For once I had done all my camp chores the night before and got up with my new wake-up time: 2:30 am. I kept that alarm on my watch for the rest of the trail, although I often snoozed through it. To this day my alarm goes off at 2:30 am during my graveyard shifts at work, and now I smile almost every time I hear it. I needed to cover 18 miles today to leave myself and 10-mile hike to Monarch the next morning to meet my son Erik with a resupply box. I started my climb up the wooded switchbacks where I gained over 1000 feet in the first 3 miles. I was getting accustomed to being alone on trail in the dark early morning climbs. Not long ago I would have feared this spooky scenario, but now it was my special time with just me and the trail. As a reached tree line, the light of my headlamp showed me the willows and trees with this really pretty frosty glow on the tips of their branches. The dawn fog made this morning worthy of a scene in Lord of the Rings.
The sun rose as I reached the top of the the climb and I began to see some other hikers, mostly out on shorter backpacking trips. The wet spring and monsoon rains had this section of alpine terrain green and lush. I reached a steep descent to a wider trail where a railroad used to be, and I appreciated having a few easy miles ahead. There was an historic sign recognizing a failed test of a specially designed railroad snowplow in the 1880’s, that might make a fun movie. The trail continued on to a Jeep road then turned up into the woods on single track for the next climb.
As I reached treeline I saw some side-by-sides going up and down a steep, rocky trail that apparently just ended at the top of the hill. I reached some gentle rockslide switchbacks and stopped for lunch near where a creek crossed. As I continued up these seemingly endless switchbacks I thought it was interesting that a small lake below looked almost the same as it did when I passed by before lunch. Then a familiar fast, one-pole hiker crossed my path in the opposite direction. Yep, this was the same hiker that had passed me going the same direction yesterday – I had been hiking the wrong way since lunch. Thankfully I had only hiked about half a mile since, but back-tracking meant hiking an extra mile through the rockslide. I was surprisingly more amused than frustrated at my error, and was grateful that the one-pole hiker had passed me again.
I left the rockslide trail and hiked past Hancock Lake, and I could see the now familiar pattern of switchback trail up the side of the next saddle over Chalk Creek Pass. I made it up and over pretty easily, and found it was actually more challenging navigating the cairns across the next rockslide on the way down the other side. I met a fun CT hiker aptly called Mister Marvelous Mustache, and made the mistake of letting him know I didn’t yet have a trail name after telling him of my earlier navigation error. He then asked me, “Wanna be called Wrong Way?” I thought to myself that was probably fitting but politely declined this designation, and asked that we keep that conversation just between us. He told me about another hiker called Arrow who would draw an pointed line in the dirt showing his direction of travel whenever he took a break. That wasn’t a bad suggestion, and from that point on I pointed my trekking poles the right way down the trail whenever I stopped.
There was a nice campsite alongside a bridge at the bottom of the drainage, and another trail lead to the Butterfly Hostel. I met a friendly NOBO CDT hiker stopping for lunch at the bridge who let me know of the hard climb ahead. I soon discovered he had not exaggerated as I struggled up the hill towards Boss Lake. I finally had cell service once I reached the dam to make a quick video call with my wife Maria to show her the pretty lake and view, and I texted my son Erik to confirm I was on track to meet him at Monarch the next day. I hiked further up the hill, then down to a nice established campsite near a fast moving stream. It looked like I had the campsite all to myself, and was able to get my camp chores done and into my tent just as that afternoon’s rain started. I had hiked about 18 trail miles today, 19 total counting my wrong turn.