I was up fast this morning, hiking before first light. The night had been quiet, too quiet. I had slept in hour intervals, waking to peer out into the inky blackness just under the edge of my paper thin Dyneema tarp-tent. Fortunately, I had seen no large furry feet wandering around camp.
One good thing about camping near a dog is that I know I will be warned of an intruder. Honestly though, what would I do if warned of a 400 pound bear? Probably just huddle under my quilt and hope the 50 pound dog scared it away I guess.
Even the morning was eerie, and as I passed Busk Creek about a mile later I could see movement through the graying mist all around me. It was barely light enough to see all of the excellent camping around the creek. We had stopped too early.
Peering through the fog I saw 4-5 tents huddled together, and a bunch of slow moving figures creeping around them. It was early, and the slow creaky movements indicated it was probably “The Cruisers.” My body recognized that slow morning gait.
Just after Busk Creek a 1,000 foot climb reared up to greet my morning. I turtled my way up the rocky trail, weaving in and around rhythm breaking rocks. Stopping to suck in some Oxygen about half way up, and leaning on my poles, I was pleased to note I seemed to be ripping air into my lungs at a less rapid pace. Altitude be damned!
Reaching the boundary to Mt. Massive Wilderness, I dropped back down about 800 miles over the next 3 miles. I then started another 1,000 foot climb before dropping back down again. This would be my last big climb over 1,000 feet for the day before starting down towards Twin Lakes, CO.
Sam and Shy caught up with me as I reached the trail junction to Mount Massive. I grimaced as I looked up the trail. I consistently got asked if I was going to climb any “14’rs while I was in Colorado. The conversation was always the same…
Everyone: “Are you going to climb any 14’rs while you are in Colorado?”
Me: “No, but the Colorado Trail has 89,000 feet of vertical gain and loss.”
Everyone: “Does that include any 14’rs?”
Me: “No, but I hike over 13,000 feet.”
Everyone: “But, no 14’rs?”
Me: “I was born at 292′. I live at 335′. Denver about kicked my ass. So no, I will not be climbing any $%^&* 14’rs.”
The conversation usually pivoted to another topic at this point.
After passing a trail junction for Mt. Elbert, most of the afternoon’s hiking was pretty moderate. I played leap frog with The Cruisers, not really expecting to see them after we all took a snack break at a small creek. They had not told us their names, so I had my applied my own – Cruiser Grim, Fitness Cruiser, Hates Hiking Cruiser, Earplug Cruiser, etc. They were pretty easy to tell apart.
The trails around Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert were well used, and in some instances the trail appeared to follow an old logging road. Mt. Elbert is the tallest %^&$#@ 14’r in Colorado, so there were Day hikers everywhere on this sunny, smokey day. Much like mountain bikers, I spent a lot of time stepping out of their way as the barreled down the trail.
As the afternoon shadows began to lengthen I could tell Sam and Shy were beginning to tire. There limit so far was about 15 miles. I slowed down to hike with them and we talked about where to camp. At some point they stopped and I moved on ahead.
Glancing to my left, as I came up a small hill through a mature Aspen grove, I spotted what appeared to be a narrow game trail leading to a clearing. My feet automatically turned onto the trail. Breaking through some Willows, I looked out over a small pond at a perfectly built beaver Dam. Hearing a tail slap, I snapped my head around quickly to see large ripples near the Dam. They had sent out their human warning.
I waited to show Sam and Shy the Dam. They were not nearly as impressed. I love Beavers. The intricacy with which they weave and build their homes is fascinating. They also seem a little sassy.
“Alright, let’s get to camp,” I said. There were supposed to be campsites near the trail junction to Twin Lakes. This would be a record for Sam and Shy with 18.6 miles for the day! We reached the junction and took a left, hiking for about a quarter of a mile with no camp finding luck.
Finally, we turned around and returned to the trail junction. Heading down the trail to Twin Lakes we hiked about a half mile before finding a semi-flat area. The flat area ran out onto a point overlooking the town of Twin Lakes, which was covered in smoke.
There were not many flat spots to choose from, but Sam found a spot under a dead lightning tree, on which a large widow-maker was perched. I wedged my tarp-tent between two pine trees and tied the top to a couple of branches. It was not really set up but I could at least use it as a sort of bivy to keep the GINORMOUS black ants off of me.
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One thing the site did have was a fire ring that looked out over amazing views of the valley. Unfortunately, the thick haze of ash and smoke obscured anything more than 100 yards from us. The one positive was a eerie blood red sunset. The sky was both beautiful and a little creepy at the same time.
As we sat eating dinner, we studied Sam’s tent set-up. All campsite rules had been broken. The small orange tent was under a tree that was clearly an often-used lightning rod, and hanging above it was a very large snag. The snag was in the perfect position to crush. We both started laughing as she picked up her free standing tent and moved it to the other side of the tree. There ya go – problem solved.
After dinner I headed for my tarp-tent, smiling as I passed by Shy. She had dug a hole directly in between mine and Sam’s shelters. I guess I was now part of her pack. Sam yelled at her to get in the tent, and she glanced towards me guiltily as she trotted over to her owner. Shy was probably one of the smartest dogs I’d met. Her small, bright eyes were almost human in their expressions.
Tomorrow was a town day. It was nice to be this close to town. I would resupply, grab breakfast, and hopefully be back on the trail by noon at the latest. Of course, I would probably have to wait until after lunch, so maybe 1PM.