Miles: 13

Camp: My CDT mile 2236

It was about 4am when I heard Uberdude walking around camp fixing his tarp in the dark. The snow was crunching under his feet as he was cursing under his breath. I was wrapped like a burrito in my sleeping quilt, internally denying what was happening outside. In a sudden stroke of acceptance I knocked the snow from my own tent, in doing so unearthing a tent stake. Soon, I was cursing under my breath as I restaked my tent in the snow. 

‘This can’t be real,’ I thought, ‘it will be gone by morning.’

When I officially woke up, I poked my head out of my tent to see a winter wonderland had appeared overnight. It was stunning, surreal and a tad off putting. I had no choice but to hike today and my footwear of choice is sandals. I put this thought aside as I ate breakfast and sipped hot coffee, pepping up with the guys. We decided to be excited today because it was going to be beautiful. And it was.

We all put plastic bags on our feet and made fresh tracks through the fresh snow. It was hard warming up at first, but we were soon operating at a good speed, drumming up body heat as we went. There was a pass to climb and that really added some warmth, but the snow still kept falling. At the top we snapped pictures and called the hotel in town to secure a dry place to sleep tonight. The snow was still falling, nearly 10 inches accumulating around us. Stopping on the pass brought back the biting chill in my fingers and toes, I simply had to keep moving. Hunger was no match for warmth and thus I never bothered to grab a snack to help me through this day. 

We had to continually search for the trail, but we were rather blessed in that it was easy to follow for the most part. This was one of the more unique experiences I have had out here and I couldn’t be more pleased to be with the guys today. My motivation was teetering and I had to keep my head strong. It would have been so much harder alone, so hard to keep pushing on. We stayed together and struggled as a team. All 3 of us fell a lot, we all had wet feet, wet hands and cold everything. I was purely miserable but continued to keep it to myself, continuing to put one frozen foot in front of the other. There was no time to stop or it would get too cold, there were no snack breaks, no drinking water, no stopping but to adjust gear or brush off after falling. It was really very hard.

We got to the top of an unnamed pass as the wind was blowing across the exposed summit. I could barely see Titan’s footprints in front of me, Uber was trying to navigate and the wind blew snow and motivation away from us. No matter what though, we simply had to keep moving. No stopping. Only going. It was so enormously cold.

I looked to the guys as they studied the GPS and they both had frozen beards (I call them Everest beards), their legs covered in ice as well (both of them in shorts). What a folly really; me in sandals, them in shorts. We all survived and succeeded in the San Juans…but we were ready for that, we had come prepared. This was a curveball none of us expected. We knew it might snow, but this was a whiteout. We simply had to keep moving.

Everyone was having difficulty with their phone for navigation, it was so cold that the battery drained faster, our fingers freezing in attempts to find our course. We knew we had to get off the mountain so we did our best to find a route…but it wasn’t the best route. We were scrambling, falling and sliding down steep rocky cliffs, always at risk of falling more than a few feet. We were in real danger. This was the real deal in life or death. Really real. I was scared, cold and determined to get off that mountain. We all were.

I watched Titan and Uber struggling as much as I was and I tried to find strength in the solidarity. We were in this together. We had each other. We were going to make it. We had to. There was no time for misery.

When we reached the treeline I looked at Titan who was beginning to shake and show signs of hypothermia. Uberdude immediately recognized the danger and led us to the trees. We began stamping down the snow in a flat spot to set up shelter. Titan was shaking and beginning to look as of he were checking out, so we buried him in sleeping bags. Uber set up shelter while I helped Titan out of wet shoes and socks. Uberdude took the leadership role and delegated me with tasks that I immediately fulfilled, always keeping our mind to Titan’s condition. He was responsive and aware, but he was cold to his bones. We had to get him warm and not get ourselves unnecessarily chilled in the process.

All three of us laid under the shelter together, a bottle of hot water pressed between my frozen toes and Titan’s. We held each other under the down bags, sharing warmth and concocting our exit strategy. I was still cold in our snuggle puddle, but I knew I had to stay strong, there was no other option. Survival on this day had everything to do with tenacity and willpower, there would be no giving up, no giving in.

After an hour we all felt just strong enough to hike on. We had found a route that would take us to a lake where there was a road and the sun had broken through the clouds. The world around us had unveiled itself from that dark and gloomy storm cloud, revealing blue skies and freshly powdered mountains. It was breathtaking, enough to give us new life so we could get out of there. Our minds were set on getting to town, getting out of the snow.

We still had to keep moving for warmth, but the fact that the snow had stopped falling really helped. The sun was delightful, the views overwhelming. We were truly having a unique experience, our lives suddenly intertwined in a way that can only come from this kind of life threatening situation. I felt so much stronger with the guys there, knowing we had faced a scary situation and handled it right. Uberdude was our fearless, calm and focused leader. He took charge of the situation and saw us to safety, showing an extremely admirable ability to take charge when needed. Titan and I were so blessed to be with him, as we were both barely hanging in for a while there. Uberdude held it together for all of us.

We arranged a ride from the lake as we pushed forward for our last 3 snowy miles. The day was suddenly so incredibly beautiful, fresh snow, blue skies and ample sunshine. We practically floated those last bits of suddenly easy trail, Dragon and Deco’s prints not too far ahead of us in time. Upon arriving at the lake our ride was just pulling in. We jumped in the back of his truck and huddled under Uber’s sleeping bag for the chilly ride to town. I felt like I had just been rescued and might have been experiencing a bit of shock and enormous relief; everything was finally going to be okay. I always knew it would be, but those scary moments on the mountain seemed to drag into eternity at times, like there would never be an end.

We were dropped at a hotel with the best working heaters and a pot of hot coffee on. I drank a cup even though it was 7:30. It was the best bad coffee in the world. We cranked the heat to 90 and took hot hot showers as we laid about in the post hike haze. Righton and Judd had bailed from their alternate route and we were all together again. We exchanged stories, ate pizza and donuts, drank beer and soda and I think we all felt extra thankful to have each other. We showed that we are a capable bunch, a cohesive team and a force to be reckoned with. To finish this trail and this experience with this group is the only way I want to do it at this point. Together we are set up for success and it isn’t only about the hike anymore.

We hiked down this when we couldn’t find the trail in the windblown snow.