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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Garbellina & Critter