Photos from the last stretch!
I’ve been off trail now for 10 full days. Wow..so many days! Andrew and Ibailed back to Chama on the 5th. We decided that we would go to Durango on the 7th, until at least the 12th, when Andrew had his cousins memorial to attend in Durango. We would wait out the snow there and check out the town. It ended up working out that we had friends heading through Durango that we could get a ride with and friends that were willing to let us stay at there home. ❤️
I was very excited to see Durango. It has been high on my list of towns to see and potential places to live. We spent the first few days relaxing with the Browns. We all went for a 14 mile bike ride along the river and Andrew and I went for a white water trip. The guides were all great! They are A LOT like hiker trash. 😀
Jerry and DeeDee had to leave town for a wedding and still let us stay in their home. They even left us keys to their car. They are both kind and generous people. (We can’t thank you both enough!!) We spent the next few days running errands, watching movies, eating lots of food, watching the weather and seeing Andrews family.
During all of this we were intently waiting for updates on the snow conditions and weighing our options. The weather wasn’t looking good and new snow was falling in the San Juan’s. I received a phone call from a friend of ours, Wagon Wheel. He was calling from a roadside privy. Him and his group had bailed from the mountains North of Wolf Creek. It was snowing and raining on them. The snow was shitty and still dangerous. We talked a bit about options. Andrew and I were toying with the idea of flipping. (flipping means flipping up to the Canadian border and hiking back southbound to where we had to bail out from.) the snow was low up in Montana and we had reports from others that had flipped that the trail was amazing and open up north. We started to form a plan.
After a few days of making plans we all decided to rent a car and flip!! There was 5 of us and 1 we needed to pick up in Steamboat Springs. We had tried to rent a mini van but they all seemed to be unavailable. We ended up having to rent a Kia Santa Fe. A 5 person car with 6 people, 6 packs, 6 resupply boxes, 3 pairs of snow shoes, 6 ice axes, 6 pairs of trekking poles, and did I say 6 bodies?? We all squeezed in and hit the road. It was a long, right ride but we made it to Missoula!! A friend of mine, John, is letting us stinky hiker trash stay at his house tonight and he is driving us up to the border tomorrow!! (Thank you sooo much John. You’re amazing! 💋)
Now we wait for what tomorrow brings. I can’t wait to be back on trail. Being off trail so long feels weird. I need to get back. I can feel my muscles getting week and my body getting soft. I think GNP might kick my ass but I’m really looking forward to it!
Andrew and I spent a double zero day in Chama waiting for gear to show up, waiting for storms to pass, waiting for snow to melt, and visiting with friends we haven’t seen in a few weeks. Trail is funny like that; you’ll think that you’re not ever going to see your friends again because they’ve gotten ahead of you then out of nowhere you see them walking down the street. It’s always great to catch up and exchange stories of your journey.
Andrew and I left Chama with a great crew. Cookie Monster, Dayglow, Giggles, Moist and Night Crawler. We were all piled into two vehicles driven by the owners of the Y Motel back up to Cumbres Pass. The mood was excited and cheerful in the car but there was an underlying sense of nervousness of what lies ahead. We had been hearing tales of the deep snow ahead and couldn’t wait to check it out for ourselves. We left Cumbres Pass around 4:30 pm and started climbing and climbing. We ran into a few creek crossings that got all of our hearts racing. I slipped on the second crossing and thought for sure I was a goner! Some how I steadied myself and made it across without a cold plunge. Soon after that creek crossing we hit snow, strapped on our gaiters and snowshoes and plotted along. The first night out was amazing. We hiked by the full moon for awhile across ridges and snowfields. We are camped at 11,400 ft on a saddle overlooking a vast valley. I could hear classic blues music echoing from C.M.’s tarp as I sat and ate my dinner surrounded by snowy mountains reflecting the moonlight. Doesn’t get much better then that!
Andrew and I started walking the next morning a bit later then we intended but the snow was still hard and the wind wasn’t too bad yet. Within a few hours we had to put on our snowshoes and ended up wearing them for the rest of the day. It was an extremely difficult but amazing day! The snow went on for as long as the eye could see. It gave the landscape a moon like feel.
The day was extremely hot. The snow reflecting back at me. My eyes squinting from the glare. I could feel the elevation in my lungs. My lungs could feel the difference at 12,000 feet as I lumbered up and down ridges. As Andrew and I hiked you could hear whumping underneath us vibrating outwards. Luckily we were on a low angle slope so there wasn’t risk of an avalanche but the snow was very unstable. We saw fresh looking avalanches on almost all aspects…it was a bit disconcerting but we pushed on still feeling confident that we were making smart decisions and taking safe routes. By the end of the day we were both exhausted from pushing all day and had only made 16 miles. We made camp, made dinner and were asleep in seconds.
The next morning we were dropping a thousand feet to where we would either continue back up to the divide or take the lower, purple route, down the valley and reconnect with the high route in a few miles avoiding some scary and steep looking terrain. When Andrew and I got to the junction we could see the prints in the snow going both directions. The prints headed to the low route were much more prominent and the few prints that looked to take the the high route seemed pretty old and sparse. We talked for at least 10 minutes about what route to take. Andrew wanted to try the high route and I was a bit more hesitant. The route on the map looked extremely steep with many north facing slopes and traverses under some presumably loaded hillsides. We decided to go ahead and try the high route and if it looked too knarly we would turn around. It wasn’t more then 4 minutes of hiking that the trees opened up and we could see part of the high route. It was traversing right below a large cornice. With the unstable snow pack we had already encountered and our slow moving pace we both agreed to take the low route. It looked extremely dangerous from this far away so it probably was, plus it may help us make up a few more miles that day.
The low route was great for the first mile or so. We were cruising over the hard snow and a frozen river. The miles were seeming to come more easily. Then that all changed in a hurry. The trail took us into the trees, still post holding with snow shoes on, traversing above a snowy cliff that would put you directly into the river and waterfalls below if you feel. It was exhausting. Then there was the river crossing, it was flowing extremely fast. We took off our snowshoes and started to cross. I held onto Andrews backpack for dear life as we crab walked across the creek. We made it safely to the other snowy side and saw a small snow free section of trail in the sun. My feet were in a ton of pain because of the cold. Cold to the point I was having trouble walking. We stopped on the dry trail and sun to warm my feet and rest.
After what seemed like many more hours of postholing we made it down the valley and headed right up another one to meet back up with the divide. After thousands of feet of climbing and many more hours of postholing we made it back to the snowy divide. We took out our ice axes and started traversing up to a pass. We were traveling underneath avalanches that were caused by 15+ foot headwalls cracking off and causing huge slides. We could see avalanches all around us. We traversed carefully over to a pass of sorts and spotted a very small patch of dry land to take a break. Looking at the map we were in store for some amazing views and hard terrain. We loaded our heavy packs back on and pushed north. Less then a minute later we had a view of our next pass in the distance….we both froze in our footsteps….the footprints in front of us, that were not more then a few days old, had two fresh avalanches right over them. Pieces of ice that were refrigerator size with a cliff just below that. Looking past the avalanches I could see faint footprints climbing up to the pass. These footprints climbed up and right below a huge loaded hillside. The hillside was bulged out just waiting to fall. I told Andrew I was teetering on my risk vs reward limit and he quickly agreed. I knew the terrain ahead was going to be just as dangerous if not more and even if we safely made it through this death trap of a traverse we still had 30 miles of this exposed high alpine mountaineering ahead of us. I started to cry. I started to cry not only because I was scared but because I knew we would have to turn around. Even though Andrew and I hadn’t said it out loud yet I knew turning around was our best option and no one wants to turn around. Andrew stood and starred at the snow slope for a while then turned around and agreed it was time to bail. Here are Andrews words about our bail out.
“SOL and I Just bailed between Chama and Pagosa due really bad avalanche conditions. Large wet slides covering the last footprints on trail in multiple places, some small wet slides that looked like they were triggered by hikers, whumphing and cracking where we could feel the snowpack fracture under our feet propagating outward quite a ways and hear loud cracks in the distance. Wet snow pinwheeling at 30 degrees. Bailed where the red and purple reconnect (first purple) down to Three Forks and out from there back to Chama.”
So we turned around after leaving a note written in the snow for our friends behind us. We started back down the thousands of feet we had climbed and back though the awful postholing down to a junction with three creeks. We didn’t know exactly where this led but we didn’t know some other hikers that had bailed that way a few days back and figured we would find something.
We camped at the junction and got a lazy start the next morning. Only after a few miles we were out of the snow and soon after that we were walking down a really nice dirt road. We walked all the way to Platoro a very strange hunting/fishing camp a few hours walk down the road. We met a nice young couple that drove us almost the entire 25 miles to the pavement then another couple from Durango that drove us all the way back to Chama. After finding out all our friends are ok we could relax a bit in Chama. Now we have to make some major decisions on what we are going to do. Walk roads? Flip to Canada? Sit and wait for the snow to compact and settle? Only time will tell now
The hike out of Ghost Ranch was beautiful, sweaty and hot. The views of the orange, yellow and red hills seemed to go on forever. We climbed all day but the views were worth it. We caught up to Poppie and hiked with him most of the day. It was nice to have someone to chat with to help pass the miles. The next few days the miles passed easily with the amazing views, open parks, herds of elk and easy miles.
Andrew and I had arrived at lagunitas campground that our maps (ley) said was about 15.5 miles to Cumbress Pass where we would be hitching into Chama. We decided to get up early and get into town early. After checking the bear creek maps the next day we found out that it was actually closer to 23 miles to the pass. We pushed with motivation of getting to town and crossing into the the Colorado border!! The snow line started pretty quickly after leaving the campground. The rest of the day we pushed hard, only taking two breaks. The trail was hard to follow in some places and the post holing kept us moving slower then we wanted.
We pushed and finally made it to the border!! The border crossing wasn’t anything special. It was a national forest sign that was partly knocked over and a wanky fence line. I did find a survey maker tucked in the grass. We took some obligatory photos and pushed to make the last 2.5 miles to the highway. The last few miles were great. We were mostly out of the snow and high on a ridge but we had one last snow field to cross. It was actually comical. We were less then a quarter mile from the road and boom! More snow! I got us a hitch into Chama pretty quickly and we’ve been eating and hanging out with hikertrash ever since. It’s been a really great, social and relaxing town stop. We are equipped with snowshoes, ice axes, and a good crew to head up into the epic snow we hear about. 💙💙💙💙 Lets get this shit started!!!!
Andrew and I dragged our feet leaving Cuba. There was so much talk of snow and storms in the San Juan’s we were not in a hurry to get to Chama so why rush it? We actually needed to slow down a bit so we had packed enough food for an on trail zero day. After checking out of our hotel room we started down the road only to be distracted by the allure of milkshakes. After filling our bodies with ice cream we started the road walk out of town for reals this time.
The hike out of Cuba took us up, up and up some more. Once we turned off the dirt road and onto trail, the trail tuned into a creek itself. Heavy flowing water right down the trail. Time for wet feet! This started a trend for the next few days. On the plus side our packs were a bit lighter then normal because there was water everywhere!
We hiked up to about 10,250 feet that day and made camp early among the grassy meadows and piles of snow. The next morning was cold and we slept in late knowing we didn’t have to push big miles. We decided to take the day off!! Why not? We were in a beautiful place, we had water and food. We went back to sleep for a bit since it was so cold that morning. We woke up to a beautiful day. We made coffee and had one of the best mornings I’ve had in a very long time. Sitting outside in the sun, being goofy, drinking coffee, and dodging the snow flakes that came in between the sun breaks. Around 2pm we got bored. Lol. We packed up slowly and took our time enjoying the San Pedro Parks. The weather continued to be bi polar with sun breaks, rain squalls and snow showers. It was an amazing day!! Our feet stayed wet all day but the hiking was amazing. There seemed to be something in the air that day. Maybe it was all the coffee we drank or maybe it was the fact that we took half a day off laying around in the woods, but whatever it was we were happy.
The next morning I was woken up sometime around 1 am by rain beating down on our tent. I kept thinking I was very thankful we had decided to hike a bit the day before and get down from the San Pedro Parks. We hiked up to about 10,600 feet and it was surely snowing up there. Now we were down around 8,500 ft. The rain was still coming down when my alarm went off at 5:30. So of course I turned the alarm off and went back to sleep. Around 6:15 the rain hadn’t stopped so it was time to just buck up and get going. It rained all day long! It turned the trail into a slippery, sticky mass of heavy clay like mud. It stuck to everything. With every heavy step my feet felt like they were suction cupped to the trail.
We leap frogged with M80, Trooper and their dog Willow for most of the day. Great people! That night the rain stopped!! We had roughly 6 miles into Ghost Ranch and powered them out in the morning. Now we’re stuffing our faces and hanging out with hiker trash!
After 4 zero days in Grants my mind and soul were ready to get back on trail but my body was feeling sore after the hike out of town. Town will make you soft but it is oh so good. It makes you fat and lazy and the longer I spend in town the harder it is to get back into the groove of trail life. Luckily just as Andrew and I were dragging our asses out of our hotel another hiker was walking past. Dutch is his name and he’s from North Dakota. The 6 miles to the trail head on the hard pavement went by fast as we chatted about everything and nothing and shared hiking stories. Upon getting to the trail head we were actually back on trail! Trail that headed straight up the Mesa! Once to the top of the Mesa we could see views all the way to Mt. Taylor; where we were headed tomorrow. The summit of the 11,301 ft peak had a layer of snow on it. As we walked throughout the day and got closer and closer to the peak the snow seemed to just disappear. The day was warm and sunny and the snow was rapidly melting. We camped early at 9,300 ft. Enjoyed the early night in camp and the crisp mountain air.
With over 30 hikers at the toaster house last night Andrew and I had made a plan to get out of town as quickly as possible. Many of the hikers were going to wait for the diner to open at 9:30 and then hit the trail. We figured we could get a few hours on everyone and get out ahead of the herd of hikers that would be taking over the dirt road leading away from Pie Town. The toaster house started to rumble around 6:30 am. Bits of chatter echoing up the stairs, rustling of the hikers upstairs stirring in our sardine like state, and the hissing and bubbling of the coffee maker downstairs. The voices got a bit louder as the first round of caffeine perked the hikers up and out of there half sleep state. This meant it was time to get up! Motivated by the hoards of people congregating around the coffee pot and a bit grumpy from my lack of sleep we packed up and hit the trail by 7:45.
Now we are deep into first of two zero days planned. We just had dinner with trail angels Carole and Hugo Mumm and are eating cake in bed. Not too bad. 😃