Monday, May 27, 2013

Mon, 27May - Pagosa Springs, CO

Sunday, the terrain is easing but the toll of hiking on icy slopes and post holing is wearing me down.  Muscles are sore and its getting harder to avoid stumbling and making a bad footfall.  Looking forward to a rest in town.  Large sections of dry trail with great views but its mixed with more and more forested sections which have lots of deep soft snow and its hard to follow the trail through the wooded sections.  Finally a little tired of the snow we tried to drop down to Alberta Park Reservoir after Railroad Pass to avoid another high ridge and a long switchback section through wooded terrain.  Figured it would be impossible to follow the trail there.  Our route however involved extensive steep descent on soft heavy snow to the lake.  And that's only the start of the difficulty as the route around the lake to a dirt road was some of the worst postholing through blowdowns so far and included some wet stream crossings.  Finally at the dirt road it was a simple hike to the pass and a hitch into town.  Last night we enjoyed a free beer sampling at a new micro-brewery that will have its first opening day today.  Joined a few other hikers in town for dinner and today will be a rest day.  Heading to the brew pub to celebrate their opening for dinner tonight.

Sat, 25th - Montezuma's Peak

Most of today was spent at 12-13,000 feet.  Our climb out of our camp in the valley was gradual up a drainage and a very good move to avoid some exposed snow traversing.  The views around Summit peak were fantastic.  We climbed up and over one rocky knob to avoid some scary traversing.

But then the route circled the shoulder of Montezuma Peak. Everywhere was high angled snow bowls.  We searched climbing around and above but everything was covered with icy crusted snow.  Finally we committed to a very scary traverse along the inside of the snow bowl.  Very, very, scared.  I would have been scared with full crampons and ice axe.  We bare booted, kicking steps, and it took two hours to cross the 0.1 mile traverse.  My foot slipped three times an was only safe because I kept three points of contact on each step.  One the kicked step let go and the other two when high gusts of wind hit me.  My hiking poles have bends in them from the stress.

That was the hardest traverse so far and I wonder if others behind us will manage it safely.  Bob and I were exhausted from the stress and heavy exertion.  By afternoon we were treated to large snow fields of extensive post holing.  Tedious and tiring but at least it was very safe.  This changed to swampy wet meadows and climbing in and out of the trees with a mix of deep wet snow, muddy ground, and icy spots.  Feet were like blocks of wet ice.

Finally we got a break and had some sections of fantastic dry trail.  The trail, cut into steep exposed side of the mountains with exposure had great views 
but all we could think of was how grateful we were to not have it chocked with snow.  I don't think we could have managed this section on snow.

Most challenging day yet but also so beautiful and rewarding to have made it safely.

Fri, 24May - Winter Mountaineering

Spent almost the entire day on high angle snow and ice.  The San Juan's are challenging.  Today was a real test of mountaineering skills.  Lots and lots of kicking steps on high angle icy snow.  Lots of post holing too.  Climbing up and down snow and ice with lots of dangerous exposure.  Had one slip early on and slide down 15 meters before I could arrest.  Scared me into being extra cautious the rest of the day.  Could have put full crampons, ice axe, and even snowshoes to good use today.  

The high passes were spectacular!  High winds in spots.  We had to make several stream crossing finding stable snow bridges too cross on.  Only about 12 miles made over a long day.  The last hour Bob and I were both hurting from kicking steps and the stress of being on such steep exposures.  With a long exposed traverse ahead on hard icy snow we decided it might be unsafe in our tired state.  We opted to down climb a step 40 degree scree and snow slope down to the bottom of a beautiful valley.
Found a relatively flat and snow free spot to camp but the ground around us is wet.  Great views of the mountains and even had some elk walk by.  Hoping to follow the valley up a snow slope back up onto the mountains of the divide in the morning.  My thighs and calves are burning from kicking steps and climbing high angle snow.  This is such an amazing adventure!

PS.  I don't recommend reading, Forever on the Mountain, the story of the death of seven climbers on Denali in1969, like I am while hiking on snow in the San Juan's.

Thur, 23May - Post holing into two feet of water.

Wow, fantastic but challenging day!  Spent most of the day around 12,000 feet with magnificent views in every direction.  At least 90-95% of the day was spent on deep snow either kicking steps in icy slopes, post holing, breaking through the snow into hidden streams, rivers, and mountain tarns (one almost two feet deep under the snow), or glissading or sliding around.  Sunny but windy.  Feet were in ice water all day.  

Passed many lakes and tarns mostly only identifiable by the turquoise blue water visible through the wet translucent snow.  At one point our route took us along the steep edge of Blue Lake.  You could see the edge of the blue color of the lake just under the snow and the stress cracks in the snow covered shore line, where the snow had fractured and tipped toward the water. It was difficult to be sure where the waters edge was and the steep cliffs along the bank left little room to navigate. hiked a quarter mile around the lake always worried it would break and find us sliding into the lake.  As we rounded the end of the lake the route climbed into the trees and made steep switchbacks in the soft snow on a steep angle.  To avoid the steep wet postholing and route finding I decided to climb a very steep rocky talus slide straight up a 35 degree ravine. The dark rocks facing the sun made for a mostly snow free but difficult climb of the high angle loose rocks but the views back at the snow covered lake were worth it.

Slow progress, maybe only 12.5 miles today.  Stopped early because it looked to be steep ahead with no where to camp possibly for many miles.  Found a spot just before traversing around a cliff that had a couple of spots that were dry without snow in an area that was surrounded by deep snow.  Decided to camp early to enjoy the sun and warm up and also to not feel so tired that it would spoil such a great but difficult hiking day.  Lots of snow but no running water so we decided after setting up camp to look for some melting water.  I hiked back to a snow field that had a ravine beside it and was sure there would be a stream of melt water but it was dry.  Thought that was strange and started climbing lower when I could hear a gurgling sound.  Sure enough there was a stream right under the snow. I poked my hiking pole into the crust and a hole opened with a raging streamlet of ice cold Rocky Mountain spring water!  Perfect end to another great day.

Wed, 22May - Entering the South San Juan Wild

Lots of snow and fantastic views!  Crossed many streams, cool waterfall on the Wolf Creek and many better ones coming off the mountains in the distance. The route was a mix of trail, snow fields, rocks, meadows... Did I mention snow? And slipping on icy slopes, and post holing, and falling through snow into rivers and ponds under the snow, and post holing, glissading, and oh yah there was some post holing!

Route finding was hard at times because the snow covered the route and cairns.  Many times we went high up onto rocks to stay out of the snow then search on the other side to find the trail.  Bob and I hiked together again and it was helpful to have two heads to navigate.

At one point we got off following a diverging path and ended up below and a half mile east of the route.  We ended up rock and snow scrambling up some steep stuff and finally post holing through extensive snow fields to get back on the right ridge.  Hard work but it was an exciting adventure.  The views up here in the San Juan's are fantastic.  And we lucked out on the weather; sunny but windy.  I hiked most of the day in a T-shirt and shorts.  My wet icy feet were freezing but the sun felt great.  Definitely softer snow in the afternoon and we stopped early hoping to have firmer snow in the morning.  

Camping at Dipping Lakes where we found some dry ground for two tents but surrounded by snow, the lake, and mountains. A super excellent day!

Tue, 21May - Cumbres Pass and the CO State Line

Hiking in and out of the 11,000 foot mark and feeling the low oxygen on the uphills.  Lots of snow and blowdowns in one section had us (Bob hiked with me today) searching for the trail.  Lots of footprints in the snow but they obviously could not find it either.  We finally found it but after crossing a dirt road and hiking a half mile it faded out and we lost it again.  It appears to be a very new trail and with no markers at all.  We finally gave up and hiked back to the dirt road were we hiked a purple alternate for a mile to pick up the trail again.

Saw some big bear tracks and lots of deer.  In the afternoon we were going to hike the new section of CDT to Cumbres Pass but never found any markers where it should have started.  Ended up hiking the purple route on my map, which was the red route on Bobs map from last year.  It was very pretty with bald open meadows, some snow, lots of evergreens, and views of the mountains of Colorado.  Crossed the NM/CO state border and up to Cumbres Pass.  Welcome to Colorado. 

Mon, 20May - Snow storm at 10,500ft

What a exciting day.  Woke to frost on my tent.  Meet up with Bob, the hat maker, again at lunch and we hiked together.  Saw my first bear; a big black one and when he saw me he ran straight up this steep hill over boulders and snow patches.  It was fascinating to watch how  agile he was.  Also lots of deer in herds and Bob even saw a prong horn antelope.  The big event of the day was a full out snow storm.  Wet heavy snow coming down in huge flakes. In no time the ground and trees were covered in two to three inches of heavy wet snow.  Finding the trail was a challenge but the route followed up and along the canyon rim that looked down on a stream in the snow covered drainage below.  Very pretty with all the wet snow on the trees. Then we saw a huge herd of deer on the slopes ahead.  Feet and hands are wet and cold but it was a real enjoyable adventure.  Oh yah, I met the winter caretaker of the ranch near where I camped last night and he gave me some wild salmon that I cooked for dinner tonight.  Also scored a beer from a couple on the dirt road today.  Camping in the snow by lower Lagunitas lake.

Sun, 19May - log bridges and porcupines

Climbing over green rolling hills at just under 10,000 feet.  Lots of snow patches but you could walk off trail to get around them without post holing.  The muds a different story.  

The trail, and dirt roads, would fade out and no road signs so navigation was tricky.  While day dreaming I missed a turn and ended up going cross country for over a mile to get back on trail.  Lots of blowdowns, snow, and cow and elk bones on my little bushwhack adventure.
Several hours of on and off grapple snow falling.  It's a light fluffy snow that looks like styrofoam. Saw another elk in a meadow and followed a fat porcupine for a hundred yards before he climbed a tree. Very very windy and cool today.  Right before camp I came to a log bridge.  Tried to cross but chickened out half way.  Ended up stripping off my clothes and just walking across.

Sat, 18May - The Badlands

Left Ghost Ranch late this morning after another wonderful meal.  Didn't get far.  I hide my pack behind some trees and headed off on a side hike.  Perhaps some mice or a bear will lighten my pack while I'm gone?  I climbed up the 4.5 mile side trail to Kitchen Mesa.  What a fantastic hike!  First you climb up into this canyon with views of the bright reds and browns of sandstone.  Then it feels like you are trapped in a box canyon.  Just as you come to the end you start climbing right up the canyon wall over rocks and boulders.  At one point you need to use a rope to get up a slot in the rocks.  Great views all the way up and even better views on the miles of trail on top of the Mesa.  Lots of fun exploring the top which loops around and you are right above Ghost Ranch with views of Chimney Rock and O'Keeffe's famous mountain views.

Next, another side hike up the Ghost Ranch Box Canyon.  This side hike follows a stream/spring right up the canyon with a great view of an Eagles Nest on the canyon wall.  Lots of boulders and even another rope to help you climb over a huge rock slab.  Then the trail just ends at a solid rock wall.  You can see the water dropping from the wall and starting the headwaters of the stream.  Very pretty spot.

Heading back to the beginning of the box canyon I got back to work hiking the CDT.  This section, called the Badlands, included a steep climb up the rim of the canyons with many excellent views of the  sandstone walls.  Somewhere along the way I put my poles down near a cactus.  For the next few hours I kept getting little thorns from the cactus on my hands until I realized they where imbedded in my pole handles.

At the top of the canyon there were some confusing directions that required some bush whacking and serious route finding but it was kind of fun.  Made a couple rock cairns at a spot where I missed a turn and had to backtrack.  

The sky turned dark and it looked like a thunder storm was coming so i put my camera away in a zip lock bag. Of course right around the bend i came across a meadow with dozens of elk.  Watched for a while but as soon as i tried to get my camera they scattered to the wind. Only 14 miles forward progress but some great side hikes today.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Fri, 17May - Ghost Ranch Zero-day

Ghost Ranch, what a fantastic place.  Surrounded by the landscapes that are the subject matter of many of the famous painter, Georgia O'Keeffe's, most memorable paintings.  This is also the area where many movies were filmed including Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, Cowboys and Aliens, Comanche Moon, City Slickers, 3:10 to Yuma, and The Missing.

Dinosaurs roamed these red hills, and there are many paleontology discoveries here with Triassic period fossils.  I'm heading to the Archaeology and Paleontology Museums next and there are several archaeological sites here. The cliffs and features such as chimney rock, carved by the Rio Charma river.
On the Ghost Ranch campus I enjoyed the many all-you-can-eat meals, the music from the practacing Blue Grass workshop attendies, and the many sites including meditation gardens and the Labyrinth.  There is box canyon I look forward to seeing on the hike out in the morning.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thur, 16May - Skull Bridge and Ghost Ranch

Wed15May - turned out snow still soft but it didn't extend down the north slope like I thought it might.  After a little more post holing the snow cleared at it was a cool, gradual, hike through pine forests; even saw some old growth ponderosa pines.  Climbed down past some very colorful sandstone cliffs and camped will Bob at Skull Bridge.  

On Thursday hiked into Ghost Ranch past very colorful sandstone cliffs.  Ghost Ranch is real nice.  Enjoying a campsite and all you can eat meals.  Might stay another day on Friday. 

Tue, 14May - San Pedro Peaks Wilderness

Left Cuba after an early lunch in 96 degree sunny weather.  At the Los Pinos trailhead I caught up with Bob and we hiked together up into the San Pedro Peaks Wilderness.  It was nice to be climbing up following a nice stream for a change.  First real surface water we have hiked by and it was refreshing in the sun and heat.  But things change fast in the mountains.  

Around 9000 feet I turned a corner and it grew overcast and cold.  Then we started seeing large patches of snow. The sky darkened and it started raining, then hail, then clumps of large snow fell.  Stopped to put on rain gear and it really started to rain.  The trail flooded; then we came to some large open alpine meadows.  At least they should have been, today they were marshy bogs with little streams runny everywhere.  Mostly a sea of 2-3 inch water. By now our feet are soaked.  

Then came deeper snow and wet post-holing.  We stopped early as we crested the peak because there were a few clear grass patches without snow and around the corner we would be on the north facing side with lots of deeper snow.  Probably the last spot if we didn't want to  camp on the snow and keep post holing I thought.  Maybe in the morning the snow will have consolidated some.  The trail is sure getting interesting.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mon, 13May - Cuba NM

Camping last night at the base of a Mesa cliff among huge sandstone boulders.  This morning I had the exciting climb right up the headwall.  Very impressive trail work.  At first you don't even realize it  and wonder if there is a way up.  Then it always seems there is a rock step or a notch in the sandstone.  Amazing amount of trail building and wonderful climb with great views.  Another hike along the rim with great views from the cliff line.  Then a hike into the little friendly town of Cuba.  Had a rancher offer bottled water and welcome me to town.

Met Pacer at the hotel and we eat dinner together where we were joined by another hiker Bob.  Bob said there were another 10 hikers behind that he met at Pie Town.  Getting crowded for the CDT. Never a soul on the trail so far other than a few cowboys looking for lost calfs.

Sun, 12May - Sandstone Sulptures

Woke last night to the sound of high pitched yapping; is it coyotes, wolves, or wild dogs?  The sounds are back again tonight too.  Today's section of trail was magnificent.  The trail follows along the sides and tops of sandstone cliffs on the edges of the high mesas with amazing sculptures carved into the rock walls.  Pillars, figures, towers, curves and odd shapes and complete castles.  It's like playing in a life size sand castle.  

Following along the top the views of the valleys and sandstone ridges around me were beautiful.  Loose rocks and sand gave way to expansive sold rock domes that you climbed on.  Up and down the sandstone shoots and gullies as you traversed the tops of the sandstone. Near the Jones Canyon spring there were neat stone wall remains of a very old building.  A really special section of trail today. 

Sat, 11May - Entering the Bears Mouth

Rained hard for a while last night.  This is where it pays off having a two man tent.  Awoke in the morning to the sound of turkeys walking beside my tent.  Boy they can be loud.  Lots of cute fuzzy desert rats, sometimes 6-8 at a time, runny around the trail this morning.  Must have been a lot of dead cows in one area because many of the rock cairns had bones on them.  

As I dropped down a series of switch-backs from the high Mesa, past a rock formation called the Bears Mouth, the trail really got interesting.   Near a pyramid shaped mountain named Cerro del Ojo Frio there is a rumor of quicksand.  I found a spot in an arroyo where there was a huge bed of silty sand at the bottom of the drainage.  I could imagine this would turn to quicksand if it had water.

The end of the day was hot but I was surrounded by sandstone ridges.  After a long flat section I began to climb up, over, and around the sandstone.  Made camp on the edge of one sandstone ridge with a view of the Mesa below and more sandstone ahead.

Fri 10May - La Mosca Tower & Wild Horses

Got to do some snow hiking this morning; the trail on the north side of Taylor was covered with a foot or more of old snow.  Next up La Mosca Lookout Tower, another 11,000 foot view!  

Between Cold Spring and American Canyon Spring I came across a group of six wild(?) horses.  Couldn't get close to them.  Sure seemed very wild to me.  Neat!  Next I had a wet snowy hail storm.  The hail balls were sticky and stuck to my clothes and the hairs on my arms and legs.  I looked like someone had stuck 100's of little mini-marshmallows to me.  The snow wasn't to bad after I got on my jacket and gloves; but then I relived that that little bit of moisture turned the dirt to glue.  I don't know what the soil is but it stuck to my boots like wet spring snow to the bottom of your snowshoes.  In minutes it felt like I had lead weights on my foot.  After you get an inch or two ball of mud underfoot you scrap it off on a rock or stick.  That lasts about 30 seconds and you have to do it again.  Fortunately the sun returned and all returned to normal.  Another fantastic day.