Up at 4am again and out the door 15 minutes later, because you packed the night before. This means you didn’t forget any key gear, except your gloves which you couldn’t easily find and you were willing to gamble you wouldn’t need them. You didn’t. Same stop at the same McDonalds for a cup of coffee and two breakfast burritos. And once again, you reach the Frisco Safeway as you finish the coffee and purchase some trail supplies – namely water and Gatorade – and use the facilities.
Tumbleweed, sitting in his car drinking trail java at the Gold Hill Trail Head on Hwy 9, is surprised to see you arrive by 6:30. You’re early enough to have nearly disrupted his morning routine. Today’s hike will be your earliest to date as the drive to the Middle Fork Swan River TH is close by.
You’re surprised the snow hasn’t sufficiently melted to allow you to drive all the way to the trail head, but you park within a mile. Swan River is raging and you’re thankful you don’t need to cross it today like you did at the end of your last hike. The background bush next to Tumbleweed’s head in this first picture is that very same bush whose branches you anxiously clasped to keep from falling backwards into the stream. Had you fallen three weeks ago, only your backpack would have drowned. This week the Swan River would swallow your body whole. There’s been some serious snow melt since you been gone.
The trail spirit of A Lo Hawk emerges to launch you off on an epic run with a high-pitched holler. And run you do. More than the painful snowshoeing over Georgia Pass, your memory of the first part of segment 6 is a bitter feeling from not being able to run. The first 7 miles of that trail would have made for an excellent run. So you make up for lost ground. Tumbleweed is confident you can leave behind the snowshoes today. The thought of this is liberating and you dress light, considering the falling rain and snow, geared up for running. You’ve barely run since the Bolder Boulder. You took off two weeks to recover from nagging injuries and fatigue and only squeezed in a couple of days this past week. Your body is ready to let loose. There is much more whooping and hollering on the trail today.
As the sun emerges, you shed more gear. You’re running strong and feel awesome. Something very different is the use of trekking poles. You learned their value on the first part of segment 6 and purchased a pair at REI. As much as borrowing one of Tumbleweed’s poles helped you last time, two poles provide more than twice the benefit. And you’re not even in snow yet. You experiment with various pole rhythms to match your stride and the trail. Poles are hardly a crutch, they’re steroids. At one point you even leverage them to launch off a rock on a downward slope. You’re literally flying and having a blast. Trekking poles are an absolute must have on the CT. They serve as the perfect tool to extract yourself from post holes, but also keep you from post holing in the first place. Even when you’re not skipping them across the trail, but rather holding them in a horizontal position, they help you maintain balance. You’ll be using your poles long after the snow has melted.
Perhaps it’s the comparison with the painful first part of segment 6, but today’s hike is your best experience to date. Garmin suggests you’ve maintained walking pace at 3 miles per hour. You know you’ve run most of the trail, and skipping across the snow spots in your hiking shoes, while slow, is fairly successful in terms of avoiding post holes. You gain considerable experience using the trekking poles and develop the habit of sliding down the 4 to 5 foot snow cliffs where the snow would meet back up with dry trail. It is only along the couple of miles above 11,000 feet where the snow is that deep. Below 11,000 feet, the trail becomes nearly crowded with bikers. Considering how few other hikers and bikers you’ve shared the trail with on prior outings, today’s near traffic jam of fat tires is quite the sight. Men and women seem to be out in equal numbers, although it’s the women’s smiles that reinforce the beauty of the great Colorado outdoors. Which is not to say these two guys don’t look good sporting their mountain bikes.
Today’s hike is a total gear win. The trekking poles are of course the most satisfying gear win. Traveling light without snowshoes was a key decision that resulted in some nice running. Your new tent performs perfectly with a quick setup plus rain and condensation resistance. But it doesn’t end there. You’ve struggled in your efforts to find optimal trail food. You finally acquiesce to Tumbleweed’s choice of the Honey Stinger Waffle. This honey cake is light, conveniently packed, and pretty darned tasty. And while it’s absolutely necessary to wash down most trail food with water, it’s not absolutely critical for these tasty cakes. You award Stinger two Puerco Pibil awards for trail food and commit to packing Stinger on all future hikes.
The day has plenty left in it as you complete this 18 mile segment at the Gold Hill Trail Head. Yet another gorgeous biker chic, Sara, takes a picture of you with Tumbleweed. You have very few joint pictures on the trail as you seem to be leading the season trail blazing the CT this spring. This pic captures your camping site on the hill behind you.
After changing into some comfortable clothes and setting up your tent, you shuffle your car to the end of tomorrow’s planned hike of segment 7. This is at the Wheeler Flats Trail Head across the road from the Copper Mountain ski resort. It’s an easy drive back down I70 to Frisco where the locals seem to be throwing a street party in your honor. Main Street is blocked off and a BBQ competition is in full force. You try quite a few dishes. The spicy German sausage was your favorite, although the Jambalaya was the biggest surprise. You try to kick it down a notch with some roasted corn but you basically over eat on hot and spicy. There’ll be hell to pay later, but for now there’s beer to add to the mix. With Tumbleweed driving, you drink your share. Nothin’ better than eating meat on a stick and drinking beer in the middle of the street. More than full, you head back to the trail head, only a couple of miles down the road, to watch the sunset.
There don’t appear to be any other campers on your hill, although there’s plenty of room. You open a bottle of Shiraz to wind down and recount the amazing day. Everything went right. There was supposed to be thunder storms but they never materialized. The early morning rain and snow served to keep you cool on your run. Your gear performed well and you felt great. Plus you gained quite a bit of experience with your trekking poles and the snow. The conversation slows as the wine combines with your 4am wake up call and you take in your pleasant surroundings.
It’s still fairly early, maybe 7:30. Tumbleweed leads you down a short path from your tents to a bluff overlooking Breckenridge and the Ten Mile Range. Watching the sun set over the mountains, you visually review tomorrow’s hike as you polish off the Shiraz. A light rain begins to fall and you retire to your separate tents. Your iPhone has a strong signal so you call Karen, catch up on email and post some updates to the Colorado Trail Organization on Facebook. You fall asleep before darkness fully sets upon Gold Hill.