CDT Day 101: Sawatch Range to Mount Arps – Tooty Frooty Camp to Rollercoaster Railroad Camp
Miles hiked: 24.7
Total miles: 1750.4
Best day on the CDT yet? Eh, who knows, who cares? Today began with some dubious looking weather, but that didn’t scare us off and we had a fantastic day of strong hiking over endless passes along an endless ridge through the Collegiate Range. SpiceRack claimed that it was like a condensed version of the Sierra. All the cool stuff near the tops of passes without the miles of valley walking in between. Never a dull moment when the walking is this good.
Spice and I slept in a little, but then surprised Rooster with our blazing pack up speed. We were hiking a little after 7am, Crunchberry an unknown distance ahead. The weather immediately struck me as unsettled. I wasn’t too concerned though because the forecast had called for clear weather through this entire stretch. Only when a few flecks of snow began to streak across my vision did I admit to myself that something was up. First, it was cold. Not unusual, but concerning nonetheless. Second, there were a lot of dark gray clouds hanging around the big summits that we twisted between yesterday. And third, when I made it to the top of a ridge thing, I could definitely see that a bunch of snow had fallen and was falling on some mountains to the west. So much for the clear day.
At a highway crossing I joked with Crunch while throwing on layers about hitching into Buena Vista to wait out the weather. I’m not sure he was joking actually, but I definitely was. I had been looking forward to this section for many days now after looking at the map. Miles of ridges and peaks on that quality Colorado Trail tread.
The local snow situation got worse as I climbed up to the immediate high point. It wasn’t sticking, but the flakes were coming down and blowing sideways. I was relieved to see the others following, and soon the rollercoaster ride had commenced. Views along the ridge were intimidating, but the trail delivered us safely down then up and over a pass to the eastern and sheltered side of the mountains. I was sweating in my wind pants and rain jacket.
The snow had stopped and the sun even poked through the speeding clouds as we gathered water that burbled straight out of a cliff. But no time to lollygag, the next pass awaited. I followed behind the group through a basin of tortured rock, black and jaggy. Up we went again, but the views were fine, so I didn’t mind the effort too much. Spice was waiting out of the wind just over the other side. Another incredible mountain vista.
Our trail could be seen switchbacking up to the next saddle on the far side of another basin. Usually I like to know all the names of the peaks I’m looking at, but today I let that go. Besides, there were way too many and I had a feeling they all had lame names like “Yale” and “Harvard.” Who the heck screwed that one up!?! I preferred to keep them wild, just as nature left them.
At the bottom of the hill we all took a lunch break next to the outflow of a pond. I kept my shoes on so as not to gas the others with my foot fragrance, but the leisure was real despite this. The switchbacks took a lot of work this time, but the sun was bright now and I hiked without a jacket for the first time today. I didn’t wait at the top of this one due to the incredible wind that caused me to stumble down from the pass. Rooster claims that he was actually picked up, pack and all, by a particularly enthusiastic gust.
Tremendous views came on thick during an easy traverse around the next basin to the next pass. We all gathered on the saddle then chased Spice who was running down countless switchbacks, picking up toothpaste and other things that bounced free from her shoulder pocket. Water next to a troll bridge at the bottom, then up one more time to the last pass of the day.
The switchbacks were as gentle as can be, but the wind howled through the treetops. We would definitely have to get all the way up and over tonight. Alpenglow capped the peaks when the trail broke free of the trees for a gradual push to the top. The sky was totally clear now, and I was so grateful for the day. Gnarly start, but amazing all the way through.
The wind hounded us up and over, then down steeply to an old railroad grade that we hit by the light of our headlamps. The wide trail sped us gently back into the trees. We had to watch out for frozen streams across the trail, but it was an easy finish to the day. With no obvious campsites in view or hope of finding one based on the topo map, we set up in a line, right on trail. Spice and I are cowboying, the others tented. The wind still rushes over us in occasional gusts, forcing me to ask if I’ve ever felt a breeze inside my sleeping bag before. But I have layers and will sleep warm. Today really was a tough section of trail, but I had a blast the entire time. I think this stretch solidifies the portion of trail south of Copper Mountain as my favorite so far. Just amazing stuff. Mountains, aspen, friends. The best.