Sitting in a tent at the base of a mountain in Colorado, two things go through my mind: I really wish I would have brought my snow pants, and am I making a rookie mistake eating a sandwich inside my tent? I can’t do anything about the snow pants, but the sandwich has me concerned. I’ve seen what my dog will do to empty wrappers that I leave in the garbage can at home. I don’t want to find out if a bear will be just as curious.
Friday, August 12, 2016
I had flown American Airlines from Phoenix to Denver, arriving about 4:30 pm, about an hour later than planned thanks to a maintenance fix on the aircraft. My adventurer friend, Robin Bobo, picked me up at the airport in her familiar powder blue Prius, and we headed southeast of Denver to the small town of Alma. Robin had driven in from Kansas City, leaving the previous afternoon and spending a night at a small public campground. Her camping gear, water, and a borrowed tent for me were stashed in the Prius’ cargo compartment, allowing my suitcase (the smallest that would fit my hiking poles) and backpack to fit in the back seat.
On the way to Alma, we stopped at a Wal-mart to pick up Gatorade and toilet paper. The Wal-mart also contained a Subway, so we purchased sub sandwiches for dinner, although I hadn’t had lunch yet so I ate half of mine on the ride to Alma. I didn’t actually know where we were going, as I had left the hiking plans to Robin. When we started planning this trip, my only stipulation was that there wouldn’t be any technical climbing. Class 1 or 2 peaks would be fine. Robin had already done a few Colorado 14’ers (peaks above 14,000 ft), not to mention climbing Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro (peak at 19,341 ft), so she was looking for something new that her older and less experienced friend could also tackle. She found it in the Mounts Democrat-Cameron-Lincoln-Bross loop. A possibility of bagging four 14ers in one day hike. Irresistible!
We arrive at Alma when it was nearly dark, and after realizing that we’re not even going to find a gas station in this tiny town (that we find charming later) for one last civilized potty stop, we find the road to Kite Lake, which is where the trailhead is located. The dirt road contains many deep ruts and Robin assures me that she’s taken the Prius on other dirt roads worse than this. We pass a few tents along the side of the road, and Robin’s worried that we may not find a camping spot since we arrived a bit late. It’s dark by this time, and we come to a spot in the road where the deep holes are longer than the wheelbase of the Prius. There’s already a few other cars parked on this side of the spot. I had read about this spot hours earlier in the airport when I finally had time to review the hike and drive to it, and several people had recommended not to take a car with less than four-wheel drive past this spot. We decide to camp here, about two miles from the trailhead. We can hear the burbling of a stream near the site, and outlines of mountains flank us to the north, east and west.
Fortunately, there’s a relatively level grassy spot right at the deep ruts in the road, and two tents were pitched on north side of clearing, leaving a good amount of space for more camping. We ask if they mind sharing the space, and set up camp on the southwest side of the clearing near a fire pit. Robin’s got her tent up in minutes, but while the tent she borrowed for me is similar to the one I’ve put up a couple times in Arizona, I’m really slow at putting it up and she helps me figure out which poles go where and how to attach the fly. It’s unfamiliar to her also, and it’s also really dark, so the fly ends up about 18 inches off the ground, making ingress and egress a crawling affair. But it’s shelter and it’s up, so I’m happy. Robin turns in for the night, and I start getting my own tent ready, silently thanking Dean for suggesting that I take a headlamp in addition to a flashlight because it’s so nice to have the flashlight beaming up in the corner but focused hands-free light elsewhere.
It’s also cold. I had looked at the weather before packing for this trip and noted that the forecast temperature at the beginning of the hike would be around 35 degrees, and wouldn’t get much warmer than 54 degrees. I knew we’d be camping at or near the trailhead, so I brought a sleeping bag rated for +15 degrees Fahrenheit, two pair of gloves, knit hat, scarf, and warm socks. I also brought a warm turtleneck that I had purchased at the top of Alpe du Huez in France after not packing for the elevation (in July!) there. But for whatever reason, I had not brought the snow pants that I had also bought at AdH, thinking that would be overkill. At the last minute, even though I had a rain jacket and down vest in my backpack, I also brought my heavy Columbia hot air ballooning jacket. Wow, so glad I did! Living in Arizona, I had forgotten how cold 35 degrees could be. I get things set up, happy that I brought a yoga mat for underneath my sleeping bag because in the dark we couldn’t pick optimum rock-free area to set up the tents. Then, fully clothed with my winter jacket still on, I snuggle into my sleeping bag and start eating my sandwich for dinner, not thinking about attracting bears and other wildlife until a few minutes later.
I think I’ve already decided that I’m making the trip back up to the car to stash the trash, but I’m still worried about the fact that I’ve already eaten in the tent. But there’s nothing I can do about that either. So I finish as much of my soggy sandwich as I want to eat, wrap it up in the plastic subway bag, climb out of my warm sleeping bag, put my shoes back on, and make my way to the car about 200 feet away. I stash the trash in the car, and since I’m out already, I decide to make a potty stop. But since there are still cars frequently coming up the road, I need to scramble up a bit to get to the potty area I used earlier. I take toilet paper, and after using it, I stash it under a rock. There’s a lot of water running in the area, so I figure the next time it rains it will biodegrade away. This isn’t AZ.