JAMES PEAK SUMMIT
CDT Day 117: 14 miles /22 km
CDT SOBO: Mile 1681.5 – 1695.5
Sunday August 11, 2019
Last nights thunderstorm bypassed us. And by this morning the tent was completely dry much to our delight, Hammer especially since he’s carrying it. The sky was overcast and rain was predicted although we hoped that yesterdays rain was it. As we headed up to the ridge it was very still and silent.
It was fantastic to get above the treeline just before it started to get light. We were pleased we chose to stop and camp where we did as there were no possible campsite above it. The lights of a town down in the valley, Winter Park I think, twinkled with a rain shadow moving over. By the time we made it up to the saddle of the ridge the sunrise was illuminating the heavy clouds.
We followed this ridgeline south as it undulated passing through a large tallus field. There were lots of Pica squealing and running around. Too fast for me to get a picture.
A curtain of rain shadowed us all the way to Rollins Pass. A group of 8 skiers passed us on the way up and a late arrival who was trying to catch up to them. We asked him where they were going to ski as there wasn’t much snow about. He pointed to the small glaciers just above Kings Lake. He said that we are lucky to see the mountains so green this late in the season.
We stopped at Rollins Pass to read the historic information board. It seems that the road to the Pass was constructed for a railway built to temporarily carry coal. The railroad only ran for a few years and was abandoned in the 1930’s. Discarded railway sleepers lined the side of the road. We followed this road all the way to Rodgers Pass trailhead. The rain and heavy clouds were behind us and we were confident that we may have escaped the rainstorm.
On the way to the trailhead we met two northbound section hikers, lovely guys Len and Doug. They’ve been friends since they were 6 years old and have moved and lived all over the world. They are both from Colorado although Len has lived in England since the 1970’s and Doug is from Colorado Springs. Doug gave us quite a few tips on the trail ahead, for which we were thankful. He also mentioned that James Peak can get really cold. We could have talked with them for ages but we had a big climb coming up and I was keen to get going and get it done while the reasonable weather lasted.
We hiked up Rodgers Pass Trail and were heading up to James Peak Summit at 13,310 ft in elevation. The weather seemed to be in our favour until about 2 miles from the summit. A heavy mist and a very cold wind rolled in, soon followed by pelting rain. Our luck did not hold. We climbed up into the mist, the gusting wind and the rain. I kept losing sight of Hammer who was behind me.
Hammer was so confident that a thunderstorm was not likely. But he was mistaken. Thunder and flashes of lightening started before we reached the summit. The very worst place to be. There was no turning back now. Luckily the lightening and thunder did not persist, although the driving rain and the gusting wind did. We reached the summit in a complete whiteout, it was miserably cold. I lost all sensations in my hands and could not even turn the phone on to check the maps. I tried to pull out my camera to take a photo, but with zombie hands I dropped it in the mud. I cleaned what I could and put it back in my pocket before it got too wet. I couldn’t bare to think about any damage now.
Now we just had to get off the mountain down to lower elevations. The descent was even worse, it was far colder as we were not working so hard. I soon realised that my thermal top was wet underneath my rainjacket. Hammers pants were soaked under the raingear. The wind and the rain were unrelenting, uncontrollable shivering was setting in. We were descending but were still way above the treeline. This was beginning to feel like a really serious situation. I thought if we could only reach the treeline we may get some protection from the wind. But when we did get to the trees they were not big enough to provide much shelter. Our only choice was to keep going, hoping for some big trees and a flat spot to set up the tent.
Our wet weather gear had not stood up to this downpour. We were wet and cold and had to get warm and quickly. About 2.30pm we reached a dirt road and were so relieved to find an established campsite. It was still raining but I knew we would be OK soon.
It was extremely hard to get the tent set up as we had lost all feeling in our hands. It took time but it got done slowly. Within 30 minutes we were under shelter, out of all our wet clothes and inside a sleeping bag. As soon as I got some feeling back in my hands I made us a hot drink before cooking a late lunch. We had shelter, dry clothes, a warm sleeping bag, some hot food and circulation was beginning to be restored.
That was a very close shave. I can’t believe that only one day ago we were passing people swimming in a lake.
By 5pm the rain had passed and even patches of blue sky reappeared. It was a chance to dry some of our clothes. We decided to stay where we were as the trail continues back up out of the treeline to a 13,100 ft summit of Mt Flora. We had phone service here and could check the weather. Tomorrow is predicted to be clear and sunny.