Eclipsomania: Pinedale to Dubois

Could the Winds be any more beautiful? Yes.


German Mormon: he’s German and doesn’t drink. Johnny is one of the 10 people who started the CDT the same day I did, and he’s super nice, actually all the Germans I know are fabulous.
Trooper, changing into hikng shoes at the trailhead


The Winds

8/18 Trooper set up a shuttle ride for us all, including German Mormon and me, back to Elkhart Trailhead. The driver was the 2nd or 3rd pompous, sexist Wyoming man to say, “Listen to me!” and proceed to drone on with information I neither needed nor asked for. Jerks, too bad they can’t read my face.  I started hiking and never saw German Mormon or Trooper again but I did see lots and lots of people heading out for a few days camping. I met Joey and her service dog Thor, she asked good questions about solo hiking and gear and she is going to do the Colorado Trail next year. Thor was truly well trained, and handsome.  It was a fun interlude but she was fast and I lost track of her. The outstanding thing today was the variety of mammals I saw carrying packs: humans, dogs, horses, mules, llamas (!), and goats (!!). Even with all the people on the access trail, and tents set up along every lake, I managed an isolated little spot just a few miles after turning northish onto the CDT.

Thor and Joey
View from my campsite

8/19 The most amazing encounter of the entire trip happened after a few hours of hiking into a flow of people heading towards me, hikers spaced just 10 or 20 minutes apart. I saw a couple hiking from an access trail to a trail junction sign. As I got nearer, I recognized the man! It was the USASA Snowboard and Freeski Nationals Director I work with every spring at Copper Mountain. I think gobsmacked is the word. If I’d been just a few minutes faster, I’d have missed this encounter with one of my other worlds. So amazing to see this truly friendly face. After chatting a bit and catching up, I hiked down past a log jam of people taking off their shoes to ford a river, and then up a bit along a meadow where I dry-camped by a fire ring and old horse poo late enough that no hikers passed me.

Ritchie’s partner (name help!) and Ritchie
Ritchie and Catwater

8/20 It was great tread today, as it’s been since the Big Sandy trailhead, perfect weather and the Winds are spectacular with rock and lakes. It was beastly filled with people until past the Green River trailhead, seriously annoying massive groups of folks heading at me. I stepped off the trail dozens of times. When one man said, “Thank you sir,” without noticing my feminine legs below the skirt I wear, I snapped, “Ma’am,” as I managed to get back on the trail for a few feet. My bad, but really? You fat, clean, trail-hogging eclipsomaniac. I turned uphill and lost the hordes as I went up and over Gunsight Pass. Between 7 and 9am I saw no people, but by 12:30 I counted over 200! After 12:30 a dozen nice, regular people, and after 6pm a pack of at least 12 CDT SOBOs! Mid afternoon I met old guys Phantom and Kitchen Sink.

“Where you from?” they asked.
” Alaska.”
“I was born in Palmer, Alaska in ’53!” said Kitchen Sink.
“I was born in Oakland, California in ’53!” I said. We laughed.

8/21 Wow. Usually a hiking day doesn’t have a lot of surprises. Today had 4.

1. I saw my very first badger, ever, this morning as I hiked to Union Pass. It hissed at me, the dirty bugger, and then scuttled off into the sage, an enormous animal, wide and flat to the ground in cockroach proportions.

2. Of course, the eclipse wasn’t a surprise, but it was so much more than I expected. I knew there would be bunches of people and vehicles at road-access Union Pass, so when I saw them I stopped and dropped behind a rise so I had the eclipse to myself. I arrived early, about 10 for the 11:37 totality. I put on some layers, ate snacks and read my book. I put on my eclipse glasses and looked at the sun–an orange ball. As I read, I started to get cold and the light got funny. I glassed the sun and the moon was taking a bite out of the orange ball. It took a long time, 20-30″? I didn’t look at the time. Then the totality, the corona, white glowing around the black moon disk. I’ve never seen anything so amazing. It was dark, but not night dark, the horizon lit up 360 degrees on the mountains, like dawn or dusk all around me. As the sun started showing again, I choked up, I caught myself thanking the sun out loud for coming back with tales of Raven bringing light to the world in my heart. Yeah, I guess I’m a pagan. It took a long time for the sun to be free of the moon, and it was cold. I started hiking to warm up, a mile past all the people, cars, RVs and tents.

My Eclipse spot
During totality
Dirty Girl gaiters celebrating the eclipse

3. In the afternoon I flushed a fat sage grouse and her fluffy, nearly grown brood of 3.

4. At 4:30, I came to a creek and found 2 cold cans of Modelo! A first on this trail. I saved 1 for the couple of hikers just behind me. That beer tasted so great on this hot afternoon, so great.

8/22. Same ‘ol, same ‘ol, I couldn’t find a campsite when I wanted one, so I kept walking. Tonight’s is way better than last night’s cold and slanty desperation pitch. Tonight I have a fantastic view just 6 miles from where the trail crosses the highway to Dubois. Eclipsomania is over, today I saw 5 hikers, 1 dog, 1 biker, and 2 guys in a truck worried they’d misdirected a red-bearded hiker who had problems with his GPS. Not a hard day, just hot since I’m at lower elevations.

Life after fire
First view

8/23 2 easy hitches and I’m in Dubois, DOO-boyz. I took an extra night on the trail, to make 5, because there were no motel rooms available until today.  I could have stayed at the Episcoplian Church, for a donation, but that’s just weird.

Steamboat, CO to Rawlins, WY

Can it only be a week since I got a ride out of Steamboat Springs back to the trail? Feel like I’ve lived a lifetime and walked across a continent.

7/20 I caught the free bus to the post office to mail a box, then paid a taxi to take me back to the trail. I hate hitching. The trail was kind of boring, green tunnel, but mostly level and easy. I met 3 members of the Mighty, Mighty Trail Crew. The work was going well since they get to use chainsaws on the blowdown, not handsaws.  Thanks Mighty, Mighty Trail Crew! I camped a bit past my target stream just as the latest thunderstorm hit with rain and hail.

7/21 As I write this in my tent, I am miserable, worried, cold and wet. Again I had to choose, camp at 2:30 or go up into the alpine and over and down back into treeline. Although the sky had been rumbling in the distance, it looked OK. Then on the last pitch, painful hail, huge, furious pellets and nowhere for me to shelter. I pulled on my rain pants over already cold, wet legs. The jacket I already had on against the wind. I remembered Puff Puff and I getting frozen from the hail storm out of Chester, CA last year. We vowed to put our layers on the next time, just as soon as it started, no waiting. I continued up the flattish, exposed ridge, it wasn’t far, then ran as carefully as I could across the ridge and down the other side, I could see it was a long way to trees. The intense lightning and hail scared me, I ran, crouched as if it would help, breathing fast, not panicked, but chilled and afraid I’d slip on the accumulating hail, be crippled by injury and die of hypothermia. The storm has been on top of me for 3 hours now with ceaseless rain and no pause between the lightning flash and the boom of thunder. I shouldn’t still be cold in my down bag but all is damp. I’ve eaten a stale Snickers and had a hot whey drink. That helps. The Ravens said they are leaving Steamboat at noon today so they are maybe 30 miles behind, low and safe I hope. This storm hit at 3:00, too early.

At 6:30 I was warm enough to sit up in my sleeping bag although the storm continued till 8:30. I was so alone that I was reminded of the goodbye notes stranded mountaineers write to their loved ones. I think I get it. You just want to make sure the people you love know that you love them. It’s irrational I guess but that’s another unique gift we get for being human beings.

7/22. What a different day.  I woke to sunrise glowing on my tent walls and the air perfectly clear. I unclipped the storm flaps and tossed my jacket, rain pants, socks, and ditty bags outside to dry while I made my  usual coffee and granola. I headed down the trail with a smile on my face even though my shoes were still soaking wet and reeking from the day before and I wore a jacket. As I entered a big meadow, 2 mama elk and their babies looked up and trotted off.  Then a huge bull elk and another 15-20 animals followed them.  Glorious!  I laughed out loud.  After hours of walking downhill, I met 2 guys in camo and daypacks.  I teased them, “It’s not hunting season yet, is it?”  They were, in fact, training for hunting season, by walking up this incredibly steep trail.  Nice!  Of course I had to mention where I was from and the hunters in my family. They asked if I’d seen any elk.  “Yup, 2 1/2 hours ago.”  “Yup, with a huge bull.”

I came to a trailhead joining a dirt road walk.  A car stopped (it rarely happens) and the young couple asked if I wanted a ride. Its kind of a delicate situation, you don’t want to discourage kindness to the next hiker, who may want a ride.  “Where to?”  I grinned.  Maybe they’re going to Jackson Hole or someplace else way more interesting than this dirt road.   “Oh, a mile or two down the road.”  “Sweet, thanks for the offer, I’m doing OK though.”

The route turned me into a short stretch of blowdown bedecked trail, 200 trees in about a mile. The things you count to have something to think about. To a road. To a campground with a dumpster (the joy of offloading garbage is insane) and an outhouse (even more joy ridding myself of “pack-it-out” TP). To a trail. To a road. To an ATV road.

7/23 Stinking coyotes woke me way too early, before 5 am.  They always sound so cheerful, I fell back asleep and woke late but I still managed over 22 miles.  That’s good, for me. I listened most of the day to Timothy Egan’s fascinating book about Irish history and Irish immigrants from before the Civil War, The Immortal Irishman.  The trail sucks. ATV PUDs and water was an issue.  But there was a nicely graded short cut dirt road for awhile.  Then back to crappy trail. I made it to a beautiful water source, Dale Creek, and a lovely little established tent site was a surprise bonus. It was just far enough away from the burbling creek sounds that I wouldn’t hear voices in the harmonics.

The Wall (of blowdown) between Colorado and Wyoming
Colorado behind, Wyoming ahead. Life is good.

7/24 Stupid, annoying, soggy trail, where there is a trail.  It was only about 11 miles to the highway and my next resupply down the hill in Encampment/Riverside. 2 women, looked older than me, gave me a ride.  They had “run away from home” they giggled,  and were camping for a few days. My kind of women!  I got to Lazy Acres where there is a choice of camping, RVing, or a motel.  No matter what you choose, you can do laundry and take a shower.  My wet shoes, socks and feet are horrendous.  I really, really hate being stinky, what am I doing hiking for days in the same clothes then?  Woohoo, Dassie, AJ and Burning Calves!  They were heading out, but we got lunch and beer together.  It was BC’s birthday! After, they hitched out and I got a perfectly comfy, clean, quiet, cheap motel room.  I studied the maps and info and Yogi’s pages and realized I could shave at least a day and 20 miles by taking a road walk alternate.  Totally cheered me up, I only needed 3 days of food max.  Riverside has a couple of tiny stores, so my food purchases consisted of cheddar cheese, tortillas, candy bars, and individually wrapped danish.  But it’s now just about 60 miles to Rawlins and more than half will be on beautiful, blessed, quick walking roads!  Happy hiker!  Even though the weather forecast was for 2 days of rain, I was OK because there would be no big exposed climbs in the next stretch.

7/25 I was extremely lucky to get an early ride to the trail from a nice local who decided that he could put off pouring concrete in the rain to give a hiker a ride back up to Battle Pass. I barely stuck out my thumb, he was the first truck. He had been in the Seabees at Adak, AK in 1979.  Wow, I told him about my friend Cody Carpenter who has recently gone way out there to hunt caribou and stay in the old officers quarters.

It rained and drizzled all day, not cold, not windy.  Actually it was quite pleasant hiking temperatures.  Mostly roads today including another alternate, slightly longer than the official route, but I know now that better tread makes for faster progress. Lessons learned in New Mexico.  And when I rejoined the trail, it was in terrible shape as usual.  Makes me wonder if I could have found more alternatives.  I had to go over, under, around and through more messy, boggy, nearly impenetrable blowdown.  I carried extra water weight since the maps and notes warned about undrinkable, alkaline water on the road alternate to Rawlins.  I found a dry, open campsite with crazy squirrels and some new bird calls.  Cranes maybe?  It rained some more but I was at such low elevation that cold was not an issue.  It was a happy place.

7/26 Picked up plenty more water but my pack is light because I don’t need to carry much food. Not a bad walk in the cool cloud cover. Saw several cyclists.  The road rolls a bit, goes from dirt to paved and has very little traffic.  I saw tons of pronghorn antelope in the sagebrush.  New animal to me, beautiful, smart and skittish.  They bound away in dun colored herds with what looks like gigantic, fluffy white bunnies clinging to their bums.  Since Battle Pass, Wyoming has been what I hoped for, namely not Colorado.  Finally the skunk bush stink is gone, replaced with the divine (truly, ask the First People of this area) scent of sagebrush.  The trail and alternate join up and cross I-80 and railroad tracks, then go through Rawlins.  I got my resupply box with new shoes and then holed up in a motel.  Tomorrow I will tour the old Wyoming prison and buy groceries.

Grand Lake to Highway 40

Trail Crew

7/13 It’s a lovely place, the Shadowcliff, and not expensive, but the hostel was full so I took a room in the main lodge and the noise was challenging, so I moved to the very quiet Bighorn for a second night.  Did all the chores: laundry, fuel, groceries.  And ate an early dinner for the second night at the Stagecoach happy hour.  Cheap, delicious and a welcoming place. I got a text from Dassie.  The next morning we met for breakfast (“We thought the Fat Cat Cafe would be appropriate,” joked Dassie) and the big surprise wasn’t AJ (Mudslide) but Burning Calves back on the CDT from the AT!  It was great to see friends, the CDT has been lonesome. I told them to give me a head start and I’d see them on the trail. They slackpacked the RMNP loop today.

7/14 I took the RMNP shortcut to save miles and because you need a permit and a bear canister to camp in “Rocky” as the cheerful trail crew called it.  It was an uneventful but beautiful day filled with day hikers.  Best question of the day was “Have you seen anything?”  I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain…  “Anything?”  “Animals!”  I camped below Bowen Pass near water.  Today I finally finished listening to the 10th anniversary edition of American Gods.  There was an Epilogue, then a Post Script, then an Appendix.

7/15 I walked up the valley to Bowen Pass and saw a bull moose curled under a tree like a cow, then just past him, 3 more moose, the mythical herd.  Our moose don’t herd up like this.  Then a minute later, a hare came bounding up to me.  That’s a new one. Somebody been feeding this guy?  I thought I’d have to settle for the usual fleeing butt.

The pass wasn’t so bad, and the down went quite a ways, full of blowdown to a “road,” a skinny, slippery canyon full of 4-wheelers, Mr and Mrs plus the kids.  The road transitioned to trail, ominously marked with tire treads. A few minutes later the dirt bikes were barreling downhill at me on the single track as I continued a 3-hour uphill trudge. They were polite and legal, and there was no blowdown in this section, just noise, fumes and dust. I turned off onto a no-motorized trail that crossed a paved highway and continued up.  I found a sheltered tent site and called it a day before the cloud burst.  I had been packing 3 liters of water since there were 9 more dry miles in the morning.

7/16 This morning was hard but gorgeous.  A goat!  Mama grouse and her two chicks, all equally stupid. I could be dining on fresh grouse daily if I would just take advantage and whack one with my hiking stick. There were a couple long waterless stretches.  People in cars on the dirt roads are a little weird. I walked onto an isolated dirt road junction and a lone old guy in a car drove slowly into and out of view with just a little wave, didn’t even roll down his window to check if I was OK.

Crew Chief

7/17 Up and over this morning to a series of good dirt roads.  Fat Albert overtook me, super friendly and helpful.

Fat Albert

As I walked down the road, I chatted with a 4-wheeler couple who later in the day on their return trip told me my friends behind were trying to catch up. Yay! Then a retired couple invited me into their RV and a cold drink.  Nice!  I made over 25 miles today, although I am now stealth camped behind some bushes on Highway 14.  I feel like a freaking hobo.

7/18 I hiked the blacktop 8.5 miles to Hwy 40 to hitch to Steamboat.  I hate hitching, it also makes me feel like a bum.  I waited an hour until a really nice woman, 24, picked me up on her way to see a friend about a job with a SUP company in Steamboat.  Thank you!  I had happy hour beer and tapas with Dassie, AJ and Burning Calves who rolled into town an hour or two after me.





Winter Park to Grand Lake

James Peak, I asked a day hiker to take the photo because one of my kids says I suck at selfies. True that.

I had to come up with a plan to save my mind.  I want to hike through passes, not 3000′ up to the tippy top of a peak and down, steep down, to the bottom of the crotch between peaks.  Passes not peaks! Kinda out of luck on that issue. My slow pace both up and down meant for low mileage days, self doubt and it-is-what-it-is anger.

So I took a hard look at the elevation profile for the next stretch and made a plan.  Less planned miles on some days, more on others. It worked!

7/9 I hiked up whatever peak it is north of Berthoud Pass parking lot and down the equally steep other side loaded with snow patches, talus and bugs, then up a traverse that wound around a hillside, then down a nicely engineered and constructed set of steep switchbacks (47 of them?) to a dirt road teaming with ATVs, trucks driven by unsmiling men, and boys cautiously riding dirt bikes.  There was a campground of sorts, which a hiker somewhere ahead of me had noted in the comments for Guthook’s app for this area.  The first site, near the road, was a little creepy.

Ghost stories, anyone? Seats blown out, camp chairs next to an overflowing fire ring.

Nobody was camped anywhere but I walked back through the trees until I was out of sight from the road.  A perfect quiet spot in the rain.  Tomorrow James Peak first thing.

7/10 I was hiking early in longies and jacket. Took about 4 hours to make it to the top. I was passed by 2 thrus, 3 day hikers,then another pair of day hikers.  At the top there is of course a giant switchback going down. I slipped and fell twice on the loose gravel and rock, taking a little chunk out of my hand and dripping blood on my hiking stick. The trail continued with a traverse through scree on the side of a ridge then came to a trail junction, with a perfectly good trail leading away to a road.  I knew I should have taken it.  Next time I will check my other maps and not go blindly where the Guthook/Bear Creek tells me. The “untrail” official CDT went along a ridge, cairn to cairn, on tussocks and talus.  Who decides on the “official” route?  A committee?  An agency?  The CDTC?  Why would you send hikers on unspoiled tundra when an existing trammeled trail is nearby?  After awhile I did check my other maps and bushwhacked down to a road below, CR 80.  I yelled to my wildlife buddies as I went, telling the sheep, moose, elk, bear and all the other animals I could think of how much I appreciated them not popping out of the brush and surprising me.  The road walk uphill was great and apparently normal because the jeeps didn’t stop to ask if I was lost or OK.  I rejoined the CDT at 3:30 with 3 short climbs and traverses in the alpine wind and cold and bits of rain until finally a steep down to trees and water.  I was less worried today being exposed at 12,000′ 3:30-6:00 pm–the grumbling of thunder and the cloud mass was mostly behind me.

Ahead of me on the ridge
Behind me on the ridge

Some days your mind just goes into a loop trying to resolve unresolvable issues.  When you create an official route on ground that doesn’t have any kind of previous impact–not a game trail, not a social trail–not only are you encouraging environmental impacts, you are putting hikers at greater risk for injury which would potentially require Search and Rescue (SAR) response.  Who makes these decisions?  Another issue that bugs me:  Wilderness economics.  There is so little money for wilderness restoration, trail construction and trail maintenance. But when trail conditions are crummy, the odds of hiker injury and rescue goes up.  SAR is a different pot of money, also underfunded, than wilderness management. Yes, we are in the wilderness at our own risk, but  where there is trail, there is responsibility, both for trail maintenance, environmental protection and human safety.  And it all goes together but it’s all separated by jurisdictions and funding.  I do my best to leave no trace and to diminish personal risk, but still, bad stuff happens to good people all the time.  And we need more people doing stuff outside and in the wilderness partly because healthy and happy people are cheaper.  Oh shut up Catwater, just hike.

7/11 It was a lovely campsite.  It rained hard 6:30-9:30, then off and on all night.  When I crawled out of my tent in the morning, I was greeted by a moose grazing in the lush grass across a meadow.  Today was gray but I was happy to be going downhill or level most of the day, caught in the green tunnel and listening to the interminable American Gods.  I saw a second moose and about 4 miles in, thanks to a heads up by a day hiker, a herd of 10-20 elk.

Fuzzy and fleeing elk

Then I startled a beautiful deer, palomino colored tail showing off her darker self and huge mule ears.  She sproinged off through the trees and meadow.  No intense climbs today and as I’ve learned to appreciate road walks, so too do I appreciate plodding through the murky trees, not the windy alpine.  I made my 20 miles, the first in a long time, although finding a tent site was a miracle.  The trail along the lakes has very few flat spots, what few there are have wads of deadfall and rocks.  But I made do.  I’m camped on a rock I’ve padded with my jacket and the rain is pouring down.  Just a few hours to Grand Lake.  What crazy slow stuff will the trail throw at me tomorrow?

7/12 Rain. Rained all night. Rained lightly all morning. But I’m at such low elevation that I wasn’t cold.  The trail is overgrown so I wore my rain pants till I hit civilization hours into the day.  The trail wasn’t so bad today, wet but NO wind, NO cold, NO elevation, AND I was going to be indoors for the night.  I stopped by the post office and picked up my box.  New shoes! New insoles!  Laundromat, groceries, fuel tomorrow.  I really should just drive town to town and forget about this hiking thing.

Not poodle dog bush, not weed, but this plant also smells like skunk. Some of them have a slight skunk who drinks coffee stink.
Old spillway?
Heading up James Peak

Going down James Peak

Grand Lake

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.

Twin Lakes to Copper Mountain

10th Mountain Division huts, bunkers, ordinance, etc are everywhere, I need to read more about their remarkable history.
Not sure what this was, anybody know?

6/28 I was reluctant to go, but finally hiked out at 9:45, with an ankle wrap on the right foot and duct tape on the left heel blister earned by wearing micro spikes on light-weight trail runners. The spikes smooshed the shoe structure too, so until I get new shoes, there’s a crumpled ridge of shoe rubbing my heel.

I was really pleased to find great trail, no snow, no blowdown, chock full of day hikers, Colorado Trail (CT) hikers SOBO from Denver to Durango, mountain bikers and a cheery guy, Dr Bob, finishing the CDT and the Triple Crown. Even though I won’t see any of these hikers again since they’re going the opposite direction, I am gladdened by the human contact.

6/29. What a day! 21 people, 4 tail wagers with dog food panniers, and 3 large youth-ish groups. At the end of the day I was overtaken by JPEG, the guy I met briefly on the PCT 2015–he took my photo at the 1/2 way monument outside Chester, and I found out months later–he’s somehow related to USASA former-President John Schaal from Michigan. JPEG and Gutpunch were on about their 30th mile for the day, trying to reach the highway a few miles further for a hitch to Leadville. I didn’t hold them up long, and found a perfect campsite near a creek. It’s a bit buggy out here and during the night I got a few splatters of rain.

I do not usually talk about gear, but I got a replacement tent in Salida after much thought. I’ve been using the Zpacks Solplex that I used for a 1000 miles through Oregon and Washington in 2015. A great tent, single wall with bug netting, very light. I had to manage condensation in the snow and rain of Washington and eventually the zipper needed fixing which Zpacks did for free. But gear wears out, and gradually there were more screen patches than I liked, the zipper was going again, and honestly I was sick of not being able to sit up without touching the walls, the condensation issue. So I upgraded to the Zpacks Altaplex, a taller version of the Solplex for not much more weight, 2 ozs.  I got the camo color, it’s a little less see-through, and I think camo signals to other people that I’m packing a gun or hunting gear, just adding to the all-around badassery image I project. Uh huh, I’m joking!  I’m not carrying a gun! I love this tent, it sets up with a single hiking stick and I have to fiddle around to get all the lines right but it stands up to wind and weird pitches surprisingly well.

There was a lot of uphill today, the first stretch was steep and I dreaded the second, but it wasn’t so bad.   I think a lot of trail here is like in my mountains, the Chugach, trail is created, not engineered, when people or vehicles take the shortest way up or down, as straight a line as possible.  Not great, but designing and constructing graded trail is expensive and labor intensive so meanwhile we walk on what’s already there, whether ancient wagon roads, social footpaths, jeep ruts or old mining routes.

I hit snow at about 3 and was out of it by 4:30. Melting snow means bugs so I broke out the Deet, just 30% strength, this isn’t Interior Alaska.  The flowers today have been incredible, I tried to get photos of all the colors–yellow, pink, butter, white, purple, lavender–but nothing can capture the fragrance, and I am a truly bad iPhone photographer.

Red and yellow
White and purple
Blue and gold
Lavender and marigold

6/30 CDT miles 1214.4-1234.4. Way more miles than I wanted to do.  I couldn’t find a flat spot for my tent, so I’m in the worst pitch ever, or to put a positive spin on it, I’ll call it a creative pitch. I saw jillions of people today on the CT and the trail tripped through varied terrain as it went, paralleling and crossing the highway to Leadville, then through more abandoned  10th Mountain Division territory and up into the alpine and finally down through Searle Pass.  An absolutely clear day but I was still nervous about the high elevation exposure past 3pm in the Rockies.  Silly rabbit, no thunderclouds were developing but still I galloped as fast as I could for miles of alpine traverse until finally I saw the route heading down to tree line and I set up my crappy pitch.

7/1 The terrible tent site turned out not to be too bad.  I piled my pack, clothes bag, etc at the foot of the tent with my slippery sleeping bag on my slippery sleeping pad on the slippery tent floor and slipped throughout the night, waking up periodically to scootch back up to the head of the tent. I woke at 4:45, then again at 6:45, whoo!  It felt great to start a short downhill day to Copper Mountain at a late 7:30!  Lots of hikers coming at me, lots.  Then I saw chair lifts and soon I was descending on the road I used to board down from the USASA Boardercross course in April.  Another warp in the space-time continuum.  I continued across where the bottom of the half pipe is supposed to be. Just below was a huge pile of snow for Woodward Camp with rails and boarders and skiers and in the grass all kinds of summer toys and kids and families.  This place is fun!  Paddle boats, zip line, big bouncy balls, mountain bikes, crazy positive energy.  Rooms are cheaper here than Frisco or Dillon so I’m going to rest my ankle, eat and enjoy the hustle and bustle.

Saw this nest in the alpine, no trees nearby. I know there are ground-dwelling Ptarmigan?
View from my room towards the ephemeral Boardercross and Half Pipe


Alaska Really Is My Home

5/30-6/19 0 CDT Miles

Dan and I flew from Albuquerque home to Anchorage.  The next 10 days we got to play tour guide for Ashlee’s first trip to Alaska.  She and Chris packed a lot of vacation into a short period of time.  Because it never gets dark this time of year, they played frisbee golf until 2 am more than once, and Ashlee saw her first Alaska moose, a little guy on bended front knees nibbling grass on the course. We hiked Flat Top, went to Girdwood’s Fiddlehead Festival, visited numerous Alaska microbreweries, and hung out in Seward for a few days.  A friend took them to Talkeetna.  They biked the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.  Ashlee was amazed by the mountain ranges surrounding our city on Cook Inlet, fortunately there were a few clear days in Anchorage so she could see them.  We all had fun, including their dog Grimm who made friends with our older son Glen’s dog Tindy.  The three cats were less stoked, Shred taunted Grimm from his perch on the moose rack.

The day they left, I ran the Alaska Run For Women, a 5-miler celebrating its 25th year.  I don’t know how many times I’ve run it, but it’s a great event raising funds for breast cancer totally by donation.  I pinned a card to my back, “I’m running in honor of Noreen” and joined the parade of pink.  I don’t own anything pink but they let me run anyway.  I got a pretty good time too!  And I did Zumba, in public, with the post-race class. Later that evening, friend Tarcey and I went to an outdoor solstice show with The Shins at Moose’s Tooth Brewery.

Having seen both my boys, I wanted to see my daughter Sarah in Seattle on my way back to the CDT and somehow found myself running in a half marathon with her from UW to the Seahawks stadium downtown.

Meanwhile I’ve been watching CDT NOBO progress on social media and trying to figure out the logistics of getting back to the trail.  I am going to fly to Denver and take a Greyhound south.  I will skip (temporarily) a chunk of trail rather than try to get all the expensive way back to New Mexico.  There’s still a bunch of snow, but reportedly most of the south faces have melted so hopefully my microspikes, Whippet (combo hiking stick and light duty ice axe) and neoprene  socks will be good enough.  We’ll see. I’ve got a bounce box to mail up the trail with other clothing and gear I may want to switch out with.

Seward Sealife Center, AK: me, my sis Annie, Ashlee, son Chris, Dan
Chris on Flat Top, Chugach Range, AK
My sister Dogwater, son Chris, and his partner Ashlee top of the tram, Alyeska Ski Resort, AK
Winner Creek Trail, Girdwood, AK
Ashlee, Dogwater, Chris
Chris, friend Trevor, Ashlee at the Girdwood Brewery
Shredder on the moose horns
Bear at Portage Wildlife Center, AK
Grimm, Ashlee, Chris, me, Dogwater on the trail to Fort McGilvray
Resurrection Bat, AK
Grimm and Chris in the water taxi, Resurrection Bay
Resurrection Bay
Resurrection Bay


Cuba to Ghost Ranch 54 miles


5/26 The Subway says it opens at 7 for breakfast so we dropped our keys in the motel box and walked, arriving just past 7. Wefound that the doors were open but the woman was still setting up. It took till 7:30 for her to be ready and she said coffee wouldn’t finish brewing until noon. Deal breaker. We got take-out sandwiches for the trail and I grumpily made the Ravens backtrack to McD’s for breakfast and coffee. We didn’t start hiking the highway out of Cuba and the 15 miles of uphill until 8:30.

The trail got into trees.  There was plenty of snow in the shade under their protection. Nothing steep so the open areas were full of melt, all marshy and muddy. Out of the barren mesas into the lovely forests, spruce and pine, facing east and northeast, a little intro into what’s ahead. It wasn’t a hard day, but wet, cold feet can take their toll. Mama feels bad that I “had to put up with” her family. Really? After my meltdown this morning over no coffee at Subway? But I think it’s because Mama thinks she lost her patience when Joon had a mini hissy fit when it became apparent that she couldn’t keep feet dry in the umpteenth marsh we had to navigate. Mom guilt! It’s a trap! Anyway we camped at the top of all the climbing on dry ground and no wind. And I heard the usual wonderful sound of the kids laughing in their tent as the light faded from the sky. I love this family.  The day is done, tomorrow we go downhill to start with.

5/27 Since we did the big up yesterday, today was quite easy and enjoyable. I’m getting used to how the Ravens take their breaks and they’re not adverse to speeding them up a bit.

This should be my last night on the trail for awhile. I’m really excited to fly home to Anchorage and be tour guide for son Chris, his Ashlee and their ginormous dog Grimm.

I caught up to Robinath from Amsterdam on the switchbacks down to the creek, he hiked out from Cuba the afternoon before us.

5/28 13 miles to Ghost Ranch. Great setting, I see why Georgia O’Keefe lived here. There’s a fossil quarry nearby from which dinosaurs were dug, and this area has had culture upon culture through the millennia, each with their own tool making, pottery, basketry, and creation stories.

Arriving at the conference center, we were greeted on the deck by Treeman, Burning Calves, Dassie, Nuthatch, Party Saver, AJ and Quicksilver. Treeman had taken time off to trail angel but when he got back on trail, he slipped and split open his knee which is now stitched. From Berlin, and a PCT 2015 hiker, he said the last time he had that knee stitched due to another trail incident, he was told, “You have skin like an elephant!”  Apparently, thick, tough skin develops in athletes like hikers.  Treeman is friends with the Ravens from the PCT and they’d all been hoping to do some hiking together this year.  He’d reserved a bunk room that slept all 6 of us and included the all-you-can-eat breakfast.  We all had dinner in the cafeteria with more hikers.  The 100 or so regular people here for retreats and classes looked like they were enjoying this place too, although the hiker table was the only one that had a constant parade of people going back for seconds or thirds.  Hilarious!  Dan will arrive tomorrow to bring  me and Burning Calves, to Albuquerque airport.  She’s going to Atlanta to hike the AT with a friend but may come back to the CDT a bit later in the season.   Meanwhile I am drafting an “Application to Marry My Daughter” for Treeman.  It’s a perfect match.

Bling, Treeman, Robinath in the dining hall
Joon and Bling get to go on a trail ride!

5/29 I love small museums.  Ghost Ranch has both a museum of Anthropology and Palaentology that I visited while waiting for Dan.  He arrived and met all the hikers and ate lunch with us.  As we said our goodbyes before heading out, Treeman said “Bye Mom, bye Dad.”  He’s racking up points.

Reunion: Reserve to Pie Town

5/10 Woke to pouring rain and snow on the mountains.  Good timing to be in Reserve!  Caught up on civilized stuff like reloading my iBooks app and books, bill paying, eating at the excellent cafes and buying a few snacks.  Here everybody knows each other, “How are you?” they say to each other. “Good!  How are you?” exactly like my sadly now former coworker Cody Carpenter says at home in Alaska.

I talked with a wildlife officer who had been stationed in the Army and later was a USFS smokejumper in Fairbanks.  After serving in Iraq, he wanted nothing to do with cities and loves his job in NM.  New Mexico is wilderness as I’ve discovered, with big cats (Puma, Jaguar, Mountain Lion, I’ve heard all these names), bear, coyote, Mexican Wolves, snakes, javelinas, elk, deer, turkey and so on.  His job is to determine if a dead cow was killed by a reintroduced Mexican Wolf (the Feds will reimburse the rancher for the loss) or by a regular run-of-the-mill predator.

5/11 I can’t believe how great people are–my plan worked.  Breakfast at Adobe Cafe at 7 when they opened, pack on the porch.  I walked to the edge of town, sat on the guardrail, and the first truck picked me up.  I was walking by 8:30!  A beautiful day through pleasant country with 1 2-hour climb, muddy brown cow water, 1 jacked-up pickup and 1 Private Property with 2 insanely barking dogs.  I camped hidden from the road in scrub trees and desiccated cow pies.

5/12. Since I did 22 yesterday, it was just 18 to Toaster House in Pie Town which I reached early afternoon.  Hikers!  Dassie and Burning Calves from Day 1 greeted me and showed me to a bunk in their room. Then I was whisked away by owner Nita for a tour of Pie Town, a rather old, and odd, spot on the map.  After taking us to the house she lives in and getting to play with her orange cat Muenster, I found myself driving her car with Bow Leg to Quemado 20 miles away for beer.  Back at Toaster House with 12 or 14 hikers in this old, semi-decrepit, bizarre, cluttered, by-donation “hostel” for hikers and bikers that has about 8 beds and several couches plus porch and tenting space along with a single bathroom.  Lots of great company!  Most people spend at least 2 nights here.


Very Large Array at Pie Town
Muenster cat


Nita, Catwater, Dassie and Burning Calves

The Ravens in front of Toaster House
Bow Leg and Catwater selfies

Bling and Joon in Toaster House kitchen
Inbar and Midnight

5/13 The Ravens are coming in today I hear!  I went to Saturday post office hours (7:30-9:30 am, how weird is that?) and picked up their boxes so they wouldn’t have to wait till Monday. I busied myself cleaning house, washing clothes and towels, chatting with Midnight, Dassie, Burning Calves, Navi, Bow Leg, Navi, Dave, Lux, Anna and John and more.  And the Ravens arrived with smiles and stories.  I moved to a bunk upstairs.  Mama’s feet are doing better but they will zero tomorrow.  I should get out of this vortex and hike out, but I’m enjoying all the hikers, the pie, the rest and the Ravens, so…..

5/14 Mother’s Day.  I bought Pie to go yesterday for breakfast today.  More hikers walked in as others walked out: Endless and Wueen Bee, Silver, Quicksilver, Radar and Peru, Inbar from Israel, Buddy Backpackers Dad.  I changed to my own tiny room and slept great.

Gila Cliff Dwellings to Highway 12, 90 miles

5/5 After a lovely night’s sleep, I slept in and hit the road at 7:30. Worried about making miles when I returned to the river, I walked right past the turnoff to the Gila Cliff Dwellings site, a round trip of about 4 miles. Then I walked past the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument visitor center and got on the trail. I stopped dead in my tracks, tucked my pack under a tree and turned around. I went back to the visitor center, paid my fee, went back to the turnoff and walked the road to the ruins, not the road to ruin.


These dwellings were inhabited for just a generation by Mogollon people, Pueblan culture, and have a lot of the original structure including wooden support posts that provided dendochronology (tree ring dating) but here, as normal, the archaeological sites in New Mexico have been heavily plundered, “pot hunted,” in the last 150 years.  In fact, I have inherited 2 perfect pots from Mesa Verde that my great or great great grandfather Clayton Theodore Sallee, took. I also have an ornate marriage certificate with his name and my great great grandmother’s name with Arizona Territory crossed out and New Mexico Territory penned in above. I don’t know much more about my mom’s Sallee ancestors, she was born near Coulee Dam where her dad was on a WPA project in the Depression and she graduated from high school in Oregon.

How people have wandered the West for thousands of years.  Who were they really?  What were their lives like?  Why just a generation in this location?  What is the true story of my ancestors?  Did I inherit the wanderlust?  I’m glad I turned back to visit this site, it gave me a lot to think about when I got back on the river route a couple of hours later.

From 11am to when I camped I crossed the Middle Fork of the Gila River 57 times for a total of 14 trail miles ( which doesn’t include the diversion to the Cliff dwellings).  Hard to make miles in sand, cobbles and water.  But I couldn’t be happier with the route or my day.  Frogs, tadpoles, fish, fry, lizards, snakes, squirrels with big ears, and 2 day hikers with a pit bull too tired to even wag her tail.

5/6 So slow, so many crossings, so little tread.  I followed footprints until the thunder showers between 1:30 and 5:45 wiped them out.  I finally pitched my tent and rested my aching back.  I miss the Ravens so bad and wonder where they are and how Mama’s feet are and how they’re managing the river.

5/7 It was cold this morning. I went from the canyon (fell in the water once, getting my daily quota) to ugly Snow Lake which was enlivened by legitimate trash cans at the USFS campground. Hikers love to get rid of trash! Met my second pair of nice FS guys in a truck.  In both cases, an older, largish white guy is driving with a younger, fitter brown guy riding shot gun. One was a Kachina Hot Shot!  There are fires in the area but they tell me the CDT is open and safe. Continuing on from the lake on dirt road to trail and the last water was a weird pond with solar panels.  Then a climb onto a road and I saw the “German couple” in the distance that the FS guys told me was ahead.  I walked for a long time across a treeless, windy plain before dropping down to trees and the nicely maintained Bursum Road where I said “Hey” to the German couple resting in the shade.  The road continued up, up, up over the Divide and I found a tent site in the trees.

I made lots of miles today but I didn’t plan for the eventual water carry as I left the river and the weird pond. Fortunately I’m paranoid since the Catwater incident in 2015 and always carry more water than I need. I have enough till tomorrow and the next on-trail spring in 14 miles.

My life is ruined, stupid iPhone somehow deleted the iBooks app.  The last thing I did last night was read “Digital Dick,” by my Yosemite friend John Mullen.  When’s Book 2 of the series coming out, John?  I love the concept, character and story, and it’s so well crafted!  The way these phone mishaps go, that app would pop up with an inadvertent elbow in the tent and self destruct.  I need wifi to restore it and that’s days and days away.  I haven’t not read a book every night since I learned to read. I am reduced to reading the labels on my food and reviewing my own stupid journal entries.

5/8 Not my favorite day. Woke to cold and cloud cover and continued the easy tread FS road at 2% grade. Passed Treehugger, Blisterfree and dog Sage as they were packing up. I miss the Ravens, Dassie, Dan, Jackie, Poppy, Recon, Puff Puff, Milkshake and Sticky Buns, Mr Smith, Velcro and Sparrow.  I really mourn Sparrow, every day.

Finally finishing the alt and getting on the CDT, I came to a lookout and saw the 2 fires.  It made me nervous, they were so close, should I retreat?  I left a long note in a USFS fire rig that was parked, unlocked, with the keys inside, with instructions to call Dan so he could satellite text me if I’m in danger.  After all, it’s not like a bureaucrat has never made a bad fire behavior call!  I hiked on, picked up some murky pond water and camped in smoke.

It was a nice warm campsite.  I woke at midnight to the sound of a bunch of coyotes yipping like sled dog puppies.  Then further off, a long awoo, a single wolf howling, singing, and the coyotes shut up.  I know Mexican wolves have been reintroduced to the area, and I’ve seen plenty of food for everybody–cow calves, deer, elk–so I guess that’s why I wasn’t scared, and it was such a beautiful, wild song.

5/9 Between the iBooks issue, the fires, the hail and increasing wind, cold and weather, and the uncertainty of whether my resupply box was actually being held at Toaster House in Pietown (ah, hiker rumors made me call to confirm from Silver City but I hadn’t heard back before losing cell coverage for the last week), I’d decided to give 3 hours to an attempt to hitch the 30 miles from NM 12 to Reserve, an unplanned stop and a notoriously hard hitch.  If I couldn’t get a ride, I’d camp and continue the 2 days to Pietown.  I got a ride part way from the first car going my way, after just an hour huddled in all my layers and rain gear.  Then a second ride from a law enforcement officer acting as a Good Samaritan to a hiker in distress.  Turns out a week ago, a colleague died of hypothermia out here and the officer had that in his mind.  Oh, the kindness of the people of New Mexico!  They’re not crazy outgoing, they’re calm and helpful.

I love hitching

And so I’m in Reserve on another unplanned zero waiting for the severe weather to pass.  Seriously, rain here, snow where I would be hiking, tornadoes around the state, wow.  And I’ve restored my books, done my laundry, caught up the blog, eaten really great beef, watched The Voice, Better Call Saul and Into the Badlands, and found out the Ravens took 2 more days in Silver City.  They’re probably close to me! I’ll know when they get cell service!