CDT Day 116

CDT Day 116 — October 19
Wolf Creek Pass
to Bonito Pass
Motel SOCO Snow Day Camp
to Bed as Soft as Snow Camp

Miles hiked: 11.2
Total miles: 1995.2

Enough of this waiting around business. Snow or no snow, we hiked out from Wolf Creek Pass today to begin the final section through Colorado. I started out committed to sticking on the official CDT through the last of the big mountains, but fell asleep questioning that stubbornness after seeing first-hand the snow conditions. No need to decide yet, though. That comes tomorrow morning.

There were just a few tough tasks for SpiceRack and I to complete before leaving Pagosa Springs, and we got right to it this morning. With so much food to eat, we were up at 8am, digging into cold pizza and garlic knots. Spice did great work on her remaining pad thai too. We did our best, but I had a sizable bag of knots left to pack out. Trail knots. We cleaned up our messy room while monitoring the weather. It was sunny and clear now with these conditions expected to persist for the rest of the day, but tomorrow looked nasty. Potential snow showers combined with unimaginable cold and wind. On the Divide, a chill close to 0°F. Tomorrow’s problem.

We played a round of corn hole, then shouldered our packs for the walk downtown to yogi a ride back to trail. That’s not what happened though. On a whim we decided to let the snow melt for another hour while we soaked in the famous hot springs. We got the local rate at Overlook, then soothed our tired bones and muscles, relishing the warmth for perhaps the last time for a long while.

Snow on the trail above Wolf Creek Pass. Fresh pow.

Spice and I were finally hiking up ski slopes around 1pm. Knots on my back, knots in my belly. There were a few inches of snow on the ground for sure. More than I had expected given the forecast, but Crunchberry and Rooster were up ahead some distance and had done a good job breaking trail. It was soft and dry. A pow day on the CDT. The hiking was easy and the novelty did not wear off for some hours. Not yet.

The mountains were beautiful under their new coat. Big snowy peaks to the south shining above slopes of green pine and yellow aspen was a sight to behold. A mixing of the seasons, but winter clearly favored. I did not need to squint to see what winter would look like. It was here.

A cold and windy place.

The snow was drifted easily to six inches on the ridge when we got up there. It didn’t take us long to find out why. The wind was howling out of the west, across the ridge. Snow swirled into the air and into my face. Snot froze in my mustache. I wasn’t layered properly for this onslaught so I was soon chilled, blowing warm air into my gloved fists to keep the feeling in my fingers. All I could think about was moving. Getting down off this ridge before I either blew away or froze to death.

We lucked into a chance to recover from the wind shock. A ski patrol cabin sitting on the trail was unlocked and unoccupied. Spice and I piled in stripped off wet socks and stripped on warmer layers. Sun pumped through large windows warming the place to a balmy degree. I stumbled through a few rounds or Rummy, thinking more about those huge mountains to the south, the CDT traversing those mountains at above 12,000ft, the snow, and the wind. There is an alternate route we could take, the Great Divide cycle route, paralleling the CDT at a much lower altitude and in the trees. I really did not want to miss the last of the mountains, but I was coming to my senses slowly. It wasn’t just a matter of pride or stubbornly choosing the CDT because that’s what I’m out here to hike. Conditions were looking too serious to let ego have a seat at the decision making table. The choice to stay high or go low wouldn’t come until tomorrow, but I was already decided. Unless the forecast for tomorrow is totally wrong. I hoped.

Where there are views, there is wind.

We left the protection of the hut, not totally ready to face the wind, but needing to make miles. Shortly though, we dropped off of the ridge into the protection of the trees. Spice went berserk with excitement for the winter wonderland, but I struggled to get into it with the same enthusiasm. It was cold and I had tomorrow on my mind. The snow could be drifted deep up there. Your clothes aren’t warm enough. You could lose fingers. Happy thoughts.

Spice is going berserk. Clearly.

At Silver Pass we were confused when the tracks of the others turned off trail, going down instead of up. A bunny was the only thing hiking the CDT from here. A look at the map hinted that the dudes had veered onto a dirt road to avoid climbing back to the windy ridge. With sunset approaching, I did not need convincing to follow the same path. I would not be on that ridge in the dark. No way. We found the icy road, then followed it for a couple mile before following a trail back to the CDT at Bonito Pass. The sun turned the hilltops pink before falling behind a distant and unseen horizon.

Snowy road on the way to Bonito Pass.

We pushed up through the snow, following tracks until dark. Neither of us had great enthusiasm for night hiking in the snow, so we found a flat spot and pitched the tent in a sheltered spot, surrounded by big trees, swaying, creaking, and woooooing in the wind. The snow was a comfy floor, but at 19°F, it was just a little too cold for cold ramen to sound appealing. Snacks for dinner. I wish I had more garlic knots.

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