A hail of a day

Day 47: Wolf Creek Pass to 11,500 foot basin near Sawtooth Mountain in the Weminuche Wilderness, ~12 miles, ~739 miles total

Back at it this morning, hiking that is, and then some.

A leisurely wake up time of 6:30 in the comfy duff of the East Fork San Juan River campground. We packed up our gear, ice axes, snowshoes and ~6 days of food. Chatted with Shutterbug (up even earlier than us). The amenities of car camping seem so luxurious to thru-hikers: tables, trash receptacles, pit toilets, the warmth and comfort of a sub-9,000 foot campsite. The three of us concurred, these niceties are a good way to ease back into trail mode after 4 days of luxury and relaxation in motels and family cabins that have even more modern conveniences (running water, hot coffee, soap, wifi, bakeries and big breakfasts nearby).

As much as we could have easily enjoyed the morning with friends (Shutter, Smudge, Groceries, and Lucy), Gabriel and I felt the call to get moving. Couldn’t wait one more day… little did we know what we signed ourselves up for. Sure, snow, postholing, blowdowns from the 2013 fire, cold wet feet, navigation challenges, etc. awaited us. That’s fine. We accept that we are entering the San Juans in a year when 20 percent of the snow fell in May. We will take what the land and the trail give us. Accept the CDT as is. Suck it up.

Oh how much can be packed into et cetera. Turns out we were well timed to encounter a day of hail storms, whiteout conditions, thunder and lightning, a few dead spruce trees falling in the wind, wind gusts that knocked me to the ground, and a late afternoon snow storm that coated our faces in ice and had us sleeping on snow (i.e. etc.). These bonus challenges were kind of like frosting on our postholing, blowdowns, and route finding cake. Only they didn’t provide us with extra calories.

While not a physically tiring day, it was mentally challenging to keep walking northward while being bombarded by the elements. After hearing people speak so highly of the San Juans, we’d envisioned a range of mountains with sweeping vistas, high tundra, marmots whistling, pikas barking, snowy ridges and blue skies. We’d expected to sweat and toil to reach the top of high passes, to posthole and wallow in snow. We hadn’t planned on having to hunker in krumholtz as snow pelted us at the end of the day.

Our relationship with the San Juans was not love at first sight. These mountains commanded our respect immediately, but it would take several days before we could truly find awe, joy and excitement in the peaks surrounding us.

For all the challenges of the day, it was a pleasure to start out with the comforts and love of the Marshmallow and its community.  To meet Nugio, fellow hiker/trail angel, who picked us up after we’d been hitching for 45 minutes and dropped us off at Wolf Creek Pass.  Enter the the sub-alpine community of Engelmann and blue spruce. To tromp (gently) through saturated meadows of pale butter yellow anenomies and cheery marsh marigolds just emerging from the snow. To reach the tundra zone of sky pilots and buttercups with noble pikas barking before the snow storm. To traverse the newly frosted slopes, sparkling in the clear blue sky backdropped by the mountains of the Continental Divide. All that we’d heard about the San Juans, etc.

(Photos to come!)