We checked out exactly at 11 and began hitching. CC stayed behind to fix her cell phone so it was the two boys and me. We walked a little ways before a woman offered to take us to Walmart. We then got a ride with a raft guide who went out of his way to drop us off at a gas station that would lead to the pass. It took a little longer, but a guy turned around and rescued us. He hiked the PCT back in the 90s and was heading up the pass to then go play in the San Juans for a few days. His Pct experience was much more wild than it is these days. He dropped us off and we had to get more food at the store. Around 2, three of us wandered out of the Monarch Crest Store and towards the highway. The trail walks the road for a short period of time before you cross three lanes of traffic and begin switch backing up from the road. I hiked with Nightwatch out of town up towards the ski mountain. The trail follows access roads to the mountain as I imagined what it would look like in the winter. The trail was steep up the rocky road, but we just talked the miles away before splitting up when I had to pee. He is a super fast hiker and we had a long uphill on an exposed ridge. The wind was whipping as well as I moved slowly uphill. The views continue to impress as expected. Some of the rocks were pretty slippery and I slid a few times. I made it to the high point surrounded by mountains topping 13,000 feet and sat down. I enjoy town stops, but moments like this is why I hike. Paperweight joined me ten or so minutes later. We soaked in the moment, beauty, and appreciate our current lifestyle. It was a steep downhill towards a lake where Nightwatch was waiting. If we didn’t need to worry about the miles, I would of camped here. The three of us hiked the rest of the evening miles together passing a dam and dipping farther into the trees. We came to a bridge that said it was out and not to use. We used it with caution as I went first. Check out the picture below. We found over 15 tents set up near this river all CT hikers. We need their guidebook to know where not to plan to camp. One hiker said there was one tent spot near her so the three of us moved along. We choose to follow the trail not a dirt road which took longer. We found what appeared to be a parking space and set up for the tent. This 3 person tent is ridiculously big! Four people could sit inside comfortably and play games. It set up easily and Chipmunk arrived to laugh at the size of it as well. The four of us enjoyed dinner together before a restful night.
The morning miles continued on a gravel road past old mining cabins and property. Some neat log homes still stand while others are simply rotting logs. There was one beautiful cabin that is still maintained and I would later walk past property for sale while taking a picture of the real estate sign. The road ended and connected to a trail that climbed up around a nice lake and stream. The four of us took a nice snack break next to stream looking up at the pass we needed to climb. I left first listening to podcasts uphill. You reach the pass to see a whole new landscape. It never gets old. I switchbacked down and chatted with a guy out fishing in one of the lakes. The trail reconnected to a dirt road for a little while before coming to a trailhead parking lot. The main attraction is the alpine tunnel which the CDT does not pass thru unfortunately. But the trail follows an old railroad track that was used in the late 1880s for many years. One spot was where a train overturned. It was easy walking with a few remnants of the rail left behind. I took a break where the railroad used to be snacking as the other three joined me. After lunch, it was neat to see how they had built the trail around rock cliffs. I bumped into Phil and Julia who had just woke up from a short nap. They are fast hikers and can afford to take naps along the way unlike me. I only kept up for a bit before they left out ahead like usual. Simply more stunning views, wildflowers, birds soaring and singing to enjoy. It was a beautiful day! Colorado is stunning! We had an option to stay on the CDT or take a road that would pass a lake, privy, and campground. If we followed the trail, we would have to camp above tree line and that freaks some people out. I wished I had my own tent on this section because majority ruled and we took the road. I hated it the moment we got on it. Hoards of dirt bikes, ATVs, and jeeps kicked up dust. My ankles and knees were sore as well. I walked alone slowly climbing up and up. The views were still beautiful. The best part was three weasels playing in a tree for me. Never seen them up close in the wild before. They are funny creatures. We made it to the privy which was a nice treat before we climbed onto a trail that had old CDT markers since this is the old route. We found a campsite a little ways up, set up, ate, and off to bed.
I hate being off trail and wasn’t in a great mood this morning. I was dragging and to make matters worse my shoulder was killing me. I’m usually happy most days, but today was a tough one. Still uphill climbing along a gravel road for miles as I killed time with podcasts. Once I got above tree line I could see for miles and found it more enjoyable. Then of course the trail quickly dropped back into the trees. We finally connected back to the trail to see CDT markers again and lots of CT hikers as well. We had begun the climb up to Lake Ann Pass. Stunning! We had seen a picture of a nasty cornice that people were using rope to get over it a month or so ago. The sun stayed out all day and we cruised up the switchbacks. Yes there was still a cornice, but it was quick and easy to climb up and over. We were rewarded with views of the lake and more marmots and pika playing on all the rocks. Downhill we went looking for Chipmunk in the distance and not seeing her. You can see ahead about 2-4 miles often in this section of Colorado. I love this type of hiking. We kept hiking as the sun had already set looking for the perfect campsite for the three person tent. We found one tucked under the trees and set up quickly. We had a quick snack and climbed into the tent for warmth. Happy to be half a day out of town!
We walked over a bridge and found chipmunk set up .2 from us. We had easy walking for the first bit of the day and since it was too late to cook last night we planned to cook at the next stream. We found Phil and Julia hanging out there and we joined them. Rice at 8am is a bit strange, but it hit the spot. We began the climb up Hope Pass and the first mile was super steep. You start out down in the forest and slowly make your way towards the pass that you can not see. Lots of CT hikers coming down as the trees opened up and I could see the switchbacks leading to the top. I admired a heard of elk somehow walking along a steep rocky slope. Also, the marmots and pikas were chatting and the sun was shining. We made it up to top of Hope Pass to see the small town of Twin Lakes before us. We met a nice CT hiker so we chatted with him a long time and he asked lots of questions. It was a beautiful spot, but I wanted food in town. We began the steep downhill and I kept saying I’m glad we aren’t going south. This is a steep and long climb in this direction. My knees felt it. We passed ruins of old cabins and possible mining sites. It rained for a total of ten minutes when we were back in the trees. I managed to twist the same ankle twice really badly! I was scared my trip was over, but my body is tough now. I sucked it up and kept walking a bit slower though. You can walk a highway for a while or cut through a swampy river area. Of course we choose the cut hoping the river wouldn’t be too high. I don’t take off my shoes anymore for fords so I just pushed along against a decent current until I reached the other side. It was nice cold clear water. The next bit was an old road with huge puddles and no way around so my feet were filled with mud and maybe even tiny water bugs. We reached the road and walked along the shoulder of the paved road towards town. Jaz was hanging out at the table outside the tiny store in town. I got my mail drop from their storage bin outside and looked at all my goodies. We then went to the restaurant at the inn across the road. This inn used to be an old brothel and there is information in each room about the girl who worked the room. The place was booked solid and too pricy anyway for our hiker budget. We each ordered a burger and he shared his soup with me as we relaxed inside. We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in front of the store organizing our packs with food, charging our phones, and enjoying each other’s company. Thirsty Boots joined us 5 as well talking about all of his hikes and various people he has met along the way. It was also bittersweet since Nightwatch has decided to head up to Canada and hike the GDT which is still the Rockies. We also enjoyed a last beer together before bidding him farewell. Paperweight is now outnumbered as he hiked out of town with myself and Chipmunk. We climbed up an old road winding around the mountain and soaking in a sunset over Twin Lakes. We camped at an established site with a teepee like stick structure in the middle. We all went to bed eager to climb Mt Elbert in the morning. I also fell asleep dreaming of opening a hostel in Twin Lakes. Anyone want to help me fund it? Hehe