‘We were driving one car for 100 years’: Charlotte Hartline, 61, dies in Colorado floods

Charlotte Hartline, 61, was her own best guide, guide that nature gave up to elk and bear and the torrent of mud that swept through her community in June.

“It’s like we’ve been driving one car for 100 years, and now we’re in a different car,” the then-Utequa woman said after the Colorado floods stranded her on her only footpath, a winding hiking trail that led her into the foothills. “I don’t know where we are.”

A body near the spot where Charlotte Hartline was swept away by flash floods on Poudre Canyon Road on 10 June 2017. Photograph: John Hudak/AP

Died: Charlotte Hartline, 61

So Hartline didn’t, for the moment, find herself in limbo. The person to whom the trail belonged was essentially oblivious to her story. Instead, she made her way south along the sparsely trafficked Boulder Creek, which banks nearly as far as the eye can see at its confluence with Poudre Canyon Road.

There, she was swept away by a flash flood that destroyed a few hundred homes.

Authorities will reveal the cause of her death this week, but much like the 117 bodies that had already been found by then, Hartline’s had been found in one of the roughly five feet of sandbag-lined mountains nearby.

Still, because the missing hiker had so long been one of the several hundred people who had been isolated, hidden and threatened by the flash flood that swept through the then-rural streets, many feared the worst, from the beginning. Then, at first there was no sign. Then word came, as if from a lost cat: they were looking for her, despite not having her name. They had found her, but they needed help identifying her, so they sent word back to the missing girl who once lived in a sugarloaf-capped house on the outskirts of Poudre Canyon that used to stand here.

They had in fact found the remains of Charlotte Hartline, the her own best guide, guide that nature gave up to elk and bear and the torrent of mud that swept through her community in June.

The remains of Charlotte Hartline. Photograph: John Hudak/AP

On Monday morning, Hartline’s body was identified by the police, who were at the scene, on their way to a fitting celebration in her hometown, Ault, Colorado.

Hartline had lived with her 75-year-old mother, and local friends suggested her location was perfect – the town of Ault sits right in the center of the Colorado flood zone, at the end of one of the many narrow, winding winding paths leading from deep swaths of open space.

And so Hartline, who as many assume was either her own best guide, guide that nature gave up to elk and bear and the torrent of mud that swept through her community in June, lived for a while in Ault, as she had since the 1970s. She was able to continue, even at the end of a strange life.

As a young girl growing up in Claremont, a town east of here, she had been a regular visitor to this town, which was first settled in the early 1970s by residents who had returned to pick up pieces of the farm that had been washed away when their fathers rode into the mountains to ride horses.

Now it was time for them to leave, to pick up new homes in a place that was suddenly overrun by floods that came at them from out of nowhere.

Both the home and the residence disappeared, which is how Hartline ended up having a drinking joint in their place, though she always took care to park near the back, where she was not so conspicuous. “She probably didn’t even know,” a friend named Eva Croker told the Longmont Times-Call.

“She would say she went for a walk one time and lost her glasses or didn’t know she lost her glasses, but maybe she didn’t lose them. She lived by these little secrets.

“I’m pretty sure she thought she left behind her whole life,” said Croker, who is now keeping a life she knew only partially.

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