CDT Day 128: 14.5 miles /23 km

CDT SOBO: Mile 1915.0 – 1826.0 + Ley alternate 2.5 miles

Thursday August 22, 2019

Camp (11,750ft ) – Alpine Tunnel (11,050ft) – Chalk Creek Pass (12,150ft) – Middle Fork Sth Arkansas River (10,450ft) – Boss Lake (10,950ft) – Highway 50 (10,000ft)

Last nigh we slept on a soft bed of pine needles under a dead pine tree. The whole pine forest in this valley was affected by mountain pine beetle. It’s odd as just yesterday Hammer commented on how healthy the pine forests looked in Colorado. So sad to see these giants of the forest destroyed.

As it was a day to head into the much looked forward to Salida, I was awake at 3am. I quietly made a coffee and sat in the silence of the night. I felt at peace and strangely at home. I was exactly where I needed to be. Yesterday was a day of such incredible beauty that I was missing it already. I’m torn by the desire to finish and be off the trail and an intense need to keep going into a deeper immersion in nature. We are challenged almost every day physically and mentally. The town visits have become so much more then a food resupply stop. They are places of refuge from the challenges and a chance to recharge.

Hammer woke up soon after I finished my coffee and we were packed an on our way just after 4am.

It was cold when we started and got so much colder as we left the cover of the forest, following the Chalk River Valley. The first few miles of the trail followed the old Denver, South Park and Pacific Railway line which was decommissioned in the 1930’s. We walked over the derelict rail sleepers which were still evident even by torch light.

It was getting ligh as we climbed out of the valley. Looking back the river valley closed behind us. Even though it was light it was almost mid-morning before the sun reached us. Climbing up to Chalk Creek Pass, the trail went by two incredibly beautiful lakes: Hancock Lake and the smaller Upper Hancock Lake. The rising sun striking the surrounding mountains was reflected in the perfectly still lake waters. This sight alone in the early morning stillness was worth the early wakeup.

Once over the pass it was a long descent towards the crossing of the Middle Fork Sth Arkinsas River, one of the main tributaries of the Colorado River. We passed a large avalanche field. Huge trees with roots torn out of the ground lay piled on top of each other. This force of nature was frightening to think about. We felt enormous gratitude towards the forestry workers who cleared a path through this destruction.

On the way towards Boss Lake we passed two hikers who told us that a section of trail towards Monarch Pass was closed due to forestry activities. A deviation was in place and it added nearly 2 miles to the route. We knew that with this extra mileage we probably would not be able to reach Monarch Pass in time to hitch into Salida today. My spirit sank. Close look at the Lay maps showed a bad weather bail out from the trail to Highway 50. So we decided to take this alternate.

The climb up to Boss Lake felt like an insult. It was so steep I had to crawl up on my toes to get a good grip and not slide back. Once we reached the Lake, we questioned whether it was worth it. It was nice, probably nicer for fishers then us. The alternate trail descended from the south end of the Lake to the Highway. It was a rough jeep road which was slow going.

Reaching the highway below Monarch Pass meant traffic was zooming by as we entered the road. It was hot standing by the side of the busy highway hoping for a ride. It is one aspect of a through hike that I will not miss. It looked like it may be repeat of our Rabbit Ears Pass experience, where we waited for over 2 hours. I was exhausted , hot tears of frustration were welling up in my eyes.

And just before I completely disintegrated a trail angel dropped into our lives. Debbie, a local trail angel, was dropping off a hiker at Monarch Pass and picked us up on her way back to town. Overwhelmed by gratitude is an understatement for what I was feeling. Debbie drove us into town and showed us around to give us an idea of the town layout, showed us some accommodation options, drove us to the Post Office where I was super excited to pick up my replacement sleeping mat. She then took us to a motel we decided on and waited to see that we could check in. By the time we said goodby I was in tears.

The world is full of amazing, generous and kind people – Debbie is a gem of a human. She has recently retired and has moved from Oklahoma, where her family still lives. She has had a connection to the area as her family had a holiday cabin here. Her love of the outdoors drew her back.

Once inside the hotel room, I lay down on the cool floor to recollect myself and thanked the universe for looking after us.

The usual town chores soon followed: shower, laundry, shopping for resupply and dinner at a fantastic pizza restaurant recommended by Debbie (Amicas Pizza -127 F Street). We walked back to our room and were in bed and fast asleep well before hiker midnight.