263.5 miles from Mexico
All night the wind blows and the rain falls on my tent, then turns to rattling hail. The night is deeply cold. I toss and turn in my bag, legs cramping, unable to get comfortable or fully warm. At one point I wake and the rain/hail has stopped and I hear the crunch, crunch, crunch of something stepping softly around my tent. Cougar? Hail-monster? Then the rain returns.
When I wake I can’t tell at first what’s different with the light. Then I see it- there’s an inch of snow on the walls of my tent. I punch off the snow and poke my head outside. The wind-swept hillsides of dry yellow grass are dusted in white and it’s cold, so cold. My shoes, which I left outside the tent, are full of snow. Fuck.
How much did I sleep? A couple of hours? I fix my cold-soaked oatmeal and listen to my friends punching snow off their shelters. I pack away my wet sleeping bag and wet tent, put on my icy shoes. I fold up my trekking poles and stash them away- my hands will be too numb to use them. The snow is still falling. Time to hike.
I’m cold and achey and it’s hard to hike this morning, although the heavy clouds are beautiful, the way they bunch up and race across the sky in the howling wind, the way the light is diffuse across the dry land. Then we’re in pine forest, the forest floor soft and white, and I pray for a break in the clouds. Just a little sun. Just enough to dry my things. Tonight we’re camping even higher, at nine thousand feet- I can’t imagine how cold it will be. A wet tent and sleeping bag? No bueno.
Mid-morning the clouds break apart and there is just enough sun to yard-sale our things and huddle on the ground, eating snacks, before the rain/snow returns. We rush to stuff our barely-dry things away and plod on, down the dirt forest service road that will carry us farther into the mountains.
Late afternoon finds us climbing up an actual trail that quickly disappears into a series of cow paths, reaches the summit of a mountain of sorts and then drops, only to climb up again. We repeat this again and again, following cairns, happy for the endorphins that climbing provides. We start to talk about what food we’d like to eat, if we could eat anything. Pot roast. Barbecue. Sauteed green beans. Lasagna. Each time I pass a cairn, I add a little stone to the top.
“Magical cairn,” I say. “Deliver us safely to Pie Town.”
The final descent is steep and drops straight down the mountain, no switchbacks, lots of rocks and downed trees to climb over. We’re tired, our ankles/knees/feet are hurting. Camp is a low cow pond waving with green water plants, accessed through a barbed-wire fence. It’s frosty here but at least the sky is clear, and the stars are out. Maybe the storm has blown over?
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