The alarm rang through our 10 foot by 10 foot motel room. Seven o'clock and we were lured out of sleep. Having to wake up early when staying in town is never fun. Having to wake up and not milk every minute of the eleven o'clock check-out time is equally never fun. However, today we needed to get back on trail. Critter still had a frequent and vicious cough, but the walls of town were beginning to close in on us.
We packed our bags, put our shoes and clean socks on, and checked out early from the Pinewood Inn. We began walking down the street towards the gas station to pick up some cough drops, Emergen-C, and water. A group of three hikers, Spirit, Bones, and Dos Eggrolls, were near the gas station with their thumbs high, trying to get a hitch to trail. We joined them on the road, but with no luck, we headed down the road towards a sign for Wolf Creek Pass, 23 miles. Eggrolls joined us down the road, and together we all stuck our thumbs confidently into the air. Car after car passed until a small, blue BMW pulled over onto the shoulder. Out jumped an older gentleman who exclaimed, "If you all can fit, I can give you a ride!" "Oh, we can make it work," we all said, or some variation for the statement. Crammed into the car, we sat with our packs over our laps and blocking different parts of our faces. We were cautiously clutching to our sharp snow gear as to keep the edges away from the leather interior.
An incredibly friendly man, later learning his name was Dave, offered to take us all the way to the pass if we were okay with him swinging by his house to unload his frozen food. We had no problem with that at all. During the car ride we talked about the area, learned about remote hot springs, and even saw elaborate entrances to huge ranches.
Once we got to the top of the pass, we carefully took our packs out of the car and thanked Dave for the ride. The other two had not received a ride yet so we decided to get a head start towards camp. Wolf Creek Pass sits at 10,857 feet, yet the trail climbed away from the road tucking those that followed it into a cradle of peaks and ridges. Snow was patchy starting out, but as we hiked more of the trail surrendered to larger and larger patches. There was a large group of hikers starting back on trail today leaving fresh footprints to follow. In fact Garbelly ran into an old face from the PCT, a hiker named "Endless" that he had met in norther California a couple years previously. It felt like a small world to run into familiar faces in the middle of nowhere. However when we thought about it, seeing another thru hiker thru hiking was not that bizarre of a concept.
Around one o'clock, a thunderstorm rolled in over the mountains even taller than ours and dropped pellet-size hail on us as dark clouds painted the sky. The thunder felt close enough to hear it rattle and rumble the belly of the storm. Even though the snow gets better each day, we still had a couple of traverses that were sheets of snow and ice, softened by the mid-day sun. We handled each traverse with confidence and took each step slow and calculated, our ice axe in one hand and a trekking pole in the other.
Snow like this is unpredictable. One misstep and you could slide for hundreds of feet down or one good step and you could slide for hundreds of feet down. We did not admit to ourselves it was "sketchy" till we were safe on the other side. There were a couple of times we had a foot slip. A blast of adrenaline would race through our bodies as our ice axe dug in. Once we had collected ourselves and calmed down our racing hearts, we would look at each other, smile, and laugh, admittedly a little nervously. However, around each traverse our reality became even more astonishing. We were among the mountains, and the peaks surrounding us rang with that much more power. We camped by a frozen lake that night with a view of layed mountains one way and the shoulder of Mount Hope with the trail switchbacking up it before us. The sounds of Pikas, birds, and coyotes rocked us to sleep.
Miles went slow today. With Critter still coughing an body feeling very weak, we are faced with the decision to continue on through the San Juans or drop down into a valley towards Creede. We decided that tomorrow we will make the call, which is never an easy call to make.
Garbelly & Critter