Journey into the Clouds

Since I first looked at a Salida regional trail map, I’d lusted over the idea of following the Continental Divide Trail north from Monarch Pass (the well-known “Monarch Crest” route goes south and follows the CDT until you reach the Silver Creek trail). Most CDT rides involve extended hike-a-bike, cairn-finding, rugged/steep alpine terrain, and occasionally unpredictable weather. They also involve a sense of awe and scenery that’s unlike anything you can find from the safety and comfort of your couch or car.

This ride was all of those things.

The shop is busy enough this summer that getting a spot on a shuttle to the Monarch Crest can be difficult. I talked to one of the shop guides, and she informed me that there’d be a 5am shuttle on one of my days off… some people from Pearl Izumi were doing a photo shoot up there, and wanted to get the “good” light. I jumped on the opportunity- especially since earlier is better when going on a trip that’s above treeline for an extended period of time (afternoon weather can get hairy).

It was just getting light when we reached the top of the pass. I grabbed my bike off the trailer and was halfway up the first hill before the van was fully unloaded of its passengers:

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The first couple of miles was all pretty rideable. The singletrack traverses the hillside until you reach Old Monarch Pass. I had to stop and take a selfie, mainly because my most “fond” memory of that exact spot was from 2014 when I was pre-riding the Vapor Trail 125 course. The ride was huge (especially given my lack of acclimatization), and the weather was spotty until I reached the lower pitches of my final climb of the day- Old Monarch Pass. At that point, it started to rain. Heavy, cold, saturating rain. I reached the top, and- no exaggeration- was standing in said rain looking at sun on the road just ahead of me on the other side of the pass. I took this photo to commemorate my ride:

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Please, go ahead and laugh. I do, every time I see it.

This time, I was a lot happier, for lots and lots of reasons:

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From there, you soon get to Monarch Ski Area. The riding stays relatively easy until you get back on singletrack and start climbing again. It’s at about that time that the views start to get indescribably beautiful.

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At one point, I was in a cloud. It was chilly and kind of windy, but the angle of the sunrise kept everything oddly bright.

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Wildflowers and hike-a-bike:

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I made it over the final hump before descending into a huge basin on an occasionally-unrideable trail to Boss Lake.

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I know the pano shots kinda suck, but sometimes I don’t know how else to try and capture what I’m seeing.

I got a little lost trying to find where the CDT leaves the Boss Lake area. It took getting my phone out and using MTB project to figure out where to go. The next section of CDT looked new-ish, but was in bad shape. I’m not exaggerating when I say there were about 20 trees down in a couple of miles of trail.

That section was soon over and I made my way up a jeep road towards Chalk Creek Pass. The CDT eventually split off and ran parallel to the road. It was mostly rideable except where there were more trees down. Eventually, though, it became hike-a-bike once again.

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As the terrain became steeper, the trail became less obvious. It crossed a couple of big snow fields as well as a big scree field. The rock cairns were clutch.

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Just before I reached the top, there was one more snow field. It was steep enough that I had to kick my toes into the snow with every step in order to not slide back down.

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It’d be nice if I had the upper body strength to be able to hold a phone level for more than 4 seconds.

The top of Chalk Creek Pass was just on the other side. From up there, I could watch the valley on both sides of me filling in with clouds along the edges.

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The cloud cover didn’t look much better towards Hancock Lake:

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As I descended to Hancock, the clouds grew thicker and more threatening. I made the decision there to continue going down the road instead of staying on the Alpine Tunnel section of the CDT. The downpour chased me with occasional raindrops and gusts of wind most of the way down the valley.

https://www.strava.com/activities/1083462849

I’m slowly filling in the gaps of places to explore around the area.