Great Western Loop: Day 50-53: Salida to Leadville
Day 50: Staying low (24miles)
Leaving Salida I didn't feel well. I felt exhausted and had some chest pain. Due to all the struggle with the recent snow pack, I decided to leave the CDT for a few days and hike along the East Collegiate Peak route of the Colorado Trail. That route stays mostly at or below 10,000ft and therefore out of the snow.
(Highway 50 to Monarch Pass)
In the early morning, I couldn't get a ride from Salida, so I walked 5miles to Poncha Springs, where a Nightguard picked me up.
I quickly left Highway 50 and started my hike towards Mt. Princeton, some 25miles away.
The trail was clearly visible and easy to follow and so I started listening to some music until suddenly a deafening sound appeared behind me.
I turned off the music and just seconds later two US Air force fighter jets flew by, so low that I almost ducked away.
Besides that the day was rather uneventful. I met a few day hikers on the way and experienced a mix of weather conditions. It partly rained, hailed and thunderstormed throughout the entire day, with some sunny moments here and there.
My goal for the day was the 4-star Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort, which I reached around 7pm. Just before that I came through a tiny village in the middle of the mountains.
At Mt. Princeton I was the odd one. All guest were nicely dressed and the tables covered in white tablecloths. I wasn't suprised, when I got asked to sit at the bar :-) Here, I ordered a 35USD New York Strip Steak...and was actually quite disappointed by it.
The barkeeper at that place turned out to be a local mountaineer and he strongly advised me, not to hike up the steep and sketchy Mt. Yale trail (2.9miles, 3000ft ascent). Instead he suggested taking the road to the nearby town of Buena Vista.
Day 51: Roadwalk (35miles)
I had camped just a mile north of the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort and followed the barkeepers advice. I was still feeling exhausted and not really up for some extensive mountain climbing. Buena Vista was only 9miles away and so I got there for a nice breakfast at 9am.
On one of the town's junctions a car stopped. The driver asked me about my hike and than offered me 20USD for a nice breakfast in his favourite Cafe. I didn't accept the money, but went to the Cafe he mentioned.
(Mt. Yale (left) and Mt. Harvard)
Instead of going back into the mountains near Mt. Harvard, I decided to stay on the highway and push directly for Twin Lakes.
I had somehow believed that Twin Lakes was bigger than Leadville and therefore planned to resupply here, but i quickly realised that Twin Lakes is not more than a few buildings, a grocery store and some lodges and a restaurant. The grocery store was still closed for the season.
I had a quick burger at the local restaurant and bought a homemade cookie, as I was running low on food. While paying for one cookie, the very nice and kind waitress gave me a second cookie for free to support my hike. Upon leaving the restaurant I said "Hi" to the local Sheriff, met a local who waited for me on the road, after picking up his mail and than found myself a nice campsite close to the Upper Lake. Here in Twin Lakes everyone was talking about bears and Mountain Lions. People in the restaurant talked about Bears roaming through Twin Lakes and the local guy on the road also warned me about a lot of bear activity. Unfortunately I still haven't seen any bears yet.
(That's Twin Lakes, almost all of it...)
Day 52: Too soft snow (20miles)
I had barely enough food left for another day on trail, but instead of going straight towards Leadville, I followed the CDT towards Mt. Elbert and Tourquise Lake.
(Beaver Homestead in a random lake)
The day started with rain, which later turned into hail, a little bit of snow and than just more rain. The initial trail near Twin Lakes was ok and easy to follow, but soon after Mt. Elbert Trailhead on Road 110 it turned into a complete mess.
(Snow starting to build up...)
As experienced several times before. Forests between 10,500 and 11,500ft are usually the worst in terms of snow conditions. The snow here was so soft and deep, that I got stuck with every single step. The snow swallowed me up to my hips and was even too soft for my snow shoes.
Several times I had to kneel down and dig my snowshoes out of the snow, as it was impossible to lift them.
After struggling through this for a few hours, I knew that I couldn't make it to the highway some 20miles away. Being so annoyed by the snow, I decided to bail out and go cross-country to the next available road, which was some 2 miles away. With a brief look on my map and the help of my compass, I got off the mountain an hour later and started hiking on a dirt road towards Leadville.
I arrived in Leadville in the late afternoon and while trying to find out if the local Safeway-Supermarket had a Starbucks, I saw that they offered appointments for the Covid-vaccine. Not being quite sure if I was truly eligible, I walked over to the supermarkets pharmacy. A few minutes later I had an appointment for a covid vaccination on the next day.
Day 53: Covid (0miles)
Day 53 started with an early breakfast with a religious trumpist, that I had met the night before at the motel. He had recently spent some time in prison for aggravated assault and was now 7 days sober. We didn't really discuss politics that morning. He gave me a tour through leadville and than we parted.
At 10am I went to Melanzana to buy some of the famous hoodies for a German friend and myself. The store doesn't ship its products and therefore a huge line of customers were waiting in front of the store. Each only allowed to buy two Micro Grid Hoodies. That's why I returned to the store in the evening, buying a total of 4 hoodies.
(Rocky Mountains in the background, the trail is somewhere between the treeline and the snowpack)
At 1pm I than finally got my covid-shot. Instead of paying for the vaccine I got a 10% discount for the supermarket. I experienced no side effects and therefore decided to hike on, the next day.