Day 29: This Is Not A Winter Wonderland
Monday, May 30, 2022 9:45 pm
Location: North Fork Conejos River (445.3 miles)

Last night was one of my snowiest, coldest, and most miserable on trail.

It was quite cold and windy all night. I’m not quite sure when the snow stopped outside, but from the perspective of the inside of my tent, it was snowing all night. This is because sometime in the very early morning, the wind had blown two of the tent doors open by unhooking them from their attachment, and the wind then blew snow into my tent for quite some time before I realized around 4:15 am what exactly was going on. I’d thought that the snow falling on me was just condensation being blown off the inside of the tent, but it wasn’t until I rolled over to look towards the freely flapping doors that I realized that there wasn’t anything stopping the snow from blowing in. (I might have noticed sooner, but the only comfortable sleeping position was on my side with my back towards the door.)

So by the time I actually “woke up” around 6:30, basically everything in my tent was covered in a layer of frost or snow.

I waited a good while for the sun to come out and directly hit my tent from underneath the clouds; once it did, it warmed up quite quickly, and the snow in my tent began to melt. Before packing my tent, I shook out a rather sizable snowball, at least fist-sized.

A winter wonderland this was not; the high winds blew any snow that might have landed on vegetation away, so it was cold, windy, and the ground a nearly uniform white. Any footprints there might have been to follow yesterday were erased.

Fresh Snow
Fresh Snow

Kiernan, Kyra, and I left our campsite after 8:30, making our way through the snow towards the northwest, towards Blue Lake where we’d planned to stop yesterday.

10 am Selfie Day 29
10 am Selfie Day 29

The three miles took about an hour an a half. When we arrived, we collected water, and sought out a not-windy place to stop for a break. We followed a series of arrows on the ground, which lead us to Mr. Freeze and Patches’ campsite a short distance away from the trail. Despite the day ticking away (the K2s and I got there at 11 am), they had been kind enough to wait there until we arrived.

Temporarily reunited, we compared notes on the snowstorm yesterday. While I didn’t see or hear any, Patches and Mr. Freeze saw lightning and heard thunder.

After about half an hour, cold in the wind, the K2s and I continued on, returning to the trail and following the western shore of Blue Lake, initially alongside the lake, and then climbing the hill to the west. Like the trail getting to Blue Lake, we were the first people to hike here today, and it was a mix of following the trail we could see, and forging new trail through the snow.

Kyra at Blue Lake
Kyra at Blue LakeKyra hikes through the snow near Blue Lake.

A few kind-of-sketchy snowy traverses through the woods climbed us up alongside another mountain, giving us a view into another snowy river valley. Patches and Mr. Freeze quickly caught up with us, thanks to our footprints making us easy to follow.

A Snowy River And Lake
A Snowy River And Lake

We passed a tent nestled alongside the trail; a hiker unprepared (or more likely, unwilling) to hike in the fresh snow decided to zero in-place.

We spent much of the afternoon snaking along a mountain in the snow, climbing up one side, over, and down another. Occasional gusts blew fresh snow at us. Most of us slipped and fell at least once; Mr. Freeze helped me up a couple of times.

We stopped for a last break just after the Middle Fork Conejos River, and opted to save time (and hiking through snow) by cutting straight across the river valley, rather than looping around the valley’s head. This added a little extra elevation, since we had to stop into the valley and climb back out, but it probably saved us some time (and grief through the snow).

The trail then began one of the steepest climbs we’ve had to do so far, gaining us about 700 feet in a mile. Being a south face, it was mostly free of snow, which helped greatly, though that didn’t help me hike it quickly.

Middle Fork Conejos River Valley
Middle Fork Conejos River Valley

At the top of the climb, the trail looped around the mountain on a roughly flat area, at least compared to the rest of the day. I followed the wrong set of footprints, taking me on a several minute detour through unmarked snow and wet grass until I found the trail again.

SnowSnow atop a mountain pass

The hike down the north side of the mountain was just as steep as the hike up, except rather than being a mostly straight line up the mountain, there were lots of switchbacks. I cut many of them due to the snow.

I joined everyone else at camp just south of the North Fork Conejos River, setting up on a lumpy patch of dirt and grass. At over 11,500 ft, this continued our string of campsites above 11k feet.

The day was exhausting. By the time I started to cook dinner, the sun had already set. I rushed cooking macaroni and cheese, and didn’t get it hot enough, so it tasted pretty awful, and took forever to eat in the cold.

Kiernan says the snow conditions now (end of May) are what would be normal for the end of June. If that’s accurate, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to hike through here in early season in normal conditions.

Here’s hoping that there will be less snow tomorrow than today. But I know there probably won’t be.