671.5 miles hiked from Mexico
Everything is confusing today. There is a trail, there isn’t a trail, there are many well-defined cow trails which aren’t the trail. The trail is mud, the trail is water and corn lilies. We’re all crossing a big wet meadow towards the forested mountains on different paths, in different directions. We do this a lot, actually- other than the “continuous footpath” I’m currently rocking from Mexico to Canada, we make our way north however we feel like it. Sometimes I’ll be walking behind Spark and Track Meat through the aspens and I’ll look at the topo and think- “If I go over this mountain instead of around it, I bet I can head them off and won’t they be surprised.” And so I’ll duck into the trees to climb over blowdowns and stumble through snow patches and cross muddy streams to emerge on the other side scraped and out of breath but, wouldn’t you know, there they are- hiking head down earbuds in and I’ll get back to the trail just as they pass and fall into step behind them and they won’t even know that I’ve been on a grand adventure or that I even left at all.
Two days ago we were taking a break six miles from a primitive campground where we planned to camp for the night. I set out for the campground first- to get there one could either take trail or forest service road or a combination of the two. I walked the forest service road for two miles and kept looking over my shoulder, thinking someone would catch me, but no-one did. Then I switched to the trail, from which I could see the road, and still saw no-one. I figured that they’d all decided to take an extra-long break but then literally the instant I reached the campground all five of us emerged from the trees at the same time, from different directions.
Today is extra like that. I don’t really hike with anyone all morning although I can see them, off doing their own thing. The trail climbs up to eleven thousand feet today, the highest we’ve gone. So far, in this section, we haven’t really had to hike in snow- and then I’m climbing up the mountain and suddenly I’m in a mess of blowdowns and snow, knee deep. I climb through the mess for a while and then I stop- it’s ten more miles to the highway where we’ll hitch to Chama, and the trail continues to climb. What if I’m post-holing in soft snow that whole way? I don’t know where anyone is, or what they’re doing. The crust on the top of the snow scrapes my bare legs, and my feet ache with cold. I should have snowshoes waiting in Chama- I’m ready to go gung-ho into the snow once I have those but not today. Not yet. I start to make my way down the mountain, towards the network of forest service roads that stay at about 10k feet and that I know will take me to the highway as well. There’s deep snow on the way down so I follow a stream, sinking into the mud at points, once all the way up to my knee- quicksand! I think. I’ve found the infamous CDT quicksand! I wrench my leg out of the mud but it takes me a minute to dig my shoe out as well. My feet ache so much from the cold and icy water- when I get to the bottom of the mountain I sit in the sun for a while, letting them warm back up and scraping the mud from my shoes. Then I follow a cow trail to the forest service road.
I’ve been feeling the altitude lately- just a bit, a sort of faint nausea that comes and goes all day. I can’t eat or drink too much when I feel this way, or I get a pretty bad stomach ache, so I end up feeling sort of hungry and dehydrated. I walk to the highway in this strange state, through the verdant meadows with their tea-colored brooks. When I get to the highway I walk a mile and a half up it, to where the trail crosses, but the boys are not there. I get a text from Mehap- they just got into Chama. I put my thumb out, standing in the bright sun, and within minutes a nice stranger stops.
It’s good to be reunited in Chama- we’re all sunburnt and hungry and covered in mud and scrapes from postholing. It turns out that Mehap and Track Meat stayed on the trail, postholing the whole way, while Spark and Apache traveled cross-country through valleys and over mountains, making their own way towards the pass. And now we’re here, together, drinking sodas and waiting for burritos. Isn’t life grand!
Next up is the post office, where we have eleventy billion boxes. Christmas! We stand in the hot sun, ripping open packages. Everything of mine has arrived except for my snowshoes- I check the tracking and learn that they got held up in Sante Fe and won’t be here until Monday. Monday! And it’s Thursday now. Waiting that long for a piece of gear seems crazy- I want this to be like the PCT, you know? I just want to be able to walk. But it’s not the PCT. There is all this snow… and all the waiting makes me feel slow. I hate feeling slow. I have to let go of this. There’s nothing to be done. All the pride in the world won’t melt the snow ahead, or take the avalanche danger away. Let go let go let go!
In addition, MeHap checks the weather and announces that three days of thunderstorms are on the way- rain in the San Juans will greatly increase the avalanche risk. We talk to other hikers who have decided to lay low and wait out the weather, and learn that a couple of hikers in the section between here and Pagosa Springs have bailed due to wet slides. So no snowshoes for four days, thunderstorms, and extra high avalanche danger. What’s a hiker to do? We have a meeting of sorts in our hotel room. Time for plan C- hitch-hike to Durango.
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