Snowshoeing and Dancing with Storms

Day 39: June 1, 2019

Destination: CDT Mile 738.7

Today’s Miles: 24.7

Start Location: CDT Mile 714.0

Trip Miles: 610.8

Today would be a big day. I would get my first taste of real northern New Mexico mountain hiking. I tried to get an early start, but I never seem to get out as early as I would like when the mornings are cold.

I marched along. My wife messaged me. She is being a saint and helping me communicate with Zpacks about my rain jacket and tent struts. They are going to ship me new ones, but they won’t likely be fast enough to catch me in Chama. Therefore, I will have to get to Chama, figure out my next move, and then let Zpacks know where to send them. It’s inconvenient, but it could be worse!

I walked along, climbing in elevation. Patches of snow began to appear. “This isn’t so bad,” I thought. Aaaaaahahahahaha! I’m so naive. It wasn’t even 11am and I had to pause in the woods for a bit as a big thunderstorm worked its way over the mountain nearby, pounding me with about 10 minutes of solid hail. When it passed, I continued climbing up a more exposed ridge.

This storm dumped some hail on me

Hail - New Mexico’s state precipitation

I reached a lake accessible by road and there were a bunch of people fishing there. There was a trash can, so I emptied my trash and hiked on. I stopped shortly to filter water from a stream and to put on more sunscreen. The sun is no joke at higher elevations! I continued climbing.

Patches of snow became more frequent, and then thicker. The sky began to darken a bit, and a light rain started falling. Soon I was walking through snow, post-holing a bit as the afternoon was warmish, perhaps in the 50s. I then came upon a creek, swollen with snowmelt, and partially covered with snow, such that it was hard to tell how wide it was. You see, where the snow ends and the water begins visually, isn’t necessarily where the water really begins. Dicey right?

There was a snow bridge over the creek, and I could see that people had walked over it, but it looked quite thin in the middle. It was already afternoon, and before the light rain started, the pounding sun had been melting snow, including on this bridge. I didn’t trust it. That said, I didn’t really have another way to get across. Time to use the snowshoes. I figured they would disperse my weight, but I could also step over the weakest part of the bridge just in case, and the crampons on the bottom of the shoes would do their job and give me a good solid bite so I could keep momentum and get over it in about a second. I strapped on my snowshoes and approached the bridge slowly. I poked around at it with my trekking poles as I moved forward. I cautiously worked my way to where it dipped in the middle. I could see the water flowing in on one side, and out on the other. I took one big, rapid step over the middle of the bridge, dug my crampon into the other side, and in one quick motion, I stepped over, and with one step on the other side it was done. Whew! That was a little nerve-wracking. I was learning though.

There appeared to be nothing but slushy snow in front of me, and given the weather wasn’t looking great, I left the snowshoes on to make better time through the soft snow. I can only go so fast with the shoes though.

The light rain continued on and off. Dark clouds loomed behind me and I started to hear thunder rumbling. It started sleeting a bit, then stopped after about 5 minutes. I was up over 10,000 feet, and my goal was to get down to a gap below that in the 9000 feet range, below the snow line, to pitch camp. I shuffled on in my shoes, a bit concerned that the thunderstorm behind me was going to overtake me. I had tree cover nearby, but I still wasn’t sure what it would bring and for how long.

I snowshoed for a few miles and then ran into patches of muddy ground. The temperature had dropped a bit, and the thunderstorm clouds were still looming nearby, so I took of my snowshoes in an attempt to move faster over the mixed ground. Of course, I then hiked through another few miles of snow. It was slushy and soggy in many places because there was a lot of melted snow and small creeks and springs flowing beneath it. Sometimes I would post hole into a wet, freezing bog. I kept going, though, as the weather had me jonesing for lower elevation.

As I dropped down towards the valley, the snow gradually turned to mud and running rivulets of water everywhere. It was quite the sloppy mess! I slipped and sloshed around, but the sky, at least, was clearing up a bit. The sleet had stopped as well.

I descended down into the valley, and saw an elk standing in some lush green grass. A quarter mile later, I saw a herd of four or five more. The trail was clear of snow now and crossed a creek, then following it into a narrower valley, almost a gorge of sorts. And then, out of nowhere, the dark clouds were back. This time they were darker, and didn’t look like they might go away.

It was getting late in the day. I was ready to find a campsite, but I didn’t want to camp in this tight valley gorge right next to a stream. I don’t like camping by water in general, but especially not if it might rise with a heavy rain. I pushed on, moving faster as I started to hear thunder rumbling behind me. My feet pounded the ground like irons, my legs fired like steel pistons. I was a man on a mission.

I had three miles to clear before I got out of the right valley. Here the gradient of the Kandahar on either side of me was steep, except for the patches right beside the stream. The sky got darker. I kept going. I was almost out of this valley cage, but I didn’t know what I would find when I turned the corner.

I learned on my way into Pie Town that I can’t outrun storms. It is not up to me to gauge, to decide that I can beat nature by increasing speed, lengthening stride. In the end, while I don’t like to face it, the truth is I have no control. The storm will or won’t catch me, and my tiny increments of speed don’t make any difference in the end result. I like to think that I have some control, but I really don’t believe that I do.

Fortunately for me, when I got to the junction of another valley, it opened up a bit and I could see some relatively flat spaces under the cover of a pine forest. Across from the forest was a sheer, stone wall. I took a hard left turn and beelined for the trees. As I did, I started to feel drops on my arm as the thunder got louder. I threw down my bag and scrambled to get my tent up. A bolt of lightning lit up the sky. I managed to get my tent up and threw my stuff inside, then dove in, still panting, just as the rain started to come down.

The thunder and lightning were impressive, and a million buckets of water were tipped, high in the sky. I was so grateful to have been allowed to make it to my tent. I hoped that maybe the mountains would exhaust their supply of rain and spare me tomorrow. For tonight, I was safe, sound, and once I took off my soggy shoes and socks, dry.

I wondered if this bird was watching the storm roll in

I took a picture of Wilson. It was his adventure now too, after all. I decided I would try and create a little story for him, just for fun, that I could pass on to the hiker who dropped him, assuming I figured out who that was in Chama.

With that, I fell asleep to the pitter patter of a storm ending, and before I drifted off, I saw the shiny dots that were stars in the night sky, come out to play now that it was, once again, safe to be a part of the universe.

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