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South San Juan Wilderness 2003
High, Wild and Windy

On to Green Lake

Sunday, September 14   The breeze died down some during the night, but was enough to keep the frost off our tents, even though the thermometer showed 24 degrees. After a granola breakfast, and lots of chatting, most of us were under way by a few minutes after 9 am. It was a lovely morning, once you got into the sun, and so the first stop was Blue Lake, since several of us had not actually seen our supposed destination yet. Without a hurricane blowing, it seemed pretty nice. We all took a bunch of photos, and lamented that the wind had kept us from enjoying the night here (although camping sites were limited). Time to head south on the Continental Divide trail. At this point, it is probably worth mentioning the trail that comprises the CDT. Or lack thereof. A rule of thumb should probably be something like: Be very careful and pay close attention. In some places, the path is pretty obvious. In other spots, to call the CDT a "trail" is to way overstate the case. More like a route, or how about: a semi-linear way where the grass is a bit flatter. It is probably worthwhile to keep your map out, and continue to compare the terrain through which you are hiking to the map. If you are not careful, a great deal of incongruence can develop, as we would learn later in the week. Of course, in bad weather, the challenges of route finding make a quantum leap. I have been on several stretches of the CDT from Montana to Colorado, one of which was in the Weminuche Wilderness. I must say that the stretch through the South San Juans was one of the most scenic, and the most obscure. Having now been on this, I would highly recommend that backpackers with GPS units should preset several waypoints in the comfort of their homes for each hiking day, and be prepared to go from point to point if fog sets in.

We pulled out of the Blue Lake area around 9:47, and began a short climb through open terrain. What a gorgeous morning. It was cool and sunny, near perfect. The huge meadows were simply incomparable. I mentioned to Susie that this was like the Flattops Wilderness, only much better. I had never seen such huge open meadows at this elevation, or any elevation, for that matter. A few scattered trees around, just to provide interest, but mostly just miles of golden grass and sweeping views. We approached a small saddle near 13S, 357132 E, 4120339 N, and suddenly, the path just disappeared. We knew we were right on the divide, because we could see down to our right and left, but I am sure that in fog, it would have been much more interesting. We dropped slightly out of the saddle and picked up the obvious trail again at the edge of the woods, as we made a long, climbing traverse through the trees, with glimpses down the canyon yawning to our right.

In about another mile, we broke out in the open, and crossed back over the east side of the divide. It was starting to feel like lunch. We started to pick out a spot that provided a bit of shelter from the breeze that was beginning to morph into a wind. Tim and Diane had moved sufficiently out front that we could not see them in the rolling terrain, but we decided at the pace they could move, we were not likely to see them until Green Lake. We stopped in the shelter of some scrub pine, and enjoyed the break. This was my second day at elevation, a time when traditionally, I have problems. It did not seem so bad to me this day. Maybe the acclimation in Pagosa Springs helped, but maybe it was because most of us were moving at the proverbial snail's pace that I was not pushed as hard as I might have otherwise been. Lance was complaining that he might have a touch of altitude sickness: loss of appetite, mild headache, slight nausea. Nothing serious, but enough to take the edge off of his performance. Susie and I had gotten some water out of a little draw a ways back, so we did not have to wait to wash down our lunch. As we started to hoist, we noticed some waving at us from behind some trees, maybe 100 meters from our lunch spot. It was T&D, who had stopped apparently to wait for us, only to see us plop down just short of them. Oh well, it was not like we would not be spending any more time with them.

After lunch, it was about a mile of gentle climbing (everything that is NOT downhill feels like climbing, when you have this sort of load on your back). Susie had to make a pit stop, and that permitted Lance and Ray to catch up. Clearly, Ray was not moving as fast as he had in years past, but he had just passed his 73rd birthday, and frankly, if I am moving at his rate with the kinds of loads I carry at that age, I will consider myself lucky. He had been experiencing some knee problems, and a bit of hip difficulty, and it is just hard for him to be out in front, like he was used to. Of course, I have never been out in front, so I guess I will really be the clean up batter when I reach my mid-70's. We climbed up to a small saddle, and could see the big cirque that contains Green Lake and a few scattered ponds. Nature was calling me in a pretty insistent manner, so I stopped while Susie went on, dropping from about 11,900 feet, to just below the elevation of the Lake, probably around 11,550 or so. We rolled into a potential camping area, just east of the lake, beyond the first line of trees, at about 2:15 pm. What luxury! We spent some time trying to find a sheltered spot, as we felt like, despite the cloudless sky, we were in a full gale. On such a lovely day, it felt a bit weird to be all suited up in heavy gear. But the temperature felt like it was only in the mid-50's, and with a wind, it was refreshing, to be sure.

After settling on a tent spot, and erecting our shelter (near 13S, 359448 Easting, 4116200 Northing), Susie and I headed off for a bath. We had located a blessedly sheltered spot that still had a bit of sun on it. It was time to do a thorough cleaning, of both our bodies and clothes. Over the years, I have gone to carrying fewer clothes, but such requires more frequent laundering on the trail. To do ecologically sound laundering requires a lot of fooling around, but keeping your clothes clean pays off for me in mental well being. Just call me compulsive, I guess. Susie finished up before me, and as I was doing the last few minutes of my chores, a couple of women showed up, looking for a place to camp. They were from the Denver area, and they expressed surprise to see people. I was a bit amazed at their remark, since this was hunting season, and the weather was glorious. They were the first folks that I had seen in over 24 hours. I headed back to camp and Andy announced that the temperature was starting to fall off, so that made the high for the day 46 degrees. Nice in the sun with no wind, but definitely not the kind of temperature you want to hang out in if it is shady. Susie and I had Hamburger Helper Stroganoff with freeze dried beef and home dried mushrooms. Great on a cold night. It was way too windy to build a fire, so most of us went to bed before dark, as a way of escaping the wind. It felt good to be inside a tightly woven nylon cocoon.

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Roger A. Jenkins, 2003