Start: rocky ledge over 12,000 ft.
Stop: three forks
Total miles: 667
4 am again. The wind is ripping so it’s cold out. The temp hovers around freezing and with the wind chill it’s easily in the low 20’s. We move across the icy snow as the sky begins to brighten. The stunning sunrise transforms the scenery into pools of glow. We soak it in and then climb some more.
Gray skies loom as a storm front slowly moves in. Following the trail nets more steep cross country forest travel. My sore right knee talks to me. We climb up from a saddle until it’s time to descend El Rito Azul. Following a lunch break we slowly and painfully cross country through snow-filled, steep hillside forest. Because of these challenging traverses, it is necessary to cinch down the snowshoe. After two days of this, I have painful pressure points where the bindings push on my shoes/toes. I wince in pain as I move steeply downhill through and over downed trees. The soft snow means I posthole and fall often. I take a good tumble and it takes me at least five minutes to dig myself out. Then I fix my nearly broken trekking pole.
Meanwhile, the group waits for me ahead at a river crossing. The snow melt has created a beast of a crossing. We decide to cross together linked as one. We make our way to the waters edge as rain begins to fall heavily from the sky. I latch my hand to Serena’s pack and hers to mine. We form a chain and slowly pick our way across. For some reason Mountain Spice has her hand in mine which wrenches my wrist. The pain in my wrist distracts me from the ice-cold, foot-numbing water. When we get to the other side we start to run down the trail to bring warmth back to our frozen, red legs. But snow drifts stand tall and we have to stop and put on our rain pants, gaiters, snowshoes. The rain is relentless as we have to do another river crossing.
It’s 5:30 pm and we decide to camp. We’re on the verge of being too wet and cold. And the trail heads straight up. We tuck into some trees and set up in the rain. We have a brief discussion before jumping in our tents. The weather will not improve for days and except for Focus, general group feeling is to search for bailout options. No one has maps that show alternate routes out. I say I’ll do some research in my tent.
After getting out of my damp clothes and into my sleeping bag, I pull out my garmin gps and start searching. The easiest would be to follow the Conejos drainage but does it lead anywhere? I slowly arrow down river and find forest service road 247 that connects to forest service road 250 which eventually goes to highway 17. Golden! Thank god I have my gps which shows more than just the trail! The only ironic part of this that hwy 17 goes to Chama, NM. I’ll share it with the group in the morning. After buffeting my food bag, I settle in to get caught up on journals only to immediately fall asleep.