Frisco to Grand Lake and the Rocky Mountain National Park loop

Day 89 

I would of loved to spend a zero day in town, but not this time. The bus ride out of Frisco leads right to the trail. You then just have to cross the busy highway dodging traffic and follow a trail up alongside a ride then cross the road again. The trails goes behind a community of cute homes with a small pond switch backing your way upwards. It took some time, but the sound of the highway and huge vacation homes disappeared out of sight. I wasn’t feeling too great being that favorite time of a ladies month! We pushed on taking a break with Chipmunk at a steam before debating what to do. The sky looked bad and we would be climbing high in elevation or we could do an alternate staying lower then reconnecting. We choose the later and found an old mining boat on a small pond. As we began a gravel road walk, it started to rain so we ducked into the trees. It let up and we began a gradual uphill on this gravel road. I wanted to stop and look at a trail sign and drink some water as Chipmunk caught up to us. It suddenly started to downpour then the temperatures dropped and it turned to freezing rain then hail. There were multiple people on 4 wheelers who rushed back to their cars to stay warm as us three huddled together under a trail sign. It was one of the most intense storms I’ve been in and lightning was striking the peaks around. We could of been up there. We waited an hour until it let up. I was so cold it was brutal. Embrace the brutality is the CDT motto! Why couldn’t any of those people in their heated cars invite us in? Because no one knows about this trail and they all think we are homeless. So we walked uphill again as the clouds broke up and warmed up. We passed a dog sled organization called snow cap. We decided to avoid the high ridge line walking of the CDT and continue on the road since the sky still looked bad. I wanted to hike the trail, but later in the night I realized again we made the right decision. As we continued uphill, it began to thunder nearby so we found the first good campsite and quickly set up our huge tent. We climbed in listening to the storm that overpowered the sound of the river we camped next to. I fell asleep in his arms content and safe in our tent.

Day 90

Luckily, the storms stopped in the morning and we got a very early start walking the gravel road back to the trail. It was chilly, but I warmed up quickly. We are in mining country with lots of raped landscape and remnants of years gone by. The road walk was super steep and exhausting as expected. We connected back to the CDT on a ridge and the sky didn’t look too threatening. We had a quick snack break where we dried out the tent as well. We then began an uphill climb towards the divide. Views in all directions and lots of people riding around on dirt bikes and 4 wheelers. The clouds started to roll in and get darker. We had made it to two of the high points with one left with the two of them said it was time to bail. I wanted to keep going since I only heard thunder once and saw no lightning. It wasn’t raining yet either. But again the majority rules and the downhill on loose rock began. I hate this type of hiking! I like a worn trail and safe footsteps. They flew down the mountain as I struggled and began to panic as my feet kept slipping. It was a knifes edge moment again, but with a few thousand feet drop. I panicked and sat down shaking terribly. They were waiting for me as I was too scared to move. Paperweight came to my rescue again taking my pack and leading me safely to flatter ground. I should of just stayed on the ridge since it never thundered again and only sprinkled for a brief moment. We ended up on a gravel road walking towards a town called Montezuma. Paperweight stopped to get water from a stream to spit it out yelling it tasted acidic and sour. We looked up to see an old mine shaft. So for that reason, I did not get any water for quite a few miles. We walked past hunting cabins and vacation homes on a gravel road before turning onto a paved road through town. We dreamed there would be a little store, but there was nothing. Just some real estate along a lake, old abandoned cabins and mines, and some fast walking. We reconnected at a trail head parking lot and began the climb back up towards the CDT. Chipmunk and I found a good spring where we filled up as it began to sprinkle again. We followed this gravel road past campers set up. Paperweight and I picked a site off the road and in the trees. I was exhausted, but cooked myself dinner and relaxed outside. A few cars drove by and looked at our site then would see a tent without a car as they kept going. 
Day 91

We got on trail early as the sun was rising from behind the ridge we would be climbing. We followed the gravel road until it turned left onto the trail leading uphill. We could see Chipmunk ahead of us already starting the climb. That is one thing I love about these Colorado mountains is the ability to see for miles. We busted out the morning miles easily on a nicely made trail climbing higher and higher. The three of us took a nice morning snack break together before our next climb. The nice trail turned into overgrown grasses and following cairns towards Argentine Pass. It was easy to find your way along this path then the trail got wild! We would be walking the divide up to Mt Grey, which rises to 14,278 feet. Our Ley map described it as walking the spine of the mountain. It sure was an interesting and a terrifying section. It was basically a rock scramble with cliffs on the side of you that dropped thousands of feet. This part didn’t freak me out too bad since it was mostly uphill. I will always feel safer climbing up than down rocks. Chipmunk slipped and fell, but wasn’t hurt so I took it even more slowly. The three of us went at a snails pace as we neared the actual climb to Mt Grey. We could see other hikers going up nice switchbacks and standing at the summit which seemed so far away. We ran into our first mountain goats who moved so gracefully on the rocks. I wished to be a mountain goat today. We began the steep climb towards the summit up the spine. I was breathing hard and slowly moved up the climb. This would be my second 14,000 footer in Colorado. It was a clear day with perfect views all around. You couldn’t ask for a better day! Stunning! We had a snack break and savored the moment before Paperweight and I headed down the nice switchbacks. Chipmunk decided to summit Mt Torres another 14,000 footer, but we didn’t have the energy to do that. The downhill was pleasant as we politely passed numerous hikers nearing the bottom. We ran into a group of volunteers maintaining the 14,000 foot mountains and thanked them. We stopped at the parking lot to use the privy and have a nice lunch break in the shade. It sprinkled for a bit, but the trees protected us. Our trail followed a gravel road farther down to a road. Really glad I’m not going Southbound… It would of been a long climb! We connected to a paved flat bike path where we could walk quickly. There was a nice sturdy bridge over a fast stream. We crossed a major road passed a trailhead and began climbing up again. I giggled as we passed three adults and two kids out for a few nights. They were maybe half a mile from the parking lot and one of the little boys was not having it. He sat down on a log and poured. I would say his pack was way too big. A storm was rolling in and we found a campsite under the trees so we get up quickly near a stream with wildflowers all around. The storm passed over and we enjoyed a peaceful evening after my second 14,000 footer.

Day 92

The morning climb was a great warm up since it was chilly when we started. It was my favorite type of hiking above tree line on a ridge. It was breathtaking all morning. We both walked our own pace and I loved every moment of it. We took a break and watched three men climbing a cornice with their mountain bikes. It was wild to see as one guy slipped and his friend helped him up. They were riding the divide where we had came from. They are insane! We entered Vasquez Peak Wilderness with more epic views. Of course it stormed a little bit today, but no much thankfully. We were above tree line all day before dropping down to a pass. It was the most dangerous road crossing at Berthoud Pass at 11,307 feet. Cars were flying and the crossing is at a curve. I hurried across hoping not to be hit and I made it. At the pass, there is a warming hut and bathrooms. I threw away trash and relaxed in the enclosed room for a bit as we decided how much farther to go. As we were about to leave, I felt a horrible pain in my leg. A bumble bee had just stung me! Inside a building. It hurt like hell and I moaned for a bit before we walked outside to check out a huge CDT sign. We talked a couple retiring in a few years about the trail as they hoped to hike sections in the future. We climbed up from the pass on a large road finding an unlevel spot to camp on with the huge 3 person tent. Not many spots for such a big tent! It was a relaxed evening maybe half a mile up from the highway. 

Day 93
An early morning start to get off the ridges before the afternoon storm. It was tough to wake up and get moving since it was so cold, but the sunrise was wonderful to watch. We considered walking the actual divide, but it looked a little terrifying so we stuck with the nicely maintained trail. We switchbacked down staying on the marked CDT trail. It was fast walking as we cruised along. We began the climb up James Peak later than we wanted to. The sky was threatening and it was storming nearby, but not on us yet. We made it to the top of the pass looked around then quickly began the switchbacks down as a storm was coming. We managed to stay on trail for a few more miles before it hit! It started with hail and horrible thunder. There was no place to hide on the divide so we had to bail to a lower elevation. It was steep at times, but we made it to a gravel road where we found a campsite. It was chilly and we were out of water. He went on a water adventure and I set up the tent including the two air pads. Suddenly, the sun emerged and we had an early evening of rest being close to 5 by the time we stopped. One of the few early nights on trail. 

Day 94
We walked the gravel road back to the CDT at Rollins Pass. It was a nice morning, but a bit chilly. We climbed up then made our way downhill cruising along. It was an easy day of walking past a few lakes and people out fishing. We were motivated by beer today at the smallest bar in Colorado. We took a lunch break at a parking lot with trash cans and a privy. We met a retired cop who had lots of questions, but gave us a diet soda and a few snacks to share. We then hurried along toward our destination. We caught chipmunk and told her about Arapaho Valley Ranch and the bar. She was in as we walked together on a gravel road again then to the ranch. We spent the afternoon here snacking and having a few drinks including a Mississippi mule in a copper mug! Even a round of pool to make the day with the children of the ranch… Kids these days are crazy. We camped in the yard setting up a little drunk and way too late before calling it a night.

Day 95

It took longer than I hoped to leave the ranch. We all took a morning shower, used the wifi, and relaxed on the comfortable couches. A very neat place that I could see myself returning to. We walked past Lake Granby and lots of campsites before connecting to the trail after getting lost for a few minutes. We began a steep uphill past lots of fallen trees that have been cut. Those damn beetles killing all the trees. We saw a huge bald eagle perched on a tree that soared away over the lake. At the top of the climb, we began going downward to hit the batch of down trees. It was tricky walking basically climbing up and over lots of trees, but it ended quickly and was back to fast walking. You walk along the lake for miles and it was enjoyable watching people boating, jet skiing, and just relaxing. We crossed into Rocky Mountain National Park for the last few miles. It rained briefly so we hid in the trees then busted it into Grand Lake. The walking was quick followed by walking a bridge and a few small roads of beautiful homes before entering town. It was a pleasant walk.We were only ten minutes too late for the post office! So we headed into the busy touristy town of Grand Lake. I stopped at an outfitter to buy my third pair of sunglasses. most expensive pair I’ve ever bought for a trail, but maybe they won’t break. PW let me use his for the last few days. Poor guy! His eyes were hurting him and I felt horrible. He is too good to me, but I would of had to night hike this section with my sensitive blue eyes. We went to the Sagebrush restaurant and got seated quickly! Chipmunk joined us a few minutes later. We ordered a large plate of nachos to start off. I guzzled water and lemonade before the delicious burger came and the side salad I ordered. Delicious meal and certainly the busiest place in town. We decided to get to the hostel and check in before doing our shopping. The Shadowcliff is one of my favorite places I have ever stayed minus the fact the bunk rooms are separated by gender. The girls bunk has four beds while the boys have six beds… Be prepared for more women in the future. The building is built on a cliff and is so peaceful. It is hard to describe and more beautiful than any picture would give it justice. We dropped off our things and choose a bed before heading back to the very expensive mountain grocery store. The climb back to the lodge is exhausting since it is uphill, but we are in shape now. It was late when we got back so we just showered and relaxed in our room. We had to set our alarms early to complete the Rocky Mountain Loop.

Day 96
The Rocky Mountain National Park loop is about 27 miles from the front door of Shadowcliff. We were walking out of the door a little before 6 as the sun was rising. Paperweight and I were sharing one pack so we took turns carrying it. It only had water, snacks, and a few other essentials. This is considered part of the CDT, but some hikers skip it since a bear can and permit is required if you are planning to camp in the park. We planned it out to just complete the loop in one day and spend the night at Shadowcliff. The trail was easy to start and it was a bit chilly until the sun came out. It climbs up slowly on a nice trail past a few waterfalls and streams. It is a very peaceful area and we only saw tents in the early hours no other hikers. We slowly climbed upward leaving the trees and getting epic views. It was about a 3,500 foot to the top of our climb and the views did not disappoint. It was about 12 miles to Flattop mountain where we walked a few miles on flat terrain following cairns. We passed a herd of elk taking a break with no care of us being around. It was a peaceful lunch break with a good meal. I had chips and dip, a mini sandwich, and some candy. Don’t forget about the Coca Cola can as well. I like day hikes maybe I should try them more often. I usually just go for the long thru hikes. 😉 We enjoyed our break before heading downhill gently all the way back to the road where we started. If we wouldn’t of took a few other breaks we could of been done around 4. We pushed the miles and really enjoyed a slack pack. We debated skipping this section, but we are in such good shape we couldn’t pass it up. You never know when you will be back somewhere. We went back to the hostel to drop off our packs before going back to the Sagebrush for dinner. We waited an hour to be seated which is absurd for thru hikers, but there is no other place to really eat a good meal in town. The pizza place was closed unfortunately since that was what we were craving. It was a long hour wait, but delicious! We headed back to Shadowcliff to shower and relax a bit. I slept great tonight happy with our decision to hike the RMNP loop.


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