Monarch Pass to Gunnison; 50 miles with Bean!
Getting back on trail after a 4 day society plunge.
During our 4 days off trail, I realized that ANOTHER friend that I met on the Appalachian Trail, Bean, (who was a few weeks ahead of us on the Colorado Trail) would be getting back ON trail at Monarch Pass - the very place we needed to get back on also. Bean had been hiking the CT (started July 7th), but sprained her ankle in a parking lot (ugh!) so had to get off trail for two weeks to recover/heal. What pure coincidence that three AT alumni women would be getting back on the CT at the same point at the same time!
Red Stripe actually ended up needing an additional day for logistics so she planned to skip a small section and meet up with Bean and I at the hwy to Gunnison where my dad could bring her as he was planning to help us out with a resupply at that point. Since Red Stripe will be living in Frisco it will be easy for her to go finish that small portion on a weekend.
Our new trail friend Emma decided to get off trail and go home at Monarch Pass and had left her van in Denver and needed it driven down to her. Perfect! We needed a one-way vehicle to get to Monarch!
Things have a beautiful way of working themselves out just right. My 4 days off trail were a little stressful and overwhelming and I even considered for a split second not getting back on (the excuses were monumental and it would have been extremely easy to justify that it was just too much and the logistics were a complete headache). But I knew in my heart I needed to get back on, and I knew that things would work themselves out.
CT Day 13: (half day/travel day) hwy 50 at Monarch Pass to seasonal stream with campsites (mi 265.4). 9.4 miles (elev: 11,400 ft)
Bean picked me up from the airport at noon and we drove to my sister’s house where I met my sister, dad and Emma’s van. Bean and I handed off some of our resupply stuff to my dad and we loaded our packs into Emma’s van. It would have been a 100 mile stretch from Monarch to Silverton if my dad hadn’t agreed to meet us halfway with a resupply. Only carrying 50 miles worth of food was dreamy! Thanks dad!
Bean drove the 3 hours to Monarch and we spent the time catching up on each other’s lives in the last year. It was a gorgeous drive and by this time a very familiar drive. We skirted around some typical afternoon storms and drove in some rain, but hoped it would clear up by the time we needed to start hiking.
We got to the trailhead around 4:20 pm, handed off the van and keys to Emma, who was so grateful that she had her van back. Bean and I grabbed some last minute goodies from the hiker box in the Monarch Crest general store, used the bathroom, and I repaired my water bottle. Somehow on the plane it got a puncture/tear in it. It is a collapsible water bottle/filter (the Katadyn Be Free soft water bottle/filter) so it is soft, but luckily a nice duct tape square solved the leak/puncture issue completely.
We chugged some last minute water and hit the trail maybe by 4:45 pm? The miles moved by smoothly as the terrain wasn’t very difficult at all. Mellow and gradual ups and downs and fantastic views of the gloomy sky and deep blue mountains.
We were above tree line a lot, and when we dipped down into the pine tree woods it felt almost a little eery.
We had thought about stopping at a shelter (first and maybe only one!) since it would be about 7:00 pm and 7 miles from the trail head. We felt good at the shelter (fresh legs and all), so we pushed it another 2.3 miles to a stream with campsites and got to camp before 8pm and right as it began to drizzle. We quickly set up our tents very close to one another in the flat spot so our stuff could stay dry and then cooked dinner.
The light drizzle let up as I boiled my water, but as I was sitting there waiting for my food to cook in the bag it began to pick up again. I decided to retreat to my tent and eat dinner in the warmth of my sleeping bag and with dry clothes on. I was starting to feel pretty cold as well. The Bibimbap spicy Korean dinner from Good to Go is not something I recommend. It was way too spicy for athletic times and the one person allotment wasn’t enough calories. Luckily I had been eating plenty of actual food so I wasn’t depleted. I went to sleep around 9pm. I was so excited to have Red Stripe join us the next day!
Monarch Pass and this whole area of Colorado felt very familiar to me. The flora and fauna remind me of my time working at Rocky Mountain Biological Lab in Gothic (just outside of Crested Butte, CO) 12 years ago. It is so nice to create new memories in a geographic region that holds a lot of my past. My memories of the area are fond, but I feel like that 21 year old version of me has had a metamorphosis into a butterfly and I’m just so grateful to be back in these stomping grounds as a grown woman with a whole new perspective on life.
CT Day 14: seasonal stream with campsites (mi 265.4) to dry camping area mi 288.2. Hiked 22.8 miles (slept at elev: 11,230 ft)
Bean headed out of camp around 6:30 am but I was a little behind schedule because I needed very badly to do some toe maintenance. I have an ingrown toenail that is causing a blister and irritated area around it combined with a toenail fungus from years of running, so that toe is just sort of angry right now. Anyway, I messed with it with my toenail with the nail clippers, put some tea tree oil and body glide on it and packed up about 10 minutes behind Bean.
It was such a cold morning! Our tents were soaking wet from the light rain the night before, so I put on my Gortex mitten liners and used my chamois to wipe off the excess drips, periodically wringing out the chamois. This usually wasn’t my job on the AT because I was always up and hiking early since I was slower than Jamie, so he usually ended up packing the tent since he slept longer. I like caring for the tent now. It feels like a little ritual of saying goodbye to that home and starting fresh each day. I know that packing up wet tents can make hikers pretty grumpy, so I make it a point to not let it ruffle my feathers. I also knew that I would only need to carry the wet tent about half a day because we could lay it out to dry at lunch time in the intense Colorado sun. Everything is temporary out here.
The morning was so misty and foggy and GORGEOUS! We never get misty mornings like this out here on the CT. Usually the mornings are crisp and dry without a cloud in the sky. Today was different and the novelty of it made for an exciting and beautiful start to our day. It also felt a lot colder than it actually was because of all the moisture in the air, so I kept my jacket on for quite a while.
We stopped for water at a small trickling stream about 6 miles into the day and we ran into Rosa and Sam, a very young couple with SUPER lightweight packs that Red Stripe and I had met the day we headed into Twin Lakes (just before embarking on the CW). Sam had asked Red Stripe and I upon meeting “are you the two girls that thru hiked the AT and then did 27 miles on day one out here?” We had a good laugh. I guess word spreads fast and Sam likes to be in the know! I had a feeling I would run into hikers we met before getting off trail for 4 days because Red Stripe and I were throwing down some heavy mileage days so it would make sense that the other hikers would be around here by now with our mini vacation back to society (not a vacation!).
Not too long after leaving that spot, while I was lightly using my poles, my right pole just collapsed in my hand! I inspected it and it was broken in the exact same place it broke on the AT. Jamie and a hostel owner had fixed it with the help of the Black Diamond rep on the phone with some epoxy, but I wasn’t surprised with all the temperature changes and use that the fix didn’t last forever.
I checked my phone and just so happened to have two bars of LTE cell service so I called my dad. He was meeting us the next day to give us our resupply on his way home to Austin, but was still in Denver and was able to pick me up a new pair of poles at REI Denver! Phew! Luckily the terrain had been mellow and looked pretty mellow for the near future, so being lopsided with only one pole would be just fine for 2 days of hiking.
It’s crazy how attached I am to using poles and how naked and awkward I felt with only one pole! (Or no poles!)
We got to the next water source at mile 13 and met a few other folks hanging out for lunch and filling up with water. A bike packer (Light Feather) was super chatty and friendly and had banana candy treats from Brazil to share with us all. There were also two other solo women backpackers (our age and older?), Sparrow and Lacy. We dried out our tents and soaked our feet in the icy stream. I did a little bit more toe maintenance and then we headed out. The next two miles were SO blasting hot and in the sun and all uphill. The climb was a nice cruising grade, but the heat and intensity of the sun were crazy. We stopped for water two miles later as it would be our last water source for 12 miles. This water would need to cover both dinner and breakfast because we planned to dry camp in the middle of that 12 mile stretch.
Just after we left that spot we heard loud thunder clapping nearby and watched the clouds move quickly and become very dark. We were still in the sun and began hiking away from the storm.
We took a break a few miles later to have a snack and air out our feet and were glad we had totally avoided that storm. Just as we were clipping our hip belts to leave our snack spot we heard such crazy loud thunder. Again, we hiked away from it, but it was so loud and so close by! We never had a drop of rain or had to get rain jackets on, but the thunder was loud and persistent! I sometimes would talk to the storms and acknowledge that I heard it’s battle cry loud and clear but that it could stay over there.
Our packs were so heavy with all the water, but we pushed it one, then two miles further than we had initially planned since it was still so early in the day. We got to camp at 5 pm and it was still hot out! Usually right when we get to camp I need to put on pants and my puffy jacket, but I waited a little for the sun to set behind the trees before putting on layers.
We ate dinner and I realized I had 1 bar of service so I called Red Stripe to help her make a plan for meeting up with us tomorrow. We then had a little online time since we randomly had service about 50-100 ft from our tents, but absolutely NO service in our tents. so bizarre! We battled the mosquitos for time online to check in with family, but it didn’t take long for us to retreat into our tents and call it an early night. We were tired from the last 7.3 miles of carrying tons of water. My back and shoulders hurt from the extra weight and Bean’s feet were hurting.
Tomorrow we resupply at the road to Gunnison! We will meet Red Stripe and my dad there!
CT Day 15: Dry camping area mi 288.2 to dry camping spot at mi 312.2. Hiked 24 miles (elev: 9,640 ft)
Sleep has been a little better this time around. The last two nights I haven’t had leg aches keeping me up or Internet and society keeping me awake too late. My hip bones hurt when I lay on my side, but I get restless being on my back all night. I am still sleeping lightly due to the altitude with a lot of tossing and turning, but at least I’m not in tear-evoking leg pain each night.
I woke up at 5:30 am and had to pee, so just ended up getting packed up and ready to go for our 6:30 am start.
The morning was beautiful for the first 4.5 miles. We went through some open meadows and the temperature was perfect. We stopped for water at a trickling stream where we met a family who is also thru hiking the CT.
We then pushed on the additional 10 miles to hwy 114 (near Gunnison), where we would meet my dad and Red Stripe. It was hot and we had a few steep climbs. We were losing elevation and the trail became much more exposed throughout the day. We walked through cow fields where the water sources were questionable culverts and few and far between. This meant we had to carry extra water on our lightest day.
It was a hot and exposed push to get to hwy 114. The last two miles were on a dirt road with not a trace of shade. The sun was so intense and bright.
We finally made it to the highway and saw my dad and Red Stripe! I was so thrilled to see them and sit in the car out of the sun. I shared a Gatorade with Red Stripe, charged my phone, and drank a Soylent. I then got my resupply goods together and packed away and after filling up with good water my dad brought we were ready to hit the trail as a band of 3!