CDT CO Section 5

Day 160: Lakewood

I woke up at 5am, and the room had cooled off considerably. I had already prepared a day pack the night before, but other than the usual morning routine, I packed up a good deal of my regular backpack as well. I had been thinking of going to the lodge for breakfast when it opened at 6, but after doing my best to clean up after myself, it was already 7. I noticed there were some eggs in the fridge and decided to make my own breakfast instead to save time. So I had a couple of fries eggs and a couple of glasses of pumpkin cider along with some of my snacks and another apple, and hot the road.

Well, first I had to bother Shane to unlock his car because I’d forgotten my sunglasses in them the night before. But it was around 8 when I set off up the road.

The climb back up the hill to the trail was quick and easy, as was the climb up through the woods to Boss Lake, a strange artificial lake resulting from mining operations. Now it is just a destination for catch and release fishing because it’s stocked with greenback cutthroats.

I took a nice break in the sun on the steep climb out of that area, suddenly remembering that I had forgotten to put on sunscreen that morning. I didn’t want to be in the shade because it was brutally cold, and it wasn’t really an option anyway. But I did have my spikes with me and it was time to put them on. Just a mile or so above that point, I came out into the open and it became impossible to see where the trail went.

I could figure out what it did by looking at the map and then look for gaps in the bushes and trees going up the side of the ridge to a higher plateau. But once up there (after a brief stop to watch a mouse or vole scurry across the snow too fast to video), there were hardly enough bushes to make this possible. I saw generally where I needed to go and found my way there, finding my way back onto the trail once the next ridge climb started and I needed the switchbacks to make progress. It was in this climb that clods of snow first started building up in my spikes.

I soon reached the top of the pass and the powerful cold wind that was coming across the ridge. I wouldn’t be out of it for the next few miles.

While I was walking down the center of the ridge, the snow was thin. The wind had brought it in from the side at speed, so it was only on the right side of big rocks or piled up behind them where the wind eddied out. But when I came around the side of Bald Mountain, things got sketchy. The trail was already a bit difficult from just being a traverse across a pile of boulders, but because I was on the windward side of the mountain, the snow had also tended to collect in deep drifts that frequently filled up the trail cut up to the height of the surrounding rocks. It was slow going for that half mile, all the while being directly blasted by that cold wind.

Once I was on the other side of that peak and back on the ridge, I got to go downhill, the snow stopped being so deep, and the boulders weren’t quite so annoying. However, I had sent my mom a text saying I expected to finish at 3, and after all that struggling to find the trail and slogging through the snow, it was clear I wasn’t going to make that prediction. A mile later, I found a little mostly wind-protected nook at the far northern edge of the ski resort (I reckon), and finally stopped for another snack break, the first in many hours thanks to not wanting to stand still in that cold wind.

A mile or so later, I finally came up on the ski lift putting me squarely in the Monarch ski resort, and the map said it was two miles to Monarch Pass. It was 2:40, so I sent a text predicting 3:40 arrival. Also, I was fed up with the clods of snow forming under my heels in the spikes, so I removed them.

The next two miles were not that bad aside from the snow, all roadwalk and mostly downhill. I could see the highway below. But as I came down to the pass, a problem became apparent. The highway wasn’t going through the pass. I looked at the map and saw I had misread it. I had measured the distance to Old Monarch Pass, where I had just arrived. Monarch Pass was another two miles on. I sent another text predicting 4:40.

Fortunately, those last two miles were a lot easier. They went around the side of the last mountain, down in the forest the whole time, and the trees mostly prevented the trail from getting shoe-deep in snow. I got down to Monarch Pass even before 4:30.

Mama was waiting there, walking down to meet me at the edge of the turnoff for the pictures. She had been worried because there was no cell service at the pass, so she didn’t get any of my updates.

Anyway, we went into the Monarch Crest store for my late lunch: something they called a chili dog, but was actually a huge bowl of chili with a hot dog at the bottom of it. Also some cheesy popcorn and a root beer (of course) and some glazed pecans for the road. It was after 5 when we finally came back down to the Butterfly House.

Since I was mostly packed up, it didn’t take long to get my pack together and ready to go. But there were other things that needed doing, like donating to the hostel for all they had given me and getting all the pictures Mama and I wanted. Shane was there for all of this and may have been in more than one of those photos…

Anyway, we finally got on the road before 6, headed back for a free night’s stay at Six and Dangerpants’ condo again. Why? Because I was tired of the cold and done with Colorado. But more about the plan we had put together in the next post. For now, suffice it to say we were both flying out the next afternoon and needed to be in Denver.

We picked the long way there, a three hour trip, just so we could see Leadville (and, incidentally, many of the other places I had hiked through a week or so before). We would be seeing it all in the dark, of course, because sunset was already beginning when we started out.

On the way, we stopped at a convenience store at which I acquired a coffee and an energy drink. It was a hard day of hiking, as mentioned, my face was already showing signs of the sun exposure, and I’d done it all on only 5 hours of sleep. I was exhausted, but I’m not so rude as to fall asleep in the passenger seat. I was going to make it all the way and be friendly on arrival too.

We arrived around 9pm as announced. Six and Dangerpants had two beds in two rooms made up for us. The apartment was now decorated for Halloween and they had just finished watching a suitably scary movie on TV. So we sat in the den and chatted foot a while as I slowly faded into a sleepy stupor. I called it a night at 10pm and went downstairs to sleep on the air bed. It seemed to have a slow leak, so I had to inflate it again before using it, but the slow loss of air was still able to sustain me until morning.

Trail miles: 10.7 (actually about two miles more than that)

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)

CDT CO Section 5

Day 158: Mount Arps

I woke at 5 and was very cold, so I boiled the water in my water bag again and put it back in my sleeping bag. This made me want to go back to sleep, but I knew that wouldn’t fly. There were miles to hike.

The getting ready challenge I saved for last was putting on my boots, which were still ice-coated and had frozen stiff. I tucked some chemical hand warmers in my socks and wore both pairs of socks. I sat on the boots and flexed them with my hands (with a great deal of effort) then put each foot in until my entire body weight caused enough flex to let my foot slide in. The laces were a formality at this point because the shoes could not be tightened. The hand warmers in my socks effectively kept the tops of my toes warm, but the sides and bottoms were as cold as ever.

I packed my tent up still covered in frost. With the temps still below freezing, I had no other choice. I went ahead and put my microspikes on before hiking out.

One Day was there too, of course, but she was struggling with many issues beyond the temperature-related ones (but those as well). She was not even close to ready to go when I was.

I mentioned yesterday a choice between two official CDT routes. One was the Colorado Trail route, the ridge we had been following. The alternative was the Mirror Lake route. Having gotten a weather forecast and seen the wind speed and cloud coverage numbers, I decided I would be a lot happier with the route I had not taken.

So I started bushwhacking straight down the ridge. It was not too difficult. There were some steep snow banks but I could get down them without sliding. There were some blowdowns, but I could avoid them by heading towards the center of the gulch where the creek was and more of the trees were standing. At one or another point a branch grabbed my foot and tried to trip me before snapping free. A branch popped up out of the snow between my legs and tripped me, but I came down soft in the snow. I scared up one of the snowshoe hares whose tracks had given me ideas about the path to take as I came down.

When the gulch started narrowing out and getting steep, I climbed out of it and back onto the open ridge. By now, it was a nice gently-graded forest with very few snags and mostly wide open easy descent. I was surely near the bottom and my boots had finally thawed and gone pliable. In fact, one felt funny, with too much pressure on one side.

I looked down to find that the spikes on my right foot were all twisted to the right, but worse, there was no traction on my left boot at all. I hadn’t even noticed it was missing. But I wasn’t going to hike on without it, it being a very expensive piece of gear. And thanks to the snowstorm the previous evening, I had left a very clear trail of footprints all the way down the mountain. So, I dropped my pack, took off my warm hat, and started retracing steps back up the mountain.

Luckily for me, One Day had decided to follow my trail down the mountain, had found my spikes near the top of my descent path, put it on, and met me coming up after only 15 minutes of climbing. Hurray.

Looking back, I realized that the tree that had grabbed my foot way back when had actually ripped the whole traction device right off my boot, but my boot had been so frozen solid I hadn’t even felt a difference, and had furthermore attributed the occasional slippage of my left foot on my descent to very slippery patches of fresh snow.

In any event, when I led One Day back to my pack (letting her keep the traction on), we were only a hundred yards or so away from the Mirror Lake trail. I took the lead again, at first climbing up to a ridge opposite the one we had descended, where the high tail trail was visible and completely shrouded in a cloud, meaning there would have been no good views from the high route (the only reason to prefer that route with its three major climbs). I took a break near the high point of the section, just before it came over a shoulder and descended into Garden Basin because I was starving. The chill wind coming over the ridge made me glad I would not be on exposed trail all day.

An hour or so later, I reached the Garden Basin Trailhead and walked right into the privy. One Day arrived just after me. I had a nice lunch inside the warm privy out of the wind, and then we hiked out together.

After passing Mirror Lake, we began the long but fairly gentle climb walking the road up to Tincup Pass. It took a couple of hours, and the sun chose that moment to come out, forcing us to stop and remove layers of clothing to avoid overheating.

When we reached the top of the pass and got our pictures with the sign, the wind was whipping over it and so cold I stopped to put my coat back on. I caught up with One Day a little ways down the hill and we shortcutted a 0.3 mile switchback by dress going straight down the hill between the bushes.

Frankly, in spite of the frozen winds on the exposed ridge the night before, we were now having fun.

Two miles later, the road crossed the Colorado Trail and we turned aside to start climbing endless switchbacks to get on the side of the divide again. We stopped at treeline to get some water out of a stream as we had a lot less elevation to gain, then went out into the snow. I was following now, taking tiny fast steps in One Day’s prints, and we both had our traction on.

We came over a shoulder, the penultimate high point of the day, and into a wide snowy basin crossed by dozens of tiny streams. Some of them made wide ice shelfs under the snow where they spread out at the trail, essentially making traps to wet our feet. Not that the ice melting on our boots and leaking in wasn’t already dampening them, but we didn’t notice that because it was warm by the time it seeped in.

The sun was also setting under a new cloud layer. The golden hour light on the peaks below us and behind us made for several photo stops. Then, I took the lead again, and I didn’t have the energy to break snow on the actual trail, so I walked in the grass and rocks beside it. I also got my headlamp in place and started climbing the last big climb of the day over another shoulder. It wasn’t extremely steep, but it was the end of the day, and it was by far the most difficult climb so far in terms of trail conditions.

One Day said, while looking up at it, it looked like a “chill pass,” but coming over the top it became clear it was more chilly than chill. It was yet another potent and cold wind. We started down into the basin in the other side as quickly as possible. One Day wanted to push for the start of the next day’s first climb so as to make it all the way to Monarch Pass the next day. I thought that was a crazy goal, but I was willing to night hike to get her there.

Unfortunately, the next basin wasn’t nice enough to be all downhill the whole way, and my broken pack was not the most comfortable thing to wear for hours on end. Once we came past the frozen surface of Tunnel Lake, we had 1.5 miles of breaking snow over rolling trail up to another saddle before the descent could start in earnest. That section felt like it was going on for hours with my pack twisting at my shoulder and causing pain from the left side of my neck all the way down to a stabbing pain in the muscle near my spine. I had to let One Day take the lead for the last of it.

When we finally reached the final descent at the saddle, I was pretty much exhausted, but I could pick up some speed on the descent because of the rocks on the edge of the switchbacks to avoid slogging through the snow. So I took the lead again. Down through the rock slide we came, and in mere minutes, we arrived on a huge flat, clearly human engineered plateau.

It was an old railroad grade, and we needed to go along it for another mile before we crossed the many water sources. My shoulder was killing me and I was moving a lot slower than level ground should mandate. For reference, it had been a solid three hours or more since I had last taken off the pack at the top of a long intense climb, and when I did, I had seen stars at the edge of my vision from the effort of lifting 50 pounds.

But I was able to distract myself from the pain and exhaustion by admiring the tracks in the snow ahead, which looked a lot like they had been made by a human running in a strange way. At times taking two steps and then a long hop landing on the same leg and at other times skipping. When the tracks turned and went up (or down) a steep rock wall, I concluded they must belong to some sort of animal because the only human that could have made them would surely have to be insane.

Anyway, a few minutes that felt like hours later, we started crossing small streams, and One Day stopped to collect some water. I still had the liter or two in my pack that I had grabbed three hours earlier, having only drank a liter on the way up to the chilly pass. As the air was below freezing since the sun had set, it was difficult to keep water out for drinking because it would freeze.

As she knew I was in pain, One Day agreed to stop a little short now that she had water. Anywhere around was a perfectly fine place to camp because the bed was so level, but we found a small platform below the trail at the edge of the grade where it dropped off and arranged our tents side by side. We did our best to beat the snow and ice off our boots before taking them off, but we knew it was a lost cause. We just wanted to be in our tents as quickly as possible.

I tried to filter the water I brought, but there was frost in the hose. There was even some slush on the outside of the filter that had been submerged the whole night, but I’m pretty sure the filter itself hadn’t frozen at all. Either way, it didn’t matter. The water was clear enough, and I was going to be boiling it anyway.

The foot box of my sleeping bag was still damp when I stuck my bare feet in there with my wet socks. I was making it worse by putting my ice-crusted snow pants in there too. One Day said it was better to remove outer layers before getting in the bag to make it easier for body heat to warm up the bag, but I believe that it’s better to have more layers. I felt fairly comfortable with the temperature when I first started cooking, but then One Day and I noticed a few minutes later that it felt like the temperature had suddenly dropped. Maybe it was just our bodies winding down and making less heat.

Anyway, it very rapidly felt much colder than it had been the previous night. Fully layered and fully wrapped in the sleeping bag, there was still a chill. I boiled the full pot of water I had left over after dinner and put it in my water bag and then under my coat so to go to sleep.

I slept fairly well for a few hours, but I woke up at 3 am feeling chilly. The water bag was body temperature. I convinced myself to get out of my sleeping bag and boil it again just so I could get those last few hours of sleep.

Trail miles: 18.0 (actually hiked 18.5)

Distance to Monarch: 10.2

CDT CO Section 5

Day 157: Ridge Spur above Sanford Creek

I was awake by 5 and started packing by 6. One Day and I were both ready to roll out at the same time a bit after 7, but we would not be together most of the day.

She stopped to collect water at the first water source, having used the last of hers at breakfast, but I had plenty and pushed ahead. Within the hour, the call of nature sent me off the trail and into the woods above it. She passed me soon thereafter. When I returned to the trail, I was a solo hiker again.

Within the hour, the snow started to fall. The morning had been nice and clear, but the day didn’t feel like waiting around on its promised nasty weather. I stopped to put on my Packa. But the snow was sticking to my gloves, so I stopped again shortly thereafter to get out my glove shells.

The snow started and stopped several times during the next two hours until I finally descended to the junction between the low route and the high route. The high route was considered more scenic and was the official CDT route while the low route was considered safer in bad weather, and the weather wasn’t great.

But the snow was just a light dusting when it happened and the sun did occasionally deign to shine through the clouds. One Day had indicated the high route was her preference and I agreed, so I didn’t hesitate to head that direction. I did hesitate, but it was only to take a snack break and not related to deciding which way to go.

A few miles up the trail, One Day came running up behind me asking if I’d seen her note. She had flip-flopped on going high or low several times and eventually come back to the high route. We hiked together for a bit, then stopped at the Texas Creek crossing, where I wanted to make a drink and take off my coat for the big climb ahead. I told One Day to keep hiking, then saw nothing but her footprints for the rest of the day.

It was a serious climb. Not particularly steep, but always up. The sun sort of came out a little after two, so I stopped on a rock sort of in it for lunch.

Around 4, I came out of the trees into the shadow of a ridge where a cold wind was gusting. I surmounted the ridge and came out into the direct sun and the direct contact of that intense West wind.

I descended into the Cottonwood Pass parking area where there was a small pond just down the hill. I fetched some water from it, then got a picture with the sign from some women hiking down a short summit trail for day hikers.

The snow in the trail became thicker beyond this point. Although I skipped the day hike summit, I had to summit the much taller peak behind it to get onto the high ridge of the Sawatch Range that is the Continental Divide.

Although the signs said don’t cut the switchbacks, the snow was so deep in the trail that it was much easier to climb straight up the rocks and ignore the trail. It was still a long climb, but when I reached the top I had a great view of the dark clouds that had finally reached me.

Down onto the ridge I went as the world became whiter. Though I had a couple of hours of sunlight to work with, I could not see the sun. I was being pelted by bits of ice on my right side as long as I was on the west side or top of the ridge. I thought I would get some relief when the trail switched to the east side, but there was some wind there too, coming up from below or down from above. And it was another long climb when I was already tired.

I could see from her footprints that One Day had put on microspikes. I had not. I seemed to be doing fine without them, and putting them on meant standing in that cold wind with one less layer on while I got them out of my pack. The prints became clearer as I came up onto the windswept ridge again. Parts of the next mile and a half were completely blasted by wind. There were no views. Just a light fog.

I had originally been planning to stop at a supposed wind-protected campsite at the next major shoulder of the mountain, but it seemed very unlikely that wind protection could do anything about this wind as long as I was on the western slope. I was thinking about going on another three miles back over the ridge and down below treeline on the eastern side. Then I heard One Day coughing down in the trees where I had been thinking of stopping. I called out to her and she confirmed the wind was actually calm down in those trees.

So we set up tents right behind trees. It wasn’t perfectly flat or anything, but it wasn’t particularly lumpy under the snow either. We cooked in our tents and settled in for a cold night, me by filling my water bag with boiling water and slipping it under my coat inside my bag. As I was doing all the boiling of water for supper and my hot water bag, snow kept blowing in under my rainfly and into my tent. There was no way to keep it out without closing the flap, but I needed to keep the flap out of the way of the stove. So I just kept brushing it back into the vestibule.

The snow kept coming. I was warm and comfortable for the moment, but several inches of accumulation meant a miserably slow hike the next day. But there was nothing to be done. I had food for several more days. I just needed to go 28 more miles. It could be done.

Trail miles: 17.6

Distance to Monarch: 28.1 miles

CDT CO Section 5

Day 156: Below Lake Ann Pass

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