On my way to the trailhead, I checked the air quality in Granby and it was bad due to smoke drifting in from other states. Passing through Fraser, I could barely make out James and Parry peaks. I never experienced that in the 7 years I lived in Winter Park. As I pulled into the Monarch Lake Trailhead, I decided I'd just keep my effort low as my long-term health is more important than an FKT.
I ended up leaving the trailhead at about 7am on the dot. I pushed start on my Garmin at the trailhead gate. A couple miles down the trail, I looked at the mountains and they were crystal clear. The air felt clean, and I couldn't smell smoke. Even though I'd been running easy to this point I'd been moving well and I thought I could still go for a fast time. So I ran faster, but that only worked for a couple minutes because my right hamstring took offense to the new pace. I don't know how to pace myself on a trail with such a mild incline, so I went off hamstring pain...
I passed a few runners on the way up and a couple of them gave kind words of encouragement as if they knew I was up to something. One guy said "dude! You're killing it!" That was fun. I passed several hikers and backpackers as well. My route around Mirror Lake was kinda goofy and I ran right through a campsite as they were boiling water, probably for coffee. That's to be expected though, as I don't know a route that does not go through a campsite. I stopped to fill up my filter bottle in the Crater Lake outlet. This turned out to be the last good opportunity for it.
I felt good when the real climb out of the lake started. It's steep and my calves were feeling it. Otherwise it was great to be on terrain where I could reach a physical wall that wasn't my hamstring. And it was good to work myself hard on terrain too steep for me to run.
I was in the zone and missed my turn for the summit. I looked down and thought "why is Triangle Lake behind me?" I had only done Lone Eagle once before, and I know only one route to the summit after the Triangle Lake view. I could see two cairns ahead and I had to decide whether to follow them or cede the elevation I had gained and go back to the route I know. And first, I needed to be sure that I was off my course.
After confirming to myself that yes, I had blown past my route, I decided it was safer to go back down to it. I passed it by a steep 60 yards maybe. Maybe a bit more, but I wasn't bummed for long as I regained the elevation quickly and I had no more route finding mistakes. I felt that my route was better than my previous ascent and I was flowing through it well.
The sky was changing quickly, mostly cloudy and the wind was whipping, until I came through the notch that leads to a traverse and then downclimb. At the summit, it was calm, the sun was out, and the sky was blue, but a little hazy now.
My watch buzzed and said "course complete" as I hit the summit ridge. I hurried over to the summit, the spectacular northern point on the ridge and paused my watch at 2:23:29 as the "course complete" screen disappeared.
On the way down, my route was different and I couldn't tell "am I to the left or to the right of where I came up?" " Where are the cairns?" I ran into a couple I had passed on the way up to Crater Lake and the guy said "I just have to ask you a question. You're really fast. Do you run Western States and stuff like that?" That made me feel good. Usually in my mind, I'm slow, but speed is relative. And I was moving well for me when I had passed them. I felt a little lighter and faster than normal going for this FKT.
By the time I reached mirror lake, I could smell smoke again and the mountains above were already a little hazy, though I was so close to them. I slow jogged it out which seemed appropriate because the trail was crowded. People hiking up and backpackers hiking down. I talked to several people and spent a little time taking in the waterfalls. I tried not to breathe to hard due to the air quality, but I was still breathing harder than I'd like even at the slow pace, I think due to the effort on the ascent. At Monarch lake, you could barely see the mountains. I think I luckily hit a window of clean air for the ascent and I'm thankful for that. I tried to push hard, hit some physical walls, but was still happy with the effort.
I think I filled my bottle three times from a creek on the way up and consumed an embarrassing amount of Spring and Muir energy packets. Doing so slowed me down, but I think it helped. Definitely helped me make it back to trailhead feeling good. Overall, it was a great time and if I lived closer to this trailhead, I'd keep coming back.