On this hike I rarely took time to smell the flowers. It’s the end of July and the wildflowers are still prolific at altitude and the Colorado Columbine always catches your eye. It just wasn’t a hike that I wanted to take the time to get the iPhone camera out and snap away. Besides I’d just done this exact route either last year or the year before on my mountain bike.
The occasion to duplicate a route I’d just recently done, was that it was some place with sufficient distance, close to home and where I could snag a ride to the trailhead without inconveniencing anyone (thanks Christopher). I’ve wanted to know, ever since I met a thru hiker (incidentally on this same trail while I was mountain biking) who had averaged 33 miles per day out of Denver on the 550 mile Colorado Trail to Durango. He’s the first UltraLight hiker I ever met and I was fascinated on how it was possible to cover over 30 miles a day with a backpack.
Now that I am an UltraLight backpacker I’ve wanted to learn how many miles I could cover in a day (realizing that he’d done that for over 14 days in a row). With several time constraints, re-covering the same segment of the Colorado Trail made perfect sense, so I hastily packed my gear and hitched a ride to Molas Pass above Silverton. Starting just before noon on Saturday I managed to make my goal at the top of Junction Creek by Sunday noon. (Daniel and grand girls were arriving from Portland late Sunday).
Every hike is a shake down, but this one had several things I wanted to test, besides my body. New hiking shoes, the iPhone Gaia GPS system, new poles, a SteriPen water purifier and most important how fast I could travel with 8.5# of base weight in my pack. I’m sure I started out too fast, because at the 3 hour mark, when I took my first break, another UL hiker breezed by and I never saw him again.
First day there was no rain, only loud clatterings of thunder and lots of lightening south of my track. I managed 20.5 miles when I quit walking at 8 PM, this was just shy of my first mt.bike camp from the year before. Next day looked wonderful, and I was doing great until I missed a trail marker when I merged into a forest service road. Evidently the route was just 100 yards up the road to the right, but I was expecting the trail to go left and missed the trail entirely. I followed 4 mt. biker tracks I’d seen pass me earlier, down a trail I later learned was Hotel Draw, and it was well over an hour before I realized I was on a descending ridge to the east of where I was supposed to be. Turning around an hiking uphill an hour was a hard decision, but once I got back on the right trail I was glad I had.
I was trying to make 30 miles that day but fell about a half mile short when I chose a campsite just below a towering scree slope at 8:30 PM, with rain starting to close in. I’d stopped about 6 PM during a short squall to cook dinner in the trees, so all I had to do was put up the tent and bed down. Funny thing I learned was, my body was so sore that I couldn’t get to sleep. No position was comfortable and it took 2 ibuprofen at midnight to settle me down. Heavy rain all night tested my newest UL tent and proved it dry. I’ve seldom, if ever, broke camp in the rain but Sunday morning I did, rolling my tent up last and stowing it outside the pack, on top.
It rained the entire morning, unusual for the La Platas, as the thunderstorms generally come in about noon. Traversing Indian Ridge was exciting with driving rain and hail at over 12,000′ and no trees to break up the torrent. Just as I headed down from the last pass the rain abetted and I was possible to view the vast forest below. I used the Spot Locator to signal Stanna that I was approaching the trailhead meeting point and she was there just before I got to the intersection.
Met and saw a number of hikers and bikers along the way. Most interesting was seeing 3 solo bike packers, one of whom was a racer from the Colorado Trail race which started 7 days earlier. She had gotten altitude sickness in climbing the first 6,000′ out of Durango and bailed down to Rico on the western side of the LaPlata mountains. After recovering for 4 days, she set out again to finish the race to Denver. Wish I’d taken her photo as we talked about 10 minutes at a stream. Her bike had much the same gear I use on my bikepacking rig.
With the extra mileage down Hotel Draw I’d covered 61 miles in 48 hours, from noon Friday to noon Sunday. What I learned was: 20 miles is okay, 25 is tiring and 30 makes for a real hard day. I’m still trying to validate the elevation gain and loss, but my GPS says 34,000′. My new shoes aren’t that great, I need waterproof over-mitts and I should have loaded the topo maps in my GPS before I left. SteriPen works fine but I need to modify the wide-mouth bottle cap. All good to know.