After our back to back 30s to get to Breckenridge and with ominous clouds looming in the sky, we made the easy decision to take our first zero since Chama. We had a perfect day off that mostly consisted of lounging around while keeping dry from the rain and even got to grab beers with our friend Ella we met at Togwotee Mountain Lodge. We resupplied for a five day stretch to get us to Grand Lake over 130 miles north. Our next resupply was already heading to the Grand Lake post office which closed Friday at 4 and didn’t open until Monday morning giving us 5 days to complete the stretch.
We left early Monday morning with clear skies grateful for the free bus that took us back to the trailhead. That evening, we split off from the Colorado Trail and continued north on the CDT while the CT headed east towards Denver. As soon as the trails split, the CDT resumed its guessing game for navigation and inconsistent grade. We tore up a mountain and were up on a ridge for the night.
The next day, we had a few miles to walk to the trailhead to begin the ascent up over 14,000 feet to the summit of Gray’s Peak. We assumed we would begin the climb in the morning with hopes of being at the summit around noon. Those few miles proved far more difficult than anticipated as we hiked on a knife edge, sheer dropoffs on both sides. It was already passed noon when we finished this rough section and clouds continued to come and go in the sky. We knew summit attempts should be made in the morning as unexpected weather can arrive in the afternoon. With safety in mind, we made the decision to skip Gray’s and walk the highway around the mountain. This very long day came to an end at the I-70 where we picked the CDT back up and setup camp not caring about the cars within ear shot.
In the morning, we were unsurprised to begin a few thousand feet of climbing over the mountains, pass after pass. We reached another ridge, another knife edge where the wind harassed us until we started a descent. The next day followed in a similar fashion – so. much. climbing. – rewarding us with unparalleled views for all of our hard work. Part of me knew that this beautiful section was coming to an end, and to a degree, I was ready to escape this tiresome routine.
Thursday really tried my patience as we awoke to wind berating our tent at 5:00 am. We broke down camp and were on our way. It wasn’t long before we were climbing again, totally exposed, the cold wind completely relentless. Frustrating hours and miles passed with the same wind cutting through me the entire way.
We finally retreated under treeline late that afternoon overjoyed with the trail as it meandered gently through the forest. On a break, we met fellow hiker, Foundation, who had just returned to the trail from a side trip to the festival Sonic Bloom. That night, we told him we were on a mad dash to town the next day in order to arrive before the post office closed. The three of us broke camp quickly the next morning and began our 21 mile hike into Grand Lake.
We happily flew down the trail, stopping for very little. The entire 21 miles was gently sloping downward winding through the woods. I was elated! We made it to Grand Lake before 2:00 happy to have completed our challenge. We began our necessary town chores, stopped for beers, and got cozy at the Shadow Cliff Hostel for the night. I was so impressed with this beautiful hostel, all wood interior, large comfy lounge areas, and a gorgeous view of the lake all just off the trail and right outside Rocky Mountain National Park.
Morning came early, and after downing cup after cup of coffee, the three of us resumed hiking. We skirted through Rocky Mountain NP spotting 14 moose over the course of three days. We left Grand Lake with about 80 miles to the final town stop in Colorado at Steamboat Springs.
Thankfully we weren’t in any time constraints, but we still put in three good days to get there. The trail continued to climb up mountains but with a softer approach. We could tell this chapter was coming to a close.
Monday morning we had 25 miles left to walk to the highway where we would hitch into Steamboat, the final 12 miles down a different paved highway. We stopped for very little and pounded pavement for hours before arriving at the spot to hitch. We were very proud to have finished 25 miles by 2:00 pm and stuck our eager thumbs out for a ride. Within minutes, we were in a truck on our way to town. Our driver dropped us off at a Qdoba where we inhaled burritos and made plans for the night. We relished in town and prepared for a long 150 mile stretch to Rawlins, WY.
With our packs full to the brim, we left Steamboat and headed back to the trail with a generous ride from an AT section hiker. Through this stretch, we pushed 28-32 miles per day noting the changing terrain as the mountains began to roll, the sand became more abundant, and the vegetation started to remind us of New Mexico. After a few days of walking, we hit the Colorado / Wyoming border bringing this chapter to an official close.
We still had about 100 miles of walking to do before we hit the I-80 and the town of Rawlins, WY. We were about 40 miles away from town when we hit a gravel road, and the rain started falling from the sky. We were entirely exposed as the wind and rain whipped around us causing us to walk that much faster. We didn’t stop for anything until the rain subsided, and we sat in a ditch to eat lunch. Gratefully, the sun emerged and we continued our walk dry.
We were less than 15 miles from town and about to make camp when a couple in a truck stopped to chat. They were quick to offer beers and whiskey which we gratefully accepted in a dream like state. After our roadside chat, we strolled down the road just a little further and pitched our tents.
The following morning, we had just a few hours of walking to our first town stop in Wyoming. We made it before 10:00 a.m. and were stoked to get a super early check in after this long stretch from Steamboat. We are thrilled to have New Mexico and Colorado complete and are so excited to see what the rest of this beautiful and challenging trail has in store for us.