Great Western Loop: Day 63 - 65: Grand Lake to Steamboat Springs
Due to the Rocky Mountains National Park CDT section closure, I hiked north along highway 34. Parts of that highway go right through the National Park and so I still had to pay 25 USD, even though I just wanted to bypass the burned area. The damage caused by the fire was clearly visible and massive.
(Ranger Office burned down)
(Difficult to see on the picture, but all trees on the mountains in the background are completely burned)
For almost 1.5 days I'd hike through some of the most terrible terrain I had encountered so far.
It all started rather nice after leaving the highway. The hike up to Bowen Pass was nice and easy in the beginning, until it all turned into a winter wonderland again.
The weather changed frequently. It was mostly sunny, but every 30-45minutes it snowed or hailed like crazy for just a few minutes. Despite having heard so much about intense bear activity, I yet have to find one. The closest I've been to a bear this season was seeing some bear tracks in the snow.
Once I got down from the pass, I hiked through yet another burn area. I would find out the next day, that this part of the trail was actually closed due to the damage, but I'm sure that there was no closure-sign at the southern trailhead. I therefore was quite suprised to see the northern trailhead closed.
(Hiked through this for several hours)
Day 64: almost 10,000ft (21miles)
Luckily I had found myself a nice camping spot in an area that wasn't completely burned and only 8 miles from Parkview Mountain, the last 12,000ft Mountain of the CDT. The day promised almost 10,000ft of elevation (6k up, 4k down), but that wasn't my major concern.
The trail to Troublesome Pass was just in a horrible condition. Trees were either burned or blown down and so the hike was an incredible obstacle course. I constantly had to find ways around, over and under trees that blocked my way. This is one of the downsides of being out here so early in the season. Trail maintenance crews have not been out here yet.
After Troublesome Pass I quickly climb out of the trees and soon got pretty amazing views.
(Emergency shelter, door was blocked by snow from the inside 😀)
Coming down from the mountain, I again entered a burn area.
Yet again the day was weird and it was difficult to plan my mileage.
I had expected that snow would slow me down, but i didn't encounter much snow on the ridges. What I hadn't expected were all the blowdowns and burn areas, that made hiking so difficult.
My plan was reaching the Trailhead on Forest Service Road 104 (FSR). From here on it the trail would be all roadwalk for some 26 miles to Highway 40, from where I could hitch into Steamboat Springs.
At 7pm, I was only 2miles from the trailhead, but decided to stay put upon seeing all the snow on the 1000ft climb, that I still would have to do.
Day 65: Roadwalk? (28miles)
My spirits were high as I woke up. I'd be in town after a mere 2mile climb through snow and another easy 26miles on various roads.
I quickly started the climb to the FSR 104 Trailhead. The snow was mostly frozen and easy to cross. Just the amount of snow had me slightly worried.
Upon making it to the Trailhead I was looking for the road, but all I found was snow. Contrary to yesterday's ridges, this ridge was still covered in snow, and instead of easily cruising down a Forest Service Road, I would have to hike another 8 miles through deep snow.
(Yes...I'm "on" the road right now)
Luckily the trail than quickly dropped from 11,000ft to 8,300ft and got me out of the snow.
After 9 miles on FSR 104, I had to hike another 9 miles on Highway 14, to the junction with Highway 40. I got here at 4:15pm. Just minutes later I got a ride with Jim. Jim was a lovely retired Ski Instructor living in Steamboat Springs, who dropped me off at his favourite Mexican place. I enjoyed some great food here, before I got myself a room at the nearby motel.