Monday, February 28, 2022

Day 60: Gettin' out of Pagosa Springs

June 19: Everyone packed up their possessions, ready to hit the trail. As it turned out, I didn't even have to worry about hitchhiking back either. One of Wi-fi's friends, Conner had a car and was willing to take us all. It did involve packing all six us of with all our gear into a midsize sedan--a tight squeeze, for certain! But hey, we didn't care. A ride is a ride! =)

Mural in Pagosa Springs

Before hitting the trail, however, I walked over to the post office to pick up my package. I thought about just telling them to forward it on to Creede without opening the package--something I could do for no added cost--but ultimately decided against it. I wanted some of my paper maps that were in the box, and I was still walking around with a laptop cord and a few other small items that were completely useless on the trail that could go in the package. So I accepted the package, popped it open and repacked a new box with almost the same contents. I was a little disappointed that I hadn't figured out my sleeping arrangements before the post office had closed so I could have picked up my laptop and made use of it during the night, but oh well. I'll catch up with that work when I got to the next town in a few days.

Evenstar texted me that she hoped to get back on the trail at Wolf Creek Pass either today or tomorrow. I suggested today was the better option--there was squat for lodging in Pagosa Springs. Just skip it! It had the added advantage that she might just be less than a day behind me on the trail as well and there was a good chance she'd catch up again. =) 

Actually, I also suggested that maybe she should go back to Platoro and hike from there to Wolf Creek Pass. I assured her that there was no bad snow between the two having done it myself and she could still keep her steps connected. Personally, I wanted her to get back on the trail at Wolf Creek Pass since then she'd be closer and we'd have a better chance at meeting up again, but I also knew that she wanted to keep her steps connected as well--but she said she'd just come back some other year and do that section she missed, which was totally okay with me! I hoped we'd have another reunion on the trail soon to swap our respective war stories through the snow. We both had definitely picked up some stories to tell each other. *nodding*

Upon returning to the motel room, we all packed ourselves into the car minus our gear with the expectation that we'd return once more before leaving town for good. It was a crowded fit, but it was kind of a proof of concept to make sure we could all fit in okay too. It would be even more crowded once we had all our gear with us in our laps, however.

It was definitely getting a bit crowded in the car with 6 people and all our gear! (That's Skunkbear immediately behind me.)

A few of our group needed to go to the market to resupply, but Skunkbear and I had already done that the day before and were good on that count. We came along for the ride, however, because Skunkbear got the idea to pick up a sandwich at Subway to take on the trail, and I liked that idea and wanted one for myself. So they dropped us off at Subway, then continued on to the market. Wi-fi also wanted a sandwich but needed to get stuff at the market as well and put in an order with us.

Skunkbear and I sat down at a table by the window to watch for everyone else's return. They were remarkably fast--both of our orders had barely been finished before they returned.

Then it was back to the hotel to retrieve all of our gear. At this point, Splits showed up, and we let him into the room for a shower. The rest of us piled into the vehicle again, this time with our heavy packs on our laps, and rode back to Wolf Creek Pass.

By the time we had arrived at the pass, dark, menacing clouds had rolled in. I was pretty much ready to hit the trail running the second I got out of the car, but the others needed a little time to figure things out and adjust their gear.

So I crossed the busy highway, noting that there was another cop checking big rigs again and wondering what they were looking for.


Back at Wolf Creek Pass

It wasn't even 10 minutes later when  heavy hail hit the trail and thunder and lightning crashed through the air. Knowing Skunkbear's fear of lightning, I decided to stop and wait for her. I wasn't particularly excited about hiking through the hail anyhow. I found a place that provided a little protection against the hail and decided to eat half of my sandwich then. It was getting around lunch time anyhow, so why not?

It didn't take long before Skunkbear and Savage passed me by, hiking together. Skunkbear didn't seem too concerned about the lightning, though, and kept on hiking. I guess we were far enough down the mountain and in the cover of trees that it didn't feel threatening to her, and she had a new hiking partner to look out for her as well. Wi-fi and Cobra also passed me by, hiking together as well since they had been friends for years. Cobra wasn't even thru-hiking the trail--him and Conner had only come out to Colorado to meet up with Wi-fi. (Conner was the one driving, and he had left us at Wolf Creek Pass.) 

So I felt a little bit like the lone duck, braving the elements on my own. I finished my half-sandwich before resuming the hike up the trail. Wi-fi and Cobra were taking their time since Cobra wasn't trail-hardened and Wi-fi wanted to take it easy with his leg, and I caught up and passed them, then they'd pass me again when I took a break. We'd pass each other several times throughout the afternoon.

Skunkbear and Savage I only caught up with once late in the afternoon as another thunderstorm rolled through. This time, Skunkbear was sitting on her pack and choosing to wait out the storm. I stopped to chat for a bit.

Looking back down toward Wolf Creek Pass

Then I continued onward. Later in the afternoon, I found a blue flask with a survival bracelet on it. It looked fresh and brand new, and I knew whoever had lost it must have passed by recently so I picked it up. I dumped out the water from it not wanting that extra weight. The object seemed a little heavy and awkward to belong to a thru-hiker, but at this point, but I couldn't rule them out either and I knew there were four of them directly ahead of me. And, I figured, if I didn't catch up with the owner, I'd just throw it in the next hiker box I came to. I felt a little guilty about losing my Nalgene bottle in the wilderness a few days back, and I liked the idea of removing one from the wilderness to help make up for it.

I had only planned to do a short day out of town today, about 10 miles, and figured I'd be camping alone, so I was a bit surprised and delighted when I saw 4 tents set up in a clearing at about the 10-mile mark! Wi-fi, Cobra, Skunkbear and Savage had all camped together! I wouldn't have to be alone!

But when I got closer, I realized that it wasn't them. It was a totally different group of people. Drats. I didn't really feel like camping with a bunch of strangers, though, so decided to push on a bit further. The next good campsite I found... then I'd set up camp alone.

Past that camp, I met a few people who were in that camp. They had set up camp and were using it as a base to do day hikes around the area, so that's how I wound up meeting them on their way back to their campsite, and how I found the owner of the lost flask. I was happy not just that I reunited the lost gear with its owner, but also that I didn't have to carry it anymore. =)

The trail then climbed steeply up the side of an extremely windy mountain--so much so, that my hat at one point flew off in the wind and I dropped my pack to chase my hat 50 feet back down the mountain. Stupid wind...

Once I climbed up high, however, campsites became a lot more limited. The trail followed an exposed ridge for miles, so I wound up doing closer to about 14 miles for the day instead of the original 10 that I had planned. On a happy note, however, it meant I caught up with Wi-fi and Cobra who had got sucked into chatting with an old guy who had been out for a few days. They seemed relieved when I arrived, as if I could occupy the man's interest while they walked a bit off trail to collect water. I didn't need to collect water having carried plenty already, and the man was a talker! Talk! Talk! Talk! Talk!

Not a lot good campsites on this very exposed ridge!

It was a bit disorientating, and I got the impression that he was starved for company. I can't tell you what all he talked about--none of it was important enough to note in my journal and I've long since forgotten. I just remember being astounded that someone could talk so much so quickly.

We were still chatting (or rather, he was still talking--I really didn't add much to the conversation except an occasional "Uh-huh" or "Yeah" to acknowledge that I was listening) when Wi-fi and Cobra returned. The man suggested a possible campsite not far ahead, and we headed off to check it out. It wasn't super well-protected from the wind, but there were some bushes and small shrubs growing around that helped block the wind. Even though the skies were clear and no chance of rain was expected overnight, I set up my tarp just to use as a windbreak.

The sunset from the ridge was great, but shortly after sunset, we all headed back to our respective tents (or in my case, tarp) for the night. I ate the rest of my Subway sandwich for dinner, and that was the end of another day on the trail...


That's Wi-fi and Cobra ahead.










Before leaving town, I took photos of all the sketches that Skunkbear made featuring myself. (There were three of them in all.) Just so I'd have a record for myself. I actually like them better than real photos of myself! =)

Friday, February 25, 2022

Day 59: The Hell Called Pagosa Springs

June 18: It was late at night and I was dead asleep when something woke me up. I looked up and saw a figure hovering above my tarp. "Tortuga!" It scared the crap out of me. I didn't know what the hell was going on.

It was Skunkbear, though, waking me up, and after my heart stopped racing, she told me that some sort of animal had stolen one of her flip-flops and tried to steal her trekking pole and wanted to warn me that I might have been a victim too. Especially since I was under a tarp and more exposed to marauding animals.

I looked around while she explained what had happened, but I didn't notice anything out of place. Apparently she had been woken up during the night after something tried to pull out her trekking pole from under the canopy of her tent, but the large basket at the end got caught and jiggled the tent enough to wake her up. And when she went to investigate, she found her flip-flop 20 feet away having been chewed on around the edges. She didn't know what it was that did it, though.

I didn't have a tent to bring my gear in from the outside, but I piled it up next to my head where I could keep a better eye on it during the night and went back to sleep. At one point during the night, an animal did approach to check me out. I wasn't sure what it was at first, but eventually caught it in the light of headlamp and saw that it was a marmot. Our campsite was being invaded by marmots.

I shooed it off, and it didn't return to bother me again for the rest of the night. I guess the marmots preferred going after gear where they couldn't see an actual person around to stop them.

In the morning, we woke up early and hit the trail by 6:00am--my earliest start time yet! And we discussed the night's marmot raid. Neither of us were bothered again after our respective visits, and Skunkbear apologized for scaring the crap out of me during the night.

"Ah, don't worry about it," I told her. "It was good information to share." It wasn't even so much that she woke me up that startled me so much--it was the dark, shadowy figure looming over the tarp so closely that took me by surprise. From my groggy sleep, it looked like a scene from a slasher movie! Normally if another hiker would have a reason to wake me up during the night, they'd typically just call me from inside their tent rather than get out, but since Skunkbear was already up and out looking for lost gear, it wasn't any extra effort for her to approach my tarp. And, come on, in hindsight, even I can admit it was a little funny scaring the crap out of me during the night like that. =)

She also showed me the flip-flop that had obvious bite marks all around the edges where the marmot was trying to get the salt from the shoes.

On the trail, the morning was beautiful. Gorgeous views! The trail occasionally passed over patches of snow, but none of it was particularly scary or bad.

Late in the morning, I get a cell phone signal from one of the mountain passes and got a message from Evenstar saying that she was "rethinking her life decisions" and bailing from the trail in Platoro. A friend from Durango was on route to pick her up. I couldn't tell exactly when she had arrived in Platoro--Skunkbear and I were there just the day before, however, so it couldn't have been long after we left. Perhaps she had arrived that morning, but my phone only provided a timestamp of when my phone receives a text message--not when it was actually sent. It's a very annoying thing.

However, she did hope to jump ahead and return to the trail again soon. She wasn't leaving it permanently, but the snow was just too much and she needed to get away from that for a bit. Later, she'd fill me in on her own misadventure along that section of trail, but I was happy to hear that she was still alive and well since it was the first I had heard from her since leaving Cumbres Pass a few days earlier.

During the break, I stopped to pull out the Pringles that I bought the day before, and it make a very satisfying "pop" when I opened it at such a high elevation. And, much to my surprise, they were delicious! I couldn't stop eating them! When did Pringles become so delicious? Or was that just my hiker hunger talking? I felt like I just discovered a miracle drug. I'd definitely have to start buying Pringles more often--at least while I was on the trail.

Later in the morning, we caught up with Splits who had managed to get ahead after Skunkbear and I detoured off the main CDT to go into Platoro, and the three of us wound up hiking out to Wolf Creek Pass together.

Throughout the morning, dark clouds swept in and near the high point, as we passed by the Wolf Creek Ski Resort, the weather turned decidedly miserable. Hail! Rain! Thunder! Lightning! And of course the worst weather would strike as we were at the high point for the day.

When the thunder and lightning started, I gave Skunkbear my blessings to ditch me and rush down the trail looking for a safe place to wait out the storm. The snow, mercifully, wasn't too bad and I still had Splits to keep me company anyhow.

The trail followed mostly along a plateau near this point, and I later I could see Skunkbear actually running with a full pack down the trail. I was a little in awe that she could actually run with a full pack. How does she do it?! At least here the trail was largely flat and clear which made running easier, but I couldn't ever remember seeing anyone flat out run with a full pack before.

Splits and I moved rapidly, but at something less than a full-out sprint. Neither of us felt especially comfortable on this high point in a lightning storm, but at least it was full of trees and we weren't the solitary figures on an empty field.

I felt a lot more comfortable, however, when the trail finally descended and we were off the high point.

As we descended, the hail laying on the ground started to thicken. At some points, it looked more like a thin blanket of snow. I half-expected to find Skunkbear sitting on her pack somewhere waiting out the storm now that it was a more secure location than that high ridge, but she was nowhere to be seen.

Splits and I arrived down at Wolf Creek Pass where we finally caught up with Skunkbear again. Now it was time to get into Pagosa Springs. We arrived at Wolf Creek Pass at around 2:00 in the afternoon--shockingly early since we had covered about 18 miles for the day. That just goes to show how quickly we hiked and took very few breaks along the way. The early 6:00am start time certainly helped as well.

Pagosa Springs was located about 20 miles off the trail, however, so we definitely had to hitch a ride and we spread out across the pass and stuck out our thumbs. It was a sad and demoralizing experience. For the better part of an hour, we tried to hitch a ride in the rain and thunder. Skunkbear seemed a little bothered by the thunder, but down in the pass she seemed to handle it rationally. 

It was a very busy road, but nobody wanted to pick us up. I did get a cell phone signal and after a half hour failing to secure a ride, I tried using it to call for an Uber or Lyft.... but they had nothing available. I still don't know why I ever bothered installing these apps on my phone. I had yet to ever successfully use either of them when I needed them most. They keep failing to be useful in trail town after trail town. There weren't drivers available when I tried to use it on the PNT in Forks. It failed me when I tried to get off at the end of the Lone Star Trail. And now it was failing me here on the CDT. It seems like the only place these apps are good for are locations that already have decent mass transit and I don't really need them!

So we continued hitchhiking. There was a cop car pulled over on the far side of the road which I felt was making our mission more difficult. He appeared to be checking oversized vehicles heading toward Pagosa Springs. It all seemed very odd, but I felt certain that people driving down the road would see the cop and worry about him not even considering to pick us up.


Splits checks out the signage at Wolf Creek Pass

At one point, I heard Skunkbear and Splits call me over. There was a pickup track willing to take us into town. I'm not entirely sure where it came from. It might have been pulled over in the parking lot, but one of them had snagged us a ride that we could all fit into so we piled into the back. It wasn't the best seat--being in the back of an open pickup truck during a rain storm--but it was a ride! I wasn't going to complain!

The pickup was already hauling some sort of large box so the space was a little tight, and then the driver wanted us to duck down out of view so it was a little cramped. I ended up laying down with my head and portion of my torso on Skunkbear's exposed legs which were a lot softer and more comfortable than the metal bed of the pickup--but I told her if it made her uncomfortable to let me know and I'd tried to shift somewhere else. She told me no, it was fine. Her legs were freezing in the cold, wet air and my laying across them was doing a pretty good job of keeping them warm, so it worked out well for both of us.

The ride into town was one of the most interesting of my life, crammed into the back of a pickup with two other hikers. Laying down, I could only see what was directly above me--dark clouds. Although it continued to rain, it didn't bother us too much since the cab of the truck blocked most of it before it hit us--at least when the truck was moving quickly which was most of the time. I did occasionally see bolts of lightning flash across the clouds above us, which looked like something out of a movie.

We got dropped off in town and sat down at a bench to figure out what to do next. We tried doing some Internet searches for lodging, but they were all coming up full. From our bench, I could see two different motels and walked over to both of them to check availability, but they both reported being fully booked. On Airbnb, there was one property available--but it was some sort of fancy mansion with a dozen rooms and would run something like $5000/night. Maybe an option if we had a hundred other hikers to share the place with....

We had originally planned to get our own rooms, but now we weren't sure if we'd have any room at all, and Skunkbear started asking how much we'd be willing to pay to split a room--assuming, of course, if we could even find one. If each of us threw in $50-100, it could cover a room that would have run $150-300. Both Splits and I were game for that--if we could just find a room.

Pagosa Springs, which felt anything but welcoming

In the meantime, we decided to walk out to the Riff-Raff restaurant for lunch/dinner. There, they had a wi-fi connection so we could continue hunting down a room for the night online and on our phones.

I ordered a burger with a side salad, and all of the places we continued to contact reported being full. This was bad.... It's not like we could just drive over to the next town to get a hotel there. We were on foot which limited our options severely. 

Skunkbear found out where we could camp for free if it became necessary, explaining that official gateway cities for the CDT were required to provide a place for hikers to camp for free to be included as a gateway city. This was actually news for me but seemed like a great idea.

The problem was that it was raining, we were cold and wet, and I for one really did not want to camp. I wanted to be indoors! And dry! And get online with my laptop! 

Speaking of my laptop, it was at the post office in town, but I didn't bother to try picking it up. If we didn't find a room, it would just be extra weight to drag around town that would be useless to me.

After finishing our meal, we still had nowhere to go for the night. Splits decided to head off to the park and set up camp for the night. Skunkbear had texted Wi-fi who said they did have a room, but there were several people already in it and it wasn't even his room--he had to ask the others if it was okay for us to join. So there was a possibility there, but still nothing definite. I also started calling hotels and asking at what point they might release rooms for guests that didn't show up or canceled at the last minute, so I had a few them to try later in the evening as well.

The rain had finally stopped--for now, at least--and the three of us went our own ways for the time being after exchanging phone numbers to reconnect in case one of us found something. Skunkbear was off to find new socks, and Splits headed to the park to set up camp.

I had originally wanted to take a zero day in Pagosa Springs, and checked availability of rooms for tomorrow night, but it looked as bleak as tonight did. Nope, no matter what, I was getting out of town tomorrow. I wasn't taking a zero day here and camping in crappy weather when I could camp in crappy weather on the trail. =)

I headed to the grocery store to resupply for the next section of trail. After the problem with the snow in the last section, I decided to take the Creede Cutoff rather than stay on the main CDT the whole way, so the next resupply point would be the town of Creede just 40 miles up the trail. Easy-peasy. My pack wouldn't even have to be very heavy when I left this town. Just two or three days of food would be plenty. The alternate route also cut off more than 50 miles of hiking which, at this point, I considered a nice perk. The main reason I wanted to take it was to avoid the snow, but I didn't mind cutting out an extra 50 miles of hiking either. Especially if it was through deep snow and sketchy areas!

So I had a plan for the trail ahead, even if I didn't have a plan for tonight. Yet. In any case, I could at least get the resupplying done.

After the shopping, I sat down at a table outside where I ran into Gourmet and Lightwalker who were hiking with four dogs. That couldn't have been easy! They were camped in the park where Splits had gone, and after chatting for a few minutes, they wandered off again.

I ate some snacks and re-packed my bags, squeezing my purchases into my pack and surfing the web with the data connection on my phone to kill the time. My plan, if I couldn't get a room within an hour or so of sunset, would be to hike out to the park and just camp. What else could I do? Until then, I was just killing time.

I sat around for about a half hour when Skunkbear texted me that she had heard back from Wi-fi and that we were welcome to share the room with him and the others. Sweet! She sent me the details and I jumped up and headed down the street to the motel.

On my way, I passed a restaurant when I heard my named called out. "Tortuga!"

It was Wi-fi with a few of his friends, who were grabbing a meal before heading back to the motel room. So that was where I met my other flatmates for the night: Cobra, Conner and Savage. It turned out that after comparing notes, Cobra and I had crossed paths hiking the AT 6 years earlier. Neither of us really remembered each other, though, since we crossed paths just briefly. Mostly, it was my green turtle stamp in the logbooks that he remembered.

Having already eaten, I left them and continued on to the motel where Skunkbear was already getting ready to take a shower. It was a small, two-bed motel room that six of us would be squeezing into. Splits texted back that he had already set up camp and didn't feel like breaking it down to join us, but that if it was okay, maybe he could come in tomorrow morning for a quick shower before getting back on the trail. 

I set up my bed under a hotel table--one of the few places on the ground not covered with hiker gear or a path that a hiker would need to get to or from the bathroom. 

After Skunkbear cleaned up, I took my turn in the shower and cleaned up. It felt wonderful!

Later in the evening when the rest of the hikers had returned, we chatted the rest of the night away before hitting the sack. 

I was really happy to be indoors for the night and out of the rain, but ugh... what a stressful day. I couldn't wait to get out of town and back on the wide-open trails again.

One of Skunkbear's chores to do in Pagosa Springs was to get her socks replaced. These are pretty well worn!

I wasn't sure what these were, but I later learned that they are used for avalanche control.

Here you can see the hail forming a thin layer that almost looks like snow.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Day 58: The Unplanned Resupply

June 17: The four of us packed up camp and pretty much all hit the trail at 6:30 in the morning. Goose and Savage headed up to the CDT to continue on the main route, but Skunkbear and I decided we had enough of the snow and misery and headed in the opposite direction, descending toward the village of Platoro. Actually, calling it a village might be a bit generous, but I'm not sure what else to call it. A hamlet, maybe?

In the morning, we could see the scene of our misery from yesterday. That long, narrow snow chute near the right side of the photo is the one we followed alongside. (Not that snow field ON the right edge, but the snow chute just to the left of it.) At least until it merged with that other snow chute at which point we had to cross the snow directly.

In any case, we were heading away from the snow and water-logged meadows, and that's all that mattered to us.

The day's hike started off quite nice. The trail was in good shape, flat, dry and snow-free. There was the occasional blow down to get around, but they weren't particularly difficult or problematic. Then the trail dumped out at a gravel road which we could follow all the way to Elwood Pass where we would reconnect with the official CDT.

The gravel road was nice and easy to walk along, and except for the occasional vehicle that would drive by, it was a pleasant change from our horrible day yesterday.

Several more miles up the road, the road would split. We needed to turn left to head up to Elwood Pass, but there was that small hamlet known as Platoro a couple of miles to the right which had a small convenience store according to our information. Our Guthook app had information about the section between Platoro and Elwood Pass since it was part of the Great Divide Alternate popular with thru-hikers trying to avoid excessive snow on the main route. We were jumping onto the alternate halfway along it. Had we followed the alternate sooner, we could have avoided the horrors of yesterday completely. In hindsight, right?

The end of our trail and the beginning of our road walk,....

The annoying part for us, however, was that the resupply point was a couple of miles in the wrong direction. We weren't particularly excited about going off our route to do it, but with our severe lack of progress yesterday, we were low on food.

As we approached the junction, though, a man driving by with his truck pulled over and asked if we wanted a ride. Yes! Of course! But... "No..." I said. "We want to keep our steps from Mexico to Canada connected." If we got a ride before the junction, our steps would get broken.

Skunkbear stopped me from a big mistake, though, pointing out that we were actually closer to the junction than the junction was from town. We could get a ride into town, and then hike back to where we got picked up. We'd still have to do the section between our current location and the junction twice, but that was still shorter than walking all the way into town and repeating the section between the junction and the town twice. "And," she pointed out, "it's entirely possible we could even hitch a ride back here." Even without the ride back, it would definitely save ourselves a couple of miles of hiking and still keep our steps connected. Let's do it!

So after our quick 20-second conversation, we agreed to a ride and hopped into the back of the man's pickup. Skunkbear was a bit concerned that we wouldn't remember precisely where we got picked up and not backtrack far enough to connect our steps (or overshoot them), but I told her not to worry about that. I had a GPS and marked the point where we got picked up. We could now easily return to the precise point where our feet left the ground.

Our benefactor introduced himself as Allen, and we started the bumpy ride into town. The road became windy and descended sharply toward the flat ground around the town, and in the back of the pickup truck, Skunkbear and I told each other how glad we were not having to hike this section. It was a long way downhill! Of course, we still needed to come back up, but at least we didn't have to walk this as a round-trip adventure and her idea of accepting the ride into town seemed more brilliant than ever. We hadn't really looked very closely at our maps to notice just how much elevation we had to lose to get into town.

Allen dropped us off at the general store, and even suggested coming back to pick us up. First to take us to a cabin him and a friend were renting out. They were leaving that day and needed to use up the food they had--which we could help out with--then he would give us a ride back to where he picked us up. We were thrilled. Awesome! Sure! Not a problem! We wouldn't even have to hitch a ride back to the trail!

Unless, of course, he planned to kill us at his cabin and feed our bodies to the bears, but he seemed like a friendly guy. =)

At the general store, I was a little disappointed with the options. Even by convenience store standards, the options weren't good. Fortunately, I didn't need much food to supplement my supplies and with a ride into and out of town, we weren't going to lose too much time with this resupply. I picked up a Coke, Pringles, mashed potatoes and a Klondike bar, but since that didn't meet the $10 minimum for a credit card purchase, I also threw in a Twix bar.

The Coke and Klondike bar were for immediate consumption. I wasn't particularly excited about the Pringles--they weren't even among my top 10 favorites for snack foods but the pickings were slim. I never had to resort to eating Pringles on a hike before. The powdered mashed potatoes was the main thing I wanted to supplement my food--one extra dinner. And snacks or a meal here in town for one extra lunch.

Platoro was a couple of miles out of our way and down a big hill, so we were quite grateful for the ride!

While waiting outside for Allen to return to pick us up, I idly looked through the menu of the small, attached restaurant and was really tempted by the burger and fries. It sounded so good right then, but I was afraid that I couldn't get it and eat it before Allen arrived to pick us up again, and I really didn't want to miss a ride back to the trail.

The woman working there said she could have it cooked and ready in about five minutes, and eventually I decided to go for it. But I definitely emphasized that I needed the meal ASAP! 

It was a few minutes later when Allen pulled up again. Argh! Of course! Just my luck!

I found the woman making the order and asked her to prepare it as a to-go meal and paid for the purchase while the burger was still cooking. A couple of minutes later, it was ready and she packed it in a to-go container, then Skunkbear and I jumped into the back of the pickup truck for a ride to Allen's cabin.

There he introduced us to his friend John, and they set up a bunch of sandwich ingredients on a table on the patio: bread, ham, mustard, cheese and spicy pickles. Skunkbear made a sandwich right away for lunch as I dug into the burger and fries. They offered us some wine, but I passed on that taking a Coke instead. Skunkbear, however, was pretty excited about a glass of white wine,. =)

Allen and John

And we spent the better part of an hour chatting away and enjoying the afternoon. Allen said something about us hiking together and I suddenly realized that he thought we were a couple, and so I told him that we had actually only met for the first time a few days ago. We'd just been watching out for each other through the snow.

He turned to Skunkbear making a comment about how amazing it was that she was hiking the trail all by herself, and I butted in, "Hey! What about me? I've been hiking all by myself too!" For some reason, us men never get the credit for hiking "alone" that women do. It's a little disappointing sometimes. Later in the evening when we were chatting, Skunkbear thanked me for pointing out that double standard saying that she was sometimes annoyed by people who assumed she was less capable of these sorts of feats than men. 

Women are certainly just as capable of hiking these trails as men. And, in fact, I think Skunkbear had been kicking my ass yesterday. Figuratively, of course. She was moving a lot faster and stronger than I was and often had to stop and wait for me. There's nothing a man can do out here that a woman can't except, perhaps, pee while standing up--but they even have She-Wees and such for that now.

Anyway, after lunch, both Skunkbear and I made sandwiches to pack out and eat for dinner, and then Allen drove us back to the point where he first picked us up, precisely marked by my GPS.

Skunkbear shows off the double-decker sandwich she made that she would pack out for dinner.

At the junction where the road split, Allen stopped and asked if we wanted to jump out and stash our packs in the woods so we wouldn't have to carry them from where we would be dropped off back to this junction. Skunkbear and I looked at each other like we were idiots. Why hadn't we thought of that?! Absolutely! That was a brilliant idea!

My only concern was that perhaps a bear would get into our packs during the brief period it would take to return to this point, but we figured it probably wasn't more than about 10 or 15 minutes at worst and in the middle of the day near a surprisingly busy dirt road, it was worth the risk. So we hopped out of the pickup and stashed our packs behind some nearby trees, then jumped back into the pickup for the half-mile or so ride back to the point where we had been picked up.

Allen dropped us off, and we thanked him profusely for the help. A true trail angel when we needed it most! Allen drove off leaving dust in his wake, and Skunkbear and I began walking down the road again but this time without any weight on our backs at all.

"I can't believe I almost turned down that ride," I told Skunkbear. "I'm so glad you talked me into it! What a fool I was," I said, shaking my head.

Platoro Reservoir

About ten minutes later, we reached the junction where we had stashed our packs and retrieved them. "Ugh! These feel so heavy now!" I complained.

And we turned up the road, away from Platoro and toward Elwood Pass.

The rest of the day's hike was fast and efficient. The road was almost entirely flat and easy and we walked quickly covering surprisingly large chucks of ground quickly. According to my GPS, which was a bit imprecise since it included the mileage in Allen's truck that I had to subtract out and could only make a rough estimate of, we ended up hiking about 25 miles for the day--my longest day yet--helping make up for that lack of progress yesterday.

We stopped for the night at Elwood Pass, right where the alternate reconnected with the main CDT again. The roads gradually increased in elevation all day long so there were patches of snow near the pass, but we had completely bypassed the second "sketchy" area that Pez had reported and by all accounts, the rest of the way into Pagosa Springs was in a lot better shape that the area we had just bypassed. Hopefully--knock on wood--the worst was behind us.

In camp, I pulled out my ham, cheese, pickle and mustard sandwich for dinner and after one bite, I exclaimed to Skunkbear, "Wow! These pickles are really good!" Since I had eaten the burger and fries for lunch, I hadn't actually tasted the food that Allen and John had provided us. But this was old news to Skunkbear who had also eaten the same sandwich for lunch. "Delicious!" she agreed.

So I really enjoyed the sandwich. I had expected a pretty normal, average sandwich, but it was absolutely delicious! And definitely a nice change from my usual Hamburger Helper or mac 'n' cheese.

And thus ended my 58th day on the trail.....

Skunkbear enjoys the ride in the back of Allen's pickup truck. The beverage (I forgot what was in it) she picked up at the general store.

I swear! It wasn't me!

Monday, February 21, 2022

Day 57: The Day That Would Live In Infamy!

June 16: Skunkbear and I woke up to a beautiful morning. The sun was shining. Life was good. We also wanted to get an early start to the day so we were packed up and hiking by 6:30am.

The first several miles climbed steadily higher and upwards and presented no trouble. But then....


We started approaching mile marker 818.4 which is the first of two locations that Pez reported as "sketchy." As if to emphasize the point, only a week earlier there was a double-rescue near the area where two separate hikers had to be rescued. The rumor heard all up and down the trail was that Smoosh broke her leg when a rock slid down the mountain and hit her. Her and her hiking partner had called for help with a personal locator beacon, and as the rescuers were attending her, another hiker apparently slid down a snow chute and was completely unconscious. Since he seemed to be in the more immediate danger, they ditched her for a bit to deal with the unconscious hiker that slid down the mountain and both were eventually helicoptered out. I never really heard any updates about them after that so presumably everyone made it out okay. If they had turned into fatalities, I'm sure I would have heard about it.

Anyhow, I wasn't precisely sure where all this went down, but it was definitely in the same area that Pez had reported as sketchy. I kept telling myself that that had happened a whole week ago, though! A lot of snow would have melted in the past week. It wouldn't be as bad now, and hikers were definitely making it through okay.

The trail followed near the higher end of a ridge, occasionally crossing some snow chutes that would plunge hundreds and hundreds of feet down the steep mountains. They were steep enough that we usually couldn't see the bottom of them, but we were high enough up the mountain that we could sometimes scramble up and around it. It was still difficult getting around them, however, scrambling over the loose rocks on the steep slopes.

Until we finally reached one snow chute that just looked dangerously bad--and we still hadn't even reached the point that Pez had reported as "sketchy." How could this not be sketchy?! How many more dangerous snow chutes would there be? 

And I finally asked Skunkbear what she thought about the idea of just charging directly down the mountain to the valley below. There was no trail marking the way, but the CDT was heading down to the valley bottom anyhow. We'd just cut down the mountain earlier and follow a steeper path than the official route did--and avoid all those snow chutes completely.

Skunkbear seemed to like the idea, and we started our descent.

This was the snow chute that blocked our route, and those loose rocks on the right are the part we scrambled down.

It didn't go quickly, though. The steep slope was filled with scree and we immediately started sending rocks rolling down the mountain ahead of us--which was especially problematic for whoever was further down the slope. Skunkbear went down the slope like a billy goat. I started right behind her, but eventually stopped when I couldn't help prevent dislodging rocks that rained down on her. So I watched her descend until she reached a safe place well away from any rocks I could dislodge, then slowly followed her down.

Now when I say this slope was steep, I mean it was steep! I used my hands as much as my feet to scramble down the slope, and I moved slowly and deliberately, following alongside the snow chute that had blocked our progress.

Progress was slow, but we worked our way down one step at a time. I wondered if this route we were doing was really safer than trying to cross the snow chutes. I was having second thoughts at this point, but I didn't consider climbing back up. Nope, no way, no how. That seemed like a dangerous proposition as well and would just leave us in the same bad place where we were before. Frankly, there just wasn't any good, safe option except a helicopter. But it seemed a little premature to be calling for a helicopter. At the very least, one of us should have a reasonable impressive injury before we signal for help!

As we neared the bottom of the snow chute, however, we ran into a small snag. The snow chutes on both sides of us merged into a single river of snow. We hit a dead end. There was no more rock to scramble down. The only way out was across the snow.

The good news, if you can call it that, was that we weren't hundreds and hundreds of feet higher. The snow chute leveled out less than 100 feet below us. If we slipped and fell, it probably wouldn't be fatal--but it could definitely still cause some major injuries.

Skunkbear took the lead. She pulled out her ice axe and decided to traverse directly across the snow chute that had originally blocked us. It was the shortest route to the dry ground on the far side of it. The distance she had to cover probably wasn't more than about 30 feet, but it took her a good 15 minutes to cross as she kicked in footholds for each step across the snow chute. When she finally made it safely to the other side, we shouted across back and forth to each other.

"How was it?" I asked.

"It was the scariest f**king thing I ever did in my life!" she called back.

Well... that didn't sound good. I was actually a little surprised by the answer. She seemed like she was handling it well and with the ice axe in hand, I didn't think she had any trouble with it.

Did you notice Skunkbear on the right side of this photo?

My problem, however, was that I didn't have an ice axe, and I didn't feel very confident about going the direction she did. She offered to come back part way and somehow get me the ice axe, but I told her no. She was safe and sound, let's keep it that way. If we had thought about it earlier, we could have had her carry one end of a rope with her then tie the ice axe to it and I could pull it back to myself, but we hadn't thought of it. And yeah, having her cross the snow chute two more times seemed unnecessarily stupid.

But that still left the question... how the heck was I going to get out of here? I sure wished I had my ice axe just then. I did have my micro spikes, but they didn't seem sufficient for this purpose.

I put on my micro spikes anyhow. I could certainly use any extra help I could get! I also put on my gloves. My hands were going to be on the cold snow for awhile and they needed the extra layer.

And I finally settled on the route that would just take me down the steep slope to where it leveled out. With every bit I moved down the slope, the risk to me would become smaller and smaller as the distance I'd slide down would diminish. In the event of an uncontrolled fall, of course. Ideally, I wouldn't have any uncontrolled falls.

I also decided to take an unconventional way of hiking down the slope: on my butt the entire way. I kicked in a hole in the snow to fit my butt, then slide my butt into it. Then kicked in places for my feet a bit further down. Then I'd slide down several inches turning the foot holds into a butt hold. About 6 inches at a time.

It was laborious and slow. Skunkbear hiked down the slope to where I planned to exit and provided mental support with encouragement. I apologized for being so incredibly slow--even though we were maybe less than 100 feet apart from each other, at the pace I was going, it seemed like it might take over an hour, but she was understanding and said to take my time. Better safe than sorry!

I had gotten maybe five feet down the hillside when Skunkbear noticed that my Nalgene bottle had fallen out of my pack above me. I looked up the hillside and could see it sitting there in the snow. Crap!

"I'm not going back for it," I told her. "It's not worth it."

I felt bad leaving it as litter, but it sure wasn't worth risking my life just to get it back. Which seemed a weird thought considering the thing was only about 5 feet away from me. 

This is the point where the two snow chutes merged, and the trail through the snow down the end of it is the one I made sliding down 6 inches at a time on my butt. The orange dot is the Nalgene bottle I lost but I didn't dare go back to retrieve. =(

I continued slowly sliding down the snow chute on my butt, six inches at a time. My butt had long since turned completely numb, but I actually felt pretty safe sitting in my big, wide foot (and butt) holds.

After a half hour, I was getting extremely thirsty, but the Nalgene bottle that I lost had all of the water that was left in my pack. There was nothing for me to drink, damn it. There was tons of water on this section of trail so I never carried more than a single liter of it, and there was certainly plenty of snow that could be turned into water, but it's not like I was in a position where I could take out my stove and start melting water. Nope, I wasn't going to get relief until after I got off this stupid snow chute.

So I felt myself growing increasingly thirsty and dehydrated, unable to drink any water while sitting in the surprisingly warm sun as the white snow reflected all of its heat onto me.

Finally, after over an hour, I had made it safely across! Yes! Yes! Yes! But I told Skunkbear that I really needed to sit down and just rest. I was absolutely exhausted from the traverse. It felt like every muscle in my body had been wound tight the entire distance and I needed to rest. I felt a little bad slowing Skunkbear down, but thanked her gratuitously for watching out for me. And she seemed fine with my needing a bit of a rest. She pulled out her sketchbook and started drawing, and I joked that she was more than welcome to draw me sliding down the snow chute on my butt. Which... she did!!! Although I wouldn't see the finished sketch until much later.

Skunkbear fords the river

Now that I was no longer on the snow and my butt started to thaw out, it felt like there was a bunch of snow that had been rammed up my butt--or at least in my underwear--and I tried to shake it out, but there was nothing there. It was a weird and uncomfortable feeling, but that feeling eventually went away after about 15 or 20 minutes.

The rest of the way down to the valley bottom was gratefully uneventful. The ground wasn't so steep anymore and there wasn't any snow to deal with. We did have to ford Adams Creek, but that wasn't a big deal. And on the other side of the creek, we found the trail that followed along the valley bottom which would lead back to the CDT up the valley.

Skunkbear looked at our maps and suggested an alternate route that would skip the second section that Pez reported as sketchy. She actually had two alternates, one leading west and the other leading east. The one going west followed the CDT for a little way and actually looked like it might even be shorter than the main CDT, and I found myself drawn to it. The one potential problem I saw was that it involved descending a north-facing slope which was likely still full of snow. However.... the slope didn't look as steep as the one we had just descended. It seemed reasonable to think it might be navigable. And if that was passable, the rest should be easy road walks until we reconnected with the CDT again.

The route eastward didn't appeal to me at all because it basically missed a lot of high mountains with the great views and looked like it swung way out of the way, perhaps adding 20 miles or more to the hike. I didn't have a lot of spare food and worried I might run out if we took the eastern route, although that route stayed low the entire time so snow was less likely to be an issue.

So I picked the westward route and we continued onward.

The valley bottom was a delight to walk through. The trail was in good shape, it was mostly flat, and dry and snow-free. We passed one campsite alongside the river that looked absolutely lovely and I joked that if it wasn't so early in the day, we could just camp there.

We soon reconnected with the official CDT, and followed it uphill again, climbing hundreds and hundreds of feet. I found myself dragging pretty badly, though. I was just so friggin' tired. We probably only covered about 4 or 5 miles for the day, but ugh! It felt like I had just finished 30!

As the trail ascended, dark clouds started rolling in. We didn't hear any thunder in them--not yet, at least--but Skunkbear was definitely leery about them.

We finally reached the point where her alternate route veered off from the main CDT. Our route took us over a snow-covered pass, but we were able to hike around the snow. On the other side of the pass, there was a bit of postholing involved, and we followed the route for about a mile before we reached the downward north-facing slope which was still buried in snow.

"I don't think we can go this way," Skunkbear reported.

It killed me to admit it, but she was right. We shouldn't have tried to go this way. Crap! The idea of backtracking sends shudders down the back of every hiker. Argh!

We pulled out maps and looked at them some more, and Skunkbear suggested another alternate route off our alternate. I liked where her head was--let's not backtrack! But I vetoed that idea because our maps didn't span wide enough to show the entire route. And, heaven forbid, it was definitely a lot longer. I really didn't want to run out of food which was a very real concern if the route we used was significantly longer. And... There was a good chance that that route wouldn't even be passable either. I was thinking we'd have to backtrack a mile or so back to the CDT and just continue on that. At least we had maps and Guthook comments about conditions along that route.

Skunkbear took another look at the eastern alternate she had originally suggested as an option and noticed that it would take us by a small general store.

"What?! Wait? There's food there?!"

That was a game changer for me. Even if it was just a tiny little convenience store, I just needed a little extra food to last me the extra day or so it would take to arrive at the next real trail town. It definitely didn't need to be big or fancy.

So I took a closer look at that route and wow! OMG! Why did we not choose this route originally?! It was low the entire way until it reconnected with the CDT, and it passed near a general store. The general store was a couple of miles off our route, but a couple of miles off trail was certainly doable if we needed the food.

So just like that, we decided to go that way. Which meant backtracking even further--all the way back to where we crossed Adams Creek. Ugh! Hundreds of feet of elevation gain, miles of wasted effort in the wrong direction. It was so dispiriting, I almost felt like crying.

Except I didn't have time to pity myself. The dark clouds started turning even darker, and my energy levels had been completely drained. We needed to get back down the mountain.

"Hey, Skunkbear," I said. "Remember that campsite that I joked was so nice, it was too bad we couldn't camp there? I think we should camp there after all."

If it wasn't for the knowledge that we'd be able to hit a convenience store the next day, I'd have suggested pushing on until sunset, but I felt like crap and was dragging so slowly. I was so done with the day and wanted nothing more than to stop. The idea of pushing on until sunset was horrible, but without that convenience store, it would have been absolutely essential to keep moving just to not run out of food. Without that fear pushing me on, I just wanted to stop at the first good place I could find--which was that really nice campsite along the river.

Skunkbear liked the idea, and so that's what we decided on. Backtrack to the campsite and set up camp, then tomorrow hike out to the convenience store and take the long, low-level route back to the CDT. If it took us an extra day or two longer to make it into Pagosa Springs, no big deal since we could supplement our food supplies tomorrow. Perfect! My only regret was not thinking to do this before we spent hours pointlessly hiking in circles. I wondered if anyone was following my progress on my SPOT device and seeing how slow we were going and all the backtracking and wondering what the heck was happening with me.

On our way back down the mountain, we finally started hearing the thunder. Skunkbear asked if I'd be okay if she ditched me to dash down the mountain faster, and I gave her my blessings. "Yep, go. I'll be fine." And I would be. We were out of the snow and heading downhill on a trail we had already hiked before and knew was in good shape. And I definitely couldn't run down the mountain like she could. Skunkbear seemed much stronger and in better spirits than I did.

So we hiked separately for a bit until I caught up with her lower down the mountain when she felt safe enough to stop and wait for me again.

We hiked the rest of the way to the campsite together, arriving in camp at an early 4:30pm. It was a ridiculously early time to stop for the day, but we were both ready to call it quits. I think Skunkbear was pretty tired as well, even if I felt like I was the one slowing us down. For me, I just wanted to curl up in my sleeping bag and go to sleep and die. Or maybe just cry a little.

My GPS officially recorded that we had covered 14.0 miles for the day, but we were maybe six trail miles from our last campsite. It was absurd how little ground we managed to really cover today.

In camp, I thanked Skunkbear for being there with me. It was just a miserable, crappy day, but her support and presence was the one good thing I can remember about the day. They say misery loves company, and I desperately needed the company! And she said that she really appreciated my watching out for her as well. We were in this together.

Shortly after Skunkbear had set up her tent, I noticed a rainbow that formed over her. Like, a literal rainbow. =)

See the rainbow above Skunkbear's tent?

At around 6:00, Goose and Savage arrived at our camp, coming in from two separate directions, cursing about how horrible the descent they had just completed was. It was the same one we did that morning that broke my spirits. They had been hiking together but got separated. Goose I had met in Chama, but Savage was a new hiker for me, so we made introductions and welcomed them to camp. It was still hours until sunset, but they were tired enough to want to quit for the day as well.

They also reported passing Splits who, apparently, wasn't far behind them and might still show up this evening. I asked about Evenstar, but they hadn't seen her. They did hear about her from Splits, however, who had hiked with her for at least part of the time. I hoped she was doing okay and not going through these snow chutes and slopes by herself. I wished I had some way to contact her, but oh well.

The rest of the afternoon we all just chatted away and by around sunset, headed back to our respective tents and tarps for the night. It was the merciful end of my worst day on the trail. Well, at least my worst day so far.... Lord knows what the days ahead would hold....

This was the point where Skunkbear and I decided to ditch the official CDT and just go straight down the mountain rather than attempt to traverse the snow chute. We couldn't even see the bottom of the snow chute! But if we could just made it to the bottom of that valley.... Safe!

This is the view from the bottom of the valley looking back up the slope we had just come down. That long snow chute near the center of the photo is the one we followed down the left side of, and you can see where it merges with the snow chute next to it near the bottom left corner of the photo. That's the point where I spent over an hour sliding down less than a hundred feet on my butt.