Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Day 84 - A day for Trafford

This morning, we set the alarm early and woke up to... eerie silence. No rain, virtually no wind. I poked my head outside the tent, and mostly clear skies. We packed in a hurry, with the hope that we get as far as we could without weather.

On the docket this morning is the James Group, a series of five 13ers in a 10mi stretch. Possibly the most strenuous hiking we'll see on the entire trip. We begin with James Peak at 13,300'. James is fierce (above timberline exposure), fabulous (spectacular views), and chiseled (no explanation needed). Just like one of Gangles' best friends from business school, the incomparable James Trafford. We dedicated the day to him.

I had a terrible night sleep, partially due to the weather, but mostly due to dehydration. When we ran into Giraffe yesterday, he mentioned there was running water to be found between Rollins and James Peak, a 10mi section, or Rogers and James, a 2mi section. Gangles and I thought the former, and were hoping to fill our bottles before we camped. We didn't find any water between Rollins and Rogers, and we had < 3L between us to get through the difficult next 10mi Rogers to Berthold Pass. I was so thirsty, I woke up to drink, dashing all my wise rationing plans. I dreamt of water constantly, dreamt of drinking from a glass, a bottle, my CamelBak. I even dreamt that we did find the creek.

In a dour mood, Gangles and I left camp and started the climb up James Peak. It was early and cold, and I was sleepy and dehydrated. Gangles led the way and I was sullenly lagging behind.


I ran up to the start of the switchbacks on James, and found Gangles kneeling by a small crease in the mountainside. Cool, clear water was flowing right from the rocks, and into what seemed to be a rodent hole. Gangles and I joyfully filled up. Given the lightness of the trickle, I wondered if it is a seasonal water source, and we lucked out. Regardless, we were saved. We drank all we could, then made breakfast (pudding and Grapenuts, I know, I know, we have terrible diets), and pushed on.

The climb up James was surprisingly straightforward, clear switchbacks to the top. Our first 13er! We had terrific views of the other four 13ers, laid out like a 3D agenda for the day. Gangles took a moment to pay tribute to James Trafford with a series of muscle poses. Welcome to the Gun Show.

After James, we began the traverse to Bancroft. Unlike the neatly groomed switchbacks up James, this was a bit... trickier. We descended a few hundred feet down an expanse of scree, then curled around to the saddle. Then we stopped dead in our tracks. From our vantage point, the saddle was a thin, slippery strip of bare rock stretching between the two peaks. No visible trail, but a few perky cairns showing that other humans had come this way. I tucked one of my hiking poles, to free up my hands.

My strategy to get across: don't look! I have a terrible fear of heights. Standing on a chair to change a lightbulb gives me vertigo. Gangles, who loves heights, led the way. We scrambled, sometimes walking, sometimes using our hands to cling to the bare rock. Gangles found a clear path across the narrow saddle, and the rest of the hike to Bancroft was a relative piece of cake.

The next traverse to Parry was also relatively easy, but with an added twist: clouds. The cute, fluffy white clouds had coalesced into a low-hanging grey clump gathered just above the James Group. After we summited Parry Peak, we made the executive decision to get the heck down as fast as possible. As we were running down Parry towards Eva, we saw a small dark figure coming towards us. It was Bluefoot!

We first met Bluefoot in St. Mary in MT, and last saw him in the Winds. We hiked together briefly, but he split to do his own route over the glaciers, and we continued down the CDT. He had started North from Leadville and was headed to Grand Lake. Such a pleasant surprise! We both wanted to chat a little longer, but the grey clouds had finally awoken and started to drizzle. Bad sign. We bid each other goodbye, and took off for our respective 13ers, which was really the only safe way down off the steep saddle.

We sprinted past Eva, and were pelted with hail. I thought it sounded benignly like popcorn, but it stung when it hit us, even through our ponchos. The rocks were slick with rain and hail, and I fell a few times ignominiously, the worst wrenching my foot in between two rocks and tumbling forward. I have a small curving cut on my wrist to show, but am surprisingly unscathed for running across sharp, wet rocks in a hailstorm on a 13er. Graceful Gangles made it look easy and is in fine shape.

The hail let up, and started again a few times, but we finally made it past Flora, and ran down to Berthold Pass. J. Ley mentions in his journal from 2001 that he bought new trekking poles at the ski hut at the Pass. I was imagining a hot chocolate, and a dry bench indoors. When we arrived, it was nothing but a barebones rest stop for highway travellers. An interpretive sign about the trail, a 50s style brown and yellow highway sign, pit toilets and an unheated glass enclosure. Dreams of hot food, indoor heating dashed.

We had lunch and pushed on. We kept our ponchos on for the intermittent drizzle. The clouds continued to darken around us, and we decided to bail down from the Continental Divide. Though being struck be lightning is a rare occurrence, I'm terrified of winning this reverse lottery. Bailing down to the road was terrible. Cars whizzing by, losing all of our elevation gain, but it was the right decision. The 13ers we'd left, and the peaks we should have been on were completely obscured in black clouds. We heard thunder behind us as we trudged along the road, far below the storm.

Just as we were passing a parking area, a SUV pulled up, and the driver lowered his window. It was Garrett and TJ! They were on their way home to Denver, and recognized us on the road. It was so great to see them both, as well as their dog Rocco. They offered us a lift, which we had to refuse, since we're walking a continuous footpath. Hitching = cheating. They did leave us with a cornucopia of fresh food--peaches, apples and carrots. Wonderful to see friendly faces, and hope they had a safe trip back.

We sat on the side of the road, eating the fruit. We didn't want to add another 5lb to our packs for our 2,500' climb back up to the divide at Jones Pass. An older gentleman came up to us and started chatting. Jack Warren is a retiree from Atlanta, GA, and the spitting image of a perfect Southern gentleman. We chatted about the trail, the weather and the area. He has a place in Winter Park, and offered us a ride there and a ride back in the morning to get out of the rain. Gangles and I were sorely tempted, but since we're meeting Gangles' brother Patrick tomorrow, we had to make miles. Jack kindly left us with fresh water for our packs, and insisted we take some Pedialyte drink mix (delicious!) and a protein bar. Jack, thank you!

Gangles and I pushed on, the long meandering climb back up to Jones Pass. Everywhere, we saw signs warning of undetonated land mines which were planted for avalanche control. We decided to stay on the road. Every unusual looking object, loose bolt, opaque discs of plastic, looked like a possible trigger to me, so my wild imagination and I were a little jumpy. That, and walking past an active molybdenum mining operation belching smoke made the entire hike surreal. I didn't feel as though I was on the CDT anymore, just that we were walking through an evil mastermind's secret mountain lair. Zero explosions later, we made the climb up to winding Jones pass just as the sun was setting. Since we were meeting Patrick the next day, we had to make a few more miles, with headlamps on.

In the run down the switchbacks, we did see a pair of green eyes glowing in our headlamp beam. Gangles thought she saw the outline of an enormous cat. I thought I saw a moose, but could be wishful thinking.

And epic day--five 13ers, thunderhail, black clouds, a James Bond-style villain's hideaway, and nighthiking a pass. Dedicated all to James Trafford.

I need to lie down now. Off to bed, with the rain pounding around us. Hope everyone is safe, dry and warm.

Mileage: 22mi (some trail, some not, who knows) from Rogers Pass to Jones Pass

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