Great Western Loop: Day 58-62: Silverthorne to Grand Lake
Day 58: Snow! (20miles)
Silverthorne is located on Interstate 70, a fact that I had realised a bit late. On my app it looked like a regular highway (Bundesstrasse/Landstrasse), where hitching is no problem. On an Interstate (Autobahn) hitching is impossible and therefore I had taken an Uber the day before.
(The snow-covered mountains on the right, are those I crossed a few days ago, when I went down to Breckenridge (far end of the lake)
Due to the limited amount of Uber's in town and the fact, that an alternate trail right, next to my motel, would take me back to the CDT, I decided to hike out of Silverthorne. The Silverthorne alternate would add roughly 17 miles to my hike to Grand Lake.
The climb up to Mt. Ptarmigan was easy, but I soon found myself in deep snow again, that would last for the entire day.
From Ptarmigan Pass I had to descent 3 miles into a valley. The snow was incredibly soft, the trail not visible and the mountainside steep and covered by trees. It was extremely strenuous going downhill and it took more than 2 hours to reach the valley. From here on the situation improved as I had now made it to a hillside that was facing south and therefore had much less snow. Unfortunately this side had a lot of blowdowns.
(Trail blocked by blowdowns)
By 5:15pm I had made it to the top of yet another ridgeline.
(Looking back on the ridgeline that I had followed)
The ridge and the views were incredible up here, but also provided some sketchy and quite technical parts.
(Yepp, I went along that ridge. You can actually see my footprints...)
Luckily the weather was fine and there was no wind that could have pushed me off the mountainside.
After a rough day through an enormous amount of snow I finally reached the last pass at 7:20pm. From here it was all downhill into a valley where I would spent the night.
Zooming in, you can see a road going up the mountain in the background, slightly left of the picture's center. That's Jones Pass and where I had to go the next day.
Day 59: People! (25miles)
Day 59 was an annoying day. The initial climb up to Jones Pass was brutal and cost a lot of energy.
(Looking back from Jones Pass into the valley, where I had camped the night before. Steep climb)
After Jones Pass I followed the official CDT route again until I lost the trail near Stanley Mountain.
At this time I was quite tired and exhausted from all the snow and decided to make my life easier, by dropping down into the valley and onto road 202.
I followed that road until it joined Highway 40, from here on I hiked east towards the small town of Empire. After a short stop for a coke and a pizza, I made my way back to the CDT and encountered yet again, endless amounts of snow.
At 7pm I finally made it to Rainbow Creek and the local trailhead, where I found 4 groups of car campers. The night was rather uncomfortable. People were playing music and cars were coming and going. Sometimes their headlights would shine right into my tent, waking me up in the middle of the night.
Day 60: James Peak (25miles)
I had chosen last night's campsite, as it was just at the beginning of another 3,000ft / 1000m climb to James Peak. Yet again it was a steep climb through quite some snow.
After 2/3 of the climb, the trail got a little bit easier and opened up.
(James Peak in the middle of the picture, "trail" went up that long mountainside from right to left)
Upon getting closer to the actual mountain, I saw several silhouettes on the hillside. My heart jumped up, as I was hoping to see some black bears! As I was getting closer, I got more and more confused. I had initially seen 3 silhouettes, now I saw 12 and I knew this couldn't be bears. Minutes later I realised what I was looking at. Skiers. It was Memorial Day Weekend and ahead of me was a group of people that wanted to ski on James Peak. What a bummer...
(Skiers on the mountain)
At 9am I had finally reached the summit. From here on it would mostly be downhill for the rest of the day.
(Summit and skiers)
I only stopped for a short chocolate bar and than descended on the northern side. At this time I was hoping for more than 25miles, but would soon be stopped by some technical parts.
The trail was regularly blocked by snow
Most parts were easy and safe to cross, others - like in the picture above - were quite sketchy and dangerous. In this particular case I decided to scramble up the mountain for some 50m and traverse over some rocks.
Some 2-3 miles later, the trail followed a wide open ridgeline, that was halfway covered in snow. Knowing that the trail would drop down to 9,500-10,000ft in just a few miles, I tried to make as much progress as possible, to get out of the snow.
I made It to Saddle Junction by 2pm and couldn't see much snow in the valley below...but boy was I wrong...
Just minutes after starting the descent I ran into a section that had been devastated by an avalanche. Hiking through this was a nightmare. The snow was soft and I oftentimes postholed, hitting trees, branches and rocks hidden under the snow. It hurt...and I couldn't really use my snowshoes, as they were to clumsy to climb over all these obstacles. In addition to that, there was a creek hidden underneath the snow and I really did not want to fall into that.
It took hours to get down from Saddle Junction, but finally the trail improved and allowed me to relax a little bit.
Unfortunately, the snow would soon return and so would the blowdowns. I struggled for the rest of the day though rough terrain and found a smartphone on trail.
Day 61: Grand Lake (22miles)
I woke up with one blueberry muffin left. That was all the food I had for the day.
It had been raining throughout the night and now the walls of my tent were basically frozen.
I packed up and followed a road for a mile to avoid some snow. For about 2 hours and down to an elevation of 9,300ft I would still face some snow, but I just pushed through it, to get to town as fast as possible.
Eventually the snow disappeared and I was able to follow a picture-perfect trail for a few miles.
At Monarch Lake I met some Forest Service Volunteers and gave them the Smartphone I had found the day before.
I followed the trail for another 14miles until I finally arrived in Grand Lake in the early afternoon.
In need of some rest after strenuous snow hikes and being interested in Grand Lakes Memorial Day Parade, I booked 2 nights at a local motel.
Day 62: Memorial Day (0miles)
Memorial Day is a holiday to honor those who died while serving the nation in the U.S. military, but it also honors First Responders and Law Enforcement Officers. Even though I'm not a fan of that excessive american patriotism, I'd wish German LEO's and First Responders would receive more support and overall respect.
After the parade, I spent the day eating, resting, replacing some gear and planning. Unfortunately, the CDT section that leads through the Rocky Mountains National Park is still closed due to a devastating fire from October 2020. The damage is actually visible from town.
This means I'll have to skip some 20 miles and hike straight north along a highway, to reconnect with the official trail.
The end of Colorado is within reach. In 6-7 days I could be out of the mountains and the snow.