Monday, March 14, 2022

Day 66: Monarch Pass and Salida

June 25: During the night, water froze on the rental car so Amanda had to defrost the windows before she could leave. I wasn't restricted by frozen windows, however, and got my earliest start to the day's hike yet and was on the trail and hiking at 5:45am. I had several reasons for such an early start.

First, there's the weather. Although the morning was frightfully cold, the weather was good. It was not expected to stay that way, however, with rain and thunderstorms expected in the afternoon. 

And second, my goal was to hike all the way out to Monarch Pass where Amanda could pick me up again from an easily-accessible location that the rental car could reach, but it was about 26 miles away. It would be my longest day yet! And unlike my other 20+ mile days that were largely over flat and easy terrain, today would be anything but flat or easy. 

And finally... I needed to make it to the post office before they closed for the day. My package with the laptop was there. I had given my ID and the receipt with the tracking information to Amanda in the hopes that she could go in and pick up the package yesterday, but they rejected it saying that only I could do it. I gave her my ID and tracking information just again and asked if she could check if they would at least forward the package for me to pick up later so at least things wouldn't be so time-critical, but I wouldn't know if that succeeded until after I reached Monarch Pass. I had to assume that it wouldn't work.

So I had a lot of reasons to start hiking even before the sun properly rose, but I still needed to take photos for Walking 4 Fun (and this blog) which limited just how early I could start. Fortunately, it was June 25th--not the longest day of the year, but pretty close to it!

I would also be slackpacking once again which would definitely help me move fast and efficiently.

From the car, I decided return to the CDT by passing near Soldierstone. Maybe get some photos of it in the morning sunlight. So I did then, then charged down the trail pretty much non-stop the entire way.

Soldierstone at sunrise

I took only three 5-minute breaks to eat a few snacks the entire distance. The first half of the hike was clear and sunny, but as expected, dark clouds threatened during the afternoon. A few drops of rain fell and I could hear thunder echoing through the mountains in the distance, and I all but ran down the trail! Fortunately, the thunder never approached closely and the rain never amounted to much. My biggest inconvenience was the brutally cold windchill, but hiking fast helped keep me warm.

The scenery was spectacular, especially along the high ridges above treeline, and I passed--for me--a noteworthy junction that marked the two route options toward the north for Colorado Trail thru-hikers. The trail splits there and many people hike that section as a loop, called the Collegiate Loop. When I hiked the CT, I took the eastern route, but now that I'm on the CDT, I wanted to take the western route to hit some new trail and new scenery. So although I was still on the Colorado Trail, it was a section of the trail that I had never done before. I looked down the steep slope where the other trail snaked off and remembered the slog getting up that hill from my CT hike. Memories.... But once I passed that junction, I was on new trail. I couldn't be entirely certain what would be ahead for the next few days.

But I didn't stop to rest and reminisce. I just didn't have time for that. I had to reminisce on the go!

I eventually made it to Monarch Pass, visible long before I arrived and obvious from the gondola going up the pass. And I managed to make it there just a few minutes after 3:00pm! It was a shocking distance to cover in such a short period of time over such rough terrain--even by my standards!, and I was quite proud of it. I'd never have made it that quickly with a full pack on, though. 

Amanda was already at the pass and told me that her visit to the post office had failed and that my package was still stuck there, but I had arrived with plenty of time to spare. It was a good half-hour drive into Salida from the pass, but I should have no trouble making it there before the post office closed for the day--thank goodness!

There's a gift shop and restaurant at the pass along with the gondola, so I stopped to use the rest rooms and take a quick look around but bought nothing.

The trail passed by the gondola at Monarch Pass. I didn't ride it, but Amanda had time to while she was waiting for me.

Then we jumped into the car and headed to Salida. Amanda told me about riding the gondola while waiting for me, as well as giving rides to a few other thru-hikers who were trying to hitch into Salida. Pretty much all CDT thru-hikers hitch into Salida to resupply from here. Amanda was a bit disappointed that they weren't so interested in all the snacks and drinks she had bought to give out as trail magic, though. With the restaurant and plenty of snacks at the pass, the main thing that hikers wanted was a ride into town. They just didn't need food. So Amanda wound up giving two or three of them a ride into town. There were others who also needed rides but she couldn't fit them all into her rental car with all the camping gear and trail magic still packed inside. When she returned to the pass, the other hikers were gone--presumably having found other rides into town.

So we drove on to the post office where my package was waiting for me. But I also didn't need the package. Amanda had brought my nice laptop from Seattle, so I didn't need the smaller, older model in the package, and I asked them to forward the package to the next trail town in Leadville.

This package was getting quite the tour of Colorado post offices.... It started in Pagosa Springs, went to Creede, then was forwarded here to Salida and was now being forwarded on to Leadville. And the last time I actually used the laptop that was inside the package was way back in Chama!

I was sure we would end up camping tonight since lodging was so expensive and most places were completely full, but Amanda had found a hotel for the night saying that she needed a shower before she left. She'd be leaving first thing in the morning to go back to work, so the plan was that she'd drop me off back at Monarch Pass near sunrise. My slackpacking days were over for now. The hotel room was still a bit on the expensive side, but at least it wasn't over $200/night which is what I was afraid would happen.

We stopped at Red Truck Pizza for dinner and I resupplied at the Walmart before calling it a night. I only had two days of trail dirt on me--practically still clean!--but I took a shower anyhow. It would, I knew, be my last one for awhile.....

This is one of the very few AT-style shelters you'll find along the CDT.

We're definitely not at the Mexican border anymore....

Monarch Pass

Made it about 26 miles to Monarch Pass by 3:00pm! It's amazing how fast I could go without a full pack!


Unknown said...

I'm thrilled about your photos, and I find that your photography skills are steadily improving! Nice job! To be honest, I didn't think that your skills were that bad in the first place, but it's really good, now!


Arlene (AT 2015 EverReady) said...

26 miles is quite amazing! This was an exciting day and you got to shower at the end of the day. Bonus!