CDT, Day 3 — July 3
The day started well under blue skies after a good night’s sleep. Len the trail runner left at 6:15 a.m., heading south, and I soon followed going east.
After a short climb along the side of the valley, the CDT maintained or lost elevation slowly through alpine tundra then through subalpine forest. I passed the two CDT hikers I saw yesterday evening just as they were getting up. Bristlecone pines, elsewhere the oldest trees in Colorado, grow here and there on rocky sites.
Three miles into the day, I reached a stream, got water, and headed uphill for the 2,400-foot climb to Stanley Mountain. The trail was fine, but my legs tired easily, forcing me to take numerous, short, standing breaks. At last, I reached the summit and walked northeast along a ridge.
Soon, I encountered day hikers about five miles from Berthoud Pass. As I got closer to the pass, the human traffic increased markedly. The hikers looked much fresher than I felt. The 1,000-foot descent to the pass went slowly, because I slipped several times on small round stones.
I crossed busy U.S. Highway 40 at Berthoud Pass (elevation 11,306 feet) at 11 a.m., where I bummed a liter of water from two hikers in a parking lot. Along with day hikers, I headed uphill on a well-graded gravel road for three switchbacks to a single-track trail. Lots of hikers were descending as I labored uphill toward Mount Flora (elevation 13,132 feet).
Dark clouds to the south got my attention and helped motivate me to keep plugging away. It seemed that I’d be caught in a storm. But when I reached the summit at 11 a.m., the clouds disappeared. I called my daughter, Helen, and left Betsy a message. At last, I reached the summit, then headed downhill on a rocky trail. After the trail leveled out on the eastern side of Breckenridge Peak, I ate a quick lunch.
Ominous clouds reappeared and kept building as the trail descended steeply toward Bill Moore Lake, a possible destination for the night. About 2 p.m., the storm finally arrived with strong winds, rain, and lightning. After deploying my flapping poncho, I sat on the edge of the trail. But even moving my legs and arms, I soon got cold. I knew I could continue to sit and become hypothermic or start hiking and take a chance with the lightning. I hoisted my pack and starting walking.
Thankfully, the rocks in the trail weren’t slippery and the lightning eventually abated. Walking generated enough body heat to ward off hypothermia, but I was still miserably cold and wet. About a mile from the lake, I found a flat patch of tundra about 200 yards from the trail where I quickly set up my tent, crawled inside, removed my wet hiking duds, and donned my dry sleeping clothes. After about an hour in my sleeping bag, I warmed up.
I got a cell phone signal and called Helen to get a weather report. Bad weather after noon tomorrow. I cooked dinner then broke camp to get two miles closer to the trailhead for James Peak (elevation 13,301 feet), desperately hoping to reach the summit by noon tomorrow — and glad to have survived the storm.