July 1, 2020
Destination: Tennessee Pass Today's Miles: 21.20
Start Location: Copper Mountain Trip Miles: 138.60
Copper Mountain to Tennessee Pass ended up being one of our longest days at around 21 miles - plus we climbed over two passes and had some of our best views yet.
Starting from the condo at Copper we got an early start on the trail. It was about 6 AM and cold. We cut across the golf course to meet up with the trail and our footsteps left frozen tracks on the green. It looked cool. We passed one other hiker packing up camp as we rose above the Lego-like condos of Copper.
For a bit the trail switched back and forth before turning left up a pretty drainage. All morning we’ve been hearing the drone of traffic on I 70. It was just shy of two hours of hiking before we were far enough up the drainage we could no longer hear anything but nature.
Gradually we made our way slicing between two mountain ridges higher and higher while passing avalanche debris and an entire chain of beaver ponds. It was lovely. As we gained elevation we could look back and see the Ten Mile Range, the Front Range, and the Gore Range. Once we topped out - first at Searle then Kokomo Pass we could see the Collegiate Peaks and the Sawatch Range - it was a day with gigantic views.
The first person we talk to today was going northbound on the CDT and had a distinctly British accent. He reported we would have no snow difficulty with the upcoming passes.
Before reaching the summit the hiker we passed packing up camp at Copper Mountain caught up to us. Later in the day we would learn he is from East Texas (“yes sir”) and thru hiking to Durango as well.
Towards the top of Searle Pass sits a remote cabin at the very head of the drainage we had just spent the morning climbing. Not a small rustic deep in the woods type cabin but more like a house. We couldn’t believe it, it was at least two stories with solar panels, a metal roof, rock chimney and lots of other features. It was nice!
We believe it's called Janet’s Cabin and is available to rent through the 10th Mountain Division hut system. It’s well worth checking into, to have those views from the comfort of your own cabin? Count me in!
We crossed several snow fields approaching Searle Pass but none were dangerous. From the top we briefly enjoyed the view before pushing off across Elk Ridge to Kokomo Pass. It was only a few miles but the rolling landscape crested by peaks was phenomenal.
The wildflowers up here are exquisite. We cruised along enjoying the views and our immediate surroundings, we were in heaven. We saw our first Marmots of the trip on this section and a snowshoe hare on the way up...
Making our way up and over we dropped into the saddle at Kokomo Pass bucking a fierce wind head-on. Eagerly we descended out of those hurricane force winds (a small exaggeration perhaps).
We were dropping elevation rapidly as we headed towards the East Fork of the Eagle far below. It was a long and steep descent, we took a break halfway down and had some salami and cheese.
Shortly after our break we ran into a hiker coming northbound. He definitely had the look of a CDT hiker and we nicknamed him the Pirate because of the way he was grunting coming up the hill.
The descent got even steeper as we approached Cataract Creek (no wonder the Pirate was grunting). Just before the creek we passed a second thru hiker who had the CDT look. He too had an accent but I would say more Australian.
We considered a camp spot shortly after the creek crossing but decided to pass it up in favor of something a bit more level. Soon after we found ourselves at the bottom of the long descent walking over a bridge at Cataract Falls. I stood here for several minutes enjoying the cool spray coming off the water. The day has become increasingly hotter and we were feeling the heat.
We were hoping for a place to camp right about now but the camping and the water did not line up for several miles yet to come. We passed through Camp Hale (no camping here for about a 3 mile stretch due to possible unexplored ordinances in the area). This is where the 10th Mountain Division trained for WWI.
The concrete bunkers here at Camp Hale were pretty interesting. I had seen pictures of them but never in person. Just beyond we passed another couple that was camped right at the base of where the trail begins climbing up to Tennessee Pass.
Sadly it would be another 2+ miles of uphill climb before finding a camp spot. We were so tired we crawled into the tent just before dark and had a snack, too tired to cook dinner or care that we were just off the highway.
I believe it was the most scenic day on the trail so far and despite the long miles we both really enjoyed it.