CDT Days 23-34: Chama to Pagosa Springs
Shadowhawk’s friend Paul picked us up from the Motel 6 in Grants, NM at 9am and we all clambered into the minivan, except Shadowhawk, who had come down with giardia a few days after me and was unfit to travel. After a two and a half hour drive, we arrived at the home of Paul and Mary Anne in Farmington, NM. Paul would make the 5 hour round trip again the next day to collect Shadowhawk.
After giving us snacks, Paul brought us to a rental house he had been working on a few blocks away: our new home for as long as we needed, complete with minivan for use at our discretion.
We spent a week camped out there, formulating a plan to jump up to Chama to get past the fire closures in New Mexico. Ice axes, crampons, and other cold weather gear was suddenly needed sooner than we had planned and it took as long for us to adapt to the new situation and to have our things mailed to Chama. None of us were in a big hurry to get back on trail anyways. With access to a full kitchen and a vehicle, we were living large.
Meanwhile, Paul and Mary Anne were the best hosts imaginable. They had us over for dinner frequently. Paul even dug out an old school slide projector and his friend Mark put on a presentation of his 1995 Appalachian Trail thru-hike while we all ate pizza and apple pie and chimed in whenever we recognized a place on the trail.
We roadtripped up to Colorado, car camping for a night, a wonderful luxury, at Penitente Canyon before visiting the Great Sand Dunes the next day.
We hiked around Chaco Canyon, the highlight of my thru-hike so far.
Back in Farmington, we all helped Paul, the local homeless liason, sort through donated clothing and school supplies and we pitched in at the food pantry. Numbers, an electrical engineer, helped install some sort of unit in one of Paul’s rental houses. The whole week wholesome, fun, and just lovely all around. Paul and Mary Anne are going down in my book as the best trail angels.
The first day out of Chama we climbed from 7,500 to over 12,000 ft and I was feeling the elevation. After taking over a week off, it felt like any muscle I had built in New Mexico had turned back to flab. So many of the trees here have been killed by beetles in the last decade, there were dozens of blowdowns over the trail. The green scenery and abundant water was a welcome change from NM, although boggy and snowy conditions led to wet feet and the thin air made breathing difficult.
That first night Shadowhawk announced that his knee had been bothering him for a long time and he couldn’t extend his leg. He had the same problem on the PCT, relying on painkillers to make it to the end, and he didn’t want to repeat the experience. Wise enough to no longer have anything to prove he decided to get off trail.
Gunga Din, who was suffering from the sudden altitude change, and I decided to hike down a side trail with him to the road to send him off, then continue on the lower alternate. On the way down the side trail, Shadowhawk gave Paul a call and he agreed to come pick him up at the road. We waited at the Rocky Mountain Lodge for hours after Paul said he would arrive. With no cell service and the power out at the lodge, we had no way to know what happened. Eventually, we had to continue on if we were going to make it to Platoro that night. We said our “see you later”s to Shadowhawk and walked on. I’m going to miss that old man and his flute playing, his gentle humor, fortitude, and kindness.
We walked the road for hours, the wind whipping at our heels, thinking of our friends in the snow up at 12,000 ft. A truck pulled over and the driver told us they were evacuated from Rocky Mountain Lodge. There was a fire 6 miles from where we had spent the afternoon. That’s why Paul never made it.
They gave us a ride up to Platoro and we shared the news with the good folks there at the Gold Nugget Cafe, who gave us a hot meal by the woodstove and a discount on a cabin as the smoke rolled into town. We sat on the couch and chatted, shotguns leaned up against the wall behind us. Their hired hand announced he was going to drive up the valley just to see what he could see, pulling a holster and pistol out of a drawer on his way out.
We took a walking tour of town after dinner, it took is about ten minutes to see all of the ramshackle cabins and dogs playing in the street. I’m told no one lives there in winter as the snow often buries the roofs. It was hard not to fall in love with that little cowboy town, knowing it will likely all burn in the near future.
It was a gravel road walk all the way to Pagosa the next day. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous, but the thin air was still exhausting, making for a bit of a slog. A car or ATV passed us occasionally, kicking up a quarter mile of dust behind it. One pulled over mid morning and the couple handed us a box of apple turnovers, which we scarfed down. A few hours later, we stopped at a creek to camel up before a big climb.
“Man, I could go for a coca-cola right about now to make it over this hill” I complained.
We reunited with the rest of the tramily in the morning and morale was low. Apparently, the weather had been cold and gale force winds made the exposure and steep, icy traverses more trying than normal. Bonanza described it as “emotionally exhausting”. Her and Grand Parambulator were discussing either flipping or finding another adventure altogether and I was tempted to join them.
On the PCT in 2019, it was an unusually high snow year and I started about a month too early even for a normal year, March 17th. I ended up wearing crampons over my trail runners for over a month and encountered some seriously dangerous conditions. I was determined to make it thru but I was full of dread daily and my nerves were rubbed raw by the end of it.
I didn’t know what to expect back then, but now that I’ve done multiple thru-hikes, I know what kind of suck lies ahead. I’ve never wanted to quit a thru-hike before; it was a strange feeling. I needed to get my head in the game, and reassess my motivations.
It was Bonanza’s birthday and she wanted to not hike so we zeroed again. Hotel rooms were expensive in Pagosa over memorial day weekend so the six of us split a room.
In the morning, I got much needed phone calls from two AT tramily members. Disco reminded me that I’m a badass and Seeker had great advice: “I suggest you just don’t think about it today, go soak in the hotsprings, and hike out tomorrow”. So that’s what we did.
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