creepy sound: Elk bugle YouTube. As far as wildlife goes, I think I’ve seen more Elk than any other animal on this trail. They’re beautiful animals. They usually notice me first and I become aware of them when I hear the thundering sound of the herd running down the mountain away from me.
Today was pretty cruisy, after an initial climb to Bowen Pass the trail was downhill all the way to Highway 34 and the boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park. I crossed a very small Colorado River, as i’m pretty near to the headwaters here, then made my way to the highway. I made a sign to hitch into Grand Lake, I don’t need to hike this section as i’m going to hike the Rocky Mountain loop from Grand Lake and that will connect my trail footsteps when I do so. Back to good hitching luck, a lovely couple from South Carolina picked me up and drove me all the way into the main street of Grand Lake. But the Creepy Cowboy did teach me a thing or two, I now hitch with some pepper spray in my pocket. I left my bear spray with Trish in Steamboat and instead am carrying a much smaller and lighter version of the same thing.
Rocky Mountain National Park loop!
Ahhh, today was so awesome! RMNP is a gorgeous Park.
The day stated with 12 miles of gradual uphill on the North Inlet Trail. Boy was it a cold one too, the temp was below freezing until about 10:30 a.m. I passed a few groups of backpackers headed out from campsites, all sporting truly enormous backpacks. I can say that because just a few years ago I was sporting the ‘evil backpack’ too. I got a few random comments about why I was this far into the Park with such a small backpack, I replied that I was just day-hiking the loop, and this got me even more confused looks because the loop is as long as a marathon. I am staying in Grand Lake and so I left everything in my room and hiked with just food, water, rain gear and a few extra warm layers. In trail-land this is called slack-packing. Man, I could do 28 miles everyday with such a light pack!
The top 5 miles of the loop meandered around above 12,000ft and were fantastic, your classic Colorado above tree-line, 360 degree mountain top beauty; throw in 30 mph winds and it was a pretty rugged feeling up there. There were even a couple of glaciers. I took my time, including a side-trip up Flattop Mountain towards Halletts Peak and taking at least a gazillion photos.
The descent was 10 miles of fairly gradual trail through some great terrain on the Tonahutu Trail, I grooved my way down listening to some reggae music. The highlight of the descent was definitely Granite Falls. I hit it at about 6:30 p.m., the perfect time for soft sunset lighting. The granite of the falls was polished and rounded like moon craters, the water careened down the craters and the orange light filtered through it in a really surreal way. I was mesmorized, and despite the approaching dark I couldn’t pull myself away.
I walked the last 5 miles in the dark. I got a new headlamp back in Yellowstone and it’s really great for night-hiking. It’s very practical as it’s USB rechargeable and has some kind of technology whereby the light adjusts to what you’re looking at, so when I look at my feet it adjusts to a short range and when I look 50 yards down the trail it adjusts within a second to that distance. Check it out here if you’re interested: Petzl Tikka Reactik
About 4 miles from the trailhead in Grand Lake I spotted two eyes looking at me about 20 yards ahead below the trail. There were lots of Mountain Lion warnings in Grand Lake so of course that’s where my mind went. I waved my poles above my head, blew in my whistle and shouted at the animal. It didn’t move for what seemed like the longest time, but after probably a minute or so it did disappear, to where I don’t know. After waiting a few minutes, I continued down the trail with a rock in my pocked and pepper spray in my hand. I turned around every 20 seconds or so for the first mile and whatever the animal was it was following me for that time. Each time I saw it I stopped and stood tall, waving my arms in the air and blowing in my whistle and yelling at it, then waited a minute or two before moving on. You don’t want to seem like you’re fleeing because the lion thinks you’re prey, but I didn’t want to stand there all night either. Anyway, it was a slow mile. It probably wasn’t a lion, but i’ll never know!
I got back to the lodge after 10 p.m. and crashed in bed. What a day! This is part of why I made the decision to skip ahead to Colorado. A lot of hikers skip this loop because it takes an extra day and there’s an alternate route to bypass it that is 22 miles shorter. I’m done with that mentality, if I want to hike a longer more scenic route, i’m going to. I may not finish the CDT this year, but that’s just fine with me. I’m in Colorado, i’m going to see it!
Rest in Grand Lake
Hello Grand Lake! Aren’t you a pretty little town. This place is the perfect laid-back tourist haven and gets a lot of traffic from people driving the road through Rocky Mountain National Park.
The town has two delicious ice cream shops, a taco window, many coffee shops, a great outfitter and lots of tourist retail shops and restaurants. I spent some time wandering around all of it. There was even a little artisan market on main street, which surprise surprise is called ‘Grand Avenue’. Just like Pinedale in Wyoming has Pine Street and Pine River, Grand Lake has Grand Lake (a big lake) and Grand Avenue. Aside from resupply shopping, I worked on my blog in a coffee shop and ate ice cream. When else in my life can I eat whatever and as much as I want, all day long, and do so completely guilt free? It’s a beautiful thing. Ha. And the ice cream was home-made, can you blame me?
While at the outfitter shop, i picked up shoes #7 for the trail, a pair of Chacos. My shoes, the new ones from Steamboat are doing really well, a little too early to say for sure, but i’m cautiously optimistic that they’re the ones! Yay. This is the first time all trail that I’ve finished a segment without a blister or some kind of foot pain. Progress! These new Chacos are for stream crossings, camp, town and I’ll also be able to hike in them. I’m not so sure about hiking in sandals, but there are a few hikers that do it, and swear by it. So, i’m going to give it a shot. That way i’ll have 2 pair of shoes while i’m out there and can rotate them around to keep my feet from getting bored by the same shoe mile after mile. We’ll see, I refuse to give up in the battle of Kate vs feet. I will prevail, feet, i will prevail… one day! And then i’ll open up a used shoe store on ebay when I get home to deal with all of these dud shoes!
I started a course of Prednisone, a steroidal anti-inflammatory, while in town. I’ve been carrying it the whole trail but haven’t felt the need to bust it out yet. I’m not sure what’s going on with my knee but it’s been with me on and off since a few days before I hit Green River Lakes up in Wyoming, actually since the night I ran away from the Creepy Cowboy. It’s the same knee I battled last fall and most of the winter. I’m thinking I just got lazy at some point and my gait or alignment was off/is off and is tweaking my knee again. So, as you read earlier with the band, I’ve started some exercises/drills to get my core and glutes re-engaged, I’ve been using my trigger point ball to roll out my leg and butt muscles, icing it and just to make sure I zap it, the Prednisone. Hopefully that does the trick. There’s almost always something that feels a little tweaked for me on this trail, but usually it passes after a few days, so given that this is lingering a little I want to nab it before it gets worse. I may even stay in town an extra day to rest it and get a massage. Oh darn, more ice cream.
I’m staying at the Shadowcliff Lodge, which is a pretty interesting place. It’s a 401C non-profit and states that its mission is to be “an eco-friendly mountain sanctuary where together we are creating a climate for a restorative world”. It’s a very zen kinda place set at in the foothills of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Thanks for reading!