WINTER HAS RETURNED

CDT Day 34: CDT Mile 726.9 – 750 ( 23.1 miles – 37 km)

Monday May 20, 2019

The wind howled through the tops of the pine trees all night. Our tent remained unruffled. As I listened to the howling wind I felt ever so grateful that we managed to find this spot. It was a pretty perfect, even if we are surrounded by snow on the ground.

It was snowing lightly as we broke camp. Good thing about it snowing is that the snow that’s on the ground will stay crispy for our continued ascent to 10,500 feet. The other good thing about such deep snow cover is that it covers up fences and cow dung. While the landscape of New Mexico continually changed in surprising ways as we hiked north, the presence of fences, cows and cow pats have been a constant. A few days ago we laughed when we stopped for lunch at a ‘suitable location’. Dried cow pats were everywhere. How quickly we’ve become immune to the sight.

The sun gamely tried to make a showing without much success. A bitterly cold wind was blowing. It cut through 3 layers of clothing I was wearing. Hammer has a thicker wind jacket and did not feel the cold so much. We followed footracks for a bit then lost them having to navigate our way. It is slow and taxing work.

Back at around 10,000 feet the snow started to break up. And tracks of a jeep road we were hiking on started to appear. I was so happy to finally get off the snow for this section. But just as we were about to get excited, it started to snow. It continued to snow on and off for the next few hours. It was the sort of cold, grey and snowy day that I imagine is best spent in front of a fire reading a good book, maybe enjoying a great cup of coffee. Of course I was dreaming.

Before we could stop for lunch we had to cross the Rio Vallecitos. It is a swollen river full of snow melt, we’ve heard that it was a particularly difficult crossing. The log across the river is sitting at an angle making it difficult to get good footing, while the river underneath rages on.

I have to admit to feeling some of my river crossings anxiety left over from the PCT Sierra section. I tried not to think about it but my heart was beginning to race a little as we approached. Hammer on the other hand was calm…”Let’s just wait till we get there and see” was his attitude. Such a calm and positive outlook helped to quell my anxiety.

As we approached, the sound of the river could be heard. My heart beat increased a wee bit more. When we got to the river, the nice people from the nearby Vallecitos Ranch have placed another log across the river. They’ve even scuffed the surface a little to reduce slip. It was a far, far easier river crossing than I imagined. Such a huge relief to get it done.

We stopped for lunch on the other side of the river. As we packed up after lunch it started to snow, only lightly at first. How beautiful, I thought. I love the way snow flakes fall lightly and don’t make a noise like rain. All my lovely thoughts about snow soon dissipated at the wind picked up and snowfall intensified. We were hiking a particularly steep, exposed slope. Hammer thought it was a lovely sight. He too changed his tune as windchill added to the bitter cold. It felt like we were in a blizzard. It was beginning to feel rather miserable. My feet were wet and I was cold. It was difficult to move quick enough to generate heat. I was beginning to worry about hypothermia. Hammer was way in front of me and had his head down and trudging into the wind.

When I caught up I suggested to Hammer that we stop and put the tent up just to get out of the wind and snow. But there wasn’t really anywhere to stop. So we hiked on for another 2 hours, to Lake Hopewell where we stopped at the campground. The campground us still in winter mode, there was no one around. Just as we were putting the tent up the clouds parted for the briefest of moments, how cruel.

The wind and snow continued through the night. I was wearing all the clothes I had and in my 20°F (-7°C) sleeping bag, I won’t freeze but I wasn’t all that comfortable. Hammer felt comfortable but not warm. Just to remind us that we are not alone in this ghostly white landscape, gunshot fire reverberated all around us. It sounded like there was a war being fought somewhere nearby. And just as quickly as the gunfire started it stopped.

It was a super tough day, particularly in the afternoon. We had high altitude ascents, persistent heavy snow and strong winds adding to wind chill. The photos don’t really capture the ferocity of the wind. Our campsite is rather exposed to the wind. Hope we make the night alright without having to pack up and move to the privy. The only structure in the campground that offered some protection from the wind and the snow.

The weather prediction for tomorrow is for more snow, lower temperature and stronger winds. We are 40 miles from the border to Colorado, and the trail is above 10,500 feet throughout.

We are condering baling out at State Route 64 which we’ll cross in the morning.