Backpacking – Vail to Frisco

The trail guide describes this trail as

“The Meadow Creek Trail (6.6 miles) and Gore Creek Trail (7.0 miles) join to form a 13.6 mile thru-hike from Frisco to Vail. The trails run through miles of alpine meadow and scale two gorgeous passes en route – Eccles Pass (11,917′) and Red Buffalo Pass (11,742′). Visitors will enjoy luxuriant forests, idyllic alpine landscapes, excellent backcountry camping, and one of the best wildflower displays in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area:”

We started out in Vail and hiked from there to Frisco following first the Gore Creek Trail and finishing up on the Meadow Creek Trail.  We have hiked the Meadow Creek trail several times both as day hikes and overnight trips, but had never hiked the Gore Creek trail so we were looking forward to the through hike combining a new trail with one of our favorites.

We tried to pack light, but we have a tradition to have “happy hour” in the mountains on every trip so our packs were a little heavier than they probably should have been.  Still, the trail, rated moderate/strenuous, really wasn’t all that difficult.

The Gore Creek trail winds steadily up a valley, following Gore Creek through meadows and stands of lodgepole pine and aspen.  About 4 miles up the trail is a rock outcropping where the views are amazing.

The valley narrows and the trail appears to start the ascent to the first pass.  Although steep for a short way, the trail levels off again in one last meadow before reaching the pass.  At about 6 miles we crossed the Gore Creek for the last time and began our walk through the meadow.  We also got a late start, so we decided this would be a good spot to set up camp for the night.  We had been hiking for about 5 hours at this point so we were both looking forward to a little food and of course happy hour!

Happy hour: The reason our packs were heavier than necessary.

The next morning we began our ascent to the top of Red Buffalo Pass.  The hike to the top was steep, but short – only 0.8 miles to the top.  From there we paused briefly to take photos and then moved on, down a very short way to the meadows connecting Red Buffalo Pass to Eccles Pass.

The view from the top of Red Buffalo pass. We could see Silverthorne in the distance.

Between the passes is a beautiful high altitude meadow with wildflowers, grasses, ponds and a few lodgepole pine.  Overall an easy hike with fabulous views.  Once at the top of Eccles pass we stopped again for photos before making our way down to the Meadow Creek Trail.

At the top of Eccles Pass, looking back towards Red Buffalo Pass. The trail winds through the meadow below passing by several small ponds.

The remainder of the hike went by quickly.  It was all downhill from there, and while steeply downhill in many areas, there were plenty of flat sections of trail as well.  We made good time on the second half of the hike, hoping to beat the Sunday traffic heading out of the mountains.  We paused only a few times for some water or to give our legs a rest.  Total hiking time for the second day was a little over 4 hours with a distance a little more than 7 miles.

I’d recommend this hike to anyone.  Although the trail guide considers this hike to be strenuous, I’d consider it to be closer to moderate when starting from Vail.  The elevation gain, when hiking from Vail, is far more gradual than it is when starting in Frisco.  This makes the hike, and the extra 500 feet of elevation gain feel much easier than it looks on paper.  This is a trip I would definitely do again.

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The rest of the vacation

Recovering from the hike

After the trek we had one more day in Cusco.  We spent the day relaxing for the most part.  We also finished up some last minute souvenir shopping.  I started getting a stomach ache the night we returned and it was getting worse (The wine didn’t make it better, but it didn’t make it worse either).

The next morning we flew into Lima.  We had a 12 hour layover and we were supposed to take a bicycle tour.  My stomach was hurting so bad I couldn’t do it.  So instead we found a hotel downtown to relax in while we waited for our flights.  I took a nap and a hot shower and we had a delicious dinner in the hotel restaurant.

The flight home was uneventful.  I was sick for the rest of the week but the pain eventually went away.  I don’t know what caused the pain, but the most likely cause was a strained muscle.

Overall it was an amazing trip!  There is so much more to Peru than what we were able to see.  I would love to go back and actually see Lima, visit Nazca and Lake Titicaca, and maybe trek in the Amazon.

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Inca Trail Trek – Day 4 MACHU PICCHU!!!

The big day!!  Everyone was awake by 3:30am, we had a quick breakfast and then packed up and got in line at the checkpoint at around 4:30am.  The checkpoints don’t open until 5am and we (and everyone else) want to get to the Sun Gate before the sun rises over Machu Picchu at around 7am.  We were the third group in line, not too bad actually.  It’s only about 5k to Machu Picchu from camp, but we still have some hills to climb and stairs to descend.

Waiting in line at the checkpoint at Oh-Dark-Thirty

Once we were through the checkpoint – at about 5:15 – we were off.  Nobody was walking slow.  We were either speed walking or jogging the whole way.  I got warm quickly, and had to stop a couple of times to take off my jacket and then my long sleeve shirt.  It warmed up much faster at our lower elevation (we were only at around 9000 feet by this time.).  Being mostly concerned about getting to the sun gate, I didn’t stop for many pictures.

Climbing the stone "ladder"

When we reached the steep stone staircase that had to be climbed like a ladder we knew we were close.  Less than a mile to go to the Sun Gate!

The view from the sun gate as we arrived

We managed to get to the Sun Gate before 7am, but the sun had already started lighting up Machu Picchu.  We arrived just in time to see the last of the shadows fade away.

Yay!

The rest of the hike was pretty uneventful, we stopped for photos a lot along the way, but mostly we just kept moving.  Once we got into Machu Picchu I was amazed at how big it was.  I don’t know why I was so surprised, considering Machu Picchu was a city but I was amazed at the size of it.

Taken from inside Machu Picchu

Since we came in from the trail, we had to go out the front entrance and come back in through the checkpoint.  Backpacks and walking sticks are not allowed in Machu Picchu so we had to leave them at the bag check area.  Before heading back in we had a chance to use a real bathroom (inside the bathroom someone was singing Halleluiah, seriously) for the first time in 4 days.  There was also a small deli where we could get sandwiches and sodas for lunch.

Back inside

Happy Feet!

After getting some lunch and cleaning up as best we could we went back inside.  It was a beautiful sunny day, about 70 degrees.  The warmest day of the trek by far.  We were taken on a tour of the city and then given the rest of the day to do whatever we want.  We stayed in Machu Picchu for a couple of hours, exploring some of the higher terraces, the residential area and the agricultural area.  I found a couple of Geocaches while we were in there as well.  We were all exhausted from all of the stair climbing; I remember swearing to never take stairs again several times.

The view from inside one of the residences in Machu Picchu.

When we were done exploring we headed down into the valley to Aguas Calientes to meet back up with the group for lunch where we drank beer and ate fish and chips.  Yum!  Amanda and I were the only ones from the group prepared for the hot springs, so we split from the group and headed back uphill to the springs.  The water was lukewarm and stinky but there were showers and even lukewarm water felt good on our sore muscles.  It was the perfect way to finish up the trekking experience.

Things I packed/forgot

  • Shoes – I packed 2 pair of my VFF’s – one Treksport and one Bikila LS.  I had just bought the Treksports before leaving and hadn’t had a chance to hike in them to be sure they fit right and didn’t hurt.  I had hiked several miles in my Bikilas though.  I also brought a pair of Merrell Pace Gloves in case the VFF’s just didn’t work out for some reason.  I know now that all I needed were the Treksports and nothing else.
  • Shirts – In my rush to just get into bed and get over the nauseous feeling I only packed 2 tops.  I originally planned to pack 2 sets of clothing for the trek and a third full outfit that would stay clean to change into at the end.  I had 3 sets of pants, but not shirts. So much for that idea.
  • Warm stuff – I packed an athletic jacket, a fleece jacket AND a down jacket liner.  I did not need the fleece.  I packed a hat and a Buff, I didn’t really need the hat.
  • Medicine – Again, while rushing I just tossed the full bottles into my bag.  I should have packed only what I needed.
  • Notebook – I bought a couple small Moleskine notebooks so I could take notes along the way.  I not only forgot to pack them for the trek, but I forgot to bring them to Peru entirely.  I found myself wishing for a pen and paper several times on the trek to jot down things to remember later.  I’m just not that good with my phone to type it in instead.
  • Camera battery – it’s rechargeable and I only had one.  It died halfway through Machu Picchu.  Thankfully I had a spare battery for my phone, so I still got a bunch of good pictures.  A spare is a very good idea.
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Inca Trail Trek – Day 3

Day 3 was the day I felt the best.  No more nausea, yay!  It was also the longest day with a lot of stops along the way.

We woke up early to a wet tent.  Amanda’s Camelbak bladder had leaked through the night and soaked a lot of our clothes.  The cooks were kind enough to hang our clothes to dry near the cook fire while we ate breakfast, so we were mostly dry by the time we took off.

After breakfast, we started down the long Inca road.  From here on out it was going to be uneven stairs going down down down.

We even went UP some stairs!

This day took us down to the jungle, but for jungle standards we were still really high in elevation (over 10,000 feet still).

Sayaqmarka

We stopped at the ruins of Sayaqmarka and explored for a little while.  The name means “inaccessible town”.  I can see why it earned that name! Eventually the clouds rolled in and suddenly we couldn’t see over the edge.

Clouds

Through the foggy forest

After that we continued on, descending further into the jungle.  We had one more set of ruins to visit before making it to our final camp.  The clouds stuck around for a while and other trekkers were few and far between.  Hiking through the clouds and forest (and cloud forest!) was peaceful and quiet.  The scenery and foliage were completely different than the first two days, and the length of the day’s hike helped make the trail much less crowded.  There were long stretches where Amanda and I were the only people around.

When we finally made it there, the llast set of ruins were very impressive!  It was a huge set of terraces carved into the side of the mountain.  We could see them from a distance for hours until we arrived, and once we were there it was impossible to really see how big they were until we were on our way out and looking back up.  The view from the terraces was spectacular, you could see the river and a recent landslide.  Our guide pointed out a trail in the distance that the 2 day Trekkers use to get to the campground before heading to Machu Picchu the next day.  We all agreed that the 2 day trekkers were seriously missing out on so much!

The view from the terraces

 

Llamas playing on the terraces.

Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have gotten a good shot of the whole thing.  Bummer.  From here it was another 30 minute hike to camp where a hot dinner was waiting for us.  It was a long day full of stairs, everyone was happy to be done and excited for tomorrow’s big day!  We all went to bed early with the early wake-up call coming at 3:30am.

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Inca Trail Trek – Day 2

Day 2!  Advertised as the hardest day, day 2 takes us on another 7 mile hike that goes over Dead Woman’s Pass.  The pass sits at an elevation of 13,800 feet.  I felt confident that this wouldn’t be much of an issue for me, since I’ve hiked a couple Colorado Fourteeners without issue in the past.  Despite my confidence, day 2 turned out to be a surprising day.

The day started out well.  My stomach seemed to have settled a little, but even though I had skipped dinner, I wasn’t really hungry for breakfast.  I ate anyways, knowing I would need energy for the day ahead.  Breakfast was another big meal consisting of pancakes, oatmeal, bread and scrambled eggs.  I ate a little of everything, but I didn’t eat a lot.

Love my pink shoes!

My feet were feeling great from the previous day’s hike.  My new shoes were holding up nicely!  Amanda also wore VFFs on the hike, and we both got a lot of comments about them from just about everyone on the trail.  The most common comment was “monkey feet” but one guy called them “ninja shoes”, I liked that one.  Monkey feet or not, these shoes were fantastic.  I had been exclusively wearing minimal shoes for nearly a year at that point, and had done a lot of hiking and running in other VFF models so my my foot muscles were strong enough and my feet were adapted to feeling the ground, including all the pointy rocks.  I bought the pink Treksports because they had more aggressive tread, plus they were pink!  How can you go wrong with pink shoes!?

Dead Woman's Pass.

The first several miles of the hike were steady uphill.  The grade never got very steep, but it stayed steady nearly the whole way.  Once we got close to 13,000 feet I started feeling headachey and my stomach ache came back so I started drinking more water.

We stopped about 2 hours away from the pass to have a light snack.  By then I was more than ready to eat, my small breakfast was definitely not enough to get me even that far.  Snacks were cheese sandwiches, crackers, popcorn, coffee, tea and hot chocolate.  I had also packed fruit bars so I ate one of those too.

The real pass is up there somewhere!

The rest of the hike to the pass was frustrating.  There were 2 false passes, where it looked like we were about to reach the top, but when we reached that point we were nowhere near it.  The hike to the top continued steadily, and was not as physically strenuous as the Fourteeners I had hiked, but the mental challenge of the constant grade and false summits was tougher than anything I’d hiked at home. As physical challenges go, my most recent Fourteener Mount of the Holy Cross – (done a year prior) made day 2 look easy by comparison.

At the top, looking back the way we came.

Despite being a lot less strenuous than I expected, by the time I reached the top my head was really starting to hurt.  Clearly I was feeling some mild altitude sickness – something I’ve never felt before.

Looking back up to the pass from the other side.

The hike down was challenging in its own way.  The trail was mostly “paved” with uneven stones and stone stairs.  From here, the rest of the Trek is largely downhill over uneven stone Inca stairs.  Downhill is hard on my knees as it is, and the stairs made it that much more challenging.  I was really thankful for the walking stick for all of the downhills!  By the time we reached camp my headache was gone, my legs were very tired from the descent, but my feet were still feeling pretty good.  Yay!

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