South San Juan Wilderness 2003
High, Wild and Windy
Introduction: getting there
I was really glad I had an unlimited supply of water available to fill my water bag. Every time I tried to pour from my pot into the bag, the wind would blow the water stream way off course, and I would end up with water all over my camp shoes, rather than in the bag. It had been this way for days, and there seemed to be no letting up. Victoria Lake was absolutely the scenic highlight of the trip so far, but the whitecaps on the water took a lot away from the expansive views. And it seemed like everyone was getting a little testy, having to deal with the constant freight-train like roar. Even I was getting a bit tired of being suited up like a polar explorer on blue sky days. I KNEW that it was getting the best of me when I opted for a sponge bath back in the forest, rather than my usual plunge in the lake. It can never be completely perfect .........
It was nice to have gotten started on an exceptionally positive note. Susie and I had left Knoxville last Wednesday, and our flights to Albuquerque had been surprisingly on-time. We noted as we were landing the non-desert-like pools of standing water all around, and a weather report had confirmed a big storm had moved through the southern Rockies. After an early morning jog along the Rio Grande - we can never sleep in these days - we headed for some grocery shopping, followed by a "maintenance" visit to REI, and set out for Pagosa Springs, CO. OK, nothing is ever perfect: A road "improvement" project, designed to repave a perfectly good stretch of US highway south of Pagosa, that smelled a whole lot more like roast pork than hot asphalt, delayed us for nearly an hour, and by the time we pulled into Tim and Diane's new home on the edge of town, they already had arrived and were opening the place up. T&D have built a mountain escape from the heat of Tucson, and this was a great opportunity to spend some non-backpacking time with some good friends. As we drove toward the mountains that surround Pagosa, we could see that this had been a major early snow. The peaks looked like they were wearing their January garb, and had skipped the whole golden aspen show. We all headed out to what we refer to as the "Christian Barbeque" east of town for dinner. The place's real name is the Branding Iron, but somehow, being served ice tea to the strains of "How Great Thou Art" seems just a tad incongruent with the concept of barbeque. Country music and beer would seem to fit better, but the quality of the food overcomes the ambience, and we enjoyed catching up after a year's separation.
Under brilliant sun on Friday, Susie and I took a short day hike on the Continental Divide trail (CDT) north of Wolf Creek Pass. The deep snow had melted considerably since Wednesday, and had turned the trail into a near-quagmire. Paul Simon's "Slip Slidin' Away" kept running through my head. The hike afforded us some scenery different from that which we knew we would get starting tomorrow: craggy peaks. Since our hike was out and back, as we approached the end, we started running into more day hikers. A pair of guys in their late 50's stand out in my mind: one was continually blowing a huge whistle, apparently to ward off bears, while the other holstered a giant can of Counter Assault, in case the whistle proved in-effective. Brother!! Maybe we have just hiked so much in heavy bear country in the Smokies that we adopt a more relaxed approach. But these guys seemed to be at the other end of the spectrum.
As we were fixing dinner at T&D's, we got a call from our buddy Sue, who, with Andy, was supposed to be arriving in Albuquerque before 5 pm, and meet Lance (who had arrived an hour earlier) and Ray, on a free ticket, who had been cooling his heels in ABQ since 10 am. (If it had been me, I would have been totally sotted with Garduno's margaritas by this time. But Ray managed to occupy himself reading magazines for most of the day.) Sue and Andy were stuck in Dallas due to bad weather, and would not arrive in ABQ to nearly 8:30 pm. Such would likely complicate their drive to Chama, NM that evening, having gotten such a late start. But there was nothing much we could do, except to plan modifications in our schedule, and drink lots of wine with dinner, both of which we did with gusto. And after some dessert, it was time to finish packing for what looked to be a very promising seven days in the South San Juan Wilderness.
© Roger A. Jenkins, Suzanne A. McDonald, 2003