Total Miles: 665.9
Its fingerprints are all around us. The lingering patches of snow that still cling to the coolest of high alpine corners. The lifeblood of the thick carpet of tundra-thriving grasses, bold enough to color such a forbidding landscape with their flowering blooms. Even the glaciers that long ago sculpted the waves of stone we’ve called home for these past 6 weeks. The legacy of water is inescapable.
There were even more firsthand examples of the connective power of water as we waved goodbye to our hang among a graveyard of spruce trees, reminders that even after the rain ends its impact is far from forgotten. The streams and rivers that swell as if inhaling what has fallen from the sky. The mud, the thick greenery saturated with water that overhangs the trail waiting to soak you again as much as the rain had. A second storm that comes from below rather than above.
It was that second storm that had me laughing to myself minutes into the morning, my toes already frozen from the cold wet socks that I pulled on only to have their definition of wet redefined so quickly. Of course it’s easy to laugh when you look up to see blue skies beginning to win the war overhead for the first time in days.
While we climbed up the one and only ascent that separated us from our next resupply destination, I heard a sound that I’d been surprised not to hear so far given the number of elk we’ve seen. Softly floating up from the river valley that was drifting into our rear view mirror was the sound of their haunted bugling, like a wind instrument in the hands of a child.
Leaving the valley behind and rounding the shoulder of a nameless peak, the impossibly flat and broad expanse of the Snow Mesa sat before us, a giant treeless tabletop. It seemed as if the range had been cleaved in half horizontally, a punishment for some unknown past transgression. Perhaps the forming glaciers had a sense of humor or a flair for the dramatic.
Reaching the edge of the mesa reminded me of our honeymoon in Portugal, visiting the site where Prince Henry the Navigator had his school on the extreme southwest coast. Looking out on the Atlantic from that bluff, the average person believed they were looking out at the edge of a flat earth. I can’t say I could blame them. Seeing the edge of the mesa dissolve into nothing but sky, you might’ve thought this was the edge were it not for the jagged peaks of the San Juans rising in the distance.
The first steps down from the mesa delivered us into what can only be described as pika paradise. The rocks were teeming with them, running to and fro, and like a chorus of squeaking dog toys their sound filled the narrow, rocky canyon. One even raced down the trail after Sweet Pea with a tiny bouquet of flowers in its mouth, as if on a mission to profess his love.
A couple miles further and we were standing on the shoulder of pavement rudely interrupting the wilderness it carved through. Rude or not, this was the fast track to our resupply in Lake City, and before the laughter over some joke had died our thumbs were no longer necessary. Loaded into our hitch, just like that we were town-bound.
Latitude/Longitude: 37.94014, -107.15880