July 22, 2017
Oh man. How do I start talking about this day? Today was supposed to be that magical day we made it to the high point. Stop and pose to take a memorable photo. Take in the views. But the universe had a different plan for us.
We started off the day as soon as the sun started to rise. The majority of this segment is above treeline, so we really wanted to get through this section before the typical afternoon storms rolled in. But it was an extra gloomy today.
Colorado Trail: Segment 22
Segment 22 of the Colorado Trail is 17.2 miles. This is the segment in which the trail reaches its highest point at 13,271 ft. The majority of this segment is spent climbing resulting in a total elevation gain of almost 4,000 ft.
Our day started off normal, but like I said earlier… it was very gloomy. We crossed paths with our friend Mississippi (we met a few days ago). He spent most of the day hiking with us on trail. We made it to Jarosa Mesa at mile 4.5 of Segment 22 and continued on. It was about 11:00 AM when first reached 13,000 ft. This is the highest I had ever been. The switchbacks at this part of the trail were very steep! I led Makani up and was out of breath when I got to the top.
The view was absolutely amazing, but it was still gloomy. Some thought this was the high point, but I mentioned it was not. We still had about three more miles until the high point at mile 15.6. This would take us about 1.5 hours, but it was only a few minutes later that we realized we were about to get caught in a storm. We unmounted our horses and threw on some rain gear. I only had time to put on my rain jacket and my backpack’s rain cover before it started.
It was raining. Then it was hailing. Both things that we could handle, but it was the lightning that worried us. This is one of the things you are warned about whenever doing trails above treeline… never, ever, ever be above treeline when there is a storm! We had tried to get an early enough start on trail to get back to the treeline by the afternoon, but this storm rolled in earlier than most days. It was here before noon, so now we were in a very dangerous situation caught in a storm. A really bad storm!
The lightning was striking to the right of us, and the thunder was shaking the ground. And although I had a rain jacket on, everything else was getting soaked. The horses wanted to stop and stand facing away from the hail, but we kept moving because we wanted to get down to the treeline. Though, at this point we had a few miles still to go.
We passed the sign of the high point. No chance to stop and get a decent picture, nor did we actually want to stop.
Two hours later, the rain had finally stopped. It was still gloomy and now we were all getting very cold, plus the adrenaline was wearing off. We reached the treeline, and we started looking for a place to camp.
We continued into Segment 23 to look for a place to camp that had trees to tie the horses to at night and water. There were not many options before the trail started climbing again, but we claimed the first spot and possibly the last place that we could make work for our group. We wouldn’t be able to set up highlines, but we could space out the horses and tie them up at night.
We unsaddled the horses quickly and turned them loose to graze. They would stay warm by eating calories. Meanwhile, we set up our tents and changed to get dry. We warmed up in our sleeping bags while the horses grazed. Eventually, we made dinner and I went around to take some photos.
The sun didn’t come out that afternoon, so we did not have a chance to dry our wet clothes. We were camping at 12,000 ft elevation and tomorrow morning would be very cold. My shoes were also soaked, and I now realized the mistake of having waterproof shoes. Waterproof shoes are great as long as they don’t get wet inside of the shoe. Great… I had wet socks and wet shoes to wear in the morning.
The most important thing, though, was that we were all safe. That was a very dangerous situation to be in. We took all the precautions we could with starting early, but those rain clouds rolled in way faster than anyone had expected.