Smokebeard Hikes

CDT59 – 1289 – Fraser

Apologies everyone – keeping this going by tapping along on my phone at night is REALLY hard.   Also, this past week or so has been a very brutal section, lots of elevation gain, lots of exhaustion, and I just haven’t had the mental horsepower in the evenings.  I’m hiking from about 7am-7pm every day.   At night it’s pitch tent, boil noodles, eat, stretch, eat snacks, fall asleep when the sun sets.   And in the mornings, it’s back on the treadmill.   I don’t have the luxury of speed, even my lunch breaks are only 15-20 minutes.

It may seem like I’m “just walking”, but it’s physically and emotionally draining.   There’s blood, sweat, and tears, on a nearly daily basis.  It’s a combination of constant over-stimulation and boredom.    The views and terrain are epic, yet 90% of the time I’m watching my feet for hours because 1 bad step means a turned ankle, smashed knee, or a 500 foot slide down a snowfield. 

This hike is definitely harder than the PCT.   It’s more remote, the logistics are harder, the HIKING is harder, and I’m not just talking age.   The CDT is like if the AT and the PCT had a baby – you have the beautiful views, scenery, animals and epic scale of the PCT, with the wet and steep grind of the AT.   If you climb Mount Washington via Tuckerman’s Ravine, it’s 8.4 miles round trip, and 4300 feet up (and down).  There are days where I do 3x that mileage, and maybe double that elevation gain.   Every day.   It’s not quite the Great Range in terms of elevation, but its more than that in mileage.   Every day.

So I guess I’m asking for a little slack on the blog.   I’m hoping to do a bit better coming up as the trail smooths out and becomes less insane, i.e. less Colorado.   Thanks to everyone who has sent messages of support.


Keep an eye on Instagram and Youtube, if I have signal I’ll sometimes just upload a pic or video when I can.


Charity update – pledges now total over $2300, mostly for Fuch’s Dystrophy.   We’re at $1.82 per mile now!


Day 1 – new pants

I left the hostel late, for a couple of reasons.   One was a late night – someone decided it was awesome if they came into the bunkroom at midnight, turned their light on, and started reading their phone.  Later, the excuse was given “if you didn’t say anything how was I supposed to know it bothered anyone?”   Weak.

The other reason I hung out a little was that I needed / decided to get new pants.   Both pockets on my (fancy, expensive) Columbia pants had torn, rendering them useless.   Downtown Breckenridge had a Columbia store which opened at 10.   BUT, it turned out that they weren’t a real store, but rather owned by the Vail resort.   So, it was a (free, nice) bus to Frisco and then to Silverthorne.  Once I got to the store manager, I had new pants in 5 minutes.   Changing into them in the back revealed just how smelly I was despite a shower – combo of dirty shirt and dirty socks in the changing room was brutal.  Sorry!

I ran into Extra Mile at Whole Foods while waiting for my bus.   She hadn’t been feeling well way back in Lake City, and it turned out to be Giardia.   It was great to see a familiar face and catch up.  Only two thruhikers could discuss a Giardia diagnosis – its symptoms, its duration, etc. over lunch.   By 2pm I was back outside Breckenridge. 

I hiked 10 miles in up on a ridge dodging the rain.   Afternoons in Colorado are tricky – you hike in the rain, but the sun is out.   You put your raingear on but you get hot so you take it off, and then the temperature drops, or it starts raining, so you put it back on.   But the sky is clearing and tomorrow looks to be good.  I might try to camp on the ridge in 22 miles, a very long day, but it will set me up well for the big day after.

Day 2 – the Ridge

The first 10 miles or so were up and down, in the woods.  A nice change from the high elevation ridge walking.   I was starting to get out of mountain bike territory as well, so the trailbed improved.  The chances of being run off the road also dropped, which was nice.  I filled up water at Swan river, there was not going to be water for a while.   I also made sure to pound snacks.   One of the reasons I’m getting tired is lack of food/water/energy. By noon I was at the junction of CT and CDT.  It had been so long that we ran together I had kind of forgotten that there was a difference.   Boy was there – without the CT traffic, the CDT trail dwindled to a faint track in the grass, more marked by erosion on the hills than by feet.   

Up above treeline. For the next 5 hours and 9 miles I walked high grassy ridges with no trail in some places. I hit 13,000 feet, which was a new thing.   In a lot of places I really had to rely on my phone for navigation, an uncomfortable feeling.   You could dead-reckon a lot of it, but there were dirt tracks and 4×4 roads criss-crossing everywhere.  There was the potential to waste a lot of time – time and food I didn’t have.   

I ran out of gas at Webster pass.  It was late in the day, I was tired, and water was close to a mile off the ridge.  Another vote for stopping was that the place I WANTED to go was up over another 13000-footer, and it was in an exposed saddle.  Likely to be cold and windy.  I’m saving something for tomorrow.

Day 3 – Argentine Spine and Gray’s Peak

Up at 4am.   I set my clock – nobody gets up that early.  After eating, packing, and trudging back up to the trail it was 5am.  In the pass I got to meet 3 mountain goats.   When I first got there they were horsing around, headbutting and pushing each other around.   Once I was there they seemed more interested in eating, and then leaving.  I started the grind – today would be the day I climbed the highest point on the CDT!

Soon I reached a junction – the CDT went around to the west past 2 map markers titled “Dangerous Traverse” and “Cornice”.   Nope.  I promised not to do anything dumb on this trip.  The “Argentine Spine” alternate went east, stayed higher, and ended with a very steep climb up to meet the CDT.   I took the east route, dead-reckoning, looking for footprints, and relying on my phone.   There were crazy steep climbs – with so little traffic there’s no real reason for a trail, so the best route was often straight from A to B.   The cool part, or one of the cool parts, was that the trail slabbed around some old mines.   Cool, although there was trash everywhere – old timey trash.   These mountains were full of silver miners back in the day, back when the government bought pretty much all the silver they could dig out of the ground.   Anywhere in the mountains where you see red or yellow gravel washing down, they’d sink a mine, hoping to score.  This whole section was 12-13,000 feet, up and down, up and down.

By lunch I reached the Argentine ridge, which I deemed too sketchy.  I couldn’t tell when I saw it at a distance, but when I got there I got the heebie-jeebies about trying to climb a scree and snow-covered steep slope.   There’s something in the back of your head that whispers, “this is dumb, this is dumb, this is dumb”.   And sometimes you end up doing it anyway, usually when you’re mid-stupid.

I went down, cross country across some annoying snowfields and more scree, then reached the good old CDT again.  A several thousand foot climb was next.  I ran into “Pat” from way back in Pie Town – no trail name, just Pat.  We proceeded up and up, and across a could of really hard knife edges – not the kind where there’s a path, and a drop on either side.   This was the kind where there was NO path, and a drop on either side.   Pat agreed to wait for me at the top, in my words “to make sure I don’t die on the way up”.   If I had been solo, I might have gone around the whole thing, or gone across the scree field and picked up the trail below the peak.  At 13000 plus, dehydrated and hungry, I could tell my brain was starting to power down.   

On the final climb, I ran into a dayhiker doing both Gray and Torreys (close by – and its a well laid out and easy climb from the other side).   When I mentioned that I wished there was more oxygen, she offered me her oxygen can.   You can buy them in the grocery stores here.   “Just in case” she said.   I REALLY thought about it, but since I wasn’t sick, just tired, I told her to keep it.   Still, super nice.

The summit was awesome, of course. We didn’t get to stay too long as the weather was starting to sour, and it was getting towards dinner.   Both Pat and I were hungry and thirsty.  Took some pictures and began the easy, well-graded descent.  On the way down I saw a baby mountain goat.   We got to the trailhead and walked down towards the I-70.  I ended up camping right alongside the highway.  Despite the noise, I was out like a light once night fell.

Day 4 – the Gray’s Peak hangover

The next day was exhausting, all day.   One of those days where you look at your watch every 20 minutes and think, “are we there yet?”  I just didn’t have it – a 22 miler including a 14er had really done me in.   After passing through a popular hiking area and meeting dayhikers, I did a climb up over 13000, again.   Then another big ridge walk, again.   There’s a pattern – up and down, up and down.  I did about 18 miles and ran out of gas completely.   I had reached a trail junction that went down into a valley, and there was water.   I figured if I woke up feeling like crap, I’d hike down and then out the forest road to the real road, then hitch.   Or if it was raining – rain is becoming a thing here in CO, although mostly in the afternoons.   There was a big ore mine in the valley, and the noise of the machines echoed along the whole ridge.   However, tucked between two streams the noise was mostly masked by falling water.

Day 5 – uphill coast into town

I woke up late and ate in my tent, trying to decide how much I had in the tank that day.   The day was beautiful, and I felt decent so I decided to take the CDT instead of the side trail.   Freshly rested and fed, I did 1.3 mph climb up 1000 feet, not bad.  At the top of the grind I entered the Vasquez Peaks Wilderness, this epic set of open ridges and cliffs.   There was still a lot of climbing to do, but knowing it was only a miles, ending at a road made it feel like going downhill.   And the weather held up nicely.   Little wind, low to mid 50s, high clouds if any.  The choice to take the CDT was the right one.  After a very long descent, passing a lot of dayhikers and dogs, I reached the highway at Berthoud Pass.   There I rested, used the bathroom, and cleaned up in preparation for hitching.

I got a hitch from an old hippie who lived here in the 70s.   On the way down he explained how “none of this was here” and “the whole town was 1 street”.   Now the road is lined with condos, and the two towns of Winter Park and Fraser have blobbed together.  There’s a cheap hotel/hostel place 1 town over, but there’s a Holiday Inn almost perfectly centered between the grocery store, post office, and pizza place.   And it has free breakfast.  Pricey but worth it. 

My package isn’t here at the PO.   It’s supposed to be, it would make sense if it was.   But the USPS guy (bandana, tongue-ring) told me “this is the Bermuda triangle of shipping” and things often just don’t arrive when logic dictates.   Odd.  But he said it SHOULD be here the next day, so I’m going to wait until around noon once the second mailtruck is processed – if not there, I’m leaving and they can forward it.

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