Continental Divide Trail: Starting at Copper Mountain

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If you’ve been keeping up, you know that I finished the Appalachian Trail on June 27, 2023. Chris and I had a very brief hiatus in Salt Lake watching a spectacular city-wide Fourth of July fireworks display from Jean and Kristina’s porch overlooking the city. Two days later on July 6, Chris and I were starting the Continental Divide Trail.

We started at Copper Mountain, roughly halfway on the CDT. I’m doing what’s called a “flipflop”. I’m going northbound from Copper Mountain to the Canadian border. Then, if I have time, I’ll come back to Copper Mountain and go southbound to the Mexican border.

We chose Copper Mountain because the ski resort has shuttles to and from Denver (even in the summer), and the CDT literally crosses under the ski lifts. Also, Chris had limited time to hike with me. Copper Mountain is within a day’s drive from Salt Lake, unlike the CDT northern terminus up in Montana. And neither of us wanted to start at the southern terminus in New Mexico in the July heat. 😛

Forgot My Wallet

Bad news almost immediately. On the drive to Copper Mountain, I realized that I left my wallet back at Jean’s. Driver’s license, credit card, debit card, and cash all back in Salt Lake. I was worried about this possibility on the Appalachian Trail. Losing your wallet on the trail can really screw you. Can’t pay for anything. Can’t provide identification to check into hotels, pickup mail, travel, etc..

Enter my spare wallet that I keep in my backpack with passport card, second debit card, and cash. I can be really smart sometimes. Unfortunately, leaving my wallet in Salt Lake wasn’t one of those times. 😀

Getting my wallet back was a fiasco. The Silverthorne post office apparently does not accept general delivery. By the time it was rejected and returned to sender, it was too late to get it to me in Winter Park. Had to delay my trip a few days to finally get it in Steamboat Springs. But now I’m back on track. Thank goodness for my prospicience in packing a spare wallet.

Alternate Routes

Unlike the AT, the CDT is a sort of choose-your-own-adventure trail with lots of alternates. Sometimes the alternates are mandatory, like for fire closures (queue foreshadowing).

Chris and I elected to take an alternate right from the beginning at Copper Mountain. This route put us through some amazing alpine meadows. It also took us directly through Silverthorne for resupply, shower, and a bed. They even have an REI in Silverthorne. Yes, they’re big time. (But their post office still sucks.)

Here’s some of the highlights of our alternate route. Amazing views. Great campsites. Marmots. Chipmunks that were way too friendly.

Fire!!! 🔥

Shortly after the alternate, the CDT had a fire closure due to the Devil’s Thumb fire. The closure forced hikers to bail at Rollins Pass Trailhead and hike a long, windy route down into Winter Park. Or bail at Highway 40 and try to hitchhike or walk the miles into Winter Park along the curvy, shoulderless highway with cars zooming by only inches away. If you survive that, you then road walk from Winter Park to Fraser, then work your way back to the CDT near Junco Trailhead.

Chris and I found an alternate route—Vasquez Pass just before Highway 40. The pass lead to a valley with an easy walk down to a stream with great campsites. The trail became a dirt road, then a paved road, which coincidentally lead directly to our hotel in Winter Park, the Viking Lodge. Great place with cheap hiker rates. (Also coincidentally, I’ve met the owner’s father several times. He and my father walk together back in Texas on Saturday mornings.)

We spent two days in Winter Park. We ate well. We rested well. I have to say that I love my time in town. I love it even more when Chris is with me. I like having her around.

Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge

After a refreshing time in town, we resumed our journey. We hitched the road walk from Winter Park to Junco Trailhead. A local who picked us up is an avid hiker and had a wealth of information about the area. He highly recommended Parkview Peak. Looks like Chris and I could make it there before she had to return. Mission accepted.

Nothing too eventful until we got to our hostel in Grand Lake, the Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge. Wow! Absolutely amazing place perched on a cliff overlooking the town and the lake.

Panorama of sunset from Shadowcliff overlook.
Panorama of sunset from Shadowcliff overlook.

The programs director, Scott, is an opera singer and educator. He and Chris had a long discussion of music, math, and education. Chris borrowed a guitar and played it at the overlook. Made her immensely happy. By the way, Scott’s husband owns the Firefly Pizzeria in Grand Lake. Great pizza joint.

We were originally only going to stay one night, but we stayed two because Rocky Mountain National Park is a crappy, chaotic nightmare for thru-hikers. I’ll tell you about that in my next post. Until then, enjoy a few alpine flower photos.

Sneak Peek!

Here’s a sneak peek of an upcoming post filled with heartbreak. And 60 mph wind that nearly blew me off the mountain.

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