Saturday, 27 July 2013
We eventually left Grand Lake and bought fried chicken on the walk out of town to eat for dinner later that night. It was the best trail dinner ever - no cooking and maximum calories. This section contained the last (maybe) steep sections of trail in Colorado. It was only 2 days of steep stuff, but now I have passed my leg fatigue on to Cactus and Virgo, and we made slow miles on some tough climbs and didn't get our 20 mile target on both days. Dayhiker separated from us in search for water as the rest of us filled up from a small trickle of snowmelt. We met up with him 2 days later in Steamboat springs and found out he had gone over 8 miles over the hills with no water and had to bush bash down a valley to find some.

The terrain mellowed out a bit and we had a flat/downhill road walk to the highway. I often perceived road walks as boring inevitable parts of the CDT, but now I enjoy them. There is so much less strain on your body, miles can be made faster and you can also walk side by side as a group and chat. I definitely appreciate flat/easy trail now a lot more after walking through Colorado.

This state has kicked my ass, but I am a better and more humble hiker for it. I always hoped this trail would compare to the difficulty and beauty of New Zealand and Colorado has exceeded my expectations.

Next stop Encampment, Wyoming.

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After recovering from the tough section previously, Virgo and I set off from copper mountain to walk two half days to the town of Frisco. We had found out about an annual beer festival in Breckenridge so f t     
M l  there for another half day off. We had a great time at the festival and got to meet up with a lot of old friends as well. Josh, who I worked with in Australia; Kurt and Tonic who I met on the PCT last year; and Wampus Cat and Zen - Virgos friends from the PCT. It was great to have another half a day off and perfect timing to meet up with so many friends.

We walked a bike trail to Silverthorne to get back on the official CDT and started walking back into the mountains. Virgo and I were stopped by a thunderstorm half way up the ridge and had to set a tarp for an hour until the lightening passed over the ridge we intended to walk over. We thought this would be a pattern for the next 2 days of trail on the ridge but we were lucky to avoid thunderstorms for the most part. The views on this section of trail are the best I have had on the trail, and we were lucky enough to catch a herd of elk grazing in the tundra and playing in the snow 1/4 mile ahead of us directly on the trail. 

There is about 25 miles or so that directly follows the continental divide as a ridge walk and contains some of the steepest climbs and descents of the whole CDT. It is definitely the hardest section of trail I have ever walked, but the views superseded my fatigue and we were in good spirits all day. The view was commanding - to the north and south was the ridge we had just walked, and all around us were thunderheads and rain clouds. We eventually descended back under tree line after a day and a half and walked the trail downhill to monarch lake. The section if trail from lake granby to grand lake (the next town) is plagued by blow downs and is no longer maintained, so we took an alternate route along the lake shore. It was slow going rock hopping along tbe lake edge but it reminded me alot of hopping along the coast if Kaikoura, so what others would find infuriating I enjoyed.

Grand Lake is friendly small town and we arrived directly at the time of the Buffalo festival, which meant a public outdoor all you can eat pancake breakfast, live music, and a parade down Main Street. It was the perfect stop for what was the hardest but most rewarding section of trail yet.

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Thursday, 11 July 2013
We had a zero day in Leadville at Wild Bills hostel and got all of our chores done with time to relax. It was nice to have a day off after climbing Mt Elbert as the legs were still weary even after only walking a 5 day stretch and climbing one mountain. Wild Bill and Crazy gave the group of us a ride back to Twin Lakes to pickup where we left off, and we picked up pizza on the way to eat at the trail head.

We camped 9 or so miles up the trail and set up a double tarp as a challenge to fit the tourist, dayhiker, cactus and i under it. We set up dayhikers slack line between two trees and cactus and i pulled our tarps over to make more room using no poles. Cactus' cuben fibre tarp and my Andy Milne design sim nylon tarp are similar sizes so work well when pitch them together. It rained during the night but the "double tarp tunnel" (patent pending) kept all 4 of us dry.

The next 3 days were my hardest on trail as I struggled to walk the allotted 20 miles a day - battling fatigue and a small stomach bug. My legs turned to jelly on every climb and at the end of each day I could not walk another step.The trail was in good condition but the thousands of feet of elevation change each day were taking a cumulative toll on my body and spirit. It is hard to soak in the beauty of the landscape - my favorite part of hiking - when your head pushing. The pain and exhaustion almost brought tears to my eyes a couple of times, which is a strange sensation for me, and one i have only had once before when i got lost a couple of years ago route finding in the Seaward Kaikoura mountains back home. I pushed through the fatigue on the third day to no avail and Cactus camped early with me on the last night while the other 4 of our group walked over Kokomo pass before dark. I was relieved to reach Copper Mountain for a late lunch on the final day and decided then that I needed a break from the trail to reset.

Our friend Veggie who we met on the PCT last year lives in Vail, 20 miles to the west of the CDT, and she picked up 4 of us and let us sleep at her house for a couple of days. Unfortunately the 7 members of the "association of elite athletes" have split up temporarily but hopefully we can rejoin in a week or few for a woodwind and kazoo concert. Vail is a popular ski town in the winter and boasts the largest ski area in the USA. It is a lot quieter in the summer and we love the relaxed vibe we get around this place. We had a chance to visit Crazy Mountain brewery as well a slacklining (tightrope walking) and playing vollyball in the park. This has been the perfect place to reset, finish all of our chores and relax.

2 and a bit more weeks of Colorado are left and we are all ready to hit the trail again. 1050 miles down, 11th July.

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Friday, 5 July 2013
We got a ride back up to Monarch Pass from Salida around midday and headed straight to the store for our last soda and ice cream for a few days. A big storm ran in over the pass and we tried to wait it out for a bit in the store. Eventually the wait became too long so we took an alternate route to boss lake along the highway and a forest road to avoid exposure and risk of lightening strike on the crest of the divide. We set up a communal tarp in the style of a kids fort around a rock and tree for fun and to make the most of the limited camping space.

For 3 days we walked through valleys and over passes - sticking near the divide but not walking directly on it. This was similar in style to the valley-pass-valley pattern of the Sierra Nevada on California, but with much steeper climbs. We played Peruvian wood instruments poorly and dayhiker flew his kite at each pass. We certainly weirded out some day hikers but made a few new friends as well.

The style of trail reminded me a lot of New Zealand, with steep climbs on rocky trail, and great views on tussocky ridges above the tree line. The snow is almost all melted now and we had a sketchy moment where a small rock fall fell between cactus and i from a snow shoot. We were glad that the larger rocks we saw scattered on the snow in front of us weren't the ones that fell as we passed. I am getting used to the elevation and now only the climbs above 12000ft trouble me. However no matter what the elevation is, a 1000m climb will always be a bit of a struggle. On the last day into Twin Lakes we climbed 2 passes with combined climbs and descents of over 12000ft over 22 miles. It may have been the toughest physical day of the trail, but the amazing vistas and sense of accomplishment made it one of the best days of the trail. Cactus and I took a shortcut through a river and a swamp to get to the store faster. We were fortunate that Carl closed late to wait for us, and we were rewarded for the hard day with burritos, ice cream, soda and beer.

The next morning was an off trail hike to the peak of Mt Elbert, the second highest peak in the lower 48. Carl lent us his truck to drive to the trailhead and we left at 3am to summit before sunrise on the 4th of July. We only had to climb 4000ft to get to the 14,440ft summit but it was a steep climb on a cold morning. We carried our sleeping bags up and all huddled together behind a rock wall until the sun came up. It was one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen, and I couldn't think of a better time or place to summit my first 14,000ft peak.

Twin Lakes. Mile 1000. July 4th

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