I woke up about 5:15 and Walter and I cleaned up camp and had breakfast and coffee. “So, is this what you always do? Eat standing up?” Walt asks me as we stand amongst our gear having hot cream of wheat with fruit and nuts. Not always, but today I want to begin the trip in earnest and it will also be hard to leave my friend behind, so I’d rather get on with the task at hand than delaying things. Walt decides to head south with me for a short while before commenting that my pace is quicker than he is comfortable with. We embrace, he reminds me that I can call him at any time and he will come get me no matter where I am or what the situation. I thank him for the offer but assure him I will be fine.
Thus ends the portion of the trip with my friend and begins my solo venture. I was sad to see him go. I enjoyed his company but was also excited to be on my own. I like the early morning starts because I know this is my best chance to see wildlife before they bed down for the day in the warm weather. Almost every day this year I notice elk tracks on the trails I walk where they were out in the night. This morning I walk upon a fresh pile of elk droppings, and a few steps later the trail is even wet from where they urinated; hours old because the trail and everything else is dry in the area, meaning they are close by. A goal of mine on the trail is to slow down as quickly as possible from the standpoint of sensory input so that I don’t glaze over and beyond everything around me with a destination in mind. I like to feel the wind on my face, tune in to the scents of the forest as they waft past me and pick up on what is out of the ordinary. It is easy to get locked in on the trail and not see what is left, right, up and especially what has been passed, having to remind myself to look at where I have come from, observing what is over my shoulder.
By 9:45 I arrive at Clear Creek, covering 6.5 miles and seeing the 14ers Mt. Oxford, Belford and Missouri to the southwest, ahead of me. The whole trip I struggle to identify the 14ers correctly, because right amongst them are many 13ers and lesser peaks. I’ve never been much of a “peak bagger” and have always abhorred coming back on the same trail I went out on. I prefer loops over out and backs, the forest, valleys, parks and lakes over scree, tundra and high wind. I can take it in smaller doses up to about 12,500 feet but above that I find it more annoying and dislike the constant drain on my energy surveying skies for threatening clouds, storms and lightning.
As I climb out of Clear Creek I make the mistake of not paying close enough attention to the elevation profile in the Colorado Trail Databook and it doesn’t immediately dawn on me how much climbing is involved in the first 4.8 miles of this section of trail. The elevation gain is 2700’ and after three miles I meet a couple coming the other way. They have a dog and the young man has a fly rod. I ask how far to the saddle and he thinks it is another two miles or so. “Did you go to Rainbow Lake?” I ask. He informs me that they dropped into Pine Creek the day before and stopped rather than climbing an additional 1000’ to Rainbow Lake, but that was their original intention. My destination for the day is Rainbow Lake so I’ll need to finish this climb, drop into the valley and then back up to get to my night’s camp.
After another mile or so I come upon another backpacker, this time, a woman with a Golden Retriever who is spending a week at a time on the trail throughout the summer to complete the trek from Denver to Durango. We chat about the strenuous nature of this particular climb. She needs to reload her pack because it is not balanced correctly and I push on to the saddle which gives me a fantastic view of the high peaks to the west. I’m glad it is not above treeline, topping out at 11,600’ and safe from weather.
I bottom out at Pine Creek and stop to quickly wash my feet, get some water and continue on up to my destination of the day at Rainbow Lake, a small lake about 3/10 of a mile off the trail where I can do some fishing and call it a day. It’s another 1000’ up and puts me at 11,500 feet for my camp. I arrive at 2:30 pm, a relatively short day but 15 miles away from where I left Walter.
As I come to the lake I immediately spy a tent and established camp site. I decide I should say hello but upon a closer look as I stroll by the camp I realize that the tent has been flattened by the winter’s snow. It has been here long enough that the mesh is rotted, but the tent is intact with the poles still assembled. Using my trekking pole I hesitantly poke around and lift the tent up to make sure there are no bones or such lingering underneath the faded, stressed fabric. I sigh with relief when I discover it has just been abandoned. But this kind of thing always makes me curious. Someone left in enough of a hurry not to bother with disassembling their tent and taking it out with them. There could be a myriad of reasons why; a sudden autumn snowstorm, an injury of some sort, overreaction to a noise heard in the night. I’ll never know why but it is slightly unsettling. I decide to venture to the other side of the lake and find a spot away from Creepyville.
There is another established camp. In the backcountry there are often sites that are used by outfitters where they guide in clients for fishing and hunting trips. The benefit is that there are often nice places to sit and gaze at pretend fires, as if a backpacker had enough energy to begin such an anomaly. I set my camp and do a little fishing, unsuccessful at first so I make my dinner before evening sets in.
After dinner I walk over to a deeper spot in the lake and land a few Greenback Cutthroat Trout. I land about five fish then see the skies darken. I get into my tent at a relatively early hour and check my phone for service; no signal, so there will be no checking in with Pam tonight which makes me sad. Rain begins to fall for the first time in the trip and it gets darker in my tent as I journal and look over the map about where I’ll be heading tomorrow. Today was a short day, tomorrow I’ll look to cover more ground and make a longer day of it.
Clicking on the images in the gallery will enlarge them.
Days mileage – 15 Total mileage for the trip – 44
Elevation at camp tonight – 11,500’