I started this trip on July 6 to avoid the holiday crowds, and had stayed with my son in Leadville the night before. I left my truck at Erik’s house and caught the Lake County Link shuttle to Copper at 5:30 am. My plan this trip was to complete the 25 miles from Copper Mountain to Tennessee Pass in 2 days. I knew that most of the 4400 feet of total elevation gain would be on the first day and it helped to get an early start. The bus dropped me off near Copper and I hiked back to where the CT connected along Highway 91.
The trail then passes just above the base of the ski area, where a resort employee directed me the way to follow the the trail as it climbed southwest towards Guller Creek. I passed a friendly bunch of day hikers that knew the way better much than me. From the creek I got a glimpse of the climb that lied ahead up Searle Pass and Elk Ridge.
There were a few mountain bikers out today, and several let me know the view up ahead would easily make the climb worth it. The trail gains 2400 feet over 12 miles, not steep but a relentless climb. There was pretty run-off creek flowing down Searle Pass along the way. A friend had told me about a hut trip he had taken to Janet’s cabin, and it looked like pretty special place looking down from the pass. I finally made it up over Elk Ridge and despite the wind I took a few minutes to enjoy the views all around me. Even the Climax mine with it’s filtering ponds and Highway 91 in the distance added to the scene. Now, whenever I drive over Fremont Pass, I can look up from the highway towards this notch I passed through that day and remember what it was like to be all the way up there.
The trail followed along a grassy ridge to the top of Kokomo Pass. I was all alone at this point, and like many hikers before me I couldn’t help but sing that Beach Boys song out loud as I approached the sign. La Playa Brujas near Mazatlan, where I took my wife Maria on our first beach vacation, is my Kokomo. But it was cool to visit a real place called that too.
It was pretty much all downhill from hear to camp. I passed Cataract Falls, then some more friendly CDT NOBOs and my first bikepackers of the summer. A trail crew that had been clearing some deadfall and passed me on their way back to the trail head. One of the younger crew members offered me his granola bar – nothing spectacular but I happily accepted my first bit of trail magic. There were several nice established campsites to choose from along the creek so it was an easy end to the day.
The next morning I covered the last 10 miles in about 4 hours, a pretty good pace for me. A fellow CT hiker named Chris joined me for a couple miles leading up to Camp Hale and shared a story of some the the heroics of the 10th Mountain Division. The barracks there were dug into the turf and seemed to go on endlessly. I obeyed the sign to not leave the trail as there could be some unexploded munitions nearby. There was a clear, almost haunting feeling as I passed by Camp Hale, that I was walking through hallowed ground.
I visited with a few more CT hikers as we passed the old coke ovens near the Tennessee Pass Trailhead. It was fun to visit with Snackbox, who had made some really helpful CT Youtube videos, as I reached the parking lot. I can’t even remember the last time I hitchhiked before this, but I was happily surprised it took me only 10-15 minutes to get a ride back to Leadville. Ironically a former AT hiker just passing through on his way to Texas picked me up – he seemed to think I was homeless at first. In the moment, that didn’t feel like such a bad thing.