CT Day 21/CDT: Passes upon Passes (Cottonwood Pass to Tincup Pass Road)

It always seemed to take me longer than expected to get out if camp, and today was no exception. I’d had a close call with lightning on Cottonwood Pass the day before, so I set my alarm for 2:30 this morning to get a jump on today’s climbs. I didn’t get up with my alarm, and eventually took advantage of camping all alone by blasting Guns N Roses on my phone to get me motivated & out of my tent. I still had to I walk up the marshy shore of the small lake below the overlook to fill my CNOC bag , so I started out the day with wet shoes. The wooden fence lining the parking lot was handy to hang the bag and filter water into my bottles. Despite my early start, it was already well after 5:00 am – I could see that I needed to be more disciplined about doing all my camp chores like filtering water at night before going to sleep. It was a pretty steep climb up to the high point but I got there in time to see the dawn skyline over the the mountains behind the lake. It was really windy at the top, but previous hikers had built a little walled fort with the nearby rocks that offered with some protection. I had cell reception here and was able to make a quick check-in call with my wife Maria. I sat down with my pack without thinking about my one liter BeFree in my pack’s side pocket. As soon as I felt I was sitting on wet pants a realized my error – the sharp rocks had poked a hole in my BeFree bottle. Another lesson learned, I thought, as I left the little fort to hike on in the cold, windy morning with the bottom of my pack and seat of my pants soaking wet.

It was Wednesday and I needed to keep up my pace of at least 15 miles a day over today’s four climbs. I had arranged to meet my son Erik on Friday morning at Monarch Pass, and that was still more than 40 miles away. I was all alone for the first couple of miles and I had a pretty amazing view in every direction all to myself. The sun finally rose over a nearby peak overlooking some small lakes. The green terraced mountaintops looked like a fantasy golf course. I thought my childhood friend Kerry, who had made a career in the golf industry, might like to play a round here.

The trail descended a bit, then rose up towards the next pass. A pair of hikers I had leap-frogged with the day before passed me again. We shared our respective war stories about dodging yesterday’s lightning storm on Cottonwood Pass and were happy we all all got through safely. The next two descents and climbs followed impressive trail built across large rockslide areas. One of the drainages bottomed out at some odd looking ponds surrounded by copper-colored rocks. I could see thunderstorms a few ridges away, and I was relieved that to see that I would be over my last pass for the day before they reached me. Towards the top of the last climb I met I met a hiker dressed in blue called Laker. Another fast moving hiker carrying just one pole squeezed past me as a took a break along the rockslide trail. I reminded myself that I needed to stop my bad habit of taking breaks right alongside the narrow trail as I began my final and longest descent of the day. It began to rain as I reached the woods into the Woodchopper Creek drainage, but I passed by a couple nice campsites to get my 15 miles in for the day. There were several established campsites at the bottom alongside the creek and Tincup Pass Road. I was liking this approach of getting up early and starting the day with a climb, then ending at the bottom of the last climb near a water source. The Colorado Trail seemed to be laid out nicely, usually but not always, to support this tactic.

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