We said goodbye to Johamy and headed back towards the official CDT. It was not a sad goodbye, because we knew that we had made a lifelong friend. She had been so welcoming to us even though we were strangers. We left feeling like we had known her for years. Some people have the ability to radiate a constant feeling of love and support and she was definitely one of those people.
After we said goodbye we started walking up a gravel road. Some ways up as the road turned to dirt, we saw a large moose ten feet from the road. His large nose, ears and tufted hump on his back were the only thing showing over the six foot tall brush. He stared us down and gave no signs of moving and no signs of aggression. However, without wanting to put ourselves in a bad situation as we stepped closer to him, we each yelled, "hey moose," as he continued staring at us. We yelled one more time and he reluctantly trudged away. Cautiously we walked right over where he had been and continued following the trail.
We reached a saddle that met back up with the CDT and headed North. At first there was trail leading up to 12,600 feet, but as soon as we rounded the top, we saw a sea of white snow. For about four miles we swam through the rotten snow falling knee to waist deep with each step. The snow was too soft and slushy for even snow shoes to help. we found a small dry patch of ground and decided to have a quick lunch.
Just as we were packing up, a smiling face popped over the hill next to us. We did not recognize him, but as he came closer, he introduced himself as Spindrift. We talked for a few minutes and found out he was from Toronto and was a software engineer in his pre trail life. We told him we were going up San Luis Peak and asked if he wanted to join. He said he would see how he was doing on time once we got to the spur trail.
A couple miles later, all three of us dropped our packs on a dry patch of grass on the saddle. We grabbed our ice axes, crampons and a bottle of water and set out towards San Luis Peak. Critter still had a bad cough and still had not fully acclimated to altitude. Garbelly promised her that if they walked slow and without packs on that the conditions would be a lot easier on her. If she was feeling bad he would turn around with her and head back down the mountain.
We began hiking up the mountain. Without our "first day out of town" packs on, we felt as if we were floating up the peak. Ice axes and crampons in hand, we were prepared for a snowy ridge walk. As we climbed, Critter began coughing hard just as a few weeks before with her asthma attack. Garbelly told her to stop and drink some water and to have a seat. Critter drank water and leaned against her trekking poles before pressing on. Soon we had passed 13,000 feet. Despite Critter's coughing, so far everything was going great. A few thousand feet later, a few stops to get a drink of water and we we could see the summit. With only five hundred feet of climbing left, Critter took a couple puffs of her inhaler and pushed onward.
Finally, with the sun still high in the sky we rounded the snow covered top of San Luis Peak. Critter had not only made it to the top of her first 14,000 foot peak, but she had also conquered something bigger. Ever since her asthma attacks at around 12,300 feet, a big part of her cautiously feared staying above that altitude. Today the fear was put to rest.
The three of us laughed the whole way down the mountain. We were high on life and still very high in the sky. As the wind attempted to blow us off our feet, we only smiled in return and navigated our way over steep talus. We did not care that we did extra miles and a couple extra thousand vertical feet of climbing. We felt alive in the sense that only climbing a large peak provides.
It was now five o'clock and our mission became to find camp. After slipping and sliding down the snowy pass, we stumbled upon a mostly dry trail. Words could not describe how excited we were to be near 12,000 feet and have trail. We were now walking through a green valley with a roaring river paralleling us the whole way. Our maps showed a river, but as we got glimpses of the water it was a series of hundreds of ponds. The view resembled the terraced rice fields of China. After looking closer, we realized that it had been created by a large series of beaver dams. It amazed us that the little busy workers could alter an entire mountain valley.
Soon we arrived to a fairly flat area with an old fire ring. With wet feet, we decided this would be a good spot to settle for the night. After setting up and filtering water, we built a small fire to dry our socks out. What a day it had been.
Thanks again Stinger for loaning me the ice axe! It has been a life saver out here. Literally.
Cheers to the mountain life!
Garbelly & Critter