Day 3 – Frenchman Creek Campsite to Silver Creek Campsite (9 miles)
Kye startled me awake this morning with a few barks at 6:30. Kye rarely barks and it had me on edge not knowing what it was. I called out “what’s out there” thinking it was a critter if some kind. A voice answered back “it’s just me”…like I would know who “me” was. Either way the voice confirmed it was a person although I hadn’t expected to have another person walk through my campsite so early in the morning. It was only later that I realized there was another trail (French Creek Trail) that went right by where I was camped.
So we were awake and despite the cold I got out of bed, pulled on my puffy jacket and started packing gear. I set a new record and was out of camp at 7:50am. I was happy for an early start as we had a big day of hiking ahead of us.
The first half of the day was a few ups but mostly downs. We swiftly covered the miles and we ran into several day hikers heading for Harvard Lakes which were half way between camp and the trail head, and just outside of the wilderness boundary so I was starting to see bike tracks and run into some cyclists…they looked like they weren’t having much fun with the steep climb.
We reached Silver Creek trailhead by 11am which is what I had been hoping for. I wanted to fill up on calories and take an hour break before attempting another steep climb.
During our lunch break two ladies who were section hiking, Clara (from Colorado) and Stacy (from Arizona), stopped and chatted and then decided to also eat lunch. We talked a little longer and then I headed up the trail at noon. It started out fairly moderate for the first 3/4 mile but soon got ugly and steep and I was counting steps, always trying to reach 60 before pausing. It was tough and was the steepest grade we had done yet on this trail. It didn’t help that the trail was mostly in the sun and we were pausing in the shade of each tree on the way. We passed several day hikers on their way back down (I forgot it was a Saturday) and got a report from each about much further it was to each data point I was using as reference. With the trail so steep (including to the side) it was impossible to step off the trail with the dogs but everyone was very gracious about it and they still got lots of compliments.
I had only packed a liter of water as I was expecting to find a water source at 1.5 miles up the trail. I never found the location the data book meant but we managed to reach the creek at 2.5 miles with a little water to spare. I’m still amazed that we didn’t run out.
I had originally planned to hike over the saddle below Mt Yale but after seeing where the trail still had to go, with another 800ft gain over a mile, and feeling completely exhausted I gave up on my plan and found a campsite along the creek.
Less than 30 minutes later Clara and Stacy showed up with their massive 40lb packs (I thought they would take longer with that kind of weight to haul) and set up camp next to me in the small and only camping area. It was nice to share the afternoon and evening with others for a change and we chatted, ate dinner and chatted some more until the sun disappeared behind the mountains and the mosquitoes came out to feast. Cody and Kye certainly got their fill of attention and love for the day.
With our mileage falling short of our plan tomorrow would be a longer, albeit easier day with the last 800ft to the saddle being our only major climb. I am certainly looking forward to being on the Collegiate West where the trail doesn’t constantly go down steeply to trailheads and then back up again just as steeply.
Day 4 – Silver Creek Campsite to Dry Creek Campsite
Another early morning started at 6:30am again. I had not slept well the past couple of nights and believe it was due to the altitude (both campsites were around 11,000 feet). I also managed to break yesterday’s early-start record by 5 minutes this morning and was on the trail at 7:45am.
I knew what was coming…800ft elevation gain over a mile to a saddle below Mt Yale. We took our time, and being the first climb and activity of the day it was a lot easier than I was expecting and took a little under an hour. I was also expecting to come out on an exposed saddle above the beaver ponds as that had been the trail I had seen yesterday…and my reason for stopping so early. However this was not where the trail went and I wondered if I could have made the climb the day before. It all worked out for the best though as I had thoroughly enjoyed my evening with Stacy and Clara.
I passed a couple with a dog. Another one of those irritating “he’s friendly” dogs who didn’t listen well and wanted to get up close and personal with Kye and Cody. The couple moved on but we soon heard them behind us again…apparently they were wanting to summit Mt Yale and had missed the trail turn off on the saddle ridge…that’s a whole lot of extra elevation they did there.
I stopped at the top and snacked on some cashews while I waited for Clara and Stacy. We exchanged numbers as they were hiking to the top of an exposed knoll and I asked them to send me a picture as I was on a bit of a mileage crunch and didn’t want to make the detour.
The first mile of the way down was just as steep as the way up but it soon mellowed out and we were cruising well for a while….right up until I rolled my ankle, again. (I had twisted it a month prior to the hike when I stepped on the edge of a hole in a friend’s yard). I had rolled it at least once a day so far but this was the worst and I hit the ground with my left knee as pain ripped through my ankle…I wasn’t sure I would be able to put weight on it. I stood, gingerly, and was happy it could hold me. We were still a couple of miles from the trailhead and we took it VERY slowly and carefully down the steep and rocky trail. I was determined this wasn’t going to put an end to my hike.
Once at the bottom we took a break at Middle Cottonwood Creek and then checked the data book. The trail was moderate for a while with limited downhill and mostly level. I was willing to risk another 2 miles on my ankle and to see how it did. It did fine although it was tender and I had to be careful where I stepped.
With another climb ahead of us we took a long 90 minute lunch break at South Cottonwood Creek where the dogs snoozed and I took advantage of the water to clean some pretty grimy feet…again. I also wanted to fill up on calories for the climb ahead.
I had planned on a 2 hour break but after an hour and a half I was bored and getting chilly so we set out on the climb. The climb up to the saddle/ridge below Bald Mt. Was 1200ft over almost four miles…almost so gradual you didn’t know you were climbing most of the time and that was a nice change. It was also a positive thing as we needed to hurry…a massive storm was coming over the top of Mt Yale and headed straight for us. I hoped no one was at the top of the mountain, or even on any of the ridges when that hit…it looked ugly although it did not appear to be a thunderstorm. Thankfully it skirted us and headed east over the valley. I was definitely thankful we didn’t get caught in it and I was constantly scanning for trees (and not lone ones) to shelter under.
With the saddle reached the trail leveled out considerably and we made really good time, stopping for an occasional water or pee break (both me and the dogs). The views were pretty typical of the trail…looking out over the valley and Highway 24 with looming peaks in the distance…nothing special after four days but still pretty nonetheless.
We crossed two creeks, the second with a campsite that was already occupied by several backpacking tents and I could pick out at least one Tarptent and one YAMA Mountain Gear Cirriform. I said “hi” to two girls but moved on as I still had another 2 miles to go…I wanted to be as close to Mt Princeton Hot Springs as possible for the morning…a place that meant a shower, burger and beer(s).
We camped at Dry Creek, which ironically is listed in the data book as a “guaranteed” water supply, meaning it is always running! I checked out one campsite, discarded it, went back across the creek to check out another that had no flat spots and returned to the first which, while dusty, had a nice flat spot for my tent.
As I was clearing up around camp and getting ready to check out the information for the next day I realized I had misplaced (ie they had fallen out of my pack pocket) my data book pages…pages that give me detailed information about water, elevation gain or loss, campsites, trail junctions and other important things on the trail. I hiked back a mile along the trail but couldn’t find them which was frustrating, and the whole thing a dumb mistake on my part.
Thankfully with Stacy and Clara having texted me pictures earlier I was able to contact them (the whole Collegiate East section seems to have good cell service) and have them take pictures of the pages of the data book I needed to get me to Monarch Pass. Trail magic indeed! (I did find the pages at the BOTTOM of my pack at the end of the hike but have no idea how they got there as I had them outside my pack and I had been looking at them that day).
Day 5 – Dry Creek to Mt Princeton Hot Springs
I slept in a little this morning (compared to others) but was still out of camp before 8am. Cody wasn’t looking great and was limping slightly but I couldn’t find anything in his paw and there was no swelling but I gave him a baby aspirin anyway. Either way we didn’t have a choice but to hike and we covered the two miles of single-track trail and two miles of road to our first resupply point at Mt Princeton Hot Springs at the 50 mile mark. Cody was doing okay but still tender every 20th step or so which meant I didn’t think it was a joint or muscle issue.
I washed clothes, took a shower and washed more clothes in the bath house sink with whatever soap there was available. With all the cleaning done we crossed back to the lodge and Cody was limping a lot more. I was having serious doubts about our ability to continue and was going over various options in my mind.
But first priority was food and I ate…ordered a burger and salad with a side or two of beer. It was soooo good. The dogs were tied to my pack under a broad pine tree and slept and enjoyed every minute of their down time. The kids of the gardeners played with them for a while and I’m not sure whether the dogs or the kids enjoyed that more.
I ordered a third beer (yeah, I’m a lush so deal with it but I needed calories…lol) and went to hang out under the tree with the dogs while I waited for the last few items of clothing to dry. I rechecked Cody’s paws and found a not-so-serious crack in one of his toe pads. It looked minor and I went to find some superglue to close it up and see if it would help…it did, but only slightly.
After taking the dogs into the rough grass to take care of business and watching Cody struggle to put weight on his leg/paw anywhere that was spiky I knew my hike was done for a while. Taking my dogs is a risk and I have to hike their hike. I can push myself when I get hurt because I have a choice and I know why I’m doing what I’m doing but I won’t do that to my dogs.
So with Cody’s well-being in the forefront of my mind I paid for a shuttle back to my truck. I was bummed to have come so far only to have to quit but my dogs’ health also takes priority over everything else. They love being on the trail and I often stop to let them explore a scent trail or stare at a squirrel as that is what they enjoy about it, and they have to enjoy it as much as I do…even if it is for different reasons.