Day 93: Mt. Zirkel Wilderness & Lost Ranger Peak (1293-1322)

The skies were bright blue when we woke up with only a couple puffs of clouds. After the storms we experienced throughout the night, we were thankful for this. We followed the trail weaving through forests and meadows as we walked along the plateau. Views of the mountains, still streaked with snow behind us with the rocky cliffs of the Zirkels in front of us. Between it all was seemingly flat land saddling the dramatic mountainside.

As we came up and over a rolling hill, we stopped in our tracks at the sight of Elk in a field. Not one, not thirty, but upwards of a hundred elk grazed before us. We quietly walked passed trying to not disturbed them but also interested in observing them for as long as we could. As Garbelly inched closer, the wind blew our scent their way and they trotted off into the woods.

After winding up and down nicely graded trail with the occasional patch of snow, we arrived at a small stream. While only a few inches wide, it was carved deep into the grass suggesting its old age. As we filtered the icy water, we ate a small snack and decided to make it over Lost Ranger peak before any afternoon storms trapped us below the mountain.

The climb up to Lost Ranger was spectacular and an easy climb. Once we were at the top, a group of nearly twenty bighorn sheep wandered across the trail stopping to look at us before disappearing over the edge. We decided to eat lunch up there, not minding the sun due to the enjoyable breeze that had started up. In the distance we could see miles and miles of burn area. We knew there would be a lot of downed trees to climb over in the second half of our day.

We started our descent saying bye to the last Pikas we would surely see for awhile. The ground became boggy and soaked our feet. Every now and then we walked over mounds of snow sometimes over ten feet tall. After descending for awhile with water logged shoes, we passed by a lake occupied by swimmers and anglers. The sight of people near an alpine lake meant that the trees were most likely cut and we would not be climbing over many downed trees. After we passed through a trailhead parking lot, we found trail again that climbed up to a narrow ridge away from the road. With a perfect view of the Zirkels, we decided to pitch our tent and eat dinner with a view.

 

Cheers!

Garbelly & Critter

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Day 92: Leaving Steamboat Springs (1275-1293)

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It only took two hitches to get back on trail with the first ride coming from Joe, our Steamboat Trail Angel. The second from a young man from North Carolina who had woken up a couple hours earlier. Once on trail, we were both struggling with motivation to make miles. As we passed through campgrounds and trailheads, we did not aim to move very quickly. Our only goal was to keep moving even if it was at our snail pace.

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We came to a beautiful lake but decided to take lunch at Lost Lake, a little bit off trail. There, Garbelly threw the Tenkara, and Critter rested her head on her pack falling into a heavy nap. A very large rainbow passed by but fled quickly as the wind blew in large choppy waves. Time went by so quickly and before we knew it we had been there for almost two hours. We packed up and headed back to trail.

We continued on climbing up to a field where we could see Rabbit Ears Pass in the distance. Soon we made it to the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness boundary. As a storm moved in, we set up camp in the driest and furthest away from beetle killed trees. While we were falling asleep the rain picked up followed by gentle thunder.

Cheers! 

Garbelly & Critter

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Day 90-91: Into Steamboat Springs & Zero Day (1260-1275)

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We woke up to a soaking wet tent from the storm over night. The mosquitoes were beginning to buzz again but the sun was starting to peak in between the trees. We packed up and began our bushwhack back to one of the roads. The first way we went on the road led us to private property so we backtracked in the other direction. This did not make us the happiest campers but we did not want to trespass. Finally, with the highway in sight we followed the dirt road. To both of our relief, we reached Highway 14 by mid-morning. We stuck out our thumbs to the passing cars and truck. Nothing. We tried several more times but only received waves or shrugs from the drivers. Our last option was to begin walking. We had not made it a couple of yards down the highway when a car heading in the opposite direction slowed and asked if we needed a ride. Quickly, we found out that she had passed us, found a spot down the highway to turn around, and she was headed into Steamboat Springs. We jumped in. Lucy was from North Carolina and has a bunch of family in Nashville. We found out how much in common we had with her and even we're stoked to hear that she and her boyfriend just quit their jobs at a Dude Ranch to explore life. We could relate, and we could not help but congratulate and support their new adventure! It is not easy doing what she is starting out to do but it is so incredibly rewarding. We quickly became friends and built a very special trust among each other regardless of the short interaction.

 She dropped us off in Steamboat right outside Ski Haus, a local gear shop. We wandered in to pick up some canister fuel and bug spray before heading into downtown to grab some lunch at a sushi restaurant. Then we grabbed some ice cream before heading to the Airbnb we had booked for the night. A huge shoutout to the amazing Lisa Seckman for her gift of a night at an Airbnb. Thank you so much!

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The rest of the evening we pretty much just lounged around the apartment, leaving only to meet our good friend, David Perry, from Nashville and his family at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. It is funny and amazing how timing works out so perfectly. We also ran into Charlie and Hannah! Back at the apartment we ordered pizza and watched The Goonies.

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The next morning we had breakfast at Winona's before running to the Post Office and the grocery store. Charlie and Hannah mentioned that they were going to go see Wonder Woman, and we quickly decided that seeing a movie would be a perfect way to spend the day. We met them at the movie theater, ordered a big bag of popcorn, and made ourselves comfortable in our seats. After the movie, we all headed over to City Market to resupply. While we were aimlessly walking around the store, a man came up to us and before we knew it he invited us to his house for dinner, a place to shower, do laundry, and a place to stay the night. We loaded up in his car, and he drove to pick up four dogs, which Critter happily sat in the back seat with all of them. We ran down a trail to check out Fish Creek Falls before heading to his house.

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He made spaghetti with zucchini noodles and veggies for dinner. We talked about our hike and he shared stories and pictures of his hike on the John Muir Trail.

We slept really well, and we even got to sleep in an extra thirty minutes!

Always Remember--Goonies Never Say Die!

Garbelly & Critter

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Day 89: 1233 to 1260

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Today, we wanted to achieve big miles so we really hunkered down and kept our eyes on the trail. The morning started out with a sighting for a few Grouse, or Turkey Pheasants as Critter calls them, and some very fresh bear scat. Then as we followed the trail we climbed and descended, like a roller coaster, around Haystack Mountain before beginning our climb up to a ridge near Sheep Mountain.

Once we reached the top of the ridge, storm clouds appear out of nowhere. We hastily finished the climb following the ridge line before working our way down to a stream. During this stretch we have started to see a lot more exposed rock, which is just beautiful against the pine forests and blue sky. Around each turn, we had new views that left us speechless.

Once we reached the water, we sat down for a quick lunch just as it started to sprinkle on us. We met two fellow hikers, D=rt and Dora, who were also having lunch by the stream before we all headed down trail. At a junction with the Arapaho Ridge Trail, we decided to follow this trail instead of the traditional CDT out of anticipation of storms moving in during the evening. The last thing we wanted would be to get caught on the ridge during a storm, especially while camping. Also, with Garbelly becoming an Uncle any day now, we did not want to take the risk.

We followed a beautiful trail that kept us along the creek. Only a couple of miles down the trail, we heard a rustling and then saw a large Moose stir from his brushy hiding spot on the water. The trail was simply beautiful, and we were immediately thrilled to have chosen to stay low. As soon as we set up camp, the anticipated storm become an actual storm, but we were able to sleep unnerved and safe.

 

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Day 88: 1210 to 1233 (Never Summer Wilderness)

When Garbelly woke up, it was fairly dark and mostly silent. A few birds were also waking up and beginning to sing. Laying still as the moon's light still illuminated the tent, he listened to every small crunch of a stick and drop of a pine needle onto the tent. Then, the loud clomping of moose hooves passed by as they gently shook the ground. As this sound passed, another moved in seemingly just as loud yet clearly nothing with hooves. Was it a bear? Part of Garbelly hoped it was since he had yet to see one on this hike. Or maybe it was a mountain lion, although that was fairly unlikely since they were usually extremely stealthy. It came closer. Each step boomed through our campsite. Without waking Critter, he leaned up to peek out of the mesh. Four rather large feet were apparent under the vestibule. Four white furry feet. It was our friend from the night before, the massive snowshoe hare. As it hopped around our tent, his oversized back feet repetitively thumped the ground. This thumping was our morning alarm clock and unfortunately to Critter it went on its way.

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After packing up, we headed towards Bowen Pass. It was only a mile away at this point and we had less than five hundred feet of climbing to reach the top. On our way four bull moose paralleled us going the opposite way. Two of them were massive. Their large cupped antlers were still in velvet and they were moving like they had somewhere to be. Neither of us took one step until they were out of sight. We could not stop watching their beautiful strides across the marshy meadows. When they disappeared, we looked at each other with huge smiles and could not stop talking about what we had just seen until we reached the pass.

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Right before we crested the pass, we had a small cornice of snow that we kicked steps into and climbed easily over. Compared to our first days in Colorado, all snow travel was a breeze. Over the pass, a horseshoe of mountains momentarily blocked any views of the surrounding area. As we began descending, we noticed in the distance that instead of tall snowy mountains there were vast fields and rolling pastures. We could see Wyoming! We knew that the trail took a giant westward dogleg so that we would be able to stop in steamboat, but nevertheless this change in scenery was exciting!

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Then the trail split off at a junction and we had to say our goodbyes to perfectly groomed, twelve inch wide trail. Instead we were left with a three inch wide trampled grass outline and hundreds of down trees. Instead of giving a boring description of the next five miles of climbing over fallen trees and through swampy fields, just imagine trying to jump on the back of a bareback horse for two hours while standing in three inches of chocolate pudding. It was not always fun but it was the CDT.

As we rounded a corner and started descending, we startled a flock of grouse that slowly waddled away from us and "hid" a few feet off trail. Garbelly told Critter that if she ever ran out of food, those would be a free meal because they are so slow and kinda dumb. Critter did not find too much humor in that statement. She would rather have one as a pet.

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After we met up with these birds, the trail joined with a dirt bike trail. The next ten miles were not only hell to walk due to the ripped up trail, but also due to avoiding dirt bikers for the next few hours. Some of the groups of riders were very considerate of us and slowed down while letting us know how many riders were in there group. Others ripped past us, flinging dirt and rocks our way and never noticing that we were there. The exhaust erased every hint of pine and wildflowers that we had grown used to and apart from that, we could not hear ourselves think. It would definitely be a lot more fun to be a dirt bike on a hiking trail, than being hikers on a dirt bike trail.

As the trail descended, it paralleled a stream. We could not help but notice all of the brookies holding up in the calmer bends of the stream. Most of the fish ranged from three inches long to around eight inches. We could not believe how many fish were there! We decided to sit down in the shade for a snack and to escape the heat. While we sat we counted over twenty fish just in the bend of the stream closest to us. We had to make big miles today and as hard as it was, we had to talk ourselves out of staying here for the day to fish. We did agree that we had to come back one day and fish these waters. As we looked at our maps to find out the name of the stream, we both laughed. "Trout Creek," of course. We continued up the rocky and dusty trail.

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Eventually we made it to the highway where Garbelly was able to call his sister. Today was her due date and there was no way he would let being on trail keep him from staying out of the loop of her pregnancy. Although he really wished he could be there, sometimes that's just the way life goes. Getting to the Denver airport and getting a round trip ticket to anywhere near Evansville was out of the question monetarily. Plus, every hiker knows or figures it out really quickly. Most everyone that gets off trail for a few days to a week never makes it back on trail even if they are gung-ho about hiking. There is something about experiencing the comforts of home, family, actual food or whatever it might be that can keep a hiker from returning to the dream of a thru. Garbelly found out his sister was doing great and had not experienced anything unusual. Garbelly was glad to hear everything was ok, but really hoped that he would have signal when she did go into labor

At the highway, we met a man who was supporting his wife and her three friends hiking south from the Colorado/ Wyoming border and heading all the way to the New Mexico border. We were asking him about the weather as storm clouds began to roll over Parkview Peak. He mentioned there had been talk of thunderstorms, but that the weather out here was very unpredictable. We wished him and his wife well as we began our climb up the mountain in search of a place to eat a very late lunch.

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Around 3:30 we finally set down and made cheese filled burritos. Just after we set down, a father and his son approached us from the mountain. They were hunters and had hiked up Parkview that day to scout out the area and get in a training hike. It was amazing how different the style of hunting was out here compared to back home. We could not imagine how strenuous chasing elk around these mountains must be. We talked to these two for quite some time until a group of four older ladies approached us. We knew exactly who they were.

"You must be the ladies hiking the CDT to New Mexico," Garbelly exclaimed.

They laughed and said they didn't know they were notorious. We exchanged information about the snow and downed trees they would encounter in the next couple of days. They warned us going north we would have similar trail conditions. After this, everyone besides us headed to the trailhead and we packed our packs to hike the last miles before getting a much needed sleep.

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As we started climbing the mountain, we heard thunder and saw dark growing clouds. The worst place to be would most likely be at the top of the tallest peak in the area. As we got out our maps, we found a large alternate route that would keep us much lower, but it would also be five miles longer. We did not really like our options, but knew it was the smart decision. Quickly we began walking on a four wheeler road that turned into a gravel forest service road. Following this up and over folds in the mountain, we hiked as hard as we could to find water and a camp spot. Everything except the road was steep and had a large amount of downed trees.

Around eight o'clock that night we finally found a flat spot tucked away just off the road. It was perfect. We finished our day with a total of twenty-three hard earned miles. We ate Mac and Cheese and fell asleep to the sound of thunder.

Cheers!  

Garbelly & Critter  

Day 87: Leaving Grand Lake (1195 to 1210)

With Garbelly, in the Men's Dorm, and Critter, in the Women's Dorm, the morning had two versions. Begin split screen montage of our morning. Garbelly's morning is on one side. He wakes up when the sun began to shine over the men's dorm bunk beds, texts Critter, no response, lays in bed for a bit before texting Critter that he was going to go downstairs. Once downstairs he begins a conversation with Lil Buddha about breakfast and how we all had way too much food. Critter's morning is on the other side. She sleeps through Garbelly's first text and then his second text, the sun begins to shine over her face, she fixes it by burrowing her head deeper into covers, she is still asleep when Garbelly heads downstairs, she is still asleep when conversation begins, finally she wakes, look at texts from Garbelly, tries to close eyes to sleep longer, decides that she should get up then heads downstairs.

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Once we were downstairs, we all happily and confidently agreed to head into town to the Fat Cat Cafe for an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. Three plates of quiche, Scotch eggs, various meats, biscuits and cinnamon rolls, and fruit later, it was time to visit the pie table. All the while we covered an array of topics with Lil Buddha and did not even bother with the time. We thoroughly enjoyed spending time with him, as he is well-spoken, an inspirational hiker, and just an all-around wonderful human being. He even paid for our breakfast! We tried to convince him not to do such a nice thing for us, but he insisted. When we thanked him, he told us to simply pay it forward, a common thread throughout our adventure so far. We bid each other 'Happy Trails' and headed back up to Shadowcliff to grab our packs and hit the trail. It was hard to leave the comfort of the common room at Shadowcliff. Honestly, we could have been easily convinced to stay another day, but with Wyoming so close, we deemed it best to keep moving North.

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We entered Rocky Mountain National Park and followed an incredibly groomed trail past meadows of anglers and through pine forests of hikers. We met Judy, a park volunteer, and stopped to speak to her for a couple of minutes. She continued on with her job and walked up to a passing family to ask if they had seen any wildlife. We continued on. Once reaching the highway, we began our short road walk towards Never Summer Wilderness.

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Along the road, we started to see cars pulled over and an incredible amount of people on the side of the road. We figured it must be something outstanding maybe a mama bear teaching her cubs how to cross a stream or climb a tree, maybe an ostrich had broken free from a far away zoo, or maybe just a moose feeding on some grass? We could not believe it. Traffic was being directed by Judy, the park volunteer, and everyone was out staring at the moose eat with their zoom lenses and children in tow.

We worked our way through the crowd and continued on towards our turn off. Once we reached the other side of the park, we passed by more anglers and very fishy water and looked at our maps to see the name of this creek. It was the Colorado River. Walking on across the headwaters of the Colorado River was spectacular. Just imagining that such a slow and winding creek would travel over a thousand miles south and carve out the Grand Canyon was powerful. It was also the perfect place to fish.

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We were passed by three forest service men who to our surprise and excitement informed us that they had cleared our next eight miles of trail! We followed the trail gradually climbing until we left the park and entered the Never Summer Wilderness. Thunder could be heard in the distance, but we hiked on. The forest surrounding us was thick and green. Small waterfalls framed the trail and the bright colors of wildflowers decorated it. The thunder grew closer and louder but no rain fell yet. Critter's side began hurting again after a large pop occurred, a residual pain from coughing so much the last month (the never ending saga), so we set up the tent just in time for the bottom to drop out of the sky. So we did what anyone would do, we took a three hour nap. The rain did not last long and the thunder began to dissipate. 

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After our nap, we continued up our climb towards water and potential camp. We reached our water and as Garbelly filtered, Critter headed up trail to find camp. As she was turning a corner, she stopped in her tracks staring head on at a rather large Bull Moose. Slowly backing up, she put her trekking poles over her head and made noises. The moose just stood there staring back, not moving. Finally she positioned herself behind a group of skinny pines, and she could see the moose flick his ears and bend back down to continue eating. There were no herds of people to warn her of the moose this time, which is very preferable. Garbelly came up the trail and Critter whispered to him, "Moose!" Shocked at this Bull's size, he quickly grabbed a photo and then we both took a detour around the section of trail the moose was occupying.

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We found a circle of trees with a perfect tent site in the middle and began to set up camp. The moose wandered over into the meadow on the other side of our campsite, and he just minded his own business feeding and drinking water. After setting up, we sat behind a tree to observe this large peaceful moose.

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While we had our backs turned, another creature snuck into our campsite. A giant, fluffy, big-footed bunny rabbit, and he was busy chewing on our tent when we caught him red pawed. Our presence did not intimidate him, after chewing on our tent he hopped over to our packs and licked/chewed on Garbelly's strap then hopped over to our water and licked the outside of our bladders. Then he hopped away. We stood there trying to figure out if what just happened was real or some delirious, hungry hallucination. We sat down next to our packs just in time for the bunny to hop back into camp. He circled our tent trying to figure it out then hopped away. We grabbed our packs and wandered a little bit away from camp to begin eating dinner.

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While we were sitting and eating, we watched the bunny work his way back to our tent when he realized we were gone and go straight for the mesh door. He tried to hop in but was disappointed by the mesh screen, instead he stood up on his back paws and looked inside. He hopped over to Garbelly's trekking pole which was filming the scene and sniffed the pole and then hopped away again. We could not bear to think that we would have to hang a bunny bag over night. We finished up our meals then headed to our now empty tent.

Under the almost full moon, we could hear, throughout the entire night, all the critters outside of our tent.

Cheers!  

Garbelly & Critter  

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Day 86: Into Grand Lake

Since the first day, we were consumed by the trail.  It stripped us of our off-trail identity, our comfort zones and routines. We entered a world where no one cares about what our day job is or what we studied in school. No one cares about what we wear, smell like, or how we talk. We become the trail, and the trail becomes our home and the other hikers are family. Don't get us wrong we don't forget about our families back home or that other world, but to survive we have to sacrifice our our minds, time, and energy to hiking. Seeing family becomes a distant dream, a goal.

When family comes to visit it is such an amazing gift, like an anchor back into who you are and what life was like and is like off-trail. It is this tiny window where you can share a bit of one world with a bit of the other. It is energizing and phenomenal, but when it is time to say goodbye...it feels like an unexpected blow to the heart. Sure, sure that sounds mellow dramatic, but it hurts in a way that we could never have expected nor that we can explain. The first few moments back on trail after walking away from family suck. For Critter they are tear ridden and for Garbelly they are very silent miles. It's not a longing to be off trail and surrounded by the familiar. It's not a regret nor a giving up. The feeling appears dressed as sadness, but could it be something else completely?

It might come down to time. Trail time is different than real life time. Our days are characterized by distance instead of the hands on a watch. Our time slows. However, when real life meets trail life. It feels as if time in general races to catch up. Time flies by leaving you alone again with the trail. Internally you feel like you are grabbing for the moment to stay just a little bit longer. This glimpse at time is shocking, a glimpse at the impermanence of every moment on trail and off trail. Suddenly we realize how quickly it is going by and how soon it will be all over.

Immediately, we are grateful for gravity which helps us cling to the dirt path we follow and the weight of our packs pressing us into that particular moment in earth's own time. It feels like being pinched out of a dream and back into reality. Leaving family is tough, but not seeing them at all may be just as tough. You just have to be ready for the sprinting of time through you're walking paced world.

Saying bye to Joe, Kate, and Milo was not easy. Their visit seemed to go by so quickly relative to how long it felt waiting for the day they arrived in Colorado. It is so amazing to be so supported, and it so amazing to share, even if it is just a tiny glimpse, our world out here. Aside from the stories and photos, to see in person the mountains and the trail, our packs and worn out shoes, how much sun our skin has gotten and how callused our feet have become. To meet a part of our trail family, in a way it makes it not just real for our family, but it makes it that much more real for us. In this surreal world, for a passing moment, we are utterly grounded and can step off of the trail and look on to our adventure from the outside.

We watched as Stella pulled away. We stood quietly and watched. Critter cried, of course, and Garbelly waved until he could not see the silver Airstream with the New York plates anymore. We were in limbo, somewhere between familiarity and our new life on trail. We raced back to trail and away from purgatory. Once on the path leading us North, we felt better, and thus we began to finish our miles into Grand Lake.

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Along the way, about four miles out of town, we met a fellow hiker, Lil Buddha, and falling in line with his trail name, the energy he emitted was enlightening. We hiked all the way to town with him learning about all the trails he has hiked, some insight on the International Appalachian Trail, a dream of ours to complete.

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Once in town, he headed towards the post office, and we headed towards the hostel at Shadowcliff to pick up our box. We found out it was a little less than mile away so we grabbed some ice cream for the walk. Shadowcliff consisted of beautiful log, multiple story cabins on the side of a cliff next to a flowing creek. We walked into the main building and office where we were greeted by the smiling face of Alanah, the granddaughter of the original founders of the lodge. She checked us in for the night and retrieved our resupply box. Then she showed us each our rooms, a men's dorm and a women's dorm.

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We sat our stuff down by empty beds we deemed fit, and then we met each other downstairs in the large common area where we spent the majority of the night. Large windows allowed for a perfect view of Grand Lake, the surrounding Rocky Mountain National Park, and a thunderstorm that blew in over it all. We lounged for most of the afternoon only to take a short pizza break but soon resuming position on the couch. Everyone had already headed to bed when we shut the lights off and marched ourselves up to bed. We said goodnight to each other and slipped into our dorm rooms.

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Day 85: James Peak with Milo & Kate

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We have been out here for two and a half months now and even though we are still grateful for every flower, every view, and every animal, it is amazing to experience the joy and beauty through the fresh eyes of Milo and Kate. In a way, it re-illuminates the beauty and wonder. We were reminded of just how amazing the world we are living in is and experiencing every day. Today, we get to share it with others. 

Even the small things that have just become routine or our normal, reawakened our senses as we watched Milo and Kate experience the trail. The tiny succulents and flowers amazed Kate and the snow and marmots could keep Milo excited for a lifetime.

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That morning we packed up camp and began our rather big climb up to James Peak and the James Peak Wilderness area. The first part of the climb tucked us away in the pine trees, but then we began to emerge from tree line. Below we could see the first alpine lake of the day, Loch Lonond. We reached a large bald below James and sat near a crystal clear stream to filter some delicious mountain water. Nothing gets as good as that. We are usually very bummed out to come back into town and drink city water.

Several day hikers passed by heading up to the summit, including two men in their seventies. We climbed up several hundred more feet which brought us into view of three more alpine lakes. They were arranged similar to if they were on a tier. The one closest to the mountains still wore a blanket of ice on top and aptly named Ice Lake. The climb up to the summit was steep, but we took our time and enjoyed each change of the view.

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Once at the top, we were greeted by a group of marmots, wind, and pure excitement to be at the top! A beautiful 13,309 feet! The descent was even steeper so we each found our own comfortable speed as we worked our way lower. The trail seemed to be carved out of towers of rock, extending high above us to our right and dropping suddenly to the valley to our left. The trail was narrow but easy to follow. Marmots sat on the rocks and barked like they were kings and we were trespassing through their kingdom.

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We made it to a ridge which we followed all the way to the trailhead, where we were awaited by Joe in his silver Dodge Ram. He warned us about the road that he took to get up to the trailhead, all fourteen miles of it, and we started down slowly but surely.

Back at the Airstream, we showered and then sat around sharing stories and photos from our past two days. Charlie and Hannah happened to be staying at a tent spot at the same campground so they came up and joined us at our spot for a margarita and beer. After a bit, all six of us piled into the truck and headed into Grand Lake for dinner. 

Back at the Airstream, sleep came easy for everyone, especially Milo.  

Cheers!  

Garbelly & Critter

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Day 84: Mt. Flora with Milo & Kate

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We did not wake up in a hurry. Milo definitely was in no rush to get up and moving, but as the sounds of the Stillwater Campground came to life we knew we needed to start packing our tent up and getting the airstream ready to move to the next campground. Once everything was packed, including Kate's pack for two days on trail with us, we headed into Grand Lake to check-in to the Elk Creek Campground. They let us check-in early, so we parked the Airstream in spot 22 and quickly set up the awning, unloaded the bed of the truck, and put up the lights.

Critter's dad was all set up for the night, now it was just a matter of getting the four of us, Garbelly, Critter, Milo, and Kate back to Berthound Pass. It was around noon when we got to the pass. We grabbed some photos and waved bye to Critter's dad. The four of us started up a dirt road to a trail and began our climb up Mt. Flora. Everyone was headed down as we were headed up. "White Walkers" as Kate called them, making us the youngest on the climb by many decades. How cool to be surrounded by older, healthy, and adventurous individuals! Age is no excuse, people. Trust us.

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Milo was so excited. Having never been in real mountains, he marched forward not missing a smell or sight. We crossed over a patch of snow but soon we were back on dry trail. Kate, even under the strain of gaining elevation and the decreasing oxygen, marched on with a smile. Quickly, we were above tree line, on a ridge line trail, overlooking the vast land of mountainous peaks, and climbing up to one of Colorado's many thirteeners.

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The wind started to pick up and we could hear the rumble of thunder in the dark clouds moving in. Our afternoon summit was falling in line with why it's best to not summit in the afternoon. Thunder storms. So we just decided to play it safe, get to the top, and quickly get down. As we reached the summit at 13,123 feet, the trail turned into talus fields with wind breaks built in areas and a small path of flat stones laid out like stepping stones through the more jagged rocks. This was Milo and Kate's first thirteener, and they crushed it!

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With the thunder growing closer and us the only positively charged objects for awhile, we began our descent along a ridge. The wind picked up and was determined to blow us over. All four of us stayed strong and hiked briskly to get out of the beating of the wind. We followed a path snaking through the talis fields on the back side of the peak. Even though we were walking through mounds of jumbled, sharp rock, it was some of thebest trail we have had! Huge, huge props to whoever built the trail. It made our descent carefree and allowed us to look for marmots and pikas, instead of having to watch our footing.

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The barking of the pikas and marmots grew louder. Milo noticed one and when we turned his attention to the direction it was coming from suddenly he was surrounded by various pitches of barking. He just smiled and wagged his tail at the thrill of the chase. Kate, still smiling, seemed to be as excited as Milo was. We reached a handful of snow patches and kicked in our steps towards dry ground. The snow came as a complete surprise to Milo who immediately began running, sliding, playing and licking the snow. He would drop his front paws and scoot around on his head using the slickness of the snow and his hind legs to push him along. He leaped and ran up and down the snow field, in absolute euphoria.

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We crossed over a couple more snow fields and the same reaction came from Milo. Kate was able to experience her first snow traverses and even maybe a small slip here and there to let her adrenaline spike up for a second or two. She was loving it though!

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We headed down to a couple of streams before winding back up towards a meadowy saddle. The blooming wildflowers lit up the curves of the mountain and large rocky faces added an accent of grit. We looped around the saddle into the tree line and then followed the most beautifully built switchbacks down. We filtered water and then found a nice, flat spot to set up our tents. We all had mac and cheese for dinner prepared by Critter. Milo was the first to doze off, but the rest of us were not too far behind.

One sleepy pup. 

One sleepy pup. 

Cheers!

Garbelly & Critter

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Day 82-83: Fourth of July at Lake Granby

We spent the morning with Charlie and Hannah grabbing coffee and breakfast at the Rise and Shine Bakery. Once they headed back to Berthound Pass to get back on trail, we headed to a coffeeshop to work on writing. Having a balance of fun and work is really healthy for us, and never once have we regretted writing about each day of our journey. The seemingly peaceful, downtime allows our bodies to rest while our minds work.

We were seated at an outside table when a wind picked up. Critter, having been worn out by the constant and brutal wind on the ridge for many miles, kept moving around the porch as if she was playing a game of musical chairs in order to get out of the wind. Garbelly remained in his seat and laughed. Lunch time rolled around, and with Joe, Kate, and Milo still an hour out of Winter Park, we decided to go eat, again. This time we found ourselves in a Chinese restaurant. We quickly made friends with our waiter as we shared our adventures with him each time he came to our table.

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It is always such a joy to share our stories with people who know about the world of thru-hiking, but the surprise on the faces of those who are not familiar with this world is by far the greatest. It is amazing, and it is so cool that we are able to share and educate people as we learn and grow along the trail. 

After lunch, we headed to a parking lot and waited for the sight of the silver Airstream with yellow accents. Then all of a sudden there she was. In the truck, we saw the excited faces of Critter's dad, Kate, and the wagging tail of Milo. They pulled into the parking lot and jumped out. Milo came running up to Critter letting loose a single bark then ran over to Garbelly with another single bark. We were as excited to see them as they were probably excited to get out of the truck.

When Joe, Critter's dad, found out about her hiking the trail he found an 1974 Airstream, fixed it up, traded in for a truck to pull it through the mountains, then drove out to see us from New York. They had made it, all the way from the shores of Lake Erie to the mountains of Colorado. We threw our packs into Stella, the Airstream, and headed towards Lake Granby.

Being new to RV culture and Colorado during the 4th of July, we failed to make a reservation a year in advance at one of the campgrounds. From our understanding every spot was booked and every campground full, but from all the research we completed trying to find an available spot, we learned about the "walk-ups", our last hope. We pulled up to the office of the Stillwater Campground on Lake Grandby, fingers crossed. The men stayed in the car while the ladies jumped out. Kate and Critter ran up to the campground hosts and asked if by any chance there was a spot of us for two nights. A man in a golf cart drove off to check on the last spot at the entire campground. We waited anxiously. He returned, waved us onward, and took us to an open spot. Success! Not only was it a spot but we had a view of the lake and we were a bit secluded from the bulk of the other RVs at the park. We set up camp and took the Airstream out of travel mode, and we entered relax mode. 

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The next morning we enjoyed bagels at our site before heading into Grand Lake to take care of our laundry and acquire fishing licenses.  While we were at the rather nice laundromat, a local shared with us some insight on where to fish. We loaded up in the truck and headed straight to the Colorado River. Once on the river, we began setting up our rods, for us it was our Tenkara and for Joe and Kate it was two four-piece rods. All of us put on dry flies and started to cast to promising looking runs. The hits came quick, but Joe and Kate had to switch their Smallmouth Bass and Winter Steelhead mindset to one of hungry, Mountain Trout. We tossed dries all day getting tons of hits on top water. Critter's catches increased in size as she went, starting out with some small, but colorful Brookies and ending with a good, healthy Rainbow Trout.

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Garbelly played around with small Brookies, even accidentally catapulting one into the grass behind him. Milo was on the fish immediately helping Garbelly locate it and return it to the water. We had spent a better part of the afternoon on the water before we realized we were all hungry. We headed back to the Airstream to nap, shower, and begin preparing different vegetables and fruits to start grilling.

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We enjoyed a large dinner and as it got dark walked down to the lake to see if we could spot fireworks. Sure enough, at ten o'clock we could see Grand Lake's firework show in the distance. The show went on and we sat quietly admiring the colors and shapes tucked into the mountains. 

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Happy 4th, and Happy Trails!  

Garbelly & Critter  

Day 81: Into Winter Park

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We know camping by water always makes for a chilly morning yet for some reason we always are surprised. Sounds of movement could not be heard from Charlie and Hannah's tent so we stayed in our sleeping bags for as long as possible. Finally we worked up the courage to get moving and break down camp. Endless and Queen Bee passed by along the trail so Garbelly ran over to catch up with them. Critter kept packing up, and by the time Garbelly returned to camp, everything was ready to go.

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We did not have to hike far down the trail before we were hit by the warm sun-filled air of a meadow. We immediately packed all of our layers away and felt silly for not setting camp up just a couple steps through the trees. Hiking up towards Herman Lake brought gorgeous views of mountains with snowy veins and green meadows painted with wildflowers. Rounding over a pass we dropped back down before beginning our climb up to a summit of 13,207 feet.

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Dark clouds appeared behind Greys and Torres, and they would soon engulf the already omninous peaks. We hiked quickly to get as low as possible as we followed a ridge around through the Vasquez Wilderness area.  A strong wind carried the storm clouds closer, and we just could not quite get away so we headed off of the ridge the first chance we got. You cannot control Mother Nature and her weathered ways. You just have to be smart and play it safe. Most of all you have to be ready for anything. 

We were able to get a hitch into Winter Park in the bed of a truck. We sat down at the Ditch on 40 and stared blankly at our menus and then at the least busy place on the wall. We were worn out and wind beaten. We were overwhelmed by the loudness, brightness, and crowdedness of society. Two men who must have been the floor manager and owner sensed our unease and treated us to chips and salsa while we waited for our food and even two shots of whiskey for the boys.

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That night we camped in free camping outside of town, which aside from our initial assumptions was actually really nice and secluded. Garbelly cooked up some brats for an early 4th of July celebration with the group. He also cooked a family size Velveeta shells and cheese, which he didn't share. We hung our first bear bags and went to bed enjoying the quietness and peace of the forest. 

Cheers!  

Garbelly & Critter  

 

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Day 80: Grays-Torreys Peaks (1105 to 1120)

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When we woke up, everything was frozen, and we were all shivering. The four of us decided that there would be no leaving the tent until we felt rays of sunlight. We dressed without ever leaving our sleeping bags and even ate breakfast inside our tents, something Garbelly rarely does. The sun could not have been moving slower. As we waited, we saw a group of two skiers slip and slide up the first snow patch near our tent. We wondered if we would be spending our first few hours administering first aid. Garbelly started to rest assured that if others were climbing up this side, then it would be nothing to worry too much about.

Then a set of two more skiers, a couple and a family all walked past. This was enough to get us out of bed. The last thing we wanted was to be stuck behind a bunch of people climbing up a mountain. A man with a water bottle in hand came over and asked Garbelly if there was a trail to the top. Garbelly told him that he knew there were cairns. We were ready in another twenty minutes. When Garbelly looked at his clock it was almost nine o'clock. We all laughed. That was definitely one of the latest mornings we had started so far on trail. Hannah was the first to leave and we all were not too far behind. Instead of walking up the snow field we scrambled up a scree field. Once we got to the top there is two ways to go, we could either go to the right on an old trail that switchbacked past a few alpine lakes, or go straight up the spine and climb much faster. Like the few people in front of us, we decided to go straight up the spine.

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 Though it was slow going, we steadily made it up the mountain. The grade of the trail grew steeper and steeper. Eventually we tucked away our trekking poles and used our hands to scramble up the ridge. Every now and then one of our feet would slip causing a rush of excitement and cause our stomachs to churn. Towards the last few hundred yards, the grade turned to around 2,500 feet per mile. To our right a massive snow field covered the mountain and to the left it was a sheer drop off somewhere close to a thousand feet. 

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We looked up to see Hannah and Charlie reach the summit just as we were reaching the top of a spine. From here to the top was a piece of cake. We had a beaten down trail straight to the top. Right before the summit, we stopped to watch four skiers drop of the icy crust and ski all the way down the mountain. 

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Finally, we reached the top. We were speechless. Not only due to the view, but also due to the fact that there were almost seventy five people on top of Grays and looking across about the same on Torreys. We never would have thought that the most people we would see on the trip would be at the top of a 14er. People from Colorado impressed us in this way. Even though we enjoy our solitude in the wilderness, it was so incredible to see so many people outside and staying active.

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As Charlie and Hannah decided to go down to the trailhead, we ran down to a saddle and quickly went up Torreys. After this, Critter was on a mission to get away from the multitude of people. We took off down the mountain at about four miles per hour, speed walking past everyone going down (politely asking of course). We made it down the four miles in just under an hour and walked so quickly past the trailhead we missed Charlie and Hannah who were yelling for us. 

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After walking another two miles of car lined gravel road, we found a nice tucked away lunch spot by a roaring stream.  We set the tent out to dry and ate our tortilla meals. Our morning had been incredible. 

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The rest of our day was equivalent to doing paperwork in an office job. We walked six more miles of road and three miles of a bike path on Interstate 70. Eventually we crossed the Interstate and came to the Herman Gulch trailhead. It felt so good on our feet to make it back to a dirt footpath. We will never understand how Forrest Gump ran on pavement for so long. 

Walking past a cascade of water, we climbed about a thousand feet and stopped to wait for Charlie and Hannah. Five minutes later they came strolling right through. This is very common in thru hiking. Most everyone out here has a similar pace, so unless one person stops, you might be thirty minutes apart from someone for a couple months and never know it.  

While the sun began to set, we began to set up our tents. All four of us sat around a fire ring, with no fire, and ate dinner. We talked about how awesome yet tiring the day had been and soon we were all heading to bed. Garbelly made the joke that since we had climbed to the highest point of the CDT, it should be downhill all the way to Canada. 

It did not take long for any of us to fall asleep that night. 

Cheers!  

Garbellina & Critter

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Day 79: 1086 to 1105

Garbelly awoke at 5:00 AM as usual. The rustling behind us signified that Charlie was awake too making a cup of coffee. The morning was very still. The wind from last night had come to a halt and it was apparent that our rain fly was soaked. As Critter slept snug in her bed, Garbelly was still awake from staying up late and keeping an eye on a heat lightning storm passing over head. Fortunately the lightning stayed high in the sky the entire night and we were left with silence.

When Garbelly unzipped the tent, all he saw was pure white. We were surrounded in a dense fog. The most logical thing was to zip the tent back up and lay down. About an hour later the sun began melting the fog and we began packing up our things to climb up our first 13,000 foot peak of the day. We would be walking a ridge line connecting around a dozen peaks over 13,000 feet today and we would be exposed for the entire day. Good weather was crucial for our plans to be successful.

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 It was cold. In fact, as Garbelly rounded the first peak of the day at 13,200 feet, he got signal and checked the weather. It said it was twenty degrees outside with a windchill of around eleven. It was a day before July! We were used to the scorching hot days of Tennessee summers. As we walked along the ridge line, the wind became unbearable. After walking up a snowy ridge, we found a small depression in the rock. It was just big enough to fit all of us inside of it and block us from the winds icy gusts. We all decided that instead of taking the Argentine Spine alternate and walking a high ridge all day, we would follow the official CDT route and head down past an old mine into the valley near Montezuma .

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 An hour and three thousand feet later, we reached the gravel road Main Street of the town. Every house had multiple snowmobiles and sets of skis outside. Within ten minutes we had walked through the entire town, sad not to find any restaurants. We followed the road for a couple miles and found a place to eat lunch. Even in the valley, the winds ripped through the area. Hoards of cars and campers flew past us drowning us in a plume of dust. This added a gritty crunch to every bite of our lunch. As we ate, we looked over our maps. According to our paper maps, there was no official route over Grays peak from the south side. The maps we had downloaded onto our phones said that the best route over Grays would be up Argentine Pass. This route would include scrambling up a few high 13,000 foot peaks and then up Grays at 14,270 feet.

Looking at the paper maps, Critter noticed a spine up the Southern side of Grays that would lead up directly from the road. We decided this would be our route. After eating lunch, we relaxed for a few moments and headed up the narrow and winding road. Moving cautiously, we avoided cars and dirt bikes as they flew passed us. One car even trailed us for over a mile up the road, the passengers curiously staring at us. Finally we reached a metal gate blocking the rest of the road from motorized vehicles.

From here we walked up a very swampy road that grew more and more narrow as we walked. We were soon around 12,000 feet and looking for an early camp spot. We found one tucked in thick brush by a lake. We had water and protection from the wind, what more could we want.

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 Garbelly was unsure of the route since the entire side of the mountain was covered in snow. He took off up the mountain on a scouting trip. After scrambling up to 13,200 feet he ran back down as the sun was almost completely set. The verdict was that it would be doable, but it may be extremely sketchy for the last few hundred feet. He preemptively apologized if the route was a no go. Without having cell signal or good maps for the route, it would be an adventure. We honestly were not sure how it would turn out.

Cheers!  

Garbelly & Critter

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Day 78: 1064 to 1086

We woke up late this morning. The sun had completely engulfed our tent in a very bright light. This meant it was already past 7:30 AM. In no rush, we began packing our things and casually heading up the trail. The sun was just a speck today in a deep blue sky.

As we began up the rest of our climb, we met a man from Boulder who we had seen going Southbound the night before. We began talking to him and found out he was doing a section of the Colorado Trail to train for his thru hike of the same trail later in the year.

As we kept talking, we began passing people. Very stylish people with nice cameras and clean gear. We talked to the first guy who said he was a part of the Fjällräven Classic and that their were around two hundred people behind him. We found out that the Classic was a three day, 35 mile hike from Montezuma to Copper Mountain. People that signed up for this hike would be surrounded by Fjällräven employees and Leave No Trace ambassadors assuring that the large group of hikers left a minimal impact on the trail along the way.

We passed most of the hikers as we were going downhill and they were climbing up against us. We stopped for each group of hikers and let them pass us since people going uphill have the right-a-way on single track trails. As we stopped, we met a lot of great people and saw some of the event organizers we had met heading in to Breckenridge. Going from seeing one or two people a day to seeing over two hundred was actually not a tough transition. Everyone we passed wore a large smile and was having a blast being outside on such a beautiful day. We even learned how to say good morning in Swedish (god morgon).

Finally we made it to water and split off from our new friend from Boulder. As we filtered, a Colorado Trail mountain biker went through and we briefly told him about the trail conditions he would face on Peak 6 and the Kokomo Pass area. After snacking really hard (Garbelly ate a whole bag of Cheez-its), we headed towards Georgia Pass and began looking for a good place to eat lunch.

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We began hearing dogs howling all around us. Looking below to find what looked like a dog sled boarding area. We saw what seemed like seventy-five dogs under tarps and palettes. It was definitely a strange sight. We were not sure if it was legal or not to keep dogs in the conditions they were in, but we figured with as many hikers that pass by that it was not very hidden.

Just then Critter screamed and when Garbelly turned around, instead of being greeted by a large bloodthirsty heard of bears, he found a Charlie and Hannah. The Heavyweights had reunited once again! We immediately sat down by a creek and made lunch. Since Breckenridge, Garbelly began packing his trustworthy frying pan, so Critter made an extremely tasty cheese quesadilla for lunch. Just as we finished up lunch, dark clouds and a few rumbles rolled into view.

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We got out the maps and looked for a lower alternate to the 13,000 foot ridge walk we had for the rest of the day. We found the perfect trail that would parallel the CDT. As the trail ended, we would scramble up a couple thousand feet to the trail. As soon as we started walking, the winds picked up and we felt a few drops of rain. It had been a good decision.

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While most people think that our biggest threats out here are bear, mountain lions and banjo wielding locals, our biggest threat is being exposed in large storms. Yes, there is a large chance we could walk on a ridge line through storms unscathed. We would rather be cautious and not be the only positively charged objects on the top of a mountain. It pays to know the dangers of exposure. Even if it requires extra miles or skewing away from an original plan, it is always worth the extra time to stay safe.

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After getting back up to the ridge, the clouds and winds swirled around us, yet were calming down. We looked on the ridge and noticed five large mountain goats running along a cliff line. If only we could move that fast out here, we would make it to Canada in a few weeks.

After making it to the ridge line, we sped hiked the next few miles through a small hail storm to camp. This camp was not just any camp. Tucked partially behind a rock face, we fell asleep at 12,300 feet with a view overlooking a large red cinder cone mountain. As the sun set we ate our dinners and watched a distant storm.

Cheers to magical campspots!  

Garbelly & Critter  

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Day 77: Leaving Breckenridge (1056-1064)

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No light crept into our room leaving us in darkness well into the morning. We started packing up our packs trying to be as quiet as we could to not wake everyone up. Cindy and Neil had crawled out of their window to run and grab coffee, while the rest of the house remained silent and still. Slowly everyone started to wake and the house came to life.

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After check out, we parted ways temporarily with Arcade, Glimmer, Thor and Scrapbook and we all headed to breakfast once again at the Columbine Cafe. Although our time was well spent in town with Critter's mom and her partner Neil, it sure did not feel like enough time.

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Everyone, including us six hikers and packs, loaded up in the Yukon XL and headed to the trailhead. Seeing family on trail was the best thing, but saying goodbye was so hard. Thor and Scrapbook headed up trail, and Arcade and Glimmer got a ride up to where they were getting back on trail to head South. We hiked up trail but did not get very far. It was just so hard to say goodbye and to go from being among family to alone again on trail. Sometimes action overwhelms ambition, but being around family allowed us to reconnect with ourselves and why we are hiking. 

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They reminded us why we are out here and reinforced how much support and love we have back home. 

Cheers!  

Garbelly & Critter  

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Day 75-76: Into Breckenridge (1051 to 1056) and a Zero Day

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It is amazing how fast you hike when you have family waiting for you at the trailhead. We did not stop for anything. The trail ended at a small dirt parking lot off of Highway 9. We sat down and waited. A woman rode up to us on a Bianchi and offered us fresh grapes. That is when we saw the gold Yukon XL pull into the parking lot. Out jumped Cindy and Neil and they ran to us with open arms.

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We threw our packs in the back and hopped in. We grabbed breakfast at the Columbine Cafe and even swung by a fly shop to pick up the new issue of The Drake, which Milo had a full spread picture in. As we wandered around downtown, we could not get over the fact that they were there in person. We were giddy with excitement! A couple of hikers passed by and we quickly introduced them to Cindy and Neil. We wandered into a Patagonia store, a toy store, and even a gear shop called Mountain Outfitters. We ran into another group of hikers before we decided it was time to head towards the Airbnb.

Grateful that we were allowed to check-in early, we began to unload the car at the Ten Mile Suites. It was not till Garbelly noticed a rather large leak in one of the rooms that we all stopped and sat down instead of continuing to unpack. Critter called the host, and she immediately told us that a crew was going to come by to fix the leak and in the meantime, we were upgraded to a larger suite just around the corner. Cindy and Neil were able to catch a glimpse of how fortunate we have been this far on the trail and in towns. (Garbelly has a theory that Critter snuck in the apartment above and turned all of the sinks on and flooded the room so that we could get upgraded). We moved our stuff into the new condo and raved about how awesome the host was to respond so quickly. 

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That evening we stayed at the condo and even convinced Jeremey to come over for dinner.  Neil made his famous salmon, and Cindy made baked potatoes, corn, and spinach. We sat outside and talked until the sun had completely set taking the light of the day with it. A red fox came up to our deck and watched us before curling up in his tail and laying down in the grass. As Jeremey left to head back to his hotel, he noticed one of Critter's socks laying on the ground. She had lost a sock back at Mirror Lake way off trail in the brush. Jeremey had miracously found it, adding to our fascination with how people tend to follow the same path even when it is not along a determined trail. 

Sleep came so easily.  

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The following morning was fortunately a later morning for Critter who was able to sleep in until 8:00am. Garbelly, on the other hand, was up at the usual sunrise. Our room had no windows for the light to leak in but like a finely tuned clock he was up at the crack of dawn. Once we were all awake, we enjoyed a French Toast breakfast and talked about what we wanted to do for the day. We ended up taking the gondola up to the ski slopes and then taking a chairlift up even higher. We hiked around with a view of Breckenridge below us and the mountains all around.

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Hungry for some pizza we headed down and back into town. We enjoyed an outside table at Fatty's Pizzeria, and that night we decided to have dinner at the condo again. This time a different group of hikers joined us, Glimmer, Arcade, Thor, and Scrapbook came by and together with the guidance of Arcade, we made a feast.  

We ate outside again as the sunlight faded, but tonight we were not visited by the fox. 

Sleep came easily once again.  

Cheers!  

Garbelly & Critter  

 

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Day 74: 1030 to 1051

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Just like that we were awake and freezing. Clouds socked us in outside of our tent, but as we prepared for the day they slowly whisped away. We finished our climb up to Kokomo Pass and then along Elk Ridge. Fitting the name of the ridge, we saw a pack of Elk grazing on the ridge in the distance.

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We followed the ridge crossing over a couple of iced over snow traverses which wrapped us around to a mountain framed bowl patched with snow and rushing streams. There were Ptarmigans with their salt and pepper feathers, pika, and of course, marmots. All their chirping and barking filled the air with a symphony of screeches. Once over Searle Pass, we began our descent down towards Copper Mountains Resort. The snow, still heavy in sections, began to soften under our shoes. We decided to head straight down towards a sliver of dry trail and a 10th Mountain Division Hut, Janet's Cabin, a 3,000 square foot cabin nestled in the pine forest below the pass. We hit dry trail and started switchbacking down.

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As we hiked down, day hikers were hiking up. We stopped to talk to some of them and as we got closer to the resort, more and more people occupied the trail. Copper Mountain Resort came into view. We grabbed a quick bite, grilled cheese and mac and cheese, to eat and then headed towards our big climb up Peak 6. We could only take so much time in at ski resort and an hour was long enough. The steep prices and crowds of people motivated us to keep moving, first passing through a disc golf course and the backside of a regular golf course. Critter even had to quiet Garbelly in a golfer's backswing. Definitely not a situation Garbelly thought he would find himself in on a thru hike. We put our headphones in and resumed the crime and comedy podcasts we were listening to respectively. 

We started our climb once we crossed the highway. The trail took us along a large switchback starting in the trees and leading us to the tree line then ridge line. We passed a handful of Colorado Trail hikers before reaching Peak 6. From the top, we could see Copper Mountain to one side and Breckenridge on our other side. Just as we reached the top of peak 6, three white mountain goats grazed near the trail but we zigzagged up and over before getting too close.

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Snow waited patiently for us on the trail as we began to traverse down. Snow traverses led us into snow drift mounds among the trees. We shoe skied down until we found an area of blow downs with a perfect clear square for our camp. We set up, ate, and then tried to fall asleep even though excitement for the next day washed over us.

Cheers! 

Garbelly & Critter  

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When Garbelly starts to look like the tent!  

Day 73: 1009 to 1030

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The morning snuck into our tent barely waking us up. We got ready quickly and then tackled the rest of the climb. The day would start with a climb and end with a climb, everything in the middle would be small rolling hills through pine forests trending down to Tennessee Pass.

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Once we made it to the highway, we saw the 10th Mountain Division Monument and a ton of people out enjoying the day. We parted ways with Charlie and Hannah, who had to run back to Leadville, and then we headed down the trail to get in a couple more miles before lunch.

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We enjoyed lunch tucked back into a gully by a spring and watched several mountains bikers splash by on the trail. After eating and letting our feet dry out, we packed up and start towards our final climb of the day. Unfortunately, we kept having to jump off trail to let bikers go by, and sometimes they would not shout out to us until they were right on us, if they warned us at all. We passed near Camp Hale, which housed remains of a 10th Mountain Division training facility from World War II, and we saw more signs warning about having caution if coming across old ammunition.

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We made it down to a road and crossed over to the other side and began climbing. The trail took us up through Aspen groves, past a waterfall, and alongside meadows that eventually opened up as we reached the tree line. We were nearing Kokymo Pass sitting at 12,024 feet. After stopping to filter water, we were able to sit and take everything in around us. We were above the trees and clouds looking out at a dramatic, snow shadowed mountain range in front of us. A bowl of green peaks surrounded us like cupped hands holding us up to look over the land. Two Golden Eagles circled each other in the sky before landing on rocks to continue their hunt from a different perspective.

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We could not pass up spending the night here. It was only 5:45pm, but we quickly set out tent up and sat down in the grass to prepare dinner. A couple of hikers walked by squeezing in a couple more miles before dark. Mowgli stopped and joined us in the field. He was a South Carolina Native that had fished a lot of the same waters in Tennessee that we had. We told him about our day of fishing and showed him pictures of the fish we had caught. He was definitely envious of the rod and could not wait to get back home and fish. The sun started to set before us changing the sky from blue to a soft smear of purples and oranges. The stars started to pop to life, and we crawled into our sleeping bags.

Cheers!  

Garbelly and Critter  

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Day 72: 990 to 1009

When Garbelly woke up, everyone was packing up including Critter. For the first time on trail, she was the early riser. With the cold air outside our tent, we tried to do as much as we could from inside. However, cold meant no mosquitoes. Thor, Scrapbook, Charlie and Hannah headed up trail and we tagged along once we split a bagel and peanut butter, our first time packing out bagels so far. We followed a gradual climb up the Mt. Massive trail but decided to make miles we so passed by where the trail forked and headed up to the summit.

We steadily climbed all morning, running into a ton of Colorado Trail hikers and even Jeremy! For lunch, we joined Charlie and Hannah by a stream. Two large donkeys with two handlers came running down the trail followed by a man in a cowboy hat on a horse. Shocked we all sat there and watched them run by then head down the trail. It was not what we were expecting during our break.

After lunch, we finished a climb then headed through the Leadville Fish Hatchery, the oldest fish hatchery in the USA, and then down to a trailhead that led us into the Holy Cross Wilderness. The forest grew denser and more shaded from the sun. We climbed switchbacks up for a couple of miles to a saddle before descending back down to an alpine lake. Without a question, we grabbed the Tenkara rod tied on a small Parachute Adams, tied by our good friend Marty, and started to search for the best access to the water.

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The amber-colored but clear water was shielded by thick pines, but we were able to find a sharply angled rock just off the bank half under water. Standing on it was a balancing act but set us up perfectly to toss the line into the water. We watched as the fish were rising feeding on an evening hatch that popped off of the water. Garbelly had first cast and just as he saw a fish start to rise, he landed the Adams on top of the water and then BOOM! A Greenback Cutthroat hit the fly and Garbelly's setting of the hook put the fish perfectly on the rod. Stepping back while carefully balancing on the rock, he jumped to shore, handed the rod to Critter then ran down to land the fish. A perfect release, the cutthroat swam to freedom in the depths of the lake.

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Critter had the next cast so she stepped up onto the rock balancing on the balls of her feet and started to wait for the sight of a rising fish. Brook Trout started to move into the area around the rock. She roll-casted the line laying the leader and the fly on top of the water. A hungry Brookie started to make its move. The wind blew the lightweight rod slightly moving the fly but the Brookie chased after it eventually taking it, and Critter set the hook.

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We went back and forth taking turns sight fishing and with each turn we caught a fish. If it was not for the need to make a couple more miles, we would have stayed there all night. Reluctantly, we packed up the rod and started back up trail.

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We passed by another 10th Mountain Division Hut, this one called Uncle Buds Hut, and then worked our way into the woods to find a camp spot back on trail. Some of the only snow we encountered all day was right where we set up camp. It was an especially cold night so we enjoyed dinner from the warmth of our tents and then quickly went to bed. As we closed our eyes, both of us saw images of the fish hitting the fly. It is safe to say our dreams were pretty fishy that night. 

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Cheers! 

Garbelly and Critter

Day 71: 984 to 991 (Mt. Elbert Summit)

Waking up to the comfort of a bed is extremely nice even though we get great sleep on our Thermarest. Having a pillow that is not made up of clean socks and a down jacket stuffed into a stuff sack is heaven for our heads. These comforts make it quite difficult to get out of bed to pack up our packs to get back on trail. Today we were setting out to climb Mt. Elbert as a nearly 9 mile side trip that would climb 4,700 ft and lead us to the top of the tallest peak in Colorado. So I guess you could say this gave us the excitement to get out of bed.

After packing, we headed downstairs for a cup of coffee with Dave and Jess. Dave told us that he could take us to trail if we needed a ride, which we quickly agreed to. Once Charlie and Hannah came down, we all got in the car and were on our way. We stopped by a local coffee shop, La Resistance, to grab coffee and burritos, which were delicious!

Dave dropped us off at the highway and we all said our goodbyes. He, being a thru hiker himself, understood what we were going through. We knew if the opportunity presented itself, he and Jess would drop everything and hike again, which of course we cannot help but to encourage.  As he drove away, we headed up the mountain. The hardest part of hiking is the first few miles right out of town. The packs are heavy and you get soft from staying in town for too long. But after those few miles, you get right back into the thru hiker rhythm again.

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Our climb begain at 9,300 ft and we knew it would end at 14,439 feet. It was daunting, but we were getting excited. Six miles later we arrived at the Northern Elbert Trail. Smoke from a wildfire in the surrounding areas had moved in and we were unable to see the mountains across the valley. We hesitated. Would today be a good day to summit with the limited views? At 3:00 PM we decided it would definitely be worth the climb. As we started up the mountain, high winds started to pick up helping out our view. While the smoke departed from the summit of Elbert, something else moved in its place and lingered there for awhile. Storms.

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As we climbed, we passed nearly twenty hikers coming down the mountain. Many warned us that we needed headlamps. It was now 3:30 PM and we had made it above the tree line. We could see the top of one of the false summits. Even though it was still 2,500 feet above us, it seemed so close. We continued to march up that mountain. Around 13,000 feet, Critter began coughing hard again. It sounded similar to our first days in the San Juans. Garbelly told her to drink more water and to slow down a little bit. As the clouds moved in closer and closer, we made it to 13,500 feet. Here Critter started having a full blown asthma attack. Garbelly told her it was just a mountain that we could climb on a better day, but she was determined. A few puffs of her inhaler and the next thousand feet were fairly smooth sailing. Wheezy, breezy, beautiful. We scrambled up to the top where we found Charlie and Hannah.

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After snapping a few photos and eating a couple snacks, the winds that had been around twenty-five miles per hour tripled and started throwing small pellets of hail at us, sideways! We broke into run down the mountain. Garbelly laughing the entire way. The seventy mile per hour winds challenged us to stay on our feet and a few times almost caused us to topple over. We quickly made it down to the timberline and back out of the wind.

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We decided to hike a few more miles to the trailhead parking area where we would have access to water from a nearby creek. After passing a long line of young Boy Scouts headed up the mountain with their dad's old external frame packs, we arrived at the perfect spot. As Garbelly ran down to filter water, he met a couple from Texas. While talking to them he found out that their daughters both were musicians in Nashville. Before leaving, they gave him a couple Payday candy bars and chicken salad sandwiches for the road! Unexpected trail magic seems to follow us and we could not be more grateful for everyone's kindness.

That night Thor and Scrapbook, who caught up to us when we left trail to summit Elbert, camped with us. Throughout the night, we excitedly reminisced on our climb up Elbert. Two fourteeners down and two more to go! 

Cheers to the climbs and to staying stubborn! 

Garbelly & Critter  

PS. It usually smarter to summit and get down before the afternoon. Don't be like us. Play it safe.