This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
I plan on heading out of Ghost Ranch before dark, but Thunder and Snow have a room and we pile on in. I eat breakfast and lunch and then am so full I can barely move. There are a lot of calories to replace. Ghost Ranch is not what I expected. It’s a strange, hippy, artsy place. Georgia O’Keefe spent a lot of time here and now other artists follow in her footsteps. Still, artists are a nice crowd and everyone seems genuinely interested in what we are doing. Ghost Ranch is also where a lot of dinosaur fossils were found and I spend a few hours exploring the museum here.
Tennesteve, Thunder, Snow and I all head out together the next morning. We climb up towards a box canyon, then climb to the Mesa and the pine forests above. The theme of the day is up, and as always, I am slow. No one seems to mind though as we laugh and joke. We take a wrong turn and then bushwack together back to the trail. I missed other hikers so much. We’re high on a ridge and it’s a beautiful bluebird day, the first good weather day in a long time. On one side of us runs the snowy Sangre de Christos mountains. And then, to the northwest, we get our first glimpse of the San Juans. We camp together, a cluster of tents in an Aspen Grove clearing. Someone asks if I’m scared camping alone and I tell the bowhunters story to illustrate that camping with others doesn’t always help. I probably tell too many PCT stories, but it’s hard not to. In the morning, there are a million blowdowns to cross as we climb up and up. We cross a stream with icicles clinging to the branches dipping into it. The snow starts. It’s not so bad at first as we cross open fields, but then the trees close in and we are sidehilling through icy tree wells. I am terrified of icy snow where a fall would be bad and this is no exception. Somehow I make it through, hands clammy and legs shaking and we top out on a snowy plateau. We drop back down on the other side of the mountain. Smoke rises from the forest in a line- there’s a forest fire. We have no idea if it’s close to the trail or not, but there is nothing to do but keep hiking. A family out four wheeling catches us as we walk down a road. They ask where we’re going. Canada eventually, but Chama first. “Chama? You’re going the wrong way! Chama is that way!” We explain the trail loops and curves, but he still asks us if we are crazy. We reach the bottom of the valley. There’s a river there and Guthooks says we cross on a bridge. We get there and there’s just a raging torrent, swollen with snow melt. No bridge. Great. First we try to ford as a group. Thunder leads, making an eddy for everyone else. We take a few steps into the current, but he calls us back. It’s already almost to my crotch and fast and we aren’t even in the main channel yet. We debate what to do. We can walk upstream and hope the river is less fierce. We can try and find where a dirt road crosses. Then Tennesteve finds a tree that has fallen across. Great. I hate log crossings almost as much as sketchy snow. Snow grabs my pack and runs across, quick and sure-footed. I follow on my butt, scooting across with as much dignity as I can manage. Thunder follows me, giving encouragement when I get vertigo looking at the swirling water below. Emotionally exhausted, I make it. It’s cold again in the morning and I force on frozen shoes. I’m getting used to this. We climb up and up through snow patches. Across a meadow, an antelope watches us warily. Then we’re at the highway and climbing the ridge beyond. The snow continues, covering everything as we climb, then switching back to patches when we drop. The four of us camp early, our goal for the day met. I’ve just finished dinner when I see a brown snout just across the river. The bear climbs up towards the ridge as we watch it, entirely uninterested in us. We cross the river first thing in the morning. My feet are ice as we contour around a ridge on trail so nice it makes me homesick for the PCT. Then, back to the snow. It’s ok for a little, and then we are sidehilling on icy snow through the trees. It’s so steep I can barely find purchase with my microspikes and I plunge my axe as deep as I can into the ice before I dare move my feet. We’re in the snow for almost the entire day, through thick forest and high on ridgelines. Tennesteve and I lose Thunder and Snow in the forest and take such different paths along the ridge that we don’t find each other again until we are crossing a huge snow filled valley. I’m exhausted from the rough terrain. We find a tiny patch of dry ground next to a snow filled meadows and squeeze our shelters together. Thunder jokes that at least there won’t be any bears up here… Or raccoons… I’m sleeping the sleep of the dead when the crunching of the snow wakes me. Then the noise of metal being dragged. What? I grab my headlight. One of my trekking poles is gone! I duck out from under my tarp and stand in socks on the frozen ground. I spot my pole, six feet from where I left it. Before I grab it, I scan the snow field. A single eye glows. I angle my headlamp and make out long ears and a twitching nose. A rabbit? I grab my pole. The foam on the handle is split in half and the metal core is exposed by a mass of bitemarks. I drag it into my tarp and try to go back to sleep. Then I hear a rustle. The rabbit is right by my tarp opening. I shine my light at it and it backs up. Five minutes later, it’s head is poking under my tarp. I shake my mangled pole at it. This goes on for hours, as I fall into fitful sleep only to be awoken by the persistent bunny. In the morning, I’m groggy from my restless night. We climb up then start to drop down, sidehilling through steep snow. Then, the Colorado/New Mexico border. It’s a non description forest service sign announcing we’ve reached a different wilderness area. With none of the fanfare of the PCT, we’ve walked across an entire state. It’s only a few miles to the highway. By the time I reach it, Tennesteve has already wrangled a ride for all four of us. The Pie Man is a section hiker, out caching food and water. He drives us to Chama, gives us all miniature bottles of wine and proceedes to ferry us to the Post Office, the motel the others sent their boxes to, and finally to our motel. I’m exhausted from the snow and the rabbit attack and so happy that I can take a day or two to rest in town.