Grand Lake, CO to Rabbit Ears Pass (Steamboat Springs, Co), June 21-23

In the morning Natural and I woke, packed our bags and headed from Shadowcliff hostel down to the Fat Cat Cafe for breakfast. At the bottom of the driveway we saw Situpchuck who’d stealth camped, albeit not too stealthily, just of the side of the road. We laughed at him and teased him that he wasn’t fooling anyone and he came down and joined us for breakfast. Afterwards we walked back up and grabbed our packs and hit the Tonahuto Trail, a four-mile alternate cutting off a 20 mile loop that the CDT does through Rocky Mountain National Park. Within the first four miles we spotted four moose grazing in broad, open marshes along the creek and past plenty of day and weekend hikers.

Tonahutu Creek Trail is the start of the 4-mile alternate.
Three moose graze along Tonahutu Creek.

We rejoined the CDT and hiked another 24 miles which included a climb up and alpine basin and over a short snowfield at Bowen Pass and a traverse around a beautiful, quiet six mile creek. The problem I had with this last six mile section was that it was a popular motorcycle trail and the entire area was badly rutted out from their use. We made it to Willow Creek pass, crossed the road and made camp off of an old, flat, and closed road.

Natural at Bowen Pass.

The next day was an immediate climb up a large, steep drainage and across small patchy snow towards Parkview Mountain. As we got higher, the winds increased dramatically until walking along the ridge toward the top we had our heads down and were getting hammered by the wind. Step after step over talus we approached a tiny building at the top which was an old weather or transmitter site. Natural reached the top before I did and when I got to the top I didn’t see him. It took me a few seconds to realize the structure had a small door and I opened it up to find Natural inside, along with XC and Philly who’d both made it up there a few minutes before we did.

(L-R) Natural, XC, Philly warm up in the shelter atop Parkview mountain.

We took a 30 minute break and all four of us left the shelter and I led us down a ridge line following rock cairns for about 1/4 mile before I realized it was the wrong one, so I turned us around and found the correct trail. We then traversed on high alpine tundra – still getting blasted by wind – before dropping down a drainage and circling around Haystack Mountain, lots of dead tree blowdown and climbing back up Troublesome Pass – which was no trouble at all. We traversed Poison Ridge and then climbed a saddle on Sheep Mountain. We dropped to Arapaho Creek and below Hyannic Peak in the Rabbit Ears range. The trail then joined a quiet forrest service road (104), and we followed that for 5 miles before making our camp for the night.

Descending Parkview and along the correct ridge line.

Day three followed more dirt roads and when we took a mid-morning break under some aspen trees we ran into England who I hadn’t seen since Chama, New Mexico! We chatted with him and a local hiker who met us, then continued. We cut off about two miles of a sharp turn in trail by following a fence line towards highway 14. We had to ford Grizzly Creek right by Frenchman’s Ranch, then readied ourselves for a full afternoon of walking pavement. Along the way we passed a semi that had gone off the road and was on it’s side being rescued by a large tow truck with a winch. I passed the recovery workers who were flagging down cars so they could pass by the partially obstructed road from the wreckage. I noticed a few Mountain Dews scattered along the road from the wreck, picked one up and took it with me!

Trail magic comes in surprising locations 🙂

After three hours on this road we hit Hwy 40 and headed north, hiking a few more miles past Muddy Pass lake and up toward Rabbit Ears pass. The CDT turns to trail again at a random dirt road off the highway and we stopped here as this would be our reentry point after resupplying in Steamboat. We hitched a ride rather quickly from a young 20-something woman who chatted us up. She abruptly pulled over and dropped us off about seven miles before Steamboat as she was headed towards Lake Catamount for a birthday party. We tried hitching this last seven miles for over an hour. Car after car after car passed us by. It was a Saturday and there was plenty of traffic, but not a single van, truck or car stopped. Dozens of outdoorsy young people with nice vehicles racked with boats, mountain bikes, and other toys simply looked at us and drove on. I checked my Lyft app (like Uber), and there was ONE driver in Steamboat so I ordered up a car and we were finally picked up and driven into town.

Wildflowers were beginning to bloom everywhere!

I got a text from Nimbles who was with Baskets and Nope at the McDonalds – of course… it’s their favorite, and default shitty, cheap hiker food stop. Natural and I ate a few burgers and had ice cream which all sucked. My tummy hurt, and this was the very last time I was going to patronize the Golden Arches! Those three got picked up a hour later and headed back to the pass. Natural and I took the free bus to the north end of town where we resupplied first at a lousy WalMart, then at a City Market,  where we gave a few Asian bikers doing the Great Divide bike route a few tips. We hopped on the bus again and stopped for a few beers at Storm Peak Brewing and on a recommendation from a local, Golden Leaf cannabis dispensary. Afterwards, we walked through a slight rain and lightening storm, grabbed the bus again (we were getting this thing down), south to Trafalgar Drive and walked into Emerald Park, which had three baseball fields and an absolutely perfect covered shelter with benches outside where we stealth camped for the night. This was a wise choice (and I highly recommend this as it saved us $$$ on a hotel), as it rained over night.

Stellar location for stealth camping near Emerald Park fields.
These bikers needed our help.

In the morning (day 4), we walked to Freshies, a great breakfast joint. As we were eating a woman approached our table, asked if we were hiking the CDT, and gave us a $30 gift card and said “Safe travels. Here’s some trail magic.” With that she turned and walked out the door. We shouted thank you but were so surprised we couldn’t say much more. As we paid at the counter the owner gave us four giant raspberry oat bars and asked us about the trail. Satiated, we headed south to the Exxon station where we hitched another ride, this time another 20-something young woman picked us up after about an hour and drove us back to the pass.

More trail magic… off of the trail.

Day one: 28 miles

Day two: 28 miles

Day three: 24 miles then a hitch to Steamboat


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