July 8 – East Side of Wheeler Pass to Searle Pass – 17 miles, 3,907 feet up, 3,340 feet down
Started this day of hiking with a bang – a wall straight up to the top of the 10-Mile Range. It's an amazing trail that tops out above timberline on a high alpine ridge. A horrid place to be in a lightning storm, but at 6 am it's delectable. Heading on the ridge north, Summit County drops away to the left. It was possible to look back and see our entire route from Georgia Pass, Lost Creek and beyond. I felt a real sense of pride having walked this far.
To the west sprawled Copper Mountain and the snaking I-70, making its way up Vail Pass. On the way down we found a little snow patch. Stella showed little interest. A trail runner passed us going the other way. That's a hell of a great way to start the morning off in my book – a real life Nike commercial.
Elaine's knee has deteriorated – there is a significant pain on the inside of the patella. It's frustrating because we want to do this trail in style. It's kind of shocking how far we've managed to come in a short time given a myriad of problems, and I have a feeling if we can catch a break we're going to fly. It's just a matter of breaking through and getting to that point. It's amazing how strong she is given the injuries…she's a powerhouse hiker and her determination is clear. She is a fighter.
Hiking the Colorado Trail is not easy. If it was everybody would do it. Honestly the norm after hiking 100 miles in five days is to have some physical pain. Still, it can be hard to deal with. I'm actually quite shocked that my body feels as good as it does, but as I told Elaine, that could change with one single mis-step. One thing that is true…we want this badly. I think there is a certain truth to the feeling that we sometimes have an "us against the world" attitude. It's understandable given our history. It's absolutely tangible, and honestly I like it because I think it has the potential to drive us to some great things, but we also have to guard against it making us do something stupid – like hiking up a mountain in a lightning storm – because we want something so badly.
We eventually made it down the steep downhill to Copper – downhills are far-and-away the worst for her knee – and decided to divert off the trail slightly and grab a burger at a place in the resort called J.J.'s. We had plenty of food in our packs but as Elaine said, "I'm never one to pass up a good burger." Here, here! A damn good burger it was.
We headed straight up the ski slope back onto the Colorado Trail. We passed a ski lift, so I had Elaine sit on a chairlift while I snapped a photo. It seems like this trail does a nice job showing not only the beauty of our state, but also bits and pieces of Colorado history.
We finally circumnavigated all of Copper and entered a beautiful gully that paralled a mountain creek that eventually rose up to Searle Pass. We hiked quietly for some time. I think we were both kind of figuring out if we really still wanted this. A lot had been tossed our way and quite honestly Copper Mountain would have made a convenient quitting stop. And yet, we never stopped.
We reached timberline, snacked, and gave the skies a look. Thunderstorms were moving in rapidly. Once we gained Searle Pass, a long, flat, above timberline plateau awaited us – less than an ideal place to be with electricity striking. We headed past the 10th Mountain Division Hut Janet's Cabin and made it to Searle Pass. We got there and saw gnarly clouds. It didn't look promising, and despite being a bit behind schedule it wasn't worth dying for.
We turned around and set up a camp right at timberline. It was a good evening – we did some yoga, ate some good food and listened to the tundra birds. We tucked into our cozy sleeping bags. I think we may have crossed some sort of mental threshold today. Temptation to quit was there, but we didn't. The mental will power is there in droves, as is the physical fitness. Let's hope Elaine's knee follows suit.