Author Archives: Acorn

East Glacier, MT to Chief Mountain, Canada

It is done.

 

On Sept 7th, 2017, I walked into Canada and completed my hike of the Continental Divide Trail, and the Triple Crown.

 

I was lucky to be joined for this special day by my love and biggest supporter, Will. Thank you for always believing in me.  I am so blessed to have your energy and support in my life.

 

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So.. you are probably wondering why I’m not at Waterton in my photo.

 

I’ll get to that.

 

I left East Glacier with perfect blue skies.  I thought “All the fires are behind me.  This will be smooth sailing.”

 

I was so completely and utterly wrong.  The CDT wasn’t done with me.  It had one more surprise adventure.

 

I had an epic stretch from East Glacier to Many Glacier. The trail was absolutely stunning and I felt like I was flying.  It was some of the best hiking I had ever experienced.  I felt completely high on life and unstoppable.

 

All of that changed the day I left Many Glacier.  I climbed up Swiftcurrent Pass and was shocked at the amount of smoke that greeted me on the other side.  I stopped to visit Granite Park Chalet and almost wanted to cry.  It felt like I was in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  I proceeded north on the Highline Trail and couldn’t help but notice how thick the smoke was getting.  It kept getting worse.

 

Something was wrong.  I turned my phone on.. and that’s when I got a text that said “Waterton is closed.”

 

Wait…  What!?

 

It felt like someone had pulled my heart out of my chest.  I was 25 miles away.  How closed?  Could I somehow make it though?  Was there a new fire up there?  I got enough reception to see that Goat Haunt to Waterton was closed for fires.  There was no way for me to walk into Canada that way.

 

I called Will and explained the issue.  He called a ranger who confirmed it.  I was NOT to cross the border there.

 

I briefly thought of night-hiking it anyway.. ninja style!  But, that sounded stupid and dangerous.  Plus those border agents have a history of handing out $5,000 tickets to CDT hikers who break rules. I shouldn’t make stupid, emotional decisions.

 

I immediately knew my next best option.

 

Finish the Highline Trail, go up Stony Indian Pass, cruise by Glen Lake, and hit Canada on the other side of the park at Chief Mountain.

 

My feet were in.  My feet are always up for anything insane…  But my mind couldn’t handle it.

 

I was in shock.

 

It wasn’t the finish I wanted.  I had endured so much suffering for a lakeshore finish at Waterton.. Was this a sick joke?

 

I felt the tears rolling down my cheeks.

 

There was no other option.   I had to keep going.  My mind struggled as my feet kept pushing us forward.  They took complete control and I followed helplessly behind them.

 

At that moment, I saw a figure emerge from the smoke coming towards me.  I knew who she was by her silhouette.  She was a 76 year old woman who I had met earlier on trail.  She was up here in Glacier finishing her Triple Crown.  We recognized each other and stopped to talk trail.  We chatted about the lack of views, trail closures, and the constant fires in Montana.  But yet, even in my sadness, I was inspired by her.   As she walked away, I watched her figure disappear into the smoke.

 

This is what makes hiking special. It isn’t about a photo near a lake.  It’s about the people you meet along the way.  And sometimes, in a blue moon, you meet someone who completely shatters any preconceived ideas you have on what is possible.

 

I smiled and tried to imagine myself at 76.  I hoped I would still be kicking ass like this lady.

 

My emotions softened, and I kept going.  I scared off 2 grizzly bears, walked until dark and camped in the “food area” of Mokowanis Junction.

 

I woke early and looked around my campsite.  The last time I was here, I watched a man roll into camp who had just done a 20-miler.  And then he dropped the words “I am an AT thru-hiker”.  I remember staring at him in awe and thinking “How can I become you??”

 

I packed my gear up, tossed on my pack, and headed out.  A lot had happened in the last 5 years. I didn’t become him.  I became my own person.

 

I pushed the last 13 miles to Canada and made it before noon.

 

Will met for the last few miles to the border.  I walked into Canada, got my passport stamped, and took photos at the monument.

 

Then we went back to East Glacier and had lunch.  We shared stores of the CDT, and all the times it tried to kill us.  I felt so incredibly lucky to have him in that moment.  He completely understood me, and everything I had endured over the last 4 months.  There’s nothing better than dating a Triple Crowner… and then it hit me.

 

I was one too.  It didn’t happen like I planned, but I had done it.  I let that thought sink in and I finally understood.

 

The Triple Crown isn’t a plaque.  It isn’t even a photo by a lake.

 

It is my memories.  It is my life.

 

It has become me.
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Helena, MT to East Glacier, MT

Where do I even begin to write about the last section? Montana has been, by far, the hardest state I have ever experienced.  It was brutal physically and emotionally. I was so sick of having to fight everyday for miles.

I kept pushing, even when I didn’t want to push.

There was no other option.  Everyday, you wake up and push north. Everyday, you need to close the gap between you and Canada.

Leaving Helena, I learned of a fire reroute that I would hit in 1 day.  I ended up dropping down to walk on roads to get around the fire. Much of the trail in that section was smoke-filled and scary. I woke up to ash on my tent one morning, and the smoke gave me headaches. It was a horrible mess. I struggled and got hotel rooms in both Lincoln and Augusta to enjoy town luxuries like showers, food, wifi, phone calls, and Game of Thrones.

I tried to cheer myself up.  I would dream of the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier National Park.  There was amazing trail coming up!  I started to say things like “I’m so ready to get Bob-ed.”

It wasn’t a dream come true.

The Bob Marshall Wilderness crushed me.

I had a great first day and camped below the Chinese Wall.  It was perfect and calm. I had no idea what was coming for me.  That night, a storm rolled in and the winds shook my tent for hours.  I didn’t know, but it was silently spreading fire all through the woods while I slept.  Overnight, small fires grew and grew, and covered mountains.

The next day, I set out on a popular alternate called Spotted Bear.  It was supposed to be stunning, and I was looking forward to it.  I hit the top of Switchback Pass, 18 miles into my alternate and saw fire destroying the valley below me.

My heart sank.

I checked my GPS and kept going when I realized that I was safe.  The fire was scary, but it was still a mile or two from the trail.  The trail would cross a ridge and descend into a fire-free valley on the other side.

The next day, when I made it back to the CDT, I met a ranger who was using ribbon to block off the trail.  The Spotted Bear alternate and the CDT south of me were both closed.  And then she said “Oh. There is another fire called the Crucifixation Fire 15 miles north on the CDT.  That is getting closed today too.”

My heart sank again.

She pulled out her map, drew out an alternate for me, and told me that the trail I was taking would be hard to follow.

That was an understatement.

I ended up finding myself on a trail that wasn’t maintained.  Frequently, I would lose it and end up wandering in circles, until I finally gave up and bushwhacked my way forward.  I kept thinking: I am alone and lost in the middle of nowhere… What if I break my ankle or …?

I had to stop the negative thinking.  I told myself: Acorn, You are 1/2 Amazon warrior princess and 1/2 batshit insane.  You will make it through this.

I struggled my way forward.  Sometimes, I literally just walked down a creek.  Sometimes, I found trail, and sometimes, I bushwhacked and tried my best to follow my map. It was a mess.


I finally made it back to the CDT at 7pm. I looked around and could see flames engulfing the horizon.  I glanced at my legs covered in scratches, mud, and blood and simply whispered “Thank you.  We are safe.”

Seeing flames yet again scared me.  I couldn’t take it anymore. I hiked past dark, until I made it to a ranger cabin staffed with firefighters.  I camped there, and in the dark, I could see the orange flames lighting up the sky.

As I drifted off to sleep, I thought:  I’m not scared of bears anymore.  There are far more dangerous things that lurk in the woods.

By the time I made it to East Glacier, my thoughts were toxic.  The last stretch had poisioned me.

I needed to clear my mind.  All of this negativity was in the past.  I was a CDT hiker in Glacier.   Only about 100 miles stood between me and Canada.  I waited until my mind and soul were pure.

And then, I was ready.

I did the same ritual I’ve done hundreds of times…  I slid my arms into my shoulder straps and clipped my hip-belt.

And then I walked out.

North.

To Canada.
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Lima, MT to Helena, MT

I had a warning about the trail leaving Lima from some Southbound hikers.  They told me that it followed the Idaho/Montana border and it would go straight up and down.  It was described as a steep roller coaster.

Sweet, I was ready!  I left Lima feeling refreshed…  Bring it, CDT!

It was an intense section.  We got rained on everyday as we tried to navigate our way up and down steep mountains.  It was beautiful, and reminded me of the San Juans again. I could see for miles and miles.  Every moment on the divide was absolutely stunning, and I loved it.

But, by the time I arrived at Leadore, I was completely spent.   The CDT had smashed me.

It wasn’t just my legs that hurt.   My stomach had started to feel tight, and things quickly went downhill.  I felt like I had no energy, felt lightheaded, chills, and GI issues.  I looked at myself in the mirror and I could see my ribcage sticking out.  The trail had sucked everything out of me.  I ran my fingers over my bones and thought “How am I supposed to pull another 700 miles out of this body?  What’s going to be left?”

The pain in my belly got worse.

I spent 2 nights in Leadore trying to recover.  But, Leadore is one of the smallest “towns” on trail.  It’s so small that I literally couldn’t find an apple, banana, or yogurt in town.  I was stuck eating frozen chicken pot pie and lunchables from the gas station.  My stomach was repulsed at me, and I was so upset that I didn’t have access to any fruit or veggies.

I couldn’t heal my body without healthy food.  I barely ate.

As I lay in my hotel bed, I caught up on blogs of other CDT hikers.  One group had apparently road-walked to Anaconda from Bannock Pass.  The 120-mile alternate route was mostly flat, had 3 restaurants, 3-4 hotels, and a hot springs resort.  It looked like a mixture of quiet dirt and paved roads.  I could do that with minimal effort.  And if my belly acted up, it would be easy to rest in a hotel.

I checked the CDT elevation for the next section, and it was clear that the roller coaster would continue.  I didn’t want to be on the divide. I felt too sick.  Was there another way to Canada?

Other hikers had similar ideas.  We were all tired. In the end, 8 hikers dropped down to roads.  Some wanted easier miles, some wanted hot springs, some wanted to carry less food and hit more towns.

And maybe that’s what I love about this trail.  You can do whatever you want and nobody gives a crap.  Because chances are that we are all taking an alternate at some point.  And frankly, nobody cares.

My body slowly recovered as I walked on the roads.  My belly started to feel better, and my energy returned.

I cruised easy miles, soaked in hot springs, listened to audiobooks, and most importantly, was happy.

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Dubois, WY to Lima, MT

In this section, I finally started to see Southbound CDT hikers.  Yes!!  This meant first-hand information about the trail ahead!  I would ask them how the trail was through Yellowstone.  The responses were varied… Everything from “Yellowstone is amazing” to multiple hikers complaining about the trail being boring.

Wait.  Boring??

Yellowstone holds a special place in my heart.  In my mid-20s, it became my first experience in a national park.  On that trip, I spent 4 days exploring, and instantly fell in love with the waterfalls, animals, geysers, and mountains.  I understood that the CDT would follow a different route, and I wouldn’t see the waterfall or herds of bison.

…But, I knew that I would still love it.

Walking the CDT through Yellowstone was still a beautiful experience.  I soaked my sore feet in warm hot springs.  I got first car hitches that took me to a grill to get cheeseburgers.  I had easy days where I curled up in my tent watching Game of Thrones in the rain.  And I had long days where I crushed back-to-back 30 milers.

One day, I stumbled across a mama grizzly bear and her cub.  They ignored me, and continued wandering through the woods.  I was completely mesmerized, as I snapped photos, and slowly backed away.

I watched Lone Star geyser erupt, completely alone, as the sun set.  The next morning, I visited old faithful geyser, with about 200 other visitors.

We demolished the breakfast buffet, and walked by pristine lakes and bubbling geothermal pools.  Grizzly bear poop was everywhere, and we carried bear spray and hung our food.
And finally, we left the park, and walked into Idaho.  The next day, we hit Montana.

I have a lot of words for Yellowstone.

But…  Boring??

That doesn’t even cross my mind.

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Lander, WY to Dubois, WY

I used to ask Will which trail was his favorite of the Triple Crown.  He would answer without hesitation: CDT.

 

It is hard to pick a favorite trail.  Obviously, they all teach us different things and come into our lives at different points.  The AT taught me that I loved long-distance hiking.  The PCT taught me how to fall in love.  The CDT taught me how to suffer and keep pushing anyway. 🙂

 

I have a hard time picking a favorite. But, until recently, I would tell Will that the CDT wasn’t my favorite. It was too brutal for me.  I missed the easy cruising of the PCT, or the community of the AT.

 

And then I entered the Winds, and spent 6 incredible days saying “Seriously??  Are you kidding!?” and picking my jaw off the ground.  It was some of the best terrain that I’ve ever hiked across, and that’s against some tough competition.

 

I called Will from Dubois.

 

I told him that I finally understood.  I couldn’t pick a favorite trail, but I had just experienced one of the best weeks of my life.

 

Here are way too many pictures from the Winds.  These pictures don’t even begin to do it justice.
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Rawlins, WY to Lander, WY

I have daily homework on the CDT.  After dinner, I always curl up in my sleeping bag and study the maps and comments for the next section of trail. One night, I found an exciting surprise: the CDT would link up with the Oregon Trail for part of the day!  I would get to fulfill a childhood fantasy of hiking part of the Oregon trail.  Yes!!

It was a deeply touching experience to follow in the footsteps of the original American long-distance hikers.  I thought of my struggles:
1) It was so hot that my Cliff bars melted.
2) Not enough Verizon LTE.
3) Had to carry 15 miles of water.

And then I thought of the pioneers of the Oregon trail.  They had problems like this:
1) Death.
2) Lost an oxen.
3) Death.

My heart ached for them.  They were just normal people with big dreams and a desire for a better life.  Isn’t that what we all want? Suddenly my problems seemed silly and fleeting.

Being on the Oregon Trail really helped put my current struggles into prespective.  I couldn’t help but look around at the stunningly beautiful landscape and think “There are bodies buried here.  I am not allowed to complain about anything, ever.”

The basin was absolutely brutal.  It was probably the hardest hiking of the CDT, but at least this exposed, desert section only lasted 4 days.  It is finished.  And while, I found some beauty in the basin, I’m never doing it again.  It simply hurt too much.  Hiking flat jeep roads across a desert inferno isn’t my idea of fun.

Tomorrow, I leave Lander and enter the Wind River Mountain Range.  I’ve been listening to Will talk with wonder about the Winds for as long as I’ve known him.  It was listening to him talk about his love for this mountain range that actually made me fall in love with him years ago.

I’m excited to see the Winds through my own eyes, and see what they have to teach me.  After that, I enter Yellowstone, and then Idaho!  285 miles till Idaho?   Seriously??  How??!

Slow down, CDT!
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Twin Lakes, CO to Rawlins, WY

You can’t change reality, but you can change your mindset.  You can control your reaction, feelings and emotions.

When I realized that simple idea, it changed everything.

I got back where I left the trail at Twin Lakes after a week off in Denver.  I desperately wanted to hike with other people after spending so much time alone.  I met up with some friends, and was hopeful.  And then, my friends got off trail to go visit Denver.  I was alone again.

Nooooooo.

And then something shifted.   I mostly hiked and camped alone.. but suddenly, I wasn’t lonely.  I listened to music and podcasts.  I slept in, hiked late, and felt a primal connection to the Earth.  Something shifted in my mind.

And I started to love being alone.   I’m not sure what changed.   Maybe I simply stopped caring about it.

A few days ago, I crossed into Wyoming!!

Colorado was one of the hardest states that I’ve ever hiked across.  I was met with so many obstacles, but everyday was completely stunning, and rewarding.   One day, near Rocky Mountain National Park, I stood and watched 6 moose in a clearing.  They saw me, and went back to munching on grass.

I couldn’t believe my eyes at least once a day.  Sometimes, I literally teared up because the beauty was overwhelming.  I often thought: “Seriously?  This is my office??”

Cheers to Colorado.  There were times that I hated you.  There were times that I struggled.  There were times when I thought “This is too hard.  Why am I doing this?”

Colorado… You only broke me down to build me up.  Now, I understand.

You only wanted to make me stronger.
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CDT: Pagosa Springs, CO to Twin Lakes, CO

I sat in my hotel room in Pagosa Springs with my CDT maps spread across the bed. My eyes followed the thin, red line of the CDT. I heard rumors that the trail ahead would be easier and less sketchy, but I wanted to see what clues my maps would reveal to me. How bad did this look? Did I really want to be up there again in snow?  Sometimes, I could tell the trail would be safe, like sections where the trail followed a high plateau. But then my eyes would focus on sections where the trail followed next to a steep cliff. I tried to imagine what it would be like… Would it be dangerous again?

.

I asked myself:

.          Did you enjoy the CDT in the last section?

.

Almost immediately, my legs started to shake in fear. The answer was painfully clear.

.

I stopped looking at the maps. I already had my answer.. It was time to follow a lower, safer route through Colorado. I would be safer and much happier following the alternate trail at lower elevation.

It ended up being a really enjoyable section for me. But, it was so quiet out there. I only saw 2 CDT hikers, on trail, between Creede and Twin Lakes.   I tried to embrace the alone time. I don’t have to be surrounded by people for the entire trail. So I did my own thing, slept in, hiked late, and ran into plenty of moose along the way. I was safe, and I still had a continuous footpath.

I was happy.

I made it to Twin Lakes last Sunday, and Will came to pick me up. I decided to take a week off trail, so I could wait for my friends to catch up to me. It’s been nice to rest at home, and I have been eating so well this week!

I am excited about heading back to Twin Lakes soon, and hopefully, I will see more than 2 hikers in my next section.    🙂

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CDT: Chama, NM to Pagosa Springs, CO

I said a prayer on the day that I left Chama.  And I prayed every single day that I was on the divide.  I always thought that I was agnostic, but when you’re out there on the side of a steep, snowy mountain, the prayers flow out of you.

My stomach was in knots on the climb up from Chama.  For the last 3 years, I had listened to Will talk about his San Juans experience.  He entered the San Juans in May 2013, and he told me stories of post-holing in snow, only getting 10 mile days, and of freezing at night.

It sounded brutal.

But, of course, I wanted to give it a shot anyway.

I entered the San Juan mountains on June 7th in a record setting snow year for Colorado.  We found the snow to be patchy in places, but the sketchy traverses were frequently covered with snow.  In the morning, it was icy, and by 3pm, it was slushy stuff that crumpled under foot. I constantly prayed that my footing was solid. Everyday, I wore waterproof socks, microspikes, and I clung to my ice-axe like my life depended on it.

I slid off a snowy traverse at one point, and I ran into a tree that was 15 feet down.  It happened so fast.  I sat there, in the snow, for what seemed like forever.  I couldn’t stop shaking.  I looked below me and saw a steep slope that seemed to go on forever.  Going down was not an option.  When I finally calmed down,  I grabbed my ice-axe and kicked foot-holes so I could get back to the trail.  It took 3 hours for my hands to stop shaking.

The next day, I found myself following 2 guys on another steep snowfield.  It finally got so steep that I parked my butt on the trail and slid down when my landing looked safe enough.  It was one of those moments that was fun after you picked yourself up at the bottom and realized that you were safe.

The last few days have taught me a lot.  This was the real deal out here.  I wasn’t Superman.  I could really get hurt.

There are people who love this stuff.  My boyfriend, Will, is one of these people.  I could see him out here, heart pounding, wanting more.  But, I’m not one of those people.  I’m just a girl who wants to walk to Canada.  And I tried my best, but mountaineering isn’t really for me.

It was beautiful to hike the divide, but the conditions are currently too dangerous for me.

The good news is that there is a low elevation route for the next section.  I am excited to explore new parts of Colorado as I walk north through the Creede route.

And maybe I won’t have to pray so much in the next section.  😉

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CDT: Grants, NM to Chama, NM

Just a quick update to let everyone know that I made it to Colorado last night!!   Of course, the trail is already getting significantly harder.  Yesterday, I was lost in a maze of snow and blowdowns for most of the day.  I would check my GPS, get back on trail, and almost immediately get lost again. In the snow, there is no trail.  And trying to stay on trail is a pointless waste of time.  My friend, who left after me, and mostly navigates with maps arrived at camp before me.  I just looked at him when I rolled into camp at 9:15 and laughed.  Sometimes, maps are just better than GPS.   Or maybe I’m just completely hopeless.  🙂

I’m currently in Chama, NM and getting all geared up for the next section.  I have added snowshoes, an ice axe, water-proof socks, microspikes and warmer layers.   My pack is going to weigh a ton tomorrow, but I am excited to hike the snowy San Juans!  

I have a feeling that I am in for the hardest 2 weeks of my life.  I hope that I have what it takes.  


Sorry for the short update, but a girl needs her sleep!!

PS: Thanks to Will/Estero for spending the weekend in Taos with me.  Can’t wait to see you again soon!  ❤

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