I got out of my tent to fetch my phone around 5:30. First, I wiped frost off the inner ceiling of my tent with my towel. Everything was covered with frozen dew. A combination of the cold night, the humidity guaranteed by the lake, and the lack of a breeze behind Bill’s fence ensured that the world had been coated in a layer of glitter that sparkled in my headlamp. It was still very cold.
I returned to my bag to work on the blog until the 6am alarm, then started packing up. One Day was clearly doing the same. I had a series of crises as I packed, things I couldn’t locate. The most pressing of these was my wallet. As we were both packing up our tents, Bob came around to meet us with two hot cups of coffee in hand and invited us in for breakfast. One Day went first, having finished packing first. When I realized my wallet was in my shorts pocket under my pants but twisted around to my crotch in a place where multiple self-patdowns could not feel it, I could happily finish packing and head inside myself.
Bob had microwaveable breakfast burritos and sandwiches pulled from his store freezer case. We chatted in his kitchen and did some minor prep for hiking for an hour or so. He was a very affable guy and never ran out of stories. After two breakfast sandwiches and a yogurt apiece washed down by the coffee, we tore ourselves away from Motu’s cuteness to head out to the trail.
The official trail went all the way around the lakes, an extra 11 miles or so. But we had seen what the other end of the lakes looked like from the truck the night before and had no issues with cutting off that extra mileage by going around the near side of the lake, a connection of only a mile. The downside of that route was a wide river ford requiring us to get our feet wet ankle deep in cold water on a cold but fortunately sunny morning.
I took the opportunity to take off my pants on the near side and put my towel on the outside of my pack to dry and make some orange immunity drink on the far side. One Day was much quicker about the whole process and headed up the trail some fifteen minutes before I did.
The next bit of trail was a relentless four mile climb up a steep gulch to Hope Pass. Including a long break two hours in in a sunny field for lots of snacks, it took me three hours. The last bit was an exposed and snowy climb, but again I could do it by climbing straight up the rocky, grassy bits and ignoring the official trail, this time even without microspikes. There was another couple out for a day hike to the pass that I passed on the way up, and also One Day had waited in the blustery windy cold at the top for fifteen minutes to hand me some chips and get her photos with the view. We all four wound up in the pass together with lots of photos being taken all around.
Then we started the descent of the other side. It was very steep. I had to ride the brakes until I could imagine my knees emitting a burnt rubber smell. One Day let me get ahead but soon caught me and blew past. A lighter pack meant she could safely maintain a higher speed. It took an entire hour just to reach the junction where we stopped descending like mad and turned onto a roughly level trail. And just a mile into that One Day stopped by a creek for lunch, so I stopped too just a bit ahead. We had a nice lunch separately and finished at the same time.
I led the way for the next five miles or so until the tank was empty. There was a cold wind p picking up in the afternoon, but the sun was still shining. Nonetheless, I stopped on a rock in a shady forest area to have a long snack and drink break and slowly lost my warmth. After about 20 minutes, I was packing up to go on and One Day caught up and passed me.
I would go on to chase her until well after sundown. I may have gotten close on the long climb up to Lake Ann Pass, but I had to stop at the last water crossing before the pass to get water for supper and breakfast because we would not pass water again that night. I couldn’t see her until I was on the final exposed snow and rock climb up to the pass. Once I got into the thick of it, she shouted something down to me. She had paused to put on microspikes and a headlamp. I realized I would need to do the same.
I caught up to her at the top of the pass by climbing straight up the rocks as I am wont to do while she had slogged through the snow following all the trail’s switchbacks. We found the trail down the other side and set out into the next valley by our own headlamps. She led at first, and got a lead when we stopped to take off our traction because I took the opportunity to also put on a coat. Nonetheless, I caught her up in a few minutes and then passed her. I was being much less cautious with the descent than her. I didn’t mind the snow or rocks in it–I was just happy it was not so steep I had to grind my knees to keep from running away down the hill.
I stayed ahead for the entire remainder of the descent. It was after 8 when we were finally at the lowest elevation we could feasibly reach that night and started looking for camping. We settled for a slightly sloped and rocky but mostly free of snow patch of ground just below the trail within the next tenth of a mile and hurried to get to bed. We were not expecting such a nice sunny day the next day.
Trail miles: 27.1 (actually hiked 19 miles)
Distance to Monarch: 45.6 miles