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)