Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pearl Peak and Lodge Loafing

Colorado Hut-to-Hut Adventure – Day 3 – 9/10/12 – Pearl Peak – 5 Miles

I woke to a pink sunrise over a mountain panorama…and a headache.  I had left all of my ibuprofen in the rental car so I relied on the kindness of Mike and Cathy to keep me medicated (therefore quiet).  The best medicine, though, was being upright and active.  We enjoyed a leisurely morning with a cup of hot tea as we watched Jeff gear up for a solo peak-bagging day.  He had an agenda longer than my arm and the face of a five-year-old at 5:00 a.m. on Christmas morning.  Enough metaphors!  Jeff was looking forward to the day.

Along with preparing and eating food at the huts comes cleanup, heating water for dishwashing and then storing food and trash.  After all, we didn’t know who else would come along to join us and we didn’t want to be sloppy guests.  By 8:30 a.m. Cathy, Mike and I set out to explore our new world.  The temperature was a comfortable 46 degrees.  

First we back-tracked down our little old jeep road that seemed so insurmountable yesterday and continued past where we had joined it from the winter ski trail.  After a half mile through the trees we took a left turn, joined an ATV track, sloped back up above a tree line and then…let’s go straight up this hill.  Mike was not giving many directions and I was dropping mental white stones a la Hansel and Gretel so I could turn around at any point I chose.  

I walked up this hill like a glacier going backwards and waited for Mike.  Of course, at the top of it was the next hill. 

Looking back at Jackal Hut – see the “bald spot” on the tree- covered mountain in the middle ground?  See the tiny trace of a trail?  That’s our jeep road.

Cathy heading for a better view

Mike – the mountains behind him are farther away than they appear

And so it went - at the top of the next hill was another hill and then another.  Mike was new to this section, as well as Cathy and I, so we were all guesstimating distances and elevation gains from the NatGeo map.  All I knew was that I still had trouble breathing and lifting my elephant legs.  Even my arms felt heavy.  Perhaps there was one degree difference in how I felt yesterday, but I wasn’t confident of my hiking abilities today.

And how do I balance my “need to know” with rambling exploration?  This is my constant struggle.  At least here we were above tree line and I could reconcile the map with the landscape.  And what we were actually doing slogging up all those hills was climbing Pearl Peak (12,147 feet). 

Pearl Peak

At the summit we stopped for a good rest and a snack.  The wind was brisk and we put back on the layers we had removed, plus gloves.  Mike pointed out where he wanted to go next, over the summits of Elk Mountain and Sugarloaf Peaks (and back to Corbett Peak?).  I decided that my turnaround point was now.  It was a beautiful spot, I was feeling very good, I knew the way back to Jackal Hut, and it just felt right.  I am known for taking a “timeout alone” or “town” day on these week-long trips and I guess this was going to be my town day.

I hung out for a long while watching Mike and Cathy’s progress to Elk Mountain

Then I looked around and tried to match up what I was seeing with the map.  I think this is North Sheep Mountain. (Jeff, please let me know corrections.)

Looking at Corbett Peak

Elk Mountain

Sugarloaf Mountain is the peak in the center background

Just hangin' out

After an hour or so I began to make my way back down Pearl Peak, zig-zagging off trail to avoid the steepest parts and the loose pebbles.  Back below the tree line I stopped to eat an apple and just enjoy the solitude.  Waves of peace and contentment washed over me just like in the woods back home. 

Always something interesting to ponder.  What split this tree apart?

That last half-mile climb on the jeep road to Jackal Hut was still exhausting.  I was really ready to put my feet up and play lodge loafer.  At first I couldn’t figure out the combination lock on the front door and was resigning myself to sitting outside for a few hours (no problem, I had food, water, sunshine), but I finally jiggled the lock the right way and it popped open.

The 10th Mountain huts are equipped not only with pots, pans and bedding, but also with games, puzzles, books and magazines.  The books tend towards skiing and hiking trails and history of the area, fascinating reading (no, really!).  I had my own books, too, and I lounged around reading until I fell asleep.  How decadent!  How luxurious! 

A few hours later, Cathy and Mike returned.  Hearing their stories was affirmation that their adventures went farther than I would have been agreeable to go, so turning around was a good decision.  I didn’t reach as many summits as they did, but I was happy with my day.  Jeff pulled in a little while later with his own narrative.  He had seen us wandering around on the peaks but we didn’t see him.  

Another awesome sunset at Jackal Hut 

Supper was delicious and the guys cleaned up as Cathy and I sat on the window seats and read (now how many women can say that?)  Dessert this time was lemon pudding cups, one square each of dark chocolate, and a glass of wine. 

Oh, yeah, and another round of Phase 10…

“Now he walks in quiet solitude
The forests and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes…”
~ John Denver

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cathy: "This Place Is Off the Chain Incredible"

Colorado Hut-to-Hut Adventure – Day 2 – 9/9/12 – Jackal Hut – 5 Miles?

Between tossing and turning and getting up to visit the privy, my headache abated sometime during the night.  I was thankful to be in a room by myself and not disturbing others with my restlessness, and even more grateful not to be unzipping and zipping a tent door.  I was up by 7:00 a.m., feeling 98% better, although my puffy face was a little disturbing.  I was ready for some food.  First:  my cheesecake from last night. 

Since I missed the fun earlier, it was my turn to wash dishes with the 3-step technique I was familiar with camping with Girl Scouts – wash with soapy water, rinse in warm clear water and dunk in cold water treated with a little bleach.  We swept up the cabin and carried out all our trash – this makes you very aware of leftover food. 

We hiked back out the .8 miles to Mike’s van.  I was still not ready to run, with heavy legs and still labored breathing.  Acclimation takes a few days.  And a tough climb to our next hut was coming up.

We stopped at a vacant campsite at Camp Hale (now a state historic site) and repacked for our next two days and nights.  We divided up some of the fresh food that Mike planned for our suppers and hit the trail.

Jeff is ready

A gentle climb?

Our hike began on the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, which run concurrently through central Colorado.  Our first mile would be considered moderate back home, but it was strenuous at this elevation above 10,000 feet.  Everyone was going slow and breathing was a whole new concept reminiscent of summiting Mount Whitney last year.  The great news was that it seemed to be peak week for the aspens changing to their signature fall yellow, so there were millions of excuses to stop to take a breath and a photograph.

Aspen tunnel

Moon shot

Yellow aspens and sunbeams

One perfect little cloud

After a mile or two, Mike turned us off of the CDT onto a cross-country ski trail, known in the summertime as a mile-long nonexistent trail or, as he put it , “an hour of excruciating pain or an hour-and-a-half of just pure hell.”  We all focused and walked extremely slowly, step by step, and it was actually over sooner than he had led us to expect. 

And we had this so-awesome-it-might-be-a-fake-backdrop view for our lunch break.

Climbing higher still

Our last 300-foot climb on an old jeep road – this looks simple but it didn’t feel like it

Our first view of Jackal Hut - 11,670 feet elevation – WOW

Before we took off our boots, Mike told us with a grin that the “hut fairy” had also been to Jackal Hut.  He led us a few hundred yards to a stand of trees where he had cached eight (yes, eight) gallons of water.  You see, Jackal Hut dwellers use only snow melt in the winter and the closest semi-reliable summer water source is two miles down a dirt road.  Like the other huts, it has a cistern to collect rain water, but at this time of year we couldn’t count on it to have a sufficient supply for us and anybody else coming along.  As we each carried two heavy gallons back to Jackal Hut (remember, just a few hundred yards) I marveled to myself that Mike had spent an entire day hauling these jugs in two trips, four at a time, up several miles from the parking area.  Was I going to complain about carrying a little bit of food?  Not on your life.

AND…the “hut fairy” had also brought up some wine. 

Let’s walk around outside a little bit.    Front view, privy on the left

View from the privy

Privy up close

On the front deck

Fire ring in the front yard

Another view from the front deck – Jeff is going exploring

Come on in!

Jackal Hut is much larger than Continental Divide Cabin.  The main floor is a huge open space with very wide seats along all the windows and a wood-burning stove.  The eating area has two picnic-style tables with benches.  The kitchen portion is U-shaped with two propane stovetops, two sinks with hand pumps, another wood-burning stove for cooking, and open shelving for all the dishes, glasses, mugs, pots and pans.  Large crocks and mugs on the countertops hold eating and cooking utensils.  There are even oven mitts.  

Looking at the kitchen from the dining area

Living area with wood stove

Outside the back door is a covered porch attached to a storage room for cold food storage (cold in winter, that is) and a shed full of split wood.  From there a wooden walkway leads to the nicest privies I have ever seen. 

Upstairs (sorry, I never took photos of upstairs) is a main bunk area with a couple of double wide beds and four singles and a room off to each side with either four or six beds.  I was expecting squeaky bunk beds with lumpy mattresses, but all the beds were at one level, not stacked, with very thick foam mattresses that were way comfortable.  Cathy and I claimed spaces in the main area and spread out.  We looked at each other in amazement and Cathy said, “We sure picked the right trip to go on!”  We thought that 10 people were scheduled to join us that night but nobody showed up.  Imagine, a lodge equipped for 16 people and just the 4 of us in it!  Heaven!

After marveling at our great good fortune, we settled on the front deck to enjoy the strong sun and the panoramic view.  I was very tired and soon migrated back inside to the window seats, where I laid down for a little nap amongst the cushions.  The altitude was still playing with my head, though, causing a headache when I laid there too long, and I found that I was much better when I stayed upright and moving around.  This would be the case for at least five days.

We prepared a sumptuous meal (chicken, pasta, sauce, salad, and chocolate pudding cups for dessert) and ate while looking out at the great big wide world.  Our supper was interrupted to capture the sunset -  not a problem at all.

After supper and cleanup, Cathy introduced us to the card game called Phase 10, which we played halfway through before crying “uncle” and heading for sleep.  On my last visit to the privy before bedtime, I stood on the walkway and traced the Milky Way arcing over Jackal Hut.  When was the last time you saw the Milky Way?

I slept by the big front window, looking at all those stars. 

The Colorado Rocky Mountain High
I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight
Is softer than a lullaby
Rocky Mountain High…”  ~John Denver

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hello Colorado!

Colorado Hut-to-Hut Adventure – Day 1 – 9/8/12 – Continental Divide Cabin – 1 mile

I’m following my friends on a nearly flat trail less than a mile long to a log cabin.  My head is pounding, my breathing is difficult and my legs feel like lead.  How did this happen?

Background:  One of my Berg friends, Mike, has mentioned several times the awesomeness of an area in the Colorado Rocky Mountains called the 10th Mountain Division Huts, a collection of lodges used primarily by cross-country skiers in winter but also available to hikers.  His enthusiasm for the region and his willingness to make plans resulted in four of us – Mike, Cathy, Jeff and me – meeting in Leadville, Colorado one sunny Saturday afternoon to embark on yet another epic adventure. 

(The 10th Mountain name honors the men of 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army, who trained during World War II at Camp Hale in central Colorado.  Read about the hut system here and more about the 10th Mountain Division history here.  If you want to really get into it, an internet search will keep you immersed for a long time.)

Cathy, Jeff and I flew into Denver, CO and drove to Leadville where we met up with Mike, who was already bouncing around out west on a months-long adventure.  Mike could hardly contain his glee at what he had in store for us.  Over lunch at the local Subway he outlined the scheme:  buy groceries based on a 2-night and a 4-night segment, individual breakfasts/lunches/snacks and group suppers involving real food, not dehydrated (I believe Team A and Team B for cooking was mentioned).  Since we were not burdened with tents and sleeping pads and stoves and fuel, we could carry luxury food.  I was not sure I was on board with this – I preferred the idea of less weight rather than similar weight with different stuff.  But Mike was the man with the plan and it was best to follow along.  After shopping and organizing for the different segments, we would head out to our first hut.  What about our food for tonight’s supper and breakfast?  Ah, said Mike mysteriously…the “hut fairy” has taken care of that.  

At the grocery store I tried to keep my head on straight to make food decisions for the next 7 days.  We wouldn’t be near civilization again, so I’d better get it right.  As usual, I ended up over-buying.  Have I ever starved on a backpacking trip?  No.  Have I ever carried too much?  Yes.

At a trailhead parking lot we spread our stuff out all over creation in an attempt to organize and I managed to sort all my gear and clothing for the 7 days/nights.  Too overwhelming to figure out food yet, so I threw a few snacks in my backpack and hoped for the best for Day 1.  As Cathy and I tossed stuff around, Mike and Jeff left to place our rental car at the end of our last hike next Saturday.  From now on we would be four Musketeers in Mike’s home-on-the-range van. 

Cathy’s spot in the back of Mike’s van.   My seat was in a lawn chair behind the front seats, facing sideways.  We’re driving to the Tennessee Pass on Highway 24 in between San Isabel National Forest and White River National Forest.  Let the fun begin!

And here I am on this short hike to the Continental Divide Cabin.  Oh yeah…at 10,500 feet elevation.  What is air?  Going straight from Charlotte’s elevation of 748 feet to walking at 10,500 feet was not a good idea for me. 

A swing?  Don’t get used to this, we won’t see any more of these

By the time we reached the cabin my head and my eyes were hurting, my stomach was queasy and sloshing from drinking huge quantities of water, and I was useless.  The “hut fairy” had hiked in previously with dinner provisions (including wine!)  Mike cooked chicken on the grill, Jeff boiled corn on the cob for the first time ever, Cathy tossed a salad:  a celebratory feast.  I couldn’t eat a thing, not even the cheesecake.  I wandered outside the cabin for fresh air, startling four deer that were hanging out in the yard.  Finally at 8 o’clock my friends pronounced me excused and off to bed I went.

Continental Divide Cabin is considered a “family” hut, booked for a single fee rather than a per-person-per-night fee like most of the other huts in the 10th Mountain Division system, so we had it all to ourselves.  It sleeps 8 people, 2 each in 2 small bedrooms and then 4 on bunks in the central living area.  Like all the huts, it operates on solar power for lighting (and unlike the other huts, CDC has a small refrigerator).  Here’s a quick tour.

Common room with kitchen space and a wood burning stove

Bunks in the main room

My little space where I crashed

Two-burner propane stovetop.  All pots and pans, dishes and silverware are furnished in the huts, even paper towels - nice!

In the winter hut dwellers rely on snow melt for water.  There is also a cistern and water is accessed via a hand pump.  Water treatment is recommended. 

VERY nice privy (toilet paper provided too).  I think I visited here 8 times during the night.

Walkway from the privy to the main cabin

Serious wood supply

All this wonderfulness and I couldn’t enjoy it much.  Hoping mass quantities of ibuprofen and keeping my eyes closed helps for what’s coming with the sunrise.

"When he first came to the mountains 
His life was far away
On the road and hanging by a song..." 
~John Denver