We woke up at 11,800 feet to a very frosty tent. Last night we had both slept well, but at that elevation we knew that our sleep might not be as rejuvenating due to breathing the thinner air. We woke up earlier to coyotes sniffing our tent. Now, despite a bird chirping, it was completely silent. The sun was shining on our tent just after 6:00 AM and that was our final hint that we should get out of bed. If we stayed in the tent any longer the frost would start drip large drops onto our sleeping bags.
Hurrying, we packed up our things. Garbelly got out to remove the rainfly and save our gear and Critter from getting a shower. While he was talking he turned around to notice four elk in the distance running across a snowy field. Alerting Critter, we both watched as these four elk starting trotting directly towards us. They went behind a knoll fifty yards away. Of course, Garbelly snuck up through the trees to get as close as possible and ended up getting fifteen yards away before they clomped away.
We had committed to our late night plan. We were going to go off of a route Garbelly had created to get us to Highway 17 to hitch 80 miles into Alamosa to get to a pharmacy.
Within five yards, we had put on our micro spikes and began walking on a never ending sea of snow. As far as we could see, snow covered every inch of the ground. With just a few trees for Garbelly to set his bearings to, the ground showed no signs of a beaten path. About a mile in to hiking, we spotted a cairn and started walking towards it. Fearfully, we looked down and realized that under a dusting of snow existed a thick sheet of ice. We were standing on a frozen lake. Fortunately it was so cold that there was little to no chance of the thick ice breaking underneath us.
We continued on this flat snow covered field for a few more miles and came upon the Red Lake trail that we had been hoping to intersect. Once we found this trail, we had a beautifully beaten down grassy path for about two hundred feet until we found ourselves back in the snow. We were fortunate that it was still morning and the snow was as hard as concrete allowing us to make fairly good time. Soon we were walking parallel to a swift moving creek heading down a gulley. We climbed up and down the large snow mounds in the woods. These piles were sometimes fifteen feet tall resulting in a cautious decent and making us wonder if an avalanche had placed this level of snow here. However, in a few miles, we were walking on a gravel forest service road.
For Critter this was a relief. We were finally below 10,000 feet and the pressure in her lungs were beginning to subside. "This was a good decision," we told ourselves.
Reaching the highway we crossed the asphalt and found an area with a big pullout for cars to pull over and pick us up. Five minutes went by and not a single car drove past us. Then a blue dodge flew by changing lanes to avoid getting near us. That was ok, you have to believe. As the next car, a silver truck with a camper shell on the bed of the truck quickly approached. We stuck out our thumbs and the engine began to wind down and the truck pulled in beside us.
A young man, seemingly college age, got out of the passenger side and asked us where we were headed. We told him Alamosa or however far they could go. He was unsure if they drove through Alamosa but after consulting the driver, he opened the tailgate and we put our bags inside and hopped in the back. The man told us that we could sit in the cab, but we told him we did not want to bother them.
While riding down the windy road, we noticed two backpacks and gear in the back of a truck. We had been picked up by two fellow backpackers! Our luck with good hitches had continued. We laughed about our good fortune and stared out the window at the beautiful green mountains. The San Juans without snow were a sight to behold. Sharp rugged mountains hovered over luscious meadows below.
The truck screeched to a halt. We each looked up to see why he stepped on the breaks and our eyes were greeted by a massive black bear charging across the road and up a steep hillside. Unlike the small Tennessee black bears, this bear was large and as it climbed with ease, we could tell how powerful it was.
We made it to Alamosa. In fact, we were right next to Walgreens, the exact place we needed to get be. The young man opened the tailgate and we crawled out and thanked the two men for our ride. We talked to them for at least fifteen minutes and found out they were a father and son that had just finished a Memorial Day hiking trip. They asked where we had been hiking. We explained our journey and our situation and thanked them again for helping us out! Getting a seventy two mile hitch in one safe ride is about as good as it gets.
Critter ran into Walgreens and picked up an inhaler. We were both extremely thankful to have incredible medical support from Garbelly's parents. As much as we hope to never get hurt out here, sometimes the unexpected happens.
We were able to get pizza at a local pizzeria and checked in to a motel right next to the Rio Grande. Both of us were exhausted and after showering spent the rest of the night resting in a motel bed.
Cheers to good health and a healthy sleep.
Garbelly & Critter