DAYS 43-45: Zero Days 4, 5, & 6 (Pagosa Springs, CO)
Moist and I spend three entire days in Pagosa Springs, Colorado – our longest break from during these first seven weeks of hiking.
Highlights of our time here include:
- Picking up a package from the post office with new underwear and socks
- Watching The Revenant and discussing the pros and cons of being torn to pieces by a large bear (the pros won)
- Moving hotels each day (te highlight of which was a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment that we got for just $65 (total)
- Learning that in Colorado, supermarkets can only sell beer containing a maximum of 4% alcohol (this rule does not apply to liquor stores)
- Getting free cake at the supermarket for reasons nobody could explain to me
- Drinking spicy margaritas with Appa to celebrate his return to our Fellowship
- Watching all of the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy
Needless to say, I am ready to abandon the seated pooping position and return to squatting over a hole of my own making after this much-deserved triple zero.
DAY 46: Moose!
The longer I stay in town, the more trouble I have getting back on the trail. My three days spent in Pagosa Springs are doing me no favors as we slowly make our way east back up to Wolf Creek Pass (in a car).
Before leaving town we get one more taste of what we have to look forward to in Colorado. I pay $12 for a delicious, but incredibly small sandwich (at least it came with a lemonade). I miss New Mexico prices (but not all those drunk people with guns).
It's nearly 2:30 pm by the time we're back to the actual hiking part of our thru-hike, and it's not long before we find ourselves reunited with our friend the snow.
Realizing the grave mistake we made when we left our town comforts behind, we find a nice log to perch ourselves on for an undeserved break. Suddenly, we hear something crashing through the bushes behind us and in an instant, we turn to see a large dark animal rocketing toward us. Before any of us can react, Moose is upon us.
No, I didn't forget the article, and yes, I do mean proper noun, Moose.
Moose is an enormous wolf-dog hybrid belonging to Wolfman and Dumpling, two thru-hikers who appear shortly after the arrival or their canine companion. Needless to say, we are happy that Moose is neither a moose nor is he hungry for our blood (he prefers marmots).
After the usual introductions and small talk, our new friends leave us to process what's just happened and to reflect on how quickly you could potentially go from eating a Snickers to being eaten.
Animals are cool.
We try following “the trail” but quickly accept that it's useless and decide to drop down into the valley instead of continuing the dangerous activity of attempting to traverse an invisible line through the snow.
Dropping down into the valley also gives us access to a stream that appears to be our only reliable water source before crossing another pass. None of us are excited about continuing today's hike, so we split up in search of good camping.
A couple of minutes and a lot of COOEES later, we're reunited to perform our nightly shelter-pitching ritual. Tomorrow, in addition to being my first full day of hiking in nearly a week, is also the day we reach a decisive point in the San Juan Mountains, the Creede Cutoff.
DAY 47: The Creede Cutoff
I wake up to one of our coldest mornings on the trail thus far, a comfortable 23°F/-5°C.
Getting out of my sleeping bag is among the last things I want to do right now (it's just below “hiking”). The condensation on my tent is frozen (which means by the time I finish packing it up, my hands will be too) and it's nearly 8:00 am by the time we get going; I guess I'm still feeling the effects of that triple zero.
Hiking through the snow, I am grateful for my waterproof socks, which have quickly become one of my favorite pieces of gear (and yes, I know that a “waterproof sock” sounds very suspect). My only regret is that I didn't buy two pairs.
We hike up the valley following a stream before bushwhacking back up to the trail (since we dropped down off the ridge last night to find camping and water). The trail climbs to 12,556 ft / 3,827 m to a pass where I put on my wind jacket (still don't know if I like this thing or not, but it's so light so I guess it's worth having?).
The trail through the San Juan Mountains spends a lot of time tracing ridges, but we have been finding it best to gain the ridge and simply walk along the spine of the mountains instead of dealing with the snow (and lack of views) found lower on the slopes.
And speaking of the snow, we've reached the junction for the Creede Cutoff.
The Creede Cutoff is a CDT alternate that is typically used by hikers in heavy snow years to skip a large section of trail through the San Juan Mountains. It's a 37.9 mi / 61 km alternate via the town of Creede, Colorado that bypasses 117.3 mi / 188.8 km of the official CDT.
Normally, we're all about shortcuts. However, taking the Creede Cutoff means essentially missing the San Juan Mountains (a highlight of the trail), and despite our commitment to shaving off every possible CDT mile, we're also all about mountains.
Official CDT it is.
We hike past the junction and hope that whatever awaits us ahead isn't as perilous as what we went through last week.
The trail takes us down and then back up, still following the ridgeline, and I see a bear, the first of the trail, running down a snowfield a couple of hundred yards away. I try to get Appa and Moist's attention, but my enthusiastic waving isn't enough to convince them that there's something of importance happening (I revel alone in my bear sighting).
I fall behind Appa and Moist and instead of following them along a snowy traverse on the next section, I get out my ice axe and head up to the top of the ridge. It's not the sketchiest bit of trail I've been on, and at the conclusion of my assessment I decide that it fits into the category of “Very sketchy but you (probably) won't die if you fall.”
The hike up to and across the ridge kicks my ass and I'm beat by the time I catch up to Appa and Moist further up the trail.
They share my exhaustion (despite our distance for the day hovering at just over 15 mi / 24 km – not very far compared to the distances we got used to covering in New Mexico) and we decide that we've accomplished plenty today.
Trying to hike big miles through snow sucks – time to camp (aka time to eat aka time to lay down aka the best time of the day).
Tomorrow we will face a section of trail known as the Knife's Edge.
I don't know what makes it so knifey, edgey, or deserving of a proper noun name, but I am sure that it will be covered in snow and will probably present an opportunity to do something stupid.
Should be fun.
DAY 48: The Knife's Edge
Looking ahead at the elevation profile for today as a means of procrastinating my emergence from my sleeping bag, I see that there's going to be a lot of short up and downs – sounds like ridge walking.
Shortly after beginning our hike, we reach a long and snowy traverse.
Appa is well ahead and has decided to follow the snow-covered trail. Moist and I stop to evaluate the situation. We decide to climb up to the ridge (which turns out to be the actual Continental Divide) in the hopes that it's both easier walking than the CDT and that it's passable (there's always the possibility that we'll get to some impassible bit of ridgeline and we'll have to glissade and/or tumble down to a lower elevation to traverse across).
There's no avoiding the up and down, but fortunately, the ridgeline turns out to be mostly free of snow.
Moist is still carrying his snowshoes in his hand instead of strapping them to his pack (they weigh over 4 lbs / 1.8 kg – I know because I have the same ones), and in one tricky section, he drops them down a scree chute (accidentally – I think).
They get stuck on a rock and I'm able to scramble down and save them. At least they didn't fall into one of the enormous, bottomless-looking, marmot-infested holes we've been walking past. We can see Appa traversing below us and we pester him with constant hoots of BACAW! and SKEE-YOO! to remind him of his error in judgment.
That being said, Appa beats us to the point where the Divide (where Moist and I are walking) intersects with the CDT (where Appa was walking), so now I'm not so sure we made the right call.
Following a quick break for calorie ingestion, the trail and the Continental Divide become one (imagine that, the Continental Divide Trail actually tracing the Continental Divide).
It's also noteworthy that we've officially entered the early afternoon and the sky is (still) free of clouds. Perhaps all of the wrath of Zeus business that had us cowering in our tents in the last section has officially come to an end (but probably not).
The trail heads across a series of ridges that are (mostly) free of snow as we get closer to the day's main event, the Knife's Edge (ooooooh, so scary).
Navigation is a big consideration on the CDT and there are a number of different maps available. Most people use the CDT App (aka Guthook) (Android/iOS), but there are other maps available known colloquilly as “Ley Maps”. These maps are produced by thru-hiker Jonathan Ley and they detail some alternate routes and information not featured in the CDT app (more on Ley maps here).
The Ley Maps tell us it's possible to take the Divide here (aka stay on the ridge) instead of following the official CDT (which appears to do more snowy traversing). Ley says that the “difficult-looking notch” is indeed passible. We're not sure what that means, but we decide to take our chances and stay high.
We leave the trail and scramble up to the ridgeline where some easy hiking leads us to a rocky outcrop, beyond which we can now see the aforementioned notch (and Ley is right, it is difficult-looking).
The three of us stand and examine it from a distance. Appa is indifferent toward the notch route, but Moist is not down. There is talk of glissading down the incredibly steep slope below us to meet back up with the trail. This, to me, looks far more dangerous than attempting to stay high, so I volunteer to investigate the notch route more carefully.
Approaching the notch, I can see that it isn't as intimidating as it had looked from a distance. That being said, it still requires a degree of caution to make it to the top.
Having made it past the notch, I navigate back to Appa and Moist via a more secure route I find heading in reverse to deliver the good news (Moist will be happy there's cell reception up here).
The three of us make it past the notch and we see a group of four hikers below – two of which are clearly Wolfman and Dumpling as we can see Moose, the dog, strolling along beside them (I don't know that a dog would have been able to make it past this section – you know, because no hands).
So we skipped the Knife's Edge. Is it as intense as people like to pretend it is? Probably not. Was our route just as cool if not cooler? Probably definitely.
A large climb waits for us just up the trail and so we do the only rational thing we can think of and make camp. We descend from the ridge and find a most excellent campsite with epic views of a lake and valley below. Camp tonight is at 12,011 ft / 3,661 m.
I take stock of my food supplies and decide that I have exactly enough for three more days of hiking and it's only 29 mi / 46.7 km to the next town opportunity (however, in the snow, that's not an insignificant number).
DAY 49: The Bubble
We get a break from the freezing mornings today – it's already 62°F / 16.6°C at 8:00 am when we start walking (up a climb).
The trail soon presents a choice that we've become familiar with: ridgeline or a snowy traverse. I choose ridge, Moist chooses traverse, and Appa is lost to us (probably dead). After the initial effort of climbing up to the top of the ridge, the hike is easy and free of snow.
When I reconnect with the CDT, I meet The Ravens (a family of four hiking the trail together), Quicksilver, and Treeman (who recognizes Moist from the first couple days of PCT'15).
Apparently, Appa is ahead of us somewhere (and so are the eight people we saw yesterday, we assume – quite the bubble forming).
We find ourselves in the thick of the hiker bubble as we run into Sherpa C, Wolfman, Moose, and Dumpling at the next water source. This is the largest gorup of CDT hikers I've seen since our stop in Pie Town.
There's not a lot of snow on the trail today and we find Appa at the top of our next climb (or rather, he finds us as he ambushes us from his hiding place in the bushes).
We bushwhack up an overgrown hillside and I do an excellent job of cutting up my knees (in addition to slipping and smashing them on rocks – who needs knees, anyway?).
At least we've got a second day of clear skies.
The trail (or, more accurately, the path we're following through the mountains that may or may not at any particular time overlap with something designated as a trail on some map somewhere) doesn't improve much as we continue to crash through overgrowth, mud, yes, more snow.
I post hole (aka break through the snow) up to my waist and am officially done for today.
In addition to being physically exhausted, my feet are in a lot of pain because of the nasty rashes that have developed on my toes – each step burns worse than the last (I suspect this to be a result of my wearing the same pair of waterproof socks every day and not having washed them).
Luckily, I get some dog therapy tonight as we camp with Team Moose (the first time we've camped with someone this section).
- Day 43 (June 10): Zero Day 4 (Pagosa Springs, CO)
- Day 44 (June 11): Zero Day 5 (Pagosa Springs, CO)
- Day 45 (June 12): Zero Day 6 (Pagosa Springs, CO)
- Day 46 (June 13): 10 mi / 16.09 km
- Day 47 (June 14): 16.5 mi / 26.55 km
- Day 48 (June 15): 10.7 mi / 17.22 km
- Day 49 (June 16): 18.3 mi / 29.45 km
WEEK'S TOTAL: 55.5 mi / 89.32 km