Silverthorne Alternate: Copper to CDT via Jones Pass

I hit the trail, the paved road actually, at 8 am, July 4th, out of Copper. I remember strategically avoiding the holiday in 2015 on the PCT and how pleased I was to miss the loud, drunken festivities in Sierra City. The trail was fine to the top of a pass, then blowdown, muck, and dim scrubby forest. The next pass had a nearby trailhead and better trail. Going over, there were a few snowfields left and I ran into a couple of guys with daypacks and fishing rods, who looked at me with incomprehension as I walked down towards them, it was weird. Weed is legal in Colorado, weird is legal everywhere.  Plus there weren’t any fish in the half frozen lake, or in any of the lakes or streams I’d walked by. Although I had thought about slack packing the 22 or so miles to Silverthorne, the unknown conditions of the passes made me worry about being caught on a dayhike without shelter, so I camped just a few miles from Silverthorne.

7/5 A short walk into Silverthorne, the trail went from blowdown to clear trail with a few runners to a trailhead and paved subdivision roads down to very busy streets, a highway and a freeway.  I met and talked with a USFS volunteer who just moved to Summit County in the Fall after retiring in Chicago.  I learned all kinds of interesting stuff about the area, thanks Bob! I marched my way past the outlet stores and booked a room.  Then since it was the morning, and they needed to clean the rooms, I got second breakfast, bought some replacement tent stakes and freeze dried dinners at the brand new REI, and finished the rest of my food shopping at the next door City Market. Turns out fireworks started a fire near Breckinridge which means almost everybody will have to take the shorter but less scenic Alternate.

7/6 A slow, miserable day to a campsite where the trail teed into another crappy trail. The trail was fine to the pass, there were gobs of day trippers, where the maps showed a junction.  If there was a junction, I couldn’t tell.  So I navigated cross country on a tussocked side hill, and through bogs and wind, finding a cairn here and there, and towards late afternoon a switchbacked downhill with rocks and side slope, dwindling to nothing here and there. Slow, treacherous.

7/7 An even slower day. There is not much trail or tread to follow, so I pick my route through eroded side slopes and snow patches. Eventually I dropped into a super lush valley, where an occasional hint of a trail followed the stream. I saw moose tracks, then 2 people, Laura and Winter drying their gear in a clearing. “How do you like the CDT?” Laura, section hiking, asked.  “I hate it, it’s so slow, I can’t make any miles.  But, it’s so great to see people out here,” I added lamely.  Just after I passed them I saw a handsome young bull moose, his little antlers all fuzzy. Next to him a cow, sister? These moose are not Alaska-Yukon moose Alces alces gigas (“gigantic moose”) but reintroduced moose from Utah and Wyoming Alces alces shirasi (“mini moose”), I talked to them, they stared back and finally trotted away, good moose. I continued down the valley, and saw a third moose across the creek. These guys take their reintroduction to Colorado seriously and as I saw, they are thriving. I finally crossed the stream and continued up steeply on a beautiful, smooth, blessed dirt road. After all the roads in New Mexico, I have developed a true appreciation for the ease of walking and the faster pace I can summon up on decent tread. Thunder rumbled, lightning flashed and I was going to soon be above treeline for many miles. It started raining, then pouring. I debated with myself what to do. So few miles, so early in the day, such a wimp. I pitched my tent on a lovely flat spot at the notch of the last switchback that was still in the tree line. I crawled in as the rain pounded and the wind howled. Winter and Laura called out as they trudged uphill past me during a lull in the rain. The rain let up for a few minutes and I thought I would continue but the skies clouded and more rain started. Another hiker went by, Acorn. I decided to stay put. Inbar, the Israeli I last saw at Pie Town, stopped and talked. He’s doing great although his new backpack blew out after 3 days so he’s got to get to Grand Lake to remedy that. It got dark, the rain let up, the wind died, and it was the flattest, warmest, most comfortable night I’d had on the trail in a long time.

7/8 I congratulated myself on an excellent decision. I would have been grabby and anxious if I’d hiked up Jones Pass, and along a cirque yesterday and would have missed the beauty and views and joy of the mountains today. At the top of the dirt road, the Alternate rejoined the much better kept official CDT. When you start seeing day hikers, you know you’re near a trailhead and because there’s easy access, I envision all the volunteers who come out and work hard to give hikers of all stripes, good trails. Thank you!  On an impulse, when I reached Berthoud Pass, facing another climb into thunderclouds, I hitched to Winter Park, rather than camp a mile from the highway.  Within 12 seconds, Bambi and John picked me up.  I felt way less chicken when they told me they were coming from a talk about thunderstorms, over 300 people per year get struck by lightning in Colorado. 10% are fatal, but the remaining 90% experience permanent affects, mostly invisible mental processing problems, just what I don’t need more of.  Also you can apparently be struck from a storm more than 6 miles away.

So this is how it’s going to be, eh?  A motel at every opportunity, slow, slow hiking in between.  This trail ain’t your mama’s PCT.

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