Southern Colorado, entering the San Juans
Day 78 – October 3
Getting up at 7:30am in the Monarch Lodge outside of Salida, CO, we took it easy and I mended some of our clothes before getting breakfast at the hotel restaurant. It was a strange experience since the chef was also the waitress and dish washer, and their credit card reader wasn’t working. The staff gave us our breakfast for free since we had no cash in exchange for a review of the hotel. Sounds good to me! Our pancakes were full of uncooked batter, but I didn’t mind since our waitress/chef/dishes girl was clearly stretched too thin and doing her best.
We left with a ride from some friendly guests who saw us trying to hitch out. They were on their way up to hike near our trailhead so it worked perfectly to be dropped off by them! Thank you kind family!
Today on the trail were TONS of mountain bikes, plenty of dirt bikes, and one thru hiker… Lunar! Yay! What a treat to see him on the trail. We chatted for a bit and set back off.
Today we hiked 15 miles from noon-6:30pm. Not bad! It’s another 85 to Lake City. Being in the woods feels great, but with the cold setting in I notice I am getting a lot more particular about my comfort than I used to be. About two more months of hiking left! Let’s see!
Day 79 – October 4
Cold cold, chilly chilly, brrr brrr! It’s strange to wake up and find that the little steam you camped by is iced over anywhere the water is not actively flowing through. We both slept poorly since our site was on the side of a hill, I woke up several times in a ball at the bottom of our tent since my sleeping bag likes to slide down my mat. Ha! It was also chilly which didn’t help the sleep. At least we got to bed nice and early.
My alarm went off at 5:30am and by about 6:15 we were slowly eating breakfast still in our bags. Over two hours later, after camp chores and avoiding the cold, we were on our way for the day.
It was interesting to plan our water stops. After 6 miles of hiking, the next viable source was in about 22 miles. Yikes! Ryan did some sleuthing and found in the Guthook comments (Guthook is the navigation app we use with detailed explanations of what’s on the trail) that there was an unmarked water source, a lake, half a mile off trail in 10 miles instead of 22. Thankfully we could refill there which meant we needed to fill and carry four pounds, 2L of water, each to make it to the lake hydrated. When we fill up at the lake we will need more water to finish up about 12 miles to water and camp overnight with enough to cook our rice. It will be a heavy carry, but we are glad to be splitting the 22 mile load up into two manageable parts.
Today was up and down all day but in short bursts either way and fairly well graded. My mood, which has been low the past several days, reared it’s head but I walked through it pushing hard, breathing through my nose (thank you Breath, the book that we are currently reading, for providing the motivation for this) and listening to music. My mood lifted and I had a burst of creativity that was much appreciated!!
In this creative mindset I thought about trying to give another tattoo (thank you again Andrew for being willing to take my first practice run!), sewing my own clothes, and living in Europe. It was a lot of fun to be in my mind!
We made great time getting to our next water source, mainly because Ryan’s meticulous care of his IT band is seriously paying off. He has incorporated a lengthy routine with resistance bands in the morning, MSM and gelatin in his diet, and stretching still as needed. Go Ry!! You are an inspiration working hard to heal yourself ❤️ I love you!
At the lake where we went WAY down for a short stretch off trail, we found so, SO many tiny little swimming, swirling, scooting, spinning and squishing organisms in the water. It was DENSE with them. Poor filter. We gave ourselves six liters, 12 lbs, to make it over night and the 12 miles of hiking to the next good source. Hello heavy load!
After hiking up the mountain to the trail from the lake, then climbing some more elevation back on the CDT, we got a nice level plane to walk on and a slight down to where we set up for the night. Tonight our campsite is FLAT! Hallelujah! No more sliding down to the foot of the tent all night. Time to cook our Knorr side with butter, watch an episode of Space Force, then cozy up and sleep 😴 about 65 more miles to Lake City plus many more beautiful views, wise trees, and busy critters between here and there.
Day 80 – October 5
Hello 26 miles! What a day. Here it is in a nutshell:
It was easy walking, mostly flat which we haven’t seen in a LONG time. Our first ten miles of the day went quickly since we were making no water stops and surviving instead on what we had packed from the lake yesterday. We ran into James and Mike who we met our FIRST day on the trail and haven’t seen since! We also got into new terrain, I finished the book Breath we’ve been listening to, and we fueled our adventure with very little food since we are running low.
We got up slowly (as is usual since the sun doesn’t rise now into well after 6am) then took down camp and walked onward and upward. The morning brought the majority of any climbing we did for the day and soon we were headed on a long, steady four mile downhill through aspens that had nearly lost all their leaves. Pine trees, red shrubs changing color, and the occasional Gold Crested Ground Squirrel, which if you had asked me before I learned their name, would be considered a chipmunk, also graced our eyes.
Ryan and I kept good, stimulating conversation and our bodies went about 7 miles before the first pangs of walking set in. The pangs stayed and got much worse over the next 19 miles. Such is life when you walk all day long.
Reaching water by 12:15pm felt amazing. We made fantastic time and were proud of it! While sitting and eating our lunch we saw two hikers approaching from a ways off. We watched until they were close enough to talk and we soon discovered it was James and Mike!! No way!!! We had met them our first official day on trail, literally hundreds and hundreds of miles ago by foot, and hadn’t seen them again until today. I had even thought of them earlier today and wondered if they were still on trail and how they were doing. So so cool.
We spent some time catching up on the past three months and found they had jumped south to northern New Mexico from Rawlins, WY to avoid fires that had just started south of there. They are walking Northbound through Colorado and flipping back down after reaching Rawlins in about 500 miles.
My mood was so lifted after seeing them and I had a sense of wonder at how amazing it is to run into people, TOTALLY out of the blue, that I have thought about and wondered about for months now. When we met Mike and James who hiked the AT last year, I asked if they ever felt like quitting on the trail. Miles said “every day.” Knowing he had decided to keep moving despite doubts has kept me moving many times. James and Mike (AKA Appa and Momo), happy trails to you both and hopefully we will see you again further down the way.
The rest of our day was pretty much downhill or flat despite one more up and down. We enjoyed a change in scenery at about 11 miles into our 26 mile goal. Suddenly it felt like we were back in Wyoming! Lots of sage and rabbit brush, gorgeous blue desert ground cover plants, singing grasshoppers, and cow ponds. Although the Basin in Wyoming was hard, it somehow feels like being back home coming into such familiar terrain.
We were VERY tired as the sun was setting and we had about six miles left. My hips were hurting and Ryan was seriously tired of walking. We decided to try a little running for a boost and enjoyed the rush that came from a quick pace and fast breathing. Eventually we settled back on walking the rest of the way and drug ourselves to the next water source. We got to camp when the stars were almost all visible and the horizon had the SLIGHTEST bit of color in it still. It was chilly and dark, but so beautiful and serene.
Ryan ran ahead of me in the last mile and I took my time, exploring what it was like to walk by starlight. I took a moment to remind myself where I was. 100s of miles from anywhere I’ve ever called “home,” out in the woods away from anyone else than Ryan, under the stars in Colorado. I took a moment to be thankful for being here, no longer sitting behind a desk. My body is strong and lean. My mind is uncluttered and open. I am comfortable in solitude, not afraid of the approaching cold night, any animals that may be out around me, or the 39 miles left to walk into town.
I forget to be thankful for this lifestyle. It is SO challenging, so difficult to keep moving through pain, uncertainty, fears, boredom and discomfort… It is also a gift to experience such freedom from society, expectations, schedules, shopping malls, radios, houses, buildings, billboards, screens (I know, I’m on one right now typing), showers and beds. What an adventure, truly. Good job dear Morgan! You are doing something incredible, even when you are struggling through it. Thank you so much Ryan for being the reason I am still on trail. My heart is overflowing!
Joining Ryan at camp quickly brought me back to earth as we worked on our camp chores and prepared a much needed meal. We have a very curious and busy visitor who I have been able to catch short glances of amidst rustling and scratching sounds. A mouse is about!! We hung our food or it would almost certainly be snacked on while we slept. Goodnight mouse and stars and moon and my very, very tired body.
Day 81 – October 6
Scritch scratch, scurry scurry, Ryan said he woke up a couple times to a little mouse running over top of him on the outside of our tent, underneath the rain fly where it was very visible. We definitely had a visitor!
The moon has been rising late in the night so when we go to bed it is very dark. Sometime in the early morning however our tent gets a soft blue moon glow and it stays until the day turns and slowly the glow gets brighter and brighter. Today we slept until it was nearly full light and looked at our clock to see the alarming time of 7:16am! We slept in.
Turns out Ryan had very poor sleep due to a stuffy nose and the extra cold that we got overnight. Our water bottles had completely iced over the little water that was left in them. Brrrr! Needless to say it was difficult to get out of our warm cocoons in those conditions.
We eventually toughed it out though and slowly got ready for the day. By about 9am we were sitting in the sun while Ryan did his physical therapy for his IT band. He must be doing a great job because his resistance band snapped! Time to move up to the medium band a couple days early. While he did his PT I filtered water and enjoyed some breathing exercises. What a grounding way to start the day.
We set off for a fairly flat stomp around in the forest. It warmed up quicker than we anticipated and soon, despite very little climbing, we were sweating and hot! My mood was low after a late start which tends to leave me overwhelmed by the thought of our day’s task. It is overwhelming to even think about walking before we start, but once we get going the rhythm of the day kicks in and all is well. Soon we were enjoying conversation about the Romans (Ryan is an EXCELLENT history teacher) while approaching lunch at a beautiful stream that we followed up for the rest of the day.
The second half of our walk (usually lunch marks the split into two parts) was absolutely stunning. We are in the La Garita Wilderness and I would HIGHLY recommend this hike. It is mostly flat with a slight inclination up all day, so slight you can’t even feel it. It’s along a beautiful stream that you can hear bubbling along the entire way, and you are walking in a narrow, long valley with nice mountains framing it. There are wide open grassy areas and plenty of trees to add interest for your eyes. The mountains are rocky and rugged but easy to pass and not too tall which means we hovered just below the tree line. Today was one of my favorite days hiking.
We ended our time with podcasts and music as the sun set and we set up camp as it was just getting dark. The cold was intense and frustrating, but tonight we ate a big meal since we expect to make it to town tomorrow for dinner if we can get a good start! Hooray!
Day 82 – October 7
Some days things don’t go as planned. I am still trying to decide whether or not that means I should stop planning, which sometimes has fantastic results, or if plans are just doomed to fail from time to time and I should focus on mitigating expectations to avoid the pain that comes when things go awry.
Today there was definitely a plan, to make it to Lake City for dinner, but due to this and that, that and this, we didn’t make it and still have another five miles to cover in the morning.
It’s so frustrating how it feels a whole day can be wasted by wishing it was going differently. What does one do in this circumstance? I hobbled between grave acceptance that we wouldn’t make it and then a giddy glimmer of hope that we would. Neither felt stable or desirable. Yikes!
The scenery today was thankfully gorgeous and from time to time I would look up from my brooding or pause my music to commune with nature. We saw a few herds of big horn sheep that were majestic and intriguing. They would pop out from behind a huge rocky mountain and watch us carefully to decide when to bolt… which they always did. One herd had to have been at least 15 goats all incredibly running away from us over rough terrain, white butts wiggling as they went.
We also had some gorgeous views. It was an up and down kind of day terrain-wise so we made it to four different summits all with something to offer our eyes.
Tomorrow we will try again to make it to Lake City. The fears of being caught in the cold, running out of food on trail, not hitting our mileage without serious digging deep due to shortening days are all hanging quite heavy over me right now. It makes it a lot harder to hike and to enjoy the journey when my fight or flight keeps kicking in. This is interesting and challenging. I hope I can do the best with our options to minimize regrets and maximize gratitude!
Day 83 – October 8
Does today count as a walking day? We did five miles to get to the pass where we could hitch into Lake City.
It was a great hike since we had done all our climbing yesterday. It was all downhill after rolling for a couple of miles over the plateau we had slept on. It was a gorgeous campsite and we were visited by curious coyotes that sounded off closer and closer to us before we heard their calls nearby and around our tent. Spooky!
We met a few day hikers headed up the trail as we were coming down and soon we had reached our trailhead at Spring Creek Pass. It took us a good hour or so to get a ride since this highway is very quiet and the towns on either side are summer home destinations which means wealthy people. When we see a luxury car, we know we won’t get a ride and plenty of what passed over the Divide were luxury vehicles. Eventually we were picked up by the Sheriff’s Deputy in Creed and we got a fun education on hunting mountain lions. It was a pleasant ride and we were dropped off in town right outside the BBQ joint where we had lunch. It was delicious and characteristically expensive being in a small mountain town.
Ryan found us an ADORABLE room at the Wagon Wheel Cabins right next door. It was one room with a nice little bathroom and had a full kitchen, TV, couch, bed, and the sweetest county decorations. We washed off the last five and a half days of hiking and then set for the laundromat. It was a hassle getting cash, breaking the 20s, and then finally getting our clothes clean just in time for most everything in Lake City to be closed for the day.
Luckily we were able to make it to Packer’s for dinner and were informed of a tiny market that was open another half hour where we picked up calorie dense food to replenish our bodily stores while we lounged in bed and watched TV. Pretty nice. Thank you Lake City for a nice stay, and thank you Ryan Wagner for being such a good travel buddy!
Day 84 – October 9
We woke up cozy and warm in our little cabin under four layers of sheets and comforters. Very nice!!! We ate ice cream and milk for breakfast then enjoyed one last hot shower and packed up our packs.
Coffee was a necessity for my love so we went to grab a cup and sat and relaxed in the warm morning sun. The temperature difference at a lower elevation is undeniable! It was a mile walk from there to the grocery store for our resupply. Resupplies are always stressful, especially so in small towns without the usual superstores that have low prices and anything you might want. We had to do some creative work with our diet but found good solutions and packed up six days of solid food for our next stretch. We are ready!
It was a great coincidence that we ran into a man we had seen the night before at the restaurant we had dinner at. He asked us about our hike, how we were getting back out, and then offered us a ride! Thank you Art!! You were a pleasure to chat with and you got us to our destination so easily. We were extremely grateful.
Once back on trail we noticed the weight of our food packed packs and could feel the work we will be putting in while we slowly eat through our stash. It’s already beautiful which we have heard to expect of this section. It’s the San Juans! We have been trying to get south to beat any storms that hit this range, the last big mountains of our journey, and we have done it. No storms, clear forecast. Here we go!
Shortly onto the trail we had the good fortune of seeing Lunar again. This is probably the last time we will get to pass our hiker friend since he is about to head home for the winter. We have loved seeing you Lunar and will really miss you and your cool truck with the red cover. Best of luck when you come back next year to finish the trail!
We camped about 8.5 miles into our 118 mile stretch and are set up ready to be cozy at 7pm. Very nice. I am doing some cold exposure right now, sitting in just my underwear, to help my body acclimate and as I am writing this I am shivering generously. BRRR!!!! It is cold out here.
Day 85 – October 10
Strange day. We were not on top of our game. The San Jauns are beautiful and stark and have lots of ups and downs to climb. Despite a very nice morning and cozy night we hit a mental edge. Bummer! We made it 12.5 miles today with an 8am start.
That being said, we are good now, cozy, and still surprisingly on track for such a short day. All is well!
Day 86 – October 11
Last night was intense. Southern Colorado has had incredible night skies without exception. The intensity of the universe shining down on us was paled by the insanity of the winds trying to blow us off the mountain. It was by far the windiest night we have had in our year of sleeping outdoors. The wind was amplified by the fact that we camped at a high elevation. When we set up camp the high elevation seemed genius, we would be in perfect position to soak up the early morning rays of warmth coming from the east. Instead our high perch served to subject us to gale force winds. Upon waking in the morning everything, breakfast, brushing, stretching, everything took back seat to the pressing need to get out of the wind.
The take-down procedure was modified due to the extreme circumstances. We made sure everything on our packs was held down, then took down the tent first while leaving the rain-fly standing to break the wind. Everything was stuffed into our packs as fast as possible and we were off.
We hiked a mile and half into a valley with a pristine lake to complete our morning rituals. It was still very cold and windy but far better than the ridge line we had just descended from.
After finishing breakfast we proceeded to enjoy a morning of hiking straight up then straight down then straight up again. I say enjoy instead of endure because the views we were greeted with were likely the most breathtaking of this entire trail. The San Juan mountains of Southern Colorado is likely the most amazing landscape either of us has ever seen. These mountains are beautiful like a jungle viper. Stunning and dangerous, with the danger only serving to magnify the beauty. All day the winds became stronger than the winds from this morning. We would turn a corner and be blow sideways only to turn another corner and be protected by some gigantic rock face. This continued all morning, we walked without resting because resting would only mean freezing in the wind.
Eventually hunger got the better of us and we did stop to eat lunch. Lunch was delicious thanks to a new hidden valley spicy sauce we have been trying. After such a saucy and relaxing respite we were both back in good spirits. The mountain, however, still had a few tricks up its sleeve.
Immediately after we started walking again it became apparent very dark clouds were gathering overhead. In the distance mountains we could see a few minutes before were now shrouded in white. Then the snow hit us. It was mild at first, then wave after wave of intense snowfall washed over us. It was such a ridiculously appropriate cherry on top of the day we had been having that we both paradoxically began beaming smiles at one another. We put our noses down and powered through the storm. Neither of us could hear a word from the other with the howling winds swirling around us. Neither of us could gaze at the mountains with the swirling snows howling around us. The only thing left to do was delve deep inside and think, and also walk.
This carried on for several chilly hours before the most amazing thing appeared above us. The sun! The sweet warmth of sunlight gave us just enough energy to power across the top of a windswept plateau.
At the end of that plateau we descended into a valley with far less wind and far more moose. It was only one moose, a bull, but it was still technically far more than before. At the other side of the valley flows a crystal clear stream. Next to that stream lies a tent containing two very tired hikers. Good night mountains, you can try to break us again tomorrow, but now we sleep.
Day 87 – October 12
The mountains weren’t trying so hard to kill us today. Thank goodness!! It was cold getting up, as usual, with lots of ice in our water bottles. We slept great though and I only woke up a few times through the night. Lately it’s been several times and usually it takes me more than a minute to fall back asleep. Last night I was right back to sleep. I guess we were tired from the days work!
We began our hike with a nice big climb followed by a dip back down to the same elevation we had left from, then another equally big climb back up. It was very slow progress in the morning which meant the rest of our day needed a little extra oomph in our step if we wanted to be in our cozy tent before the temperature sharply dropped and the daylight faded away to darkness. These mountains are nice and CHILLY as soon as the sun goes down. It is an instant change even when you step into the shade.
We went up and down a few more times before breaking for lunch at 10 miles. We were already cutting into the second half of our day stopping after 1pm which is the halfway mark of our daylight, but thankfully after a bit more good climbing, it was all downhill for over four miles. No sweat.
Our lunch was a LOVELY break with plenty of sunshine to keep us warm enough that we didn’t need our jackets while resting, and we picked up some Hidden Valley Secret Sauce that has been generously gracing our wraps. I filtered a gallon of water out for us and Ryan did his physical therapy, then we set back off.
The second half of the day was an up, then the down. It we stunning going up. We moved slowly towards some very rocky, jagged mountain tips then on a nice flat ridge lining a valley and finally up some big switchbacks on the side of a steep, bald mountain. It was all a fun climb with great views. It was especially fun because I had a great conversation partner! Thanks Ryan for helping the time fly by.
We descended and just before camp met a hunter named Phillip with his two mules and very fancy house sized tent. The mules are making music for us tonight with their funny, eerie breys…
Day 88 – October 13
What a day. Yeesh. What a day.
We woke up to one of the coldest mornings we have had yet on the trail. It was clear once we got near flowing water, which had large frozen sections, that this chill was no joke! Normally flowing water is ice free but this morning there were thick layers of ice on the edges of rip roaring streams.
We got up and walking by 8am and started our first big climb of the day up and out of the valley we had frozen in. The sun soon warmed us up and the bulk of our day was pleasant and had a chilly breeze to keep us from over heating even while climbing. We made slow progress in the first half of our day, probably due to the large elevation gain and the varying temperatures instigating many stops for wardrobe changes.
It was fun when we reached the peak of our climb and popped over the edge to see another backpacker! Jim is traveling a two weeks on then two weeks back at home schedule hiking through some of the most beautiful spots we have seen. It was fun to hear him naming off locations that we had hiked through on the CDT and being able to relate to his experience there. We are slowly becoming well travelled!
We said goodbye and started a descent into a gorgeous valley closely lined by a wall of mountains. The fall colors are warm and cozy despite the cold air we are experiencing. We took a lovely rest to stop and eat. Ryan was so sweet and filtered all our water while I got to just sit back and take in a little bit of the scenery around us for what felt like the first time in far too long. This thru hiking business is serious work! I often find my nose facing down at the ground from under my wide brimmed hat and realize I may have just walked by the most incredible view, or even a wild animal. I would have no idea.
The second half of our day immediately brought a 1,000ft climb. Ryan and I both powered through it breathing heavy, sweating, and our bodies asking for a break well before we reached the peak. It was a fun climb though and a definite challenge. It felt good to summit. We had achieved something worth being proud of yet again.
The day quickly turned to dusk, then night as we hiked on to our destination. We found ourselves with our headlamps out walking on a very, VERY narrow and extremely steep mountainside. This was not where we wanted to be at night. I think it may have been the sketchiest situation we have found ourselves in yet on the trail. Turning our headlamp into the abyss, off towards the sheer drop, it was pure blackness. The trail was sloped slightly with the mountain and occasionally sections were eroded or over grown with willows which required some fancy footwork to navigate. A fall may not mean death, but seriously injury seemed inevitable.
At first we decided to keep going since our destination was less than a mile away, slow and steady does it, then we encountered a pile of ominous skree, loose rocks on the SIDE of a steep mountain and no trail in sight. It was a terrifying moment. I felt so small and exposed with nowhere to turn but back across the long treacherous stretch we had just hiked.
We decided to carefully turn back and hiked for what felt like an hour to safety and a flat place for our tent. What a bummer. We fell short of our goal for the day, had to backtrack, and now will have to brave that mountainside, for the third time, in the morning. We are less than pleased, but safe and cozy in our tent. Time to make dinner, then sleep.
Day 89 – October 14
Another LONG day in the San Juans where we don’t quite reach the 20 mile mark. It is hard work moving through these beautiful, scary and exposed mountains.
We woke up after our freaky dark trek onto the knife’s edge where we were hugging a steep, very steep, and tall mountainside. My body had adrenaline coursing through it as I reminded myself to just keep walking, to keep looking forward, to take deliberate and thoughtful steps, and to breathe. It was a long way down. The view was incredible though as we walked on that narrow strip of trail which turned to mostly ice with bits of gravel on top that helped with traction. It took me a good hour to completely regain my mental composure.
Realistically we were pretty safe yet the imminence of threat if I misstepped caused me to feel some panic. Just what you want when you are teetering on an edge. NOT!
At the end we were both very thankful for the experience. Ryan had been much less shaken during the day than he was last night and I enjoyed confronting my fears and the sensation in the pit of my stomach. It’s not an easy one to get! I had earned it along with the opportunity to closely observe my fears.
We thought today would be easy since the majority of our climbing was a little scribble up and down on our map. We had a 1,300ft climb coming about 15 miles into our day, but that was a problem for Morgan and Ryan to worry about further down the trail.
Turns out the little up and down scribbles were quite taxing. We were taken up on top of a very exposed, windy, and rocky ridge where we bobbed up and down in elevation until coming to even bigger ups and downs in the trees. I would anticipate the gripping sensation that comes up inside of me about 30 ft into a climb. The first couple of breaths are smooth and easy, and then it hits. The need for more air, the burning in my legs, the gripping desire to stop what I am doing and rest. It’s amazing the contrast between this and the effortless breathing and walking that comes from a flat or downhill hike. Uphill is a totally different beast. Once you push through the initial discomfort however something clicks into place and you are in a new mode. Climbing mode. It takes a transition nearly every time and the quick up and downs (probably 100-300ft each) were taxing as I had to confront that difficult switch over and over.
Finally we were on a more even and gentle up and down and the afternoon began to pass. We had lunch at the last water source we had seen in around 9 miles, relishing the excuse to sit and relax while we ate.
Today was the first day Ryan told me he was really questioning what we were doing. We attributed his frustration to the dwindling stores of fat on his body that had helped take the edge off on past long sections where we had to carefully ration our food. It’s just too heavy to carry any more than you need. We dipped into our stores a little more generously since town is so near and the extra fuel seemed to help his motivation return.
I have been listening to the audio book, Educated, by Tara Westover, and am completely and utterly gripped. I can’t stop thinking about what I am hearing. Having a good audio book makes hiking easier, and this is the best book I have read since I can remember. I found myself last night wishing I was hiking again so that I could be listening. It is a definite gift to have such a gripping narrative to follow on a challenging stretch, on a challenging day like today.
Even with the book in my near future it was as difficult as ever to get up and continue walking after lunch but once moving we were back in a groove. Unfortunately we took a wrong turn at some point and had to add a little distance to our day, hiking up a beautiful river valley to return to the CDT. It was an adventure getting back as the trail marked on our maps was nonexistent to start and so we began by bushwhacking. Thankfully it was mostly low grass we were walking through and only had to brave a patch or two of willows.
After a little ways of this bushwhacking we found a well worn trail that led to a small fort of tents which probably belonged to hunters. We followed it until we got close to the tents and then spotted the trail we should be on a short distance away. It lined up with what our maps were telling us so we cut over to it and had smooth sailing the rest of the way to Piedra Pass where we met back up with the CDT. It was strange to depart from our course to the tents while a man was carefully watching us leave our trajectory towards his fort. I wondered what he was thinking… friend or foe? I surprised myself with the thought of anything other than friend. Originally seeing the tent fort made me excited with fantasies of being lended a horse to carry us and our stuff out of the wilderness or being invited to a feast. What had instigated my shift in mood? It was probably that he didn’t wave back when I waved. Probably he didn’t see me. We were much smaller than their nice tent set up and my feelings of vulnerability reared their heads a bit. I was thankful to get out of sight.
The trail meandered until we hit a water source where we filtered out 5 liters in about 50 min. We won’t hit another water source for nearly ten miles and since it was about 5pm, we knew we would be dry camping tonight. We were already into our 1,300ft climb when we hit the water and tried to plan a course of action for the rest of the day. The sun would set soon and we were still about 4.5 miles shy of our 21 mile goal. Meeting that goal would give us a reasonable 15 miles to hike into town the next day which hopefully would plant us at the road to town where we would have enough daylight to hitch. We had to either hike late tonight into the dark or wake up early tomorrow and book it.
The rest of our climb was stunning. The sun was setting as we reached the summit and the temperatures were still warm enough for us to enjoy ourselves. As we began to curve around the top of the mountain we decided against any night hiking. After yesterday we are gun shy. The terrain in front of us which looked less than favorable during the day seemed stupid to enter as the light was fading from the sky. We set up camp, 19 miles from the road to Pagosa Springs. Tomorrow is going to take some work.
It is extremely noisy in the tent tonight due to camping at high elevation where the wind is unforgiving. We are well staked down and have alarms set for 5:30am. Bellies full of Zatarains Dirty Rice, tortillas, and cheddar cheese… it is time to replenish for the day ahead. Goodnight!