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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Garbelly & Critter