Day Fifteen: Not Quite Best Pass

We’re up later again today. Speshul1 doesn’t sleep well, so I anticipate this leg to Salida to be a little later getting up and going. We’ve got six more days before friends are meeting us in Salida, though, and even doing fewer miles – what with the passes and my slowness and all – we’re like to make it there early. Even with the late wake-up, it’s still not about rushing out of camp; breakfast is a thing again today, and I’m sure there’s some sort of lesson in this. Spesh is a good teacher, subtle like that.

I’ve been over the maps for today; I know we’re supposed to head down into the valley below us, but the trail keeps going up for a bit. It makes no sense to me, until it does: the trail gives us one last viewpoint before sending us downhill.

Not bad.

Then it’s over the gulches and through the aspens, to the long jeep road walk we go– except when we get to the jeep road, there are signs for the trail beckoning us not left, down the road, but forward. We’re off the map, but instead of dragons and monsters, we find beautiful, brand new trail, up off the road. To top it off, we won’t have to ascend as much as we would’ve otherwise when we get into the Collegiate Peaks wilderness. We see other hikers on the road below, and the ghost town, Winfield, that I would’ve liked to look around, but all in all, the new trail’s definitely a win to me.

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We meet a couple of ladies at the stream near the entrance to the wilderness area who are spending the night2 up at Lake Ann, sit down for lunch, have a chat. They’re pretty floored at what I’m doing – it’s strange to see such enthusiasm about the whole thing, especially after yesterday. I hear the words, but my psyche doesn’t quite let me process them; it feels like there’s a missing link in the chain, and if I just had that piece, it’d let me be as excited as they are. Eating helps – it’s like I need food or something – and as they load up their packs and head off and up, their excitement sinks in and I start to feel better about it.

We begin the climb ourselves shortly after, and while looking at the profile made me concerned, it’s much, much gentler than I expected. Up, and then flat, up, and then flat – the god of the flat lands is smiling on me today, and I give thanks for the trail that meanders in and out of shade, in and out of views.

There’re some pretty water sources that draw the eye and the ear along the way, including a pretty rad waterfall a bit before the Lake Ann Trail branches off, and I stop to play in the water like a child cool myself.

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We stop for a snack shortly after, and Speshul finds a special kind of seat.

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This whole time, I’ve been practically skipping, flying down the trail, with meme-y sayings in my head like “Lake Ann Pass is Best Pass” when really, I should’ve known better. The climb begins in earnest just after our break, and when we finally break treeline and pass the Lake Ann Trail junction, I finally get my first real, extended experience with talus3.

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At least there’s a view – practically all the way to the bottom of the lake.

It’s only eight-tenths of a mile to the top of the pass, but I’m wobbling back and forth and spitting curses the whole way. The “trail” through here – rocks that are more level with one another than they would be otherwise – is relatively easy to follow, and I only almost veer off once, though Speshul’s got my back, corrects me. We see teensy-tiny people at the top of the pass, and it feels like we aren’t getting any closer as we switchback further up.

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Closer, closer, just a hundred steps at a time, until the teensy-tiny folks become just tiny. We’re nearly to the top as they turn into life-sized people, who don’t yield the path to us; I have to begrudgingly as fuck backtrack a few feet to let them by, but then it’s only 200 steps more to victory. I let out a triumphant “Awww yisss. Motha. Fuckin. PASS.” as we hit the top, loud enough to hear some laughs from down below.

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Pictured: Triumph, intact ankles, and probably a little madness.

We loiter at the top for a bit, taking photos, sending out a SPOT, checking email. I call the madre from up here, and I wonder where she’s picturing I am, where she is, if ever the two shall meet.

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There’s a side peak nearby, and while I appreciate that my brain’s first reaction is always “Maaaaaaaaybe?”, the body firmly sayeth no. But maybe I’ll come back, maybe I’ll climb it then, maybe I’ll be stronger, though at 200 miles in, I’m starting to doubt I’ll ever get my trail legs.

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I persuade Spesh to take a picture with me, and learn the efficacy of sunglasses in an alpine setting.

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Also, hats.

Then it’s a nice down, to the pips of the pikas, all the way to the edge of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. The path splits here, with both forks looking legit, and while the Timberline Trail should be coming up, there’s no signage: my guess is to go straight, Speshul’s is to go left. We drop our packs to consume calories and I decide to take my snack to go, check out the straight path. I dead end, not two minutes later, onto the Timberline Trail, where I imagine I cut quite a figure to the four dirt bikers motorcyclists there: no pack, ripped-ass shirt, munching on a Snickers. I’d probably look lost if not for the confident nodding. I haul a left, imagining I’ll run into that side fork, and sure enough I spot Spesh in the trees still eating; it’s a shortcut, but the whole thing’s probably taken all of five minutes. So much for Leave No Trace principles.

So it’s around and down on a hella rutted-out trail, a trail I have to get used to: we’re supposed to follow the Timberline Trail today and into tomorrow, so it’ll be a lot of sidelining ourselves since mass tonnage wins. We arrive at Illinois Creek, and Spesh stops to fill his bottles, but while the guidebook suggests there’s a campspot a tenth of a mile afterwards, I take the requisite 200 steps and there’s nothing but well-sloped hillside, here and as far as I can see. I turn around and we spend the better part of a half hour hunting, before Spesh climbs a hill and finds a small valley out of the wind. We make do, I eat a Backpacker’s Pantry meal – another three squares again – and settle in to sleep. Something large rustles on the nearby hill as we try to drift off, but a flash of a headlamp and the sound of our voices and it moves off. I’m speculating as to what exactly it was as I drift off to sleep.

Start: 193.8 •  End: 207.0  •  Day: 13.2
Notable Accomplishments: Another pass under the belt  •  Didn’t break either ankle  •  Got taken down a peg by the Not Quite Best Pass


[1] He’s my Special Gentleman Friend, but his trail name’s also Speshul 41; I have shifted to the appropriate spelling here.

[2] Oh, right, it’s the weekend. That feels weird to say – weekend? There are weekdays? We segment time into weeks? What is this nonsense.

[3] I mentioned it yesterday, but talus, for those who’ve never had the pleasure, is basically a slope of rocks, each at minimum about the size of one’s head, all stacked on top of each other with varying degrees of stability. Walking it can sometimes be easy, sometimes treacherous, sometimes both of those things within a step or two. Think of a cat hiding under a table or bookshelf – maybe it’ll swat at your ankles as you go by, maybe it won’t – except the cat is the ground, and if you fall, the cat might keep your foot, and at the ass-end of the fall is a pile of more cats that are less fluffy than you would like them to be.

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