Almost every season I get lost on my first outing. Rusty navigation, lazy preparation, and cabin-fever induced exuberance all contribute to losing my way. Just once a year though – getting lost in the wilderness focuses my attention and reawakens all the good skills and habits latent within me. This season’s different, I didn’t get lost until outing #6.
Weather was great, the northern half of Colorado Trail segment 2 had tracks from the trailhead, and I’ve hiked it plenty of times before, so out I went without map, compass, or way-points. Both hikers who made those tracks went the wrong way at a subtle junction a few miles in, and without a thought, I followed the tracks off the trail. So much looks so different in winter that it was an hour before I was sure there was no way I was on my planned route. By that point I’d encountered the others who were on their way back, so the tracks stopped in the middle of nowhere.
Had conditions been marginal I’d have backtracked to find where I’d gotten off route no matter the time or effort required. Had conditions been bad I would have just hiked back to the trailhead and returned another day. But it was a great day and I was having a great time and in no danger – I just wasn’t where I planned to be, but so what? Many of the most memorable outings are when the unexpected happens and true learning is never what you expect. I pushed forward.
A few hours later, navigating with The Force, I intersected the Colorado Trail exactly at my planned turnaround point. But instead of getting to its junction with Raleigh Peak Road alone, after hours of solo silent travel I ran into 2 hikers, 2 dogs and a local resident in his truck, all of whom reached the junction just moments before me. There may not have been another person in a 5 mile radius but here we all were together by sheer chance. As usually happens when people cross paths in remote parts, we talked and drank, and talked and ate, and talked some more. I learned all sorts of fascinating things, especially from the man who lived on the mountain we were right next to who had built Raleigh Peak Road. When we were done, I headed back down the Colorado Trail to the South Platte River for 3 beautiful hours buoyed by the serendipitous visit.After 5 out-and-backs, yesterday was my first Colorado Trail Winter Lollipop route. And I don’t think it will be my last. Not that I’d like to get lost again, but the unplanned detour up a high ridge showed me terrain I’d otherwise never have been on and allowed me to view the whole region from vantage points I’d otherwise never have visited. I may look for similar opportunities proactively later in this effort.