CDT CO Section 9

Day 15: South San Juan Wilderness

Alarm at 6:30 but I thought to lie in bed and work on the previous post a bit. Got up to make coffee and start getting ready just after 7. I got my last shave in and got dressed for hiking.

We were packed up and ready to go a little after 8 and drove back to the Chama town center to get breakfast at the Boxcar. I got an enormous sausage and chile burrito and a disappointing crusty burnt pancake. Breakfast at the Boxcar is great as long as you avoid the pancakes.

We both left with cups of ice, and I poured my root beer into mine when returning to the car as my last town indulgence on the 12 mile trip to Cumbres Pass.

At the pass, there was a whirlwind picture session with anything there that we could take a picture with, including the signs and trail at the trailhead. But I still managed to get hiking a little after 10.

What followed was a beautiful but slow 12 mile climb that took until 7:45 to reach the high point. Along the way were many softwood views, but also:

  • Sliding and falling on loose gravel
  • Climbing over and around dozens of blowdowns
  • Climbing over and around snowdrifts
  • Sliding and falling on snow
  • Picking my way carefully across slides filled with ankle-rollers
  • Powerful cold winds near every west facing slope

There were 3 other backpackers out, and with my several breaks to hydrate and acclimatize to the altitude and with my hour-long dinner, all of them eventually passed me. But the trail register indicated it was a popular section and I’m bound to see plenty more people out here.

Once I reached the high plateau and the wide grassland that spends most of the year under the snow, the hiking got much easier, and I had no trouble doing a few miles in the last two hours of daylight, even as the cold winds got stronger. I work my puffy coat during dinner and for the entire subsequent hike. For the most part, it’s the perfect hiking temperature out here, but once the sun gets stuck behind clouds and that wind starts tearing tears from your eyes, it feels a lot colder than it should be.

At 9, I turned off the trail and found a patch of grass where a few small trees and a low snowbank would shelter my tent from the worst of the winds. As soon as I took off my pack and leaned over to unpack it, I immediately developed a case of the hiccups that lasted the whole time I was setting up my tent and getting inside and there was nothing I could do about it. But they dissipated while brushing my teeth and lying down. It was a cold but relatively comfortable night’s sleep, very different from life in the Gila.

Trail miles: 13.3

Distance to Wolf Creek Pass: 53.7 miles

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