Day 36: meadow along Osier Fork Rio Brazos to Cumbres Pass, ~15 miles, ~640 miles total
Camping in a meadow is lovely in the evening, but has morning repercussions. We woke to dew and frost and the realization that the sun wouldn’t transform our side of the meadow from cold and damp to golden and dry until we were on trail. Fortunately, 50 feet away there was sunshine to warm us as we packed up. And wet gear on a town day isn’t a big gamble.
We hiked up the broad valley of the the Osier Fork Rio Brazos watching pronghorn antelope graze then sprint about the golden meadows.
Somewhere amid the pronghorn watching, golden day admiring, and the anticipation of entering a new state we missed the “turn” to stay on the official CDT and ended up on the purple alternate. We wanted to cross into Colorado at the official border as I’d inferred from reading friends’ blogs last year that there was a cool border sign on that route. Already down the alternate a ways, we plotted a cross country course back toward the trail. Making our own way would prove to be the theme of the day.
Once we finally found the CDT we had about a mile of good tread before the trail led us to a world of postholing. Dense spruce woods and snow. First knee high, then thigh high, then hip high (on 5’7″ me). Sometimes the snow would hold our weight for a few steps and then we’d fall and wade on some more. A mix of unconsolidated mush and patches of somewhat solid snow. Following Gabriel didn’t help much as I’d sink and wallow deeper in his steps or fall through others. At times I was mantling the snow to get back on top. This postholing soon became tiring.
We stopped trying to follow the trail precisely and soon were navigating toward what should be sun exposed ridges or segments of road on south facing slopes with little to no snow. Aspect only somewhat seemed to influence where we found the snow pack. The dense spruce stsnds were a stronger indicator for deep snow.
Finally we were able to gain a ridge and head up peak 11,060 (840 feet of prominence according to Peakbagger). We figured it would be easier to descend its slopes to south facing meadows then follow a mile or two of wooded north facing trail. This proved to be a great plan and we were really pleased with the outcome.
On the descent we were surprised to enter an old clearcut above 10,500 feet! The semi open slopes were somewhat snow free and we easily made it down slope and jungle gyms of blowdown to a wet meadow and eventually the trail. Just in time to walk the CDT into Colorado.
Gabriel sang. I was sad to leave the wondrous state and trail of New Mexico, but ready for Cumbres Pass. Both of us happy to have come through the crux if the day and to have our destination in sight below us. We hike on through open areas and snow patches, taking a detour to a view point and encounter the first Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine of the trail. Then more switchbacks to Cumbres Pass.
We dodged the black smoke of the Cumbres-Toltec train (alas, too late for us to catch it) and made it to the pass by 3:15. Time to get cleaned up. Seem as unstinky as possible. Put on our smiles. Stick out our thumbs. The first hitch of the hike.
It took about 6 cars and 30 minutes to get a ride. Thank you to Billy, owner of Fina’s restaurant in town!
Town. Chama. Warm. Time for new shoes. Showers. Laundry. Food.
Hitching in always seems to displace trail life in a time warp. So many miles in so little time. How were we just postholing at 11,000 feet and now I’m in a laundry mat washing our clothes?
Between loads, one older gentleman tries to tell me there is not much snow where I just was. In my mind, I beg to differ, but smile toward him. Somehow I serendipitously am rescued from the conversation by Groceries and Cake Walk (also in town). Then end up talking to a UO alum who now lives in Santa Cruz and sculls on open water in gorgeous wooden boats row by sea otters and whales. He’s here in Chama to fix up the ranch his wife inherited. Used to be a private pilot and fly TNC staff and donors around. Recommends I read the new book about UW rowers that went on my pre-trail list, The Boys in the Boat. We have much to talk about between forest conservation and rowing. Laundry time flies by.
I walk back to the hotel, admiring the warm early summer night (here around 7,800 feet). The small town of Chama, NM is charming, kind people, and food just steps from our room. It feels good to be here in northern New Mexico.