My ideal daily scenario had become to camp at a lower, more protected site near water, then start the next day before daylight with a climb. I would already have my CNOC bag filled and ready to filter water into my bottles while I packed up. This morning I tried to be as quiet as possible with other campers nearby, and suppressed my usual urge to swear out loud when my routine doesn’t go just as planned.
I was starting at around 11,700 feet and had to climb to the Colorado Trail high point of 13,271 feet over the first 7 miles. Once I reached tree line I could see the clouds fill in the valleys below. A bit further up there was a great view of Lake San Cristobal; as a child my family would often rent a cabin near there. With the exception of a challenging switchback corner I had to crawl over, the climb was more relentless than it was steep.
The alpine mesas and rolling hills were green and lush with all the rain we’d been getting. Rain looked likely today as well, and I tried to keep a good pace to get up & over to relatively lower ground before the thunderstorms hit. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t hold off a pair of younger, faster hikers that easily passed me. At least they were friendly, I thought.
As I descended from the high point I could see some side-by-sides along the dirt road below me, and noticed the other hikers had stopped to visit. When I got closer, a woman named Jo ran up and excitedly offered me a sandwich and soda. She explained that her sister had hiked the Appalachian Trail, and since then Jo had wanted to be a trail angel. They hadn’t planned that for today, but were eager to offer the first and best ham, bacon, & cheese sandwich I’ll ever have. The other hikers were called Peaches and Neanderthal, and Jo was disappointed to hear I didn’t yet have a trail name. Seeing that I was hiking solo, she quickly suggested that I must be the Lone Wolf as Peaches and Neanderthal nodded in approval. I liked the name and smiled as Peaches stood behind her making Pope-like hand gestures to officially christen me as Lone Wolf.
I nursed my amazing Mountain Dew on the way down the fairly steep Jeep road, and finished it slowly over the next couple of mornings. It had been the perfect compliment to my sandwich and a fun moment on trail. It was fun to introduce myself as Lone Wolf to a couple hikers I crossed paths with on the way down. I had a nice visit with a CT NOBO hiker called Squirrel until a sudden rain began to pummel us. I didn’t envy Squirrel with her stormy climb ahead, not to mention the 375 miles she had left to reach Denver through this epic monsoon season. I was happy when I later saw that she successfully completed her thru-hike.
I initially missed the trail junction just below Carson Saddle but didn’t hike far before I realized my mistake. It had been a big day already, and I still had a couple challenging climbs ahead. I was impressed with the bikepackers I saw making those same climbs. I set up camp just beyond Cataract Lake at about 15 miles for the day, and not long after my campmates from the night before joined me.