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The Colorado Trail: Segments 16-17

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August 18-19, 2017

The last time we tried backpacking Segments 15-17 on the Colorado Trail, we got washed out about four miles into Segment 16.  It was time to make up Segment 16 and 17.  We decided to do two day hikes rather than camp again.  Segment 17 was 20.4 miles with an overall net declining elevation in the southbound direction which we completed first as it was longer than Segment 16 which totaled 16.2 miles.  We had to tack on an additional 0.4 to each segment in order to get to the car parked on the 4-wheel drive road.

I have to say after last weekend with spectacular views and wonderful wildflowers on Segments 23-25, these two sections were terribly anti-climatic!  Segment 17, in particular, was unfortunately quite boring.  I think I may have only taken 20 pictures in 20 miles.  There were a few sporadic wildflowers and perhaps one view that was blighted by a forest of beetle kill.  I wish I could say something nice about the section, but for the most part, the only nice part was the company and the raspberry bushes.

Dusty and I hiked Southbound while Margaret hiked Northbound, in order to do the key exchange and swap cars at the end of each trailhead.  We had stayed The Lodge at Saguache the first night for $20 per person as it was within an hour of both trailheads.  The lodge was nothing to write home about, but we had a roof over our heads, clean towels and linens, and a nice lady that helped us.

For our second hike, however, two of us needed to be closer to Poncha Springs, so we discussed the logistics over pizza at The Village Pub Pizza & Spirits.  For a small town, this place was pretty nice.  It had a great atmosphere and the pizza was delicious.  We arrived early, so the evening started out quiet, but soon the place filled up.  At that time, they could have used some more staff, but overall, we were glad to try the new place out.

Dinner discussions led Margaret and I to camp at the top of Marshall Pass while Dusty headed back up the 4-wheel drive road to Sargents Mesa where she slept in the car.  Segment 16 was nicer than Segment 17.  It offered a few more views and wildflowers.  The path was far less rocky as well which was a welcome relief.  A small aspen grove and a mining cabin made it a little more interesting too.  Unfortunately, we had to share the trail with motor bikes.  It’s not too exciting to breath the fumes, but they were nice, just as the mountain bikers on Segment 17 were extremely polite.  I felt sorry for most of them as they were walking their bikes over all the rocks!

While the hikes weren’t the most exciting, the path was much dryer than our last attempt.  In addition, it was a good choice to day hike these segments as there were limited water sources.  More importantly, the segments are complete, and I only have the last three segments to finish and celebrate completing the whole trail!  I’m very excited to accomplish this feat next week.  ETB

WANT TO VACATION SOONER?  IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!

Get the gist here: http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/can-i-do-it

Want more details, click here:http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/featured

To browse experiences or to sign up, click here:http://www.bethbankhead.dreamtrips.com

For notecards, key chains, or photographs, visit Notable Notecards or Niche Notecards on Etsy. A portion of the sales are donated to charity and a travel story is associated with each one.

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The Colorado Trail: Segments 23-25…Spectacular Scenery!

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August 10-14, 2017

Danelle, Nandi, and I drove up to Lake City and camped at the hostel in preparation for our 57 mile backpacking trip which would knock out segments 23-25 over the next 5 days and give us time to make the seven hour drive home with a short hiking day on Monday.

We got to the trailhead around 8 after Danelle maneuvered her SUV over a rough four-wheel drive road. We planned on an easy first day as Danelle had fallen to altitude sickness on this segment the previous year for the first time, and I tend to be prone to it as well, though we exhibit entirely different symptoms!

We started down a jeep road that traveled through the open tundra past remnants of mines until we veered to the right onto the trail after about a half mile. We followed the gradual descent of the single track through intermittent willows as we admired the expansive views. Along the way, we spotted marmots, one of which happily posed for us, pikas and field mice, before we began our first ascent, about 1,000 feet over two miles. The grade wasn’t too bad, but climbing to nearly 13,000 feet with full packs lended itself to slow progress. We were even slower as we stopped to admire lovely wildflowers and interesting rock formations.

Soon we reached the top of the pass only to descend 750 feet over the next two miles where we passed by lovely Cataract Lake to begin our next climb. We slogged through the mud before gaining our next rise about 6 miles into the segment. Upon our ascent, a lovely waterfall came into view which gave us a great excuse for a rest and lunch.

This is where Danelle felt nauseous and soon vomited. Altitude sickness again, oh no! We needed to get her down to lower altitude as fast as we could, so we turned back toward the trailhead. Nandi and I ditched our packs at the lake as we decided we’d take Danelle to the car and then hike back to camp. It would be easier for Nandi and me to split the weight of Danelle’s pack while Danelle could hike with only her water bottle.

Her nausea returned twice in the six miles back to the car. While the return to the car sucked for us all (and obviously Danelle the most), at least we got to see some moose among the willows which we didn’t spot a few hours earlier. After five miles and mounting 13,000 feet again, I was feeling rotten and had to stop. Nandi took Danelle the additional mile to the car and lucky for them they caught a ride on a dune buggy for the half-mile along the jeep road.

With Danelle at her car, the dune buggy brought Nandi back to the single-track trail where she met me, and we hiked 5.7 miles back over the pass and to the lake as coyotes barked and howled and marmots scampered all over the place. Now, with my head was pounding, I was relieved to arrive at camp and hoped I wouldn’t be packing out in the morning!

As clouds reflected in the lake’s glassy waters, a deer trotted through our campsite. What a lovely spot we found. If only the night of strong wind and cool temperatures wasn’t FREEZING! I donned all the clothes I brought with me…two pair of socks, two pair of pants, a t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt, a ski sweater, a down jacket, a wool hat, and mittens. Tucked into my down sleeping bag, it took me hours to get warm, if at all.

After a fitful night, we arose to find frost on our camelbacks and welcomed the sun that eventually poked through the clouds around 7:30am. Beginning with the climb where we turned around yesterday, we warmed us up quickly. Unfortunately, the sun and warmth was short lived.

After two enjoyable hours of excellent hiking through high alpine meadows blanketed with wildflowers and dotted with lakes, our luck ended. It was time to zip ourselves into our rain gear as drizzle fell from the cloudy skies. For the next four hours, we followed the trail up and down the ridges as the cool wind blew on our dampened outer shells.

Wanting to save all my layers for another night of high altitude camping, I tried my best to stay warm in my t-shirt and rain jacket. As such, I jogged down the descents, though I expect some people could walk that fast, and walked as fast as I could up the inclines. Occasionally, I stopped to admire the astonishing landscape with dynamic clouds rising from the lower valleys. We passed by more wonderful wildflowers, though squatting in the rain to snap a photo while trying to keep my lens clear of rain drops didn’t appeal to me.

After four hours in the rain and a mile into segment 24, and chilled to the bone, I finally cried, “Uncle”. We’d covered the minimum eleven miles we needed to reach achievable campsites and water locations noted in the databook within the remaining days of our trip. While we would have liked to go further, we found a relatively flat spot (unmarked in the databook) near a creek whose water came from an ice and snow-covered lake just above the trail.

We pitched our tents in the rain and slid into our sleeping bags while we watched it drizzle for two more hours! Finally, some relief came around 4pm. The skies cleared, the sun appeared briefly, and Nandi pumped some water for the morning as neither of us we even hungry for dinner…unusual! I ate a few dry snacks and figured I would pay for it later…about 12:30am my tummy was grumbling.

view from our campsite

After another restless night, we awoke to clear skies and damp gear. We let the sun dry out our tents a little before we got on the trail around 8am. I was hoping to leave a little sooner, though Nandi wasn’t in a hurry to leave her warm sleeping bag! We had about 6.5 more miles above treeline with thunderstorms in the forecast based on a two day old forecast, the last time we had cell service.

On this portion of the hike, I was reminded why I suffer through cold nights, rain, etc. The scenery was simply magnificent! We followed the rolling tundra, again peppered in wildflowers, while we enjoyed panoramic views of the surrounding 13,000 foot peaks and valleys beyond. I think we passed by an alpine lake every half mile to mile.

Soon we reached the trail intersection where we dropped down off the divide into Elk Creek. I’ve never seen anything like it. The path switched back and forth down the open tundra for half a mile. It was so cool to follow switchbacks along a “grassy knoll” rather than through a forest.

We passed by remnants of a mining tunnel and cabin, marveled at more spectacular wildflowers, descended through a majestic canyon, crossed the creek, and welcomed trees! I just can’t even remotely give justice to this area via words or pictures.

The trail paralleled Elk Creek for the next seven miles as we descended toward the railroad tracks. The shaded forest felt like a sauna as the sun heated the wet soil. I felt like I was great a free, natural facial. The path, sometimes rocky and sometimes soft with pine needles (which we wished for more often) provided lovely views. About three miles from the train tracks near a beautiful beaver pond, we started running into several alert, upbeat hikers. They had just arrived on the train and enthusiastically asked, “Where are you coming from?”

With over ten miles under our belt today and about 38 miles in total, I wished I had taken the train! My energy level was depleted, and I felt a little demoralized, knowing we still had four more miles to go, and they were all setting up camp by the pond! We continued following the creek, passed the trail to the train stop, and eventually descended to the tracks where we crossed a bridge over the Animas River and continued up the trail to Molas Creek where the water source was much clearer. We found a small campsite tucked in the nearby aspen grove and crammed our tents side by side.

With a pile of wood and a fire ring available, I briefly considered a small campfire, but our tents were too close to the ring, and it started to rain! After a great day of sunshine, and we were happy to have our tents up to take cover. Fortunately, the dark cloud moved on, and we were outside cooking dinner and enjoying our nice find…another site not in the databook.

All the way down at 9,000 feet beneath the trees, we looked forward to a warm night’s sleep. I crashed hard for an hour and then awoke hungry. Not eating dinner the other night had caught up to me. All my food was in my bear bag hanging in a tree away from camp. I tried everything to fall back asleep, but finally at 2:30am, I strapped on my headlamp, trounced across the campsite, untied my bear bag and had a snack! With my tummy full, I managed four hours of sleep.

This morning, clouds peppered the sky, a sign for rain. We hoped for the best, but expected the worst, as the weather this summer has been far from cooperative though I will say yesterday was glorious! Of course, what comes down, must go up, right? At least in the Rockies. Our hike began with an ascent out of the valley we had descended into yesterday.

Switchbacks took us up 1,500 feet through ever greens and aspen over the next two miles until we exited the treeline. We followed the tundra past a lovely lake to Molas Pass where eventually we got limited cell service and we able to confirm Danelle was OK, and she had picked up our Northbound hiker who was helping out with the car shuttle.

We stopped at the pass briefly and chatted with a lady who was visiting her son who attended college in Durango. She wanted to try on my pack to see how much it weighed. I humored her, though warned, “It’s sweaty!” She was giving us so much credit which was so nice, but compared to all the through hikers, we were pansies. And with only a liter or two of water and almost no food as we were on our last night of camping, the pack was relatively light!

From the pass, we climbed again. Dark clouds rolled in, large raindrops and small pellets of sleet spattered on us as loud claps of thunder sounded in the distance. The storm was headed our way as we hiked as fast as possible across the ridge dotted with single dead trees, clearly once struck by lightning! I was relieved to find the trail turning was from the black sky and leading us into the clear as we reached the trees. Much to my dismay, the path shifted back toward the menacing weather, but somehow we managed to walk around all the threatening weather and stayed rather dry. And once again, we enjoyed lovely wildflowers.

In the protection of the trees, we stopped for a quick lunch before following the undulating terrain through shoulder-high wildflowers until we finally reached our campsite after 13 miles. It was another great spot, this time designated by the databook, though we never saw the nearby lake. Instead we found multiple creeks, though I imagine at least one of them wouldn’t have been running in regular weather.

We enjoyed a nice afternoon at camp, cooked dinner, and turned in early as we hoped for a 6:30am start to finish the last 12 miles and to drive home. I’m not sure if I liked this portion of our hike because I was 12 miles away from finishing what turned into a 70-mile hiking trip or because the landscape was littered with wildflowers, creeks, and waterfalls.

The sun lit up fields of indian paintbrush, wild geraniums, blue columbine, buttercups and more. The trail led us through rolling tundra as we steadily rose to the top of the 12,500 foot pass where marmots basked in the sunshine. Soon, we dropped back down below the treeline as we crossed several creeks and admired lovely waterfalls. The creeks were especially cool, as the rocks were the color of white chalk, so the seemed exceptionally clear.

We stopped for lunch by the creek before our final climb which was an easy grade. I reached the top first and stopped in awe. I quietly savored the view, when Nandi reached the top and simply exclaimed, “Wow!” It was definitely a WOW moment! It was like looking through a kaleidoscope. Yellow, red, purple, and white dotted the grassy valley which was surrounded by mountain peaks that reflected a variety of browns and greens in the sun as sky slowly filled with billowy clouds. We couldn’t have timed our arrival to the saddle at a better. What a great way to end our climb!

With only two miles to go, we picked up our pace, descending through the trees to the car as a few rain drops started to fall. A deer nibbled on grass near the parking lot and lake. All that was left was to maneuver a four-wheel drive road. While it wasn’t terribly smooth, we survived to tell about it! Despite the challenges, it was a great trip and Segment 24 may be my favorite on the Colorado Trail thus far. Segment 5 in the fall is a close second. ETB

WANT TO VACATION SOONER?  IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!

Get the gist here: http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/can-i-do-it

Want more details, click here:http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/featured

To browse experiences or to sign up, click here:http://www.bethbankhead.dreamtrips.com

For notecards, key chains, or photographs, visit Notable Notecards or Niche Notecards on Etsy. A portion of the sales are donated to charity and a travel story is associated with each one.

Monastery, Museum and Music in Mongolia is Now Available on GPSMyCity with an Offline GPS Guided Map

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August 17, 2017

I’m pleased to announce another blog post is now available on GPSMyCity with a GPS guided map!

You may wonder, “What’s the big deal? I can read the travel post on your blog.” Well, yes, assuming you have access to the internet, you can read my article on my blog.

But what if you don’t have access to the internet? Do you really want to use your data? Better yet, what if you are in a different country, and you don’t have a cell service plan for the place you are visiting?

This is where the new travel app concept offered by GPSMyCity is quite useful. GPSMyCity produces city walk apps for nearly 750 cities worldwide. Want to see the sites in Paris? There’s an app for that. Want to try different restaurants in Malaga, Spain? There’s an app for that. You can download each travel article for FREE and read it whenever you like…in the airport, on the plane or street corner, or wherever!

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Should you wish to have a GPS-guided tour and map along with the article, all you have to do is upgrade for $1.99.

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NOW AVAILABLE:

Monastery, Museum, and Music in Mongolia

http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/two-and-a-half-day-in-seoul–south-korea-3710.html

DON’T FORGET THE REST OF MY ARTICLES THAT ARE AVAILABLE ON GPSMyCity:

Africa

Casablanca…The White House!
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/casablancathe-white-house-3450.html

El Jadida…A Coastal Town in Morocco
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/el-jadida–a-coastal-town-inmorocco-3505.html

Excellent Time in Essaouira
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/excellent-time-in-essaouira-3415.html

Amazing Medina in Marrakesh, Morocco
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/amazing-medina-in-marrakesh–morocco-3321.html

Maneuvering Marrakesh
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/maneuvering-marrakesh-3405.html

Rambling Around Rabat
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/rambling-around-rabat-3741.html

The Arctic

Longyearbyen and Its Outskirts (Norway)
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/longyearbyen-and-its-outskirts-2604.html

Asia

A Day Tour of Bangkok, Thailand
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/a-day-tour-of-bangkok-340.html

A Walking Tour of Narita, Japan
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/a-walking-tour-of-narita–japan-459.html

Two and a Half Days in Seoul, South Korea

http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/two-and-a-half-day-in-seoul–south-korea-3710.html

Central and South America

18 Hour Layover in Buenos Aires, Argentina
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/18-hour-layover-in-buenos-aires-2599.html

Strolling Around Santiago, Chile
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/strolling-around-santiago–chile-426.html

Tips for Planning your Hiking Trip to Patagonia (Chile and Argentina)
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/tips-for-planning-your-hiking-trip-to-patagonia-2715.html

The Markets and Cathedrals of Granada, Nicaragua
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/the-markets-and-cathedrals-of-granada-337.html

Cuba

An American in Cuba!
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/an-american-in-cuba-3114.html

Cienfuegos and Trinidad, Cuba
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/cienfuegos-and-trinidad–cuba-3146.html

Cuban Farms…How to Roll a Habano!
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/cuban-farmshow-to-roll-ahabano-3122.html

Las Terrazas and Vinales… A Treat for Nature Lovers
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/las-terrazas-and-vinales-a-treat-for-naturelovers-3123.html

Treasures of Trinidad
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/treasures-of-trinidad-3145.html

Trinidad to Havana and What Falls in Between
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/from-trinidad-to-havana-and-what-falls-inbetween-3178.html

The Streets of Habana Vieja and Fusterlandia – Part I
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/the-streets-of-habana-vieja-and-fusterlandia—part-i-3113.html

The Streets of Habana Vieja and Fusterlandia – Part II –
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/the-streets-of-habana-vieja-and-fusterlandia—part-ii-3121.html

Europe

Castles in Copenhagen, Denmark
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/castles-in-copenhagen-326.html

Cycling in Copenhagen, Denmark
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/cycling-in-copenhagen-325.html

Loved Tallinn, Estonia!
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/loved-tallinn–estonia-313.html

Adventures in Paris, France
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/adventures-in-paris-338.html

Adventures in Paris, France Part 2
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/adventures-in-paris-part-2-339.html

The Coastal Trail from Monterosso to Vernazza, Italy
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/the-coastal-trail-from-monterosso-tovernazza-2602.html

Rounding Out Cinque Terre…Riomaggiore and Corniglia, Italy
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/rounding-out-cinque-terreriomaggiore-andcorniglia-2601.html

Oslo, Norway and the Outskirts
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/oslo–norway-and-the-outskirts-2317.html

Cruising Around Gdansk, Poland
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/cruising-around-gdansk–poland-310.html

Imperial St. Petersburg, Russia
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/imperial-st-petersburg-329.html

Sightseeing in Stockholm, Sweden
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/sightseeing-in-stockholm-311.html

The Middle East

Dubai, UAE and Its International Appeal
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/dubai-and-its-international-appeal-327.html

North America

Tour of Tombstone, Arizona
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/tour-of-tombstone-342.html

Denver Brewery Tour, Colorado
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/denver-brewery-tour-2620.html

Eating Our Way Through New Orleans, Louisiana
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/eating-our-way-through-new-orleans-3660.html

On and Off the Vegas Strip, Nevada
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/on-and-off-the-vegasstrip-2597.html

Adventure in Albuquerque, New Mexico
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/adventure-in-albuquerque-341.html

Exploring the San Antonio Missions, Texas
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/exploring-the-san-antonio-missions-2605.html

A Long Weekend in Washington, D.C.
http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/a-long-weekend-in-washington-dc-3572.html

WANT TO VACATION SOONER?  IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!

Get the gist here: http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/can-i-do-it

Want more details, click here:http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/featured

To browse experiences or to sign up, click here:http://www.bethbankhead.dreamtrips.com

For notecards, key chains, or photographs, visit Notable Notecards or Niche Notecards on Etsy. A portion of the sales are donated to charity and a travel story is associated with each one.

 

The Colorado Trail: Segments 21-22

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August 6, 2017

About ten days ago, we experienced an unpleasant backpacking trip in the rain.  After 17 hours of a non-stop drizzle coupled with gear failure, we aborted the trip.  With this recent challenge burned in our minds, we thought twice about backpacking Segments 21-22 this past weekend as more rain was in the forecast…80% chance Friday, 20% chance Saturday, and 80% chance Sunday.

We joked we had to hike all 33 miles in one day.  Soon this came closer to reality.  Saturday’s chance of rain increased as Sunday’s decreased, so we decided on two long day hikes.  We needed to make it worth while to drive 4.5 hours to Lake City.

Mike and I headed out around lunch-time on Friday, to set up our tents at the only place in town that was available, Elkhorn RV Resort.  I knew nothing about the campsite that Mike found except it had showers, wifi, and coffee which seemed rather exciting compared to normal.  Apparently, there was a grassy area for our tents.  I was trying to imagine this place in my mind.  Surely there would car campers around, I thought.  Nothing is that commercialized for tent campers.

Oh my, we arrived to a parking lot of RVs and 4-wheeling dune buggies in the rain.  The grassy area was the lawn dotted with picnic tables in front of the office between two giant RVs and the wifi was slower than the 3G available in town.  At least they had hot showers and coffee, and the “quiet hours” notice that was posted said 9:30pm.  None-the-less, with our plan completely changed, this was our best option.

Mike and I wandered around town and finally settled on Southern Vittles for dinner.  I was a little hesitant about ordering southern comfort food in a small mountain town, until I saw three cars with Texas license plates in front of the restaurant.  Mike mentioned some people call Lake City…North Texas, and he was right.  This town was over run with F150s and Texans.  Who knew I’d have to drive 4.5 hours to get the best fried okra in Colorado.  Their fries (on their own not great), but dipped in their cream gravy were perfect!  It’s a good thing I had a 17.2 mile hike planned tomorrow as I gorged myself on fried food and enjoyed the Texas atmosphere.

Dusty and Ross made it to camp around 9:30pm.  We worked out a plan to leave camp by 6am to get to our respective trail destinations.  Dusty and I were hiking southbound beginning at the beginning of Segment 22 while Mike and Ross were hiking northbound from the end of Segment 22.  The key exchange was to take place somewhere near the middle.

As a group, we departed late, but Dusty and I still managed to be on the trail by 7:30am and hoped to miss the afternoon storms.  With a rough 4-wheel drive road to maneuver, the boys made it to the trail by 8am.  The overcast sky didn’t seem promising for a dry hike, but it didn’t seem threatening yet, so off we went with our fingers crossed.

Dusty and I began our climb up a muddy, dirt road and stepped aside as an occasional 4-wheel dune buggy or SUV rumbled by us.  We joked, does hiking the whole trail count if we hang on the back and drag our toe along the ground?  After a few miles, we crossed over a minuscule creek that we assumed was only flowing due to the torrential rains this season.  It looked more like rain water running through a gutter rather than an actual creek.  If I were a thru hiker, I wouldn’t rely on getting water here or for that matter anywhere else on this segment!

Soon, we beared to the right onto a single-track pathway marked with rock cairns that support tall posts.  Along the way, we enjoyed magnificent views of distant mountain ranges.  We particularly admired the two red peaks that were a stark contrast to the green terrain.  Around mile four or so, we stumbled upon a sheep herder, his dog, and a huge bunch of ewes and rams.  A few woolly sheep donned bells that jingled while they trotted away from us as we strolled along the trail.

We continued above treeline for the next few hours as we passed a mountain with a large antenna and a yurt where we considered staying had we gone the backpacking route.  Soon we dipped into a marshy area where we slogged through mud.  We continued trekking through sludge beneath the cover of the dead forest, destroyed by the Rocky Mountain Pine Beetle.  We climbed a series of switchbacks until we left the trees, and remained above treeline for the next seven miles until we completed the segment.

We found Ross and Mike after leaving the trees, exchanged our keys and trail experience, and continued on after a quick lunch break with weather threatening in the distance.  We trekked through the high mountain meadow dotted with wildflowers until the sprinkles finally fell.  As we stopped, to pull on our rain gear, a fellow hiker asked, “Does it always rain here?”

While we generally get an afternoon thunderstorm, this dreary weather with a constant drizzle sure has been rough.  “Not usually like this,” we responded.  Dressed in rain jackets and rain skirts (Dusty’s made of a trash bag), we followed a ridge with magnificent views of a canyon below.  Marmots made their home nearby, and as we began a steep ascent along the rocky trail we passed by several chirping pikas.

The rain was light for the first thirty minutes and even gave us an hour break as we gained a few miles, but then it began again as we descended the ridge to a grassy saddle just above some ponds to the south.  This was when we heard the first clap of thunder.

We had three miles to go which included climbing 500 feet to the highest point on the Colorado Trail (13,271 feet) and was followed a steep downhill on the trail which paralleled a jeep road that passed an old mine and led to the parked car.  With enough cover on the southeast side of the mountain and no lightening in sight, we proceeded to the bend.  With an unobstructed view of the clouds that were not of the thunderstorm variety and the misty valley below, we kept up our quick pace.  While we slid along some mud and were somewhat wet, we made it safely to the car with only having to endure the rain for two hours.  This was a much better outcome than last week!

All that was left was to maneuver the 4-wheel drive road that according to the Colorado Trail Guidebook, was “not for the squeamish.  It is very steep, rocky, and narrow with many tight switchbacks and some significant exposure.”  We added slick mud to the mix too once we knew which road to take!  We got to the car that Mike and Ross had left us, and roads traversed in every direction.  While we had our databook and trail app, our guide book with directions was in the other car!  We were able to see Lake City to the north on the map and confirmed with 4-wheeling folks nearby that the road we wanted was to the right, and off we went!

Ross and Mike beat us back to the campground, and as soon as we arrived they were ready to eat!  We didn’t even take off our wet shoes before we headed to Restless Spirits Saloon for pizza.  I can’t say it was my favorite and it is only ranked #8 of #13 on Trip Advisor, but the campground lady recommended it.  From our perspective, we were really only looking to load up on carbs and protein as we had another big day ahead of us.  The best part about the restaurant is that my friend Marissa from one of my tennis teams happened to be climbing a fourteener in Lake City, so she and some of her friends joined us!

Back at the campground and exhausted, I was ready for quiet hour to begin at 8:30pm!  I put in my ear plugs and tried to sleep, but I think I just had anxiety about the next day’s hike.  We planned to be at the trailhead by 6:30am and would have gone sooner if maneuvering a 4-wheel drive road in the dark wasn’t a factor, but I still wasn’t confident this would give us enough time to get off Snow Mesa, a five-mile stretch above treeline with no shelter from an electrical storm for which the guidebook provides significant warning!  This anxiety couple with a bear rummaging around the trash cans at the campground kept me up most the night.

With little sleep, I was dragging at the 4:15am wakeup call.  Tents and all packed up an in the car by 5am, we headed toward Creede.  It ended up taking us two hours rather than the planned 1.5 hours to get on the trail. The weather proved chilly this morning, though sunny, which was nice to see.  We hiked in 1.5 miles along West Willow Creek to San Luis Pass to begin the Segment 21.  The trail begins with a steep 1,000 foot gain over a mile to the saddle just under 13,000 feet.  Nothing like getting the heart rate up in the morning!  The climb took us through many willows and past a variety of wildflowers to lovely panoramic views.

As I trudged along slowly with the view of a car atop a peak nearby, I wondered, why do I do this to myself when I could just drive!  Just as soon as we reached the saddle, we carried on to the other side, where we descended 1,500 feet over two miles!  This is when I wondered why the trail isn’t etched around the side of the mountain…why all the up and down?  Anyway, it was easier to follow our momentum down in a light jog rather than to try to plant our feet to stay at a walk.

As soon as we reached the creek, we climbed back up another steep grade and repeated the process once more until we exited the treeline around 5.5 miles into the segment.  For the next 7.5 miles, we would remain above 12,000 feet.  Heading up again, we spotted the boys come over the ridge.  They looked like they had taken a walk in the park, while we were struggling our way uphill!  They had seen grouse  and a herd of elk along with the typical marmots and pikas.  Dusty exclaimed sarcastically, “We’ve seen three amazing chipmunks!”  We had seen pikas too, but that was it.

The boys had gotten on the trail thirty minutes before us, so they beyond half-way when we met them, but we were excited to hear the rest of the way was flat, rolling terrain!  Hmmm, as we climbed for the next mile, all-be-it, at a slightly lower grade, I began to wonder what was Mike’s definition of flat!  To my relief, after we ascended the next ridge, we could see Snow Mesa below.  With clouds in the distance, we stopped for a brief PB&J lunch before we dropped onto the mesa.

Now, with rain in view (ahead and to the left), but no lightning or thunder, we committed to hike as fast as possible for the next four miles.  My whistle jingled on my pack as I stepped on and off the rutted trail.  Dusty donned her headphones for extra motivation.  We really felt like we were zooming across the endless trail that fortunately turned to the right of the black clouds ahead.  As I past each post supported by rock cairns, I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be nice if these were evenly spaced.  I could count off every quarter mile without stopping to look at my progress on the app.

Unfortunately, this was not the case.  They were simply there to mark the trail which I also appreciated.  After an hour on the mesa, I finally decided to see how far we had gone.  UGH…demoralizing…only two miles!!  How could we be so slow?!?  We didn’t stop to chat…we just kept going.  Dusty suddenly caught up to me when thunder boomed!  Fortunately, we only had fifteen more minutes on the mesa when the rain began, and we reached the edge at the second rumble across the sky.  We slipped into our rain gear and quickly dropped in below the treeline.  Despite the menacing looking clouds, we made to the car after only being sprinkled on for thirty minutes.  This was quite exciting and we were very happy to see the road and parking lot below while generally staying dry!

We texted the boys to let them know we’d be in town within the hour.  We were certain they were waiting on us.  No response.  We wandered around and settled on Kip’s Grill for dinner.  We still hadn’t heard from them.  Dusty tried the satellite phone, but had communication problems due to the weather.  Now, we were a bit concerned about them.  Was there trouble on the muddy road we drove up this morning?  Did they have to duck and cover from lightning?  What was up?  They were killing time for an hour while their phones were on airplane mode waiting for a response to a satellite phone message they had sent since they thought we were out of range!  Eventually we all managed to scarf down some food and make the long drive home.  This was a great way to knock out two more segments of the CT, and I definitely want to revisit Creede and Lake City.  ETB

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The Colorado Trail: Segments 15-17 Aborted After 20 Miles

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July 28-30, 2017

What an adventure hiking Segments 15-17 of the Colorado Trail.  Seventeen hours of rain resulted in significant gear failure and a trip termination.

We drove three hours to Fooses Creek on Thursday afternoon to begin our hike.  Parked on Highway 50, we followed Fooses Creek Road 2.8 miles to our campsite located just before the main trailhead.  While it isn’t terribly fun to walk a road, it was part of the CT and to finish the WHOLE trail, we had to make the walk.  Fortunately, the dirt road narrowed through some aspen groves which made it somewhat scenic and the intermittent sprinkle wasn’t too much of a bother.  The rain continued off and on for the evening which was a little annoying while trying to enjoy an evening around the campsite, but is was nothing compared to what we had in store for us.

We packed up our wet gear Friday morning and departed camp just before 8am.  Dusty, Margaret and I had never hiked together before, though Margaret had hiked with others in our group who are segment hiking the Colorado Trail.  Little did I know, Margaret who must be in her late sixties or early seventies, may be the faster hiker I’ve ever met.  She can hike as fast as a twenty-year old male.  As such, she took off and Dusty and I trailed behind.

After about an hour into the trail, we found Margaret waiting for us.  After this, I suggested we have a time or place that we meet…next stop 10 o’clock just before our last chance to filter water for five miles.  During this time, we meandered through fields of waist high wildflowers that were just spectacular.  I don’t know if they are always like this in the area or if it was due to the generally wet weather conditions over the last month.  Regardless, they were a delight.

So far we had followed a gradual ascent to mile 8.2 where we ate an early lunch and filled up with water just in time to tackle one of the steepest grades on the entire Colorado Trail, a 668 foot climb over a ½ mile to the crest of the Continental Divide.  We enjoyed the magnificent view before carrying on in a southeasterly direction.  For the next few miles, we mostly followed the ridge above the treeline and admired the expansive views as we watched threatening weather in the distance.

Soon, we dropped down onto a jeep road that ran through an evergreen forest.  By 1:45 we had reached a piped spring for more water and descended to the end of Segment 15 at Marshall Pass.  Our original plan was to camp in this area after hiking 11 miles for the day.  Our early arrival, however, prompted us to aim for four more miles to a campsite near Silver Creek.

Just as soon as we continued on, a light sprinkle fell from the overcast sky.  The rain steadily increased, so we stopped quickly to slip on our rain gear.  Margaret was still working on her pack cover while Dusty and I were waiting, so we told her that we would head on since she hiked much faster than us.  This decision proved detrimental to our hike.

We could see the trailhead at the beginning of Segment 16 from the road.  As soon as we reached it, the trail split in two…the left-hand fork was marked with the CT sign and the right-hand fork obviously was not.  The single-track rail ascended into the forest where Dusty needed to take a break.  As such, she said she would wait for Margaret, and I would carry on being the slowest of us three.

Within minutes, we ended up in the eye of the storm.  Thunder clapped and lightning struck simultaneously.  Fortunately, we were in the cover of the trees.  With the weather coming from west to east, I opted to proceed hiking south to get out of the mess.  I passed two hikers holding umbrellas under the two tallest trees in the forest.  I thought to myself, that is a loaded gun.

Anyway, I passed through the forest on the narrow path (or should I say narrow stream) while stopping every now and again near small trees as thunder boomed.  I was slightly chilled while resting, so I only waited a few minutes at a time to keep my core temperature up.  I thought that Margaret and Dusty would have caught up to me by now, but since they hadn’t, it seemed they must have hunkered down somewhere.

After four miles and two hours in the rain, I had reached the proposed campsite on my own.  I asked a passing mountain biker if he had seen them, and he described one girl that fit Dusty’s description.  About ten minutes later and now a chill in my bones, Dusty showed up.  The first words out of her mouth were, “So I guess Margaret isn’t with you?”  The deduction was accurate!

So, at this point, Margaret had been missing two hours.  We decided to give her until 6pm (or two more hours) to show up before we called search and rescue.  In the meantime, Dusty and I hiked down to Silver Creek Trail with our packs on as we needed water and there was supposed to be good camping in the meadow near the creek.  Aside from one nice campsite with a dead tree that Dusty did not want to camp near, the others were limited, spread out, and too close to the creek.

Now, really drenched and really cold, I was willing to risk the dead tree falling over hypothermia setting in, but Dusty felt better being on the main trail while waiting on Margaret.  We wandered around some more while looking for a site as virtually the whole forest was dead from beetle kill.  Eventually, we settled on an open space near the trail junction and hoped for no lightening.  I guess there is always something to worry about in the elements.

My gear, despite being packed in trash bags was rather wet.  Dusty’s was somewhat damp.  We have decided single wall tents are useless in rainy conditions.  I’m not sure they are worth the lighter weight!  6pm came and went…no Margaret.  As such, we texted Dusty’s husband through Dusty’s Delorme Satellite Phone (which I think I will invest in), and asked him to call the Sheriff.  Messages trickled back and forth for a few minutes, when suddenly a man stopped at our tents and asked if we were hiking with another lady.  “Yes, in fact, we have been looking for her,” Dusty responded.

This gadget saved us

Margaret showed up a few minutes later after having taken the wrong trail for five miles and then having to backtrack.  What a relief it was to find her and call off search and rescue!  Lucky for her us, her tent with a fly was dry.  Unlucky for us, it was a single person.  That didn’t matter at the time.  We three ditched our wet belongings in my tent as it was rendered useless and all of us squeezed into her tent for warmth.  We didn’t think we’d all be in there for the next FOUR hours, but it never stopped raining!!

Around 10pm, the drizzle let up for about eight minutes.  Dusty made a run for it and settled into her damp, but warm enough space.  Margaret and I laid uncomfortably on rocks with one sleeping bag between us until morning.  I doubt if any of us slept more than an hour or two…I know I didn’t.

At 6am, it was still raining…7am, the same…8am, no change.  At this point, all of us agreed to abort as it didn’t seem like the sun was ever going to come out and we wouldn’t be able to dry our gear.  Dusty texted her husband to come get us…at least a four drive.  In the meantime, we had to hike four miles back to Marshall Pass.  After 17 hours, the rain stopped around 9am.  We made a “run” for it!

The challenges facing us at this time were twofold:

  1. We were going to be at the pass well before “pick-up” time, so we hoped to hitch a ride down the thirteen-mile dirt road to town or set up Margaret’s one-person tent for shelter should the rain begin again.
  2. We were hiking southbound while others in our group were hiking northbound. We had planned to meet in the middle to exchange keys to our cars parked on the opposite ends of the trail.  We were now abandoning them without a key.

Fortunately, I brought a spare key with me in case we missed them on the trail and this was a Godsend.  At the same time, I was stressed about them not knowing our whereabouts.  Without cell phone service, the only thing we could do was pass a message along with through hikers that their key would be at their car, likely on the front left bumper.  Like the old game, “telephone”, we gave the message to about six hikers.  Come to find out, Mike and Ross received the message, though convoluted, as they hiked through the rain for the next two days to the car!  This was a great relief to me.

key duct taped to car

Upon reflection, while our hike didn’t go as planned, ultimately, we made the right decision as our gear would have never dried under the conditions, a deluge of rain for three days.  Having said that, we learned our lesson not to split up and to perhaps even stick with our original plan which would have kept us dry by camping at 2pm.  It is interesting to note, if we were hiking individually and not in a group, we all would have made a different decision which was to pitch a tent where we were, but without any form of communication between us, we knew we had to make it to mile 4 on Segment 16 as that was the plan we discussed.

Now, back to hiking…Miraculously, we reached Marshall Pass and the cover of the pit toilet just before the rain ensued.  We ate a snack as we patiently waited for anyone passing by with a car.  It didn’t take long before a mud-covered, drenched mountain biker joined us at the bathroom…then another one.  They wondered aloud, “Where is the closest motel?”  Many of the mountain bikers were competing in the Leadville 100, and the race had dwindled down to 21 competitors as the conditions frankly SUCKED!

As we sat huddled in the shelter, two or three trucks drove up and out popped a bunch of car campers who needed to use the facilities.  Given they had just driven up Marshall Pass Road, we didn’t think they’d be turning around immediately to go right back down, but we shyly asked, “You don’t happen to be driving into Salida, do you?’

At first they answered, “No”, but this one lady seemed very concerned about us.  Eventually, she said, “Well the backseat of my son’s truck as been converted to bench for the dog, but see what you think.”

I responded, “We squeezed into a one person tent last night.  I don’t think it could be anymore crammed.  We aren’t picky.  We are just looking for a ride into town.”

She also seemed to be concerned that our backpacks would get wet in the bed of the truck, to which I said, “That doesn’t matter.  They are already soaked!”

I didn’t want to miss the opportunity, so I jumped up and turned to Dusty and Margaret, “Let’s go!”

We three piled in the back as Deanne, Danny and their dog Penny drove us down the road to the convenience store in Poncha Springs.  It turns out, they were camping near their and had randomly taken a scenic drive up to Marshall Pass.  They wouldn’t accept gas money, beer, or lunch, so we graciously thanked them for being our trail angels.  We happily waited in the dry cover of the convenience store for the next hour or so until Dusty’s husband retrieved us.

good sandwiches and coffee here

All that was left was to get the key to Mike’s car and then shuttle to my car at the end of Segment 17.  Doesn’t sound like a lot, but after all the driving, we finally made it home around 8:45pm.  I was happy to have my own bed!  ETB

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Roadtrip to the Rockies: From Crested Butte to Aspen!

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July 21-23, 2017

I’ve been wanting to do the Aspen/Crested Butte hike for some time. It thrilled me when I saw a meetup group called “Bold Bettie’s” post this hike as it takes some coordinating and surprisingly, for this famous hike, the information is not that forth coming. I signed up to go even though I had just returned from Mongolia five days earlier and was still worn out and playing catch up.

Since I need time to acclimate to the altitude, I arrived in Crested Butte a day earlier than the planned outing, and hiked a simple 6.4 mile loop near town and then explored Downtown Crested Butte with one of the members of Bold Betties, Barb.

The hike began just from the edge of town on Lower Loop Trail. The signs as well as the description of the hike suggested to park in area about 200 yards up Peanut Road on the right hand side.

If I had to do it over again I would have gone to the Woods Walk Trailhead, also located at the edge of town and hiked from there or driven 1.2 mile up Peanut Road to the Lower Loop Trailhead as walking up a road, all be it dirt, isn’t terribly appealing to me. Having said that, the parking up the road is limited so arriving early is crucial, In addition, I suppose I would have zipped by the Gronk, an old mining structure as well as the Peanut Lake with a lovely reflection of Gothic Mountain in its calm waters, and would have missed spotting two lovely bucks and the ducks, geese and heron who hunted for food in the tranquil setting.

Upon reaching the actual trailhead, I continued on the lower loop which was very flat and a favorite trails among the locals who ran with their dogs off leash. Though I believe in following leash laws, I have to give credit to the dog owners. Not one dog ran up to me, jumped on me or anything. They just ran right by. Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs but they aren’t for everyone, and if they are out of sight or voice control they shouldn’t be off leash.

Anyway, the trail wound past a “commercialized area” for lack of a better word which included benches and signs about bugs. I don’t find these sections of trail terribly enjoyable, but I understand why they exist, so I hurried through the area to get to the less traveled section.

For a good while, the trail paralleled the river and led me through intermittent forest before I took a left at a junction called Gunsight Bridge. This section turned out to be a narrow, 4 wheel drive road that zig-zagged up the mountain. After only a few switchbacks, I found a sign the pointed up the road to Gunsight Pass and another that pointed to left at a single track called Upper Lower Loop.

I took a left onto Upper Lower Loop and followed it until it connected back with Lower Loop. I would have liked to taken it farther toward Wood Walk Trail as it would have cut off most of the road walk, but it was under construction.

The Upper Lower Loop was flush with wildflowers which I really enjoyed. When I wasn’t admiring the wildflowers and losing my prescription sunglasses in the process (boo), I was delighting in the intermittent aspen groves. I really took pleasure in this part of the hike and finished it soon enough to keep from burning in the sun as I entered the exposed valley.

Upon returning to the parking area a mile down the road, the once empty lot with only my car was overflowing. It’s always nice to hit the trails early, simply for tranquility, much less the avoidance of heat and afternoon thunderstorms.

I finished before lunch and met Barb about 3 miles down the dirt road which led to Oh Be Joyful Campground, not far from town. We needed campsites for twelve ladies, and Oh Be Joyful was full, so we resorted to River Flats just where I had propitiously parked. At first we weren’t too enthused about having to carry our stuff down to the sites from the road which provided limited parking for about six cars, but then we realized it would be tranquil.

We purchased four of the six sites for $5/night and had the space to ourselves until a family with kiddos and uncontrollable dogs showed up. Eventually all our group joined us and by 10pm all parties in the campground had turned in for the night.

The shuttle was picking us up at the visitor center at 6:30am to take us to Scholfield Pass. As such we gave ourselves 30 mins to get ready and 30 mins to make it to town. We piled in the large van operated by Dolly’s which dropped us off around 7:30 after we bounced along the dirt road between the forested mountains. Our early departure provided many deer sightings and even two moose!

So the signs on the road were similar to the ones on the yesterday’s hike near town. They basically encouraged people to park well before necessary. In this case, the road appeared to be blocked and closed. Our drive swerved right around the signs and kept going! We finally stopped at the third roadblock where avalanche debris impeded the way.

From here we walked along the road and across a few patches of snow to Schofield Pass. Across from the Schofield Pass sign where Rebecca added a Bold Betties sticker to the collection, we took the trail. Come to find out, we didn’t hike up the road to miles to Schofield Park Trailhead and mistakenly took Schofield Pass Trailhead. For the most part, it paralleled the Schofield Park Trail and eventually intersected it, though we wandered why there was hardly any signage on such a popular trail. Now we know!

Anyway, I don’t think we missed much…maybe an old log cabin. Our trek took us up to a view, down through a meadow, and soon we found ourselves weaving our way through chest high wildflowers. After crossing a few creeks without bridges, we met up with Schofield Park Trail which connected at a junction to West Maroon Pass Trail where we prepared for our climb.

Prior to reaching the junction, the wildflowers on the open mountainside were absolutely spectacular. We were waist-high in Indian paint brush of all colors, blue columbine, kings crown and more. Colors just blanketed the terrain for miles. It was fantastic!

From the junction sign tucked beneath the willows, we ascended a mile to the junction for Frigid Air Pass. Here, we settled down for an early lunch and fuel intake as we prepared for the 1,000 foot gain over West Maroon Pass. It was not as bad as I was expecting, though we were only carrying day packs! The backpackers completing the four pass loop were trudging at a snail’s pace.

The trail to the pass was steep enough, however, to separate us into two groups. The ‘fast’ group included eight girls and the ‘slow’ group included four. We sat at the pass marveling at the view of vast green meadows with patches of snow and a few alpine lakes while we chatted with a few hikers from The Aspen side before continuing.

The common question was, “Is it muddy on that side too?”

We thought it was somewhat muddy on the Crested Butte side until hikers from Aspen referenced swamp-like terrain…Ugh! What we were about to slog through?

We slid along some snow patches as we descended the pass until we reached the meadow peppered in willows. Along with every willow patch came cavities of mud. No matter how hard we tried to stay to the side of the trail or completely detoured to keep from sinking in these mud pits, sooner or later we succumbed to the mire. The mud was slicker than the snow, and just about all of us ended up at least ankle deep in sludge as we struggled to keep our feet dry and remain partially clean.

I don’t know if the conditions are always like this in the summer since willows tend to grow around water or if the trail was overly saturated from late snowmelt and recent rainfall. Speaking of rain, somehow, despite cloudy skies and a forecast calling for an 80% chance of rain, we had succeeded in staying dry with the exception of our mud soaked feet.

The West Maroon Trail requires several creek crossings, none of which have bridges. Most of the time, we could hop from rock to rock and keep our feet out of the cold, mountain streams. One crossing, however, required wading in a strong, knee deep current. Knowing this in advance, most of us strapped on our river shoes and strided on moss covered rock through rushing water, though a few of the girls used the opportunity to clean their hiking boots and stepped right in the frigid creek.

Eventually, we met up with the masses near Crater and Maroon Lakes. These last three miles of aspen groves were pretty. I had considered hiking his trail again in the fall for the changing colors, but with aspens at only one end of a 11 mile day, I’m having second thoughts. I’ll have to do some more research because after today, we all felt we would have rather hiked from the Crested Butte to the pass and back as it was flush with wildflowers and much dryer.

Upon arrival at Maroon Lake we loaded the shuttle that ran every 15 minutes until 5pm. Our bus driver was an aspiring singer who crooned a few John Denver tunes until we reached the ski mountain. Here, we exited this shuttle in order to board another shuttle that took us to town. We stayed on the bus until the last stop at the station that was centrally located to the restaurants in downtown. We asked Information for the best burger in town. She directed us to Justice Snow’s that on had inside seating available, so we ended up around the corner at Hops Culture. Encrusted in mud, bug spray (the mosquitoes were vicious at times) and sunscreen, we plopped ourselves down at two outside tables.

Fortunately, I’ve never found Aspen to be as pretentious as they claim, and both the servers and tourists were very friendly. Most visitors wanted to know what crazy adventure our motley crew had just completed. People’s eyes widened when they heard we hiked from Crested Butte. Of course, we walked as the crow flies, so the distance was short compared to the 173 mile drive.

The nice part about a long hike is it is easily justifiable to get the biggest, juicy burger around. Almost all of us went with the Royale with Cheese or the Bison chili and some not so good triple fried potatoes. We even finished the meal off with S’mores before we piled into Dolly’s shuttle for the three hour return trip to Crested Buttle. The shuttle cost a total of $80. $20 for the ride to the trailhead and $60 for the ride home. I think the shuttle from Aspen to the trailhead is cheaper. I don’t know the price, as they only charge for one direction to Maroon Lake, thus it was free from the trail to Aspen. Overall, we had a long, but very nice day! The wildflowers were some of the best I’ve seen. ETB

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The Cowboys and Musicians of Mongolia

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July 12-13, 2017

I’m sad to say, today is our final day in Mongolia, aside from the 10 hour bus ride back to Ulaanbaatar tomorrow and our flight out the following day that aren’t likely worth mentioning as the travel is never as fun as the destination.

Anyway, we enjoyed a late morning horse ride to Ganbold’s winter farm which wasn’t that far from his summer location and a fifteen-minute walk by horse from our ger camp.  As such, we experienced a relaxing morning riding and exploring his winter camp.

Nomads’ winter homes are more stable and include wooden structures along with their portable gers.  Many of the rooms are used for food storage, but the one I liked the most was the “warming” room.  In the middle stands a wood stove and around the edge are small corrals.  During the cold months, the newborn goats and sheep are in the center by the fire and their mamas are placed in the stalls.  This process helps the animals survive the harsh winters.  For the nomads to survive in the winter, depending on the size of the family, they have to kill one yak and one older horse. It saddens me to think of eating horse, but frankly they survive on very little, so I understand the need.  At least they pick an elderly horse that might not live through the winter anyway.

We returned to our ger camp and decided we wanted to take turns trying out on of the cowboys’ saddles which is different from the western and Australian saddles we used.  Four or five of us mounted one of the cowboy’s horses and rode around in a small circle.  The horse was young and not as responsive as the ones we rode across the steppe, so the less experience riders circled as the cowboys held a long rope like a lunge line while the others steered as best they could.

So, on a side note to explain Chip’s shirtless riding picture in the cowboy’s saddle, before coming on this trip, we had to provide our riding experience and what appealed to us.  Chip answered that he wanted to ride a horse across the steppe shirtless.  In my opinion, what is the most humorous about this picture is Chip burns easily, so he spent most of his time covered head to toe in clothing…a hat which draped over his ears, a buff, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and more.  All that was exposed we his nose, lips, and chin.  Uniquely, the rest of us tended to dress similarly (not quite as covered), to keep away the flies.  Fortunately, they rarely bit us, but they practically formed nests on people’s hats and landed on our bare arms enough to make it feel like our skin was crawling.  Our clothing might make the weather appear cold, but generally it was quite the opposite.

After our fun in the cowboy’s saddle, we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon which ended up including a spontaneous cowboy rodeo!  This was an entertaining show.  They chased yaks around the meadow, roping a few.  What I found interesting while they rode around on their horses, once they roped the yaks, they held on to the lassos from the ground.  Ma