Abrupt Transition to Colorado (End of May)
Several state forests in New Mexico closed to all traffic in late May, as a precautionary effort to manage wildfire danger. Ongoing wildfires in New Mexico left few resources for any other outbreaks.
On May 19, upon regaining cell phone service on trail, I learned that three different forests had closed to all traffic, including one that I had been planning to hike through that day.
Unfortunately, this meant that I was unable to hike the northern ⅓ of New Mexico, a section of trail that is, reportedly, particularly scenic. Perhaps I can come back in the future and hike that bit.
Many other hikers were in the same boat, and our next steps required some extra planning. From the trail town nearest to me at the time of the closure (Grants), I was able to take a bus to Albuquerque, then was offered a ride with other hikers up to Chama, New Mexico, right on the border of Colorado.
It was quite fortunate. Some hikers I had met earlier kindly reached out to me, and offered me a space in their rental car for the ride up to Chama.
Thus began the Colorado part of the journey, sooner than I had imagined.
The drive up to Chama was remarkable, for the abrupt transition from the pretty oranges, browns, and yellows of northern New Mexico to a green Chama. We pointed out the change to one another. “Grass!” “A lake!” “Trees!”
Towering above it all, snowy peaks were visible ahead, when not covered by overcast clouds. We laughed nervously at the sight.
“I’ll be pulling for you,” came from the hiker dropping us off and heading home for a few weeks.
There were a few things to consider before beginning this section, specifically, snow amounts and altitude.
The south San Juan Mountains, in Colorado, rise to a higher altitude than what we’d been hiking in New Mexico and were currently snow-covered. Some snow was to be expected, but it was recommended to start the Colorado hiking in early to mid-June.
Hiking up and down the steep passes of Colorado at high (9000- 13000 feet) elevation is much more challenging than hiking the terrain of New Mexico, and it would have been ideal to approach Colorado with the benefit of more miles under our belts and stronger trail legs.
There were many different approaches to the snow and early arrival to Colorado. Many hikers accrued in Chama, waiting for their ice axes, microspikes, and warmer clothing/gear to arrive at the post office, and hoping the snow would melt a bit in that time. Some decided to skip up to the next state, Wyoming, and hike south towards Colorado, in an effort to delay Colorado hiking a few more weeks.
I had bought snow equipment at a gear store in Albuquerque. I didn’t really know what to expect, having hiked the Pacific Crest Trail on a low snow year, and having little mountaineering experience. I watched a few video instructions on using an ice axe and planned to practice once I got up there.
I waited in Chama for a few days, along with another hiker friend who was waiting for her gear to arrive. Chama offered multiple cafes and restaurants- it wasn’t a bad place to kill some time.
Every day, I spoke with, saw, or heard of other hikers headed up to Cumbres Pass, to start hiking again. After a few days, I set off myself, unsure what I’d find up in the mountains, but deep down feeling that if others could do it, I could too.
A feeling that would be challenged and indeed altered in weeks to come!
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