CDT Day 87 — September 20
Lake Granby to Fourth of July Trailhead (Eldora, Co) via Arapaho Pass
Too Tired for a Fire Camp to Friends Place
Miles hiked: 21
Total miles: 1554.5
The loosest of connections pulled us off the official CDT today, up and over a bonus pass to a Front Range trailhead. Mid-switchbacks, SpiceRack and I questioned if the extra effort was worth it, but once we met the people, we were sure we had made the right choice. These are our people, and we feel right at home here in Eldora.
I woke up still feeling a bit stormy. Not what I expected and not what I wanted. But what could I do? Time to hike. A little before 7am we left camp for a short bushwhack back to the trail to begin a gradual climb to a ridge above the lake.
The views opened up near the top and I stopped for a break at a viewpoint, allowing the sun to thaw my fingers and soul. Golden aspen extended along the ridge and dotted around Lake Granby. The peaks of the Indian Peaks Wilderness loomed to the east, gray and featureless in contrast with the blinding sun. Spice broke open the conversation when she came by, and the idle chitchat shook the remaining ice from my heart. By the time we reached Roaring Fork Campground a few miles later, I was happy again, and happy to be out here. It felt good.
We took a break behind a pit toilet, filling up our bottles at the spigot and our stomachs with our hands. I ate about a thousand calories worth of BBQ Lays before switching to trail mix and almonds. The campground was largely empty, a sign of the season. The friendly host told us that this was their last weekend before closing. The summer is moving on for sure.
The trail turned into a busy dirt road for a while to Monarch Lake where we joined the horde of dayhikers coming and going from/to somewhere. The trail quieted quickly however, and we found ourselves mostly alone on the buffed out trail to the eastern shore. We left the CDT at a fork in the trail to make our way up to and over the Divide at Arapaho Pass, about nine miles and an unknown effort away.
The trail was easy and peaceful most of the way up. We met just a few other folk and certainly no other thru-hikers. We broke through the treeline near Caribou Lake in a wide basin sitting below a steep rim of very rocky peaks. It wasn’t immediately clear how we would get up and over. When I did identify the trail switchbacking high above I began to question our decision to take this route at all. But the view will be worth it, and these people are probably cool. Scrub grass covered the hillsides, deep red with the spirit of fall. Gray clouds scooted by overhead, threatening a shower. Let’s do this.
A friendly local delayed my start a little, but the switchbacks scrolled by, as climbs do these days. Light came and went on the expanding peaks with the motion of the clouds. Arapaho Pass, 11,900ft. A couple patches of rain danced around us, but the light was gorgeous and there was no urgency now that we were here. Spice and I sat for a little bit, enjoying the fruits of our labor and chatting with Gary, a local from Boulder out for an after work hike. He offered us a ride from the trailhead as long as we didn’t mind waiting a few minutes. We didn’t and gladly accepted.
The three miles down to Fourth of July trailhead came easy. An old mining road turned into a packed trail, wide with heavy use. At 6pm we were at the large trailhead parking lot. By 6:30pm we were bumping down the choppy road to Eldora, getting some local flavor from one chill dude.
Elaine and Dan were just beginning search and rescue operations when we pulled up outside their humble cabin tucked behind some trees at the base of a mountain. Immediately friendly and welcoming to Spice and me although none of us had met before, they got us inside, showered, clothed, fed, and feeling at home in no time. The connection was loose, a sister and brother-in-law of a friend Spice met on the PCT in 2016. They hiked the CDT two years ago, and offered their place to us when they heard we’d be swinging through the area.
We spent the evening comparing notes on the CDT and hearing about their other exploits including the Great Divide Trail this year, and skiing all over the world, from Norway to Greenland. These folk are some serious adventurers and are inspiring in a humble way. I think this is their blog: http://altabackcountry.com if you want to get inspired too. I haven’t read it yet, but intend to when this whole CDT business is over.
The corners of each room are stuffed with gear and maps. The floor of the cabin is slanted with age and the guestroom hosts a rickety bunk bed, but this place is quiet and feels like home. Elaine and Dan already feel like friends. We thought this would be a short stay, but it might be longer.