Miles: 24.3 (oops!)
Segment 3 Mile 11.9 to Segment 5 Mile 7.4
Finally an early start, we are up and packed before the guys. We stop to fill our bottles at the steady trickle pouring from a mini-culvert just below the campsite. This is what mountain streams look like. At least in these foothills. The water is already settling into mucky bottomed puddles and will not likely be flowing clear much longer.
The wilderness designation offers respite from mountain bikes, but at the moment also a massive hill to climb on decommissioned dirt roads. But here are shooting stars blooming among the aspen here and there, break up what is mostly kind of drab forest. One of my favorite flowers, they remind me of little umbrellas blown inside out.
Up I plod, until the elevation gain finally catches up to me. Out of breath, I pause to see where I am at at to see my phone reads exactly 10,000 feet! I wonder how the Florida dwellers we camped with last night are faring today. One had a nosebleed already last night and we we just at 8,000 feet. Then there’s the woman from Arkansas I met back by the Platt on day one, who had never been above 2,700 feet in her life. I offer humble thanks to my summer Sierra for at least a measure of confidence at these heights.
About a mile from the top, I join conversational forces with day hikers tackling the trail in segments, talking my way up and over the forested high point almost without noticing. I am super disappointed to learn that the tree line is at 11,500 so it looks like we will be stuck in the trees more than I anticipated. But Vicky entertains me with a story of a bear near Aspen that refused to leave their campsite until eventually the humans packed up and moved on. There may have been some tuna involved. The tuna may or may not have been IN the tent.
I hike on alone, and finally the forest gives way to stunning views: the longest Meadow I have ever seen all abloom in white and yellow and purple. Now THIS is the kind of scenery I was expecting at 10,000 feet. I can’t help but feel that the the almost fifty miles before have been training for the Colorado Trail and now I am finally here.
We send messages about our progress via a northbound hiker headed toward Erin who is stroll trying to catch us. We learn from others that she was a just few miles behind us last night. We leap frog hikers from last nights campsite for much of the afternoon. Elevation is wreaking havoc on everyone’s pacing. I have somehow manage to have a pre-lunch hangover and am barely crawling up the trail. Finally, lungs on overdrive trying wrong oxygen from this air without air, we top out at 10.9. Steph and so decide to take a long break to dry dewy tents and give Erin a chance to find us. But eventually we head on and down.
Most others staying at the segment end but we feel good enough to continue. And continuing is a commitment. You see, the campsite we most likely would have chose is the site of a recent bear incident. A hiker had an ursack shredded clear through last week and, as ursack users we have planned specifically to avoid staying.
When we reach the questionable site, James is there from last night. Except we have taken to calling him Steve because I heard tent crinkling noises at 2:30 am and was completely convinced that a) his name was Steve even though he never introduced himself and b) that Steve was packing up in the middle of the night to get an alpine start on the climb. Neither of course were true.
We stop to cook dinner to avoid making food smells in camp when we know there’s a problem bear around, feeling all rather confidence with our strategy. But of course Steph manages to spill dinner on herself. And of course it is tuna! Some late day laundry ensues before moving on. There’s a string of creeks, specifically one listed with campsites a few miles on. Fed and rested and mostly heading downhill we feel up for these last miles. Except my app warns that the the ground is totally uneven and infested with bees. Lovely.
We arrive to find the two marginal tent sites already occupied (one tent almost overhanging the creek) though no bees. We grab water expecting to find a flatish clearish spit that can accommodate two tiny tents shortly. The topo map shows a good level expanse about a half mile down and we have encountered plenty of good dry campsites in the past few miles.
Well, my fault for assuming present trends would continue, but the evergreen forest immediately turns to aspen. Everywhere seems lumpy or densely treed or sloping or all three. The dark clouds hovering behind the next ridge over, where it is clearly raining) add extra excitement.
But no camp. So those last few miles become almost five until we tuck our tents into a forest littered with serious junk near Rock Creek (whose clear looking water is full of floaties, whose banks smell like horse pee). There’s a truck canopy and random snares of barbed wire and identified rusty bits. But there are a few others here and the problem bear is (theoretically) miles away in another drainage.