Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"Self-conquest is the greatest of victories.
- Plato


We sure didn't want to leave Silverton today, but it's time to start Chapter Three of this summer's saga: heading to Leadville so Jim can train on the course for the 100-miler there on August 18-19. We've thoroughly enjoyed the time we've spent in Silverton and can't wait to return --so many nice people around here and so many awesome trails to explore!

This entry contains a hodge-podge of topics, including an introduction to one of the most courageous women I've ever met.


The first topic is Charlie Thorn's house. Not the blue one that has served as headquarters for Hardrock runners for many years; the Wrubliks are living there now and may purchase it. I'm talking about the one next door that Charlie also owns and is renovating. Several of the runners helped him tear out old wood on weekends before the race this year, supplementing the work done by hired help on weekdays. Then the real work began a few days before the race:

In order to build a basement under the house, the structure had to be moved. I wish I'd  been there to see the whole process. Jim saw more stages than I did. It was lifted onto "runners" and slid out toward the street to give room to dig underneath.

It was still sitting like this when we were in town for the last time on Sunday, so we'll have to wait until our next visit to see the "after" shots. Charlie doesn't live in Silverton full time so this isn't as inconvenient as it looks!


Moving our very mobile camper to the next destination is a hassle after being in one place for over three weeks but it's a lot easier than moving a house off its foundation! It's so nice to stay put for a while. We'll have two very temporary campsites on our way to a longer "residency" near Leadville.

The first one-night stop will be the huge parking area just below North Pass on Hwy. 114 south of Gunnison. That's the trail head from which I'll leave tomorrow morning on my last two segments of the Colorado Trail. Unfortunately we didn't know about it a month ago when we paid good money to stay in a private campground in Gunnison.

Free and isolated beats $25 a night in a crowded campground (especially with a curmudgeon next door!) any time.

There is only one sensible way to haul a camper from Silverton to North Pass: back the way we came. That meant experiencing the Million Dollar Highway (Hwy. 550) between Silverton and Ouray again. Since we were starting out higher this time, we didn't overheat going up Red Mountain Pass. And the ride was less white-knuckle this time, at least for me, because I was next to the mountain and not the huge drop-offs into the Animas River canyon.

We stopped to refuel and buy supplies in Montrose, a nice little town, then headed east on Hwy. 50. It's a long uphill drive past the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and the beautiful Blue Mesa Reservoir. Lots of folks were enjoying the beautiful day out on their boars. The truck engine did indeed overheat again, necessitating one stop to let it cool down. Damn. We were hoping the new radiator cap would do the trick, but it's something else. Jim checked the radiator fan and clutch and they seemed to be operating correctly. So we're back to Square One, essentially, and still don't know what's causing the problem. Old age, probably. (The truck this time, not us.)

We drove through Gunnison and hung a right (south) on Hwy. 114, enjoying the beautiful valley and canyon through which Cochetopa Creek flows. We didn't see any mountain goats this time, but it wasn't for lack of looking. I was thinking about following the creek farther upstream last month near Eddiesville, wondering what interesting scenery the next two CT segments would bring tomorrow.

Storm clouds had been gathering since Gunnison and the rain began pouring down even before we arrived at the trail head. We parked the camper and scurried inside. It was mid-afternoon.

Jim was taking a nap in his recliner and I was on the computer looking out the window when I saw a very wet hiker coming down the road from the pass (there is a 6/10ths-mile road section here). He was headed  toward the gate to the trail at the other end of the parking area. It was still raining a little and it took me about thirty seconds to realize I needed to TALK to this man. He'd just come from the section I would be running tomorrow and I had some real concerns about it.

I looked out the window on the other side of the camper and lo and behold, lookie what was there!

A woman and two horses!! She looked both out of place and very much at home at the same time (my perception, not hers). I grabbed my camera and took that shot through the window, raindrops and all.

I must have let out a little squeal or something, because Jim woke up. I went outside to talk to these travelers, curiosity getting the best of me. Jim soon joined me.


I spent about an hour talking to RJ, the hiker, and Erin Zwiener, the equestrian.

One of the first things I learned is that the horses are actually MULES. The one with the pack (Kershaw, named for a country singer) was a bit skittish but soon nuzzled my hand as readily as Yoakum (also named for a country singer -- do you see a pattern here??). Both were more interested in nibbling on some grass in the parking area than in socializing with the humans standing around talking, however.

The conversation flowed freely about what to expect in each direction on the trail for our three very different methods of travel. RJ, a kindly man from Denver who looks to be about our age, is doing a traditional southbound thru-hike of the Colorado Trail. Erin is going northbound on the Continental Divide Trail, which shares tread with the CT for about two hundred miles in Colorado. And I'm running sections of the CT/CDT in whichever direction best suits our itinerary.

I found out some valuable information about the miles facing me tomorrow (although I should have asked more questions when RJ said it was "rocky") and both Erin and I had useful information about the trail that RJ would hike next.

When I mentioned to RJ that we found a nice cooler with soft drinks just up the trail a month ago, Erin said the grazing cattle she saw in the valley had apparently demolished it. The soft drinks were damaged or gone. That's unfortunate. It's the only Trail Magic I've seen on the entire CT.

So Jim and I decided to be Trail Angels. We gave RJ and Erin soft drinks, all the fresh water they could carry, and some fresh fruit. I discovered on the AT how little fresh fruit the hikers get, and they really appreciate it. Unfortunately, all our bananas were a bit past their prime, but RJ and Erin were grateful for them (they tasted better than they looked). 

Erin's story is positively inspiring to me. She is a recent forestry graduate and lives in Missoula, Montana. She grew up in Texas and learned to ride horses and compete when she was very young. She gave herself the trail name "Tree-Huggin' Cowgirl." She joked that her father wanted a boy when she was born but by age two decided that his young daughter fit the bill. Sounds like she was as much of a "tomboy" as I was!

At only 21 years of age, Erin's dream is to become the very first equestrian to ride the entire length of the Continental Divide Trail in one season, a distance of about 3,100 miles along the spine of the Rocky Mountains. She started May 12 at the New Mexico/Mexico border and hopes to finish at the Montana/Canada border by the end of September. If she can't make it before the snow flies, she'll do a flip-flop in Montana and get the northern section done before the southern section of the state -- just like some northbound AT hikers do on that trail if they think they will arrive too late to climb Mt. Katahdin last.

Erin started out riding her favorite horse and using a pack mule but had to send her horse home after about a month of difficulties in New Mexico. She soon found a replacement -- Kershaw the Mule. Her dog also accompanied her for a few weeks but apparently ran off (he was later found.) The dog is no longer part of the trek, either. Now it's just Erin and the two mules. And a heap 'o courage.

Erin's trail journal describes an assortment of unique problems on the trail, including gates that could not accommodate her four-footed team. Almost like those early travelers through Stony Pass who had to dissemble their wagons, she sometimes had to carry the packs so the equines could get through tight spots. Fortunately, she's met lots of trail angels along the way who have provided hot meals, occasional warm beds, rides into town for supplies and feed, veterinary assistance, and tons of encouragement.

I am totally in awe of what this young woman has already accomplished and what she still intends to do. Can you imagine the amount of courage it takes to do what she's doing? Most everyone she meets on the trail is both amazed and inspired by her quest. Some folks worry about her safety, but she says people are so fascinated by her story that it's been fairly easy to get help along the way and donations to defray her expenses keep rolling in. She carries a satellite phone to keep in contact with her family and to arrange services in towns ahead. I forgot to ask if she's using a GPS. The CDT doesn't have waypoints but the device could come in handy in other ways.

Erin appears to be a very independent, confident, intelligent outdoors person with a great sense of humor and adventure. She exhibits the same qualities as the folks I read about in my survivor book. I have no doubts she'll reach her goal for this trip and others she has for her life ahead.

You can read her journal and learn more about her trek at her website: www.ridethegreatdivide.com.


We all said good-bye somewhat reluctantly about 5 PM. Erin and her mule team headed up Hwy. 114, below, northbound on Segments 17 and 16 toward Marshall Pass:

RJ passed through the gate and southbound on Segment 18 toward the La Garita Wilderness. Jim and I went back inside the camper to prepare for our own challenges tomorrow, grateful that we didn't have to spend the night in a wet tent! (What weenies.)

Jim's main challenge is moving the camper over Monarch Pass to Poncha Springs so we'll be closer to the trail head at Marshall Pass where I'll be finishing my run. Monarch Pass gave us more trouble on the way to Silverton than any of the other passes we've been up and over this summer. It's an even  longer haul uphill coming from the west.

After looking at our state maps and detailed DeLorme atlas, I suggested Jim travel a different way than the obvious -- south through Saguache, then east and north on Hwy. 285 to Poncha Springs, thereby completely avoiding Hwy. 50 and Monarch Pass. The two passes he'll have to cross are much lower than Monarch and the distance is about the same. We don't know what the roads are like but it looks like a good plan to avoid strain on the truck's engine and Jim's nerves. He says he'll go that way after I start out tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I'm doing the best I can to alleviate my own fears about doing the longest run I've attempted during either my Appalachian Trail or Colorado Trail adventure runs: 35.6 miles. Only once did I do 35 miles on the AT, and that was at a much lower altitude in Shenandoah NP on relatively smooth trails that I could actually run. The longest run/hike I've done this year or last on the Colorado Trail has been 29.3 miles. This is six miles longer and mostly above 11,000 feet.

I am no longer concerned about snow (I had to postpone this run from a month ago because of snow above 10,800 feet in this area), but mainly the amount of elevation gain I'll have -- more in the northbound direction I'll be going -- and the danger of storms above tree line. The highest point is in the middle at Sargent's Mesa, which will also be the middle of the day and the most likely time for lightning. The segments are very remote, crossing only one road that is described as very rough and only suitable for jeeps. What if I get injured and can't reach help? In addition, going "backwards" is trickier and sometimes the CT isn't very well marked. Even with the directions I wrote backwards, topo maps Jim printed out for me, and GPS waypoints, what if I get lost??

Without knowing much about the trail surface other than at least some of it is "rocky," I estimate it could take me between twelve and fifteen hours to complete the two segments and more if I get off-trail. I will be carrying more weight in my pack than usual; I need to take more emergency supplies, fluids, calories, clothing, and lights in case I am still out after dark. Additional weight means running will be more difficult than usual.

I'm going to bed as prepared physically as I can be, but the mental qualms may prevent a good night's sleep.

Next entry: can I show some of Erin's courage and forget my worries about tomorrow's long section on the Colorado Trail???

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil