Camping @ 11742ft
17.4 miles hiked
The sky is clear and promisingly blue when we wake. I chomp on a probar as I pack away all my things and brace myself for the climb ahead. A couple of miles before we camped we passed the creede cutoff, which is the route most early nobos take. Continuing through the south san juans in the direction we are going, the trail gets a lot trickier and more exposed making it dangerous hiking in the snow. Thankfully all the snow is now gone, but that doesn’t change the elevation or skinny sketchy trail we have to follow!
I struggle on the climb up. Not sure if it’s an altitude thing or just a general ‘this is a hard climb and you will be breathless regardless’ thing, but I eventually make my slow way to the top where Grizzly and Tigerlilly are sitting looking at the view from the little knife edge trail.
We hike down into the valley, stopping for water and second breakfast at a little stream halfway down.
The elevation profile of the trail around here resembles a saw – so very jagged with lots of climbing up and down.
We set our sights on a lake for lunch, but stop 1.5 miles from it to eat some food while hoping for a storm system to pass us by. It seems to hang around, so we continue onwards to the lake. The lake turns out to be a manky pond covered in algae. The temperature drops, the light disappears and the rain starts just as I’m collecting a dodgy litre as the next water is nearly 7 miles away.
The thunder and lightning are all around us now. We make a beeline for a group of trees and settle down under the tyvek. It’s now doing its snow / hail thing. It seems as though 2 storm systems have merged right above us and the thunder and lightning are crazy! When we next peek out from under the inadequate cover it looks as though winter has arrived. The previously bare mountains around us are now dusted white. There is at least 2 inches of hail covering the ground all around us. I’m feeling a little manic from the cold, and all I can think about is soup, fresh bread, a fireplace and puppy dogs. Somehow I manage to turn this into a crazy song of sorts and repeat it over and over…maybe if I say it enough it will come true.
Eventually the thunder is spaced out enough that we decide to hike to warm up.
I am absolutely freezing. Shivering with numb hands and feet, I stumble foward with my poles awkwardly shoved in my palms without being able to grip them, and landing strangely on the big bricks at the end of my legs that I can’t feel.
We decide to set up camp early wherever we find a flat spot, except the only flat spot is covered in ice that would soak through the tent, so we hike on.
My brain has frozen and I’m going down the rabbit hole of negative thinking. Except, I keep reminding myself, I’ve done this before and it all worked out fine. It seems like we are hiking forever. Stuck on a trail that goes up and down and up and down for eternity. The rain miraculously stops and the clouds begin to dissipate. A weak sun peers through and we are hopeful it will melt off some of this ice.
I’m right at the end of my tether, looking up at a steep narrow climb, when I see Tigerlily standing next to a tree and…a flat spot!!! It’s an absolute miracle. We would otherwise have had a 3.7 mile hike that would take us into dark – not great on the best of days but even worse when we are all chilled to the core.
We set up with fumbling hands, eat some warm things with the tiny amount of water left, and hunker down with all our layers on. It looks like the clouds are rejoining in the distance, and a cold cold wind has started whistling through. Thinking warm warm thoughts as I settle down to sleep.