Steamboat Springs, CO – Encampment, WY

July 8:Miles hiked – 11.1

Total CDT miles hiked – 677.6

Today was the day. I woke up early to hit the post office and take care of a few other chores before heading back on trail. I got a ride from the first car that passed me and just like that I was headed back to the divide at Rabbit Ears Pass. It had been a beautiful morning down in town, but as we headed deeper into the mountains, the clouds turned black just as I we reached the pass, a warm welcoming from the CDT. I say goodbye to my ride and hike down an old gravel road while thunder rumbles above me. Rain starts and after about half a mile I see a good spot in the woods with water to wait this out, hoping it will pass quick. The trail is about to head up to eleven thousand feet and I’d rather avoid being in an area like that during a storm, especially on my first day back.

I’ve been cowboy camping so setting up my tent takes too long but eventually I’m inside, as safe as I can be from the storm. It really doesn’t seem too bad but I have no clue what to expect from the weather here, so I’ll observe it for now until I can read it better. The CDT is still scary.

The storm passes around 2:30, leaving behind a beautiful blue sky for me to hike on in. The trail passes through forests of evergreens with a lush green understory filled with wildflowers. I pass in and out of many meadows, eventually skirting the edge of a lake on great trail. I’m so happy to be back, the miles fly by and before long I find a sign directing me through a campground for some trail magic! A cold beer and good company. I dry my tent out here before heading on a few more in the afternoon sun. Not far along I run into a bunch of people staring off into the distance taking pictures, a female moose with her newborn! It’s my first moose sighting, I really want to see a male with antlers now! I watch them for a while as they graze in the meadow and leave thoroughly satisfied with my first day back. I set up camp near a lake, soon joined by a fellow AT15’/PCT16’er named Attrition. We eat dinner around the fire and watch the mist lurk above the water as the full moon rises. 

I made the right decision.
High of the day – the fact that my first day back had so many highs that it’s hard to pick one
Low of the day – driving up to the trail as a storm came in and feeling the fear all over again
July 9:

Miles hiked – 29

Total CDT miles hiked – 706.6
Everything is soaked from condensation when I wake up but I still manage an early enough start, around 6:15, in hopes of getting some miles in before the afternoon thunderstorms. The sky is completely clear in the morning sun as I continue to hike through expansive rolling meadows. Wildlife is plentiful here, within two miles I see an elk with a huge rack on his head and then not even half a mile down the trail either a coyote or grey fox running across the opposite side of the clearing. Another mile more elk grazing in the forest as I hike by. I stop in a sunny spot five miles in to dry everything out but the mosquitos are horrendous so I spend no longer than necessary. My pack feels heavy today and I’m hiking pretty much all uphill so the miles seem slow but by ten I’ve put in eleven and by noon fifteen.

I’m above 11 thousand feet at this point and while clouds are rolling in I’ve heard no thunder so I’m left with an interestin dilemma of whether to push on and hope for the best or hunker down and see what happens. I decide to go for it, soon reaching the divide where I walk for miles above treeline. It’s absolutely amazing and gives me a taste of what I missed in Colorado. As enjoyable as it is though, the sky is getting darker. Eventually I found a corner and a bolt of lightning strikes right in front of me, followed by a booming roar of thunder. Time to get down, now! I say screw the trail and run down the side of the mountain to find a spot to hide. Lightning strikes all around me but eventually I find some trees and set up much faster than I had yesterday. The CDT is an adventure all right!

Just when I think it’s over and I have my tent packed up, another loud boom in the sky. I get set up again just in time for a violent hailstorm at nearly twelve thousand feet. Each drop is the size of a marble, it comes down for about fifteen minutes before stopping. The sun comes out for a brief moment in which time I dry my tent and pack it up again, only to have the exact same thing happen a second time. I’m trapped on the ridge, and all I want is to get down on the other side.

At the next break I pack up quickly and hike hard up to the ridge. It’s nice directly above me but there are still dark clouds beyond as well as a low rumbling thunder. The climb is steep and rugged but I make it to the top and across to the other side unscathed. Ahead of me I can see a hiker descending and pick my pace up to find its Attrition who passes me when I was off trail. Happy to be in close proximity to another person, I follow the trail downhill losing over 3000 feet before we make camp deep in the valley at a trailhead. This is the longest day I’ve done in a while, so after dinner I head into my tent to lay down and rest. Hopefully another early morning tomorrow, and I’ll be hiking laying it safe when it comes to the storms!
High of the day – breaking treeline for the first time on the CDT 
Low of the day – being trapped on the ridge for hours
July 10:

Miles hiked – 28.5

Total CDT miles hiked – 735.5
I’m packing up a wet tent again around six this morning under already cloudy skies. Luckily the dark spots are heading the opposite way that I am with blue ahead. I get a short rainbow as I head up onto a ridge and think to myself that rainbows always mean the storm is over. I remember thinking the same thing in Washington last year, but can’t recall if it came true or not.

I descend the ridge onto a road where I see two moose who run away from me. What’s the plural for moose? Is it just moose? Meece? Mice? I get soaked when the trail cuts cross country though a meadow soaked in dew where I see two tents set up and wonder who it could be. The miles are going quickly today, before I know it I’m halfway up to the high ridge for today which is only at ten thousand feet. There are lots of clouds in the sky but plenty of sunshine so I continue heading up steeply to the top knowing there will still be trees if I need to bail out. It stays beautiful for me as I make it to the top and walk up high for a while before making my way down an ATV track where I almost get run over by a four wheeler. 

Its around 1:30 now and still sunny enough but I see dark clouds heading towards the ridge so I sit down for lunch in a potential campsite with my tent at the ready just in case. Thunder rumbles but by three nothing has happened so I pack up and move on. It’s not long before a light rain starts which feels great in the afternoon heat. 

I hike on through a rollercoaster of trail before reaching the Wyoming Border. I’m happy to be at the beginning of a new state, it feels like this is really where I’m picking the trail back up again. I’ve hiked twenty five miles which has me beat so I set my tent up but then realize it’s only six so decide to just eat dinner and hike on. Attrition and Spindrift, who came in late last night, catch up to me here and we hike the first few miles of Wyoming together which are covered in blowdowns. The forest is beautiful here though, after a few miles we break out of it into a meadow where I leave them to get a few more miles in. I catch up to Jeremy and set up with him, the last person I camped with the night before I got off trail in Chama. 

Less than twenty miles to the town of Encampment! First section back on the CDT was a success!
High of the day – no scary storms!
Low of the day – getting soaked this morning in the meadow
July 11:

Miles hiked – 17.7

Total CDT miles hiked – 754.2
I wanted to get out of camp before six this morning but when I woke up I was still sleepy so I let myself sleep for another hour before picking up my tent which was only slightly damp this morning. The climb ahead is short but steep, at the top I walk along a jeep road with the morning light shining on a lake below. After staying up high for about a mile I descend straight down through the forest just as steep as the AT would and then continue on a roller coaster before reaching the base of the main climb for the day where I stop for breakfast, a honey bun slathered in Nutella. 

From here the trail stops being a trail, I follow wooden posts up a grassy hillside to the top of a ridge where I walk cross country for miles. Hiking without a trail is powerful in places like this, the feeling of forging your own path is indescribable. The CDT really is like one of those choose your own adventure books, and throughout it all that’s one of the things I really love about this trail. 

The miles go quickly, before I know it I’m descending into expansive grassy meadows with dark clouds looming above. The meadows continue all the way through the valley, beautiful but also muddy! At one point I take a step only to sink in all the way to my knee. After seventeen miles I reach the road that will take me to Encampment and a car pulls over before I can even stick my thumb out. There’s not much here, just a campground, a convenience store, and a restaurant that’s closed but it’s somewhere to wash the mud off my legs and take shelter during the afternoon storms. Couldn’t be happier with how my first section back went.
High of the day – feeling like a boss walking cross country
Low of the day – the restaurant being closed in town after looking forward to a peanut butter bacon cheeseburger

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