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CDT: Route National Forest (Battle Pass to Muddy Pass)

August 20 — Colorado Rocky Mountain High

I made it to Colorado. After spending seemingly forever in Montana, crossing Wyoming in only about three weeks was a nice change. Of course I hurried through the state, doing consistently higher mileage, skipping Pinedale and Encampment, sending boxes to Atlantic City and Togwotee Pass, and not spending a night in any town.

Wyoming was sad to see me go, as she cried a few raindrops on me, my only rain in Wyoming (although it came close) and my first since being chased off a ridgeline near Lima. Not to be outdone, Colorado brewed up a couple of its infamous afternoon storms. Although thunder rumbled nearby, only a few drops of rain fell on me. I heard horror stories from NOBOs who endured thirty straight days of afternoon storms, some quite severe. I had been hoping (although not expecting) to thread the needle perfectly such that I arrived after thunderstorm season but before snow flurries (if such an idyllic period exists). Looked like that would not be happening.

Myself at the Wyoming state line on the CDT, meaning it was time to enter Colorado.
Someone spelled out “Colorado” with rocks to mark the border

August 21

Colorado was not very polite after our first night sleeping together, with frost on my tent and surrounding plants and a thick chill in the area — the first time since Togwotee Pass I awoke to such conditions. Perhaps I did not pick a great place to camp — on the edge of a meadow and stream, in a valley. So in addition to flat, dry, soft dirt, sheltered from the elements, and a water source, I would have to add the settling of cool night air and when the morning sun hits to the list of qualities for a good campsite. I never found a site with all of those, and some often conflict, but I did the best I could to pick a good spot each night.

Colorado’s attitude improved as the day progressed as it became beautifully warm. She even did not abuse me with an afternoon thunderstorm. That was very good because the trail was definitely back in the mountains, with a long climb up to a walk along on a mostly exposed ridgeline kissing nearly 12,000 feet. I camped at my PR for the highest I have slept, which has continually increased on this trip. It should reach even higher if the weather cooperates.

A high meadow

August 22

Although not quite like sleeping on a tropical beach, last night was much warmer, despite being 1,000 ft higher. Today felt like a death march, with an endless winding green tunnel across an ATV trail after Buffalo Pass. The long stretch from Rawlins to here was catching up with me, and I looked forward to Steamboat Springs tomorrow. My food, although adequate, had been running low and was completely exhausted by this afternoon. The sky was ominous most of the day which once again prevented me from taking a lake swim, both for my own hygiene and the sake of the public in Steamboat Springs tomorrow. Rain finally began to fall as I left Dumont Lake Campground. I found a sheltered spot in the trees a little later and made camp early for once.

More trees and mountains

August 23 — Steamboat Springs

I awoke early and made the short road walk to Muddy Pass for a decent hitching spot. As per my modus operandi, I came into town with either way too much food or none at all. This time I was hungry and needed to get lucky on a quick ride into Steamboat Springs to get breakfast. Miraculously I did, and literally the first car that passed picked me up. So I ate breakfast, visited the library, and dried my gear in the park from yesterday’s rain, while doing my best not to look like a homeless predator, since only the former part was true. The Boat was a spread out touristy town with a lot of art galleries and other knickknack shops, but nothing that interested me. At least they had a free bus to get around. Also, the show times at the theater for any halfway decent movie did not align with my schedule in town, so I was not able to lounge in a dark theater while enjoying my much anticipated buttery popcorn. I instead just ate, brought groceries, and relaxed before heading back to the trail. Although I can enjoy the sites cities have to offer, when in “backpacking mode” I feel more comfortable on the trail than in town.

As per my prior experiences, getting out of town proved much more difficult than getting in. I waited over an hour, with rain clouds building in the surrounding mountains, but I finally got a ride halfway back from a campground host. Night was approaching quickly, but I still tired to make it the rest of the way to Muddy Pass. Traffic was light in my direction, but literally the last car before I planned to give up for the night picked me up. I stayed near Muddy Pass Lake for an adequate campsite, closer to the road than I liked for both privacy and noise, but there was no place to camp nearer the pass. I would end up repeating about a half mile of “trail” tomorrow morning along Highway 40.