Day 63: June 25, 2019
Destination: CDT Mile 1219.8
Today’s Miles: 13.2
Start Location: CDT Mile 1206.6
Trip Miles: 1008.8
It got cold overnight - below freezing. I woke up with ice on the inside and outside of my tent.
Hawaii and I had agreed to get started at 6:30, and we did. Quetzal and her boyfriend Cargo headed out just before us. I wasn’t feeling very well rested. I slept cold last night for some reason. I think the down in my quilt needs redistributing.
The snow started pretty much right away. I put on my micro spikes and we headed up the “trail.” When I say trail, we are basically lucky if we have footsteps to follow. The trail is gone in a sea of white. Because of the cold night, the snow was nice and crunchy hard to walk on, for the most part.
We climbed and climbed up and things were going really well. I moved carefully up the snowfield as we climbed, conscious of my steps and how I definitely didn’t want to become a human sled down the mountain. The views were gorgeous and we reached the pass at 12,022 feet. Quetzal and Cargo were there and we took a group photo. It didn't turn out very good because of the lighting.
In some ways, Kokomo was like a vacation getaway compared with what would come next. When we left the pass we had to walk along a steep traverse. I held my ice axe on the slope side, just in case I slipped so that I could use it to arrest my slide. I’m not a fan of traverses like this - where you look off to the side and it’s just a slippery drop-off into a snow bowl far below.... But, it was the only way to go and so we went. I also am ok with those kind of traverses from time to time - they are necessary to get from point A to point B.
At the end of the traverse, we had to climb up and over a short vertical lip of snow to get up to Elk Ridge. This made me sweat. To do it, I had to kick into the wall, try to get a good foothold with my spikes, and lean in while ascending. It was hard with the weight of my pack and really important that I not lean back and get off balance. I thought about using my axe, but I just did it with my poles and will power. Hawaii went first and made it up. I didn’t feel like I was going to make it, but I did! I breathed a huge sigh of relief at the top. This was premature....
We were now up on a ridge called Elk Ridge looking down at a valley that lead to the next pass, Searle Pass. Somehow Quetzal and Cargo were already down in the valley. They looked like little ants. Hawaii and I discussed how to get down. We didn’t see their footprints going down. We looked at a couple of routes but were concerned about the depth of snow down there. We then looked up at the ridge line and noticed that there seemed to be a snow-free path along the ridge, and that the ridge seemed to curve its way over towards the pass, miles away. After some discussion, we decided to walk the ridge and see if we could drop into the valley from it.
We walked and walked and followed footsteps for a while. We stopped often to assess the situation, and ultimately couldn’t find a good way to get down to the valley. The valley side of the ridge was lined with snow cornices in many places, or lips of snow that we couldn’t see over. We decided to keep walking the ridge, hoping it would give us an exit point toward the end where we could then bushwhack and post hole our way back to the trail.
We continued to follow the ridge, climbing sometimes over loose rock and snow patches. I saw a few red marmots and heard pika chirping. We had to walk over a few kind of scary snowfields that connected two pieces of the ridge, and hike around steep, loose rock piles to continue our mission. But we did it. It all came to a sad end, however, when the ridge ended in a towering, steep mountain covered in snow. We wouldn’t be able to get past or over that one. We had walked all of that way for nothing!
We had already passed Searle Pass at this point. We were above it and couldn’t get down to it. We now had no choice but to backtrack. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking as the sun made the snow softer and harder to walk on. We climbed back over the loose rock and went back across the sketchy snowfields. We then continued on the friendlier parts of the ridge. Neither of us was in a good place at that point. We knew that going back we would still have to find a way down into the valley and that we would likely have a harder time now with the post holing. I was a bit ahead of Hawaii when I turned around and saw her walk over looking off the ridge toward the valley. She then disappeared walking on the snow towards the edge. We had looked at this spot before as a potential way down, but it was pretty sketchy.
I didn’t see her resurface, so I waited a bit, and then walked over to the spot where she had disappeared. I still didn’t see her, so I walked towards the edge and then saw that she was already down on a patch of dirt at the next ledge down. She had done the dodgy traverse! At this point, I didn’t want to split up so I didn’t have much of a choice but to follow suit. It actually wasn’t so bad, maybe because I knew that she had made it. My heart was definitely pounding though - I knew I couldn’t make a mistake!
When I got to the patch of dirt, I saw her sliding down the next slope on her butt! I soon figured out why - the snow was so deep that the post holing made going down on foot nearly impossible. I grabbed my ice axe and followed suit, using the axe as a break and trying as best I could to control my steep descent. It was a real rush and I was surprised at how effective it was at getting to the next ledge and dirt patch. I had caught up with Hawaii, and we both took a quick break there. I set my pack down and it almost rolled down the slope! Fortunately I caught it, though I did lose two replacement tent struts that I was carrying around since they are unreliable and keep breaking (that same issue with the zpacks plexamid tent). I have more, but I mailed them to Lander, WY, so hopefully my current ones last.
We could see the trail pole markers in the distance now. We were getting closer. We took one more slide down the slope, and then walked down the next one. We had to walk over what showed as water on our map, but there was so much snow on top it didn’t matter.
We then spent forever just working our way back to, and following footsteps to get through Searle Pass. There was a lot of random deep post holing, but it definitely could have been a lot worse - we were lucky. The fun wasn’t over yet though. We walked on some more inclined slope right after the Pass, and then down a snow field towards a random cabin in the woods. It was called Janet’s Cabin and we remarked at how remote it was. It was deserted, but it looked like an AirBnb kind of deal.
We continued on trying to find the trail, post holing, and working our way down a valley. It was time-consuming, arduous progress. We finally got to where we could intermittently see trail, but it took a while because the descent was gradual. We walked by the debris and barren remains of what was a huge avalanche.
Finally we made it down to where the snow was just patchy. We descended further and came out into a ski resort called Copper Mountain. All of a sudden we were walking below roller coasters and ski lifts. I got excited because I saw a large red fox run across a field just below the trail. I have always wanted to see a red fox in the wild, so I got to check that box.
We walked down to the ski resort village. It was weird, like some kind of semi-deserted zombie complex. They had stores open but hardly any people there. I got a soda and an ice cream sandwich and a cheese stick, and we dried out our tents there. There was a place to fill water bottles and a lovely bathroom. We talked about the day and how it had been kind of stressful to get through.
We hiked out together but parted ways. I camped early because I will head to Frisco tomorrow. Hawaii is continuing on the CDT to Breckenridge.
I ended the day very confused about how to proceed. I’m scheduled to be on a bus to WY on Thursday, but after seeing the pass today, I don’t believe that two weeks or so will necessarily be enough time to melt enough snow to where I will feel comfortable hiking this stuff on my own. I will be headed southbound when get back to Colorado, so I doubt I will have hikers to team up with. Once again, I’m not sure what to do. Today was a little too intense. It had its fun and beautiful moments, but it crossed the line a bit too much for my taste into the land of dangerous. Part of that was because we tried to walk the ridge, but that wasn’t all of it. We were lucky we had perfect weather conditions. Had the weather turned, that would have been super painful....
I have a few options to consider and will have a plan tomorrow I hope. Somewhere along the way today I passed the 1000 mile mark! Over 1000 trail miles walked between Mexico and Canada! Of course, that doesn’t include “bonus” miles where I get lost or walk around in towns. Anyway, time for bed! I’m so grateful to be safe and have gotten through today’s hiking. What amazing views today!