Monday, June 16, 2014
Day 7: Hutchinson-Barnett Cabin to Highway 50
I heard Atlas stirring before 6, but he was still by the cabin when I emerged from the tent. We sipped cold breakfast drinks at the picnic table while Sierra slowly packed up her gear.
The trail remained clear for the first two miles of climbing. Then patchy snow covered sections of the trail through the trees, although the morning was cold and the snow remained firm. We met an older backpacker near Brown's shelter. He did not have an ice axe and was turning back because both the CDT and Colorado Trail routes looked too dangerous to him due to steep sections of snow. We pressed on.
A large, steep snowfield blocked the final climb to the ridge. Strong, steady winds had formed large cornices along the top. Sierra led the way up the snowfield, firmly planting her feet in steps kicked in earlier that morning by Atlas. One foot slipped out of a step as the soft snow gave way, but she quickly recovered by planting her other foot and both hiking poles. Atlas waited on top, sheltered by a cluster of small trees.
The sun had already melted the snow from the high, exposed ridge. Hardy grass carpeted the rocky ground. Lever ushers we looked, colorful flowers poked up through the moist ground: blue sky pilot, small white flowers, and small, tulip-like flowers with petals that were purple on the outside and white on the inside. Tiny caterpillars crawled along near the trail. Rugged, snow-capped mountains stretched out in every direction.
We reached the junction where the Continental Divide Trail and the Colorado Trail separate before rejoining at Twin Lakes. The CDT stays high through this section, while the Colorado Trail descends the Foose Creek drainage and follows a lower path. Peering down the Colorado Trail route, we saw a large snowfield at the top that would make for a fun glissade. The route below the snowfield looked clear.
Our path, the Continental Divide Trail, continued to follow the ridge on mostly dry trail. Another large, nearly vertical, corniced snowfield blocked a traverse from one ridge to the next. We chose to climb around it rather than trying to kick steps in the softening snow and risk a slide.
Dropping back into the trees on the final descent to Monarch Pass, we began postholing through the patchy snow drifts covering the trail. Atlas had once jokes that his shoes were large enough to serve as snowshoes for Sierra. Following in his footsteps we managed to avoid the worst of the postholes.
Jeff picked us up at Monarch Pass and drove us all to Salida, taking Atlas to the post office to pick up his resupply and me to the Heart of the Rockies Medical Center to get a professional assessment of my ankle. After examining the x-rays, the doctor came back with good news: my ankle is not broken. He strongly advised that we take a few days off to let the swelling go down, although I could tell by the grin on his face that he knew we would be back on the trail as soon as possible.
Diagnosis in hand, we found a room, got cleaned up, and shared a delicious meal at Amica's Pizza in town. And now we wait ....
Posted by Heather and Sierra at 8:30 PM