5/28 I am lying in my new shelter sent from home-- a little warmer than the breezy one I used to have and I can't sleep. I can't sleep because I just had a small taste of what is to come-- snow and lots of it. This morning we all made it into Chama and had breakfast and waited for our packages to arrive. My parents took the initiative to send some snow shoes which I am very grateful for. Bigfoot, Farmer John and I took off up the pass via hitchhike by Navajo Wayne and we hiked about 5 miles into the almost dark. For the last hour, it was all snow. My snowshoes handled it well, but my toes were constantly cold so I kept a continuous path forward. It didn't help that the socks I was using were my thinnest pair with many holes in the bottom. Before we got up to a windy pass, I spotted a dry spot east of the trail and we headed towards it. The sun was setting and the trail felt like another world completely isolated from what I have been experiencing before. So here I am, in this upgraded tent that will keep me more protected and I'm nervous, I really don't know what to expect, I wonder if I'll be able to handle it, and really the only way to know is to move forward. Tomorrow will be a new experience.
5/29 I think I can confidently say that today was my favorite day on trail. We woke up and got going at around 5 45 and it was instantly apparent that we were in the most beautiful section of the CDT yet. The sun rose over the ice caked mountains leaving a pinkish glow on the dark gray mountains. The San Juans is this random set of mountains that juts up much more prominently than any other range we had seen. Days ago we saw our first glimpse of the mountains and we all were shocked to see what looked like winter in the alps. After summiting the first pass this morning we realized that this was much, much different than the Sierra. Instead of hiking in a warm, dry valley then cresting mountains passes, the CDT takes you on a high route; mainly above 11 thousand feet and many times above 12. We continued to traverse and walk ridges and the snow stayed hard until about 11 when Bigfoot and I put on our snow shoes, but John wasn't able to send any so he walked in our footsteps. It was slow going, we were happy to have done almost 3 miles in two hours when normally I do more than that in one hour. We dropped down into a valley and found water after trying to melt snow in our bottles in the morning. There was a log that we sat at as we talked about how this was the real deal; cold feet, searching for water, post holing for hours, could we really do this? We continued onward to our goal of 15 miles, at about 10 we were all beat and breaks came more regularly. Soon enough we reached a mountain that was our 15 mile mark, and it was only 4 pm. Score. The plan was now to head down to a valley 4 miles below making it almost a 20 mile day; 5 more than expected. As we rose to 12,500 feet a storm began to roll in. I figured it would just scare us until it began to get really windy and snow was falling quickly. My leg hairs were about to freeze with my little short shorts and I stopped to put some pants on. I rage hiked as fast as I could to keep warm and when the snow started to die down I realized how tired I really was. After another hour we were down in the valley and we all set up our shelters. We got here early and I was able to organize and get a good pitch on my tent. Thinking back on this day and I really think it had to have been the best day, it was challenging and overwhelmingly beautiful. If I make it out of these snowy mountains, I will be a different man.
5/30 Day two in the snowy San Juans. The morning was quite the view once again with the same pink frozen snow that made walking quite easy. We came to an alternate at the beginning of the day to avoid a steep ridge that I figured would have bad avalanche danger. It took us lower and through two canyons with a meadow in the middle that gave us a break from snow and we dried out our tents and sleeping bags and socks. When we got back on the real trail I was glad we had taken the alternate because the other route really did look sketchy and in avalanche danger. Just after we got up and over a pass, we came to a steep descent where there were switchbacks. I immediately dropped my pack off my back, pulled out my ice axe, put my wind pants on and began glissading. I had never really done it before so it was good practice and also just really fun. We then came to a valley where we noticed that the trail would take us across a long traverse on the side of the mountain. Those are usually a pain so we made our own route up to the plateau that was 12000 feet high. Once we got to the plateau the day became my new best day on trail. The stormy clouds stayed away and we began walking by massive black peak after peak. Summit peak then Montezuma peak then Trek peak. By now we realized that we could probably make it to a ski in ski out cabin that was within grasp. We were exhausted, but the surroundings and the idea of a warm cabin moved us forward. The sun began to go down and we made it to the cabin at dusk, but a not so friendly man came out and said that the cabin was "res only." Then he went back inside. Bigfoot trudged in very disappointed, but John was obviously devastated because he spent the whole day post holing with no snow shoes only to get here and realize we needed to camp elsewhere. We walked about 200 yards away and found a nice dry spot to camp. Not so bad after all. But that cozy cabin would have been so great-- a chance to dry our shoes so they don't feel like rigid plastic due to the morning freeze. So, today was great and the San Juans are incredible.
5/31 We got going really late because we were so beat from the day before. We only had 15 miles ahead of us after all. We stumbled our way through the snow taking our time partly and not making good miles because we didn't get out in time for the hard snow. We got up to a ridge where it began snowing and we heard thunder so we picked up the pace a bit. By now we could see the pass we were going to so that was pretty motivating. The going got VERY slow ever since then because the snow turned into a soup and we were all tired. The trail tended to follow contours of mountains which made your snow shoes slip down the slope and twist your ankle every step, so I tried to stay along flat ridges that went up and down. Eventually we got to a junction where the trail split down to a clear dirt road to the pass or up another mountain which would takes us all night to follow. Bigfoot called a trail angel who offered us a ride instead of hitching 22 miles. It was too tempting, I said yes and we walked away from the mountain. John was disappointed. I was disappointed. Then, as I was walking down I couldn't help it any longer and I yelled down to Bigfoot and said we would meet him I town. He said he was happy we made that decision. Back we went and up the mountain we climbed, the snow was deep so we followed some bear tracks. We made it to a saddle and began walking toward Alberta Peak, which we had the goal of summiting that night. It was slow breaking trail and then we got to a place called the knifes edge which was an extremely narrow ridge line surrounded by snow that was ready to slide. The ski area had built a railing and bridge but it was snowed over so we hopped the rail, climbed the vertical ridge down about 8 feet, then began traversing the wall as if we were playing hot lava trying not to touch the snow. It was one of those things that makes you a bit nervous but keeps you on edge and focused. Now just the peak was ahead of us. It was 8 20 and we scrambled to the top where it was covered in icy snow. It was perfect timing, everywhere you looked there was a new vibrant color-- down the valley the bright spring greens were illuminated by the gold lighting, the peaks that surrounded us everywhere at a 360 degree view were like pink snow cones sitting on top of the brown rock piles. John admitted it was the best sunset he had ever witnessed. After photos we hurried down to a chair lift and camped on some gravel while the sun slipped away and night fell. Yeah we weren't in town eating burgers, but we were doing what we came out here for-- soaking up every last mile of the CDT. Before we went to bed john said he was happy to have met me (cute I know), and I agreed. Someone that can push your limits and call you out on what you truly are out here for.
5/1 When we got to the pinewood motel, it was easy to notice the hikers that had been through the snow versus the hikers that had just taken time off for their sunburnt noses and cheeks and dry, cracking lips. Seeing so many hikers was nice, and I got a room with John and Lilly where we could rest up. Its funny because I actually needed this zero, I needed to rest. Whereas on the PCT taking a rest day was not ever really needed. During the day I washed clothes, showered, ate a lot, and watched a couple Harry Potter movies. The highlight was definitely the Thai food in the end with a full table of 12 or so hikers.