Continental Divide Trail #34: Epic Finish!

You may recall from CDT posts #3 and #4 that our son, Philip, hiked with Og for his first week of the Continental Divide Trail in April 2015 from Crazy Cook on the border of Mexico. They trudged north across the New Mexico desert in searing heat with little water and undefined trail, but had a blast, of course. As Chief Resident in Ophthalmology at USC in Los Angeles, Philip couldn’t get time off to finish with Og last August as he made it to Canada. So it’s even more meaningful that Philip was able to complete Og’s final week with him this September 2016, in the formidable Weminuche Wilderness, previously impassable with deep snow. 


The mountains of the Weminuche Wilderness are the most remote on the whole CDT, and, between 11,000 and 13,000 feet, among the highest. 


The weather window to hike the Weminuche is narrow. Last winter’s snow had finally melted, but Og and Philip had snow their first night out, then storms with heavy rain, hail, and sleet for part of most days/nights after.


They hiked more than twenty miles a day. Given the steep climbs and descents on difficult terrain, Philip, who sailed through five Ironman triathlons, said “The Weminuche is the toughest physical challenge I’ve ever faced!” 


Route-finding was especially difficult, and they got lost at least once a day. 


The views from the alpine tundra were spectacular, though!


The sunsets allowed for deep reflection. 


Almost out of food on their fifth day, they raced to their final destination at Elk Park, where the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train picks up the occasional backpacker who flags it down in the wilderness. 


Here we are, Og, Intrepid, She Who Must Be Obeyed (see CDT post #33 for the story of our trail-names), and Philip, in Durango celebrating the end of a 3,100-mile journey on the Continental Divide Trail. 

Thank you deeply for all your support, cheering us on every step of the way. We keep you in our hearts as Og, Intrepid, and She Who Must Be Obeyed head for a week-long silent meditation retreat on our way home, to absorb the profound transformation of our wilderness experience.


 

Continental Divide Trail #32: Too Light in the Collegiate Peaks!

Although Og climbed the eastern side of Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks earlier this summer when the western side was impassable with snow, he was determined to go back to hike the western Collegiates, the official CDT. These spectacular peaks are some of the highest on the CDT, with elevations above 12,000 feet. From Marshall, Monarch, and Cottonwood Passes, I hiked up behind him for a few miles on steep rocky trails.  


Most of the snow had melted on the alpine tundra, but it was critical he get over exposed ridges before the afternoon storms, with lightning, hail, and torrential rains.


Even so, he got soaked and chilled during a storm that raged all night. For a ground cloth under his eight-ounce tarp, he uses only the handmade chaps that cover his legs while hiking in cold rain. 


“There’s such a thing as going too light!” he said when I picked him up for resupply. I gasped. I never thought I’d hear him, ultralight gearhead that he is, utter those words. He agonized over whether to buy a real tent rather than die of hypothermia in the upcoming Weminuche Wilderness. His tarp drying over a lamp, he set up our new Hilleberg Anjan 2 in our hotel room in Durango. 


Amber had her own tough decision to make. “Malbec or champagne?” she fretted. “know–both!” So a good time is being had by all. 


 

Continental Divide Trail #30: Fire, Storms, & Old Friends

Og (aka Porter) messaged me late one night from his campsite in the Rabbit Ears Range to say he saw and smelled smoke, and was there a fire near him? I sprang into action from my hotel room and learned a lot about how to research fire activity, especially through an invaluable site called Inciweb. The Beaver Creek Fire was raging north of the Continental Divide Trail near the Colorado/Wyoming border, 35,000 acres, 12% contained, expected to burn into October.


Fortunately, air and ground fire crews were maintaining the perimeters, while letting the vast interior of beetle-killed trees burn. Also, it’s monsoon season in the Colorado mountains, and the heavy rains help. Og works hard to find a campsite each evening with slopes on all sides to channel the pelting runoff from late-night storms.


He’s making great mileage over spectacular mountains, here in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.


Remember Tom and Sheila, our hiking friends in I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail?  Sheila is trail-angeling Tom as he hikes south on the Continental Divide Trail this summer, just as I’m trail-angeling Porter as he hikes north, and we met while picking up our respective husbands at the Seedhouse trailhead! We hadn’t seen them in years. Here we are celebrating over dinner in Steamboat Springs.


The big excitement in Amber’s life is getting to stay at the Rabbit Ears Motel, because the sign is pink like her and has a bunny on top!


 

Continental Divide Trail #29: Gail Meets a Moose; Og Meets Elk

I was out hiking by myself when I happened upon this magnificent bull moose, about seven feet tall, blocking the trail! I backed up respectfully and got behind a tree, as one is supposed to do. Moose can charge at any time, so I waited quietly for quite a while until it plunged into the nearby creek and crossed to the other side.


Meanwhile, Og (aka Porter) came upon an enormous herd of elk above 12,000 feet on Flat Top Mountain, on a steep optional loop of the Continental Divide Trail through Rocky Mountain National Park.  


Here we are at Berthoud Pass. 


Here’s Og taking a break after summiting 13,300-foot James Peak, in the background.


Amber has taken over doing the laundry while Og and I are off hiking together or separately. “My new hobby is cleaning lint that hasn’t been removed from motel dryers since before I was born!” she says.  Our motel in Grand Lake doesn’t have a dryer, though, so she sits on Og’s washed shirt, socks, and pants to keep them from blowing away in the wind.


 

Continental Divide Trail #28: Yogi, Rockstar Thru-Hiker!

So I’m descending 12,000-foot Mount Flora, solo after leaving Og (aka Porter) to continue north on the Continental Divide Trail.

“Gail?!” a woman calls out behind me. Who the heck could I possibly know out here? And I’m like, “Uh, ya, and you are?”

“Yogi,” she says. “I met your husband up the trail and he said to watch for you.”

“THE Yogi?” As in author of Yogi’s Pacific Crest Trail Handbook, Yogi’s Continental Divide Trail Handbook, and Yogi’s Colorado Trail Handbook, the definitive guides to the trails and trail-town resupply stops that pretty much every thru- and section-hiker, not to mention trail-angel, can’t do without?

She smiled modestly. This of Yogi and me is one of the pivotal photo-ops of my entire hiking life. 


Yogi is completing her second Triple Crown–thru-hikes of the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail.

“Do you need a ride from the trailhead anywhere?” I asked.

“Winter Park,” she said. “But that’s the opposite way from where you’re going.”

“I am totally taking you to Winter Park,” I said. 

She lifted her pack into Angel2, my Trail-Angelmobile.

“What’s your base weight?” I asked. As ultralighters with pack base weights of 12 and 11 pounds for Og and me, respectively, on the Pacific Crest Trail, and 8 pounds for Og on the Continental Divide Trail, I was bursting with curiosity.

“I don’t know, I don’t weigh my pack,” she said.

Say whaaaat? On our drive to Winter Park, we talked about what she carried–a real, enclosed tent, in contrast to our 7 oz. tarp, a significant sleeping pad, all kinds of gear that I could never manage. But look at her legs! She’s solid babelicious muscle.


Over lunch in town, we talked about navigation (she relies on map and compass, in contrast to so many, including Og and me, who now use Guthooks and similar apps), nutrition, and other things that would make you ask “and you’re telling me this because?”

Dedicated to the well being of a national community of hikers, Yogi assiduously gathers, updates, and publishes the essential info about the trails and resupply towns. I feel I speak for the larger thru-hiking community when I say I simply cannot imagine how we’d prepare for and succeed on our PCT, CDT, and CT hikes without Yogi’s generous sharing of her extraordinary gifts, knowledge, and hard work. Thank you, Yogi, with a deep bow of gratitude, and an outpouring of appreciate Love!

For Yogi’s absolutely invaluable guidebooks and other products: http://www.yogisbooks.com/.