CT Day 9: The Set Up

July 7
Miles: 23
Trail Mile: 169

Segment 9 Mile 3.5 to end of Section 10

If yesterday was a day of three distinct passes, today was a day of three far less rewarding hills. There was much slogging up and down through forest with few good views, with one exception: the Holy Cross Wilderness with its beautiful meadow of oh mah gorgeous. But the way out is up and the walls are rather imposing. I gasp my way along. It’s day 9, cardio where are you? Perhaps my I hate exercise program is finally catching up to me. What? Can’t I just go from desk to twenty mile days at elevation? A thousand mosquito coaches nag me onward, nipping my legs if I break for more than a few seconds. 

But the top, oh my. Even better than the valley: The usually solid forest is broken up by granite chunks, if not quite slabs. It’s almost the Sierra up here, complete with a tiny reflecting pond (and proud birthplace of a million mosquitos). Or rather, with so much green lushness, it reminds me of the parts of NorCal that remind me of the Sierra. I barely notice the second bit of uphill, distracted in part by the almost familiar beauty and by the odd snow patch across the trail that requires a wee bit of careful navigation.I have lunch with Glimmer and Arcade, a couple of CDT hikers who are doing Colorado southbound because of snow. Yay for cool people heading the same way at a similar pace. But the after lunch special is the steepest hill ever (so far on the CT). A brutal slope up, with almost no respite until near the top. And the reward at the top? A dirt road and crackling power lines. And mosquitos. Why trail? Why?

At first, I cant tell if it’s misting or if it’s just all the bugs in the air. But then with thunderous confirmation, rain begins to fall. Though still in the tree cover, I am up higher than I like and the trail climbs over one more ridge before heading back down. I pick up the pace, half running over the shallow saddle as the thunder grows nearer, then march on until I am back down to the relative safety of a creek in a narrow valley. Then there’s one last hill until camp, and decisions to be made: side trails to Colorado’s two highest peaks are near and we need to set ourselves up for early starts to beat the afternoon storms. Steph decides to camp near the turn off to Mt Massive, while I continue on a few more miles with plans to summit Elbert – Colorado’s highest and the second highest in the lower 48 states. Steph might attempt both, but the weather appears to be worsening in the next few days and I am content to wager my weather window on an Elbert shaped basket (mixed metaphors much?). My knees are currently holding up well, but back to back 14ers could be the death of them. Here’s Elbert looming above the trail just before camp:
I end up camped with another fast CT hiker I first met a few days ago. I’ve been kind of wigged out the past few times I’ve seen him because he bears an uncanny resemblance to an old ex of many years. We chat some, and the weirdness just continues as he, like the ex, is an economist. I panic mildly to myself. What if this is the same person? But that’s impossible, he grew up in Texas. What if this is all lies and it is the same person and he’s made up all his past to make me crazy?
On that (completely insane I am losing it out here) note, it’s early to bed tonight because tomorrow promises enough steep up and downs to make today seem like a joke. Hopefully the weekend crowd camped at the roadside trailhead across the river will stay quiet. And, as if on command, a tiny rain shower commences to ensure they do just that.

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