The Rest of the San Juans: Pagosa Springs to Silverton to Lake City

Well golly, it’s been about 115 miles or so since I’ve last posted. Yesterday I sort of finished the San Juans, which is huge for me. I’ve never done anything like this before in my life, but I’m so glad I stuck it through.

We geared up out of Pagosa Springs with 6 days of food. My total pack weight, with food and snow gear and some water, was around 40-42 lbs (holy cow). Climbing up out of Wolf Creek pass was extremely tiring but we still managed to put some mileage in before the storms hit. I kept going with Hiker Box over a pass while it hailed because we didn’t feel like stopping. We eventually found a camping spot on a saddle. I ate Mac and cheese with bacon bits and some ranch-buffalo sauce. Yum.

The next morning I set out on a ridge walk with Cowboy and Titan. Gorgeous stuff. We eventually climbed up our first kind of sketchy pass and waited there for RightOn. After that we kept plugging away, working extremely hard for a 13-14 mile day.

The day after that we hit the famed “knife edge” and had a fantastically sketchy north side snowy bowl traverse afterwards. Cowboy and I both slipped above a critical spot that could have had us sliding all the way down and off a cliff, but I self arrested with my ice axe and he self arrested with his rear end somehow. Probably the scariest moment for me so far.

The days after that blurred by. We went from low valleys where the snow had melted and there was absolute muck and water everywhere (thank goodness for waterproof socks) to high passes where we had to kick steps up and over hard-packed cornices.

It hailed pretty hard a few times, and Titan, RightOn, cowboy and I would set up my tarp and wait it out. We played carcassonne, talked about getting Magic the gathering decks, and I even read the Fellowship of the Rings out loud with different accents for each character.

I think it stormed at least once everyday before Silverton. We eventually made it to Stony Pass where we walked 5 miles down a dirt road into a valley where we sorta camped on private property (oops). The next morning we walked 5 more miles into town and crushed a lunch buffet. It was glorious. Silverton is a cool town and even has a brewery there where I overheard a bunch of geologists talking about their research and papers with each other. Classic geologists, rocks and beer. What a way to live life. There’s also a bunch of ultra runners in Silverton according to Titan, and that’s where they host the Hardrock 100 miler, pretty famous race. Hmm… Do I want to get into ultra running after the trail? We shall see.

After Silverton we managed to hitch a ride back to the trail with a really nice guy from Florida and his son. His other son was hiking the PCT.

The trail to Lake City was 33 miles, relatively snow free, too! We did 10 miles the first afternoon and then 23 yesterday to get into town. Holy cow it feels good to walk a +20 mile day again!

I’m staying at a hostel run by a former thru hiker, really cool place. We are sending our snow gear home today, resupplying food, and hopefully heading back to the trail to keep plugging towards Salida with light packs!

The San Juans were ridiculous. They are by far the most beautiful mountains I have ever walked through, but they were tiring and quite scary at times. I don’t think any other trail can give you the same “thru-mountaineering” experience than the CDT through the San Juans in early June. I’m both glad for the experience and also kinda glad it’s over, but I’m sure I’ll look back on it as one of the greatest parts of the trail. I know Colorado has much more to offer, and not all of the snow is gone, so here’s to the adventure ahead!

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It was fun going over that pass, not much lightning though

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Look closely towards the top of the snow
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hail storm chilling
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Trying to cross a canal
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Below the window

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Summit register

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Silverton!
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standing at the source of the rio grande!
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Trail!

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Stormy dusk one night
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San Juans Part 1: Chama to Pagosa Springs

I woke up at 4am under my tarp.  Some coyotes were yelping somewhere nearby, but I couldn’t tell which direction. I fell back to sleep, surprisingly warm despite it being near freezing. My alarm went off at 4:30. I deflated my pad and started throwing my stuff out of my pack and out of the tarp. Uberdude, 10 feet away from me, mumbled, “Do we have to get up now?” I responded, “Well it probably won’t get light til later cuz we’re so low in the valley.” Uber, “How about hiking at 6? That’s me being lazy” “How About 5:30?” suggested RightOn. “Ok”
I blew my pad up again and got on it, still in my sleeping bag. What’s the use of sleeping 30 more minutes if I probably won’t fall asleep anyway? Oh I have instant coffee. I sparked up my pocket rocket in the dark and watched the blue flame while my water heated up. The flame grew quiet. Shoot I was running out of fuel, and I still had at least 2 full days left. Maybe it’s just the altitude and coldness.
Mmmmm coffee in my cozy. I daydreamed about setting the record for fastest unsupported thru hike of the AT and getting interviewed by magazines. Someday. 5 o’clock rolled around, and it was time to start packing. I did everything I could while under the tarp: threw everything out onto the semi wet ground (stormed for 2 hours yesterday late afternoon/evening), plugged my phone into my external battery for a charge, stuffed my sleeping bag in my pack followed by the neoair pad, took off my long underwear (chilly!), put on shorts, took off my sleeping socks and grabbed my socks hanging above me, put those on, then my damp waterproof socks (which are awesome), then frozen shoes and crawled out of my tarp to pee and hang my groundsheet to dry a bit. I took down my tarp which was now dry, then packed up everything else. My pack looked smaller each day, despite the cumbersome snowshoes attached to the back. That post-coffee morning urge came quickly, so I ran and took care of that efficiently. Great way to start the day… I ate a nutrigrain bar, tied my shoes, and got moving with everybody at 5:45.

We were at the bottom of a valley, wedged between two 12,000′ peaks. We had to cross a stream and then walk up a thousand feet to pass around the mountain to the north. I saw the coyote prints in the snow.
Cowboy sketchily crossed the stream over the snow. RightOn wasn’t as lucky and post holed through the snow into the water and lost his trekking pole in the stream. We ran after it — RightOn along one bank and I on the other–  until I postholed, tried to recover then fell on my face in the ice. RightOn finally forked it out with his ice axe. Ice axes are great.
Ugh now for the climb up the icy mountain side. Ugh so tiring. My microspikes were crucial for traction. It wouldn’t be nice sliding all the way back down into the valley. Every now and then I’d post hole through the ice and scrape my legs or fall on my knees. My shin was bleeding. Almost there. Near the top I was talking to RightOn when BAM: post hole all the way to my waist. It took me a couple of seconds to get my leg out. My foot was sorta stuck, and I didn’t want to lose my shoe. All of a sudden I noticed two birds walking in the snow. They were grouses of some sort. What were Sagehens doing up here? What am I doing up here? I laughed, recognizing that I’m a little crazy. I walked the last few steps up to the mountain pass. 12,100′. Well, that was 1 mile for the day…

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where do I begin?

The journey from Chama to Pagosa Springs — Cumbres Pass to Wolf Creek Pass — was long, hard, frightening, and trying. At the same time, it was also the most beautiful, the most rewarding, and the most exciting hiking I have ever done in my life.

It took us roughly six days to go 70 miles. We were above 10,000′ the whole time, and I even camped at 12,500′ one night. I’ve never hiked through so much snow in my life. I used my snowshoes, microspikes, and ice axe everyday. New Mexico feels like a distant memory to me now.

After waiting in Chama for some people’s gear to arrive, Uberdude, Cloud, Cowboy Stripper, RightOn, Goosebumps, and I caught a ride back up to the trail and started around noon. We went 12ish miles that day. Much of it was through snow, but there was enough dry ground that we made good time. We often went above the designated trail (which was often under snow) to walk on the actual divide. Ridge walking is amazing and a great way to get you stoked for the mountains with 360 degree  views. Sometimes the ridge got a little sketchy and narrow, but it was lots of fun.

That night RightOn and I arrived together followed by Cowboy and Goosebumps. We didn’t know where Cloud and Uberdude were. The next morning I woke up– Uber had arrived at 11:15 last night and Cloud rolled in an hour after I woke up.

The next day was tough. Lots of snowfields and a late start. I snowshoed pretty much the whole day. We lost and gained a decent amount of elevation, too. We ran into Speedstick for the second time. She is attempting to do all three trails in one calendar year. She introduced me to Siracha Gains, carrying a mini siricha bottle mixed with oil. Best new food item. Anyways, that day we only did 8 miles. It was slow going although we definitely could’ve done more.

The next day got very interesting. Our group split up, as some of us wanted to do the high route and some wanted to go low. I wanted to at least see the high route in person to see how sketchy it really was. I’m glad I made that decision because the next few days were absolutely ridiculously absurdly wild in a good way.

As soon as we split off, we dropped down to Blue Lake and then climbed back up. We had to scramble up a snowy, muddy steep hill. On top of this we were looking down into a deep deep valley. The stream grew into a river, and we even saw a not-too-small waterfall. Wow, the people who went low had to cross that “stream”.

We traversed our first sketchy slope. Sketchy as in if you fell and didn’t self arrest with an ice axe you were gonna take a couple thousand foot tumble into the valley below. One step at a time and deep breaths. Don’t look down. I looked down. I had to count to ten more than a few times, but got more confident as time went on.

We then made our way to the valley floor just as a storm blew in and found a dry patch to camp under trees. I got to read the Fellowship of the Rings on my kindle. So awesome.

The next day was partially described above. After that we did more steep traverses and some glissading (sliding down on your butt and using feet or ice axe as a brake). That day was pretty incredible. There was another very scary traverse, but we made it through that slowly and steadily. Later on in the day we ended up high on a ridge as a storm rolled in. We went a little bit down and prepared to wait out the storm. I spent an hour under just my umbrella until RightOn decided to pitch his shelter and invite me in, so nice of him. After the storm, after the hail and snow and lightning went away, we snowshoed 3 more miles around Summit Peak and camped at the base of Montezuma Peak, about 12,500′! Gorgeous sunset and sunrise.

The next day we descended a bit and ended up walking along dry ridges. We ran into some other hikers who were equally as stoked about the high route as we were. Ridgewalking is so cool! We bagged a few peaks on the actual divide then camped at Silver Pass. It was good to run into Titan again. He was glissading in snow pants, so he had a lot of fun going downhill.

That final day we got a late start and hopped on and off the divide through Wolf Creek Ski area and finally made it to the pass/highway around 2. Pagosa Springs is a cool town, although I’m pretty beat and haven’t explored much.

Tomorrow we are headed out for Stony Pass, roughly 84 miles, where we can walk/hitch 10 miles into Silverton. This next section should be just as intense if not more intense than the last one. The San Juans are blowing my mind. Stay tuned for pictures.

Ghost Ranch to Chama: to the San Juans

New Mexico is finished! After about 650 miles from the border, I finally crossed the state boundary line the other day. Feels good.

The walk from Ghost Ranch to Cumbres Pass was a beautiful one. RightOn, Uberdude, Cloud, Cowboy Stripper (formerly known as Tink), and I also experienced some weather which was cool too. It snowed a bit one night and also “snowhailed” three afternoons. And some thundersnow… love that word.

The scenery was beautiful. We went from desert-ish canyon to high cow pasture land to pine forests to high mountain meadows to rolling mountains covered in snow. More deer and elk were seen.

My shoes were on their last trip, and the tread was pretty much worn away. I slipped all the time in mud and on snow later on- made for some fun times. I also kicked a stick through the mesh at a certain point and ripped a hole through my left shoe. That, combined with some holes in my socks, had me pretty much walking on snow touching bare skin the last day. What fun.

I also experienced some trail magic twice! One night we were at a campground, and a family invited us over to their fire for green chile pork stew and some corn. Sooooo good. The next day, I happened to run into a family on a dirt road before another campground, and the grandad challenged me to a slingshot battle. He was pretty good. Afterwards, they insisted that I take some beer, chips, soda, pastries, and a sandwich. I have to say, I was pretty darn happy walking down the road with a Modelo beer in one hand and a turkey sandwich in the other. RightOn and Cowboy were super stoked when I showed up to camp that evening.

In other news, I finished reading Moby Dick. Extremely interesting read. We even started calling the trail the “white trail” when we started hitting snow. Sometimes I’d post hole (when your leg sinks into the snow) and say, “Avast! She took me leg!” Oh Ahab. I just received my kindle in my mail package with the Lord of the Rings loaded onto it. Oh boy. I also read The Pearl by Steinbeck in town, such a good writer.

Anyways, we spent a day postholing through snow and then camped at the NM-CO border. The next day we hitched back into New Mexico from Cumbres Pass to stay in Chama. Nice little town. Here I picked up new shoes, Berger cookies, my kindle, snowshoes, microspikes, and an ice axe.

Everybody is worried about the snow in the San Juans. There’s a lot. And the next 220 miles are above 10,000′. It’s gonna be fun. The general plan is to wake up super early and hike on top of snow while it’s still frozen with microspikes then switch to snowshoes when we start postholing. It’s 70 miles from Cumbres to Wolf Creek Pass (where I’ll hitch into Pagosa Springs), and I am taking 6 full days of food with me to be safe. We are hoping to do 15 miles a day, but that will be tough. A group ahead of us went from doing 25 miles per day to 10 miles per day. I’ll just have to find out for myself.

I am so stoked for the mountains. We will be walking on the actual Continental Divide for much of the trail. We’re going as a group because none of us wants to be alone up there. I’m feeling well prepared with my gear and with the knowledgeable people I’m going with and also in my extra maps in case we need to bail out.

New Mexico was absolutely beautiful and a great way to start the trail, but the adventure is truly just beginning now. Let’s do this Colorado.

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RightOn and his hair
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Climbing out of Ghosf Ranch
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Cowboy
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Break time

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You can tell it’s an aspen by the way it is
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Great water straight from the pipe
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Sketchy crossing
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Playing board games in a bathroom to get out of the wind

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Little bit of snow!
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Packing up

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Another fun crossing
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Huddling under my tarp in the afternoon reading Moby Dick out loud

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Look at that valley! Lots of brookies down there
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Doing the sawyer sit (filtering water)
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Uberdude glasses repair
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Cloud

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I see the mountains
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10:10am = snickers

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Snow way
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Snow wow

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The border!
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Camping with a view
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Thar it is
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Snow gear in Chama!
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rides around town in the back of a truck
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Makeshift snow baskets made out of light switch covers #ingenuity
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RIP first pair of shoes