Colorado Trail Day 22 – Mother Nature Rules! | Average Hiker
A flat campsite makes a world of difference when I sleep. That and perfect temperatures meant I slept like babe last night. I only drifted awake once when a large visitor wandered around camp. I probably would not have woken up if he had not snuffled around near my head. “Nothing here for you Mr. Bear,” I said as I rolled over and fell back asleep.
It would be cool to have a very light weight night camera I could set up while I sleep, so I could see what visits in the night. Many animals seem to be much more active at night. When I do hike at night I see the small bright eyes that I probably can't see during daylight hours.
Long, winding switchbacks guided me down to the North Fork of Chalk Creek, and I could feel temperatures dropping significantly as I descended. It had to be at least 10 degrees colder in the valley! Grabbing water quickly, I crossed a small bridge and walked about another 50 yards before spotting Pat and Steve's camp on the left behind some tall bushes.
Steve and I chatted briefly until wild haired Pat wandered up. He had that just woke up kinda look. It was cold, so I grinned and waved at Pat before turning away, stepping quickly down the trail.
The creek was a good water source, and I spotted numerous campsites with tents scattered up through the trees along Chalk Creek. Cold damp air quickened my pace in the quiet grey morning, and it only took me a minute to reach the trailhead. There was a trailhead kiosk sign so I stopped to check it for any messages, but only found some info. on rare toads. Don't step on the toads!
Crossing a small foot bridge I sighed heavily as I began my 1,800 foot climb. Mornings were not complete if I did not immediately begin sucking oxygen and turtling up steep mountains. In this case I had good, moderate switchbacks so I was able to stretch my legs out and reach a more rapid pace. My illness had sapped my strength, but 9 days later my strength was returning and I was finding my stride.
Today was an absolutely gorgeous day of hiking. I had hoped to make it to Cottonwood Pass, but Mother Nature was going to have none of that! Storms would begin rolling in around 1PM, and I would end up having to set up camp early.
Reaching the ridge above the Windchopper Drainage Basin, I stopped for a break. The views were spectacular, and another hiker took a picture for me. It was also here that I had a late breakfast of cereal and powdered milk (NIDO). The weather was beautiful, but I could see clouds gathering in the distance, so I did not stay too long.
Other than one big climb the topo map looked fairly moderate for the day, but this was deceiving. There were quite a few ups and downs with a few steep little climbs. The terrain was very rocky, and in some places there were piles of dark shale/igneous rock that the trail carved it's way through. The dark, jagged rocky trail was striking as it butted up against dry, yellow ridges of sandy rock.
Making my way up to the ridge below Emma Burr I realized this was probably going to be a short day as I watched the skies with dark clouds building. I could hear distant rumbles but nothing close enough to make me pause.
At the base of the climb to Sanford Saddle the thunder had picked up, and there were large black clouds on both sides of the saddle. Hikers coming from the exposed stretch after Cottonwood told me that the next 6-7 miles to Cottonwood were all above tree line and would get “exciting” if a storm hit. I stood looking up at the notch as a huge crack of thunder echoed through the valley around me. It was time to find a campsite.
I've been caught in storms so bad that all I could do was squat on my toes with my arms wrapped around my legs, lay curled in the fetal position crying, or hurl myself crazily down mountains towards tree lines. Having lightning pop so close my hair stands on end is not an experience I choose to repeat, and I avoid it if at all possible.
As the trail began to angle up towards the ridge I looked down to my right and saw a clear area about 20 yards down to my right through the brush. Pushing down through the underbrush I found a clear “flattish” spot and began setting up as hard, cold rain pelted my back.
As I was setting up I heard voices, and looked down the trail to see two small spots moving down the trail around the side of the mountain. It was amazing that I could hear them from here, but there was one voice that was distinctive and carried far – Pat's.
Walking up to the trail I waved my arms and yelled. They had stopped moving, and I suspect they were debating whether or not they should hike over the saddle. I watched as they began moving in my direction again, not sure if they had seen or heard me.
Arriving about 10 minutes later, Steve and Pat said they were not hiking over the saddle and announced they were also setting up camp. They headed downhill and found a couple more “flattish” spots. Steve probably had the best spot up beneath some trees, and he used a tarp, so he could set up just about anywhere he wanted. That is one of the advantages of a good tarp.
While the guys set up camp I went to fetch some water for them since I had nothing else to do. I had packed in enough water from the last creek I crossed, but they needed water for dinner and I wanted to look around the area a little. There looked to be a few game trails cutting through our site.
Pushing through some underbrush, I followed a game trail through another open meadow until I came to an excellent creek. This was a great water source, better than most I had seen today. Although tempted not to filter, I had learned my lesson and filtered the water before heading back to camp along a different route up higher on the mountain.
Pushing through some more thick bushes I stepped into a clear spot covered in moose poop. Next to it was another similar spot. These spots looked to be where moose were bedding down, right near the creek and above a large marshy valley – perfect moose tromping grounds. I hoped to see one of the large gangly animals while I was camped nearby.
The guys were wrapping up their camps when I got back, and as it began raining and thundering everyone retreated to their shelters. I was able to putz around and organize everything, but by 4:00PM I was hungry and yelled out that I was eating. They guys appeared from their shelters with water and stoves in tow. We all gathered around what might have been a very old fire ring to begin making dinner.
Dinner was fun, with everyone bantering and talking about gear. Pat was trying to figure out how to make his Knorr side. I told him he needed a little more protein and gave him a pack of my tuna to add to the side – “After you cook the meal,” I said smiling.
Pat is an educator, and I'm guessing a good one. He is funny and naturally inquisitive, with a barrage of questions. Steve spent much of his time laughing and grinning, occasionally making fun of good natured Pat. They were fun to hang out with.
It was cold though, and not long after eating I was making my way back up to my tarp-tent. It was time to nest for the night.
Stopping early every once in a while is ok, but I was restless. I'm really more of a hiker than a camper. If not moving I have a slight sense of anxiety. Over the years I've always hiked within some type of window. Whether dictated by mother nature and winter, or a self-imposed schedule, I've always needed to “make miles.” In this case winter was coming fast and my natural instincts pushed me to keep moving.
Looking out at the flat, steely skies, I knew I would be waking up early so I burrowed down under my quilt frowning at the missing collar snap that made me have to constantly tuck the quilt up under me. It was going to be a cold night so I left on my jacket and settled in to do a little reading.