5/16: mile 551.9-575 (14.7 mi on Mt Taylor Alternate)
Total trip miles: 432.3
What a day. I woke up around midnight with a bloody nose, dry air and elevation aren't the best combo for me. And can I tell you, ever try cleaning up a bloody nose in the freezing darkness? Yeah it's really just a battle to hopefully not scare everyone with your gory face once you wake up. But to get to the point I happened to look at the sky during this debacle and actually saw a few stars, yay!! Summiting Mt Taylor was totally going to happen. I woke up a few hours later to the sounds of hail/freezing rain. Uh oh, I fell asleep and it was still going. When morning rolled around I thought I heard a bit of hail, then it really got started and I realized it was snowing, well shoot.
So now came decision time. Which was pretty funny because no one was getting out of tents so really it was just lots of muffled shouting while trying to pretend time wasn't slipping by. I was loathe to get out of my nice warm sleeping bag, but I had been pretty set on summiting Taylor. The day before when we had climbed out of Grants I loved it, my lungs may have been screaming but these climbs are some of my favorite things out here. I think I probably could have been swayed to go the lower route which was rumored to be 14 miles of mud vs a snow adventure. Snow is much nicer to walk on but definitely has its downsides. I certainly wasnt sure about a solo trip up the summit but when Bigfoot said he was going I figured that was my answer. I wanted to climb and now I had someone to go with. Delightful had shown up and she and Funsize headed for the low route while Thatch voted to wait out the weather a bit and decide later in the morning. So off we all went.
The first mile or so was a bit surreal. Knowing it's snowing and walking in snow are different things. I had pretty much every item of clothing I have on and luckily with no wind I popped open my umbrella and was satisfied to see the drifts clumping on top instead of on my shoulders. I passed a cattle trough and after breaking the ice grabbed some much needed water while Bigfoot patiently waited in the snow. As usual the two of us shouldn't be allowed to navigate together and after a few small circles we left the road for the trail. Right as we hit the trail it stopped snowing and I was feeling pretty darn smug. So what if the views weren't visible yet, the weather wasn't so bad!
Yeah that lasted a whole mile and a half. The snow started back up again intermittently flinging hail as well as short bits of quiet. The climb was getting steeper and I had even removed a layer, foolish me. We were entering a land of freezing fog and icy cold wind. The trail was getting closer to the top and we were crawling, 1.5 mph would be a generous guess. The last 0.8 was ridiculously freezing. Progress felt glacial and when we got to the summit it was the coldest it had been all morning. It had taken us 2.5 hours to go 4.7 miles and I don't think we spent 2 full minutes on top.
We ducked off the summit and into the most glorious natural windbreak. The other side was blessedly free of icy wind and we started down trying to thaw a bit. It was only a half mile before we started climbing again. This time towards La Mosca lookout. It was viciously cold and windy with hail pelting as we made our way the last little bit. I know both of us were picturing a nice friendly ranger and warm spot of reprieve like the Mangas Lookout but it was not to be. Everything was locked and desperate for a short break we huddled on cold concrete under the lookouts stairs out of the wind.
The problem with weather like this is you just can't comfortably take long breaks, it's just too cold. We headed back to the trail and saw Appa and Hedgehog, they were looking for Nightcrawler and Moist who had left earlier. We had seen what we thought were Nightcrawler's footprints along with a second pair but it was nice to have it confirmed. Too cold to sit around chatting we headed down the road. Full of fresh snow it was an easy start, unfortunately every time the trail started to climb even a little my energy flagged. This was shaping up to be one hard day.
We startled some wild horses and slowly descended frequently being pelted by hail. But thankfully the showers weren't lasting too long. We hadn't seen anyone else and there were no nice spots to break. The snow was thinning only to be replaced by thick sticky muddy road. Oh well, at least we were heading down.
We finally made it back to the official CDT, a beautiful pine needle covered trail. We didn't make it far before we collapsed for our first real break of the day, we had only gone 15 miles but it was 2 pm and snacks had been limited due to freezing hands and not wanting to stop.
We started back off and the new problem became water. Turns out this is a tricky stretch and we needed some, why hadn't we just grabbed some of that snow? 7 miles after our break one of our data sources (we tend to rely on 3-4 different ones out here, sense any possible conflicting data perhaps??) said there was water 0.5 miles of trail. So off we went down a cow track. It finally occurred to me to cross check the data and after solid half mile we realized the more reliable source said that water we were looking for was at mile marker 585, not 573. Groan, an extra mile of cross country. We searched for possibly sources and crossing our fingers on an upcoming cow pond we continued on.
I was more than ready to stop, annoyed with what I thought was low mileage for the day but this morning had been a butt kicker. Only I was not willing to stop until the water issue had been sorted. Thankfully we found not only the cow pond with water but also a small water cache. We stumbled a bit farther searching for a flat spot but covered in cactus and lava rock and collapsed into our tents. Thunderheads are still looming and it actually feels even colder than last night. Here's hoping for a nice warm sleep and blue skies tomorrow.