Day 94: Wild Bill Says Howdy

We woke up with the top of Lost Ranger still shaded from the sun. As we got dressed, the suns rays creeped into the valley. We headed towards the road, still shrouded by the beetle kill pines. This section of trail was covered in downed trees. We climbed our way down to the trailhead and walked a gravel road. A ranger pulled up beside us and asked us how the trail had been and we told them the Zikels had been gorgeous. Behind these rangers, a long line of cars proceeded.

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We walked around eight miles down the gravel road. Here Garbelly got signal and found out his sister had been in labor since midnight and family were on their way to the hospital. The trail had provided again. We would be able to be in town for the birth of Garbelly's niece or nephew! Just as we received this call, we see a white truck with a wooden back end. It was Delia and the one and Wild Bill Ducote. He whipped the truck into a pullout and got out hugging both of us. After the initial excitement of seeing a great friend in the middle of nowhere, we got in the truck and turned around. He offered us some leftover pizza from a place he had been to in Lander. It was unreal. It was covered in pesto, garlic and lots of cheese. We quickly wolfed it down as we turned onto a highway leading to Steamboat Springs.

We made it to Steamboat and did what we always do; ate a ton of food. We stopped into a BBQ restaurant (Critter's favorite place to search for veggie options) and ate pulled pork and fried zucchini. After this, we decided to head to the Yampa river, a popular lazy river running through town, and go for a swim. We found a nice eddy just below a rapids and hung out there watching inner tubers scream as the went down the small rapids, sometimes flipping into the water. Wild Bill was the tubers number one fan as he swam to get sandals floating down the river and push people out of eddys they were trapped inside and could not move. This swim was also a pretty nice bath and laundry time. We did not look completely like three homeless people bathing in a river, but not far from it either.

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After we got out, we drove down the Main Street looking for ice cream and a hotel. Along the way we saw a putt putt golf place and could not help but pull in the parking lot and play some golf. We were older than anyone else on the course by a decade or two. We played for an hour or so and even had a few hole in ones. When we finished playing, Garbelly and Wild Bill had tied with a score of 50 and Critter with 57.

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After this we looked for a room to stay. Every hotel in steamboat was completely booked up besides a room for $350. It was about $300 over our budget. We looked and found cheap hotels in the town of Craig 37 miles away. We decided since we had a car, this was our best bet. On the drive Garbelly called his parents and family to check on the status of his sister in labor.  No baby yet. He could barely keep in his excitement. Within hours he would become Uncle Garbelly!

Once we arrived, we found out that every hotel was booked there for a soccer tournament. Looking back, we definitely should have called and asked first. Finally out of pure luck, a local inn had one room left with a single bed. One hour later, Garbelly's sister had a baby and we all found out it was a baby girl!! Garbelly was beyond excited. A few years may have been shed.

What a day. Filled with best friends, swimming and a new niece. At midnight we finally fell asleep.  

Cheers!  

Garbelly & Critter

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Marion Ruth Mitchell

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 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 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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