The following are 2 quotes from a book I recently read called “Love Does” by Bob Goff. Perhaps, in some way, my Colorado Trail adventure is one way for me to strive toward a life fully engaged and full of whimsy!
“Living a life fully engaged and full of whimsy and the kind of things that love does is something most people plan to do, but along the way they just kind of forget. Their dreams become one of those ‘we’ll go there next time’ deferrals. The sad thing is, for many there is no ‘next time’ because passing on the chance to cross over is an overall attitude toward life rather than a single decision.”
“Being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving. It’s about going to extremes and expressing the bright hope that life offers us, a hope that makes us brave and expels darkness with light. That’s what I want my life to be all about – full of abandon, whimsy, and in love.”
Bob Goff from his book: Love Does
Segment #8: 25.4 miles – 4,417′ elevation gain, 3,810′ elevation loss
10th Mountain Division Training Ground
This segment took us from Copper Mountain on a climb up the Guller Creek drainage, across several miles of tundra above timberline and back down through the training grounds for the 10th Mountain Division during WWII. The trail then follows an abandoned railroad bed past several historic coking ovens ending up at the Tennessee Pass trailhead. We saw a wide variety of terrain and interesting historical sites. Bruce Houtchens joined brother Glenn and I for this 2 night outing.
Breakfast in Frisco
08/28/18 – Glenn and I drove up to Frisco and met Bruce at the Butterhorn for breakfast. Pancakes covered with fruit and nuts….beautiful and delicious!! After breakfast, we drove both cars to Tennessee Pass, where we left Bruce’s car at the trailhead for the return trip. As we left the parking lot, we noticed a backpacker who was needing a ride to Leadville. His name was Dan, and we gave him a ride the 9 miles into town on our way back to Copper Mountain. Dan was originally from Michigan and is now living in the Seattle area. He’s through-hiking the Colorado Trail and had sent himself resupply packages along the route before he left. He was going to the post office in Leadville to retrieve one of those packages. We noticed 2 things about Dan. One was that the 3 of us each had about 35 years more experience than him😉. The second was that he didn’t seem to be carrying as much stuff as we were. Hmmmm….maybe we can learn something from that young whipper-snapper!
Climax Mine Ponds
On the drive between Leadville and Copper Mountain, we passed by the Climax Mine. Molybdenum, I think. There were several large settling ponds nearby…quite an operation! We parked at the Far East Lot and “saddled up”, each of us carrying around 37 pounds of gear. We headed west, across the Copper Mountain ski area, crossing under several ski lifts along the way. We saw some deer about a hundred yards above us on one of the ski slopes. As we approached the central portion of the ski area, past the golf course, the trail was detoured around an area where a ski lift was being replaced with a higher volume lift. The detour took us down through the village and back up the hill to the trail.
We then began our climb of about 1,900′ from the resort, about 6.5 miles to timberline at 11,700′. We crossed Jacque Creek along the way and followed Guller Creek most of the way up the mountain. The forest ranged from mainly beetle affected Lodgepole pine forest to mixed spruce and fir as we made the climb. We encountered several mountain bikers on day trips from Copper Mountain. The rock outcroppings changed from the basement rocks of the Tenmile Range on the east side of Copper Mountain to primarily red rocks. I’ve read that there’s a fault we crossed near Copper Mountain. The fault was active during the ancestral Rockies uplift when the displacement of around 10,000′ occurred. The red beds we see on the west side were deposited during that uplift period.
Spending the night at Janet’s Cabin
As we reached timberline, we also approached our accommodations for the evening…Janet’s Cabin. Janet’s Cabin is one of the huts in the Summit Huts system. These huts, as well as the 10th Mountain Huts, are used primarily in the winter by snowshoers or cross country skiers, but are also available in the summer for use by backpackers. I personally can’t imagine making that climb in the winter on snowshoes or skis, but a lot of people do it. Anyway, for us it was quite a treat to be able to sleep indoors on the Colorado Trail. The hut sleeps 20 people in 4 rooms on the upper level. The main level has a common living area, kitchen, dining area and 2 compost bathrooms. It has propane stoves in the kitchen, a wood stove for heat and solar panels for electricity. Guller Creek runs past the front of the cabin and is easily accessible for water.
Cubs Fans in the Rockies!
As we entered the cabin, we met Curt and Steve, hikers from Illinois. They were visiting Colorado and had a place in Copper Mountain. They had arrived at the hut an hour or 2 before us and were also staying the night. They were Cubs fans, about our age, and were planning to return to Copper in the morning. After enjoying Italian night at Janet’s Cabin (dehydrated lasagna with meat sauce), we retired to our rooms upstairs. The beds were way more comfortable than sleeping in a tent on the ground and the temperature was much warmer. Despite these factors, we all had a bit of a restless night. Part of the issue was a scraping sound we could hear most of the night. After waking in the morning, we could see that some critter had been gnawing away at the posts on the deck outside our rooms. Not sure what it was, maybe a beaver? It had caused some minor damage to 2 deck posts and contributed to a restless night for 3 tired old dudes.
Searle Pass and Pikas
08/29/18 – In the morning, we had oatmeal and coffee for breakfast and packed up. We said goodbye to Curt and Steve as well as Janet’s Cabin, and began day 2 of our adventure. We continued our ascent through the tundra toward Searle Pass. We saw plenty of pikas and marmots along the 1 mile, 350′ climb. We crested Searle Pass at 12,043′ to see some amazing views. Looking back, we could see the valley we’d climbed to reach this lofty perch. On both sides, redbeds were exposed along the sides of the mountains. Looking ahead, we could see the next valley and the settling ponds of the Climax Mine, one of them was a bright turquoise color.
Shortly after leaving Searle Pass, we encountered 2 young backpackers coming the other way. They were twenty-somethings from Breckenridge who’d been camping at Twin Lakes and just decided to walk home. I don’t recall his exact words but it was something like “I’m like Dude, let’s make it happen”, when describing the decision to make the 75 mile trek. One of the 2 guys was planning a backpacking trip to Patagonia soon, so it was only logical that they walk to Breckenridge from Twin Lakes. We could envision these guys working the lifts at Breck this winter…what a life!!
Elk Ridge View
We continued along the trail through the tundra for about 2.5 miles to the high point at Elk Ridge (12,282′). Again, spectacular views all around! As we enjoyed the views, a lone through-biker came along the same way we’d come. He was from Brighton and he was trying to get to Leadville quickly to resupply. His biking partner, he said, was about 45 minutes behind him. From Elk Ridge, we descended along the side of a steep hill, watching marmots frolicking in the rocks below, to Kokomo Pass at 12,023′. The wind was quite strong there, as it was funneled up the valley below and through the pass. Just beyond Kokomo Pass, we came across the headwaters of Cataract Creek…a small spring coming out of the ground. From there, we descended once again, leaving the tundra and re-entering the forest.
We found a large log to relax on and ate lunch there in the trees (summer sausage, cheese and crackers). Shortly after we stopped, the other through-biker rode through. As we finished lunch, we could hear voices coming up the trail from below. Four ladies from Frisco, probably in their 50’s and 60’s, soon arrived. They were on a day hike, out and back from Camp Hale, and said they did similar hikes together about twice a week. Off they went, on a quest to get to Kokomo Pass before returning to Camp Hale.
Camp Hale & the Unexploded Shells
After lunch we descended from just below timberline at around 11,500′, hiking about 3.5 miles through the lush forest to Cataract Falls at 9,668′. This was a decision point. We either camp at a very small, kinda flat, campsite near the falls, or continue 2 to 3 miles to find a better campsite. We were about to enter a “no camping zone”, where unexploded shells from Camp Hale might be encountered. Camp Hale is the historic site of the World War II training camp for the 10th Mountain Division. We decided to continue on, and about 2 miles later we found a very nice campsite in the midst of the Camp Hale ruins. Camp Hale was home to nearly 15,000 soldiers and 5,000 horses and mules during WWII. One of the more famous soldiers was Bob Dole, who later became a US senator and presidential candidate. Remnants of concrete bunkers and other ruins are still there at Camp Hale.
After setting up camp, we sat and visited, wishing we could build a campfire. Unfortunately, fire restrictions in much of the Colorado high country have been in place for most of the summer. Such is the case there in Eagle County as well. We had our beef stroganoff dinner and retired for the night to our tents. It was a cold and restless night. Bruce had some ice form in his tent overnight, so the temps had gotten below freezing.
08/30/18 – The morning sun felt good, and a hot cup of coffee and oatmeal really hit the spot! Again, it would have been nice to have a campfire to warm us up in the morning! After breakfast, we packed up and began our final ascent to Tennessee Pass. From our campsite, Tennessee Pass was a climb of about 1,100′ over the 6 mile distance. During the initial climb out of the valley, we heard a voice from behind us, that sounded like a bike rider wanting to pass by. We stepped aside only to find that it was a young backpacker cruising up the hill carrying his trekking poles…not even winded. Oh, to be 35 or 40 years younger. But, alas, it is what it is, as they say. We are in our 60’s and hiking the Colorado Trail… The additional effort and strain on these old bodies make the journey all the more sweet, and the panoramic views we’re rewarded with even more beautiful!!
Spotting Deer on the Way to Coking Ovens
We continued on and saw 3 deer along the trail. About 2 hours into the final day of our adventure, we headed west, crossing US highway 24 and a railroad track. The trail soon turned south, following the Mitchell Creek drainage. The old abandoned railroad grade was visible where the train had traveled up the middle of the valley. The trail soon merged into the railroad grade which led us to our destination at the Tennessee Pass trailhead. On the last stretch of the trail, the slopes of Ski Cooper were visible ahead. This is an area where the 10th Mountain Division trained as well (called Cooper Hill at that time). We also passed by a group of historic coking ovens that were used when the railroad was active in the area.
After arriving at the car, we took a few minutes to go through a memorial for the 10th Mountain Division soldiers who gave their lives in service to their country. There was also a historical summary about Camp Hale and the 10th Mountain Division military campaigns. This unit was trained in mountain fighting and on skis. They were instrumental to allied battles in northern Italy. We then drove to Leadville and had a burger at Gringo’s for lunch. It tasted gooood!