6/6: mile ?-846.3 (Elwood Pass 11,645 ft)
Total trip miles: 707.7
Oh what a day. Everything this section seems so very dramatic, I guess snow does that. A late start and a long discussion about options before we got going was the start to our day. As we were looking at maps debating alternates/bailouts it started to hail. I would have killed to hike the official trail but the group was simply not feeling it. I was the sole holdout so bail it was. We headed down towards forest road 250, an option we had heard about from a few folks. I understood exactly why we were heading lower but that didn't stop me from being grumpy. The group was tired of the cold, the constant snow and the weather. Cold, unhappy and with potentially dangerous conditions up on the trail (lighting and 12000 ft along with fresh snow/ice) it was absolutely the safer choice.
There were still a few snow patches but overall it was real trail. It was if course beautiful, nothing out here has been disappointing.
Maybe 2 miles in we came to the Three Forks Trailhead, complete with trail register, bathroom and a friendly fly fisherman. The register was fun because it turns out a ton of thruhikers had headed this way over the last week, the bathroom is obvious and the fisherman told us a bit about the upcoming road. He mentioned that the road we were on went straight to highway 117, about 28 miles away and even passed a lodge that served food. I asked about road 380 because that was the alternate I had been considering. Basically road 250 straight to 117 would actually put you back in Chama while with 380 you could end at Wolf Creek Pass, the official exit point for this stretch. The fishermen mentioned 380 was a rough road, super steep and full of boulders and snow drifts. Hmmm food for thought.
We headed down and past the reservoir. It was fun, the minute we had reached the parking lot everyone else had perked up. Jokes and smiles all around, except I was conflicted. The group was suddenly fun again after days of crankiness and tension it was such a relief. But I did not want to finish in the the middle of a section, that just sat completely wrong with me.
We eventually got to the 250/380 split and I decided to head off solo. Hanitizer was actually the one who told me about the alternate (there is a ridiculous amount of texting and social media out here with the class of 2015) and he had done the route and said it was snow free except for 5-6 miles at Elwood Pass and super well marked. At Elwood Pass there would be the option to hit the real trail or continue on the road to the highway. The safe choice solo was the highway so knowing this I set off. Bittersweet because I really do enjoy the company of those guys but such a relief.
250 headed uphill and of course I was immediately met with a short thunderstorm. At least it wasn't too bad. I climbed up to Stunner Pass. Enjoying the climb, road walking was so easy. Even my shin felt pretty good. After the pass it was down to the bottom of Alamosa Canyon. I was happily shocked with gorgeous views.
Less fun were the constant thunderstorms. Sometimes I got a whole 5-10 minutes between storms but they were pretty endless. I crossed the glorious bridge (bridges are now officially one of my favorite things out here) over the Alamosa River and found my much awaited for intersection, woohoo 380.
It was pouring rain and about lunchtime and I found this awesome lunch spot.
Thank you abandoned mining town of Stunner, lunch under a roof was such a luxury. Then it was a long steady climb up to Elwood Pass. I don't know what that fisherman was talking about, FR 380 is one of the nicest roads I've been on in ages. A nice steady grade, perfect tread and frequent water. Plus when it wasn't raining I had great views. The snow didn't even start until about a mile from the pass. Some mushy postholing but snowshoes worked and it wasn't even continuous snow!
Maybe a mile/mile and a half from Elwood Pass another storm cell rolled in. This was no joke, the rain started strong but it was the thunder and lightning that had me nervous. I huddled in a low protected spot surrounded by trees as the thunder and lightning cracked simultaneously above my head. Getting pelted with hail as the wind kicked up I distracted myself by eating chocolate, always a win in my book. Thankfully that was the worst and I was able to continue on not to long after my snack.
I made it to Elwood Pass around 5. I knew the safe decision was to continue on down the road but I couldn't help myself and walked over to the parking lot. And magically there was a tent. Even more amazing I actually knew who was in it, Moist and Nightcrawler! Yay for hikers I actually know.
I sat catching up with them for ages, I had thought to do more miles but the rain and hail seemed endless. I finally got out of their tent and set up mine in a break in the weather. The sun even came out a little, but it was just a tease. It's so cold and windy up here, but now I have people to hike the trail with and I'll only road walk tomorrow if I want to. Wolf Creek Pass is around 17 miles away. Which normally would be easy to do in a day. But in the snow at about a mile an hour it may take more. So who knows, either way the trail provides when it's most needed.
Sidenote, today I am ever so thankful for bridges, roads and culverts, my fancy schmancy rain skirt, my umbrella and my snowshoes. Good grief they made my day so much happier. Also my feet have never been so cold in my life as they have this section, waterproof socks and ziplocks sure are a lifesaver.