Trail Mile: 146
Segment 8 Mile 6.4 to Segment 9 Mile 3.5
Searle Pass is a proper pass. The kind with just enough climb to feel rewarding, with an unquestionable high point and worthy views on both sides. There are some snow patches obscuring the trail proper here and there, but giant cairns mark the way. There’s even a melting snow bridge to cross if you dare. I tackle these minor obstacles one by one, content to walk alone this morning, though admittedly worried about what the Collegiate West section coming up next week will bring.
I was hoping the far side of the pass would be smoke free, hoping for a break from breathing the acrid air that leaves my mouth dry and throat burning. Being above 12,000 feet is enough of a challenge for these lungs. But smoke blankets the next valley too, an obvious layer suspended in the sky. So I try to forget about breathing and focus on the flowers instead. The high Meadows are all abloom, like all the plants were like “1, 2, 3 FLOWER!!!!” Sky Pilot is still a favorite, all purple among the fields of yellow and white. Even the snow seems to be flowering. On Elk Ridge, I am given the side-eye by two resident marmots, while pikas squeak away among the rocks. The scenery is surreal: neon orange and pink paintbrush and blue butterflies that would make me wonder what was in my water if I hadn’t just witnessed it melting out of a snow patch.
Kokomo Pass is downhill from Searle, which makes it less of an event, even if the sign is a CT icon. Toward the left, a whole mountainside has been mined into giant steps, though it’s hard to see through the smoke. Thankfully the trail veers away to the right down a drainage where the skies are clear.
And by down, I mean DOWN. For miles and miles until my quads tighten and my knees start to complain about the extra work. Down until there are aspen again, and day hikers at a little waterfall, and some minor dirt road walking and a large herd of sheep. The storm clouds move in again, spoiling a cold waterfall shower opportunity with rain. The way to Tennessee Pass begins steeply, but it is mostly show. After a few miles the grade lessens until it is almost imperceptible, the last few miles following the gentle slope of an old rail bed. The pass itself is for cars. There’s a parking lot for leaving cars. And a road from driving them to and from places like Breckenridge (which is apparently no longer on fire – phew!). CDT hikers lounge in the gravel parking lot, and we chat about trails we’ve done and gear and mosquitos (which are about to become a thing).
When Steph arrives, we set off together. I’m feeling much refreshed after some alone time and welcome the company for the last miles and for camp. And now, I’m being held captive in my tent but a hundred ravenous mosquitos (as advertised) and my efforts to hydrate have finally caught up to me. For added excitement I can hear both thunder and gunshots in the distance.