Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chama to Ghost Ranch, New Mexico: CDT 2013

It was a tough week mentally, emotionally, and physically. I chose to "embrace" rather than "evade." The option was there to road walk from Chama to Ghost Ranch in two days, or hike from Cumbres Pass to Ghost Ranch in five. I chose the latter, mostly because I want to hike the CDT, not road walk it. Forecast called for unsettled weather. I also had to temporarily hike back into Colorado to regain the trail. Psychologically, that was tough, as I had already said my goodbye's to the state a few days before. I was worried about the weather and the condition of the trail.

After leaving Chama, I hiked the 12 miles north to Cumbres Pass on highway 17. I was happy to see the CDT again. I was not happy to see it covered with snow, and extremely muddy where it was exposed. This was the kind of mud that sticks to the bottom of your shoes like paste, until you are walking around with a five pound block stuck to the sole. I hiked about a half mile on the CDT in Colorado where I set up camp for the night. My last official night in Colorado, it snowed again. Winter's icy, snowy grip is taking hold in the mountains. It feels unnatural, to me at least, to remain in the high country. That night, I battled with my fears as the wind picked up, and the snow fell horizontal. I've done this (set up camp) a hundred times or more, I probably have more skill than I realize. I stayed bone dry and warm for the most part, but the line between safety and disaster feels like a mighty thin one in these conditions.

A couple weeks ago while waiting out a snow storm in Buena Vista, Captain and I participated in a movie marathon during a zero day in a cabin. One of the movies we watched was a zombie flick starring Brad Pitt. One of the lines that left an impression on me was during a scene when Bradd Pitt is trying to keep his family safe while on the run from zombies.
"Movement is life," Pitt tells another family while holed up in an apartment.
Likewise, I did not want to sleep on this snowy night. I anticipated the morning when I could pack up camp and keep moving south to hopefully warmer and dryer climes.

I awoke to just a couple inches of freshly fallen snow. I was able to get a full day's hike in before the next batch of bad weather rolled in. I set up camp around 6:00 pm, as a thunder-snow storm approached. It was snowing so hard, I was blinded by the flakes. When I left my tarp to find a rock to cook on, I could not venture too far for fear of losing the location of camp. As the lightning and thunder crackled overhead, and the large flakes came down, I drifted off to an uneasy sleep.
"The mountains are trying to steal the life out of me," I thought.
I battled to stay positive.
"What is God's design in all of this? He sure can seem pretty pissed off. The Creator and the Destroyer. The Giver and the Taker. All I can do is try and be as prepared and as skilled as possible, otherwise I am toast," I thought.

I woke up with the next morning with a few more fresh inches of snow on the ground. My mood remained somber. Life was still. It was cold and it was a struggle.
"How does anything survive the winter?" I wondered.
I saw a few hunters in the distance.
"It doesn't seem fair," I thought. "Those deer and elk have had to struggle to stay alive through the night, and also have to dodge the hunter's bullet."
There was paradox everywhere. The elk gives life to the hunter, the snow gives life as water in the spring, life and death, death and life.

I put on some music on my MP3 player in an attempt to brighten my mood. Tool's "10,000 Days" came on. In the song, Maynard (the lead singer,) seems to be encouraging his recently deceased mother to demand entrance into heaven for not only being a good person, but for enduring the hardships and struggles of life.
"Give me my, give me my, give me my wings!" Maynard screams.
I can't help pumping my fist in agreement as I look out on the icy, harsh landscape.

Later in the day, I hike past a group of backpackers traveling cross country. One of them has a radio. One of them comes over to say hello.
"Are you practicing cross country travel?" I ask.
"No we are Search and Rescue," the man responds. "There's a man who has been missing for about a week out here. He drove out here with his wife to see the countryside and the car got stuck. The wife walked to safety, but we don't think he was so lucky. Keep your eyes open for a body."
It doesn't seem fair. I kept my eyes peeled for the rest of the day and wonder what it would be like to be lost out here with nothing, especially in these conditions. I hope for a miracle.

Again I put on my MP3 player to try and brighten my mood. Pearl Jam's "Light Years" comes on. In the song, Eddie Vedder (the lead singer) sings about how he has learned to understand all sorts of problems and situations throughout his life, but can't figure out where his friend has gone after death.
Vedder sings, "It don't seem fair, today just disappeared. Your life's reflected now, reflected from afar, we were but stones, your life made of stars." I empathize with you Eddie. Where in the world do we go?

At the end of the week, I reach Ghost Ranch. It is beautiful here. I've come out of the mountains temporarily and find myself in the New Mexican desert and canyon country. It is warm and sunny. I feel the life restored within me and thank God the Creator for another safe and memorable passage through the mountains. It just feels natural to give thanks, I don't know why, especially now. I realize I have a ways to go as far as embracing the snow and the cold. This sure is one heck of a trail...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Creede, CO to Chama, New Mexico: CDT 2013

"Embrace the Brutality," the saying goes in regards to the Continental Divide Trail.
"I have a new saying," Captain told me a couple weeks ago as we were sitting inside a cabin along the trail during a snowstorm in Colorado.
"Evade the brutality, embrace it when necessary," Captain continued. "I think this also applies to life."
Captain threw another log into the wood burning stove inside the cabin, bringing the temperature inside to about 80 degrees.
"Embrace the brutality!" Captain sarcastically remarked as the flames grew hotter while the wind continued to howl outside and the snow continued to accumulate.

I did a little evading this past week as I road walked from Creede, CO to Chama, New Mexico. 5 days and over 100 miles of road walking. I know this may appear insane and even laughable, but as I said before, I reached my Colorado adventure threshold last week. As I road walked past Wolf Creek Pass and watched the skiers enjoying the snow that was still probably about a foot deep, I said "good riddance" in my mind and did not look back. The road walking was rather lousy as always (mostly due to dodging cars and trucks), but I relished the warmer temperatures and absence of snow. Fortunately, I also had five excellent campsites; all five on hillsides away from the road and legal as far as I could tell. Last night I set up camp at 6:00 pm, fell asleep at 7:00 pm, and woke up at 8:00 am to warm toes, and unfrozen water bottle, and about 13 hours of sleep. Embrace the brutality.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Salida to Creede, CO: CDT 2013

It's impossible to sum up the last couple of week's adventures in Colorado in a blog post. So I will just say that I believe I have met my "Colorado Adventure Threshold." The road walking begins now, and I will most likely stick to roads for the next 80 miles or so from South Fork, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico, and pick up the trail there. The reason is that snow and frigid temperatures on the Divide have made hiking down right dangerous in my opinion.

I'm flying solo once again. Relationships on long trails can be fleeting, and one has to simply be OK with how they take their course and try to hold no grudges. Everyone has their own hike to hike I guess, and that's just the way it is.

Last week felt like a climatic moment on the CDT for me. Captain and I experienced one of the most grueling and challenging days of hiking I can recall: An exposed, seven and a half mile trek just below, and then over the Divide to San Luis Pass through snow ranging in depth from 6 inches to probably 2 feet. It took all day to reach the pass, and snow fell throughout the day. I felt foolish at times wearing only my trail runners with gaping holes on the sides (from wear and tear), with zip lock bags over my socks to keep off the snow, and no ice axe. Breaks only lasted a few minutes as a frigid wind was persistent all day. I have never been so nervous about a day of hiking in my life. Captain and I divided up the day into seven phases. "To Creede!" was our mantra throughout the week and especially throughout the day, with an extra "To Creede with good decisions, somehow, someway," added to the end. When we reached San Luis Pass, we were both relieved and ecstatic. We had confronted and defeated our worst fears, and our continuous hike could move forward. It was an honor to hike with Captain. Walking into Creede and skipping the San Juans was a "no brainer" decision for me.

For now it's on to New Mexico. I will try my best to soak in this final month along the CDT. Thanks for reading and happy trails to all...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

CDT Progress Update - 10/16

Flyboxer arrived yesterday in the small mountain town of Creede, CO.  With cold fingers he texted that the last week has been snowy with some of the coldest camping he's ever done.  The weather forecasts over the last week showed temps in the teens at night, and 30's during the day.  Things should warm up a bit this week as he hikes with his small band of CDT diehards toward Pagosa Springs, CO.

View Mark's CDT Hike - 2013 in a larger map

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Buena Vista to Salida, CO: CDT 2013

Finally made it to Salida, CO after getting snowed off the Divide a few days ago. Captain, Manparty, Lush, and I decided to take a couple days off in Buena Vista to let the weather pass. Incredibly, a lot of the snow melted by the time we returned to the trail, and the passes we were worried about ended up being a piece of cake. We also met SLAM and Sparrow on the trail a couple days ago, so our hiking party grew to six.

Nights have been extremely cold as of late, but the last few days have been warm and pleasant. Captain went to the doctor today in Salida since he has not been feeling well the last couple of weeks. Turns out, he has giardia, and has been given a prescription to deal with the symptoms. There is also more snow in the forecast in the next couple of days. We will have to decide how we want to finish hiking Colorado. The San Juan's may be out of the question at this point, but we still have a few days to decide our route. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Breckenridge CO to Buena Vista: CDT 2013

"Aren't you a little late?"

This is the number one question that followed Indie and I up the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010 and the number one question that seems to be following Manparty, Lush, Captain, and I down the CDT this year. It has been asked by fellow thru hikers, day hikers, mountain bikers, business owners, and curious passers by. Granted, we are the last southbound hikers on trail this year, in front of only one other solo southbounder named Columbus.

I'd say we are right where we want to be. The aspens and the recently fallen snow have made for a visual feast as of late. The snow has created challenges unthinkable a couple weeks ago. Every mountain has become a sort of "right of passage." I didn't understand the infatuation some people have with aspen trees until this week. The combination of blue sky, cool breeze, golden yellow leaves, mixed with orange and lime green, with snow covered peaks in the background has been almost too much to take in.  For any nature lover, I'd recommend visiting a Colorado aspen grove in October on your bucket list.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

CDT Progress Update - 9/30

Flyboxer texted from Leadville, CO, home of the famous Leadville 100 ultramarathon.  He expects to be in Salida in 5-6 days.

View Mark's CDT Hike - 2013 in a larger map