To Colorado, or Not to Colorado….
That’s the question right? I know it’s what all of us aspiring CDT thru-hikers are talking about. We talk about whether and when to go, what routes to take, whether to flip up to Wyoming instead (and if so, where?), and whether to just head up to Canada and start hiking south. I thought I would provide a quick update on my hike, and then discuss the Colorado question.
Last I wrote I was in Pie Town, NM. I spent a week there nursing a few ugly blisters, as well as waiting for a replacement part for my Zpacks Plexamid tent to arrive. After a week, I had the tent part and my blisters were good enough to hike on, so I moseyed north. I stayed at a great spot 16 miles out of Pie Town called TLC Ranch. Larry and his wife Charity allow hikers to tent there, get water, and they invited another hiker and me to have dinner with them. They really are wonderful people and they have a really cool vision going for the Ranch! They accept donations via a little box inside to help support what they are doing. I highly recommend stopping by.
The day after TLC Ranch it hailed and snowed. I hiked the Cebolla Alternate through a sand canyon and past a natural arch, then took the CDT southbound across the Badlands – a massive expanse of lava rock. I then hopped onto the Bonita-Zuni Alternate and hiked through two canyons into Grants.
A wonderful trail angel named Michele helped me out in Grants by shuttling me to and from the post office. After Grants, I climbed Mt. Taylor and enjoyed some stunning, and varied, scenery. Grants to Cuba was my favorite section of the trail so far! The desert canyons and mesas, in particular, had a kind of raw beauty to them that I loved. Also, the hiking had a lot more ups and downs, and a few little boulder scrambles. It was much more exciting than dirt roads!
I resupplied in Cuba and spent time with other hikers talking about Colorado. I picked up snowshoes that I had ordered, as well as a pair of pants my wife mailed to me. The hiking between Cuba and Ghost Ranch was wonderful, but wet. The San Pedro peaks were covered in wet snow, so I got some good, shallow, post-holing practice. I also had a chance to “enjoy” some more hail and get chased by a thunderstorm! By the time I post this, I will be in Ghost Ranch, getting ready to make the final push to Chama.
So What about Colorado? The truth is, I am not yet sure what I’ll do. The issue is, of course, the amount of snow that has fallen in the San Juan mountain range.
I’m considering a few options:
- Pushing through. By the time I arrive in Chama and rest for a day or two, I may decide based on the conditions that I want to hike into Colorado. If I do I’m sure it will be slow going. I suppose the stretch out of Ghost Ranch will be a good litmus year. If that seems ok, then I could try to hike to Wolf Creek Pass and go into Pagosa Springs. That puts me at the junction of several routes. At any point in this plan I can bail and flip to Wyoming. Making some progress in Colorado does help my timeline to hit the Wind River Range (e.g. not too soon). More on this in option two.
- Flipping to Wyoming and heading north. The challenge with flipping is that I don’t want to arrive at the Wind River Range (also covered in snow) too early. Flipping to the basin risks this if I keep treading north. I could flip up to Encampment. Right now the road between the trail and Encampment is still closed though. There is also a boatload of snow there, though I would be working my way down to the basin and prolonging the time before I reach the Winds.
- Flipping to Wyoming and heading south. I could head to Lander and hike south through the basin, then into Colorado. The snow will have more time to melt and it would be a while before I got to the San Juans. I would then have to go back to Lander and hike north.
- Head to Canada to finish Southbound. This is my least preferred option because it is still cold and snowy up at Glacier National Park. Seems like the southbounders this year are needing to start a little late. I would be a little early starting just before mid June.
There are a few other permutations of flipping, but these are the main options I am currently entertaining. With Colorado, I had been considering trying the Elwood Pass route to the Creede Cutoff, snipping out some of the San Juans. I have a feeling that by the time I get there though, the river crossings on those routes might be too swollen. Also, I might prefer a flip option just so I can hike the San Juans instead of an alternate.
There is a lot of discussion about safety and many reports on the snow conditions. I am definitely concerned and taking these seriously. Someone mentioned fear mongering the other day. It seems like no matter what trail one hikes, there will always be someone saying something like “oh, that’s too dangerous, don’t do that,” or generally just stirring up fear by talking about how bad a situation is. Honestly, there hasn’t been a lot of fear mongering about the San Juans this year. Why? Because I think we, as hikers, are genuinely concerned and taking it seriously. I know I am. There is a reason we talk about Colorado day in and out. Speaking for myself, I am unsure. My mind is alive with scenarios and what ifs. The reality, though, is that I will just have to get to Chama, reassess, and make the best decision I can for me, regardless of the decisions others arrive at for themselves.
I will write another update once my decision is made. One thing that I do know: this is certainly a grand adventure!
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