2 families, 4 days, 3 nights, 15 miles, 3,000 feet of elevation gain.
Aspen To Crested Butte: Day 2
Before the sun was up, Taido was gone from his sleeping bag. I heard a noise, so I came out of my mummy bag enough to see that he was gone. I said a little prayer and tucked my head back inside my sleeping bag, hidden away from the cold mountain air.
I woke up later to full light, and still there was no stirring in the camp. I got up and went and found the food, secured away from camp in case of bears. I dragged our three stuff sacks full of food back into camp and pulled out the sausage, eggs and biscuits.
The eggs had been cracked the week before into a Nalgene bottle, and then frozen, so they were still thawing out, as was the sausage.
I was about to get water from the creek for coffee when Bobby came out of his tent.
You know how it’s sort of awkward to see people in the morning before you’re all put together. Yeah, there’s none of that on a backpacking trip. Grooming is a faint memory you leave at the trailhead.
We exchanged pleasantries and then he headed into the woods.
Meanwhile, Taido wandered back into camp.
Nothing had been taken from the trailer and he had gotten the padlock on, but he hadn’t found his phone.
Discouraged, we were beginning to discuss what was the most unfortunate, the cost or the hassle, when he decided to have a last look by the creek.
We walked over together because we needed water anyway. And about a foot out of the creek, lying face down in the mud on the trail was his phone.
He picked it up, wiped it off and turned it on. I was trying to figure out what grain we had in our gear that we could put it in. Oatmeal, maybe?
But the phone totally came on and worked perfectly fine. His battery was not even low. Seriously, sometimes I think Taido is channeling Ferris Bueller. Had it been my phone, I’m sure it wouldn’t have turned on and the screen would have been cracked.
Bobby came back into camp and offered to help us cook breakfast. We got everything started before Taido told him the story.
Well, I guess you’re all warmed up for the day.
As everyone else started to wake up and wander over for breakfast, they could not believe that Taido had already been to the van and back that morning.
We took a long time eating breakfast and breaking camp. It was 9:30 before we had our packs loaded and were back on the trail.
We stopped for a few pictures of our pretty spot before we started hiking.
It made a world of difference to everyone to have had a good night’s sleep. Or at least some sleep. We brought Thermarests for everyone, and even carried extra thick ones for Bobby and Rhonda, but when we threw them into the tents, we neglected to mention that in addition to unrolling them and letting them inflate with air, you also have to blow on them and close the valves. Whoops!
Oh well, you are not going to BELIEVE how great those mats feel tonight!
Still, Bobby had a great attitude and kept saying that he felt like a new man this morning! Everyone’s spirits were up for the first hour or two on the trail.
We hiked through gorgeous wildflower fields. I have never seen the flowers like they were this year in Colorado. Fields and fields of red, yellow and my favorite…the purple, white and yellow Columbine, which is the Colorado state flower. ($500 fine for picking one)
There were very few other hikers on the trail to East Maroon Pass, so we got really excited when we saw one. On this particular morning we met an older man who hikes this trail alone every year on his birthday just to see the Columbines. So Bobby had to ask what birthday he was celebrating. It was his 88th.
It was wonderful to have Bobby on the trail, because he has never met a stranger, so we got to hear stories from many of the other hikers, and we were always the most inspired by folks who had been hiking the mountains for years and years like this guy.
By 11am the bright sun seemed to make our packs heavier, and our trail started to gain in elevation a little more. We were all growing weary and hoping for a lunch break, but we had a short Packs Off break instead.
Packs Off means you get to take your pack off and sit down for a minute. The kids beg for these breaks, but usually we just stop long enough to pass around water bottles and catch our breath.
I think our slower pace was most painful for Bailey and Cole, who had: A. Boundless Energy and B. Excessively Heavy Loads.
Lots of stopping and going slow meant they had to carry their loads for longer, so every once in a while Taido would let them go ahead and tell them to stop when the trail met the river and they would take off like racehorses who’ve been set free. Then when we got to them they would have been waiting 30 minutes for us to reach the Packs Off resting point. This didn’t happen very often since Taido likes for everyone to stay together on the trail, but occasionally while we were hiking or at the end of the day when it was time to scope out a camping spot, he would let them ahead.
Most of the time Rhonda, Simon and I were at the head of the pack, setting the steady, slow pace.
Somewhere along the trail, Mary Polly’s boots began to fall apart. The soles were cracking at the heels. Taido roped them up to hold them together. (Note to self: Don’t by Dunham boots again.)
We were really beginning to slow when Taido said we could stop for lunch after we reached our first river crossing. Always reading the TOPO maps, he knew that we would soon reach a spot where we had a fairly significant crossing and that after we reached it, the trail was going to get pretty steep.
Taido once almost drowned on a Colorado river crossing, so I tend to get a little nervous about freezing cold rushing water. I was trying to remain calm as we got closer. We could hear the water before we saw it.
It’s so hard to tell in pictures how fast the water is going, but it looked and felt like it could easily sweep me away on a normal day, but today I was extra tired and my pack was burrowing into my shoulders, making little bruises on my collarbones, so it seemed like it wouldn’t take much to knock me over.
We all put on our sandals and tied our boots onto our packs.
I watched Taido cross first, using his trekking poles to make sturdy steps in the current. Then he dropped his pack and came back across for Simon. After Simon was safely on the other side, the rest of us crossed with Taido or Bobby in the water steadying us with their hands. They had to get out after every person to let their feet thaw.
Being tired makes me emotional anyway and watching Simon hang on to Taido’s neck sort of undid me. When it was my turn to cross, I gritted my teeth and went as quickly as I could, but then I kind of fell apart when I stepped out. It was soooooo cold. I know it sounds dramatic, but I really felt like my feet were never going to get warm. I was just sort of paralyzed once I got over to the other side and then I was super teary watching everyone else cross. Bobby carried Rhonda’s pack over for her, and then he went back to help her cross.
They were the last ones over. Even though there was only steep rocky trail after we crossed, we all found places to sit down, so Taido went ahead and pulled out lunch. We had bagels and peanut butter, Pringles and M&Ms. It was a relief just to sit, even though we were all perched awkwardly on rocks.
We needed a minute to recover, and we were trying not to think about how much the trail in front of us seemed to be going up, up, up.
So after we ate and pumped water back into all our water bottles, up we went.
It was slow going from the beginning. Normally when hiking, we start early enough to be at our next spot by 1 or 2 in the afternoon, but since we’d gotten a late start we were having to hike a bit later. It was hot in the sun, and we were having more trouble breathing. I started in pretty quickly on counting steps to get up the steep parts. Counting about 25 steps and resting for 5 breaths. I’ve mentioned before that this is how you get up a mountain when the altitude is too much.
I told Rhonda to stay with me and I would count out our steps. She was not buying into the five second standing stop. But I had a little Simon, Mary Polly, Blair and Ben parade behind me keeping my exact pace, marching out 25 steps at a time.
Mary Polly’s boot situation kept getting worse and worse. One of her soles came off completely and she was carrying it and hiking lopsided.
Simon kept stopping and crying. His backpack was a little too big and the irritation of it flopping on his back was bothering him more than the weight of it.
Mary Polly was fed up with her boots, Simon was fed up with his pack, and Rhonda was fed up with going uphill.
When Bobby told her she was too far from the van to turn back now, she said that she guessed she was just going to have to die in the mountains.
Good thing it is so pretty here. It’s a good place to die.
She was dead serious.
Bobby and Bailey (her husband and son) stayed right with her, encouraging her and standing her back on her feet each time she stopped to rest.
It was a loooong afternoon. When we were getting close to another river crossing, Taido said to start looking for places to camp. Pretty soon we found what might have been my favorite spot we camped. We had just come through a field of fallen trees, so the view was clear to the mountains. The trees were all bent over from (we think) an avalanche and it was just sort of an amazing natural phenomenon to see. New trees were growing amidst the graveyard of fallen trees. The trail had been re-routed around some of the bent limbs.
Once we pulled off the trail and collapsed on the ground to rest, we saw Bailey coming through the trees with an extra backpack. This was so sweet to me. How many times have I needed a little help with my load for that last half mile?
And soon enough, relieved from her pack, Rhonda came walking in to the campsite, followed by Bobby. The kids all started setting up their hammocks and Bobby started on their tent. Rhonda immediately got into it and went to sleep. She couldn’t wait to try out her mat once it was really inflated! Plus she was wiped out. We all were. It had been a long uphill afternoon and everyone wanted to just put their feet up.
We set the tarp up and enjoyed an afternoon of sleepy card games and reading. Mary Polly and I put our Thermarests into some handy dandy chair kits and sat in the shade to cool down and finish off the M&Ms.
It was lovely to not be rushed to fix dinner and to enjoy the afternoon.
Taido had grilled, sliced and frozen the chicken that we were carrying, so we just wrapped it in tortillas with beans and cheese and warmed them in the skillet for dinner. Rhonda got back up for dinner and we all ate A LOT.
We played a couple rounds of Killer and shared our highs and lows from the day (found my phone, my boots fell apart, my son carrying my pack…) before Rhonda went back to bed, and then Simon fell asleep in the middle of the tarp.
We were cleaning up camp and talking when Taido told us that we needed to start really early the next day because it was going be a long one.
Longer than today? I thought.
We have to gain twice as much elevation tomorrow as we did today in order to reach the pass. And I’d like to be over the pass by lunchtime.
Then he told us he wanted Rhonda’s pack to be practically empty and that Simon wasn’t going to carry his at all.
Also, we were going to start the day with a river crossing.
Thinking about getting into the freezing cold water first thing in the morning made me shiver in my sleeping bag. So I tried not to think about it. The stars were incredible that night. I was marveling up at the gazillions of bright little lights and thanking God for every mile hiked and every flower seen.
When I thought about how much we’d seen already in just two days, I could hardly take it in.