Miles: 4.1 CT + 7 for Elbert
Trail Mile 176.5
Way back in May, I made mid-June plans to Climb mount Shasta with PCT friends Shuffles and Dribbles. But a storm blew in, dumping 7″ of fresh snow on our “Avalanche Gulch” route (how safe), and plunging temperatures at the peak into the single digits Fahrenheit. Too much for summer gear and novice skills that were already going to be stretched to the limit.
But today I get a chance at a 14er (14,000 foot peak) redemption. I wake in the almost dark, with the mountain looming more than 4,000 feet above. The trick in Colorado is to make it up and off the summit before a thunderstorm rolls in. This is usually around noon, but a man on the way up tells me the storms are predicted to be ahead of schedule today. Well. At least I got started before sunrise. I load my pack with water at the very bottom. Though there’s still a bit of snow melting somewhere up there, the trail appears to follow dry ridges up and down. Laden with liquid I join the steady stream of peak baggers; runners in short shorts and little water vests; parents with toddlers on backs and older children in tow; day hikers with their tiny hydration packs and bright clean clothes; and bros with camo backpacks that charge ahead and then take a sit down break every few hundred feet. I look like a crazy lady in my dirty-stinky hiker shirt and giant tattered pack. but I do pass most of them (except the runners!) so they can only judge so much! Pass I might, but hardly with flying colors. This trail is steep! Most of the gain is in just a few miles (3,800 feet in 3.5 Miles), the air growing scarcer with each step. There are few switchbacks, mostly it is just up. Near the top, loose scree slides out underfoot just when you are in most need of solid ground.
One foot in front of the other, and eventually you run out of up and hit the top. Woot! After some victory photos, I have a brief conversation with a woman in a running vest who turns out to be a) pianist Amy Briggs and b) someone who knows my friend Erika. Giant peak. Small world.
As I am basking at the summit the few white puffy clouds have become thick and grey. Sheets of rain are falling in the far side of the valley, and dark clouds have snuck up behind Elbert too. Time to go. I hauled my pack all the way to the top up the North trail (cursing my stupidity all the way) and as reward can now hike out the South trail for new scenery and to land closer to Twin Lakes (congratulating myself all the way for the same reason). The North trail is much more pleasant with fewer people and more switchbacks, especially near the top where you need them most. I trot back down toward the forest, grasshopper wings (legs?) clicking madly like the ignition to a gas stove as they leap about the grassy meadows. I stop among them to rest my knees and take in more of the view. At the Twin Lakes store I find my resupply box and a vitamin water and hiker box treats. I conspire to share a room for the night with a CDT hiker German Mormon. The catch is that there’s only one bed and GM is a dude I’ve known for about five minutes. “Well I will take it until 2am and then we can swap,” he jokes. “Like sailors on a submarine” I giggle. Except we think this is so funny we decide to do it.
The room is in a massive old farmhouse, with narrow stairs and a dark wood paneled parlor. Occupying another room are two more German CDT hikers, the kind and generous Walkabout and Skipper. The house has a kitchen with a mishmash of new and old stoves and furniture and spices (mostly old) where I eat hiker box rice and lentils from ancient chipped china. The rice is organic but also the kind you reheat in the plastic pouch. It seems like these might cancel each other out? There are fifteen identical packages in the free box at the store. Who left them? Why did they have so many?
Just as I gag down the last of the (bland, plasticy) lentils, Walkabout starts chopping potatoes with a vengeance, admitting he is a professional chef and has bought far too much food for dinner. I sit at the kitchen table, basking in the smell of frying onions and potatoes. German Mormon has found a piano to play piano in the other room, Simon and Garfunkel. And somehow accommodations for the night become a family home, if only for a little while.