Chama, NM to Pagosa Springs, CO

For the next month or so Sara(QB) and I are planning to hike a few short trails or sections of trails. Starting with the San Juan mountains, a section of the Continental Divide Trail in Colorado. In 2017 we hiked the CDT from Mexico to Canada but due to excessive snow we rerouted through the town of Creede instead of hiking out and around the San Juan’s. From Cumbres Pass outside of Chama, NM we’re planning to hike a few hundred miles. Once we get our fill of Colorado we’re headed to either the Unitas in Northeast Utah and then the Wind River Range in Wyoming.

8/10/19…..CDT Mile 793.3…..1 Mile

So we started traveling yesterday but really didn’t get out west until just about midnight mountain time. We drove from Lynn to Long Island, visited with Sara’s family then flew from JFK to Albuquerque. It was an all day event. Waking up in a Rodeway Inn this morning we still had a long way to go to get on trail.

From downtown Albuquerque we took a train for an hour and a half to Santa Fe($9 each) and landed right next to an REI and a farmer’s market. Perfect! We got a fuel canister, perused the market and got lunch at Tia Sofia’s(both thumbs all the way up). So good! New Mexico is famous for green chilies and sopapillas and this place did not disappoint. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; If I’m ever to be executed and given a last meal request I’ll take a never ending parade of sopapilla baskets with honey please. After lunch we went to the supermarket and got our food supply for the first section of trail then started walking towards Rt 84. It’s over a hundred miles but a straight shot from here to Chama so we put our thumbs out.

Within 5 minutes, Leona and Jonathan picked us up and drove us about 40 minutes up past Santa Clara Pueblo and the town of Espanola. Leona is from Yakama Nation and Jonathan Navajo Nation. They gave us a great ride and filled us in on the native lands and Pueblos we passed by.

Outside of Espanola we walked for just a few minutes before getting picked up by Neil, Elizabeth, Lucy and Vador(smallest Pekingese dog in the world). They were coming from buying a house in Taos and headed to Ghost Ranch to go horseback riding. It was a fun ride and they were excited to learn about our hiking trips.

From the Ghost Ranch turnoff we quickly got picked up by Audrina who drove us about a half hour to TA or Tierra Amarilla. She told us about Northern New Mexico, her travels, and warned us about the crazies while listening to Mexican music fading in and out on the radio.

In TA we stopped for a coke and a bathroom break, then waited on the side of the road about 5 minutes before Prentiss turned around and picked us up. Always a good sign when a driver turns around to come back for you. Prentiss is a Seattle transplant who works as an ER nurse in Espanola on his way to Colorado for the weekend. He brought us the rest of the way to Chama and dropped us off outside the Boxcar Cafe, home of the best breakfast burrito I ever had. This time I had a regular burrito smothered with cheese and green chilies and that was good too.

We walked a little bit out of town and got picked up by Luke and Amanda, who also turned around to get us, and they drove us the 10 miles or so up to Cumbres Pass in Colorado. They’re currently on a road trip back to KC, MO where they’re working and saving to finish building their cabin in Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska. Currently they’ve got an 8 by 8 foot cabin and looking to expand. Now that sounds awesome.

We got on trail at Cumbres Pass, walked about a mile and set the tent up in a bed of soft pine needles for the night. Ahh, Home Sweet Home!

On a little side note, 24 hours ago we were at sea level and tonight we’re camping over 10,000 feet. I’ll let you know how it affects me.

8/11/19…..CDT Mile 808.7…..15.4 miles

Welp I took an Imodium today. Last night was a bit rough, I tossed and turned, my head was aching a bit, I started getting a sore throat and in the morning my stomach was in knots. Possibly due to altitude but probably due to the multiple smothered New Mexican meals I ate. All day I felt like my energy was a bit sapped and after digging multiple cat holes it was time for some medicine.

The weather didn’t help today either. We woke up to rain on the tent and thunder in the distance so we waited it out for awhile and didn’t get moving until about an hour later than we’d have liked. A few other times the rain came on strong enough to force us under a tree to wait it out. Combining these with a couple emergency bathroom stops added up to a very slow day.

Around 3pm the thunder and lightning came on pretty strong as well as a solid downpour. We were forced to set up the tent in some trees instead of carrying on over a ridge. A few times it felt like the rain would let up long enough to get a few more hours in but eventually we resigned to the fact that this would be an early night. Not very often have I done this. Hoping for nicer weather tomorrow and a stronger gut. Unfortunately though we’re camping even higher tonight at 11,700 feet.

Today wasn’t all bad though. We saw a bunch of deer, a couple elk in the distance and even the elusive porcupine as well as some fresh bear prints. It was also fun to walk this trail and compare it to June of ‘17 when it was covered with snow and we were hampered with snowshoes.

8/12/19…..CDT Mile 833.9…..25.2 miles

Today was a vast improvement over yesterday. I still have a bit of a sore throat and my head is a little foggy but I think my digestive system is on the other side of whatever I had been dealing with.

We woke up to clear skies and started walking around 6:15, just as the sun was rising. Within 5 minutes of walking we spotted a massive elk with a full rack staring back at us. This was the first of dozens of elk we saw today. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think it’s rutting season because all the males were hanging out together and all the females were hanging out together. Pretty sure mating season is the end of August and I sure hope it’s not hunting season(wearing my hi vis orange hat just in case). We also had a rare pine marten sighting, he or she was hanging out inside a rock cairn and kept popping out of different holes to check us out.

Unlike yesterday we saw other people out here. About halfway through the day we saw a couple of hikers contouring around the same valley coming our way. I said to QB, “I wonder if we know them” and we did. Spontaneous and Sky are hiking south on the Continental Divide and QB met Spontaneous on the PCT in ‘15. They’re currently on a 3rd year of their honeymoon, sounds rad!

In ‘17 we bailed off this section due to snow and followed a river valley into the tiny town of Platoro, CO before walking into South Fork, CO. About 20 miles into today we passed the spot where we bailed and from then on everything was new. I don’t regret that decision in ‘17. We were going significantly slower than anticipated and we were running out of food. Plus I really enjoyed our adventure into Platoro. The trail beyond that spot was easy today but had it been covered in snow it would have been dicey at best and definitely slow going.

Five miles later we found a flat spot to camp above the Canejos River. Carrying on a little further would have been nice but we’d be camping higher up. The altitude is definitely affecting both of us more than we expected. Tonight we’re at 11,300 feet.

8/13/19…..CDT Mile 861.8…..27.9 miles

We were on a bit of a mission today. Originally this section would have consisted of a nice and relaxed pace for 3 days into town but because of the storm on Sunday it threw everything out of whack. We got up and moving by 6 am and had all day to do the miles.

Camping beside a river has its drawbacks, like the fly of the tent was soaked with condensation this morning, but enjoying the sunrise in this valley was incredible as we began walking. It was a tough climb up and out of the valley and at the top I quickly went the wrong way and got my feet wet. The elk had an easier time, they were running along ridges and bugling and all hanging out together(forget what I said about rutting season). We saw a herd of about 50 of them. From the ridge above the valley we contoured around a few beefy peaks and had a couple of snow crossings, one of which was pretty scary and another one where we had to do a controlled glissade.

As we got closer to Elwood Pass, we saw a little more life than usual. There were a couple other day hikers out there and two guys from the forest service looking for and counting big horn sheep(tough job, counting sheep will put you to sleep. I so wish I thought of that joke when I saw them). They saw as many as we did; zero.

From Elwood Pass it felt like we were getting away from the big mountains for a bit and the trail became a little faster. We walked through Wolf Creek Ski Area in the evening and then down to Wolf Creek Pass where we put our thumbs out.

Holly was driving the second car to pass us and she pulled over and pushed all her kayak stuff around to make room. She spent the last 5 days kayaking in Buena Vista, CO and told us about her plan to retire young, live mobile, and paddle and ski all over the place. Sounds fun! Holly brought us down to Pagosa Springs where we got a motel room for the night. We’ve got friends, Garbelly and Critter, joining us here tomorrow and we’ll most likely get back on trail with them the following morning.

2 Comments on “Chama, NM to Pagosa Springs, CO

  1. Rough start to your adventures! Hope you’re both feeling better and that you had fun with Garbelly and Critter. Looking forward to next chapter. Cute pine marten! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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