Days 36-39: Into the San Juans

Hello friends of the PJ adventure! I know, it’s been awhile. My sincere apologies for the long delay. Despite months having passed since we finished hiking last fall, it’s my goal to update this blog and write about each section, even if it’s just for my own enjoyment. We are now fully immersed in Normal Life in Eugene, OR, and the CDT feels like a dream or alternate reality. Did it really happen? I look forward to reliving it through these posts. Thank you for reading!

We pick up where we left off in Chama, NM….

June 25-28, 721 miles hiked

We were so tired in Chama that once we got groceries and had lunch, we didn’t leave our hotel room until the following morning. The next morning, we quickly found a ride in the back of a pickup with a couple of men who seemed to speak only Spanish. They dropped us off at Cumbres Pass, and there we were, ready to tackle the San Juans. We’d been hearing rumors about the conditions in these mountains for the past few weeks… the snow was so deep that the hikers before us had had to hitch up to Wyoming to hike other sections… some hikers flip flopped up to Montana and started hiking south… those that did attempt it carried ice axes and crampons… did you at least have your warm clothes shipped to Chama, they asked. No, we had not. For some reason, this hadn’t occurred to us. So, we started hiking, feeling a little foolish and wary of the snow and cold ahead.

Within the first five miles, the terrain changed dramatically. The trail climbed, and the landscape opened up and revealed huge, wide valleys with rows of snow covered mountains. I was amazed at how quickly the land had changed. We climbed to 12,000 feet and the trail followed a high, green ridge. Snow dotted the landscape, and everything was melting and wet. It started to rain, and the temperature dropped. All of a sudden, soaked and cold in my shorts and light windbreaker, I realized how exposed we were. The warnings had been real…. Colorado was a different beast than New Mexico, and I had not been emotionally prepared for it.

Finally, it stopped raining. By evening we had reached the mosquito-infested Dipping Lakes, then the trail climbed to a rocky ridge again. We traversed along the ridge as the sun set, awestruck by the beauty and the high mountains we were suddenly in. We made mac ‘n cheese for dinner and drank wine we’d brought to celebrate our first night in CO. It was COLD. I was happy to be there and happy to be hiking.

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The trail stayed high the next day, traversing along the sides of mountains, then around bends to the next mountains, then more traversing along the sides. There were always beautiful basins below us but the trail rarely dropped into them. There was lots of snow on the trail and it was slow going. Everything was wet and we got used to our feet always being soaked and cold. The views were so beautiful – rows and rows of mountains, with deep, mysterious valleys below. It was nearly dark when we found a saddle to camp on. We had hiked all day but only covered 23 miles, averaging 2 miles an hour. Here are some views from that day:

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It was always threatening, but did not rain on us that day…

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Clouds and mysterious valleys

DSC02717We continued the side mountain traverses the next day. Late in the morning, the trail dropped into a valley and we found another hiker sitting next to the river. As we had not seen another person on the trail since Tatu-Joe, we were surprised and SO happy to see another human. It was a man named Matt, a section hiker heading for Salida, which was a few hundred miles north. We stopped and chatted with him, then the three of us continued on together. Matt had a condition called expressive aphasia that made it hard for him to communicate. As we hiked, he told us about his life, how he’d had to take blood thinners his whole life for a heart condition. One day, fed up with it, he stopped taking his medication. He had a stroke, and now had this condition. I was so happy to see and talk to another person. It made the time pass quickly, and the climbs and snow traverses seemed easier. As we hiked that afternoon, the terrain changed gradually and the peaks changed into smaller, gentler mountains. The colors became greens and blues instead of grays. At one point, we stopped for a break and Matt kept going. The trail entered a forest and the hiking became much easier. We passed Matt that evening – he had stopped to camp and was sitting in a clearing near a mosquitoey marsh. We said our goodbyes, then continued on. I can’t explain why, but thinking of him there alone made my heart hurt.

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We hiked until 8:30 or 9, our usual stopping time, and were excited to come upon three other hikers camping in a clearing. They were Sass, Paperweight, and Chocolate Chipmunk – other thru hikers!! They had gotten stopped by the snow two weeks earlier, so hitched up to Wyoming to hike the Great Basin, which is desert and hikeable in June, and were now reattempting this section. We camped with them, trading stories and hearing about the crazy snow that had made this section impassable just a few weeks ago.

The next morning, we hiked the last eight miles to Wolf Creek Pass to hitch into Pagosa Springs. The trail passed through a ski resort and there were tons of day hikers out. We got a ride quickly and asked to be taken to the bakery, which was wonderful and surpassed all of my expectations. I had a cinnamon roll and a huge sandwich, and we spent most of our time chatting with two delightful men who were hiking the John Muir Trail that summer and had lots of questions. After the usual errands (post office, grocery store, outfitter, thrift store), we got a room at an average but very expensive motel. Pagosa Springs was cute but extremely touristy and expensive. We would soon find that every Colorado town was like that.

We met two other hikers staying in the next room over – Nightwatch and Not A Chance! We had dinner and drinks at the cantina and an anonymous couple paid for the whole thing. A random guy at the bar insisted on giving Phil $8. Addie, the owner of the local outdoor store, offered us waffles and a ride back to the trail the next morning. After days of feeling starved for human connection, it seemed I was being offered love and connections everywhere I looked.

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Food sorting in Pagosa Springs

One thought on “Days 36-39: Into the San Juans

  1. It’s fun to get your updated blog. I was thinking about you two recently and wondering where you were and what you are doing. Katie Lawson (forever friend of Carol McDonald living in Bellingham, WA.)

    On Tue, Mar 21, 2017 at 5:38 PM, the pj adventure wrote:

    > julia posted: “Hello friends of the PJ adventure! I know, it’s been > awhile. My sincere apologies for the long delay. Despite months having > passed since we finished hiking last fall, it’s my goal to update this blog > and write about each section, even if it’s just for my ” >

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