Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Day 29- An Unexpected End To The Journey

Monday September 07, 2020
Little Molas Lake(412.1) to My Car(448.6) 31.7mi
Total Miles: 491.8
Elevation: 10,736ft


It was very warm last night. I was dressed as usual and I kept taking clothes off every twenty minutes. Eventually I got out of my sleeping bag altogether, but that was short lived. I must admit that ice cold Coke right before bed was a mistake. I don’t drink a lot of caffeine on trail and that Coke was just too much, too late. I tossed and turned until after midnight. Lack of sleep really made it difficult to get going this morning. I knew I needed to put in a big mileage day to beat the winter storm approaching. I only have 31ish miles left to hike before I connect my footsteps and end the trail. The storm is predicted to hit at noon tomorrow and I need to be off the trail by then. 8-12” of snow and 40mph winds are predicted for elevations above 9,000ft. I will be above 10,000ft for all 31 of those miles. When I first started packing up it looked like the storm front was already here. It took me awhile to figure out that what I was seeing was the smoke from all of the western wildfires. It was the worst smoke I’ve ever had to hike in. 

Smokey sunrise

As soon as I left camp I started to climb and the wind had already picked up noticeably. I had just enough cell service to check a weather report. It was the same as the day before, I had a little over twenty four hours to get off of the trail. I made really good time for the first three hours. I kept up an almost 3mph pace. By ten o’clock I had hiked almost nine miles. My plan was to hike to the lake at Bolam Pass, which was about twenty miles into my day. I would stop there to cook and eat dinner. There weren’t very many reliable water sources after Bolam Pass and I didn’t want to have to carry a lot of water up another pass to dry camp. From Bolam Pass I would only be eleven miles away from the end. Any miles I could get done after dinner would set me up nicely for my final morning. 

Weather report

The first six miles of the day went by pretty quickly and felt easy. Shortly after taking a quick break to get water I started to have issues from the smoke. I felt like I was having a bout of hay fever. I couldn’t stop sneezing and my nosy started running. Soon after that started up I began to cough heavily and frequently. The rest of the day was quite the struggle. I was coughing up massive amounts of phlegm and blowing snot rockets left and right. I wish I could say that my last day was beautiful and very scenic, but for most of the day I couldn’t see more than a half mile away. At one point I couldn’t see farther than a few football fields away. 

View from a ridge line 

I only saw one other thruhiker today. Everyone else was waiting out the storm in Silverton. I tried hard all morning to catch up to the guy ahead of me. He passed me when I stopped to get the weather report and I didn’t think about talking to him about the weather then. The longer I hiked the more concerned I became that he didn’t know about the storm. There were a lot of mountain bikers on the trail. I chatted briefly with one lady while I was stopped to get water. She was concerned that I didn’t know about the storm. I explained my unique situation to her. I only had about 26 miles left to hike at that point and I had a plan to get off of the mountain before the snow started. I asked her to keep an eye out for the guy I saw earlier that morning and asked her if she could talk to him and find out if he was prepared for the winter weather. She promised me that she would. Later in the day she was on her way back and told me she had in fact talked to him. He felt like he was capable of hiking forty miles a day and would make it to Durango before it got really bad. He also had a plan B in case he wasn’t making miles quickly enough. I felt much better knowing he was aware of the potential danger that he was in. All day long every mountain bikers that passed me asked if I knew about the storm. It was nice to feel like everyone was looking out for each other. I bet the businesses in Silverton will be doing extremely well with the large amounts of hikers and hunters fleeing the mountains over the next few days. 

Early signs of Autumn 

Really bad smoke

The other problem I had today was power. Not remembering to charge my battery pack before leaving Lake City was finally coming back to bite me in the butt. The solar charger preformed admirably on this hike. It managed to recharge my battery pack almost everyday. Yesterday I spent most of the day in a canyon without direct sunlight and today the smoke was too thick to let light through. I have no doubts that if I had left town with it fully charged it wouldn’t have been an issue. I was going to have to make some hard choices tonight about what to charge. My InReach battery was almost dead, my smart watch takes power, and my cell phone usually drains down to 30% every day. I definitely wasn’t going to waste power on my watch, the hard choice was between my cell phone and the InReach. Ultimately I knew I would choose to keep the InReach charged. That is my lifeline in case something goes terribly wrong. From Bolam Pass to my end of trail I don’t need my cell phone. The trail is easy to follow so I wouldn’t need to use the GutHook app. I started to conserve my cell phone battery by not listening to any music, podcasts, or audiobooks. Honestly it was a nice change of pace. I have relied heavily on audio distractions on this trail. On my other long distance hikes I have gone most of the mornings without listening to anything. I’m not sure why or how I got out of that habit on this trail. 

Last high elevation pass of the trail

The trail to Silverton took a hard turn to the west, taking me within a half a mile of the area I drive past on my way to work everyday. It was surreal seeing these mountains from a different perspective. I immediately recognized where I was, I only wish I would have had clearer skies. I’ll just have to go back once the snow melts and the skies clear. This area is what made me first fall in love with living and working in the southern San Juans mountains. 

Grizzly Peak

High mineral content turns water and rocks white

I had really hoped to make it to Bolam Pass by five o’clock. That would give me time to collect water from the lake, cook, eat, and be back on trail by six o’clock. When I first started the trail I could hike until about 8:15pm and still have time to get setup before it was fully dark. Now I need to be done by about 7:45pm. I figured I could go a little later since I wouldn’t have to cook. I just need enough light to find a flat piece of ground to setup camp on. A lot of the time I’m hiking I’m actually hiking a trail that just happens to be apart of the Colorado Trail. For instance this morning I was on a mountain bike trail called Twin Cities. I got really excited when I noticed that a the last section of the Colorado Trail overlapped with another mountain bike trail that was called the Rico-Silverton Trail. I live in the town of Rico and I had started the morning in Silverton. It felt like a good omen that was how I was finishing up this journey. 

Walking home

I arrived at Bolam Pass at four o’clock. Much better than I had hoped for. That would give me almost three hours to make as many miles as possible before dark. I used my InReach to send a message to WanderLost making sure she was still picking me up tomorrow. We originally had agreed on noon, but now it looked like I would be done by eight or nine o’clock. My battery was running extremely low so I decided to stop the tracking feature and turn it off to conserve the battery for an emergency sos call if needed. 

It was really windy at Bolam Pass so I put on my puffy jacket as I collected water and started preparing my dinner. The smoke had gotten worse again. I had one more major mountain to climb before I could call it a day. I really wasn’t looking forward to tackling Blackhawk Mountain. It would take me over 12,000ft again. My lungs were already on fire, the winds were really picking up, and it was starting to get cold. I thought about just calling one of my friends to come and get me, I was only 45 minutes away from Telluride. I had just decided to suck it up when two guys out hunting stopped in their pickup truck. They have been giving rides to hikers almost everyday for the last week. They wanted to know if I knew about the storm and I told them yes. They then asked me if I wanted a ride and I told them no at first. Then I made the snap decision to ask them for a ride around Blackhawk Pass. I would be skipping 4.8mi of trail, but at that point I didn’t really care. My lungs hurt, I was tired of sneezing, and concerned about the approaching storm. Before anybody calls me out on skipping trail let me add that I have hiked this portion of the trail earlier in the summer. I feel like I kept my purist roots intact. These two guys were awesome! They were by far the easiest people to talk to that I have ever gotten a hitch from before. Scott, the driver, is a banquet chef for a golf course in Arizona. Before I was furloughed due to Covid I ran the banquet and events at my hotel. His friend, Dave, was a really quiet, shy young man also from Arizona. It took almost 30 minutes to drive those 4.8mi and I enjoyed every second of the drive. With missing those miles it looked like I could actually finish the trail tonight. I ended up making it to the Scotch Creek Trailhead, my ending point, at 6:30pm. I officially thruhiked the Colorado Trail in under thirty days. 

Lake at Bolam Pass

Colorado Trail Thruhike 

I setup camp and started to cook dinner, Scott and Dave picked me up at Bolam Pass before I cooked my ramen. As I was cooking two bikepackers came through. They were trying to figure out how to finish the trail before the weather turned nasty. I helped them work out an alternate route for the last forty miles that would keep them at a lower elevation, but would still allow them to finish in Durango. They decided to setup camp next to me. As I waited for my ramen to cook I used my InReach to get a message through to WanderLost so she would know I was at the trailhead. She got back to me immediately and let me know that she had left my car for me earlier in the day. This whole section the trail crisscrosses a forest service road every mile or two. Based on our character limited conversation it sounded like my car was only a mile or two away. I decided to go for it and much to the bewilderment of the bikepackers I packed up my camp. It was 7:30pm when I started hiking again. WanderLost said my car was parked right next to the trail and I couldn’t miss it. I figured I might have to hike a little bit after dark, but that wouldn’t matter. I drive a 2000 Toyota 4Runner that I have turned into a car camping beast. I removed the backseats and have a full size mattress in the back. With dreams of sleeping in my own bed tonight I set out. 

My car is somewhere on this road

Last view before dark

Every time the trail hit the road I expected to see my car, which I named Karen. After two and a half miles I began to get a little concerned. It was now fully dark and Karen was not where I expected her to be. I got just enough cell phone service to send a message to my family. I lied and told them I was making camp. There was no need for them to be worried about me hiking in the dark. I also had a message from WanderLost with a dropped pin showing where my car was. Crap! It looked like it was still four miles away. I couldn’t see well enough to pick out a flat spot to camp and I had already made my mind up that I was sleeping in Karen tonight. The good thing about hiking in the dark with a dying headlamp is that I never felt like the trail was going up or down. It always felt like I was walking on flat ground. I tripped and stumbled on some rocks and roots, but I managed to stay upright. Those miles seemed to take forever since I was walking so slowly. I’ve only night hiked once before, in the desert on the pct, and I didn’t care for it. Tonight was actually pretty peaceful and it felt like a fitting end to this trail. I’ve hiked so much of this trail before that it seemed right to be doing something new on it. I finally stumbled across Karen at 11:59pm. That one minute made all the difference in the world to me. It meant that I hiked the trail in 29 days instead of 30. I also got in my marathon and something I never expected, I got in a 30 mile day. 

Karen, right on the trail as promised

Smoke wasn’t any better in the morning

I really thought I was going to get a great nights sleep, but that wasn’t the case. My legs and feet were on fire and I was hyper alert.  I tossed and turn all night long. I started off in my sleeping bag, but I was burning up. I keep the bed made with sheets, blankets, and a down comforter. That ended up being plenty warm enough for me. I finally fell into a fitful sleep around 2am and slept in until 7:30. WanderLost thoughtfully left me a cooler of water, soda, and hot chocolate mix to do trail magic with, but since there were no hikers on the trail I got on the road. It is only fifteen miles to the highway from where I was parked, but it is a mountainous forest road and it takes me a little while to readjust driving after hiking for so long. I think DP or WanderLost could make the drive in 35-45 min, it took me a little over an hour. Instead of going straight home I made the 35 minute drive down to Dolores for groceries. I knew I had left my pantry bare and with the storm approaching I don’t expect to leave my home for a few days. I picked up the essentials, steak, eggs, lunch meat, bread, champagne, beer, and bourbon. Then I stopped for one last trail breakfast burrito. It wasn’t close to the best I’ve ever had, but it was one of the biggest. 

Breakfast burrito

I made it home just as it began to sleet and hail. I sat on the couch and started to call home, but then I caught a whiff of myself. Priority number one changed to taking a long hot shower. I called home to let the parents know I was safe and warm. Turns out they thought I was still on trail all morning and were really worried about the weather. My dad was constantly checking the weather and was concerned. I didn’t realize that they had no way of knowing about my change of plans and about Karen being on the top of a mountain waiting for me. Oops! I usually do a better job of easing their fears. 

Well, that’s all I’ve got for this trail. I know this was a whole lot shorter of an adventure, but I hope you enjoyed following along with me. For those of you who were wondering, Jeff “Legend” Garmire, did break the record for the overall Fastest Known Time on the Colorado Trail. 

Legend’s FKT

I will post a few gear reviews in the next few days. If you have any questions feel free to email me at 5millionstepswithyoda@gmail.com


Don't let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use."

—Earl Nightingale










9 comments:

  1. Timing is everything in so many ways on your last day on the CT. Connecting with Scott and Dave and taking the ride around Blackhawk Pass was a real help to your finishing the CT in 30 days. Congratulations on that! And thank goodness for your technology battery situation holding out. And I love your grocery list! I loved following your CT hike; thanks for taking us along.

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  2. OH MY - what a finish! CONGRATS on once again attaining another impressive goal! Thankful you're safely home - sure would like to see you back in Florida for a visit soon!!

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  3. Holy Schnikies, 30plus miles! You're crazy, but I bet that was the right call. And what a great thing WanderLost had put your car near the trail!

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  4. Glad you're home safe and sound after all the weather concerns, Katie! Congrats on completing another trail! I continue to be amazed!

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  5. What can I say, you’re my hiking hero. Will miss your blogs until another adventure can be started🏜
    You had quite a few days and we all enjoyed following you to the end. Until next time, Yoda😘

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  6. Congratulations! Enjoyed following along on your adventures as always!

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  7. Congrats Yoda! Was great following your adventures again! Can't wait til the next one! Take care my friend.

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  8. Congratulations Katie! Your past experiences, strategic thinking skills, helpful folks and trail luck combined for an awesome and safe finish! Thank you for sharing your hike with us!

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