CDT Day 90: Rollins Pass to Berthoud Pass – Windbreak Camp to Tired Ridgewalk Camp
Miles hiked: 16
Total miles: 1582
The mileage today doesn’t really reflect the effort we put forward. An alternate route that stayed high on the divide reduced the number of miles, but increased the difficulty quite a bit. It was an adventure for sure, and totally wiped us out. Relentless wind, high altitude sun, few breaks, and little water will do that to a hiker.
Even though it was only 20°F by the time SpiceRack and I got hiking around 7am, the morning felt warm. Calm. No wind. It’s amazing what a huge difference such a small thing can make. There was ice inside the tent and in my water bottles, but I felt good, cruising along the Divide, connecting post to post on a intermittent trail. The morning light was cut by layers of cloud, though occasionally the full intensity was allowed through, illuminating the sharp eastern faces with bright orange. Warm colors extended underfoot as well, yellow and red scrub and grass.
The big climb up James Peak came after a few miles of exposed ridgewalking. I was in my rain jacket and gloves at this point and needed them to stay warm despite the steep switchbacks. Clear skies and expansive views in all directions were the worthy reward for the effort when I reached the summit, the high point of the trail so far at 13,310ft. I hunkered behind a crescent wall of stones and enjoyed swinging my gaze from peak to peak and even all the way to the shiny towers of Denver far below.
Spice made it up a little bit later, not in the best of moods. Something about this altitude is not treating her well. I was feeling great, but still tired and breathless at this height, so I hated to think what a grind it must be for her, clearly not at peak health. But we were on top, that’s something.
Here we had to decide between two tough options. The official CDT dropped 3,000ft before immediately gaining all that back to the summit of Mt Flora in 12 miles. An alternate followed the ridge between James and Flora on a bit of a rollercoaster across other peaks. This was maybe five miles, but involved some scrambling of unknown difficulty. Neither of us was psyched for either option. I was a bit scared of the scramble. Turns out that Spice was too, but we decided to go for it anyway.
A short scoot across the James plateau gave us a good view of the sketchy section. Nothing to worry about. It was a solid scramble down and along a sharp connecting ridge, but had a clear and safe route. The steep climb on the other side was by far the bigger effort and we counted our steps to the top to pass the time.
We bumped around Bancroft, talking about the drama on Terrace House, then nearly to the summit of Parry. Instead of the top, we veered to a snowfield in search of water and managed to collect about 20oz dripping from the bottom in 20 minutes. This was our first break in a while an I was pretty beat. I ate what I could to refuel, but the exposure was just exhausting. The sun was brutal, but the relentless wind was wearing on me.
Some steep down preceded some focused side hilling around Mt. Eva on grass and shaky stone. From the next saddle, we looked up a the biggest climb yet, but the last to Mt. Flora and the CDT. Many steps up many steep and difficult to find switchbacks, but then we were on top, not sure if we had made the right route choice, but happy to have done it all the same. 4:15pm. It took us about four hours total for those five miles, a little slower than average for sure. I thought it was pretty great time considering the terrain.
Back on the trail, we sailed down the final easy miles to the highway at Berthoud Pass. A large warming hut provided us a most welcome shelter from the wind, and we took advantage, exploding our packs and eating a large late lunch or early dinner. Spice collected water from a creek on the other side of the large parking lot and I basked in the balmy 70°F air. She cooked up some hot food while I dug deep in my food bag for anything, everything. I was beat.
When we left after an hour break at 6:30pm, we hoped to make it five more miles up and over another ridge to a stream before camping. We made it one mile instead. We are below treeline for the first time in well over 24 hours and aren’t eager to climb above it again in the dark. Nope, we did enough today. A sheltered campsite was easy to find a little off the wide trail. We hope for a warm night or at least a windless one. The exposure up on the Divide is a factor that in didn’t anticipate, but it is draining. Short miles, tough miles. I feel good about what we achieved today. It was cool.