Day 7: Uncle Bud’s Hut to Leadville Hostel
Today began the first part of our two-day layover, which was forced by the winter route leading uphill from Turquoise Lake to Skinner Hut. We could make it down to the lake on trails with no trouble but the Trails Guru had told us that the bushwhack back up to Skinner would be very problematic with you on my back. We were about ready for showers by then anyway, so we had arranged for the co-owner of the Leadville hostel to pick us up at the lake. We had actually made the reservation with the other owner, “Wild Bill,” but were rather shocked to find upon checking the hostel website not long before the trip that he had died in a car accident a few weeks previously. There was a newspaper article posted in the kitchen about the hostel and the awards it had won, which said that Wild Bill was really the life and soul of the place. Cathy, the other co-owner, had apparently stayed at the hostel 15 years ago and never left; she ended up marrying Wild Bill and while she was hospitable and accommodating it was obvious that she was still a very sad lady.
The hostel is quite accustomed to Colorado Trail and Continental Divide Trail through hikers; they have a few sets of thrift store “town clothes” that Cathy acquired after one hiker put all of his clothes in the laundry and was about to sit down on her couch wearing nothing but a very small towel. We were going to get pizza for lunch but the pizza joint was closed due to staffing difficulties, so we had burgers at the Tennessee Pass restaurant. Carys did a big poop right as we got to the restaurant and we had quite the negotiation with one of the waitresses about where we were going to change her. The waitress was incredulous that we didn’t have a changing pad; we had to take two chairs into the bathroom, cover them with a big black bin bag and lay her on top, and then wipe them down with a bleach solution afterward.
Carys had a lot of fun running around the hostel in the afternoon, although it came to a sticky end when she tripped over while holding a toy fire truck and split the inside of her lip open. There was what looked like a fair bit of blood on her teeth but it stopped quickly and once she got over the shock she didn’t seem too bothered by it. I was in the kitchen cleaning her bottles and Tom said he was right behind her but couldn’t catch her; I think he felt a bit bad about it.
While Carys and I napped, Marian & Tom watched some DVDs about the history of the 10th Mountain Division, several members of which would go on to get quite rich founding ski resorts around Colorado, as well as in founding Nike. One of the guys hanging around the hostel offered to give us a ride to the grocery store; Marian took him up on it, but he took her up on her offer to drive after she found out that he had moved from Oklahoma to Colorado to join the marijuana industry, and had been sampling the industry’s merchandise shortly beforehand. Randomly, we saw him again on the side of the road at the very end of our hike several days later.
We stopped by a local park to let Carys run around for a bit on our way to get Prime Rib for dinner – Leadville Style. The clientele was a bit different from those at Alvin’s favorite steak joint, House of Prime Rib, although the wait was rather shorter – we got seats as soon as we walked in, but Alvin couldn’t get a reservation before 9pm during the entire two weeks we were gone.
Day 8: Leadville Hostel to Skinner Hut
Another very short day due to the avoided bushwhack; Cathy gave us a ride up Hagerman Pass Road to a point where the road deteriorated too much for her Forester, and we walked the last three miles from there. Skinner hut actually was right on the side of the road – sandwiched between that and a very steep drop-off – and we were serenaded by ATVs all afternoon. It was quite a cool afternoon and we spent most of it bundled up inside, wishing we could put the fire on. There wasn’t really a way to keep Carys away from it, though. Skinner was unusual in that it was only one story; in most huts the bedrooms got quite warm during the day and retained heat into the evening just by virtue of getting more sun, but the bedrooms here were cold. We were rather amused by the hut’s “refrigerator” a bump-out in the wall under the eave that likely stayed pretty cold in the winter – even without electricity – and whoever installed it had screwed a General Electric logo to the wooden door.
I put Carys down for bed in two layers of pajamas – I’d brought a 12-month and an 18-month set for just this reason – and she went down just fine. She was up in the night for no apparent reason and I had to walk her around outside the hut to settle her, but when I changed her diaper she was snuggly warm in all her clothes.
Day 9: Skinner Hut to the Diamond J Ranch
The forecast for today was really dicey, but we would be up and over Hagerman Pass first thing in the morning so if a storm were to come through the worst that should happen would be that we would get wet, so we decided to push on. The skies were grey all around as we got to the pass and looked for our winter trail on the other side. The map showed a single winter trail heading in our direction but when we got to the appointed switchback in the road the only obvious trail was heading back the way we’d come. We followed it uphill a little way wondering if it would swing around once it hit the ridge but when it didn’t we returned almost to the road and only then noticed the trail maker in the correct direction which actually wasn’t visible from the road itself. Now going the right way, we failed to find any other trail markings at all. Luckily the dirt road we were aiming for was clearly visible below us so directionally we were fine, although we had to scramble over some logs and around a talus field to get to it. Shortly after we were back ‘on the map’ we passed a small party coming the other way; I didn’t really want to chat because Carys was asleep but afterward I felt bad about not warning them in case they were going to try to go up the way we’d come down.
We stopped for a snack on the side of the road when she woke up; I offered her the chance to poo on the side of the trail but she insisted she didn’t need to, and then she had a diaper blowout five minutes later. We got that sorted out and shortly after we were moving again it started to rain. We made a beeline for the Betty Bear Hut, which we couldn’t enter because we didn’t have a reservation (you only get the combination for the padlock on the door if you book for the night) so we set ourselves up to wait for three hours in the woodshed attached to the main building. Carys was happy to wander up and down snacking on lunch for quite a while until nap time rolled around, when Marian sang to her and I bounced her gently in the front pack until she fell asleep with Marian’s sleeping bag wrapped around us both.
She only got half an hour and woke up in a filthy mood again; luckily the rain had stopped because we needed to move out to catch our shuttle. I hiked with her in the front pack until she was calm and then switched her back to the backpack for the last stretch when the trail got steep and we had to push through some tall willows. Luckily Gerald, the ranch manager who had come to meet us, was early so we didn’t have to wait outside in the damp. He was pretty knowledgeable about the area, and told us about the nearby tunnels that divert water back across the Continental Divide to the east to water the Front Range.
The clouds were breaking as we got to the ranch so I took Carys outside and we walked (with much falling and picking of daisies en-route for her) around the volleyball court while Marian & Tom investigated the hot tub; I was hoping to get her tired enough that she would nap again but she wasn’t up for it so we ended up spending most of the afternoon outside exploring. Her favorite part was the mud puddle in the middle of the driveway, which Alvin can’t believe I let her play in.
Dinner was served at 6:30pm and while we were the only people staying at the lodge we had to share a long table with a large group that was celebrating an upcoming wedding. It felt very odd to crash their party, especially when Carys started throwing her food on the floor during the toasts. The steaks were good, but I had to take her upstairs for her bath and put her to bed half way through mine because it had gotten so late.