Day one: 10.5 miles
After a hitch into Lake City I grabbed a bite to eat at Chillin and a bunk at the Raven’s Rest Hostel next door for the evening. While doing laundry I made a reservation at Climb, the best restaurant in the little town where I had a hiker budget meal of alfredo linguine with chicken and grilled vegetables and a glass of pino grigio.
That night I met Man In Black, a retired schoolteacher from San Diego and his hiking partner Fly Fish, a very nice and funny writer from Munich, Germany. In the morning after resupply and errands I left town about noon and got a ride out of town by a local who dropped me off at an ideal intersection. After about 30 minutes an old couple picked me up and had other passengers: Black and Fly! We got dropped off at Spring Creek Pass and immediately hiked by a small fire that was ignited by lightening a few days before but extinguished quickly by local crews after only about 70 acres. We climbed 1,300 feet on the east shoulder of an ancient volcano and across a few miles of Snow Mesa when I ran into the same couple who I’d seen the day before getting dropped off at the pass, Scud and Esteh who were hiking the Colorado Trail. They were walking back to the pass as Esteh said she had elevation sickness.
Black and Fly eventually caught up and after a steep now crossing we decided to camp after 10.5 miles at a site marked on the map with good tent sites. During vamp time I learned from Black that Esteh had actually been overwhelmed by the hiking: the vastness of the peaks, steep trails, snow crossings… it had made her uncomfortable and she confided this in Black as she passed him earlier. This is understandable. The trail is high altitude and way up in the middle of nowhere. It’s quite daunting at times if you really stop to think about it. That night I didn’t sleep too well with a good bit of smoke settling in from the Santa Fe national forest fires and Durango fire combining into a thick blanket of respiratory discomfort. I’m looking forward to getting further north.
Day two: 23 miles
The day started with a hazy morning and a long steady climb before dropping to the highlight of the day, San Luis Pass, the confluence of four trails including the Creede Cutoff for those who decided to skip the San Juan’s and Wemnuche Wilderness.
Fly Fish related new terminology: the Bavarian Switchback. Essentially, a trail with no switchback a Bavarian Switchback is a long, steadily graded trail.
They don’t build switchbacks in Bavaria apparently, and neither did those who lad out this section of the CDT as we scaled saddles of peaks of over 12,000 feet. We entered the La Garita wilderness and proceeded to descend elevation down Cochetopa Creek about 12 miles. Black and I approached our 1000th mile of hiking and as we passed several hydro-engineering masterpieces completed by the local beavers, we looked for a marker or piles of stones that might signify the moment. By 1000.9 miles Black stopped, disappointed, and began gathering sticks to construct our own monument.
Later on at a crossing of Cochetopa we met Too Much and Alex, a young couple from St. Louis. After a few more miles of flats walking we choose a spot to camp by the river. It was early and I enjoyed the company of Fly Fish and Man In Black that evening as we chatted and made dinner.
Day three: 31 miles
On day three I packed camp and headed out earlier than Fly or Black and hiked up to a dry and muddy reservoir and around a small hill leaving Cochetopa Canyon for good. The trail climbed through several nice stands of aspen trees then out into broad rolling foothills. After stopping to dry my bag and have a snack I saw an antelope dart across the road then look back at another antelope in what seems to have been a communication of approval or confirmation. Black passed me and a few minutes later Fly came by and he and I hiked onward.
We stopped for water at Ant Creek which was a trickle. While resting, XC, Gusher, and Philly came along and we met them. XC hiked a few hundred miles of the PCT in 2016 with my pal in Seattle, Jeff (Mountainman) Brownscheidle, so I’d been expecting to meet him at some point. I hiked on for a steady pace a few more hours until 1pm and took a 40 minute lunch while Fly joined me. Another hour or so later we came up on Black who was resting at a creek right before the trail crossed over state highway 114. It was barely 3pm so I elected to make a big day out of this nicer walking and parted ways with Fly and Black at that creek while they would hike on just a few more miles and camp.
I gained the highway, hiked a quarter mile and then turned onto the trail which shared a road and climbed to the Lujan Creek trailhead. After a few more miles I reached a sign stating a summit trail and proceeded to walk along one, then a second and finally a third ridge line. While checking for cell service, Too Much and Alex passed by and while descending I caught up to and talked with them.
We made it to a creek with camp sites but it was swarmed by bugs. XC, Gusher, and Philly arrived and we all had the same idea to hike another half mile to a flat meadow where they set up for the night on one side and I set up far away on the other.
Day four: 29 miles
I woke to another morning of light smoke , made coffee and ate granola then got hiking by 7am. After about an hour and a half of hiking I ran into Baskets who I hadn’t seen in a few weeks since Chama, NM. He was taking a break on a fallen log and we caught up for a few minutes and started hiking together.
Overall, the day was surprisingly easy with only two climbs over 1000 feet including Marshall Pass.
The smoke cleared and talking all day with Baskets made easy work of 29 miles. We camped in a saddle near Monarch Ridge and what would be the last good camping for eight miles – what we left to hike for the morning to get to Monarch Pass.
Day Five: 8 miles to Monarch (+17 later)
The morning and hiking went quickly, with just under eight miles to Monarch Pass we arrived before 10am hiking along a series of easy ridges and then down under the gondola that took people 800 feet up to the Continental Divide for a hefty fee.
We pulled into the Monarch Gift and General Store and ordered food from the snack bar. The gentleman at the register gave me a business card for Tom Syzek, a semi retired medical professional who kindly gives rides to CDT and CT hikers. Tom picked us up at the pass, drove me down to Monarch Lodge seven miles away so I could pick up my resupply box, and then drove back up to the pass. and dropped us off with a Snickers bar as a gift. Tom was also kind enough to pick up a can of HEET for me so i had fuel. We thanked him and headed off about 2pm to continue our “nero,” or near zero miles as the hiker term suggests… which turned out to be 17 more miles for a total of 25 on the day. Hardly a rest day, don’t you think?