July 15-17: Encampment to Rawlins, Wyoming

The Rocky Mountains extend from southern New Mexico all the way to northern British Columbia and Alberta. In the middle of that range, there is a chasm, a dividing line of sorts: the Great Divide Basin. That’s where we are on our journey right now. The Great Divide Basin is essentially a place in southern Wyoming where the divide splits, and on a map it looks a bit like the outline of a lemon. To the east of the basin, or on the Atlantic Rim, water flows east. Similarly, rain that falls west of the Pacific Rim flows into the Pacific.

In the middle is essentially a no-mans-land. Water flows neither east or west, instead dropping into some alkaline ponds, or more than likely, never falling at all. It’s the epicenter of the Great American Desert. It’s a dry and harsh place, devoid of life except for antelope, coyotes, mountain lions and thru-hikers.

While technically well south of the halfway mark of the Rockies, it’s fair to call the area south of the Great Divide Basin the southern Rockies and the area above the northern Rockies. The ecosystems change dramatically. Ecosystem analysis is beyond the scope of this blog, but on a simple layman’s terms, it’s easy to identify. Two of the main keystone predators, grizzly bears and grey wolves, do not exist in the south. They do in the north, however, staring in the first mountain range we’ll hit in about five day’s time, the Wind Rivers. Our arrival in the northern Rockies is one of the highlights of this trip, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves – we still have the Great Divide Basin to cross.

Folks have been crossing the Basin for centuries. It’s the lowest point in the Rocky Mountain chain, and was the main thoroughfare for the Oregon Trail and a whole host of other emigrant parties. There have been triumphs and disasters, and there is even a game, Oregon Trail, where players can die of such hardships like dysentery and snake bite in the Great Divide Basin.

For a couple of snow and ice-loving nords like Elaine and I the heat is downright intimidating. We love snow and cold and hate heat. I can honestly say we have not met another hiker out here with our preference of snow to heat. Our winter aplomb is damned useful in races like Expedition Amundsen, it helped us in the San Juans and I’m sure it will be valuable in late-September in Glacier. It is not an advantage when crossing the Great Divide Basin in July.

Us going into the heat is like sea level pro sports teams going to Denver. We get psyched out and start doing weird shit – like trying to sleep all day and then hike 40 straight miles at night from 6 pm to 8 am – to avoid the heat. It’s impractical, not overall efficient, but it does lead to good adventures and stories.

We left the tiny town of Encampment, Wyoming and caught a fairly quick lift up to the pass from a late rising oil well worker who was out for a Sunday cruise. We ran into another hiker on our hitch, a guy by the name of “Roswell,” wearing purple short shorts and a tank top. Roswell is hilarious and we like him instantly. Of course, Roswell loves the heat, is thrilled about crossing the basin and woudn’t be bummed in the least if he didn’t see another speck of snow. Lucky bastard. 

Before dropping into the desert we had to finish up the tail end of the southern Rockies. We climbed Bridger Peak, caught a final distant glance at Longs Peak to the east, and headed on our way. That first day was marked with inefficiency. Breaks too long, ill-timed trail magic and just a frustrating stecatto type day in an area where we wanted to be moving quickly. But we were feeling pretty good and decided we were going to hike all night that first night and see how far we got.

That plan worked well except for two things. First, hellacious deadfall. We’ve been relatively spoiled with clear trails from Highway 50 thru Colorado, but no more. The deadfall was every ten feet, requiring balance moves, high steps and straddles. Elaine ripped her skirt, I tore my shorts, and we were moving at about half a mile an hour for two hours.

Second, the CDT insists on taking the traveler up and down every last little ridge of the actual Continental Divide. See that nice trail half a mile down the valley following the pretty river? Nope. We’re going to keep you on this ridge, off trail, exposed to lightning, the sun, the wind and every undulation of the land, far from water, because this here is the Continental Divide Trail for crissake! I appreciate the purity of the trail, but it can be a bit maddening when trying to cover big miles. The good news: we’re getting really strong for ski season!

We ended up spending the night up on a ridge, as crossing deadfall in the dark seemed less than appealing. It was a beautiful night, a swooping bird dive bombing insects, a rosy sunset and then, the galaxies, the Milky Way, the heavens above.

We set the alarm for 4 am and were off at first light. As a final send-off, we collected water from a clear stream in an aspen grove, as a black bear foraged no more than 100 feet away from us. There was no drama or fear – just a couple mammals watering up for the day.

Onward. More deadfall and undulations, but by 8 am we crossed the very last rise of the southern Rocky Mountains. A cairn and an elk antler marked the lonely spot. Before us, vastness and nothingness. We descended into the void. And immediately, the temperature rose. We stopped for a water break, filled up with five liters each, hiked a few more miles to a resting stop, set up camp and waited for the day to cool. Our stopping locale was a little oasis in some bushes with a tiny stream and a culvert frequented by swallows. The stream had tiny fish and frogs and it was amazing to see, given the smallest of chance, how nature can take hold.

Setting up camp during the heat of the day and waiting for temperatures to drop is good in theory, but we suffered. What’s worse than hiking in extreme heat? Sitting in camp in extreme heat. I’m sure there are ways to keep a camp cool in the heat of the day, but we did a poor job. Despite venting our tent to the maximum, it was like a greenhouse, at times reaching 106 degrees inside. And herein lies the problem with night hiking – we are unable to rest during the day because it’s too hot. It worked for a day and a night, but over five days or more? I think we’d get too exhausted. Sleep is needed for recovery, plain and simple.

Despite about 20 minutes sleep each, we got through the day. We packed up camp and were off by 6:30 pm, the day still warm but much more comfortable. Storm clouds were building and there were more than a few “what now CDT?” glances shared by Elaine and I.

As we were heading out, a serendipitous moment. A VW van pulled up beside us to ask if we were OK. The driver inside looked at us incredulously and said, wait, are you the two hiking the CDT who I picked up on Rabbit Ears Pass? At first we didn’t believe it, and then it set in. This was the same gentleman who had given us a ride to Steamboat, the owner of the little independent ski resort in the Snowy Range. What are the odds? Bob and his wife Cindy have been out camping and mountain biking in Wyoming and just happened to be heading down this dusty, desolate road when we crossed paths again. It was awesome to see them and it started the night off right.

Spirits bolstered, we continued on. And then the light show began. The wind picked up and a light rain fell, and at the same time, the sun began to set. Combine wide open spaces, sunsets, a bit of rain and clouds, and you have a recipe for epic beauty. The sky began to light on fire in the west. Ahead, clouds erupted. To the east, a double rainbow formed. Humbleness, ecstasy, awe and reverence filled us – it was the most beautiful sky I’ve seen in my life, ever.

We continued on. Night came. Miles ticked by, a rhythmic walk along dirt road fueled by music, podcasts and audio books. Stars began emerging. And then the Milky Way, raging, from south to north, across the entire sky. All the while, following Naga, Polaris, the North Star. No other humans. Occasional silhouettes of antelope on ridges. Coyotes howling.

We’d get tired, stop, eat some food, catnap for five minutes, drink some Nuun caffeine drops, and continue on. Hour after hour. Midnight came and went. The stars moved, but ever on we went north, into the void. An occasional county road sign, a stream crossing, but really nothing but us walking across the Basin, the universe raging overhead.

Ten miles. Then 20. By the time the eastern horizon brightened slightly, 30. By the time the sun rose, 35. At this point exhaution set in. The feet hurt. We slept for 20 minutes, woke up feeling worse, and continued on, fearing the sun more than exhaustion. As we strode into the run-down desert oasis of Rawlins, crossed the old Union Pacific line and I-80, we had hiked 45 miles, which combined with the 14 we did in the morning made the tally for the day 59 miles. It was epically hard, epically beautiful, and 100%, absolutely, not sustainable.

We’ve lounged in Rawlins for 36 hours. Slept lots, eaten a bunch of Thai buffet and come up with a strategy for the next five days required to get to South Pass. We’re going to hike in the day and try to manage the heat. Up early, lots of water, a good break from noon to 3 pm, and be smart. We bought a couple umbrellas at the dollar store for shade. We’re going to try and embrace it, relish it. If those 1800’s pioneers could do it, so can we.

I think we’ll be offline for ten days or so. South Pass City is just a visitors center, and then we enter the Wind River Range. We’ll come out in Pinedale, the halfway point of the Winds, for a shower, night in town, good dinner and a little blogging. We’re entering the heart of it now. If the San Juans were the crux, this is the second crux of the journey. Physically strong, mentally stronger in the days ahead.

On a side note, through much prodding from friends and family, I’ve finally added a “Care Packages and Donations” button on the menu on top of this blog. I’ve always resisted it because I think it’s a bit tacky and if you are able bodied enough to go on a hike you are perfectly capable of working. That said, I suppose these words and photos have some value and five months is a long time to be away from work. We’ll add gear reviews to these tales as well. We want to offer some value to any donations through these words and images – it goes against the fabric of who we are to take something for nothing in return. So if you so desire, the “Care Packages and Donations” button is there.

Enough said on that. Happy trails and thanks for reading!

CDT hike July 11-14 – Steamboat to Encampment, Wyoming

There are few things better than falling into a deep sleep with the sound of a light rain pitter-pattering on top of the tent, the chirping of frogs echoing off the forest from a nearby lake. Before bed, while brushing teeth, our headlamps betrayed a pair of glowing eyes off in the forest, looking our way. They were white eyes, not the red color of a predator, probably a deer or an elk, and they darted away after a second or two. Elaine and I were deep in northern Colorado’s Zirkel Wilderness, and this type of experience is exactly why we decided to hike the Continental Divide Trail, far from the chaos of society, in deep wild country.

The hike from Steamboat to the tiny northern Wyoming town of Encampment is significant for a few reasons. First, it crosses into a new state, and that’s always an exciting accomplishment, especially on a trail where it only happens three times (four if you count the Idaho/Montana border). It’s also the stage that crosses the halfway mark of the 3,050 mile trail, in far northern Colorado. While we still have a long way to go, there is something mentally good about being on the downward half. 

Beyond borders and miles, this is a section of trail we’ve been looking forward to. Far northern Colorado is new ground for us, and places like the Zirkel Wilderness get much less traffic than the rest of our state. And southern Wyoming – well, that’s practically frontier country, a great unknown. That’s exciting, and that sense of discovery had us ready to hike.

Our good friend Britt took us up Rabbit Ears Pass after a lazy morning start, and it wasn’t long before we entered a land of perfect Colorado wildflowers. They are starting to peak, and the impact on the smell senses is as potent and pleasant as it is visually. The forest and meadows feel alive, blooming and buzzing with insects and hummingbirds. This is a popular area for hiking and mountain biking for Steamboat residents, but everybody was in a good mood, offering a friendly hello.

We continued on, paying a visit and drinking a coca-cola courtesy of a trail angel “Crazy Joe.” Trail angels are basically folks who hang out in the woods helping hikers. A popular phenomenon on the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, they have been few and far between on the CDT. Crazy Joe has lived out of his truck for the past three years and enjoys spending time in the woods and helping hikers. We chatted for 15 minutes, thanked him, and headed north. 

A common complaint about Colorado is that there is no water in our state. That’s not exactly true. Consider the area between Rabbit Ears Pass and the Zirkel Mountains. Water abounds. Perfect lakes dot this heavily wooded plateau, and indeed it feels more like Minnesota than the Rocky Mountains. The Colorado lake country is serene and has that perfect feel that only deep, water clad forests have. 

We encountered a Boy Scout troop out camping and fishing, and I couldn’t help but be brought back to some of my own experiences as a youth. My very first backpacking trip was in Nordmarka. We backpacked to a lake, set up camp, caught a trout that we ate for dinner and slept in a blue pup tent. It happened in country not unlike that found in Colorado’s lake country.

FUTURE TRIP IDEA: Mountain bike up Buffalo Pass. Ride CDT East to Rabbit Ears. Bring food and gear for a couple nights. Bring Tenkara rods and fire starter. Fish and have fires. Go in the deep autumn. Loop back to Steamboat. If you are lucky, it snows an inch or two and you get first tracks.

It started to rain. We hiked on, hoods up, past the lakes as the rain beat down. Thunder clapped overhead, but since we were in the trees we were not worried. That changed a bit as we crossed under some massive power lines, buzzing and crackling as the rain hit their high voltage wires, but soon we were back in the woods, and the rain slackened. 

We crossed Buffalo Pass and entered the Zirkel Wilderness. You can’t help but enter Wilderness and feel a jolt of excitement…it is the purest land we have. While I disagree with some of the policies, like a complete blanket ban on bicycles, I appreciate Wilderness for its success in preserving some of our nation’s finest places from development. The Zirkel Wilderness was one of the first areas given such designation, a testament to its value even in the late-1960s. 

The land rose steadily as the damp night turned crisper. Clouds hung over peaks in all directions, and deer and elk scattered about as we continued on across valleys and late lingering snow drifts, alone, not another human in site. It was getting late, so we set up camp on a rise above a perfect little lake with frogs raising a ruckus. Just as we got camp set up for the night, the rain began again, and it was one of the most soothing, contented sleeps I’ve had in years. 

The next morning was cooler still. The frogs were quiet and a mist hung over the land. We shook the cobwebs out, pulled camp and gradually worked our way up something called Lost Ranger Peak. We ran into a couple other thru-hikers and hiked with them for a bit before continuing on our way. Nice folks, but I think our agendas were a little different. Not better or worse, just different. 

We continued climbing, and eventually made it to the top of Lost Ranger, glad to finally be on a mountain not named “Bald,” “Baldy,” “Old Bald,” or the like. We pulled out our tent to dry, and disaster almost struck as a brisk wind suddenly picked up, nearly sending our $600 Hilleberg tent hurtling over a cliff into Wolverine Basin. A blend on quickness and sheer dumb luck ensured we caught the tent and didn’t jam our bare feet on the rocky ground. Rookie mistake that we will not make again.

Other than that episode, it was a lazy lunch, gazing at distant peaks, soaking up the sun and enjoying the moment. We enjoyed it so much that we barely noticed the building thunderheads. Finally, as a dark cloud passed overhead, we ended our laze and headed down the mountain. Not a second too soon, as lightning started crashing on the peak we’d occupied ten minutes earlier. Soon we were dashing across a high plateau, racing the thunder, getting pelted by rain, kicking ourselves for not paying better attention. Fortunately the trail started to drop, and soon we were back in the woods, hiking in the rain in a our cocoon of forest safety. 

After that, the day rolled on like a dream, miles ticking off as we meandered thru forest and valleys. We crossed thru massive forest fire relics, along creek beds and valleys straight out of a western movie. We camped next to a river and an old jeep road, celebrating crossing the trail’s halfway mark and looking forward to entering Wyoming.

The next day turned into a sleeper challenge. There are days where the profile involves long climbs and high 13,000 foot passes. Those days are easier than what we ended up with – an endless series of steep ups and downs all the way to the Colorado border and beyond. The morning was the best, the trail meandering thru a valley with a heavy dew on plants and trees. After that, it was simply a 5,000 vertical up day of endless 200 to 300 foot climbs and drops. These were moto trails, and while fun on a two-stroke they are challenging to hike because they are so steep and loose. I kept telling myself it was great nordic ski training, and indeed my quad muscles burned by the end.

The day was not all suffering. After all, we crossed the Wyoming border. I couldn’t help but look back with pride on what we accomplished and enjoyed in our home state of Colorado. Elaine and I became the first people ever to ski the San Juan entire loop as part of a thru hike. We felt the love from friends and family. We experienced the stunning beauty of Colorado lake country. And of course, there is sadness too. Our partner in crime and family member Stella was alive when we entered Colorado. When we left, six weeks later, she was not. This creates a deep sadness in us that hopefully time and wilderness will help heal.

As we approached the end of the day we saw a massive elk, huge antlers and strong build. May he survive the upcoming hunting season, and if he dies, I hope he dies with dignity and is able to face east to make peace with the maker. 

We entered a new Wilderness area, the Huston Wilderess, an area I didn’t even know existed. This land is full of red quartz rock, lots of deadfall and feels very, very wild. We set up camp, tired from the roller coaster day, too tired to care that we were camped on a somewhat exposed ridge and that thunder was echoing far off in the distance. 

The next morning came, and we were thankful the lightning avoided us during the night. It was a 14 mile hike to the road to Encampment, and we enjoyed the magic of the Huston Wilderness, the meadows, the perfectly clear creeks, the hovering packs of butterflies, the absolute quiet and solitude. If I were a rock climber I would come here, the corse rocks looking inviting and challenging. 

We intentionally slowed down, enjoyed the land, took photos, relished it. We are not on this hike to compete or have our pace dictated by others. That’s why we ski race all winter – to feed that competitive urge. That’s not why we hike. If I ever become one of those hiker just counting miles, staring at Guthooks and not having any idea where I am, kick me. We’d rather emulate John Muir instead of Scott Jurek on this hike, plain and simple. 

The first car heading east from Battle Pass took us to Encampment, a small cowboy town far from the crowds of Colorado. This is the real west – the place where we ate dinner has a bear trap in the restaurant, the lady at the thrift store hates the forest service for killing the towns economy by ending logging and the gal at the post office left work to hand deliver a late arriving package to us. 

If all of Wyoming is like this, we’re in good shape.

CDT July 6-10 Grand Lake to Steamboat Springs, Colorado: Electric ridges, cold valleys and the real west.

As the rain abated we left Grand Lake and headed into Rocky Mountain National Park. Grand Lake is a rustic, kitschy town with carved bear statues, wooden boardwalks and no shortage of visitors. National Parks are our nation’s gems, and they sure do attract the crowds. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable stop before our trek to Steamboat. 

The trail soon entered the park and we enjoyed one of the smoothest sections of trail of the entire trip. Despite living quite close, Elaine and I have spent almost no time on this western side of the park. It’s much more lush and remote than the east side. The mosquitoes are out in force, a phenomenon that I suspect will only increase through the Wind River Mountains. 

One of the interesting phenomenons of outdoor life in 2017 is how social media makes it possible to “know” people even though you have not met them in real life. Such was the case when Leslie came bounding down the trail in the other direction. Leslie is somebody who Elaine and I have been following on social media for some time. She is a bad ass endurance athlete from Banff who is spending the summer hiking the CDT. With a hoot and holler we said hello and chatted for awhile. Leslie hiked down from South Pass, Wyoming, and unlike our somewhat stubborn and arguably questionable strategy to continue north through all conditions, Leslie is hiking sections of trail when they are in good condition. Her goal is to have an enjoyable – and still very challenging – summer of hiking. It was very cool to meet her.

We parted ways, headed up over a pass, and descended to Trail Ridge Road. There was a traffic jam as hundreds of motorists watched a moose and her calf. It struck me that we humans are incredibly nature starved. In a way it’s a sad reflection, but it’s encouraging. At least there is hope…the fascination with the wild hasn’t been driven from us completely. 

We crossed the Colorado River at sunset, a golden sheen reflecting off her headwaters as the mountains turned blood red. For all the traffic, National Parks are beautiful. We headed west across a valley and camped right outside the park’s border in the Never Summer Wilderness. Camping inside the park requires a permit and bear canister – we had neither. We slept soundly as night settled in. 

We were out the next morning at 6:30 am, up a trail alongside a rushing creek, and then up, up, up. The climb up to Bowen Pass was a steady and at times steep 3,000 foot effort. Our heads were down, so we were quite startled when we glanced up for a second and saw five moose staring at us from about 30 feet away. Moose can be moody beasts, and they are basically blind, so Elaine gave a friendly “hey moose!” to let them know we were around. It seemed to work – they stared our way intently but made no bluff or charge as we continued up the trail. 

The Never Summer Range is one of Colorado’s less visited mountain ranges, and it feels wild. I’ve skied here a few times, but for me it’s relatively unknown. We entered a perfect alpine valley, full of columbines, forget-me-nots, sky pilots, bluebells and Indian paintbrush. One advantage of our delays – we are certainly enjoying peak wildflower season. 

The pass rose up in front of us, and the final steps onto the divide required a bit of snow navigation. This snow was easy – consolidated, full of steps and fun. The trail meandered on the other side of the pass with a few snow patches here and there but nothing too bad. The days of slogging through the hip deep San Juan snow are officially done.

It’s been an incredibly dry June and early July, so rain is a welcome sight. Since we were below tree line it was with enjoyment that we tossed on our raincoats and hiked for a couple hours as a thunderstorm boomed overhead and the rain beat down. Thunderstorms above timberline are terrifying because they can kill you. That said, there are few things I like better than hiking, running or mountain biking in the protected woods as rain and thunder pelt down. It’s insular and allows for silent, comfortable contemplation. 

We had a decision to make: take a longer but smoother jeep road with little climbing or head straight up and over Parkview Mountain. We hemmed and hawed a bit, but in the end decided to take the mountain route. We would not make it up and over that night, instead climbing rapidly to a flatish spot on the mountain’s shoulder for a morning up-and-over summit bid. The mosquitoes were voracious, and I remembered why I learned to bike uphill fast as a teenager in Vermont – if you didn’t, you’d get ravaged by bugs. We found an acceptable campsite, tossed on clothing to keep the bugs at bay, set up the shelter and holed up for the night. We slept well as the day was big – about 6,000 vertical feet of climbing.

The next morning’s wake up stimulant was not coffee, but a 1,500 foot climb straight uphill to the top of Parkview Mountain. Oh what a view from the top – indeed one of the finest I’ve seen in all of Colorado. To the east, the mighty peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park (highlighted by 14er Longs Peak), the Rawah Mountains, and our home range the Indian Peaks. To the south, the Front Range icons – Torreys, Evans, the Mosquito Range. Further over the distinct features of Holy Cross rose, and way off in the distance one could make out the Elk Range, Castle Peak and Capitol Peak. To the west, the Gore Range stretched out, and beyond, the Flat Tops. and then, to the north, our destination, the Zirkel Range, the Snowy Range in Wyoming and the great western desert. 

Parkview Mountain is the biggest peak in the Rabbit Ears Range and because it sits in the middle of everything, you can see more peaks from this mountain than just about anywhere. Perhaps this is why a fire lookout was constructed on top of it back in the 1950’s. This aging concrete structure is full of hiker graffiti inside, some rude, some challenging, but mostly just celebrating the moment of being up there. Our friends Hilary and Dan hiked the CDT back in 2015, and it was great to see their autograph inside the building. We added ours for posterity sake, for future generations of CDT hikers to enjoy and mock!

As is always the case in thru hiking, there were miles to make. This was an up-and-down day flowing along the ridge of the Continental Divide, almost all above timberline, which made the fact that thunder clouds were building rapidly disconcerting. Just as we were about to begin a six-mile long ridge above timberline, things came to a head and the sky was exploding. Not much you can do in these situations except for set up camp in the woods and wait for the storm to pass. No trail is worth dying for, and besides, afternoon naps in the rain are enjoyable! The storm lasted three hours, so we hastened out of camp at 5 pm and moved spryly up over the mountains to the next island of forest. 

Had the storm not hit, we would not have had the chance to camp in one of the coolest – literally – mountain valleys in Colorado. This valley felt different, mossy, full of lush green surface vegetation with a surprisingly crisp temperature, especially since the day was so warm. Snow lingered at 9,500 feet, something we have not seen in about a month in the rest of the state. A beautiful creek meandered through the valley, and as we set up camp on a bed of kinnikinnick plants, we realized we’d stumbled onto a gem of a place. Fraser and Gunnison are renowned for being the coldest spots in Colorado, but if were to bet, I suspect this particular valley deep in the Rabbit Ear Range is colder. As an owl hooted into the night, we tucked into our sleeping bags and fell into a content slumber, the first really since Stella passed. The energy of this place made it felt like she was there.

Our cold theory was given more evidence as the next morning the creek actually had frozen ice on the surface. This seems unusual since we are in the midst of a July heat wave. Filling water bottles was a chilly, ski hat, puffy jacket affair. Soon we climbed and the cold abated. The logging roads, rolling hills and lush vegetation reminded me of the Vermont hills of my childhood, deep woods, working woods full of sap lines and sawdust. 

Elaine told me many hikers struggle with the fact that the CDT is in fact a mish-mash of trails and roads. They struggle with bikes and motos being allowed in places, a far cry from the pristine purity of the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail. And I get it – who wouldn’t want to follow a 2,000-plus mile trail of pure, undistracted nature. 

But I also think this highlights a problem with a concept of “wild” places in this country. It’s all or nothing. We designate the iconic zones as Wilderness and then wax poetically from the cities about how we need to protect the land. We think of humans and Wilderness as separate. I think this is a mistake.

The CDT is a real working trail through western America. It’s a complete experience of nature and man interacting and living together – some good, some bad. Like anything in life, moderation is key. Mining and logging are part of the Rocky Mountains. Mines that decapitate entire mountains, like the Molybdenum mines in Leadville and Empire are, in my opinion, too destructive. We need to find that happy balance. Utilize, protect…don’t destroy.  

Onward. This was a long day of road walking. There isn’t much to say about road walking except for that it is hard on the body and miles tick off easily. I listened to a lot of podcasts, books and music on the 31-mile jeep road, dirt road and paved road walk to Rabbit Ears Pass. We saw large herds of cattle, met a nice older couple out for a bike ride and went headlong into a steady stream of traffic heading back to the Front Range after a weekend in Steamboat. That’s one thing we won’t miss about Colorado – the crowds. It’s noticeably more busy than New Mexico, and I suspect that will hold true as we venture into Wyoming. We camped 100 feet from the highway, near Bruce’s Trail where we go for early season nordic ski training, sometimes as early as mid- October in good year, meaning we could be back soon! This part of Colorado gets some of the earliest, reliable snow in the entire state. 

This morning we hitched for a ride and got picked up by the owner of Snowy Range Ski Resort, a small independently owned ski area in southern Wyoming. The most expensive lift ticket they sell is $45, compared to the $185 ticket at Steamboat. We lamented climate change, corporate ski areas and beetle kill together. He was a great guy, a real gem of a human to meet on our final approach to Steamboat.

This evening was spent with our friend Britt. Britt, Elaine and I used to work together at Neptune Mountaineering. Britt was/is an elite ultra-distance runner, and was something of a celebrity in runner crazed, ultra-competitive Boulder.  Britt got fed up with the Boulder scene and has gravitated towards something more real and better for her. As we sat chatting under the July sky, watching her boyfriend’s softball team play under the Howelson Hill lights as the sun set over the plains to the west…well, she very well might be onto something. This place feels real. Steamboat is a resort tourist town, but unlike Boulder, the tourists leave, and out of the woodwork comes a community of people making an honest living in a small town like many others across this great country.  Steamboat is a goood place, one we will keep on our future list. Britt is a gem of a human being and it made us feel good to see her happy and content.
We’ve loaded up with food, sent cold weather gear ahead and are ready to continue on tomorrow morning. The next time this is updated, we’ll be in Wyoming, beyond the halfway mark, heading towards the Great Divide Basin. The Basin is legendary with western travel. The Oregon Trail used to cut across it, and stories of fame and fortune are balanced with dire tales of suffering, hardship and death. It is our sincere goal to be in the former group. Northward, we continue! 

CDT July 5-6: Eldora to Grand Lake

My wife Elaine and I have been hiking the Continental Divide Trail, beginning way back in early April from the Mexican border. Our final destination is the Canadian border in Glacier National Park. We’ve hiked about 1,500 miles so far through a wide variety of terrain, ranging from scorching desert near the Mexican border to snowy peaks in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. It’s been a true adventure, with rattle snakes, dangerous mountain traverses over avalanching slopes, chest deep river crossings, animal encounters and all the things you’d expect from a long hike (and sometimes ski) on the highest trail on the North American continent. 

And yet, it’s been the unexpected things that have caused us the most anguish and delay. Specifically, while hiking on the trail, our Alaskan Husky Stella – who stayed with a good friend during this adventure – passed away. She died one day before we got home, the decision to euthanize or not conveyed over a Delorme satellite device with 150 character messages. Bottom line, it sucked, and we’ve been struggling greatly to continue. On the flip side Stella loved a good adventure and would not have wanted us to quit. With the help of some good friends and family, we continue.

We’ve accumulated two books of notes for the first half of the trip for a future book, and it’s a story chalk full of adventure. During our break, however, Elaine got me this little Zagg pocket keyboard, so for the journey north from home to Canada, we’ll keep a public blog. So here goes.

Our journey up and over the divide from home to the western side of the divide was made a lot easier thanks to Elaine’s mom Carol accompanying us on the way. Heavy hearts were eased by good conversation, pretty views and a phenomenal lunch of fancy Whole Foods meat and cheeses. It felt downright classy snacking on the scrumptious foods while gazing at the Indian Peaks. 

Views are hard to rate, but I have to say the vistas the Indian Peaks are better than just about anywhere on the CDT, perhaps the Needles and Grendalier district of the San Juans excepted. Our home mountains are glacier carved and dramatic, our forests healthier, our lakes bluer than those found further south. Sometimes you have to travel far and wide to discover home is as good or better than most places. 

We said goodbye to Elaine’s mom and headed down the valley towards Monarch Lake. After a few miles we were in new terrain for the first time in more than 600 miles. We hiked the CDT back in 2015 from Wolf Creek to home and the repeat of the same route led to a bit of “here we go again.” It’s better to do new terrain on an adventure this long – the freshness and anticipation of what’s around the corner pulls you along.  We followed Arapaho Creek down a glacial valley through pine forests and towering peaks. Technically speaking this route is an alternate of the CDT though I don’t know why because it’s higher and likely prettier than the beetle killed forests a few miles to the west. 

We arrived at Monarch Lake, an artificial lake created back in the 1910s to float logs from a sawmill down to the railroad in Granby. Further still we reached Lake Grandby, a massive reservoir and the first in a series of many rapes of the Colorado River. Barely five miles into its existence, and the Colorado River is human impacted. 

We passed through a tiny community of cabins and had a nice conversation with a gentleman Richard who told us the history of the area, including how the government put Mackinaw fish in Grand Lake which killed all the trout. He is spending the week in his cabin here to avoid the Estes Park crowds – can’t blame him a bit. He also told us about a secret campsite on the lake in a forbidden camping zone which we made note of as the day was rapidly ending. Onward we went through some designated campgrounds, full of RVs with generators and folks grilling yummy smelling food.  

A bit further on we found the campsite tucked behind a rock. It was small, and our tent couldn’t have been more than 2 feet from the lake itself, but it worked. Took an evening swim, wrote a little and did our best to fend off missing the dog but also allowing that sadness to exist because it’s important. 

This morning the hike continued looping around the reservoir. We moved in an out of the Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Park, all the while circling the eastern side of Lake Granby for 12 miles. Deer and moose abound. A muggy day has turned into cool thunderstorms. We picked up our re-ration and as we enjoy a burger and shake at Dairy King the rain falls down. Spirits are OK, but waves of sadness are heavy. We’re keeping our heads down and moving forward. Next stop, Steamboat, but not before a foray into the Never Summer Range and Rabbit Ears Pass. 

Expedition Amundsen Wrap and Notes


The Expedition Amundsen event that Elaine and I signed up for back in May 2016 (or at least bought plane tickets for) was a success. Yes we made mistakes and no we didn’t win, but we did as well as we could given our polar travel experience level, as well as the logistics of traveling so far to race. Honestly, our goal going in was to finish and not make fools of ourselves, and we did considerably better than that. We are happy and there is a sense of contentment. Of course, we’d like to go back and do better, but this will not be a summer of discontent.

This blog entry is simply an accumulation of notes I took. There is an elaborate write-up by Elaine and I on Warren Miller’s site at: http://www.skinet.com/warrenmiller/the-expedition-amundsen-series-part-1. The artistic story can be found there. This is more of a personal resource, written quickly, as we have copious amounts of planning to do for the CDT/GDT trip.


Before we move on to that expedition walking 3,600 miles from Mexico to Kakwa Lake, British Columbia, I wanted to wrap up some thoughts on the race before I lose them. It was meant to be a stepping stone for a 2018 ski across Greenland, and the lessons learned must be documented. We were fortunate to be in something of a hub of polar exploration knowledge, learning the Norwegian way to do things. They are the best at this, so you could do worse copying their techniques. The greatest value of the event was the lessons learned. In no particular order, here are notes from my journal:

  • Rent car and sled for future race. Or utilize Vik Pensjonat folks for ride from Bergen.
  • piteraq.no is a great resource.
  • Learn to use the sled bag properly.
  • Carabiner on sled for setting up tent in heinous weather.
  • Sleep system – get organized.
  • Two pairs of skis potentially.
  • Alfa boots are the shizz!
  • Get a better start. Don’t line up in the back.
  • Challenge pulling camp in super cold and wind. Must secure stuff well.
  • Gloves need work. Must develop a better system. Research or make like Cille Nille.
  • Watch film “Crossing the Ice” with Gamme.
  • polarview.met.no has current sea ice status.
  • Slightly warmer pants and jacket with fur cuff. Consider Down Pants too.
  • Need a much warmer down jacket.
  • Warm stove pump before using to avoid disaster.
  • Research better stove. Primus. 2 stoves, sameEXA2.jpg
  • Great result considering stomach flu, Elaine cold, crazy travel, poor systems, horrible start, too long at Litlos, wasted time at Hellevassbu, breaking trail to Litlos
  • 2nd place, 27:48, earned respect, learned tons, cool prizes.
  • Great stepping stone – all in all a win. First Americans ever to do the race. First non-Norwegians ever to podium.
  • Would like to do it with systems dialed and more knowledge of race. Robert Sorlie model.
  • Overall, a great winter of learning a new skills and setting self up for future polar exploration.
  • Blue wax works well when cold. Don’t be afraid of wax and pulk. On very cold post race ski days, Swix Green would have been desirable. Of course, this was the coldest snap on Hardangervidda in two years. Normal in Greenland.
  • Small tracks on Hardangervidda likely belong to arctic fox.
  • Check out Bård Haug’s blog
  • Greenland takes 26 days – most go west to east. Logistically easier.EXA3.jpg
  • Foam on tent floor makes things more comfy, like a carpet.
  • Specifically practice descending with sled in breakable crust snow. Get more comfortable on descents in general.
  • Get wind flaps from Petra for Hillerberg Nammatj.
  • Olympus Tough #4 – good camera for arctic conditions.
  • Plastic case to carry all your shit in the pulk.
  • Waterproof box for matches.
  • Start stove immediately upon getting in tent. Warmth.
  • Nøronna mitts.
  • Upsize Alfa Boots and put in Palau liner. Brilliant solution to cold feet.
  • “To become a successful explorer one must become an entertainer” – Amundsen. He didn’t like it, but it was a necessary evil. I agree!
  • Resourcefulness – “He (Amundsen) might question a man about a difficult task or give somebody an impossible assignment. If he got the answer “it can’t be done” he was through with the man then and there.”
  • Team building and character judge are two of your strengths. Amundsen had these as well.
  • A cutting board is great for cutting and placing the stove.
  • Mukluks please!
  • Candles are awesome. Bring lots.
  • Learn how to Kite Ski.
  • EXA 2018 plan: better organization, Mountain Race, NNN BC Size 42 (maybe 43 – Alfa’s run huge). Elaine size 38. 35 mm mohair kickers.
  • Greenland Expedition
  • Svalbard – must go
  • Get a sewing machine to make stuff – Russian doll mitten style with thick wool.
  • Fitness build up this year was fine. More overnights would be beneficial. Nordic skiing and racing built high end fitness. Pulling pulk up Niwot and 4OJ Road super valuable.
  • Avoid major colds in season, and develop a better diet.
  • A winter or two living in Eidfjord and training on the Hardangervidda on a regular basis would be so valuable.
  • ElaineEXA.jpgDanEXA.jpg


Expedition Amundsen photos taken by Kai-Otto Melau

Day 4: Lost, soaked and hypothermic on the Hardangervidda

August 30, 2016 – 29 miles, 5,279 feet of climbing


At 6:15 am we rose, flicked on the light to our musty hostel room, and blinded ourselves as our eyes adjusted from an otherwise dark world. A quick gathering of our shelter, sleeping bags and clothes that were drying on every possible hanging place over night, organizing them into our pack, putting on our still sopping wet socks (a most unpleasant morning experience) and we were leaving the secure warmth of civilization and stepping out into an ominously damp morning. Clouds hung low over the plateau, and if it didn’t rain on this day we’d be seriously blessed. We actually started the day without rain jackets or pants on, a situation that would change in less than an hour and not change back until 13 hours later.


After a few non-flow-inducing kilometers through flat bog, the trail turned right and started a steady climb away from Liseth and up onto the Hardangervidda. Sheep greeted us, perhaps wondering what in the world we were doing up there on this obviously poor weather day. I must admit, the same thought crossed my mind. It wasn’t too long before a thick mist started falling, so we stopped, geared up with Gore-Tex, and carried on up the mountain.


This was the first morning where I didn’t really warm up despite the climb…it was very cold out, perhaps 40°, wet…perfect hypothermia weather. We’d have to be diligent to avoid that dangerous foe. We came to an intersection where we had one last chance to head back to familiar terrain and the main route to Finse. But, for better or for worse, we decided to forego that familiarity and take the western route around the large ice cap. Based on the map, it looked straight forward. We would soon learn maps don’t always give the whole story.

We headed due north into the wind and rain, hoods up and heads down. The land was mostly undulating grey rock, and with a thick fog hovering over the surface it took diligent attention to find the next marker. Earth and sky blended into one as we walked through the fog. I had initially resisted putting on my gloves, as I didn’t want them to get wet, but soon my fingers became numb so I relented. Wool gloves when wet are not comfortable, but they are warmer than nothing at all.


We hiked on for a few hours and the rain never stopped. The terrain was spectacular – raging blue rivers coming off the ice cap and every now and then, a slight view through the fog of the ominous ice cap. It looked like something from the movies – Greenland, the North Pole, Svalbard – not of the civilized world. We were a long way from downtown Oslo and comfortable coffee shops with warm hot cocoa and whipped cream. I was aware that the margin for error in these type of conditions was pretty slim. A broken leg or other debilitating injury in conditions this cold would require fast action to keep the victim warm.

We were growing hungry, no doubt our bodies working overtime to stay warm, but there was nowhere sheltered to stop to grab a quick snack out of the rain and wind. We found a flat mossy section and elected to set up our tarp, a strategy we utilized a few times on our Colorado CDT hike last year in the San Juans in similar conditions. We’re able to get it up in about 90 seconds, and soon we were snacking on peanuts, cheese and chocolate in relative comfort. We could still see our breath, and the rain was beating down on the millimeter thick tarp, but we were, for the moment, out of the wind and wet.

We ingested as many calories as possible and felt them course through the body almost instantly, like 94 octane gasoline in a car. It was tempting to stay in that tarp longer – we were warm – but the reality of our day didn’t allow it. We packed up everything except for the tarp, which I stuff in an outside pocket on my pack for easy access, delaying the process of stepping outside for as long as possible. Upon stepping outside, a gust of wind ripped into us and I was shocked how cold it was. And then, once again, we were out in it.

Stomach’s full, zipped tight in Gore Tex, hood up, every inch of the body covered with fabric except for the immediate face, it was possible to let the mind drift. Wild places, the rawness of it, and thoughts that, despite the discomfort, this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. The draw of thru-hiking is far beyond simply wanting to tick off trails and routes. There is purpose and flow to the day that makes just makes sense to me, to my mind, my soul, my body. I feel like, in some bizarre twist, I’m built for it. I like discomfort, find motivation in it. I have long, gangly legs…a serious hindrance in alpine ski racing, but a benefit when trying to cover ground on foot. I don’t know – hiking in wild places just feels right for me like few other things in life have.

dsc07055We entered a land of pure ice wonder. Raging rivers, massive snow banks, glaciers, ice caps, cold, rain, wind. Hostile land to be sure, too brutal for extended use without solid shelter and food, but such a privilege to experience our world at it’s most real, it’s rawest, to feel it and be inundated in it. As cold and windy as it was, I’d take that reality over sunny skies and 72° anyway of the week. We came over a rise and there it was, the Hardangerjokul, the ice cap, sheer, white, inhospitable and absolutely awe inspiring. These are the reasons we save our money and come here…the raw, wild and never seen by us before. Basically, creating those moments we’ll remember on our last breaths on this planet.

dsc07059In the distance we saw what resembled a sign post. It was…we had reached an intersection. According to the map, we should continue on straight, but below the direction arrows was a soaked, tattered sheet of paper that once had been completely wrapped in plastic. The words were faded and bled, but we were able to make out the basic gist. The trail that we wanted to take had been wiped out in a flood from the ice cap, and we had to take a diversion. The note warned us not to leave the flagged route, as we would likely fall off a steep ravine into a dam. In our cold, wet state of mind we were not sure what it all meant, but since the trail going straight looked non-existent and the trail heading left looked partially existent, we decided to take the latter.

The trail continued on for a bit in a normal fashion, albeit due west, a direction we were not supposed to go according to the map. We hit what looked like another intersection with yet another of the tattered signs. Heading due north, with no apparent trail in sight, were little orange flags. What else were we to do but head down the route and hope for the best. Our map had become hopelessly soaked despite being tucked deep inside my Gore-Tex anorak…indeed, everything was getting soaked. Stopping for more than 60 seconds led to a shiver, so we just kept moving. The trail descended steeply and then went straight back up probably the steepest hill of the entire trip. And then, after a slight bit of easier walking, we saw directly below us a huge lake with a damn on the far western edge.

The trail dropped like a free fall. Straight down, and when not straight down it hung precariously above 30 foot tall, soaking wet cliffs. A slip here and who knows when you’d stop tumbling. Below, the dark lake and the dam sat, unmoved, still, lurking. We hiked and slid our way down the mountain, doing our absolute best to avoid injury. It was exceptionally slow going and it required 100% mental focus. The trail was not really a trail at all, but a series of slick, muddy footsteps of other travelers who had to detour the ice cap flood.

About an hour later, soaked, bruised, battered and more than a little wired, we reached the bottom, crossed the concrete dam with big drop offs on either end, and started climbing rapidly up a jeep road. We still held out hope that we could make it to the creature comforts of Finse for the night, but to do so would require hustling. But we were also getting hungry, bordering on another bonk, and to let that happen would be slower than any other option. Since we were actually slightly warm because of the climb, we decided to stop for three minutes and shove all the food and calories into our mouths that we could. The feast was fruitful, but by the end of the three minutes the shiver picked back up…it was time to move again.

The spaced flags took us around the reservoir across high, table-like rock mounds. No problem I thought – we’re heading directly back to the trail we left, past the dam and flood. Once we hit the trail, it would be smooth sailing right to Finse. And then, with more than a hint of excitement and “we told you so,” we hit the trail. We were feeling so confident we actually skipped the luxury of turning right, hiking a kilometer and stopping in a hytte for 15 minutes. We had found the trail, and we were going to Finse.


Immediately the trail started climbing, which according to the now destroyed and soaked map, was what we were supposed to do, or at least that’s what I remembered the map said. When we ran into a haggard and soaked looking group heading towards the hut, we confidently strode by and with more than a little hop and pride in our step, told them we had hiked 20 miles and were going to Finse that night. In retrospect, they looked a little confused, and there was a reason for that.

We moved quickly through the heavy rain and fog over undulating terrain dotted with lakes and snowfields. I made a mental note that I couldn’t really see the ice cap which we were supposed to be circumnavigating, but on the other hand it was so rainy and foggy that you couldn’t really see anything. We took turns leading, blazing our trail towards Finse. On our left we passed a huge reservoir, so big that you could not even make out the other end of it. The wind howled from the west and the rain continued to beat down.

We passed the lake and were getting hungry. It was getting later in the day and it would be good to see if we could unfold the sponge map and figure out how far we had to go to Finse. We erected the tarp yet again, and were soon sheltered from the increasing rain and wind.


I pulled out the map and oriented us as best we could. Hmm, interesting, there doesn’t appear to be a big lake we pass I thought as I scanned our route. And we should be heading more east, but for the past two hours we’ve been heading due north. With disbelief and more not wanting to believe, it hit me – we were on the wrong trail, a trail heading due north, completely off the map to who knows where. For at least two hours we’d been heading the wrong direction. I told Elaine, “I think we’re on the wrong trail.” She didn’t want to believe it, and sensing that this could be a major disappointment that could seriously alter our trip, refused, in her ever optimistic way, to believe it. And, as we took down the tap and headed on, I wanted to believe it too.


Except for one small problem. The trail kept heading north. Due north, like the wrong trail on the map. At some point in time we resigned ourselves that we’d hiked two hours in the wrong direction, had about an hour to go until darkness, had walked ourselves right off the map, it was puking rain and blowing like a banshee, and it felt like it could start snowing at any moment and we were borderline hypothermic. I can’t say we handled this development with grace. More like a few minutes of cursing, before putting the head down, making decisions and going forward. I’ve had a few experiences in my life where the mundane turns a little more critical in the outdoors. I get in this bizarre, almost manic, state of mind and body. It becomes a world of total focus, on being very alert because room for error is limited.

We continued walking. The rain kept pounding down. The wind rose. It began to get a little darker. The creek crossings got a little swifter, a little scarier. The land resembled something out of Lord of the Rings, endless undulating rock, not a smooth spot in site. We needed somewhere to camp, but in this harsh land, there was nowhere protected or even soft enough to drive in a stake. It was a world of wet, windy, slick, grey rock, in every direction, endless, harsh, wild.

We dropped down a ravine. What was this? In front of us, a tiny rock hut, no bigger than a backyard shed. Were my eyes deceiving me? Elaine confirmed that indeed, it was a hut. Unbelievable luck. We came closer. And we noticed smoke. Somebody was here. On a day where we saw almost nobody, somebody was in this hut. I opened the door, looked in, and saw six startled Norwegians. The place was packed, not even space to stand. I closed the door without uttering a word, put my head down, said something in disgust, and continued on.

We couldn’t catch a break on this day. First the washed out trail, then the missed turn and now the jam packed hut with no room for us. Bad luck. Some days reward you and some challenge. This was the latter. It was seriously getting dark now. The terrain was still rocky, and it seemed like we might be walking in this dream nightmare all night.


On the horizon, we made out some faint power lines. Grey, massive, ominous. They crackled in the rain, a foreign sound in a wild place. To the right, a grey creek raged, cold, frothing, zero life. We went a little further and found a slight patch of moss on a more flat area. It was almost dark, so despite the unaesthetic feel of camping under massive power lines, this would be our rest for the night. We began to put up the shelter when Elaine made a grizzly discovery…a family of dead mice on the ground right where we wanted to camp. Urgh. We searched around for another five minutes, now seriously concerned about hypothermia as we had stopped moving in earnest. Finally, we found a spot.

We strapped the tarp to our pack so it wouldn’t blow away – a mistake like that could be fatal at this point in the game – and began staking it out. The wind was ripping and it was not an easy job. Since it’s a pyramid tarp, there are about four inches of opening between the ground and the shelter, and with the wind howling we wanted nothing to do with that. We took an extra five minutes and piled massive rocks around the shelter, blocking the wind and making it as weather-proof as we could.

And then, relative respite. With the wind blocked and the bottom of our tarp sealed off, it was actually comfortable, especially once we removed our wet base layers and put on a dry layer that never, ever comes out of a plastic bag in our pack until we are out of weather. Our shelter wasn’t as elaborate as the cabin a few miles back, but it was warm and it was our home. Soon our little stove was roaring (we did have to vent some to not get carbon monoxide poisoning), the water was boiling, tea was in hands, warm, steaming, amazing. We feasted on cheesy noodles and listened to the wind howl and rain beat down as a very difficult day on the Hardangervidda came to a close. Sleeping bags zipped up, lamps turned off, heads tucked in, stomachs full and bodies exhausted, we slept in peace as the tempest raged outside.

Harteigån to Liseth: Day 3 Hike Across Norway

August 29, 2016 – Nedsta Soltjørni to Liseth – 23 miles, 2,867 feet of climbing


There was a noticeable change in the weather overnight. The wind picked up and by the time we woke there was a light drizzle pitter-pattering on the tarp. Survival instinct said curl deeper into the sleeping bag, while our ambitious itinerary said get up and go. Motivation was still high, so we did the latter, despite the grey day.

A deep fog had moved over the valley of moss, and it was bone chilling. This was a morning for all layers, including rain top and pants. As the trail descended for most of the first part of the day, it required more layers than normal since exercise induced warming wouldn’t happen for some time.


After the chilled ritual of pulling camp and shaking out the near frozen tarp, we made our way down a narrow trail on the side of a lush canyon. Waterfalls roared to our right, while sheep on the hillside wandered above us to the left. The sheep looked completely unfazed by the weather and I was glad that two of my layers were indeed wool so I could at least pretend to be as warm as they were.

There is something about hiking on a rainy morning with your hood up that lets you isolate into your own mind. I rather enjoy this state of being, simply following Elaine through the narrow path, as fog, rivers and mountains surround. Sometimes it’s good to be quiet and just enjoy the sound of footsteps on trail and rain drizzle on hood. We talk to much in our society…it’s better to listen.

The trail made its way down the valley to a more lush land, filled with blueberries and thicker brush. After indulging in a short berry feast, we crossed an ice cold river. On the other side was a tiny hamlet of three dark wooden cabins, complete with a sod roof. An elderly woman with a bucket was heading into the brush near one of the cabins, no doubt on the hunt for blueberries. A lucky, rare life she had. Of course, who knows what tragedies she has lived through – we all have some – but at least from the external appearance this was an ideal life.

dsc07009dsc07010We continued descending. We had been in this country before, last winter, on a ski between Hadlaskard and Torrehytten. Free of snow, it was drastically different. Travel would indeed be easier in the winter, for in the summer a dense brush and bog replaces a perfect winter cross country skiing surface. Fortunately a trail cut through the brush, making for quick going. We soon were crossing an elaborate suspension bridge right to Hadlaskard Hytte.

dsc07011dsc07014dsc07016-recoveredHadlaskard is one of our very favorite huts – remote, well equipped and located in a spectacular valley. Upon arriving, a couple from the Netherlands was leaving, and we shared stories from the trail and plans for the future. They were heading to Trolltunga…we were simply heading north to somewhere in the Jotenheim Mountains.

We stopped at Hadlaskard, dried some of our clothes, ate some Raman, and made a navigational choice. We had the option of heading up and over the central Hardangervidda on an exact route we skied earlier in the year. It would be straight forward and likely boggy. We also had the option of taking a trail on the west side of the plateau that dropped into the town Liseth before heading back up and circling the remote Hardangerjokul ice cap. Given that we have a penchant for new adventures, we chose the latter.

dsc07017dsc07018The trail worked its way down valley before rising onto some smooth rocky terrain that provided outstanding travel. We passed through a few remnant hamlets from the stone ages, and the combination of that and sheep on the hillside made for a medieval feel to the afternoon. Clouds raged below us, billowing down the glacier carved valley. We finally left Hardangervidda National Park and made our way down to the creek bed.



dsc07029The trail turned heinous here. Rocky as can be, deep mud trenches and trick brush slowed our pace down to a crawl. Fortunately the berries were good at this low, birch forest elevation, and we feasted between struggling through the tricky terrain. We passed a shelter with a roof made of a section of rock that must have weighed many, many tons. If the weather was bad, this place would hold up.

dsc07026dsc07027As we continued down valley the trail got more and more muddy, to the point where it was quite comical. We would sink to our knees in the mud, the black muck pulling us down. Streams were a respite to clean the feet, and then it was back into the mud to repeat the process.

Before the trip began Elaine and I had a scheme to hike nine days to this spot from the north and then compete in the Hardangervidda Marathon which started in the nearby town of Eidfjord. After figuring out that the logistics to do this would be challenging at best, we decided to scrap the marathon plan. Nevertheless, we were now on a portion of the course, evidenced by the copious flagging the race organizer or a volunteer had placed a few days earlier.

What a course it was – a muddy trench with thick, thick brush all around. When it wasn’t a muddy trench, it was super slick rocks and sheep poop. (We checked times of the marathon upon getting home…winning time was five hours…not exactly the Boston Marathon smooth travel). We climbed yet another pass and it began to rain. The descent to the hamlet of Liseth was perhaps the slickest trail I’ve ever been on, and both Elaine and I took numerous crashes on our way down the steep gully. There are popular trails in Norway, and there was this one…it looked like nobody had used it in months.


dsc07031As the light rain came down and the fog re-rolled in, we were not sure what to do for the night. The map made it clear that once we hit the valley we were in for 5-7 kilometers of bog before the trail eventually made its way back up onto the Hardangervidda. We hit the river at the bottom – absolutely raging in power and volume – crossed a bridge and just relaxed for a few minutes. As we stopped, the sun peaked through the clouds and a rainbow arced over the northern horizon.

We enjoyed some leisurely road walking before heading up a dirt road to the town of Liseth. According to the map, there was a “hikers pension” there. After a long day, a warm shower and bed seemed like the right call. Our goal for this trip was to spend frugally, but this seemed like a luxury too good to pass up. Besides, everything was soaked and it would be nice to dry out a little bit. We passed two horses, and the scene of the rainbow arcing over them made the whole thing look like a real-life Lisa Frank painting. And at the very end of the rainbow was our lodging for the night, the Liseth Hostel.


dsc07040We were soaked to the bone and I imagine quite the sight to see, but the hostess was extremely friendly and for some reason charged us an inordinately cheap fare for the night. We went to our room, pulled out items to dry and quickly made a mess of the place! We were hungry, so we took our chances that we might be able to get some dinner. No problem whatsoever – tonight’s meal was salmon, potatoes and hot cocoa – to which we happily obliged. It was fantastic fish, no doubt caught in the Norwegian Sea about 10 miles west of where we were. We enjoyed the warmth and luxury of civilization for one night. It was a brief respite, for the next day would test our mettle to the hilt.