Summer finally arrived in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, with warm, even hot, days with clear skies (no thunderstorms for five straight days), and rapidly melting snowpack! As Mr. Snowman says: “Oh no! I’m melting…melting!”
It was 96 miles between the tiny, historic mining town of Creede to Monarch Pass, and I hiked that distance in five days thanks to snow-free trail for the vast majority of that distance. While the warm temperatures and snow-free miles let my mind wander and contemplate how much I desired a lighter & cooler pair of hiking shoes, I enjoyed the high, snowy traverses the most. The campsite I chose just a few miles east of San Luis Pass on June 15 was my favorite so far.
I was treated the amber glow on the west-facing rock face in a grand cirque while I prepared and ate dinner!
A visitor briefly came on the scene: a marmot.
I left camp early the next day, June 12, to take advantage of snow hardened by the nighttime cold temperature. Wearing microspikes and hanging on to my ice ax, I completed the trip around the cirque and up the next pass.
I was in the La Garita Wilderness and began a long, long descent into the Cochetopa Creek valley. That is where I lost the snow and began three straight 21+ miles days, something I had not done since New Mexico.
After the Cocketopa Creek valley I chose to camp on the upper ridges after enjoying the mild, evening temperatures. The clear nights, embellished by the nearly full moon, provided the opportunity pitch the tent without the rainfly. I seemed to sleep much better, although the 10-degree sleeping bag was a bit too warm at times.
On June 18 I camped on the crest of the Cochetopa Hills at 10,550 feet, where the CDT began a long climb back above treeline. This is where I enjoy the CDT the most, with sweeping views and long traverses, sometimes across the lingering snowfields. On June 19 I was confident I could cover the 18 miles to Monarch Pass before evening.
It was Sunday, when the large number of weekend travelers would make the odds of getting a ride to the town of Salida pretty good. The only problem I encountered along the way to Monarch was a new blister on my left heel, which was caused by the excess heat on my feet combined with water-soaked boots. I knew it was time to get new, lighter shoes for the higher mileage days ahead.
The eight miles between Marshall Pass and Monarch Pass were a joy to hike. The snow had been melting fast, but there was just enough left to make the scenery breathtaking and the traverse pleasantly challenging. One obstacle involved climbing over a little cornice, which I am sure would have been much harder going down than up the nearly vertical 12-foot wall of snow.
Once again, Paul and Chantal were hiking with or near me, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind me. But they easily passed me one final time while I applied moleskin to the new blister on my left heel, and by the time I limped into the Monarch Pass store (for a hot dog, of course) they had hitched a ride to Salida. I did the same.
In Salida I ordered new shoes (Merrell Moab Ventilators) which will be lighter, cooler and faster.
I used the opportunity to take THREE zero days in Salida to let my feet heel and get some quality rest. The motel to Post Office Yo-Yo on city streets did not help my feet at all, and Salida is such an enjoyable town. During my time in Salida (June 20-22) I ran into fellow CDT hikers Earlybird and Squirrel at the Brown Dog Coffee Company. They have a nice blog, which I promised to read during my restful time here. I also met The Third Monte in Salida, and chatted with Wilderness and Hikerbox while ordering the Merrells from a sidewalk bench in town! Next, it’s on to Twin Lakes, Breckenridge and a reunion with my lovely wife Cindy at Berthoud Pass in about 16 days!
Day 59, June 15: 12 miles; Gain 3940′ / Loss -730′
Day 60, June 16: 22 miles; G 2250′ / L 4460′
Day 61, June 17: 22 miles; G 3650′ / L -2740′
Day 62, June 18: 21 miles; G 3590′ / L -3750′
Day 63, June 19: 18 miles; G 3280 / L -2430′
Highest elevation: 12650′ (on day 60)
Total miles to date: 857 (30% completed)