Editor’s note: Somerset’s Norm Stoldt, aka Stormin’ Norman, has written about his adventures section-hiking over the years on the Appalachian, Tahoe Rim, Pacific Crest and Continental trails, three of which make up the prestigeous “Triple Crown.” Not every adventure was successful. Once Stoldt was air-lifted off a mountain. On his recent quest to conquer a 585-mile section of the CDT, Stoldt experienced a series of difficulties and in fearing the worst — being rescued — he reluctantly pulled out. Below is the first part of that story …
The Plan and Preparation
My goal was to hike the 585-mile long portion of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) beginning at the resort town of Steamboat Springs and proceeding southward to Cumbres Pass, just inside the New Mexico Border. As usual, I sent food drops through the mail to post offices or motels in cities along the way. The longest distance between resupply points would be 103 miles, the shortest 65 miles.
I began training three days a week around the Somerset/Fairplay/Happy Valley area about one month prior to departing. Since I’d be crossing elevations of 12,000-feet some dozen times on my journey, I replaced one of the walks with a speed workout on the Pleasant Valley Middle School track to build up my aerobic capacity.
Some Side Notes
How Lite is Lite?
When I first started long distance hiking 12 years ago, my pack, all my gear and six days of food weighed 38 pounds. Today it has slimmed down to a 23. Still in the hiking community I am not considered an ultra-lite hiker.
About midway through my backpacking adventures, I had the opportunity to hike with two real ultra-lite hikers. All their equipment and six days of food came to a mire 15 pounds.
How’d they do it? Like me, they carried a tent, sleeping bag and wore tennis shoes, but there the similarity ended. They carried only the clothes they wore and didn’t cook. While I admire their trail austerity, I am too attuned to one hot meal a day, variety in what I eat and at least a clean pair of socks every couple of days.
To Trek the Trail, or not?
Twelve years ago when I started hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) I was a purist. My goal was to hike its 2,160 mile length in its entirety, foot by foot. Today at 70, facing the last section in my quest to complete the CDT, I am no longer a purist and I’ve adopted a trail philosophy of “hiking smarter not harder.”
The Journey Begins
This was definitely an adventure of surprises. Arriving at Sacramento International Airport an hour plus early for my flight, I found a hundred or more passengers in front of the counter, all in a frenzy. In my hurry I didn’t get my connecting ticket from Denver to my destination, the Hayden Airport, but once in Denver, a friendly airline representative printed out a ticket and boarding pass for me and my journey continued.
The Hayden Airport lies 22 west of Steamboat Springs. The CDT trailhead is another 30 miles east of the town. To keep my journey between the Canadian and Mexican borders as continuous as possible, I planned to road-walk the 52 miles from the airport to the trailhead, spending the night roughing it in a motel in Steamboat Springs.
While I arrived there in high spirits ready to go, my pack was MIA but quickly found — in Denver. After spending more time waiting than flying, I negotiated to have the airline agent bring the pack to me at a motel in town.
Checked into the motel the surprises continued. A clerk replied that they hadn’t receive any package for me but fortunately it was discovered in the store room.
After a ‘friendly’ midnight call and a 1 am. delivery of my pack, I decided to take the next day off to rest and adjust to the 6,000-foot elevation of my surroundings.
The following day, to save a 3,000-foot climb, I got a ride 17 miles out of town and then slacked-packed down hill back into town, carrying only a light lunch and water.
The next day, I got a ride back to where I had been left off and began my assent to the trailhead and my first 11,000 foot peak. It was difficult going. Between an usually hot, 90-degree day and a steady climb I was soon out of water. A shallow weak stream ran alongside the roadway, but was blocked off by a well maintained fence and guarded by a herd of buffalo.
Further down the road, cattle replaced the buffalo and dense thickets of willow continued to block the way. Coming to the trailhead I encountered half a dozen friendly cyclists taking a rode-side break after going up a particularly steep hill.
Proceeding, I started searching for water. I knew Colorado was going through somewhat of a drought but I didn’t realize how serious until I came to my first water source. The stream was a mire two-foot wide smelly brown trickle. It was so shallow I had to scoop it up a half-a-cup at a time. I was only able to fill one of my canteens.
Look for Part 2 to run next week in the Democrat.