Sunday, August 8
Trip report from Westminster Colorado my childhood home.
My last writing I was spending the night in Buena Vista Colorado. I left Buena Vista Colorado, returning to Cottonwood Pass and hiked to Monarch Pass for a total of 2,030 miles hiked to date. I am getting off trail for five days because my family is holding my mother Margaret’s funeral. My mom is on my mind, and I went to mass this morning, a mass dedicated in her name. She was such a strong special, and good force for Holy Trinity Catholic church in Westminster Colorado.
The time resting at home will be good for my weary body. I weighed myself for the first time since leaving Santa Fe New Mexico to find that I’ve lost 42 pounds. Yes, Maria now has a skinny husband. I want to segway beyond me and my mom because this blog is for you the reader, and I would like to share with you what I have experienced and the topics on my mind.
What is it like to hike for many days crossing 12,400 and 12,800 passes with a low point hovering around 11,000 feet, all while wet, cold and rainy. I experienced three days of rain and cool weather, although I enjoyed the hiking for the dampness caused a change in beauty. I was well prepared for the precipitous elixir of the gods because by living in Washington state it prepares one to have the attitude that your skin is waterproof. I hike in the rain a lot at home, but the rain in Colorado does come down heavier and in much bigger drops than what I’m used to. See you can get wet quite fast if you’re not prepared to quickly donn your raincoat, strap on a pack cover and deploy your carbon fiber umbrella.
I’ve noticed that “umbrella hiking” above timberline can be tricky because the thunderstorms bring gusty gear-punishing winds which do not bode well for most umbrellas, but my sturdy old GoLight umbrella has never disappointed me. I am used to hiking through deep dark 200 foot high northwest trees that mask the gusts of destruction, gusts that would tear any umbrella to shreds. Not having the tall dark “windshields” of nature above timberline left me feeling vulnerable. I was lucky in the three days it took me to cross the high 12,000 foot passes for the calmness I experienced provided the peace of mind, opening the mind to watch and wonder. Since it was not windy I was able to enjoy the beauty of a rain storm under the over arching protection of my trusty umbrella.
I just hiked, through the rain enjoying every drop, enjoying the foggy misty clouds made from drizzly micro drops of cold precipitation. My left hand would become numb from walking while holding trekking poles and the right hand was gripping my umbrella cooling at its own pace. Squeezing the hands for hours does not bode well for good finger circulation, so every time I stopped I would pump my hands and try to warm back up. I also enjoyed the raindrops splattering on my quadriceps as they pulsed and hardened with each step. I felt alive to have the moisture drip and run down my calves into my shoes soaking my socks.
With wet feet and cold hands all I had to do was walk through the elixir that brings life to plants and spend time looking at the smorgasbord of beautiful Porcini mushrooms blanketing edges of my route. The fauna presented themselves in equally impressive ways. I saw a mother Ptarmigan cooing to protect her hungry baby. The whole route I was walking through Pika heaven listening to their squeaks of joy, as they darted collecting grass for the winter. It was fun to watch the Marmots because they’re such posers on every rock sitting proud, just saying please take my picture and post it on the Internet. The animal that I was surprised to see was a moose, looking at me with his big mopey nose and his giant heavy dangerous looking non symmetrical rack. It’s look communicated to me, “hey I’m eating here and doing my job at keeping these bushes trimmed”. This made me think how grateful I am to know that Colorado reintroduced moose because I think the bushes really need a good trimming every once in a while. The moose seem like the perfect animal besides the beaver to mow the wilderness keeping it in top ecological shape. Their munching of woody material keeps the bushes smaller which can allows you and me an easier time at the task of bushwhacking. Yes this is a selfish thought and I’m glad the moose is here.
In this last section I saw plenty of people, there were amazing backpackers heading south on the Colorado Trail, hikers on the Continental Divide, and hikers doing a popular 160 mile loop. I met people from Kansas City Kansas, Chicago, Westminster Colorado my hometown, Texas, and even Patrick from Ireland. It is the season to be in the high country in Colorado schlepping your camping gear through mountainous green beauty. Your job is simply to walk, find a place to camp, smiling with others in the luxury of nature.
I think the influx of conversation I received with other hikers was really needed at this point in my 2500 mile journey. It give me energy and actually allowed me to slow down enjoying 10 and 12 mile walking days. When slowing down to talk I met people picking mushrooms and trail crews. The volunteer trail workers made me think of the herculean effort that is needed to build trail connectors along the Four Corners Loop making it more desirable for more people than just me. There are definitely some places where trail needs to be constructed because cross-country travel through the desert is fun but if more people are going to hike, then focusing people onto a more defined path is important.
This last section I went swimming in an amazing blue lake. There is nothing like stripping down to your birthday suit and swimming with the fish, then leaping out of the cold water feeling refreshed and ready for another 7 miles of freedom. Lost Man Lake gave me memories of hiking through the Sierras in California where I jumped in the lake every day refreshing the tired weary muscles.
Near Monarch Pass I knew I was hiking in an area we’re a second cousin of mine perished with his copilot. The airplane engine stalled and they crashed into the side of the mountain immediately resulting in a fireball. I did not know the exact location of the plane crash in 2004, but I knew it was near Monarch Pass. The day before my dad picked me up he sent me the GPS coordinates of the plane crash. I took time plotting them on my mapping program during tent time. I was blown away to learn that two hours prior I literally hiked right through the spot where the plane hit the mountain. I remember seeing a few bits of small aluminum debris in this area, there was a power line in the same region so yes it could’ve been power line debris, but I want to believe it was a few leftover bits of aluminum from my second cousin’s airline crash. If I didn’t lose the Colorado Trail in this region resulting in a cross country route I would never have walked through the crash site.
Another reason why I ended up walking through the crash site is because somebody told me the cafe/shop at the top of Monarch Mountain pass closed at 5 PM. I was in a rush to get there because I was in the mood to have a nice tasty beer. I did get there by 4:30 because of my cross country shortcut. I arrived to find out the store has a lease from the Forest Service and they do not allow the sale of beer. For my beer drinking friends, do not despair because trail magic always provides. A hiker I saw earlier on the trail said, just a head underneath the trail sign there was trail magic in a box, because case of cold Modelo beer was just placed there by a passing motorist. We each grabbed one and enjoyed the refreshing beverage in good conservation. Drinking a nice light beer at an 11,300 foot pass with a fellow hiker from Kansas City Kansas it is an event that make this trail special for me and these events will happen for people who hike in the future.
I am looking forward to the next 115 mile section from Monarch Pass to Westcliffe Colorado. The trees and biome of the hike will change to a dryer climate approaching what I experienced in New Mexico. The moister central Colorado will be left behind for the return of Junipers and Pinion Pine. The dark sky museum in Westcliffe Colorado it’s a say I have been told not to miss.
I feel I am entering the final push and have about 20% of the distance left or 470 miles to go. It gives me comfort to say I only have 470 miles left. It feels so short but you the reader may say I am crazy to call this short and you are correct, but after hiking 2030 miles, I do feel like I am on the homestretch. I know my lovely wife Maria is looking forward to me coming home she asked me the other day if there was any cougars in the mountains. I said no, but I know she is looking forward to me coming home to a cougar in Washington state, a.k.a. Maria.
I am continually asked if I am going to write a book. After much thought about an idea when I get home I plan on improving my website and route using my lessons learned, and I need to challenge myself through writing. Yes the idea of l a book about this adventure while tying it in with my other long hikes can provide joy for many. It will challenge me, and allow me to conquer my challenge with writing such as punctuating and spelling. A creative writing class should be in my future. I’ve challenge myself with a 2500 mile walk for the third time. I am very good at long distance hiking and it is appropriate to challenge myself with putting words on paper so my experience can be expressed in a written form that will give joy to many other people. Writing my experience down can allow people to experience the Four Corners Loop who would have never hiked it to begin with. It also might inspire some people to take a stab at the loop I have gifted to the world.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.
The Animal - Kevin Koski
p.s. I also want to write a book because it makes me smile and gives me joy to know that working on something very hard in this area will just elevate my friend Tiffany Royal’s heart.