July 11 – Twin Lakes to Mount Belford Base – 15 miles, 5,456 feet up, 3,163 feet down
Today was a hard day. When planning the trip, we had heard that a segment in this area was closed as a result of massive blow down last winter. There were a few options for detours – essentially a low route and a high route. The low route winded along a number of old roads in the Arkansas River Valley, while the high route went up over the infamous Hope Pass and into the higher terrain. What we elected to do would be the high route on steroids.
It was a case of eyes being bigger than the legs. The original plan was to climb Hope Pass, and then, in three days time, climb three 14,000 foot peaks – Belford, Oxford and Harvard – before heading back onto the trail. Well, between the time we made these plans and the start of the trip, volunteers had actually managed to clear out the blow down, rendering the detour absolutely not necessary. But of course, we had to bite off a ton, and decided to continue on the detour.
We started off by heading straight south of Twin Lakes across a marsh land, crossing a rushing creek in the process. Stella was less than thrilled with the latter part – she's a husky, not a lab – and it was quite a sight to see her paddling across the flowing creek. As always though, she was a good sport and did well.
After this, it was straight up Hope Pass. I'm not sure if it was a result of cumulative fatigue, but this route up was brutal. It was steep and relentless. The Leadville Trail 100 running race goes over this thing (and back), and I don't really want to imagine how hellacious that would be ten hours into a race. The Colorado Trail guidebook says the reason it's called Hope Pass is because once you've gone over it you'll say to yourself, "Hope I never have to cross that again!" There is a lot of mining history here, and we passed some interesting artifacts – old cabins, mining equipment and even an old gravesite. I wonder what the story is with that?
Stella is an interesting dog. She is exceptionally attached to us, and actually naturally heels when we walk. It's convenient at times, but when hiking up a loose scree trail, it's a bit annoying to have her literally rubbing her head on your calf as you head up a tiny single-wide trail. It's part of who she is, part of being an abused dog though, and we let it slide.
We crested the top and the wind was howling. We both were a little shelled, and our map actually blew away (we retrieved it down on the lower tundra). The downhill was even worse. It was super steep and really not much fun. Obviously it didn't do Elaine's knee any favors.
I think we lost a little motivation on these diversion days. The Colorado Trail provided a clear goal that we could get psyched for…I think we were wondering what we were doing on the diversion. We eventually made it down the backside of Hope Pass and took a leisurely walk down a dirt road to the ghost town Vicksburg and Missouri Gulch.
We decided to stick with our original plan – at least the first part of it – and head up to the base of Mount Belford. It was a slow climb up to timberline where we set up a camp at the fork of the Mount Belford and Elkhead Pass trail. Upon arrival we were greeted by a soaking thunderstorm, but fortunately we'd done a good job setting up the tarp and stayed dry. I felt a surge of pride when I heard a hiker pass our camp and say to his partner, "that's a very well set-up tarp." Ah, the things that really matter out here.
We're currently enjoying the evening sun after which we'll eat some dinner and do a little yoga. We're physically tired but working very well as a team now. I think the key will be to stay in the moment and not dwell on Durango. This is the trip of a lifetime – it's important to enjoy it. I do believe we were a little too ambitious with our original plan to include Mount Harvard. We've come to a consensus that we'll nix that and rejoin the lower and easier Colorado Trail tomorrow after a climb up Belford.
I'm excited to see Missouri Basin too – it's apparently stunningly beautiful and is referred to as the "place where God lives." All told, this was a big day…the biggest vertical day of any day so far, and it came at the beginning of a ration when our packs are heaviest. The sun rose today at 5:40 am and set at 8:29 pm. We've lost seven minutes of daylight since the beginning of the trip on July 2.
Tomorrow, mountains willing, it's up a 14er and then exploration of a legendary high mountain cirque.