The sun warmed up the tent quickly making getting up a little easier. We slept by a frozen lake at 11,900 feet just below Mount Hope. Snow surrounded us on the walls of the bowl that we were nestled in, but we had found a patch of green to camp for the night. Packing up our packs, we took our time. We were playing with the idea of taking an alternate to Creede instead of continuing through the San Juans. Although captivating and an incredible feat, the hundred and twenty miles of snow and high-altitude would likely exacerbate Critters cough. So we stepped back and looked at the big picture. Our goal is staying healthy and making it to Canada. We have plenty more mountains to climb and miles to hike. The beauty of this trail is that you truly can hike your own hike, and every hiker out here supports you doing what you need to do. It is amazing. It was no easy decision to make, but once we both agreed on what would be best, we made the decision with confidence.
We reached the top of the morning's climb and just sat down. The view was breathtaking. We could see the spot where we camped below and even where we had hiked in from the day before. Behind that we could see mountains layering mountains, some snow capped and some green. We were at 12,600 feet, and oh! how rewarding it was.
Continuing on along the ridgeline we saw into the valley in the other side of Mount Hope. Evidence of avalanches could be traced down the vertical slopes, and we could even seen where future avalanches will occur as the air continues to warm. We were above the tree line so we could see the trail carving it's way through the ridge. As far as the eye could see were mountains, and a certain silence echoed from peak to peak.
On top of a ridgeline was where the Big Horn Sheep was first spotted. Garbelly noticed him sprinting down the side of an adjacent crest. Immediately we stood as still as possible before sitting down in the middle of the trail. From there, we watched as the sheep appeared and disappeared between the pines. We watched as he started to descend down a very steep cliff covered in snow but second guessed himself and changed his course. He was headed right towards us, so we sat as still as statues. He came within 20 feet of us. We could hear him breathe and even see the glistening of his eyes. A healthy, strong male, he did not feel threatened by our presence nor did he try to challenge us. Instead he seemed more like the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, in a hurry and baffled by the obstructions in the trail. Minutes went by where we were just feet away from him watching him work through what his next move was. Finally he decided it best to simply jump off the side of the ridge awaited by a steep, snowy slope. Now if that was not a powerful interaction with an animal, then we do not know what is. He presented himself just moments after we had decided to change our plans. He appeared confidently into our reality telling us to go confidently onto our new path. We were in awe as we began back down trail.
Arriving at our turnoff we began a somewhat sketchy climb down off of the ridge we were on. This path was less followed so our steps were taken with even more caution. The trail curved around into prime avalanche territory so we chose a different route. Instead, we grabbed the tyvek and sit pad from our packs and glisaded two hundred yards down.
We followed the trail into a valley where a bunch of fallen trees decorated the trail from a recent burn. Climbing over and around large piles of trees made the hiking slow but interesting, and it made us ready to stop and take a lunch. We waited till we got down to the river before stopping. With weather moving in just in time for an afternoon storm, we decided to be quick with our break. Two hours later (not a quick lunch by any means) we were back on trail or at least heading in the general direction of trail. We could see a wall of rain headed our way so we grabbed our rain jackets just in time for a hail storm to unleash hell on us. Pellets started bouncing off of our heads and arms and legs. Ice accumulated in sheets on our packs. Each hit felt like a little sting, and the ground soon became covered in white. We reached a river ripping through the valley. White capping and roaring with no safe place to cross. Luckily the hail had ceased by this time, but now it was apparent that we would have to wade across to the other side. We took our socks off and put our shoes back on. Garbelly went first. The water came up to his thighs. He slowly crossed feeling the power of the water trying to carry him downstream. Once on the other side, it was time for Critter to cross. She plunged in, and the ice cold water came up to her hips. About a third of the way across the water tried to test her balance. Her trekking poles violently shook as she dug them deep into the sediment and between rocks. She moved slowly, and it was pure determination not to fall in that got her across.
The rest of the day cleared up. The sun came out, the amount of fallen trees decreased, and we followed really nice trail through a green, aspen-filled valley. We had a couple more river crossings but each time we were able to find a large tree laying over the water. We followed the Roaring Fork Trail until we found a tucked away spot to set up camp. We ate dinner far away from our tent as to not attract bear and then drifted off to sleep to the roaring of a nearby creek.
Cheers and may your thoughts trail.
Garbelly & Critter