It’s time to get back on the trail again after a relaxing zero day in Salida. We grab one last quick shower and dash off to the Little Red Hen Bakery to grab coffee and a breakfast sandwich. My eyes are bigger than my stomach, and I can’t resist trying the cinnamon roll and a French roll as well. When will I ever learn?The hostel is waking up as we return. We finish our breakfast just as Philip, our local trail angel arrives to give us a lift back to Monarch Pass. We chat all the way back to the trailhead. He’s a chef/stay-at-home dad with two young girls. He and his wife recently moved back to Colorado from California, and he’s volunteered to offer rides to hikers like us. How cool is that?
Along the way, he pulls out two fresh Palisade peaches and offers them to us. They are so juicy and sweet. and we are grateful for his generosity, especially since we know we will not see fresh food again for another week. Philip drops us off in the nearly empty parking lot in front of the Monarch Crest Souvenir Store and heads back to town for music lessons with his girls. We ask if we can give him some gas money, and he kindly accepts. Thank you so much for your time and generosity, Philip!
This parking lot was packed the other day, but it’s nearly empty now. While I run inside to use the restroom and get rid of some trash, Alison kicks up a conversation with a 78-year old man who has hiked the CT, PCT, JMT four times and AZT three times. He looks amazing for his age. He and his wife are about to hike the Collegiate Loop. I hope I look half as good when I’m his age—very inspiring!
The air is surprisingly cool at the pass, but we are 5000+ feet above Salida. It’s time to put our feet on the trail and get going. We hike above the pass through green forest on a path of red pine needles as the sun plays tricks with the clouds that are starting to burn off. The wildflowers are blooming everywhere, and the morning dew from last night’s intense rain is still clinging to everything.
Before long, we run into two hikers we met briefly in Salida who are doing the Collegiate Loop. They tell us that last night’s storm was fairly strong up in the mountains and one of the more frightening experiences to endure in their tent. The lightning was very close for a time, and they still seem a bit traumatized by the experience. We are glad to hear they are well and grateful we were in Salida under a solid roof.
As the trail rises above tree line, it emerges onto a ridge following the Continental Divide which affords spectacular views of Mount Aetna, Mount Ouray and Mount Chipeta. I downloaded a new app (to me) called PeakFinder that tells us the names of the mountains we are looking at. It’s so cool to finally be able to identify these beautiful peaks!
This stretch of the CT is a popular trail with mountain bikers. We get passed by a few bikers every so often, but the last one warns us that a big group got dropped off at the trailhead right behind them and will be coming our way.
Sure enough, half an hour later we get passed by 20 in a row. They are polite, but we do have to step off the trail and break stride. Luckily, this does not last all day as most riders want to start early and end early to avoid the afternoon thunderstorms.
The scenery is big and open today, and we can’t really blame everyone for wanting to be out here. Every step of the way is a visual feast. We wish we could have it all to ourselves, but, unfortunately, that’s not how it works most of the time.
Five miles into today’s hike we complete the Collegiate West alternate and rejoin the Colorado Trail proper. We wonder if we will be reunited with anyone who chose to hike the east side.
We make good time today on the trail. By lunchtime, we’ve already knocked out over 8 miles, which is a good pace for us. We’ve got good energy and feel strong after a day off trail. Eventually, we drop down below tree line and are hiking in the forest again.
Soon enough we are back at it. We hear the sound of motorbikes in the distance, and, before long, we jump off trail to let them pass. According to trail etiquette, the motorbikes should yield to hikers, but we are not taking any chances! They wave hello and wish us a good hike as they whiz past.
Water sources are scarce today. As we come up to our first stream and see Dave, a Virginia teacher who was staying at the hostel in Salida last night, too, an amazing convergence of hikers occurs. All of a sudden Jane and Andy, Steve and Emma, and three German hikers, who are new to us, arrive at the same spot. We all stop to fill water at a piped spring and catch up on where everyone has been. Jane and Andy just finished the Collegiate East; Steve and Emma are back on trail after a few days off in Gunnison/Crested Butte. The three Germans turn back to try a different water source.We set off and soon Bailey, a student from Denver who also stayed at the hostel, catches up.
We are all watching the sky to the east turning ominously gray, so we keep a steady pace as the occasional rumble of thunder rolls in. As we start to crest a hill we see a huge spout of water off in the distance spiraling to earth and hope it does not come our way.
We reach the Silver Creek Trail junction eager to find a campsite and pitch the tent before it rains. We pass on a few sites near the top of the hill, thinking they may be too exposed. Instead, we descend 300 feet and a third of mile down trail. The good news: Silver Creek is flowing well! The bad news: there are no flat tent spaces.
We are forced to pitch our tent on a rooty and unlevel patch of ground near Jane and Andy, and we do it in a hurry as the rain drops start to fall. You take the good, you take the bad…the facts of trail life.
It feels good to be back on the trail but strange to be past the halfway point and finished with the Collegiate West. Along the way we passed another milestone in our hiking lives. We have now hiked longer on a single trail than any other, surpassing the 270 miles we did on the JMT two summers ago. We still have plenty to go, but we are in uncharted territory and feeling optimistic.
Day 24 Stats
Starting Point: (arranged ride to Monarch Pass), Monarch Pass, mile 261.7
End Point: Silver Creek, mile 271.3
Mileage: 14.5 (trail mile markers now follow Data Book, even though actual mileage covered is +5 due to Collegiate West alternate route)
Segment: CW 05, CT 15 & 16
Date on Trail: July 24, 2018