Rocky Mountain High

Throwback Thursday: Back in 2018 my wife and I went to Colorado and we got high. Probably not the high you are thinking? After 4 days of hiking the CDT trail we took a detour to summit Mount Massive (14,421′). This is the second highest peak in Colorado and the highest elevation I had ever climbed.

One of the highlights of my year is our annual hiking trip to Colorado. I love mountains and I love my wife, combine these two ingredients and I am really enjoying life… Thankfully, my beautiful wife loves hiking too.

Day 1 – Searle Pass (12,000′ elevation)

Overview: Hiking in July we planned to hike 50.5 miles (7,900′ total elevation gain) over 4 days as we traveled from Copper Mountain to the Mount Massive trailhead. We allowed for an additional 5th day if needed, and we had an alternate opportunity to summit Mount Massive (another 8 miles and 3,600′ elevation gain) if we could manage a pace of 15+ miles per day for the first three. To add to the complexity, we would spend almost the entire time above 10,000′ elevation, which is quite a bit different than the 686′ elevation of our home in Wisconsin.

Logistics: The hardest part of section hiking the CDT is coordinating transportation. This year we planned to park our van at the finish and utilize Jake’s Mountain Shuttle to transport us from the parking lot at Mount Massive trailhead to the start of the trail at Copper Mountain. We had to pay a little extra, but we convinced them to pick us up at 6:30am, which allowed us to get to the start at about 7:45am.

Our 2002 Honda Odyssey and ULA Ohm 2.0 backpacks at the start

Our Equipment: see separate post “our 2018 gear list” for what we packed for this trip.

  • Doug’s gear = 16lbs, 7oz Base Weight: and fully loaded on day one was 27lbs, 3oz
  • Ginger’s gear = 13lbs, 2oz Base Weight; and fully loaded on day one was 22lbs, 6 oz

The Hike: The hike from Copper Mountain to Searle Pass was one of our favorite sections. As we approached the pass we spotted Janet’s Cabin, one of four backcountry huts in Summit County, Colorado. We were not aware of this cabin, and we were extremely surprised to find it so far away from any roads (closest access road is 5.4 miles). The area around this Cabin is beautiful, and I can see us hiking (or biking) up to this cabin and spending a day or two sometime.

Day two we passed through a section of the training grounds of the Legendary 10th Mountain Division, which was announced to us by a sign to stay on the trail and be cautious of live munitions. A few miles later we reached the remains of Camp Hale, and the impressive row of concrete bunkers that remain from the training of American ski troops who eventually broke through German lines high in the Italian mountains and freed northern Italy. Another amazing site that we did not know about prior to arriving at.

Night two we found an amazing site to pitch our tent near a small lake in the shadows of Galena Mountain. We arrived early enough to set up camp and enjoy dinner before the sun began setting.

Sunset night two.
After our tent was set up I hiked around the lake to take this picture of the lake with our camp and Ginger across the water (in the center) and Galena Mountain in the background.

Day three would lead us around Turquoise Lake outside of Leadville, Colorado and the continuation of some great trails and beautiful scenery. Later that night we shared a nice camp area with two cool ladies, Cynthia and Paula, sisters out hiking together. Given our pace we were all set to summit Mount Massive on Day four… We even convinced the sisters to give it a try!

Day four we woke up early, about 5am to the distinct smell of smoke (later we would learn that it was from forest fire on the other side of Aspen, and the change of wind would bring a thick cloud around where we camped). Being awake we broke camp and got on the trail around 5:30am and began the hike to the side trail for Mount Massive. Here we stored some of the bulky equipment (tent, and sleeping gear) that we would not need for the summit attempt and began the slow climb up the mountain. By 7am we were above the tree line and could see the peak in the distance (still far away). Hours later we would be above 14,000′ elevation and the trail would turn to large rocks and scree (loose rocks). At 11:40 we reached 14,200′ and Ginger determined the trail was too much for her to attempt. I tried to comfort her and convince her she could reach the top, but in the end I respected her for making it so close to the top and for having the courage to listen to her gut. She would wait for me and 30 minutes later I would make it to the summit (14,421′) and celebrate alone (well except for the dozen or so others that had reached the peak before me and were enjoying the views and splendor of the second highest peak in Colorado).

After 20 minutes of enjoying the accomplishment I would begin the trek back down, which in my opinion is harder on your legs than the trip up. We managed to reach our waiting van at 5:30pm and shared a cold Coca-Cola. What a day, what a week, what a trip with my favorite person.

after four long days, a cold soda is AMAZING! So glad to share with my best friend…

Conclusion: We went to Colorado and got high. In fact I got slightly higher than Ginger, but we both enjoyed it. We met a ton of cool people along the way, and we are still in contact with some of them! About an hour after we got to our van an older retired couple we met on day one stopped and chatted with us. They were in their 60’s and were putting in about 12 miles a day, hiking the entire Colorado Trail. We offered them a cold soda and they happily accepted and spent some time sharing their story. WOW, they were so sweet and inspiring… I sure hope that Ginger and I can do something like that in our retirement.

Happy Trails,

Doug and Ginger

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