We awoke at 7am knowing we had to go to the post office. Luckily the Pagosa Springs post office opens at 7:30 am during the week. I got out of bed and took a quick shower, then I was off to walk across town to retrieve my sisters next art project (my resupply boxes). After leisurely packing up my things a local trail angel picked us up from the motel and drove us back up to Wolf Creek Pass. We talked about hiking and edible plants nearby while riding back to the trail and also snacked on alittle cantaloupe she had brought for us. Once we started hiking it was apparent that this section was going to be a challenge to say the least. The topographic map between her and Silverton is a nightmare. Constant ups me downs and now a lot of flat areas to camp. Add to the equation the fact that the weather forecast looks bleak this section with thunderstorms forecasted for every day. Today we managed to get in 15.2 miles after 11 am when we were dropped off, even with a mid afternoon thunderstorm that again brought snow as well as rain since we are near or above 12k most parts of the day. No big animal sightings today other then a lot of marmots, pikas, and one mule deer. We will be spending our time hiking through the beautiful Weminuche Wilderness while hiking to Silverton. It’s Colorados largest wilderness area and it really is beautiful, punishing but beautiful.
Light winds, blue skies, and not a storm in sight. That’s how I like to start my days off in the mountains. Today started that way but certainly would change by late afternoon. We started the morning off with a large climb, our largest of the day by far. Our goal was to get to Cherokee Lake, about 20 miles from our camp the night before. This would put us just before the knifes edge and allow us to do it first thing in the morning during good weather. We did not make good time during the morning at all. Snakebite was struggling today with the elevation and the climbs at high elevation. Above 12k is what we refer to as the Snakebite death zone. Through out the morning and early afternoon things seemed to get easier for her and the miles began to add up. Around 2pm we stopped for lunch as the clouds were building and we wanted to eat before the rain started pouring down on us. At first it seemed like the rain might miss us and we started hiking again after eating. It was just a sprinkle but in other directions it looked ominous and thunder was everywhere. We continued a couple miles after eating and it was obvious that the storms were converging on us and more storms were building and exploding over us. This was going to be bad. We made a run for it figuratively to get to the shelter of trees. First it was snow, then light hail, then heavy hail and snow, then all snow, then more hail, and then finally rain. We were seated under a pine tree with our tyvek over us for about 40 minutes and in that time the landscape had become a sort of a winter wonderland. The mountainsides were covered in snow and hail, as was the trail. In fact everything was covered in a one inch layer of snow and ice. The trail was almost underwater with all the snow, ice, and rain. We hiked a short ways in a still falling rain trying to get warm. It was dangerous outside, hypothermia was a real concern. We thought of setting up camp at the first flat spot but the ground was plastered in a layer of slush. This would have certainly seeped through the groundsheet and tent and made things worse. We continued to hike on to stay warm or try to get warm. We couldn’t feel our feet. I couldn’t feel my hands either. My feet went from numb to a burning sensation and then back to numb. Eventually the rain stopped falling and the temperature went up a couple degrees. Everything was still dripping in snow and ice though. Finding somewhere to camp was gonna be tough. We hiked till almost 7pm on exposed ridgelines and through very damp woods. Eventually Tigerlily came upon two small spots tucked behind a group of small trees on an exposed ridgeline. Thank god. If not for this spot we would have been hiking till dark to reach the lake that was our goal. Tomorrow will need to be an earlier day, we must get more miles in before these monstrous storms return. I’m very thankful for a warm sleeping bag tonight, and hopeful for a warm and dry day tomorrow.
Splat, splat, splat. Rain was spitting down on the tent this morning at 6am when we all hoped to get up and break camp, damnit! It only last a bit and I departed camp at 7:30, a whopping half an hour before I normally do. Oh well every little bit helps. This morning would be filled with ridge walking and a knifes edge as well. Thankfully we would be doing it before the thunderstorms got going. The skies were overcast and the temperatures were cold. It was the first time since Glacier that I wore a beanie or my running tights. The ridge walking this morning was beautiful, it’s amazing walking right on the divide when you have sheer drop-offs on either side. The knifes edge was beautiful but not nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be. That being said I wouldn’t want to do it early in the season with a lot of snow. Today we ran into three other hikers, the first was a backpacker who was simply doing this section to Silverton. The next two were actual thru hikers. Phantom and Mammoth started hiking June 1st at Chief Mountain. They were absolutely smashing miles. They are the first SOBO’s to get so far south and will likely be the first to finish. Cheers to them. They were both very nice and we chatted for little while. I hope they fair well and get to Mexico, they deserve it. After lunch we started some big climbs, the first took us up to 12,800 feet. This happen to coincide nicely with the daily deluge of storms. The first just gave us a glancing blow and we waited it out before moving above treeline. We actually reached the top after a short break for lightning fairly dry. The views were breathtaking from the top. To the northwest was the Rio Grande Pyramid and also the Window. Two really cool rock formations in the distance. At the same time a massive thunderstorm that seemed to be missing us just to the northeast was changing directions and bearing down on us. Here we go again. As we descended the peak it began hailing hard again. Then rain mixed in with. No lightning though so we continued hiking. We were lucky today, the rain and hail just skirted us and we stayed pretty dry. After a short series of ups and downs we found a nice flat area surrounded by willow bushes and settled in for the night. 19.2 miles for the day, it felt like every bit of it as well. The San Juans will kick your ass. Hopefully we are lucky again tomorrow with the weather.
Today I woke up with ice on my tent….yuck. It had obviously gotten cold last night and the high humidity and dew point had caused the tent to be soaked with condensation and in spots also covered in ice. Not the way I wanted to start the day. Once I broke camp I quickly tried to catch up with Snakebite and Tigerlily. In the process of leaving the area where we camped I stepped into a low area and flooded my slightly dry shoes and socks with about 5 inches of murky muddy water. Woooohooooo maybe it will be sunny so I can dry them out again. Instead clouds quickly developed,though it didn’t look like it was gonna rain anytime soon. The day started with a long downhill to a marshy area and then would consist of a steep climb to an area that features two cool sights, one is the Rio Grande Pyramid and the other is the Window. The Rio Grande Pyramid is a mountain peak that looks a lot like a pyramid sitting on a high plateau. The Window is a cut out in a rock wall high up near the Rio Grande Pyramid. Both were really neat features and awesome to see after having read about them. Unfortunately near the top of the climb near these features the skies opened and rain began to fall yet again. For alittle while we sat in our rain gear, which is falling apart. Between Snakebite and I we are having terrible luck with rain gear. My Outdoor Research Helium 2 jackets zipper is broken, my Arcteryx Pants are wonderful, and her Frog Toggs rain gear is leaking like a sieve and really is nearly useless at this point. Never buy Frog Toggs!! This trip has taught me that while Gore-Tex may be heavy it’s a wonderful thing when you are at high elevations getting rained on day after day. Anyways like I was saying we sat for alittle while under our tarp, also leaking, and tried to stay dry. Once we got too cold we faced the music and hiked into the storm. It was about 3 hours of driving rain and temps in the low 40’s, fresh snow was falling on some of the peaks around us. Miserable wind blown cold rain, at least when I dealt with this in Denali I had the proper gear for it. All we could do is keep hiking to stay warm, if we stopped things could have gotten bad for us. Eventually the rain stopped and then we were just left walking down the trail which at times is completely overgrown by bushes. The bushwacking completely drenched our clothes and spirits further. As I lay in the tent now I can smell how bad my shoes and socks smell, it’s like a combination of mold and a dead animal. I can’t wait for a hot shower and laundry. I also am craving Taco Bell, I think I’d kill someone for a bag of hot delicious Taco Bell burritos right now. The disappointing thing about today was that the scenery was absolutely stunning, but we were busy getting sprayed by a fire hose while walking through it for 18.1 miles. Oh well this is still better then New Mexico even if we’re walking a tightrope between comfort and hypothermia. Side note Aussies don’t fair well in very cold, rainy, and miserable conditions.
Holy shit it was cold this morning when we awoke. Socks were frozen solid, shoes were frozen, shoe laces were frozen together, and the tent was covered in a thin layer of ice and frost again. We packed up slowly trying to get some items to thaw out and dry off alittle before putting them back into our pack, not knowing what the weather was going to do and expecting the worst. It was to no avail, nothing thawed and nothing dried out before we left camp. We only hiked a couple of miles before getting above treeline again. I found a nice rocky area and stopped to yard sale. Normally I would have waited while longer to dry out gear, but the daily storms had me worried about my chances later on. After about an hour everything was finally dry, and warm!! Today we would have a couple decent climbs and then a 10 mile down hill stretch all the way to the Animas River. Today would also be the last day that we will be hiking with Tiger Lilly. After a couple of climbs we ran into a couple other hikers. One was a fisherman who was spending 21 days out here trying his luck on the different streams, he was carrying more gear then my car when I go car camping. The other was a thru hiker named Cookie who is doing a huge section from Dubois Wyoming till Cuba. It’s always great to see another thru hiker!! After one more small climb we reached the junction of the CDT and the CT. Snakebite and I are stopping in Silverton so we have decided to take the CT to Molas Pass which crosses a highway and is easily accessible for my sister to pick us up tomorrow. After a quick lunch and one more picture with Tiger Lilly we say our goodbyes. The hike down to be Animas River is absolutely gorgeous. In some areas it looks like the Sierras, in others like Washington with old pine forests. It took us longer to do the 10 miles then expected, in part because its so steep in some areas. Finally just before dark we reach the bottom and make camp in a nice protected area near the river in some trees. Tomorrow we will only have 5 miles to do before a break from hiking.
Did I mention it didn’t rain yesterday!! It was also considerably warmer at 8900 feet then it was up at 12k. No frost, no ice. Today we would have a 2000 foot climb over 5 miles and then after that would just have to wait for my sister to arrive. The hike up was tougher then I thought it would be. We had zero energy in our legs or bodies. For breakfast we each had an oatmeal packet and one granola bar for a snack. I’m thankful we left 3 1/2 hours to do the 5 miles lol. The hike up was gradual in most areas, the gradual wasn’t a problem. Occasionally things got steep, this was a slow death march. Victory at last, we could hear and see the road. After basically dumping my food bag in the garbage, it was all wrappers and trash other then my spoon, we changed our clothes and waited my sisters arrival. We were dreaming of food and all the things we could get to eat. To my surprise my sister arrived with food!! And drinks!! In fact she arrived with a cooler of goodies for us. Humus, chips, guacamole, pita chips, fruit, and cold beverages. This was a surprise and a huge treat. It made the 6 hour drive back to denver much more tolerable. Back to civilization and back to the real world for a couple days. It’s Saturday now and we plan to head to Yellowstone and the Tetons on Tuesday for alittle more hiking and some car camping before I head to work and Snakebite heads home. Should be another interesting adventure.