CDT CO Section 5

Day 159: Monarch

I boiled my water one more time at 6am to give myself enough warmth to get through packing up, leaving using it to make breakfast until after everything was packed.

And both One Day and I struggled mightily to get packed. It was the coldest morning we’d seen, easily down into the teens. Everything was frozen. Despite having done our best to get the ice off our boots, they were still frozen perfectly solid and nearly impossible to put on. One Day sounded like she was giving birth to twins with the effort of getting hers on. And the she was able to go use the bathroom in the time it took me to get just one on. Even though we started packing at the same time, all the struggle and dealing with the frost and wet stuff from sleeping on frozen ground surrounded by snow, and only making breakfast after all that, meant I left camp like five minutes later than her.

A hundred yards out of camp, I seriously bit it when both feet shot out from under me. There was a flat layer of ice hidden under a thin layer of snow. I was walking in One Day’s footprints, but for some reason, it didn’t bring her down. When I caught her collecting water at the next stream crossing, she said she had noticed the ice and slipped on it slightly.

Less than a mile later, we accidentally passed the turnoff for the CDT and kept on the railroad grade until it reached the river. We decided to backtrack instead of connecting back on the nearby road and there it was, clearly marked if we had not been so distracted chatting to examine the signpost we had passed and the area around it.

The next couple of miles was a long climb through the woods, then a lot of working through snow over rock slides. I never bothered to put on spikes. It slowed me somewhat in the thick snow on the climb, but it helped me when I was hopping from rock to rock in the road I crossed and in the rock slide areas. A couple of miles later, I came down to the edge of Hancock Lake, realizing that the whole climb and descent I had just done had been kind of pointless, as there had been a gently graded road right up the center of the valley from the trailhead we had backtracked near.

I took a walk down to the edge of the frozen lake and then right across the surface. It was already solid and thick. I went along the edge until I met one of the inflows. I was collecting water and trying to filter it (I kept the hose and filter in my pocket) when One Day caught up already wearing her spikes. When the water still wouldn’t flow through the hose (just moments out in the cold had been enough for it to develop enough frost to slow the flow to a thin trickle), One Day let me use a couple drops of her bleach. It meant I had to wait 20-30 minutes to drink the water, but that wouldn’t end up being an issue.

She left ahead of me while I put on my spikes for the big climb ahead, and I chased her all the way up the next pass. She was several hundred yards ahead of me at first, but I gained as quickly as I could. I cut the first switchback on the pass climb while she did not. This put me only a dozen feet behind her as she came over the top. She did cut all the other switchbacks though and put on a burst of speed on the descent. By the time I came over the top, I couldn’t see her anymore. Indeed, I even lost her footprints for a moment. I had to consult the map to find the trail. I soon found her tracks again and saw she was taking as direct a path down as possible regardless of the trail. I did my best to do the same.

I caught her again picking her way through a giant pile of rocks near another lake. I decided to go a lot faster than was advisable for that section of trail when wearing spikes. Spikes make walking on rocks so much harder than usual, and I did fall on a rolling rock at one point. I caught myself mostly in snow and didn’t get injured at all. Anyway, I passed One Day and took the lead for the rest of the descent to the Boss Lake Parking Area.

At this point, One Day was flip-flopping on whether to continue the next ten miles to Monarch Pass, but I was already dead-set on taking the road into Monarch. But I was hungry and there were no restaurants serving lunch in Monarch, so I sat with One Day in the sun and ate lunch while she decided. Eventually, she decided to go down to Monarch with me, hoping to get in touch with a trail angel who had agreed to take her to Salida to a house to stay for free. I tried to swing us a ride from a guy driving a truck passing by, but he wasn’t headed that way.

We walked the road together, passing a huge family out for a day trip, a walk to Boss Lake. As we descended, the snow disappeared. Below 10k feet in elevation, the road was completely clear of snow and just covered with leaves from the not-yet-barren aspens. Off came the spikes.

After One Day took a short break alone, I led the way for the last mile or so, heading along the high road above Monarch all the way to the Butterfly House. Just a minute or two before I arrived, an intense snow/hailstorm started and One Day caught up to me. We entered the hostel together.

There was no cell service in town, but the Butterfly House had wifi. Only my phone was capable of wifi calling, so I lent it to One Day to call the trail angel. Meanwhile, I picked some loaner clothes off the shelves on the wall, drew a glass of beer from the tap by the sink, and headed to the shower.

I took a long hot shower while some ruckus ensued outside. Lex, girlfriend of Shane who owns the hostel, and a temporary live-in carpenter Alec had come in. She was cleaning up and chatting with One Day, and he arrived just as I finished my shower to get the fire started.

Alec was moving out and his stuff was everywhere, including in the washer and dryer. But we worked it out and I got my clothes started. Meanwhile, One Day walked over to the Monarch Mountain Lodge to meet the trail angel and head to Salida.

While I warmed by the stove, Alec and Lex discussed which of Alex’s clothes he would take and which he would leave on the loaner shelf after the dryer had shrunk so many of them. I ate a bunch of stuff from the communal food, including an apple, a bag of chocolate chips, a layman MRE with pop tarts, a soft cracker with jelly, and a tootsie roll.

Later, Shane came in and said they were all going over to the lodge for dinner and offered a ride. I put my clothes in the dryer and joined them in my ridiculous loaner clothes. Shane and Lex and I had to run through the frozen air between snowstorms to get from the car to the entrance. We found Alec inside with a burger already. He stuck around and played a round of Gravitas with us while he finished eating, but left to go pack some more. The rest of us ate burger/chicken parmigiana sandwich/pizza (me) and drank a beer, then went down to have a dip in the hot tub, but it was closed for repairs to the deck, so we went home. I carried back half the pizza and ate it on the couch in front of the stove. I also ate the last of the MRE (beef ravioli), changed into my clothes out of the crazy purple pants, hung a bunch of stuff to dry from lines near the stove, and shoved every last piece of firewood that had been brought in into the stove.

I put my sleeping bag out on an air mattress on the second floor above the stove where the heat would rise to warm me all night. It was probably in the high seventies up there when I went to sleep at midnight.

Trail miles: 10.2 (actual distance about 2 miles further)

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