The Mosquito-Tenmile Range Traverse has been in the “Incredible Things to Attempt” queue of my head since I’ve read (and reread) Peter Bakwin’s own attempts at the line. Starting from Weston Pass at the southern end of the range, the goal is to make it to Frisco, Colorado following the very prominent ridgeline that continues unbroken until its terminus, around 37 miles from where you start. 27 of those miles, if one can believe, stays at over 13,000 feet contiguously.

This makes the Mosquito-Tenmile’s ridgeline geographically very unique in Colorado and to the lower 48 States. No where else can you travel for so long, and stay so high. The terrain varies from easy Class 2 talus hopping, to quite sustained Class 3 scrambling, to even a few sections with highly exposed Class 5 moves. The great majority of the route is off trail.

To me, the range feels both familiar and strange. Familiar in that Peaks 10 thru 6 make up the Breckenridge ski resort and I’ve spent a fair amount of my youth living and working around that area in the summer as a dishwasher in one of the restaurants that dot main street looking for tourist’s money. One of the first peaks I ever climbed with my Brother was Peak 1 right outside of Frisco, Colorado when I was 16. Coming from Connecticut, it was safe to say that that experience was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. In two years I had myself moved to Colorado permanently.

Strange, in that well: what exactly is south of Breckenridge? After Peak 10, my mental model of the Mosquito/Tenmile Range is a bit terra incognito. Even though I’ve managed to summit all fourteen of the fourteeners and centennials in the range, I haven’t linked them all together by their connecting ridgeline so I didn’t understand the relationships of the mountains to each other.

The central part of the range seems to hide in the shadows of its more popular neighbors, like Quandary Peak. You can see the ridgeline quite clearly from Quandary’s summit as an impenetrable wall, allowing nothing to escape to the west. The striated bands of white quartz make beautiful patterns against the much darker gneiss. It certainly catches your eye. I had a feeling that the ridgelines connecting to the peaks, rather than the peaks themselves, would be the focus of my time and energy on the route.

Recently, Peter and I were on Kieners of Longs Peak, a route we’ve done together in some sort of variation many times now. Peter was actually the one who initially took me up and showed me the route. Our most thrilling was in Winter conditions, where we took the Notch Couloir up from Broadway – a fairly legitimate alpine route. Each of us is now very familiar with Kieners at this point and on this day we both moved with a casual fluidity usually saved for a route far less exposed and difficult, even with the lingering spring snow making the Broadway traverse quite spicy in some places. This familiarity allowed us to chat quite effortlessly along the way, and the Mosquito/Tenmile Range Traverse came up. I told Peter that I aim to give it a try soon.

“You know,” he quipped, “the range really starts at Trout Creek Pass, not Weston Pass.”

“Oh, I know,” I retorted matter-of-factually, “I plan to start there, and get to Weston Pass as a sort of, ‘prologue’ if you will.”

This, “prologue” from Trout Creek Pass covers terrain in the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness I’ve never set foot in, and comes in at around 32 miles all by itself. I wagered that the going would be fairly easy – there’s just two peaks above 13,000 feet and a lot of, it seemed to me, easy rolling terrain to just get through.

Although there’s probably a good reason I’m not a betting man. In reality no one has publicly claimed to have started from Trout Creek Pass and followed the range to Frisco. Only one man, Jeff Rome, has claimed to have started from Weston Pass and made it to Frisco. Even Peter who has tried twice himself, hasn’t gotten it all finished up, having ended his effort at Peak 10, the last peak to be over 13,000 feet in the range.

Two weeks after sharing the summit of Longs with Peter, I found myself riding shotgun in my buddy Troy’s van, en route to Trout Creek Pass. Two days before, I was set on a plan of simply recon’ing the first part of the traverse from Trout Creek Pass to Weston Pass. Later in the summer, I’d recon. Drift Peak to Fletcher and then on to Atlantic Peak – the crux and a part of the ridgeline I’ve never been on. On yet another day, I’d re-familiarize myself with Peaks 1 through 5, another difficult part. Slow. Methodical. Intelligent.

But, by the next day – sometime during my bike ride up Chautauqua for a quick lap up Green Mountain, I had convinced myself that I should just, you know, go for the whole traverse without all this needless recon’ing. If I secured a ride to the start, might as well take full advantage of it!

And anyways, what did I really need to adjust in my gear from a two day, out-and-back, to a three plus day thru hike? Pack an extra day’s worth of food – simple! The parts I’ve haven’t recon’d should be noted as real challenges: miles of Class 3/4/5 scrambling between Wheeler Peak and Crystal Peak. But I felt climbing fit, having spent a solid training block (called, “Winter”) becoming more adept at technical climbing. The day we left to start the route, I was performing advanced workouts on the campus board, something I’ve never been able to do before. I just hoped my legs were still underneath me!

With a manly hug from Troy at the parking lot off of Trout Creek Pass, I found the first tree off the highway to bivy under for a few hours before a very early start the next day on Friday. The 3:00am wake up came quickly, and I was up packing, then walking back towards the green “Trout Creek Pass” sign at around 3:45am to “officially” start.

The prominent ridgeline of the second half of the route doesn’t begin in earnest until Weston Peak, so with Peter’s advice, I followed the county line boundary that separates Park from Chaffee County. This imaginary line also splits most of the drainages found in the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness quite perfectly in half – including the two main peaks of the area (East, and West Buffalo) and follows the spirit of the rest of the route fairly closely, while also keeping it’s own flavor.

My Ultimate Direction Fastpack 35 contained just the bare essentials: 15,000 calories of food – give or take, enough clothes to survive, including my Ultimate Direction Deluge Shell, my Sierra Designs Cloud 800 35 degree (zipperless!) sleeping bag, my Ultimate Direction FK Bivy, and a simple rectangle-shaped silnylon tarp I’d be using for emergencies if it started hailing on me. I also brought along my camera, two head torches, my phone, and enough batteries to keep everything charged. I started out with 3 liters of water in a bladder in the back of my pack, and two topped off 20-ounce (old school!) UD Kicker Valve bottles. That’s more water than I’ve ever carried at once, but I wasn’t expecting to hit a water source until Weston Pass, 32 miles into the fastpack, and then probably never again moving northwards. I would be forced to camel up. All that water makes for slow going, I quickly found out.

My plan was to, somehow, do this all in about three separate stages:

First, The Prologue through the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness to Weston Pass. I figured that this would be easy, low elevation (relatively), off trail hiking.

Stage Two would be from Weston Pass, to somewhere before the real business starts near Wheeler Peak. Being on the ridgeline, there wasn’t going to be a great place to bivy, so I’d have to just make due with whatever I could find. A big unknown, I’ll grant you that, but one I had no real solution for except: Adapt.

The third, Queen Stage, would start right before the Drift/Fletcher/Atlantic traverse. I’d then finish up the rest of the range to Frisco.

Trout Creek Pass

Trout Creek Pass

Things started out well enough in the lowlands of Trout Creek Pass (9,487′). What began as a road, quickly turned into off-trail bushwhacking after a quarter of a mile or so – I wasn’t anticipating crossing another road of any kind until Mosquito Pass, 50 miles away (if all went well). Terrain was mostly low brush and spaced apart ponderosa pines. I was more worried of getting bit by a rattlesnake or stepping on a tarantula in this climate zone than slipping on the never ending fields of talus I knew were to come. I heard the growls of some very large mammal in the distant right about sun up, but failed to investigate, Too dry here for moose – I was guessing it was an angry elk, that would like nothing but to be left alone.

As I traveled higher, the terrain became choked with taller grasses and brushes, and my worry drifted to ticks. Soon, I was too busy navigating through rubbery stalks of tightly spaced young aspen groves, and mazes of boulder fields, 5′ to 20′ high, hidden within. Slow going! Every so often, I’d feel a rumble around me, and a young bull elk would tear down the hill besides me. Exhilarating. I hadn’t seen anyone since the night prior, and it didn’t seem that I would anytime soon.

The route passed its first high point with a summit register: diminutive Point 10,855. A beautiful spot with a great view of Buena Vista, the Arkansas River Valley, and the Sawatch giants beyond. I signed, and kept on going to the first named peak of the route, Marmot Peak. Marmot had none of its namesake critters, but was itself entirely surrounded by one of the aforementioned aspen groves and simply finding the high point of the peak itself was somewhat of a chore. Again, I signed the notepad left in a glass jar:

“en route to Frisco via Trout Creek Pass”

I thought such a bold testament a bit brazen – I was only a few hours into a traverse that was going to take days, and had never been done! But, since the summit register was last replaced in the early 2000’s and sparsely filled out since then, I doubted anyone would read it soon to call me out if I failed. Even if it was read, it would be too unbelievable to take seriously.

East Buffalo (13,330′) West Buffalo (13,332′) Peaks came next. A happy reprieve for me to get out from under treeline and taste a bit of that rarefied air. Weather was fair, if a bit windy, and would stay that way during my entire trip. Begrudgingly, after West Buffalo, I again retreated far back into the trees to battle the boulder field labyrinths and chokes of trees.

Having now a few hours on the legs, the terrain seem to start to chuckle at my attempt at straightforward headway towards my immediate goal of Weston Pass. “Circuitous” is the correct term. Dropping off West Buffalo to the north, I’d then turn west, then north, then follow what seemed like a drunken dance through the wilderness east. All the while, staying higher than the immediate surroundings, making sure that fresh water would only be an abstract concept.

I was surprised by the local geology. I knew that the southern end of the Mosquitoes were primarily made up of volcanic rock which differed greatly from its gneiss northern part, but the boulders I was wandering around reminded me more of the pink granite of the Pikes Peak batholith. The rock outcroppings looked just like those found in the South Platte region and there looked to be some unclimbed classic boulders hidden in these woods. Having taken me most of the day to reach them at my pace, my guess that they’ll stay in obscurity for some time. If only I had budgeted some time to stop myself!

By nightfall, I had almost broken out of treeline for the second time. The wind had picked up and forward progress was stymied by the roar of cold air straight into my face. Deciding to call it, I found the very last tuft of tree cover until essentially Peak 1 on the route to lay down in. Tomorrow, I’d have to find something on the ridgeline itself.

I felt downtrodden. Only about 25 miles in 19 hours of clock time. I hadn’t even made it to Weston Pass! My “easy” prologue bared teeth. Somewhat emasculated, I napped fitfully for a few hours under the almost-full moon, before packing it up again to march forward to Weston.

At the start of day two, the terrain under head torch seemed very alien indeed. With no trees anywhere, very little separated the route I needed to follow from my immediate surroundings. I constantly had to take out my GPS to make course corrections. Finally, the sun began to rise as I made my way closer to Weston Pass and I could see farther than my torch’s light reached.

My luck (and morale) slightly turned for the better, as I passed a small snow field, then a pond of water below it. I had since blown through my water supply in the last 26 hours, so seeing water once more was quite a relief. I dropped most of my gear to do a small out-and-back of unassuming South Peak (12,892′) – and hiked down to Weston Pass to finally finish up my 32 mile-long “prologue”. I was beat. But there was so much more ahead. Time for the next stage!


From Weston Pass (11,921′), I looked up the steep grassy face that would lead me to the ridgeline I’d follow for days. With my recently quenched water reserves filled, it was quite the challenge just to surmount the ridge. It seemed simply ridiculous with this water weight I was carrying. Once on top of the ridge, I could see that there was trace patches of snow until at least Mt. Democrat, far in the distance. Hmm…

I didn’t pack a stove… but I wagered that I could warm up the snow I could pick up en route for drinking by putting it into my bottles. If there was already above-freezing water in them, I could simply wait just a little while for all of the water in the bottles to warm up and become liquid. And if I was impatient, I could just go ahead and try to eat a never ending, flavorless snow cone right from the ridge. With another silly gamble, I let drop two liters of my water (almost 4 1/2 pounds), which instantly added some spring to my step.

Horseshoe Mountain

Horseshoe Mountain

Soon, the going was much easier. The main route finding was done for me – follow the ridge! And the route at this point was gentle rolling fields of tundra, turning into talus as I ventured further north. The peaks were now being toppled quickly: Weston Peak (13,572′), Ptarmigan Peak (13,739′), Horeshoe Mtn. (13,898′), Pearless Mtn. (13,343′), Mt. Sheridan (13,748′), Mount Sherman (‎14,043′), Gemini (13,981′), Dyer (13,855′), Mt. Evans B (13,577′). Before I knew it, the day was coming to a close some 18 hours after I started. Where to sleep?

 

Dyer Mountain

Dyer Mountain

The problem with following a high ridgeline – and being very stubborn about staying on said ridgeline, is the constant exposure to everything: the sun is almost always in your face, the wind doubly so. Near some mining equipment perched near Mosquito Pass, I managed to find a rock outcropping with a flat enough landing at the base to use as a bivy site. Quite spacious digs, all things considered!

I laid down again for just a few hours – just a quick recharge, knowing I had a ton of terrain still to cover. I was happy to feel as if I was finally making progress, but knew that six hours I used in the beginning of the day just to get to Weston Pass had put me really far behind any schedule I could draft in my head. I certainly wasn’t anywhere near my next stage. I really didn’t think at this point that getting to the end was probable, unless I figured somehow to either move faster, or not run out of food.

“One more day, then we’ll make a decision.” I told myself.

Either I was going to drop down and thumb a ride to civilization, or keep going on the ridge. It would be a pity – and somewhat of a weak choice, to tap out before the real fun starts near Wheeler Mtn. I had made only 20 miles on this day of non-stop hiking. These low mileage day totals were hard for my pride to come to terms with. The terrain was simply that difficult – and this was the easy section. The Queen Stage was still far ahead of me.

Like the day before, I awoke well before daybreak, and made some good time on easy terrain, passing the sign for Mosquito Pass still in the dark on my way up UN 13,548 and Mosquito Peak (13,781′). Treasurevault Mountain (13,701′) was next, with its signature mining road splitting the upper peak in half. Unfortunately, this day was not starting out all that well. I could tell from my wheezing I was succumbing to an asthma attack. I didn’t even think of bringing along an inhaler, so well: I didn’t. Asthma attacks at 13,000′ could slow me to a crawl and force my hand to quit. I kept going not sure… exactly what peak was next! Keeping this many peaks straight in one’s sleepy head becomes a chore. Lucky for me, there’s a placard cemented into the rock of the summit announced it as, “Mt. Tweto” (13,672′) – fairly odd, but helpful nonetheless!

The connecting ridge between Tweto and Buckskin appeared brutal, but I looked forward to the change of pace. Lots of loose Class 3 scrambling, which I knew wouldn’t relent even once I topped Buckskin (13,840′), Democrat (14,148′), or even up Traver Peak (13,852). Four miles of Class 3 scrambling takes it out of you, and I was happy for another reprieve of merely talus hopping – after a brief snow squall that had me jumping into the nearest cave on the ridge wrapped in my silnylon tarp to wait out the worst of it. Thankfully, no lightning was let loose.

McNammee (13,760′), Clinton (13,857′), and the rolling terrain afterwards went easy enough, despite the high winds ripping down squalls blasting west to east across my path. I now was looking at an uninviting Wheeler Mtn. head-on, not having expected any more Class 3 scrambling until Drift, but that was somewhat of a laughable thought: from Clinton, one gets a good preview of things to come until Crystal Peak: a serrated ridgeline of crumbling towers and gendarmes. Slow and technical scrambling for hours upon hours.


Wheeler Mtn.

Wheeler Mtn.

The day was getting long, but no better time than now to start out on The Queen Stage. Wheeler Mtn. (13,690′) turned out to be a lot of fun with interesting routefinding and a wonderful summit view. Dropping off it’s north side, yet another tower reared its ugly head. I knew not how to get to the col between it and Wheeler, and found myself in particularly steep, loose, tricky terrain to the east. Looking up, I noticed a bail ‘biner, meaning: someone rappelled from this area. I laughed off the absurdity of my situation, knowing this wasn’t going to be the last time even today that I’d be carrying a 35 liter pack while donning running shoes in territory usually reserved for technical climbing gear. My introduction to the ridge was over, and things were now a bit more serious. I felt fit and strong, although the sleep monster was knocking on my door and pulling down my eyelids.

Surmounting the first puzzle to the east, the next tower looked challenging but fun, and I decided to climb to the top of it. A full line of additional towers were waiting in the queue and even though the urge was to drop down to the west and try to skate around them all, I felt it prudent to stay as high as possible to stay out of the loose, steep, and dangerous slopes below. More so than not, the towers could be connected by negotiating a thin catwalk at the highest point, with minimal elevation loss, by deploying a few exposed Class 4 or low 5 moves.

Delightful scrambling, but I was running out of light. Soon, fatigue took over and all the routefinding for the day had taken its toll. My hands were raw and my ankles were starting to protest. I was confused at just where to go – or even: where my next peak (Drift) was in this lineup of towers! My GPS was dying with the fading sunlight. I simply needed to take a break for the night. But, where?

The wind was too strong to sleep on anything west facing, and the east faces of the towers all were far too steep to make a safe bivy without some sort of tether. Bivy too low, and I risk being hit by rock fall naturally occurring or kicked down by a mountain goat. I passed a perfect, inset cave fit for the throne of a mountain god earlier that day – but that was all the way on Wheeler’s south face! Sleeping between the towers was a bad idea, as the wind gets focused and pushed through the notch created.

Think Justin…

I climbed up the last tower I was on, and using my head torch, found a relatively flat, relatively sheltered nook at its summit. With a view of Quandary Peak straight in front of me, I bedded down for the night, knowing that this was going to be a cold, relatively uncomfortable one – even when wearing all the clothes I packed. The space would have to do. My total mileage for the day was only about twelve miles. About seventeen more miles to go, with the definite crux still in front of me.

Bivy Near "Drift Peak"

Bivy Near “Drift Peak”

I didn’t wake until 5:00am – no reason to get up before I could see anything! I didn’t gain much rest at all, but I also hadn’t turned into a slab of ice, and for that: I was grateful. I generally sleep very warm, and my internal body temp. the night before must have kicked into overdrive. Did I lose a pound of fat over the chore of just staying warm enough? More Peanut Butter M&M’s rationed for me!

With a little luck from a tiny bit of alpine glow, I was able to find and summit “Drift Peak” (13,880′), easily identifiable by a large metal pole that has been cemented into it’s summit. The Drift to Fletcher traverse has some reputation to it, and I proceeded cautiously into a notch between the two. The gully leading down west looked like it was filled with hard, alpine ice and I wanted nothing to do with getting any where near that, having brought not an ice axe, nor crampons.

But, I spied a very exposed ledge system that went at a low Class 5 that would give me some sort of passage to the other side of the notch. Being so early, and so windy, taking off my thin gloves made my hands feel instantly freezing – touching the rock doubly so. With a small traverse east, I found a small roof to surmount and I was outta there, on my way to Fletcher!

I had been on Fletcher Mountain (13,958′) only once before on my Centennials trip, and I had also summited Atlantic Peak to the north that same day. But on that trip, I dropped all the way down to the basin below. On this day I intended, as close as I thought probable, to traverse the ridgeline itself. Last summer, the traverse looked really dicey and slow going. This morning, I tried not to think of my immediate future, and after smashing a bunch of dried coconut slivers and candied ginger in my mouth, I made my way down to the first tower of Fletcher through the already loose and steep terrain.

I knew for certain that climbing up and over the first tower wasn’t possible – the frontside (looking north) wasn’t too inviting, and I knew that the backside was either a 5.7 downclimb or a 70′ rappel. 5.7 is a bit over my onsight downclimbing grade whilst carrying a pack with four days of supplies, and wearing trail running shoes in alpine conditions (to say the very least), so I opted for the east facing sneak-around.

The terrain here was the stuff of nightmares, featuring a revolving cast of characters: sloping grassy ledges, crumbling cliffs, loose ramps filled with ball bearing-like rocks, and rotten snow choking everything else. Nothing was to be trusted. I made my way carefully around the tower, wishing I was basically anywhere else – back on Kieners with Peter would have been particularly nice. Doing my best to follow a faint ledge system, it came to a point where nothing was going to go until I crossed a 40 degree snow slope for about a hundred feet – and even then well: we’ll just wait and see what surprises lay ahead.

Having no snow gear, I had to improvise an ice axe (badly) with a shortened trekking pole, and make damn well sure the steps kicked violently in were the most perfect steps ever kicked into snow. It was a long way down to the bottom of the basin and not a trip I was interested in taking. With my adrenaline running full throttle, I traversed across, hitting firmer, steeper snow in the process, getting closer to “out of control”, rather than merely, “loosing control”. Keeping it together, I tactfully found the invisible way through the snow: not too firm where I couldn’t get purchase, not to soft where I’d just fall right through. With a furiously beating heart, I made a throw with my hand onto rock instead of snow, and I made it to the other side. Next time, I’ll wear gloves on such a traverse, as my hands were freezing.

The Fletcher - Atlantic Traverse

The Fletcher – Atlantic Traverse

From there, I gained the col of two of the towers by face climbing an irreversible headwall on solid rock to more slabby, featured terrain. I damn well hoped this line went – there was no escape for me the way I came. I had four more major towers to still unlock and the day already seemed to be flying away from me. The next tower, surprisingly, was solid and enjoyable and I made the summit quite easily. Wandering down its backside, I found a surprising and exciting route to take me down. Whoo!

The next tower also held its own surprises. Not liking an east, or west sneak, I found some courage to try a technical climb straight up the tower. To my delight, it went and the technical parts finished off at a rappel station (rap ring, and webbing slung over a large horn). As before, I went to the backside to scope out tenuous downclimb but,

but couldn’t after several tries. No way seemed probable (or at least, safe) – everything cliffed out into unstable choss. Cairns are few and far between in this area, and there certainly weren’t any directing a wayward traveler through this section. Begrudgingly, I took the safest option and started downclimbing what I was so proud to have climbed up but,

but got stuck halfway down. As if someone stole all the hand and footholds, I was halted halfway down the cliff, with no reasonable way to keep going down. Damn it all, I had marooned myself! The worst nightmare I could have had, save for actually falling (which isn’t allowed). Trying, and failing a few times, I’d have to find yet another way down off this tower, in any direction.

Studying the terrain closely, I eventually spied something that may work out, so down I went to investigate. The rock was of poor quality – the type of holds that come off in your hands as you utilize them, but my new route got me back to the col I had started on, an hour before. The sneak to the east would work with some low Class 5 moves (the sneak had Class 5 moves!), and again I was in very dangerous terrain of rotten snow, and rottener rock.

To regain the ridgeline, I had again to climb something sketch, then traverse over rock that surprised me at its grade and general lack of quality. At one point, I was scrambling up rotten rock, paralleling a snow-choked gully. I had to traverse over and onto the top of an ice plug that denoted the top of the gully, and all I had to hold on were these thin tufas to pinch with my hands. As I let go of a tufa, the rock would seem to de-materialize into debris and fall away. There wasn’t really anything for my feet, so I just smeared my wide La Sportiva Uragano’s onto whatever. A fall here would have been pretty fatal. With relief, I made the traverse in style. Ah, good fun. I thanked myself silently for waking up on so many weekdays before work to train on the plastic hold-dotted walls of the climbing gym. Payoff!

Getting around the next tower, things seemed to ease up just a little. I could see Atlantic Peak in the distance, but I just couldn’t imagine how many more towers were still in my way. I resolved to always try to climb up and over and search for a downclimb, then instead look for the sneak-around, and to my relief the route went well that way. Some of the downclimbs were certainly exciting (and sometimes exciting in a bad way, due to rock quality), but they went. Finally, the last tower turned out to be the final ridgeline to Atlantic Peak (13,841′). The crux was finished!

I survived!

I try not to be too dramatic when getting to the summits of mountains, but for Atlantic, I let my body somewhat slump into total and complete meltdown under the windscreen of stacked rocks, and just waited awhile until I had the mental fortitude to shovel enough of my saveur du jour of Peanut Butter M&M’s into my mouth, mixed with half-frozen water and ice pellets. The mile and a half traverse between Fletcher and Atlantic had taken me four hours to finish.

Thirteen and a half miles to go!

Atlantic/Pacific (13,957′)/Crystal (13,852′), and Peak 10 (13,633′) were somewhat of a blur – after the morning’s challenges, the easy, Class 2 talus hoping felt to me like warp speed. And finally for the first time since just above Weston Pass, I came upon water in liquid form I could actually drink! Right at the first point below 13,000′ I had reached since Weston Pass, a small pond of water was found, fed by a nearby melting snow drift.

I took five and cameled up a bit. Finally, having enough water in my system to digest a proper meal, I took a little more time and tried to eat just a bit more. A huge relief – it seemed like completing the line would actually happen! It was now a race with the night on the tail end of the Queen Stage. Who would get to Peak 1 first?! There were a few more Class 4 exposed ridgeline sections to navigate, although nothing close to what the Fletcher/Atlantic traverse was like. It was already 3:00pm. Ten miles to go. Time to make my break!

Peak 8 – 4 were Sound of Music hikes on mostly tundra, and I tried to will my tired legs across them as fast as they could. As the elevation wound down lower, the energy I could muster went up! At one point, I passed over the Colorado Trail, and humorously stepped right on it, being the first officially maintained trail I’d come across since the trail up Mount Sherman, days ago. But, one foot is all I got, as the trail goes East/West and I was moving South/North.

By Peak 4 under fading light, things got interesting again and I was happy to be engaged with the terrain in a state of heightened focus. I’ve done this section a few years before coming form the opposite direction, so it wasn’t completely filled with surprises. But of course, it seemed to now be a lot more sustained and much longer than I remembered. Still altogether fun, joyous scrambling, even in my fatigued and altered state of mind.

Soon I was on Peak 3, then Peak 2, then only Peak 1 (12,8051′) was left! I made my way slowly – ever so slowly up the final slopes to tag Peak 1 but my way was blocked by an errant mountain goat that wasn’t about to give way for some silly fastpacker. A surreal scene to be sure: there I was, pleading with a goat to get out of my way, so I could step on the highpoint of this particular bump in the ridge, just to say that I did.

Peak One

Peak One

I felt I had to bargain for the final major summit of the ridge with a minor mountain god. Was I hallucinating? After a short amount of time haggling, with a goat, the goat finally relented, and I stamped onto the summnit itself. Now, I could spy the other side of the ridge – a ridge that now went very steeply down to the town of Frisco, 3,000′ below!

With the fading sun, up rose a full moon, and everyone around me seemed to be in a perfect state. Except for the goat, she just seemed to be a little indifferent to everything happening in my own little world. I kept talking to her though, having not seen anyone else since Mt. Democrat a day and a half ago. I was wide-eyed with the knowledge that I had traveled so far and was so close in finishing, The Line!

Letting loose what ever energy I still had, knees be-damned, I made my way gingerly down the trail. Soon, I was reunited with, trees! Something I hadn’t touched in almost three days. As I passed below treeline, nighttime finally set in earnest. I focused on the trailhead and shortly after that, some pub grub at the first bar on Main Street, Frisco. Amazed I was on a trail, the last few days exertion wasn’t forgotten to my body, and I managed to fall at least three times trying to successfully make it down the damn mountain.

Just nothing left inside.

I stepped across the threshold of the beginning of the trailhead with little fanfare and alone. Suddenly I was on the bikepath and lost within a neighborhood. How the terrain changes so quickly. I noted my finishing time, and started walking that hard concrete bikepath which would lead me to my Brother waiting patiently at the bar, not five blocks away.

Mt. Royal Trailhead

Mt. Royal Trailhead

I collapsed into the establishment, bleary eyed and completely out of sorts among the pool players and groups of friends who all turned in unison to see just exactly what had blown in with the wind. A scene right out of every Spaghetti Western filmed it was. Looking around, I passed right by my Brother, not having the constitution to recognize his familiar face in the crowd.

The kitchen had closed some hours ago, but he ordered two burgers with fries well beforehand so I’d have something real to eat after four days of dried fruit, nuts, and candy. I ordered and finished a $2 beer, and made it to his truck, then into his apartment and finally onto his futon, able to let my guard down finally and rest.

To have now come full circle to meet up with my Brother who had quite innocently introduced me to hiking in the Colorado mountains half a lifetime ago wasn’t lost on me, and I really appreciated him being there for me on this night. I humorously promised him that soon enough, I’d meet up with him when I wasn’t completely destroyed from some mountain adventure, and we could hang out like normal people for a change.

The next morning, I was at the bus stop behind the Walmart in Frisco early to catch the array of buses that would take me home. A few hours later, I was there. The Mosquito/Tenmile Range Traverse from Trout Creek Pass was complete.

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