7/8 September 2022
Starting elevation: 9606 feet; Highest elevation: 13,651 feet (4161 metres)
Distance: 8 miles? on foot
Dawn is coming soon. First light has arrived and the sky is no longer illuminated only by the almost-full moon. Off to the east, the sun is shooting up rays that are about to reach the horizon.
But it’s still dark down here in Hoffman Park at about 11,500 feet. The sky overhead says ‘first light’, but down below the ridge, everything says, ‘why the heck are you up so early’?
I wake at 5.45am. I did not set an alarm last night, thinking that I would be cold enough all night long that I would be awake and ready to get moving and get warm long before I really needed to get up.
I pack away the very few items I’ve brought along and crawl out of the tent. Just after 6am, the space station goes overhead, its bright, steady light steadily scooting along to the south. I fluke the sighting, but maybe it’s a good omen for the day.
Yesterday morning I went hiking with my parents on a mostly flat section of the Colorado Trail below the peaks of the Sawatch Range. Then we went to a Mexican restaurant in Buena Vista so I could get a last Mexican meal. Following that, my parents drove me down to Garfield and dropped me at the Middle Fork trailhead around 3pm.
Inspired by the topography on my Clover Mountain hike last week, I decided I really wanted to go see the ring dike on the ridge between two 13,000 ft peaks nearby. The ring dike comes from an old caldera from the Tertiary (30-some million years ago) that was about 5X7 kms in diameter. They think this caldera collapsed twice. There is little surface evidence left, though much of the Thirty-nine Mile volcanic field rocks originated from here. This is one of the few places the ring dike crops out. So the idea for this hike was born. If I could climb one or both of the nearby peaks, too, that would be a bonus.
This hike is also inspired by the stories I’ve heard of people who have ridden across America with crappy bikes and equipment. They made it across not because they had flash gear but because they had the mental attitude and flexibility that allowed them to do so.
I don’t have any of my camping equipment with me in America. I only have a small daypack. But I did purchase a $27 Walmart one-person tent when I got turfed out to the yard at my parents’ place when my brother and his girlfriend came to visit.
The option was to sleep on the living room floor or get a cheap tent, pad and sleeping bag and sleep outside. I chose the latter because I wanted to go to bed before 10.30pm each night when everyone would vacate the living room. I was still getting up really early to get in some hiking miles each day and a 10.30pm bedtime didn’t give me enough sleep with 5.45am starts.
So for this trip, I brought that cheap-o Walmart tent carabinered to my little daypack. Yesterday, I headed about 2.5 miles up the trail from 9606 ft to about 11,500 ft.
In addition to the tent, I also packed:
- enough food for dinner, breakfast and lunch;
- 4 litres of water (2 in my camelbak and 2 in bottles);
- gloves, beanie, tights, hiking pants, t-shirt, thin wool thermal top, 2nd thermal top, warmie jacket, rain coat and extra pair of socks;
- head lamp; and,
- bear bag rope and a couple plastic shopping bags.
And that’s it. No ground sheet. No sleeping pad. No sleeping bag. They were too bulky to bring along.
So yesterday we hiked up the rocky 4WD road 230 past the Boss Lake Trailhead we used last week for Clover Mountain. And then we continued up an old Jeep road (230C) into the basin that sits below Taylor Mountain A and Mt Aetna.
The area is called Hoffman Park and there are old miner cabins and lots of old mining pits in the area and on the slopes of the mountains.
Hiking with the tent carabinered to the pack was not as bad as I thought it would be. It didn’t really move around, and the trail was steep enough that I was leaning forward most of the time which meant my shoulders didn’t get sore.
I eventually found a nice smooth spot under some spruce trees that did not have any rocks, roots or vegetation to poke into me without any padding. We camped near treeline and higher than I really wanted to be without much warm gear. I expected it to get into the 30s last night.
But part of this trip is to see what my body can take. Since West Nile, I have had trouble regulating my body temperature. I don’t necessarily overheat or get cold easy, but once I do get hot or cold, I have a lot of trouble getting back to some sort of homeostasis.
So I figured I might not sleep at all last night because I’d be too cold. It’s a bit out of my mental comfort zone not to have adequate sleeping gear, but I thought that maybe I could just do jumping jacks or crunches all night long to stay warm if needed.
In the end, it all turned out okay. I put on all the clothes listed above, brought my arms inside the main body of my rain coat and curled up in a fetal position. I slept from 8.30-11.30pm, woke up cold, readjusted, turned over to my other side and went back to sleep. Thankfully, the ground was not really cold yet. Then I woke every 1.5 hours after that. Each time I would turn over to change the weight to my other hip, readjust clothing and curl back up to sleep.
So right now, at 6.04 am, I have not had the best sleep, but I’ve definitely had less sleep in more comfortable and temperate locales on other nights, so all-in-all, inadequate gear was okay this trip.
I head up the remainder of the Jeep trail, pick my way through the long grass and the remainder of the trees and look for a grassy ramp up the side of the ridge. There is no trail to the top of Taylor Mountain, so we’re in for a few hours of route-finding.
I do find an old mining track, but it gets narrower further up and takes me away from my intended destination. So, instead I just head straight up the hillside, clambering up gravelly rock, talus and through various types of vegetation. It’s steep enough to start that I’m using hands and feet to get traction and go upward.
Eventually it backs off a bit as we attain the southwest ridge of Taylor Mountain. From there, it’s more up and up, but not on all fours. I just try to find grassy ramps that take me up and don’t force me onto the slippery gravel too much.
We’re aiming for a low point between the summit of Taylor Mountain and some slabby peaked steps to the northwest.
Once I get to the summit ridge, I start to head toward the ring dike first. But it is WINDY and I am feeling uneasy about the traverse across all of the talus. I feel too exposed and too unsteady with the wind. I need to get lower to meet the low point in the ridge, but I really don’t like how much I’m getting pushed around by that wind.
So I stop and sit down and ponder my options. I wonder if my travel insurance covers this. If the wind blows me over or causes me to lose my footing, is this considered mountain climbing? Or does that require a rope to be involved? This is a class 2 climb – is mountain climbing considerd Class 3 or 4? Is s this just hiking? Because that is covered. If all goes to shit, I do want my medical bills to be claimable, or if it really goes shit, for the death benefit to be paid out.
I think I’ve got about 15 more minutes of threading my way through the talus to get to the ring dike. And then 30 more minutes to get back across over to less steep slopes with more tundra and less exposure. I think the wind is likely to only increase not decrease. And I told myself at the start that I would turn around if anything made me feel uneasy. I’m old now; I don’t have to do the stupid shit you do when you are 20.
So I turn around, pick my way back across those huge talus slabs and get back to the tundra. From there, it’s an easy, but blinding, walk into the sun up to the summit of Taylor Mountain A.
Yipppeee! We have the peak all to ourselves. Colorado is overcrowded these days, so it’s nice to have a pretty easily accessible peak all to myself.
The summit register looks to have an entry every 7-10 days this summer. We are the only international visitor since the log started July 2021. Most of the entries are from locals. There aren’t many out-of-state entries either.
We soak up the hazy, smoky view and then start back down toward our campsite. I’m disappointed not to get to up close with the ring dike, but I’m happy with the cautious approach since I’m solo. If it had not been windy, or I had been with another person, that would have been very do-able, but just not today on my own with the wind.
I revel in my energy. I revel in spending a night out in the forest without appropriate gear. I revel in knowing how far I’ve come with recovery/remission. I revel in having the fitness and ability to climb a 13,000 foot peak. I don’t think you could find anyone more grateful to be out here and feeling so good than me. It has been such a long haul to get to this point.
But what an awesome point this is. I’m ready to get home and get out on the bike. I am soooo ready to go for a ride and have the energy to pedal a decent amount of kays in a day. I am ready to have a life again.
I pick my way back through the tundra and across gravelly bits and sections of talus. It’s much faster to go down than up, but down is still a bit slow with no trail.
I return to the tent, eat some food, pack the tent and then just enjoy some time in the sun before we head back down the old jeep trail and back onto the main 4WD track.
We’ve got a bit of time before my parents are going to meet me at the Middle Fork trailhead, so we stop near the Boss Lake trailhead and go sit by the S. Fork of the Arkansas River for a while. I doze a bit and the guys soak up the habitat.
Our days here are numbered and this was our last big hike of this trip. This was a pretty perfect way to round off all the hiking we’ve done this summer – the slow, short hikes with my parents, the early morning hikes in the Arkansas Hills, and a few flirtations with the Continental Divide and the peaks along and near it.
Now it’s time to go to Denver and catch up with a few people before the four flights on the 13th.
And then it’s time to go home and ride.