There were three water crossings ahead of us, the creeks were raging with snowmelt and the temperatures the night before had dipped below freezing. The thin log bridges that we would need to traverse were now covered in ice.
Our latest outing was in the Mt Evan’s Wilderness, a wilderness area that encompasses over 74,000 acres, has two mountains at over 14,000′ and an abundance of wildlife and trail options. We chose the Abyss Lake Trail for several reasons, a couple being water and wildlife, but mostly because it is a trail we have never been on. With our continued conditioning for the Colorado Trail, we have been backpacking routes that will challenge us and, like the CT, are unfamiliar, a factor that keeps our mental and physical faculties alert for constant change.
This outing was to be no different. We put all of our gear, food and supplies in our packs for an overnight hike. Our goal was a sub-alpine bowl centered amongst several prominent mountain peaks, two of which towered above 14,000′ in elevation. With the snow melt in full swing we knew water sources would be plentiful and the trail conditions mixed. Spring hiking in Colorado can be challenging with snow, ice, mud and water in constant battle for the trail’s surface. In most cases, one usually encounters all of these on any given path above 10,000′ as you climb higher, sometimes losing the trail or finding it somewhat obscured.
Though wanting to experience a new trail, and wanting that trail to be unfamiliar, we prepared for any and all conditions. Snowshoes and microspikes strapped to the backs of our packs, we made our way from the trailhead up the trail not knowing what we would find. Granted we were aware of what the weather forecast was calling for, we also know it can deviate and bring surprises in mountain terrain. Possible thunderstorms, overnight temperatures in the high twenties to low thirties and daytime temperatures in the sixties, we found the environment to be likely what we will be experiencing on the Colorado Trail this summer.
This outing, and the ones we have been going out on of late, are geared just to this point, preparing for a thru-hike in changing conditions and at altitude. We only have a visual overview and a rather active imagination when it comes to the Colorado Trail. Sure, we know the technicalities, but until one walks the just under five hundred mile trail, there really is no way to know what it truly is like. One could even state, each person’s journey will be completely unique , and rightly so. Alas, the trail is in constant change and provides a different story for each individual every new season.
Our hike on the Abyss Lake Trail, no different. What we planned for is exactly what we got, the unknown and ever changing conditions of a wilderness experience. Perfect training scenario in preparation for the CT. Our hike up was mostly uneventful, and finding our destination came rather easy. Once there we began our tasks of making camp. Tent in place, water filtered and lunch made, we settled in and enjoyed our new alpine surroundings. Evening came and with it a few passing thunderstorms that had us shelter in our tent until they passed. Afterwards a little exploration and back to camp for the night.
It wasn’t until the next morning that our uneventful expedition would change and the wilderness would have a few lessons in store for us. We gathered our belongings, packed our gear and headed out on our trek back to civilization. We thought, well, at the very least we got a decent workout and some more experience with our gear. Simple enough, or so we thought. The first four letters of wilderness are anyone’s clue to their surroundings when in the high country. Expect the unexpected.
There were three water crossings ahead of us, the creeks were raging with snowmelt and the temperatures the night before had dipped below freezing. The thin log bridges that we would need to traverse were now covered in ice. With no way around we contemplated waiting on the heat of the sun, several hours away. We looked up and down stream, no go. The decision was made, we would cross on our hands and knees. Our hands and knees were freezing and slipping on the ice, the spray from the water raging beneath was frigid, and the roar was deafening. The log bridge seemed to grow in length as we inched our way across the ice with full packs on our backs and Mia secure in her front pouch.
One down, two more to go. We can do this, we thought to ourselves. Our new found confidence was quickly put on hold as we came near a bull moose staring at us just off trail. Slowly and gently we moved on as not to startle him any more than we already may have. Sigh of relief followed by another heart pounding moose encounter. This time a female on trail coming straight for us. We all met with our eyes long enough to say “shit” or however a moose might say it! She must have thought, these two and their little chihuahua must be crazy because she no sooner turned and went the other way disappearing into a thick aspen grove as we began breathing again.
With bridge number two now in sight we saw another hiker sitting on the bank waiting for the sun and watched curiously as we did our eloquent ice crawl to the other side. He reluctantly followed in like fashion. Perhaps it was the first bridge or maybe the two moose, but now we were on a mission. After we crossed the last ice laden bridge we were home free, settled in and began a more leisurely hike to the parking lot. Enjoying the last views of swollen white-water creeks, lazy morning meadows, dense mixed forests of pine and aspen, all backdropped by snowcapped peaks, we hated to leave. The Colorado Trail will have so much more!