Sunday, July 12, 2009

Colorado Trail 5 - Clear Creek to Highway 50.

There are wooden signs on the roadside borders of Chaffee County announcing: "Now THIS is Colorado." If this is Colorado, then I'm staying. Perfect weather, good trail, beautiful views. At the start of the hike, a nice plaque for a new bridge annouced 18 miles of excellent trail:

Apparently the trail through the Collegate Peaks Wilderness from Clear Creek to Harvard Lakes is an old WPA project from the 30's. It shows -- the trail is carefully worked into slopes with extensive rock work. The route shows careful consideration for grade and elevation. The old WPA trails are a national treasure, literally irreplacable. There is a book waiting to be written, if it hasn't been already, about trail crews and their efforts. I would love to read more about the difficult sections of the Muir Trail, for example. Typical section:

Ahh. I cruised along 15 miles or so before lunch. Then, back to reality -- a climb up 3,500 feet onto the shoulder of Mt. Yale and back in 7 miles:

The trail after that was a mix of mountain-bike banked whoop-de-doos, good trail, and rocky junk:

Pretty much all longish-distance hikers will tell you the quality of the trail makes a huge impact on the hike. And on this hike, I had five miles or so of road walking:

I knew when I wanted to do all 60-odd miles in two days that it would leave me near the Chalk Cliffs/Mt. Princeton Hot Springs area for the night. This is an area where people really enjoy their vacation homes, and also really enjoy not having a trail in their back yards. Hence the road walk. Unfortunately for the community, it becomes a variant of externality -- rather than have a few people dealing with stinky hikers going through back yards, the entire community has to deal with stinky hikers going up the road. And from what I could tell from the trail registers, there are a significant number of stinky hikers all heading for Durango right about now.

I managed to find a legal place to camp immediately before the road section:

It may have a communication tower in the front yard, but the views were great:

I actually enjoyed the blinking blue LED light at night. Speaking of views, I didn't take many photos during this stretch because they seemed to just flatten out the light and distance. The Sawatch are big hills. No, you have to say it right: biiiiiiiiiig hills. With biiiiiiiig valleys between them. I've been intermittently hiking around the Sawatch for ten years now, and they have a unique feel. It's a bit like the high Sierra, looking down on Owens Valley, but not so extreme. And the mountains are simply enormous, but since they look like big rounded hills, the distances can be deceiving. A big mountain ridge might be much closer than appears, or it might be way out on the horizon. It makes for edifying travel:

Did I mention California? With the hot and sunny weather, huge views, and reasonably graded trail, thoughts naturally gravitate to the Pacific Crest Trail and other California hikes. The natural comparison between PCT/CDT/CT/etc. demands its own post, whereby I will settle the entire issue. This will give me an opportunity to explain my theory of Intermountain Malaise, whereby drifting 20 and 30-somethings can never really be happy in Denver because it can never be the polar opposite of the East Coast that California represents. Make sense? Well, at least the Forest Service is here to warn you about limbs:

Finally, I've come to terms with the weird CT guidebook. Yes, there are no topos, the elevation profiles are wrong, and it's written only for southbounders, but it inspired me to get out hiking and it tells you where to find water. Such is life.

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