Day 54

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Trail Lake Pass to Middle Fork Conejos River
12 mi ::
677 mi ::
Sunny, windy, cold

We repeat our freezing morning ritual after a stormy night. The meadows are seas of ice and grass, and the snow is rock hard. Thankfully the terrain isn’t too steep to begin with, but nonetheless we haven’t gone far by breakfast.

The five miles to Blue Lake aren’t any easier. The trail has started cutting across steeper slopes covered with trees and high, hard snow drifts. Ann tries wearing her crampons on her running shoes, but finds this very stressful on her ankles. I feel terrible that she has to endure these problems. Her headaches have returned as well. I wish I could give her some of the joy that these high places give me, but all I can do is try to kick good steps for her. I kick without regard for my toes, and try to offer encouragement. I can’t blame her, though, when she tells me at Blue Lake that she’s had enough. She can’t continue to fight the altitude, cold, and snow. When we finish this segment, we’ll have to do something different. We start to discuss the options over lunch at Blue Lake.

We feel better after our discussion, but the situation is the same for now. The trail disappears under snow again and I go cross-country. There’s more inconsistent tree-snow as we climb a steep slope. A rare section of south-facing slope offers a break from snow, but is incredibly steep. When we climb over 12,000 feet again the snow takes over and I kick steps along the route.

Luckily the snow is soft for our descent into the Middle Fork Conejos River canyon, because the terrain is steeper than we’ve been seeing. We pick our route carefully down shelves above dangerously steep walls. With less than an hour of light left and temperatures dropping I scan the canyon for campsites. It’s a wet, snowy mess except for one small island with a few trees. I leave the trail and make for it as soon as the terrain allows. It turns out to be a pleasant piece of ground with only a few drifts on it and no bogs. We settle into it nicely for the night. We might even feel peaceful but for the fact that at the rate we’re moving we’ll run out of food before we reach US160 at Wolf Creek Pass. Ann spends a little time looking at our maps for alternative exits.

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