Backpacking Frisco to Vail

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On my way home from work Thursday I picked Jon and his gear up then quickly changed, loaded a cooler and loaded gear into the truck and headed west. The drive went really smoothly though I did not get much sleep. I was really into a couple audio books and before I knew it we were in Vail. Jon got much better sleep then he normally does on a drive. We pulled into a 72hr parking garage just before 2 am and found some bushes to pee behind and then went to sleep. At 4am my alarm went off and we got up and changed and got our gear together. A parking control truck was driving by so we decided to drive our truck out and back in on another level in hopes of resetting our 72hrs. Then we started walking. My pack started out at about 40lbs and Jons a bit lighter.
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It was a mile walk from the parking garage to the Greyhound bus stop through a very quiet Vail. Our bus was a couple minutes late and much louder and stinkier then we had expected but the driver was very nice. It was nearly full of sleeping folks trying to take up as much seats as they could but we each found someone to give us a piece of their row. Our ride was about 30 min and $15, during which the sun rose. We got off in Frisco with one other backpacker and used the bathrooms at the little station. It was before 6am and nothing was really open yet so we walked a mile through town to the Meadow Creek trail head.

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From the trailhead we gently made our way up the trail through aspen forests and into the pines.

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We saw quite a bit of water. Some still snow and some in creeks and rivers running down the mountains and some in marsh.

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The views got better and better.

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Our first goal was Eccles Pass, a saddle in the first little range of mountains. The trail getting there was really nice though parts were overgrown or covered in snow.

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Once we hit the pass we left the trail and picked a high point to get to. We went that way a bit then decided to go check out a 13er called Red Peak.

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It was quite a bit of climbing but the sights were well worth it on the way up.

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Plus I love the feeling of accomplishment at the top.

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On a lot of our mountain climbs it’s cold and the wind is punishing at the top but it was really nice so we kicked off our packs and shoes and hung out for a bit.

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We could see a nice valley and some pretty lakes to the north so headed that way.

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Some of the way down was rough.

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I’m not sure if it’s official but Jon and I called these areas talus fields and they were my least favorite way down a mountain but often our only or best option. All the rock chunks are loose and at first it’s kind of fun climbing down them but they want to roll really easy. After a few roll into your ankle or almost take off down the mountain towards your friend it starts to get more and more concerning then fun. There were several methods to get down these and we would just take our time and be as safe as we could because if someone got injured it would be really tough to get help. Earlier we had seen 2 other people from a distance but otherwise we were on our own.

Eventually we made it out of the talus and all the work really paid off. DSC_1017

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Following the streams through the gentle rocks and flowers and grass was so nice. We made it to a flat area with a big lake and peaks nearly surrounding us. We named it the fishbowl and set up camp. DSC_1029

It was pretty early but we had been hiking for 11 hours on limited sleep. Once we had unpacked we cooked up some dinner on little cat food alcohol stoves.DSC_1030

I had beans and rice and Jon had ramen. We tried out our feet and watched the shadows grow longer while our pots boiled, cooked then cooled. We spent a bit of time going over the map to see where we were and what direction we wanted to head.

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It was a hell of a spot.

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At 7:30 the sun dropped behind the closest peak. We still had 60-90 min of daylight left but went to sleep listening to the river behind us. I slept a fantastic 12 hours starting out warm on top of my bag but gradually getting into it and the bivy sack and my extra jacket.

My watch said Friday: burned 5,475 calories, climbed up 207 flights of stairs and down 140, 14.3 miles (and slept 2hrs and 6 min)

In the morning I put on my stocking cap and climbed out.

DSC_1039 I watched 3 deer approach camp then see or smell me and take off. Then I cooked up a pot of oatmeal. Besides the oats it had a couple scoops of chocolate protein powder, instant coffee, dehydrated milk and dehydrated bananas.

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It felt like I had eaten 3 breakfasts when I was done. It was time to get the trowel and the Kleenex and go dig a hole. DSC_1046

We packed up our gear and got some water out of the lake and then headed for the big knob behind the lake.

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We got up on the saddle then I decided to ditch my pack for a bit and climb up the knob and look around.

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Then we got back to business

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going up and north. Parts were rough and parts were fantastic.

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We were pretty beat when we made it to another amazing valley with a stream that was sometimes deep and wide.

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We ditched the packs and shoes and some clothes and cooled off.

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Oh man it was cold. We barely lasted the 10 seconds for my camera timer before climbing out to warm back up in the sun. Lunch was pretty awesome: tuna, hummus, sharp cheddar, sriracha on a tortilla.  DSC_1081

We hiked on north leaving the peaks and entering the forest.

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We also started seeing more clouds.

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but at times they would all blow off

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The water got more treacherous and the crossings were more exciting.

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Being off trail in the forest was a whole different deal. Above the treeline we could check the compass and figure out what pass was the right direction and head there but in the forest we had to check constantly to go in the right direction and there were not many landmarks to know where we were on the map. We had an ap called CO TREX that was pretty good at plotting us on the topo that helped. All the down trees did not help. We made our way around the south east side of Keller Mtn.

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We had to wind all over to get through them. Eventually we dropped into a marsh valley with a stream and reloaded our water bottles we saw a couple tents in the distance and after crossing the marsh we found the trail.

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We were pretty glad when we found it because we would be climbing over less down trees but also because the sky was getting too dark too soon and we were hearing quite a bit of thunder. We took the Gore Range Trail north until it T’ed with the Boulder Creek trail. At the T it had switched from occasional sprinkles to legit rain and we covered our packs and gear. I put my phone up so no more pictures for a bit. It was great having a really nice trail and we saw a few other hikers but it was cold and windy.We followed the trail to Boulder Lake and somehow missed a turn and walked through a bunch of campsites south of the lake and then realized the trail was on the north end of the lake. We decided to cut across a pretty deep marsh with really high grass to get to the trail. It was really wet but so were we so it was a good shortcut.

After the lake we were never really sure if we were on a real trail or following a deer, elk or moose trails. We would find them and loose them and saw plenty of poo (including bear and moose). We really wanted to get to a ridge or at least to a couple of lakes on the map so we set a fast pace and didn’t rest much. As it got darker through it became clear we may not make it that far. We were on a steep slope and decided we had 1 hour to hike and search for a campsite. 20 min later Jon spotted what we believe was a bear den. So we hiked a bit faster and farther then we wanted. It was not looking like we would find anything remotely flat before dark but the rain had stopped. Our fingers were numb and we were pretty cold but we did find a random green shelf that held the tent really well. It was about this time we realized we had enough water to make it through the night but not if we used it to cook.

Jon spotted a creek on the map so we grabbed our bottles and rushed over to it. I got a little nervous we would not make it back to our packs before dark and have a tough time finding them but we did fine. Once full of water and back, I put up the tent and Jon cooked dinner as the sun set in the distance.

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While my ramen and Jon’s beans and rice cooked and cooled we put our stuff in the tent, put on dry clothes and found a good spot to hang our food overnight. Dinner was great and we both added some extra to our meals as we were pretty hungry. It was legit dark when we went to bed.

My watch said Saturday: burned 6,018 calories, climbed up 118 flights of stairs and down 350, 15.0 miles

We tried to get a bit earlier start Sunday morning and didn’t cook breakfast but just packed up had some granola bars and other quick stuff and hit the trail. We were a little nervous as we had to get above the tree line, find a spot to cross the ridge and then get over a second ridge all that day and it seemed that the mountains were getting less gradual on the inclines. Also often times in the mountains, storms roll in about noon and we wanted to be well away from the peaks if any did.

We hiked longer and harder then we had expected before reaching the end of the trees and getting a good view of what we needed to cross first.

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There was not a clear path but a bit of a lower point so we headed there.

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We had to switch routes so many times and it was challenging stuff.

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but still really fun and beautiful

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At times water was a bit scarce

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but at one point snow fell away and I went in to my waist.

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It was right around noon when we actually found a way all the way up to the ridge and got our first sight of the other side.

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It was a long steep stretch of talus but followed by a valley with lots of grass and streams. DSC_1138

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The talus was rough but the end was in sight and it went really well. We also discovered we didn’t need to get over the next ridge but could follow the stream down and get around it. We were so pleased. At 2 we stopped for lunch, relaxing and drying out.

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We found a spot with sun, shade, water and views and spent over an hour. Jon cooked another beans and rice for lunch and I had way too much cheese and sausage. It was great and all the stress of getting stuck in a storm or being at the top of a ridge and far from the truck another night went away. We figured out the trail we were kind of shooting for was not far and found it quickly after our long late lunch. Once on the trail we started seeing people and then lost the trail in an avalanche from last March.

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Luckily the other hikers directed us to the trail and took off down the mountain.

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It was a great 4 + miles down the hill but I felt bad for the folks that walked the 4 miles up it first. I think it was around 5 when we got to the bottom and the trail-head. DSC_1151

Our cell signal was back and google said we were 4.8 miles walk on the pavement to the parking garage. We were so hot but started walking. Just a few minutes later we came to a free bus stop and found out a bus was due in 4 min. Luckily the bus took us to the station where we started and we just had to walk the last mile to the parking garage.

We ended up making it back before our 72hours was up. We changed and got some water and started driving East. Traffic into Denver was nuts so after a slow hour or so we stopped in Idaho Springs and went to Beau Jo’s Pizza for local beers, ice water, a 3 lbs supreme pizza and unlimited salad bar visits. It was fantastic.

After dinner I70 was still packed, we got a couple of 40oz beers from the gas station and drove up into the mountains above town for a free camping area. We drove a windy rough gravel road way above the city and eventually found a pull in that was not occupied. There was room for the truck but not for a tent so we drove it up a little hill so the seats would lay back flat. It had rained while we were eating so we didn’t bother with a fire just sat on the tailgate and drank our beers.

Once we made it out of wilderness we started talking about how great it all was. We were nervous at points and it was a crazy amount of work but so rewarding so fun and so beautiful. We got some great pictures but they are nothing like the real thing. Our 14er trips are a great time but not nearly as rewarding as this trip was.

After about 1/2 way through the beers we realized we were too full and tired and just went to sleep.

Sunday: burned 5,343 calories, climbed up 82 flights of stairs and down 292, 12.1 miles

Just before 2 I woke up and didn’t feel like sleeping so started the drive back and got through a nice quiet Denver. At 4 I felt very much like sleeping again so pulled into a rest stop and passed out hard until 6 when the car next to us was getting a jump. The rest of the drive home was smooth, we listened to a bunch of good podcasts and got into town in the afternoon.

 

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3 Responses to Backpacking Frisco to Vail

  1. Kathleen says:

    Wow. sounds like an Awesome trip….BEAUTIFUL pics….scary at times!!

  2. Pamela Miller says:

    Wonderful storytelling on your part. Thank you for “taking us along.” Breathtaking photos.

  3. Len M. says:

    You should write a book about your trip. I would buy it.

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