Day 37: Fire in the Sky over the Rio Chama

We woke up around 6:30 to the sound of snow hitting our tent. The temperature was low enough that every breath we had breathed throughout the night had accumulated in a thin icy frost on the ceiling of our tent. Getting ready, we took care to quickly change our clothes while inside our sleeping bags and swiftly put on our down jackets. Critter was so far burrowed inside her sleeping bag that after all of this process her face had yet to be seen. The sound of snow continued. It would be a tough morning to wake up.


We finally prepared everything to the point of putting our socks and shoes on and then breaking down the tent. As we grabbed for our socks from the day before, they were solid as a rock and felt more like we were holding wool knives. We started laughing and began having a sword fight with our frozen socks. We decided that it would definitely be a new sock day. We finished packing up and set off down the trail with the snow continuing to fall on our faces.


Walking down the trail we still encountered more fallen trees as we did the day before, but the forest began to open up into lush green meadows. Upon entering one particularly large meadow, we spotted a man in jeans, thick leather boots and an old external frame pack. He asked us where we were headed. Garbelly answered, "north of here," and Critter said quickly, "eventually Canada." He smiled and told us where he was from and that he was headed to the top where we had just came from. We warned him of the large icy marshes and few spots to camp, but he didn't seem to mind. Just as he was parting he let us know that, just over the hill, we would be able to see the San Juans.

We quickly climbed the aspen peppered hill and sure enough, there sat massive, completely white mountains. All of them were steep and sharp and not completely welcoming and others still hidden behind a curtain of falling snow. We were not scared of the what was to come, but we were excited to find out what the upcoming weeks had in store for us. We turned to each other wide eyed and on the same page that if this trip had not already been exciting, these mountains would be an adventure.


Just a few minutes later we came up to the most powerful spring either of us had ever seen. It was shooting water six inches straight up into the air at a rate of a gallon per second and the flowing down the hill as an ice cold creek. We needed water desperately and this was gold from the mountain gods. Unfortunately it was already 10:30am and we had only done a mile and a half. With the old hiker saying "ten miles by 10am," I think we were right on track. We each drank a liter and packed up two liters for the day ahead.

Jeremy had camped just below this spring and when we looked to see if he was awake, there were no signs of life. Garbelly waited for a couple seconds and saw movement so we both continued onwards.


Then, we booked it nonstop all the way to the highway. We did this with the help of warmer weather and listening to The Hidden Life of Trees. Past the highway we were faced with our only big climb of the day. We decided that climbing the entire 1,300 feet before eating lunch would be a good idea. As we climbed, the forest around us began to transfer into large bluffs with striped murals of grey, yellow, white and red in a descending order. We were somewhat unsure, but we assumed this was the result of countless lifetimes of volcanic ash and erosion. As we climbed up the mountain we were traversing displayed its age. The silty soil collapsed beneath our feet with each step until we returned to a piney canopy that covered the trail in a dense layer of needles. We sat down to eat our lunch and dry out our soaking wet rainfly and tent.


After a quick march across the top of this mountain, our day concluded with a steep descent into Ojitos Canyon. Here we crossed a muddy, sulphur scented stream a few dozen times and wound up in a beautiful sage brush meadow. Towering all around us, the beautiful multicolored mesas reflected their colors on the valley we were walking below. We felt like we were walking through a classic western film. A deep voice behind us greeting us with, "have you guys been running all day?" It was Jeremy. He had slept in until the sun hit his tarp around 11:30 am. We laughed at how late he had slept in and still caught us. We all three walked through the beautiful canyon, frequently stopping to take a few pictures. Even Jeremy, who had admitted to us that he had only taken six pictures since the Mexican border, stopped to capture the view.


Just before we came to the Rio Chama we found a small cattle trough filled with crystal clear water. We quickly filtered while rain started to fall on our heads. Jeremy had enough water, so he headed across the river to find a spot to camp. A mile later we too were crossing skull bridge and the huge waters of the Chama. It was one of the largest tributaries of the Rio Grande and the largest river we had yet to see. The high waters spoke volumes of how much snow must be melting north near Colorado.


As we ate our dinners, the sky lit up like fire before quickly fading to dark navy as the light drained from the land. 

Cheers to this symphony of light before the darkness of night.  

Garbelly & Critter