Day 3: Copper Mountain to Janet’s Cabin
It was pretty cool to be able to hike straight out of our condo’s front door and up a dirt access road – located via Google Maps – to our trail, which we found with no difficulty. We paralleled the freeway for a while and enjoyed its associated noise, while Marian told us about her childhood in Colorado before the freeway existed. Her Dad would take her fishing in the valley when there was nothing at Copper Mountain either. Eventually we turned southward up Guller Creek and proceeded to gain 1700’ of elevation at a very reasonable rate. We saw the cabin from quite a distance away and thought we were almost there, but somehow it seemed to take forever to actually get there – especially toward the end when the trail switchbacked in the ‘wrong’ direction to avoid a cliff.
Once again we were early enough for Carys to take her afternoon nap at the hut, and when she woke up she enjoyed wandering up and down on the deck, although she fell and scraped her chin on a step which resulted in a few tears. All of the huts had stovetop coffee makers which disassembled into a satisfying pile of parts for her to play with – a basket with a fitted lid, and a metal disk with a short pole attached that would roll in circles on the floor. Most of the cabins also had Jenga sets, although the one at Janet’s was covered in filthy messages that I was glad she couldn’t read.
We thought we might have to share with some mountain bikers as we saw several of them on the trails above the hut, but they must have been backpacking further up the trail (they did have frame-mounted packs) or heading awfully quickly toward Copper for the night. Or they heard Carys crying after her fall and decided to bivvy outside. Our hut-mates showed up later in the afternoon, absolutely exhausted, having bushwhacked from Vail Pass along a trail that’s apparently quite easy in winter when the willows and swampy areas are covered with snow… They had packed in salads, pasta and pesto and wine, but were still quite envious of our chili and chocolate pudding. We realized I had packed far too much food – I hadn’t accounted for M&T’s meagre appetites – and Tom ended up having dinner for breakfast as well most mornings, with still some food left over that we would have to carry until our next civilization stop.
I put Carys’ tent on the floor in our shared bedroom; M&T also shared a room and the other party shared the third one. Carys went to sleep just fine but she started fussing around 10pm and continued on and off until midnight, when she decided she was done with sleep. I guessed the floor was too hard so I moved the tent up to a bed, but she still refused to sleep – when I picked her up she would be out like a light on my shoulder, but she jerked awake as soon as she was horizontal again. I was trying not to keep our hut-mates awake all night so I went to her each time she cried, and she totally took advantage of it. Finally I recalled our friend Duncan’s advice, who said he wouldn’t have taken a tent because he co-sleeps with his son, so I wondered if that would settle her. I put her in my sleeping bag and climbed in next to her, which ended up being a terrible idea. She was absolutely delighted, rolling over and over like a little seal puppy, kicking at the sleeping bag with her feet and flapping it up and down with her hands. I had to take her downstairs for half an hour to calm her down again, and she did finally go to sleep when we went back upstairs at 3am – waking again at 6am, much to my disgust.
I was not in a great mood that morning; I was anxious from being up all night and trying to keep her from disturbing the other people at the hut, one of whom was very nice about it and claimed he hadn’t heard a thing (he really must have been actually deaf) but the other guy was rather less nice. The two women didn’t even emerge from bed before we left at 8am.
I read in a newspaper article on the wall that Janet’s Cabin was named after Janet Boyd Tyler, a Vail resident who died of cancer in 1988, whose lifetime ski pass is buried in the foundation of the cabin. I’d intended to take a photo of her photo for the blog and Carys’ photo book but I was not in the mood to do it as we were trying to move out quickly to contain her fussiness.
Day 4: Janet’s Cabin to Jackal Hut
Carys was lucky enough to be able to take a nice nap not long after we set out, while we had a two-pass day ahead of us. The first one (Searle Pass) was attained quickly and easily after leaving the hut, and then we got to hike through some lovely tundra toward the second, Kokomo Pass. We kept thinking it was just over the next rise when actually it took us quite a while to get to it. We saw a grouse perched on a cliff surveying its territory, and stopped for lunch right at Kokomo. Marian thinks (I don’t recall for sure) that this is the section of trail where Carys first learned to hold her hand out for “raisins” (actually a mix of blueberries, cherries, and raisins – she wasn’t picky). When she stuck her arm out the side of the carrier I would stop and turn around, and Marian would take a raisin from a stash in her pocket and hand it to Carys, much to her delight.
At that point we realized that the Copper to Camp Hale route is quite popular among mountain bikers – we were passed by probably 10 of them on this stretch of the trail, some of them coming down at quite a clip. We had an easy descent along a creek to Camp Hale, a decommissioned army base where the 10th Mountain Division was stationed. The Division was deployed in Europe in World War II and saw the huts that mountain travelers use there; when they came back some of them decided that the backcountry of Colorado could use a similar system.
Jackal Hut (named after two guys named Jack and Al) is perched on a ridge above Camp Hale; the Trails Guru at the 10th Mountain Division office had told us that the winter trail from the creek up to the hut was passable in summer, but on a GPS-aided reconnaissance mission earlier in the summer M&T discovered that it really wasn’t. Instead we descended all the way into Camp Hale and were shuttled by Jeep to the hut at the top of the hill. The hut doesn’t have a reliable water source, the closest stream being well over a mile away, and having hiked a full day we thought we might not feel like schlepping a backpack of water up a steep hill so the shuttle met us with several gallons of water and another restocking of dehydrated meals.
The hut was smaller than the ones we’d stayed in thus far, and there were quite a few other people there likely due to the relatively short approach hike from Camp Hale. There were two middle-aged women who dressed and sounded like teenagers, a group of three guys (two of whom the women thought were a couple because one of them brought pumpkin beer), and a Russian guy with an American girl whom he was apparently trying to hit on. They had all packed in canned food and quite a lot of alcohol and were ready to party, but luckily after sunset they took it out to the fire pit some distance from the hut so we didn’t really hear them.
We had chicken pot pie for dinner; the pot pie part was made of Bisquick and it ended up being Marian’s favorite meal. Carys approved, too. This was also the meal where Marian and Tom figured out that rehydrating the entire packet of food each night yielded far more than we could eat, even accounting for Tom’s breakfast. They started just rehydrating as much as we thought we could eat so the (still dry) leftovers wouldn’t be as heavy to carry out the next morning.
I was a bit nervous about how the night would go but we took one of the two small ‘private’ rooms to ourselves, leaving the open area for everyone else, and while it took Carys a while to get to sleep she thankfully stayed that way until 6am the next day. If we had two sleepless nights in a row, I was seriously considering calling off the rest of the trip.