Though we had to eventually shift gears since we chose not to risk out lives on the 4-Pass Loop hike in the Maroon Bells, we proceed with the original plan for a shake-out hike on a moderate hike of 13.2 mile round trip: the “Oh-Be-Joyful to Blue Lake Trail in the Raggeds Wilderness Area, Gunnison National Forest. It could be accessed out of Crested Butte. So we basically just stuffed everything into the car wherever it would fit and set out on what we anticipated to be about three hours. Given the mountainous winding and mostly unpaved road, it was a much longer adventure. We arrived in Crested Butte, a bit of an upscale hiking/ski town, got ice etc, and proceeded on another gravel road with the destination being the Oh-Be-Joyful Campground. The driving instructions in the Trail Guide I was using said the road, Slate River Road, was suitable for low clearance 2W drive. I either forgot or never read the rest of the instructions because I started on down the access road to the camp and pretty soon realized that this was VERY likely a 4WD road. But I managed to get my rugged, and slightly abused, little Prius on down without getting hung up on a rock, buried in a whole, or tearing out anything on the bottom of the car. But I soon came to my senses about the next section which involved crossing the Slate River – which at this point, in the early summer runoff, is quite swift. I saw lots of vehicles crossing the 18-2 inch deep path but I was NOT even tempted. I did not want to to drown my car and see it floating down the Slate River. Surprised? Since it had a swift current and was knee high at points, I did not want to chance too many crossings myself and end up wet, hypothermic , and with perhaps something broken. There were campsites on both sides of the creek but is it was 4:00ish in the afternoon and all the ones on the side Priss Prius was on were taken. Some other campers said there were still few across the creek so Tasia decided to wade on across to investigate. Of course this meant abandoning Priss Prius and schlepping all the gear across. Recall! Everything was in total disarray. It would not have been such a challenge if we had had our packs set up for trekking and we would have had to cross with them to get to the trailhead anyhow. Definitely, it would mean far fewer trips for my “strong as an ox” daughter Tasia. But it was just too confusing and trying to sort and organize in the parking lot in the hot sun was less than ideal. I was beginning to think that this would not be “oh-be-joyful.” So Tasia need to transport everything across in at least 5 or 6 trips , through the very cold swiftly moving water. A kind young man named Ross asked us if we needed help and he took a couple loads across. I made one trip, carrying only myself! We were in a mostly shady site though the sites were spread out but not much private. So began camp-set up, rehydrating meals, organizing out pack and settling in for a cold night and hopefully good warm sleep. We soon discovered that this USFS campground, being easily accessible from Crested Butte, is a great spot that some of the younger outdoorsy but also party folks who like to gather for a lively campfire get-together frequent. The “company” kept arriving at least until midnight or one, driving, quite noisily, their trucks across the creek and of course slamming car doors. This was mildly annoying. But they soon earned themselves the nickname of “Hatchet Boys” as they were intermittently chop, chop, chopping and chopping some more logs for their fire. They were still chopping when I finally fell into a deeper sleep around 1:00 am. Since there is usually something that is in the surroundings when camping to disturb the tranquility of the evening, we dubbed that night i “the night of the hatchet boys. ” This again was not an “oh-be-joyful” night.
We were up and after our Italian Roast Via and oatmeal, packed up and were ready to hike out about 10:00. Prior to leaving, it of course involved at least 2-3 trips back across the swift cold creek for Tasia with things we did not need and for things we had forgotten! But our “practice backpack” had commenced. The hike was tougher than I had anticipated. It was already a bit hot in the sun and the dogs wanted to stop and rest every time there was shade.
At first, there were also quite a few people as it is a popular day hike. I was relatively comfortable with my pack’s weight and kept trudging along but could already tell that the altitude was going to kick my butt. I hiked a lot at home, carried a heavier pack for longer distances BUT Florida is sea level and there is NO way to train there for altitude. Even spending several days prior to this at altitudes between Denver at 5280 and Aspen at 8000’ didn’t noticeably help. I began feeling mildly nauseas. It is very humbling when I think of myself as an Ironman athlete still, to be so untrained after all my training. We started at the trailhead at 8,960’ and the backpacked up to 11,075’ for a gain of 2115 ft. It certainly sounded reasonable in the description, but I was beginning to wonder how long it would take me to huff and off my way up. I didn’t doubt I would make it but it was more a matter of when. I was not in an “oh-be-joyful” space right then. The valley however that we were ascending was awash with wildflowers, waterfalls, the Oh Be Joyful Creek, stands of timber providing needs shade, and views of many peaks: Hancock, Oh Be Joyful, Alfey Peak and Purple Mountain. With needing to ascend slow, slow, and steady I did have the time to really revel in the beauty.
The trail had moderate grades so that was quite manageable. By the end of mile three Kili, who was still quite under the wether, started refusing to walk. Kili was not at all “oh-be-joyful.” He has not been eating much, it was getting hot, he too seemed to have some level of response to the altitude. So generous and loving Tasia started carrying this 22 lb. sick doggie up the mountain.
We stopped by the Slate River for lunch and we all felt a bit revived after a needed break. I was feeling a bit joyful now. Kili perked up again and walked on his own. Simba was doing a great job and only had to be carried across deeper streams and when he decided it was time for him to take a break in the shade so as to move him ahead a bit. Some of the next challenges included deadfall with several trees blocking the trail that we would have to climb over. Not joyful, but challenging. The first higher water crossing wasn’t too difficult. I consider anything that will lap over my boots a high water crossing of which we only had one where we removed the boots and used our camp/water shoes. The less deep but more challenging water to negotiate was a meadow that had many creeks of runoff and bordered on marsh. Trying to find a trail for ourselves and the dogs through this maze of little creeks was like walking a maze. Even the dogs, who do not like water or swimming , did pretty well picking their way through though at times Tasia did carry them. Kili took a pretty good dunk once and Amara had to pull him out of the water hole.
The trail continued to get steeper entering the woods and I became more nauseous and found the breathing more and more difficult. Amara had an altitude headache. So came Tasia to the rescue. She is my “oh-be-joyful” champion. She carried her pack up a steep 1/4 mile and then returned twice to take Amara’s and mine up this steep section. By now we were all tired and had gone more mileage than the guide indicated, so we hike on a bit further and then saw an open meadow in a basin facing Oh-Be-Joyful Peak. We joyfully decided this was far enough since the last half mile to Blue Lake was steep and quite difficult. We would set camp here in the meadow on top of an abandoned marmot town. There was a creek close as a water source. So camp got set, meals got re-hydrated with boiling water (love that JetBoil), water got purified (Steri Pens are great) and we had some peaceful moments watching the waning of this day. The night was dubbed the “night of the wind” which had a lovely time dancing with our tents.
The next morning was beautiful and there was something so serene about waking and looking out of the tent in this basin filled with wild flowers, permeated with rushing creeks and watrfalls, and seeing these jagged peaks and ridges soaring into the sky. After packing up we decided to leave our packs and hike to Blue Lake. The trail was difficult to find and follow so we shortly nixed that plan and began hiking out about 11:00. It definitely is a lot easier doing the hike in reverse – though going downhill has its own pitfalls and we still needed to take it slow and steady. The one good surprise was that the area of deadfall had been cleared at some point the day we hiked up so no awkward crawls over felled trees. We joyfully arrived at the Oh Be Joyful Camp and decided the sensible thing was to stat there another night. We set up camp in a more shaded spot. This was dubbed the night of the not so joyful “deluge of mosquitos and flies.” After eating we hibernated in our tents. At least the “hatchet boys” were not still in the campground and we slept peacefully.
In the midst of our breaking camp the very gracious young man who we had met arrival day came over and offered to take us and all of our gear across the river in his truck. We cautioned that we were not quite ready but he said he did not mind waiting. So once all packed up we loaded up and were across the river in no time. Tasia did not have to play sherpa and freeze her feet. Everything got pried into the car and we were off on the next adventure.