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CDT: Arapaho National Forest (Muddy Pass to Grand Lake)

August 24

The day began with a less than idyllic ten mile paved road walk — perhaps the longest continuous stretch of asphalt to date. My iPod helped pass the miles, but the frequent trucks made listening laborious. The trail eventually turned back to dirt road and reentered a National Forest. I took it easy today, not needing to arrive at Grand Lake until Monday when the post office would be open. These operating hours encouraged more sane mileage days, which was a nice relief from my quick march across Wyoming. I also carried a little extra food for the relatively short four day stretch. Although I lugged additional weight, I was down to skin and bones and needed the extra calories. With my running and triathlons I was not the biggest guy to begin with, but even so my love handles were now only skin. Hopefully this food and a few days in Grand Lake would be enough to stock up for the push through Colorado.

August 25

Today was an absolutely beautiful day, with a completely clear blue sky and not even a hint that an afternoon thunderstorm could ever occur. The temperature was perfect, and I was never too hot or cold hiking in only a t-shirt. My trek was also another easier, shorter day on my slow march to Grand Lake. I did not know how many of these gorgeous days I had left, but I would enjoy every one God provided. The trail also turned from jeep track back to non-motorized single track along the divide. While the jeep roads have some comfort in their wide berth and gentler grades, being on a narrow ridgeline with an expansive valley flowing outwards was just awesome.

With my shorter day, I elected for the alternate over Sheep Mountain, which was not much longer horizontally, but threw in a nice 500 foot climb. The unabated view at the top was spectacular and the unhindered wind felt like a raw, primal, exposed force against my skin.

The Rabbit Ears Range
Looking up at Sheep Mountain

August 26

I met some hunters at first light while I was still in camp, and they told me archery season for elk started yesterday. The hunt was not large so I should not have much of an issue, but I probably should not wear fake antlers. In any case, my morning 2,500 foot climb along the ridgeline to Parkview Mountain put me well above elk habitation. The climb was steep and difficult, but also exhilarating.

After an easy few days, I had to resort to a long continual day of hiking to make my lunchtime appointment in Grand Lake tomorrow. I marched steadily through the forest and reached the top of Bowman Pass by 5:30. That left two hours and change of sunlight to complete the highly recommended ridge walk along Ruby and Cascade Mountains. The prudent course of action was to take the lower route, but never being one to take the easy road I hurried along the ridge. I kept a purposeful pace, not rushing, but ever mindful of the sun’s position. Mercifully the trail often fell off the ridgeline and except for a couple big climbs, was relatively flat. It only hit the named peaks and avoided all the minor apexes in between. Setting a new world record for this section, I traversed the ridgeline and made it back down to some tree cover just as the sun set, and setup camp in the dim light of dusk.

The sharp ridge leading down from Haystack Mountain, which was the continental divide
The mountains around Ruby Lake
Bowen Lake
The sun setting over the Rocky Mountains

August 27 — Grand Lake

A rocky descent along jeep roads eventually led to the outskirts of Grand Lake. The last stretch into town after reaching pavement still seemed to take forever. I stopped at Rocky Mountain National Park’s Kawuneeche Visitor Center before walking the last bit to Shadowcliff Hostel.

This hostel was very striking, located on a cliff, with an impressive and rustic looking lodge, almost entirely built by volunteer labor. After a much needed shower I went into town for an expensive Mexican lunch, which did not even provide chips and salsa as an appetizer. I strolled along the boardwalks, looking at the tourist shops, before getting my package from the post office and buying groceries for my stay in town. I cut off blood circulation to my hands lugging all the stuff back, but at least I had plenty to eat and could cook in the hostel’s kitchen. I spent the rest of the day relaxing with my feet up. Sleeping in a real bed and under a solid roof — my first time doing so in a month — was a nice treat.

Share the road with snowmobiles, forget about bikes.

August 28 — Zero Day

For my second true zero on the CDT I had a semi ambitious list of chores to complete, but mainly sat around lazily. I never even found the motivation to leave the hostel. While relaxing was nice, some of those chores needed to be done before leaving town, meaning I had more to cram into tomorrow.

Transient and Roaring Lion both showed up today. I had not seen them since Yellowstone and had gotten in front by avoiding towns in Wyoming. Catching up with how their hikes had progressed was a enjoyable way to pass the evening.

On the food side of things, I consumed a great pancake and omelet brunch, as well as pasta for dinner. Other than over an alcohol stove, this was my first time cooking a real meal in almost three months.

Shadowcliff Hostel

August 29 — Rocky Mountain Loop

I woke early, had a good breakfast and headed out a first light to hike the CDT’s Rocky Mountain loop. The trail goes through the park, but many people skip this section because it makes a big circle, without progressing much further south. I walked this approximately twenty-five mile part counter-clockwise as a day hike. Although I left almost all my gear at the hostel and carried only about four pounds on my back, my legs were still tired in the morning — not an encouraging sign with so little weight and a zero the prior day. As I climbed towards Flattop Mountain, my legs woke up though and the hike seemed easy, even if I gained 3,500 feet, although across the best built backcountry trail I had ever hiked.

I planned to take the short side trip to the top of Flattop Mountain, but after seeing it in person, the climb was more than I wanted to undertake, and I was a little anxious to get back to the hostel to complete my logistics planning and town chores. The way down from the base of Flattop Mountain was rockier and stretched on forever below tree line. The hike was decent, but I powered through it to get in the miles. I had the wrong attitude to enjoy it, continually thinking about what I needed to do after the hike and not living in the moment. Also, although I knew the loop was twenty-five miles, somehow I thought the hike would not be an all day affair, as it ended up being.

I detoured back by Kawuneeche Visitor Center and road walked into town, even though it was longer. I wanted a picture by the Rocky Mountain National Park sign and hoped to get a treat in town, but almost everything was closed although it was only 5:30. Upon getting back to the hostel I ate and stayed up late, completing about half the things I needed before leaving town. The rest would have to wait until morning — so much for my planned early departure from Grand Lake.

The Bighorn Flats near Flattop Mountain
Looking down from Ptarmigan Point
Looking down Tonahutu Creek Valley
Tonahutu Creek