Day 72: Greenback on the Fly

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: 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. 

Day 67: Mirror Lake Alt

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Our morning did not begin with bright sunshine or bone chilling cold air. Actually it was perfect conditions to oversleep. While Critter was on board with this plan, Garbelly's eagerness to start making miles led to a 6:30 AM start. We had a couple big climbs to complete.

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Over an hour later we were at the top of our first pass. Tincup pass gave us beautiful snowy views of the valleys on either side. We took a few pictures and then quickly began our descent. Skipping over snow melt streams and stomping through snow we made our way to Mirror Lake. Just as the name described, it perfectly reflected the mountains that stood above it. The water was very high and in fact washed out parts of the trail. We all decided bushwhacking through the brush would be quicker than trying to stay on the underwater trail so we headed up and around the lake. After the lake we began climbing up another big pass. In the clear heat of the day, we decided to have lunch before heading back down into the snow. Soon we would be cooking our warm meals and climbing in our beds!

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While quickly stumbling the last few miles of trail, Garbelly led the way. As he rounded the last switchback, a large series of crashes and splashes jolted them to a stop. Peering through a small thicket of trees, there stood two large moose just thirty yards away. The larger male took off charging through the marsh. Large moose of this size can tower towards almost seven feet tall at the shoulder. While only his head remained above the water, with each bound he flew out of the water revealing the bottom of his chest. Garbelly yelled for Critter to look and see this powerful creature. Within an hour and a half, we saw 7 or 8 moose including a massive bull with huge cupping antlers and a small calf moose following its mother. As enthralled as we were to see these stoic behemoths, we knew how dangerous they were and had heard plenty of stories of people being charged.

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 Ironically, we weren't worried about the large moose but instead we were being tormented by a creature much smaller. Mosquitoes. Before today, they had been pesky and annoying, but in this area they waged all out war. We slapped our legs and faces as they dive bombed, buzzed our ears and then slyly landed on the backs of our necks. There was no escaping them. This caused us to hike even faster towards camp. We all talked of building a fire to smoke them out of our camp site.

 In just a short while, we had arrived to the perfect location to set up our tents. Right on the shoreline of Texas lake. Surprisingly the mosquitoes were not that bad here. We found out this was most likely due to the large number of swallows and fish rising in the lake.

 While Texas Lake was not the largest lake in the United States, but it was large. It was the largest unfrozen, un-dammed lake we had come across so far. As the sun set, moose migrated from the woods across the opposite side of the lake where they settled down for the night. We got out the tenkara rod and fished as we observed all of the active wildlife around us. A large swooping osprey caught more fish than we did and we quickly decided it was time to eat.

Photo by Hannah

Photo by Hannah

 With the sun long gone from the sky, we laid on our thermarest sleeping pads and quickly drifted to sleep. In the back of our minds, we thought there was a large chance of being awoken by a moose. Nevertheless, we went to sleep very quickly.

Cheers!  

Garbelly & Critter  

Day 66: 920 to 938

Our campsite had not exactly been ideal last night. We slept on an uneven field of sharp rocks above a fork of the Arkansas River. Surprisingly we woke up to an early morning sun and it was not terribly cold. As we got out of the tent and packed our bags, we were not even swarmed by mosquitoes as we had been the night before.

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We began our walk towards our first pass of the day, Chalk Creek Pass. For the first couple miles, we snaked in and out of the woods. Then as snow drifts grew higher and higher, we were finally spit out of the thick forest and into a wide open field next to a beautiful lake. We began kicking steps into the snow heading up the pass. Garbelly's hat flew off in the wind, so he chased it down just before another huge gust of wind swept it closer to the lake. Critter's hat flew off her head too but tangled in her hair, it did not go far. Soon we were experiencing one of the greatest feelings hiking can provide. We came over the top of the pass and got to see an entirely new family of mountains and a massive lake reflecting the color of the sky right back at us.

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Descending, we had a group of switchbacks that quickly dropped us out of the blustery winds. Near the bottom we were again walking through snow and swamps. We found our way around the lake and sat down for a minute to wait on Charlie and Hannah who had left a few minutes after we did from camp. While we waited, Garbelly decided to take a swim in the half frozen lake. Unfortunately, it was only knee deep and extremely slick causing him to look like a deer running across a frozen pond. We ate a few snacks and headed on down the mountain.

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This is when we began seeing people! First a couple and their dog and then a family of four. As we slid down the snowy slope we heard car doors and engines. Soon we came upon a trailhead in the middle of nowhere. Nearly ten cars of day hikers had pulled up to explore the mountains. Here we split off onto the Alpine Tunnel loop. This loop was an old railroad bed the led around the mountain a few miles and then tunneled through the mountain. Although the tunnel had collapsed, historical signs showed us pictures and information about the tunnel's golden years. Built in 1881, the alpine tunnel took thousands of workers to complete the 1,800 foot tunnel. We secretly wished the tunnel still existed instead of climbing up to the next 12,300 foot pass.

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Looking at our maps, the trail switched up the mountainside. Peering up from our maps, we saw a steep snow covered vertical slope. We decided this would not be the safest route up the pass, so we followed a drainage up towards the pass. The snow bridges over the creeks were still solid enough to walk over so we made our way up to a lake with fairly dry feet. Charlie yelled back at us to look at the top of the mountain. There lay seventeen bighorn sheep staring down at us from their granite spire. Finally we made it to the top of our second pass, Critter still coughing most of the way.

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Over the pass, a sea of white plagued our view. We knew we were not out of the snow, but we were hopeful. A couple miles in the distance we saw our next pass. Beyond that, a green valley. We decided to make a huge push and climb the third pass so that we could camp in a beautiful warm valley.

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Walking through snow fields feels a lot like Russian Roulette (without the getting shot aspect). With each step, we knew that we might posthole at any moment. We walked on the slushy crust and just when we were not expecting it, plunged waist deep into the snow.

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We started dropping quickly. Every so often the switchbacks zigzagging down the mountain would appear but snow would soon take over. We headed in the general direction taking the most efficient and safe path over trying to stay on the trail. Once we made it to the valley floor, we were greeted by warm air and snowless trail. Oh! And bridges! 

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We found the perfect campsite tucked into the trees. As we set up camp, Charlie quickly built a fire and we huddled around and cooked our dinners. We sat our shoes and socks around the fire to dry them out and told stories. We had earned our sleep tonight and around 10:30 we finally got into our sleeping bags.

Cheers! 

Garbelly & Critter

Day 65: Back to Monarch Pass

As we woke up nestled among sheets and pillows, we reflected on the goal for the day- get back to trail. It was not a difficult goal at least that is what we thought. Charlie and Hannah were in the room next to us and seemed to be on the same page. We were all running a little late getting packed so we were probably going to milk the 11:00am check out time for all that it was worth, but after sending back our snowshoes and running by a gear shop, it was back to trail.

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The day did not quite pan out this simple. After leaving the Silver Ridge Lodge, we swung by the Simple Foods Market on our way to the UPS store. As we were walking a car pulled in front of us and out of the window popped a man's head, who shouted, "Are you guys CT hikers?!" "CDT!" We shouted back. He gave us a hand signal that slightly resembled a motion to hold on as he pulled over to the side of the road. He introduced himself and let us know that he was a trail angel in Salida. He offered to give us a ride to the places we were interested in going to before leaving town. We met him down at the UPS store, which was closed to our frustration, but Chuck had another idea, a better idea. He drove us up to a place called PakMail. At PakMail, we were greeted and assisted by an incredibly helpful woman who helped us fit our snowshoes in boxes and even figured out the cheapest way to send them. It happened that USPS would be our best option, but she helped us get our boxes ready to go and properly labeled and taped. We loaded back up in Chucks car and headed to the post office. There we said goodbye to Chuck and ran into the building to do what we had been dreaming of...we sent our snowshoes home! Critter even sent the brain of her pack home!

Our packs already felt lighter even with a bag full of food. What a relief it was. Now we would have to keep our fingers crossed for no snow, at least rapidly melting snow. After we left the post office, it was time to grab lunch. We wandered up to Mo Burrito to grab some food and work on some last minute things like finishing up post cards. Next we headed towards the river but quickly became overwhelmed. We always make it to town just in time for their big festival.

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Unfortunately, when you are trying to get back on trail, the people, noises, and festivities can become more overwhelming than intriguing. We headed back towards Highway 50 so that we could begin hitching. All four of us were able to get a hitch to Poncho Springs where we were dropped off near a line of go-carts and "Frankenstein" bikes, made from a bunch of different parts.

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A hitch back up the pass on a Friday night proved to be more difficult than we expected. We were finally able to get a ride and made it to trail. We hiked a quarter of a mile up the trail before peeling off into the pine trees to set up camp. Our goal for the day had been accomplished. It was not a huge goal but a goal nonetheless. Getting out of town is tough, but immediately rewarding. 

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Cheers!  

Garbelly & Critter  

Day 60: San Luis Peak

We said goodbye to Johamy and headed back towards the official CDT. It was not a sad goodbye, because we knew that we had made a lifelong friend. She had been so welcoming to us even though we were strangers. We left feeling like we had known her for years. Some people have the ability to radiate a constant feeling of love and support and she was definitely one of those people.

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After we said goodbye we started walking up a gravel road. Some ways up as the road turned to dirt, we saw a large moose ten feet from the road. His large nose, ears and tufted hump on his back were the only thing showing over the six foot tall brush. He stared us down and gave no signs of moving and no signs of aggression. However, without wanting to put ourselves in a bad situation as we stepped closer to him, we each yelled, "hey moose," as he continued staring at us. We yelled one more time and he reluctantly trudged away. Cautiously we walked right over where he had been and continued following the trail.

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We reached a saddle that met back up with the CDT and headed North. At first there was trail leading up to 12,600 feet, but as soon as we rounded the top, we saw a sea of white snow. For about four miles we swam through the rotten snow falling knee to waist deep with each step. The snow was too soft and slushy for even snow shoes to help. we found a small dry patch of ground and decided to have a quick lunch. 

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Just as we were packing up, a smiling face popped over the hill next to us. We did not recognize him, but as he came closer, he introduced himself as Spindrift. We talked for a few minutes and found out he was from Toronto and was a software engineer in his pre trail life. We told him we were going up San Luis Peak and asked if he wanted to join.  He said he would see how he was doing on time once we got to the spur trail.

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A couple miles later, all three of us dropped our packs on a dry patch of grass on the saddle. We grabbed our ice axes, crampons and a bottle of water and set out towards San Luis Peak. Critter still had a bad cough and still had not fully acclimated to altitude. Garbelly promised her that if they walked slow and without packs on that the conditions would be a lot easier on her. If she was feeling bad he would turn around with her and head back down the mountain.

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 We began hiking up the mountain. Without our "first day out of town" packs on, we felt as if we were floating up the peak. Ice axes and crampons in hand, we were prepared for a snowy ridge walk. As we climbed, Critter began coughing hard just as a few weeks before with her asthma attack. Garbelly told her to stop and drink some water and to have a seat. Critter drank water and leaned against her trekking poles before pressing on. Soon we had passed 13,000 feet. Despite Critter's coughing, so far everything was going great. A few thousand feet later, a few stops to get a drink of water and we we could see the summit. With only five hundred feet of climbing left, Critter took a couple puffs of her inhaler and pushed onward.

 Finally, with the sun still high in the sky we rounded the snow covered top of San Luis Peak. Critter had not only made it to the top of her first 14,000 foot peak, but she had also conquered something bigger. Ever since her asthma attacks at around 12,300 feet, a big part of her cautiously feared staying above that altitude. Today the fear was put to rest.

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The three of us laughed the whole way down the mountain. We were high on life and still very high in the sky. As the wind attempted to blow us off our feet, we only smiled in return and navigated our way over steep talus. We did not care that we did extra miles and a couple extra thousand vertical feet of climbing. We felt alive in the sense that only climbing a large peak provides.

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It was now five o'clock and our mission became to find camp. After slipping and sliding down the snowy pass, we stumbled upon a mostly dry trail. Words could not describe how excited we were to be near 12,000 feet and have trail. We were now walking through a green valley with a roaring river paralleling us the whole way. Our maps showed a river, but as we got glimpses of the water it was a series of hundreds of ponds. The view resembled the terraced rice fields of China. After looking closer, we realized that it had been created by a large series of beaver dams. It amazed us that the little busy workers could alter an entire mountain valley.

Soon we arrived to a fairly flat area with an old fire ring. With wet feet, we decided this would be a good spot to settle for the night. After setting up and filtering water, we built a small fire to dry our socks out. What a day it had been. 

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Thanks again Stinger for loaning me the ice axe! It has been a life saver out here. Literally.

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Cheers to the mountain life! 

Garbelly & Critter  

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Day 58-59: Zero Days in Creede

Our first day in Creede started with ice cream and ended with ice cream, which is the recipe for a good day. We headed down for the day from our room at the Aspen Inn. We noticed Jim and Chase, a boy working in town for the summer, sitting at the counter of Finding Gems. We wandered inside where we were welcomed by the question if it was time for ice cream. It was. Chase served us two large waffle cones, one with coffee flavored ice cream the other almond amaretto.

We had brought our packs down, but Jim told us they had blocked the room off for us for either a late check out or for another night. After we were finished our ice cream we took our packs back up to the room to store them for the day, which turned into staying for another night. How could we not?! There was so much left of Creede for us to see and so much snow left on trail.

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Chase gave us a ride down to MJ's, a local diner, for a small lunch. We then hiked up a trail right in town that took us up and over to the spires which frame the town of Creede. Hiking without the weight and constraints of our packs, we felt so free. Free?! We are walking across the country wth our everything we need on our backs. Our homes are in our packs. What is more free than that?! Our packs ground us in each of our steps. We feel as if each toe roots us deep into the earth. Without our packs, we might as well float away from the trail. As we reached the top of the climb overlooking the town a group of hikers, two couples, were hiking down. 

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"Where are y'all from?" one of women asked. 

Our "Nashville!" was followed by an excited and familiar "Memphis!" We chatted with them for a bit before we all started to head down the trail on the other side. They stopped for lunch and shared with us a PB&J and some water. As we joined back up the with the road after going down a descend on top of talis, we continued our conversations all the way back into town, specifically till we arrived at the Mining Museum.

There we all parted ways some to go through the museum tour, others to go back into town to get the car, and us to feed the chipmunks that live in the walls of the museum. A quarter got us both a handful of sunflower seeds and down we sat on the concrete waiting for our furry friends to come out for some snacks. Sure enough they started to come out of hiding as soon as they heard the nozzle of the candy, turned seed, machine click. They would run right up to our hands and started stuffing their cheeks full of seeds. The smaller ones were generally more shy and skiddish while the larger ones where more brave and bold.

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After an hour or so we decided we should probably go do something a little more productive so we headed to Main Street to check out the gear shops and resupply on food. We wandered into a fly shop, Rio Grande Anglers, where we spoke with some locals and learned some interesting information. As we hiked in the day before we tried to fish a beautiful stream that was full of mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies and was overall very fishy. However, no fish was caught or even seen, which we thought to be very strange. The gentlemen at the shop inform us that that stream happened to be one of the best for Brook Trout. Unfortunately and fortunately, two years ago Colorado Fish and Wildlife poisoned the stream in order to rehabilitate the native Cutthroats back in. No wonder there was no fish.

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We wandered across the street and into another shop, San Juan Sports, where we quickly became overwhelmed by smell of new gear and sight of a shop similar to our very own Cumberland Transit. As we were poking about the store, two familiar hikers walked in, Charlie and Hannah! We caught up with them for awhile in the middle of the store before relocating to the Kentucky Belle Market to resupply and continue our sharing of stories of the trail past. Our goal was to leave in the morning and head out with them. That night we packed our packs up and fell asleep one last time among the mural of aspens. 

The morning came far too quickly, but we welcomed the sun as it began to spill into our room at the Aspen Inn. Our intentions were set on getting back on trail today especially since Charlie and Hannah were close by and we looked forward to hiking with them. We finished packing our bags and once again stripped the sheets off of the bed and collected the trash. Our hummus and cheese had disappeared overnight so we ran down to the Kentucky Belle Market to pick some more up for our lunches. Today was Creede's 125th Birthday, so the town would be celebrating all day with burrow races, shoot-outs, pie eating contests, and so much more. We were not planning on staying due to the inevitable money spending that comes with staying in town. As we walked back up Main Street, our attention was directed towards a handsome Australian Shepard and his owner in workout clothes. We stopped to pet the dog named Bear and started talking with the owner. She asked us if we were staying for Creede's big day, and when we stated that we had to get back to trail to save money and make miles, without hesitation, she offered up her guest room for the night if we stayed. We already knew our answer, but we decided to run an errand before admitting to our decision.

We scurried up the road to the Mining Museum, and we pulled out all of the quarters we had left. Seventy-five cents led to an hour with our fuzzy chipmunk friends. Bud, a tour guide for the museum, even came out and sat with us. He told us about a young woman he helped the day before when she had driven her Jeep near an ledge and on top of a boulder. When she begged to pay him or buy him dinner for helping her out, he responded by saying, "That is Creede for you. Don't pay me, pay it forward."

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After the seeds were gone and we were out of quarters, we decided to take the thirty minute audio tour through the museum. We were guided to eighteen different stations each one representing a different task, tool, or position within an old mine. The whole process of extracting and collecting the ore was broken down into laymen's terms. It was only then that we felt ready to stay for the day.

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We hurried back to Main Street and met up with the woman who offered us a place to stay. Her name was Johamy and now she was dressed in a long skirt, dressy top, and a cowboy hat. She was setting up her face painting booth outside of the Creede Repertory Theatre. Excited that we had come back and had decided to stay, she showed us to her house so that we could put down our packs. Johamy was the perfect host, not to mention beautiful, intelligent, strong, and charismatic. As we walked back towards town, she invited us to see the matinee showing of She Loves Me at the repertory theater. Our answer was an absolute yes! We had heard so many amazing comments about Creede's theatre and even found out it was one of the best in the country. We had some time to kill before the show, so we headed over to Finding Gems, right across the street, and sat with Anna for a little bit. She mentioned a series of books exploring the spiritually of Russian culture before the Moors invaded. Curious about her Russian-Jewish background, we asked her questions and in turn mentioned pieces of our own ethnicities and families. When she hurried back to the ice cream shop, we wandered down the road to pick up some ingredients Johamy needed for a couscous dish she was going to make for a potluck that evening. Everyone was crowding around for the start of the burrow race, a ten mile race where each participant has to bring a burrow along the course with them. Dressed in the traditional pack equipped with a gold pan and shovel, the burrows were heehawing and already showing off their stubbornness as their racers tried to line up at the start line. A shotgun sounded and the runners and their burrows were off, except one that decided to head in the opposite direction. As the woman racer righted her burrow, they were off in the right direction.

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Now it was about time for us to head up to the theatre. We headed inside to claim our tickets. The inside of the theatre was as beautiful as the outside. Small and perfectly quaint. We headed to our seats close to the front. The play was set in the 1930's in a European perfume shop. The pianist walked out taking a seat at his bench and began playing an upbeat song. The house lights dimmed and actors began showing up on stage for their popening song. She Loves Me is based on a play by Miklos Laszlo, and this musical inspired the movie You've Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. A romantic comedy, She Loves Me follows the love of two feuding co-workers while exploring other forms of love and loss. The cast and their lines had us laughing out loud. The songs even got stuck in Garbelly's head. We were so impressed by the set choreography as they changed from store front to perfume store to restaurant with ease. We even ran into Dave, our ride from Pagosa Springs to Wolf Creek Pass, among the audience.

After the show, we met back up with Johamy and joined her at a potluck. Everyone there played a part in the theatre community. We spoke with a couple of the actors from the performance as well as watched an intense game take place. The game was played like four-square but with soccer rules. Before we knew it fifteen people were involved in the game rotating turns on the outer edge of the court. We learned so much about Creede's theatre community and repertory program, and we discovered through conversations with members and employees how big of a part the theatre plays in the town and county. As we learned about the upcoming shows, we could not help but start thinking of logistics to come back. After the potluck we started heading back to Johamy's house when we ran into our friends we had made on our hike. After a quick meeting and then several serendipitous run-ins thereafter, it is amazing how much a group of strangers can become so meaningful to you. The short conversations and encounters became some of our most inspirational ones yet. As if we had known them forever or even dare we say, as if they were family. It's truly spectacular, and hopefully, our family back home can rest their minds knowing how well taken care of we are out here. Continuing with that idea, that evening we spent time with Johamy on her back porch with Bear.  We found her role with the theatre's educational program fascinating and learning about how much the program has grown in such a short time is amazing! We really enjoyed getting to know Johamy and simply spending time with her. Looking back on the morning, it was perfect timing, maybe even fate, to have run into her as we left the grocery store. Whatever it was, we had made the right decision in staying one more day in Creede.

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Cheers to Creede and Happy 125th Birthday!  

Garbebe and Crittah  

Day 55: Pagosa Springs to 790

The alarm rang through our 10 foot by 10 foot motel room. Seven o'clock and we were lured out of sleep. Having to wake up early when staying in town is never fun. Having to wake up and not milk every minute of the eleven o'clock check-out time is equally never fun. However, today we needed to get back on trail. Critter still had a frequent and vicious cough, but the walls of town were beginning to close in on us.

We packed our bags, put our shoes and clean socks on, and checked out early from the Pinewood Inn. We began walking down the street towards the gas station to pick up some cough drops, Emergen-C, and water. A group of three hikers, Spirit, Bones, and Dos Eggrolls, were near the gas station with their thumbs high, trying to get a hitch to trail. We joined them on the road, but with no luck, we headed down the road towards a sign for Wolf Creek Pass, 23 miles. Eggrolls joined us down the road, and together we all stuck our thumbs confidently into the air. Car after car passed until a small, blue BMW pulled over onto the shoulder. Out jumped an older gentleman who exclaimed, "If you all can fit, I can give you a ride!" "Oh, we can make it work," we all said, or some variation for the  statement. Crammed into the car, we sat with our packs over our laps and blocking different parts of our faces. We were cautiously clutching to our sharp snow gear as to keep the edges away from the leather interior.

An incredibly friendly man, later learning his name was Dave, offered to take us all the way to the pass if we were okay with him swinging by his house to unload his frozen food. We had no problem with that at all. During the car ride we talked about the area, learned about remote hot springs, and even saw elaborate entrances to huge ranches.

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Once we got to the top of the pass, we carefully took our packs out of the car and thanked Dave for the ride. The other two had not received a ride yet so we decided to get a head start towards camp. Wolf Creek Pass sits at 10,857 feet, yet the trail climbed away from the road tucking those that followed it into a cradle of peaks and ridges. Snow was patchy starting out, but as we hiked more of the trail surrendered to larger and larger patches. There was a large group of hikers starting back on trail today leaving fresh footprints to follow. In fact Garbelly ran into an old face from the PCT, a hiker named "Endless" that he had met in norther California a couple years previously. It felt like a small world to run into familiar faces in the middle of nowhere. However when we thought about it, seeing another thru hiker thru hiking was not that bizarre of a concept.

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Around one o'clock, a thunderstorm rolled in over the mountains even taller than ours and dropped pellet-size hail on us as dark clouds painted the sky. The thunder felt close enough to hear it rattle and rumble the belly of the storm. Even though the snow gets better each day, we still had a couple of traverses that were sheets of snow and ice, softened by the mid-day sun. We handled each traverse with confidence and took each step slow and calculated, our ice axe in one hand and a trekking pole in the other.

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Snow like this is unpredictable. One misstep and you could slide for hundreds of feet down or one good step and you could slide for hundreds of feet down. We did not admit to ourselves it was "sketchy" till we were safe on the other side. There were a couple of times we had a foot slip. A blast of adrenaline would race through our bodies as our ice axe dug in. Once we had collected ourselves and calmed down our racing hearts, we would look at each other, smile, and laugh, admittedly a little nervously. However, around each traverse our reality became even more astonishing. We were among the mountains, and the peaks surrounding us rang with that much more power. We camped by a frozen lake that night with a view of layed mountains one way and the shoulder of Mount Hope with the trail switchbacking up it before us. The sounds of Pikas, birds, and coyotes rocked us to sleep. 

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Miles went slow today. With Critter still coughing an body feeling very weak, we are faced with the decision to continue on through the San Juans or drop down into a valley towards Creede. We decided that tomorrow we will make the call, which is never an easy call to make.  

Cheers! 

Garbelly & Critter  

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Day 53-54: Zero Days in Pagosa Springs

Although the curtains blocked out the morning sun, our eyes fluttered awake. You can take the hiker off of the trail but you cannot take the trail out of the hiker... or something like that. On trail, you synchronize with the sun. Even on zero days in town, you follow the sun. The sun was coming up, and we were slowly waking up. Fortunately, this morning there was no rush, no necessity to race out of the sheets and into our shoes. This morning we danced in and out of sleep, until a more reasonable time chimed on the clock.

Sally wandered into the kitchen. Wishing us a good morning, she followed her greeting with whether or not we wanted French Toast. Once Ray woke up, he joined us at the kitchen table for a delicious breakfast and coffee. We sat around the table continuing conversation and enjoying each other's company. It was another blue bird day, and the idea of going fishing was mentioned. There was no turning it down.

We were thrilled to be able to tag along back up to the mountains and this time to turn our attention to the river. We loaded up in the car, grabbed bread, peanut butter, jelly, and a bag of apples from the store and headed back to Park Creek. The water was roaring, but the day was beautiful and our spirits were high. We arrived at a field of dandelions and possible access to more fishable water. Ray stepped into his waders, boots, and vest, and we extended our tenkara rod for its first taste of the mountain air and ice cold water. We spent some time here burrowing back into the brush to get to the perfect bend in the river. The water was high and muddy, but there were fish there. That was enough motivation to fight the current to run a seam.

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All three of us got hits but due to the power of the water all it took was one look downstream and off the line the fish swam. The beauty of it all was that we could not even be frustrated. The company and the day were more than enough to have us all feeling just perfectly content. We hopped back into the car and headed down the road, stopping at one more area where the water calmed, if just slightly. No bites.

That night we cooked stir-fry with Sally in the kitchen and then together, we enjoyed dinner and conversation around the table. We discussed everything from the outdoor activities we love to do all the way to past careers. We learned that they owned a house and some land in Montana that they had once used and operated a program for troubled youth. We were fortunate to listen to story after story of hiking and rafting trips Ray had guided with these kids. One of our favorite things about Ray and Sally is that they both understood the healing power of the outdoors. While love and support go a long way, the feeling that fills your body after climbing your first mountain or tackling your first class four rapid is a huge boost to self esteem and it is very empowering. The mountains demand respect yet demonstrate gratitude with their calm alpine lakes. Ray told stories of trips he took the young men on to Glacier National Park and stories of true alterations in their lives from these trips. Unlike so many other youth programs, they did not create a hostile boot camp for these boys, but demonstrated how life could be and opened their eyes to the world of nature. 

The following morning we shared breakfast around the same table, before packing our things to head back to trail. Meals at home, not in the openness of a restaurant, are very special to us. They are rare to nonexistent unless someone welcomes you into their home and sets a place at their dinner table for you. Sally and Ray did just that. They not only welcomed us into their space, but shared the day with us, getting to know us, letting us get to know them, and sharing with us the experience of a day on the river. By the time they dropped us off at the Post Office, we felt like they were apart of our family and us apart of theirs. Quickly, over our time together, they became a very special stepping stone on our path that we are building North. 

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Garbelly sight fishing a Brookie in calmer waters.  

Their river lodge is now available to be rented out for fishing trips, mountain getaways and corporate trips. This is no small lodge, in fact it has capacity to sleep up to thirty people! Nestled amidst state forest ground, their house is truly secluded and promises Montana fishing without pressure from thousands of anglers. If you are ever planning a huge fishing trip with all of your buddies (call and invite us too), check out the Montana River Lodge.  http://montanariverlodge.com

Cheers! 

Garbelly & Critter

Day 52: Pagosa Springs

The sun peaked over the hillside illuminating our tent and casting an orange glow on everything within its walls. The air was still crisp and frost covered every thing around us, including the foot box of our sleeping bags.

After packing up, we bushwhacked a few hundred yards back to trail. On the way we ran into a few mule deer who curiously stared on as we marched by. Moments later we had arrived back to the forest service road. Walking up the road we saw one of our old friends. His name is snow and he covered everything for the next few miles.

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Walking on snow this early was no problem because it was as hard as concrete. We looked at our maps and headed across a valley where we passed a small cabin available for rent through the forest service. Stacks of firewood lined its walls. It was evident no one had stayed here in quite some time. We marched along talking to each other about all of the places we needed to come back and visit.

Reaching Elwood Pass, we decided to drop down towards Park Creek. A dirt road would take us out of the mountains and down to the highway. The road followed Park Creek where giant green fields with freckles of yellow stood in between us and the water. We ate lunch among an aspen grove, and we eyed the water for fishy looking areas. As we grew closer to the highway, we stopped to filter water when a car pulled up headed in the opposite direction. Garbelly started talking to the couple in the car and answering questions about what we were doing out there. They mentioned they were visiting the area to fish and were staying in Pagosa Springs. When they found out we were headed into Pagosa, they offered to give us a ride to town. Perfect! They drove up the road to scout the water out, and on their way back to the highway, we loaded up in their car.

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Meet Ray and Sally, our Pagosa Springs Trail Angels. They drove us into town and then continued on to the place they were staying. They let us shower, store our packs, and then took us out to dinner.  After dinner, they insisted we stay on a Murphy bed in their living room. Right off the bat, they treated us like family. Ray and Sally took us in and took such good care of us. 

Cheers!  

Garbelly & Critter