2 families, 4 days, 3 nights, 15 miles, 3,000 feet of elevation gain.
Aspen To Crested Butte: Day 3
Our early morning wake up call came in the form of a light rain shower. We popped up and scrambled to get all our packs under the tarp with us and then started to pack them.
I have this way of stuffing my sleeping bag that I’ve done since I was a little girl. I stay in my bag and use my feet to push the bottom of my bag into the stuff sack. Then I cram the bag in layers into the bag, again with my feet, while slowly sliding out if it. By the time only my legs from my knees down are still in the bag, I go ahead and come all the way out and use my hands to stuff the last couple of feet of bag in. It’s ridiculous and it only allows me to stay warm for about 30 seconds longer, but I have been coming out of my cocoon in this way since I was about 4.
Once we had our bags stuffed and pads rolled, the rain stopped. Mercifully. We then had breakfast (leftover chicken burritos from the night before and more bagels) and broke camp. We were moving by 7am, which honestly is still a little late by mountain time, but over two hours earlier than the start we’d gotten the day before, so we felt like we were getting a jump on the day.
In the cold morning air, Taido had urged us all to buck up and go ahead and dress for how warm the day would get, not for how it felt to us right then.
You’ll get warm as soon as we start walking.
I obeyed and stripped to just my walking skort and my t-shirt, cramming my layers down into the bottom of my pack.
Side note: I did not want any extra clothes weighing my pack down so I wore the same clothes for the whole hike, a Patagonia walking skirt with shorts under it that I bought three years ago at the Thrift Store Of Aspen for three dollars, and my Bean2Blog t-shirt.
I was freezing.
I pulled out my warm hat out of the top of my pack and pulled it down over my ears, wearing it under my sun hat, because surely we would soon walk into the sun.
We had not been on the trail five minutes before we came to our first river crossing of the day. The water was not rushing quite as fast as the last crossing, but it was a little deeper.
We changed out of our boots and into our sandals.
Oh, except for Ben.
He was already in his sandals because Mary Polly was wearing his boots, even though they were too big for her. This was our current solution to the small problem I like to call Boots Fell Apart. However, this arrangement created a little problem for Ben called Hiking In Wet Sandals.
However, neither of these issues were looming large on my brain since after the river crossing the one thought consuming me was,
I Cannot Get Warm.
I Am So Cold.
Again, not to sound dramatic, but after I got my boots back on and started hiking, I was shaking and wishing I had more clothes on for about two hours.
Ridiculous I know. Why did I not stop and dig out more clothing?
I don’t know. I just kept thinking I would warm up. We were hiking in the shadow of the mountain and you could see the sunlight getting closer and closer, climbing up the valley. I knew it was just about to hit me and wrap me up like a blanket. It’s my dad’s voice inside my head telling me to Just Keep Moving.
But my pack was a bit heavier on this day (only by about three pounds, but still) and we were immediately gaining more and more elevation, so I just knew I was going to be sweating any minute.
So I was focused on just keeping a slow, steady pace.
Before the day started, Rhonda and I had a little Come To Jesus Meeting in which I begged her to believe me when I said that it’s better to not stop for long, to not sit down, but to just keep moving. (I was totally channeling my father.) I don’t know if she believed me or if she was just unburdened by carrying an almost empty backpack, but she was having a much better day.
And everyone else was grateful we were not under the sun’s heavy heat yet. Simon, now that his pack was strapped with rope onto his brother’s load, was practically running up the trail. I kept having to call him back to me.
So between Rhonda, Simon and me, I have to admit that I was definitely the one struggling on Day 3.
We moved slowly through the morning in increments of twenty steps. When I stopped for five to breathe, I would exhale Lord, give me twenty more.
Up, up, up we went. Above the thinning trees. Through more rivers. Blair fell onto her side in one and got soaked. Sometimes, part of the group would try to jump or stone step instead of stopping to switch shoes, so several were hiking in wet shoes.
Mercifully, you dry quickly in the moisture deficient Colorado air.
We had a Packs Off break after our third river crossing. The sun had finally found us and I was basking in it, letting its heat smooth away all my goose bumps. Some of us were wet and all of us were tired. Taido said we had done about a third of the elevation gain we needed to reach the pass.
We shared trail mix. Bobby and Mary Polly filled our water bottles. Bailey took pictures of the waterfall just above the river crossing. I just rested.
It was hard to get going again, but we stayed all together, slowly moving forward. We saw our first bits of snow along the trail.
We crossed over small patches near the tree line and around boulder fields.
I always am awash with wonder when I get above tree line.
To climb this high is to see the world anew.
It’s like The Sound Of Music scenery all around. These great grassy fields and 360 degree views of the world that are just unbelievable. I was still in a labor march to get up the switchbacks, but I was teary at the beauty.
Steeper and steeper, our trail was cut into the side of the mountain. I hugged the mountain side of the trail, feeling like I was a bit too shaky to be near the edge. Simon and Ben were motoring on up in front up me and I whispered prayers for steady footing.
We could now see the pass. It still felt far away, but we were gaining on it. We were going to make it by noon. Maybe. And then we would have lunch. I just looked forward to sitting down.
To taking off my pack. My head was all filled with scattered soundbytes.
Twenty steps. Breathe five. Twenty steps. Breathe five. Further up and further in.
This is what heaven will look like. Only I will be able to breathe. And run. Oh, and FLY.
Taido could see a larger snow field ahead and called out to Ben and Simon to stop. And to wait. They were perched on rocks above the trail when we got to them.
Taido, Bobby and Bailey examined the 50 foot pitch of snow we needed to cross. The actual snow was not as scary as the 70 foot slide straight down that you would take if you were to lose your footing on the snow.
And honestly, not even the chance of falling was making me want to cry. It was the thought of having to climb all that way back up if I slipped and fell that made me want to burst into tears. Or what if someone else slipped, and we had to go down and help them. And then climb back up.
We were within shooting distance of getting over the pass. And that’s what I wanted. To Get Over That Pass.
While I was fretting, Taido was making his way across. He roped himself to Cole and Bailey, who stationed themselves up against the rocks, sitting down with their feet leveraged against rocks in front of them.
I had not had my phone out all day (Thank you Bailey for all the pictures for this story!), but I pulled it out and videoed the snow crossing. None of the other four hikers we saw that day were carrying rope. I so appreciate Taido’s willingness to err on the side of caution in situations like these. He’s been in some tight spots mountaineering so he’s willing to carry a few extra tools for a pinch. Also, who doesn’t want an opportunity to use an ice axe?
We all made it safely across, crossing one at a time along the rope that Taido now held secure on the other side.
Simon came with me, tied into the rope and stepping right into my footsteps. We were all following Taido’s boot marks though. He was, in every way, our trail blazer.
Once we were all across, the kids practically ran to the top of the pass. Rhonda and I came behind, reaching it at last. Overjoyed.
We made it!
We did not get our promised rest though because Taido could see clouds moving in. We snapped a few pictures and then he shooed us on.
When those clouds reach us, we don’t want to be exposed.
I was awfully disappointed that we weren’t having lunch on the pass because I was carrying three pounds of it. Taido took it from my pack and stuck it in Cole’s. A giant summer sausage that I never, ever want to see again.
The other side of the pass was almost more beautiful than the side we’d come from. Sweeping boulder fields full of switchbacks gave way to green forests and a mountain lake below.
I was super wobbly coming down. Gone was the trouble breathing and keeping pace uphill but shaky knees and ankles made me choose steps carefully and nearly stumble several times. Rhonda was having the same trouble, so the others quickly got ahead of us, freely running down the mountain in their youth, without a thought of a possible rolled ankle. They were all ecstatic to get to the gorgeous camping area below. Bobby stayed with us as we made our way down.
The clouds were getting darker all the way. As we neared the bottom, I could feel Taido’s urgency in choosing a camp spot. He and Bailey scoped one out and quickly moved us all in. It was a little bit of a climb on the other side of the lake which Rhonda was none too happy about.
And we had to cross a creek, which Rhonda fell all the way into, soaking her boots.
Still, we were practically there. Our longest day of hiking was
On arriving, however, there was no time to stop and rest. We were following Taido’s lead, scrambling to get tents and tarps up before the rain. We barely had one tent up and one tarp up before it hit.
Crazy hard rain and hail.
Under the tarp, we were all laughing. Giddy from fatigue and the unbelievable timing of getting our shelters up, we huddled together on top of our packs under the tarp. Taido was still securing it in the rain, with Bobby, Bailey and Cole helping.
The ground turned white before our eyes.
Soon we had to take turns standing up and knocking the hail out of the top of the tarp. Cole would say I never took my turn and that he did most of it. My legs were no longer working, so that might be true. Also, I was making a video.
Most afternoon mountain storms blow over quickly, so we waited an hour before we went ahead and pulled out lunch underneath the tarp. We cut absurdly large chunks of summer sausage and cheddar cheese. We passed around crackers.
Soon the hail stopped and then it was only raining. For about an hour. Then it started to hail again. We could see sunlight and blue sky in the distance. It just wasn’t reaching us.
Bobby began to be concerned that we might should get lower. Because, thunder and lightning hello! Bailey, who, let’s be honest, was not tired after the long day, said that we should just hike the four miles down that were left. Because there was a hot shower waiting below.
But in addition to the fact that Rhonda and I would never have made it (she was already asleep in the tent at this point), we were under shelter and somewhat dry at the moment. If we packed up and started moving again, we would get drenched, and pelted with hail.
Taido kept saying he thought it was about to blow over. I made pouty faces and asked him why he didn’t bring more tents.
I am helpful like that in a crisis.
When the rain had turned to a light drizzle, Taido said he was going for a walk around the lake and left. You know, because we hadn’t really done much walking that day.
Bobby crawled into the tent with Rhonda and napped for a bit.
The kids spent the better part of two hours discussing which Harry Potter character they would most like to be.
I pulled every ever loving bit of clothing I had out of my pack and wrapped it around me.
Six hours and two more hail storms later, the clouds finally cleared enough for me to feel like the boys and I were not going to be huddled together all night trying to stay dry.
When Taido came back, he washed the tarps and hung them up so we would not be sleeping in mud.
And then we cooked dinner. I was not looking forward to this night’s dinner and when I describe it to you, dear reader, I am certain it will sound disgusting. But believe me when I tell you that it tasted like food from the angels.
When really it was Ramen noodles tossed with jars of pesto and canned chicken.
It turns out that being curled up in a ball trying to stay warm all afternoon makes you very hungry. And then also the food had the added advantage of being hot. I warmed my cheeks on the sides of my bowl. Taido then washed out our bowls and fixed us tea and hot chocolate in them. (Cups are for chumps.)
I can neither confirm nor deny whether there was a fire in our campsite that night, just a few feet away from the NO CAMPFIRES sign and in the middle of a fire ban. But somehow, we all got warm and dry before we climbed into our sleeping bags under a miraculously clear sky.
Stars upon stars upon stars. I fell asleep breathing huge sighs of relief.
We were on the downhill, friends. Just a few miles from the finish line.
Four to be exact.
Well, make that six or seven when you add in that one of us would get lost along the way.
Read Day 4 of this story here.