I got dropped off and started the trail around 1pm on June 19th. I knew there was still snow – a lot of snow.  I had new snowshoes, and I felt ready to rock.  Two weeks off trail was fantastic, however I was itching to get back on trail and get after it again.  I was on my own, I could crush, or so I thought.

I quickly learned that hiking in the snow was tough.  The avalanche danger was gone, almost completely.  But the new danger was the slippery slopes the trail traversed.  I’m talking north faced slopes of very high degree with snow patches over the trail.  These snow patches would travel down hundreds, often times thousands of feet.  They usually petered off into a pile of rocks.  Awesome.  The snow here was icy in the morning, and slushy by ten a.m.  I never felt confident in my footholds, and felt on edge crossing these slopes that I knew were so dangerous.

Yet it was beautiful.  Just stunning to be out there in that scenery.  I had it all to myself as well.  I didn’t see a single hiker for the first two days.  I finished the section in just 2.5 days, which was pretty fast.  But I managed to go over a cornice unsuccessfully and hurt my ankle pretty good.  It definitely scared me, scared me pretty bad.  I should have gone around the cornice, and down the ridge on the south end.  This would have taken hours, but it was likely the right choice.  I chose to go straight down, knowing I was sliding towards rocks and would need to self arrest.  That’s what I did, but I still took a tumble on the rocks, ripping apart my pants and leg, and fell off the cornice.  It was enough to scare me out of doing the entire San Juan loop on my own.  I hobbled into Pagosa Springs on a bum ankle, full of joy that I was alive, yet annoyed that I managed to make a stupid judgment call and hurt my ankle. Here’s some pictures from those miles:

Snow on the first day back on trail.

Snow on the first day back on trail.

A baby elk bounds awkwardly away.  I walked up on it curled up and trying to go unnoticed.  I wasn't sure if it was hurt, as it let me get roughly ten feet from it.  As I got closer, it shot up, and I barely got this picture of it.

A baby elk bounds awkwardly away. I walked up on it curled up and trying to go unnoticed. I wasn’t sure if it was hurt, as it let me get roughly ten feet from it. As I got closer, it shot up, and I barely got this picture of it.

Snow at Blue lake.

Snow at Blue lake.

Guess what?  More snow.

Guess what? More snow.

This bowl was disgusting.  The trail ran right across several steep snow fields.  It scared the crap out of me.  I ended up going straight down after two of them, then straight up the other side.

This bowl was disgusting. The trail ran right across several steep snow fields. It scared the crap out of me. I ended up going straight down after two of them, then straight up the other side.

More steep snow traverses.  Again, I opted to go straight down and back up, which was definitely the safe/smart decision.

More steep snow traverses. Again, I opted to go straight down and back up, which was definitely the safe/smart decision.

Oh Hai mom!

Oh Hai mom!

Crossed this entire bad boy.

Crossed this entire bad boy.

This is where I fell off the cornice, hurting my ankle, only to turn and self arrest.  But the snow was so slick and wet that I just kept all momentum, slamming into the rocks and doing a quick tumble. It was scary, and stupid. Lucky it wasn't worse, I am.

This is where I fell off the cornice, hurting my ankle, only to turn and self arrest. But the snow was so slick and wet that I just kept all momentum, slamming into the rocks and doing a quick tumble. It was scary, and stupid. Lucky it wasn’t worse, I am.

Looking back at where I slid down.  Can you see my line in the center at the top?

Looking back at where I slid down. Can you see my line in the center at the top?

After this debacle, I decided to take the Creede cut off route, rather than the high and long route through the San Juans.  It was an easy decision, as I had done a lot of the high route in the SJ’s before on the Colorado Trail and through other hikes.  Plus, I can come back and walk it any time I want as I live in Denver.  So, I met up with Elinor (I call her Elinor Roosevelt, even though she doesn’t accept the trail name.  nice, right?) in Pagosa Springs, and we hike out to Creede together.  She’s a triple crowner, and out on the CDT for the second time.  Add that she went to the University of Michigan (woop woop), and we become instant friends.

Elinor reminds me much of my friend Not-a-Chance.  She’s a strong, badass, independent woman.  She hikes hard, and needs no help out here.  I totally slow us down on the Creede route.  Once we chose it, I turned off my mental edge to get big miles.  Instead, I suggest we take brakes, and I end up staring at quaking aspen for hours at a time.  It feels great, and is a big change from any of the hiking I’ve done in the past.  We plan to get to Creede, hitch to lake city, and bag Wetterhorn Peak.  Sounds awesome, sounds fun!  I love the idea, and we make it happen.  The Creede route ends up being very beautiful.  Some highlights were camping high up on Mount Hope, getting an epic sunset there.  Additionally, on the last high section we got caught in a large electrical storm that dumped the largest hail yet on us.  I’m talking nickel sized.  In the heat of the storm, I’m propped up in my tent shoving Nutella in my face when I see a giant Bull Moose no more than ten yards from me.  Lightning strikes and illuminates it’s giant rack.  I stay as silent as I can and watch it as it looks around and wanders back into the woods after a few moments.  It might have been my most blissful moment on trail yet.  It was pure magic seeing it’s large frame light up with large bolts of lightning.  I’ll never forget it.  Here are some photo highlights from the Creede route:

Elinor up high as we climb to hope pass.

Elinor up high as we climb to hope pass.

Just dancing up high

Just dancing up high

Camp on Mount Hope.  Looking south at the San Juans we had just crossed!

Camp on Mount Hope. Looking south at the San Juans we had just crossed!

High Alpine HIking

High Alpine HIking

Elinor up high

Elinor up high

Elinor Roosevelt in an epic burn zone.

Elinor Roosevelt in an epic burn zone.

Hello Weminuche!

Hello Weminuche!

Here are some shots from climbing Wetterhorn Peak.  It was EPIC!

wetterhorn peak

wetterhorn peak

One of my favorite peaks, ever.

One of my favorite peaks, ever.

Wetterhorn and Elinor Roosevelt

Wetterhorn and Elinor Roosevelt

Elinor climbs, looking back at Matterhorn and Uncompaghre

Elinor climbs, looking back at Matterhorn and Uncompaghre

The climb!  So fun!

The climb! So fun!

Up, Up to the Summit.

Up, Up to the Summit.

Elinor (bottom) heads up the final section to Wetterhorn

Elinor (bottom) heads up the final section to Wetterhorn

Summit Views

Summit Views

Yup!

Yup!

Elinor on the way up or down, I can't remember.

Elinor on the way up or down, I can’t remember.

So good.

So good.

Going Down.

Going Down.

Now going up!

Now going up!

Now going through crappy snow :)

Now going through crappy snow 🙂

After Wetterhorn, I get a ride to Spring Creek Pass to begin heading down the CDT.  I remember this trail section super well from hiking it back in ’10 on the Colorado Trail.  I hike alone the first day, and early the next meet Josh and Elinor, and we hike the next three days together.  It was such a great group, and we all got along so well.  It just felt natural hiking together.  Josh is a super interesting guy, tons of knowledge, and just a chill dude.  We push through the unscenic Cochetopa Hills, eventually making it to a sweet cabin on our last night.  Josh and I got there after pushing hard, started a fire, and the three of us enjoyed a toasty cabin all to ourselves.  It was really a treat.  Although not the most scenic, and loaded with mosquitos, having Josh and Elinor around made the hike so much fun.  On one night, I got really sick ( I think dehydration?), and bolted out of my tent at 2am just in time to throw up everywhere.  The whole world was spinning, and I sat in a daze for two hours while mosquitos feasted on me.  After a few uncomfortable hours, it was time to hike.  I had to go slow, and in the first hour stopped for an hour long break.  Josh and Elinor were soooo nice to me, giving me encouragement, meds, and ginger snaps.  They didn’t care about moving on, it was the nicest thing ever, and made me feel so good.  Its relationships like this that you build that are just so nice.  They’re kindness.  They’re just good people.  That’s the type of people you meet on the trail.  Here are some photo highlights, including climbing San Luis Peak, another 14k foot mountain!

Camping up High!

Camping up High!

flowers and San Luis Peak.  A nice little walk up.

flowers and San Luis Peak. A nice little walk up.

Colorado Columbine - my favorite flower!!

Colorado Columbine – my favorite flower!!

cascading falls and some more beautiful flowers.

cascading falls and some more beautiful flowers.

Elinor and Josh head through the Cochetopa Hills

Elinor and Josh head through the Cochetopa Hills

Sargents Mesa with views of Mount Ouray.  I wanted to climb that, and positioned myself at the base of the mountain for an early ascent, however it was raining and gloomy in the morning, so I bailed.

Sargents Mesa with views of Mount Ouray. I wanted to climb that, and positioned myself at the base of the mountain for an early ascent, however it was raining and gloomy in the morning, so I bailed.

Beautiful Aspen Grove

Beautiful Aspen Grove

The magic cabin - completely stocked with fire wood!! WOOP

The magic cabin – completely stocked with fire wood!! WOOP

A nice sunset view to the San Luis Valley, including a view of the Sand Dunes!  Can you spot them?

A nice sunset view to the San Luis Valley, including a view of the Sand Dunes! Can you spot them?

Elinor and Josh hike up high towards Monarch Pass.

Elinor and Josh hike up high towards Monarch Pass.