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Friday, September 09, 2005

Surreal Beauty

It rained hard all last night. Luckily, we were camped on forest duff that drains well so we didn't get flooded out in our floorless tents.

We walked out of camp and within a mile or two got to Weminuche Pass. Its a miracle someone didn't build a road over this pass. It's only at 10,500 ft. and plenty wide, so it would have been ideal for a road. Fortunately, the road wasn't built and the pass is now part of the half a million acre Weminuche Wilderness Area, which we are currently walking through.

As I walked east up the North Fork out of the pass, I came upon a striking scene. The San Juan's got enormous snowpack this past winter and avalanches were clearly common.



Here, an avalanche had come down from the slopes above, snapped off 3 feet in diameter trees at their base, and deposited them in the North Fork stream. The trees were all piled on top of each other, and much unmelted snow remained beneath these trees. Nature is so powerful.

We cleared the trees at the head of the North Fork and reached the alpine tundra zone once again. And right about this time the weather rolled in. Our timing was perfect. :o) We got rained/hailed on off and on for the rest of the day.

But the weather created a surreal beauty around us. Often, we were enveloped in mist, rain or hail and couldn't see a thing with 50 ft. visibility.



We'd go for miles like this and suddenly the clouds would part and reveal the beautiful landscapes around us. And then there were the in between moments where we had some visibility and the clouds were hovering around the peaks, with otherworldly lighting conditions highlighting the reddish fall tundra, creating a kind of fairytale scene. I felt privileged to witness this kind of beauty, walking up high through the mountains in the midst of storms. Fortunately, we had no thunderstorms while we were walking.

Another thing that made today beautiful was the sound of Elk bugling. The Elk are in the midst of their mating season and the bugling is their mating call. It was eerie to be walking in clouds with no visibility and hear an Elk bugle wafting up on the mists from the valleys below.

Such beauty today on so many levels. The price I paid was physical discomfort. Small price to pay for what I witnessed.

By 6 p.m., Eric and I reached a cute little lake (Cherokee Lake) on the north side of the divide a few hundred feet down from the crest. We'd only gone 22 miles, but the route ahead was right on the crest of the divide with no place to camp. And the skies were looking scary. Seemed like something big was moving in. We were beginning to hear thunder.

We were discussing whether we should camp at the lake and quit early when Jonathon and Beth caught up to us. We all had a little pow-wow of sorts and collectively agreed quitting now was a good idea. Cherokee Lake was beautiful. It sits right on the edge of a big cliff and has gorgeous views north over the Rio Grande Valley. Getting to camp in places like this is why we are out here.

It was a good decision. Minutes after getting our shelters set up, the first thunderstorm of the day struck. High winds and hail would not have been fun to walk in. Not to mention the fact that lightning is now striking the divide above us, right where we would have been walking had we continued. I'm snug in my sleeping bag, but the rain/hail is coming down hard. This feels like Hurricane Weminuche. I'm gonna have to cut this entry short as I see water starting to flow underneath my tent. I've got to go outside and dig some trenches with a rock to channel the water away from my sleeping area.

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