Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Day 51: The Day the Otter Died

June 10: I slept in late once again, still in no rush. I rather enjoyed my slow, lazy days. Despite taking my time, however, I was still hiking by 7:30 in the morning. Wi-fi managed to sleep in even later than I did and was still in camp when I left. He was awake and moving, but still in camp.

It was fairly early in the morning when I passed the campground where a previous hiker died a few years ago. His name was Otter, and I first heard about his lonely death from Little Red and Chuckles, a couple that I first met while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. They told me their story about finding a dead body on the trail, and it was this one. They weren't the very first to find him--but they had reached this campground and found a note on the door of the outhouse saying that there was a dead body inside which freaked them out. A hiker the day before found it and had hiked out to call for help, but the authorities hadn't yet arrived to deal with the situation, unable to navigate the snowy roads to the remote location. It was traumatic enough for them to quit their CDT thru-hike shortly afterwards. In a weird coincidence, they had planned to make another attempt at the CDT this year, but planned to hike southbound from the Canada border instead. (Perhaps thinking they might find fewer bodies from the other direction?) So I actually hoped to meet up with them on the trail somewhere at some point. (I had already prepared a joke that I "searched all the outhouses and they've been cleared of dead bodies--nothing to worry about! The rest of the trail is safe to hike!")

Anyhow, their personal story was really all I knew about Otter's death, but as I approached the campground where he died, I made a point of looking up more information about it and found Otter Olshansky: A lonely death on New Mexico's Continental Divide Trail. It's a chilling and sad story, and a reminder that nobody is immune to nature's fury. Otter was a highly experienced hiker who probably had even more trail miles than I do--which is saying a lot because not many people can brag about that. He got stuck at this campground, trapped in the snow for six weeks before he finally died in his sleeping bag in the bathroom. His frozen body laid there another four months before CDT hikers heading northbound finally reached the location and discovered it.

Otter died at a campground near this lake.

Anyhow, I passed the site, pondering the meaning of life and the sad death of Otter. It was a beautiful location, but I imagine by the time of his death, Otter viewed it as a hell on earth. The prison where he would die.

I pushed onward, taking a two relatively long breaks during the day. At both of my long breaks, Wi-fi caught up with me. He reported that his leg was hurting him more than yesterday, so he was taking it slow and easy.

Blowdowns were a bit of a problem past the campsite, but nothing too severe. From some of the viewpoints along the mountain ridges, I could finally see snow-covered mountains that were undoubtedly located in Colorado. It didn't look terrible--not in the sense that it looked impassible, but it was still miles and miles away, and I feared that just the fact I could see the snow from so far away meant that it was really, really bad. I just couldn't be sure from this distance, but there was definitely snow in the mountains ahead. I pushed those thoughts out of my head, though. For now, the trail was in good shape and not covered with snow, and that's what mattered. I still had to get into town tomorrow, and I planned to take at least one or two zero days in Chama, and maybe whatever snow I saw would melt in the next few days. Nothing to worry about for the time being! It was pleasantly warm and snow was definitely melting quickly.

Wi-fi and I set up camp together again after covering about 19 miles in all, never having seen any other hikers all day. Generally a quiet, easy day of hiking.....


Mary said...

That was so sad reading about Otter. Thanks for the link. There's a lesson - always have a good backup - like a real map - to modern technology like a phone. Also don't hike stoned!

Anonymous said...

Rest in Peace Otter! Your legacy will live on!