Great Western Loop: Day 66-70: Steamboat Springs to Rawlins
Day 66: Free meal (17miles)
Steamboat Springs is one of many american towns with two town centers. One downtown district with eateries and a more commercial district with grocery stores and shops. Being downtown I therefore had to take a bus to get to the nearest Safeway supermarket for my resupply.
At noon I was ready to leave the town and I had decided, not to hitch back to the place from where I came the day before, but to hike from Steamboat Springs to Summit Lake Campground via Buffalo Pass. This 13 mile hike with some 4,000ft of elevation gain, would skip Rabbit Ear's Pass and some 20miles of the official trail.
Before hitting the road, I went for lunch. Unfortunately the place, where I had breakfast was full and so I went to the mexican restaurant "Salt and Lime". As I was getting ready to pay for my tacos, the lovely waitress told me that I wouldn't have to pay anything. Every now and than hikers eat for free at her place and today, I was the lucky one. I expressed my gratitude and headed out for the mountains.
After reaching the mountain top, the snow quickly returned and slowed me down. Having left the town so late, I was happy to just reconnect with the trail and hike a few more miles until finding a nice campsite
(Nice example of the amount of snow, the trail is on the right side of this photo)
Day 67: Mt. Zirkel (32miles)
On day 67 I had to hike through 10-12miles of snow. Even though, I hadn't seen that much snow in the past few days, the snow here was rather firm and hikeable. I made some solid progress with my snowshoes and enjoyed some great views.
2.5miles before Lone Ranger Peak, the snow levels receeded for a short time and than increased again, as I was hiking down on the northern mountainside.
The trail quickly dropped under 9500ft and went through a small burn area, before reaching a remote trailhead.
In the valley I found a few car campers, but quickly moved on, as the weather was getting worse.
Unfortunately I didn't pay close attention to my map and the hiker comments. Reading a comment about a missing bridge, I took a 4mile road detour, just to realise that the missing bridge was coming up a few miles further north. Upon ending my detour I therefore had to take another short detour, to actually bypass the section, where the bridge was missing...
At least, it had stopped raining and the trail was really nice and easy to follow, except for one tricky river crossing. Throughout the day, I saw an endless amount of deer and a few bear tracks.
Day 68: The end (30miles)
I started day 68 with high spirits. I didn't expect much snow on this day, given the relatively low elevation I had to climb, and I would finally end the brutal Colorado section of the CDT.
Some 5miles before the state line I suddenly ran into Hummingbird. We had left Chama together and briefly met again in Pagosa Springs, after she and Sky had bailed out of the mountains, while I hiked on. She had than decided to skip ahead and hike from Wyoming south, to benefit from better conditions in Colorado, a little bit later in the season.
(State line between Colorado and Wyoming)
Just after crossing the state line I met Lorax. Lorax is a 2016 CDT hiker, who now spends time on trail to clear it from blowdowns and deadfall. We chatted for about 20minutes, before I finally pushed on.
I quickly climbed into the Houston Park Wilderness, which was incredibly well marked, but also covered in much more snow than I had expected. Luckily there was a trail marker every 100yards (90m) and it became a game to hunt down the next marker. I was also able to follow some footprints of a day hiker, that I had met an hour earlier.
My goal was to reach Battle Axe Campground and its Hiker box (a public box, where people/hiker drop i.e. food, water or other stuff for public use)
Due to all my chatting I was running late and due to the snow, much slower than expected.
Now, I also had to deal with the North Encampement Stream. This stream I had to cross 3 times, and each crossing got worse.
(Easy first crossing, knee deep...but freezing cold)
3rd crossing. The river was more than 1.2m deep and incredibly fast flowing. I spent 30minutes testing different locations for a safe crossing and got quite wet, until I finally found a log. Balancing was a risky act, but the best option I had.
I made it safely to the other side and layered up, after quite some time in the cold water.
Luckily I managed to get warm again quickly and hiked the remaining 2miles to the campground. I arrived here just before 9pm.
Day 69: Into the basin! (43miles)
The day started with a climb up to Bridger Pass. Usually one of the easiest climbs on trail due to a gentle incline that follows a dirt road. For me, that road didn't exist. All i could see was snow and some ATV or snowmobile tracks.
Nevertheless the climb wasnt too difficult and i quickly progressed towards Medicine Bow Wilderness.
Bridger Peak marked an important milestone, from here on the quickly dropped from 10,000ft to 7,500ft and into Wyomings Great Basin.
This was a very welcome change, as the snowshoes started to cause problems. The bindings and constant inclines ripped my feet apart and caused my feet to bleed.
(Blood soaked socks)
After some 30miles i reached the highway into Rawlins. This was an alternate route to the 20mile longer official trail, but as i was running out of food, i had to take the faster and shorter way to town. I continued along the highway for another 13miles and than camped closed to it. Along the way i barely saw any cars, but one offered me a ride into town, which i declined. I wanted to properly hike all 36miles along the road, even though water was very limited and of very bad quality.
Day 70: Into Rawlins (23miles)
Day 70 continued as 69 had ended. I followed the same highway for another 23miles into Rawlins. Again, i got offered a ride which i declined. My pace was fast and so i made it to town by 1am.
The scenery didn't change at all, but was still enjoyable after several weeks in Colorados mountains.
The only noteworthy and very dangerous situation occured, when i passed a campground. Days before i had lost my earbuds and so i was listening to music via the phone's speakers. For some reason, i have the russian national anthem on my phone and that anthem played while i was past the campground. I...quickly turned it off. No need to get shot by an overly patriotic american ;-)
In Rawlins i didnt get much rest. Hearing bad news about the trail conditions further north, i had to do a lot of research and to decide what to do with my snow gear. I had initially planned to ship it home to germany, but now i decided to hang on to it. I therefore decided to ship it ahead to Lander. Overall Rawlins was a town that i didn't liked at all. Even though i stayed in the middle of the town, all places that i needed were far away and required a lot of walking.