Mountain Shadows

In the shadow of a mountain snow hides.

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We left Silverton early Monday morning. Snow blanketed cars and the rooftops. It was chilly and we walked up the gorge to Stony Pass. A car pulled up a couple of miles in and two women offered to drive us to where the dirt road goes steep up the mountain. They turned out to be from Minnesota, and we chatted about how Minnesotans know snow. The spruce were weighted with snow when we made our way by foot back to where we left off the day before and the clouds were parting. It was quiet and beautiful. As we got closer to the pass, the snow was deeper. In some areas wind and drift left up to three foot patches of fresh powder. I decided to make a snow angel, because what else do you do with large drifts besides that or make a fort. A fort would take longer.
In some areas there were icy patches, and I fell on my butt more than once. “Aren’t you the one from Minnesota?” Jacob teased me. I guess I forgot about snow and ice.
Our feet got soaked and the wind continued to blow throughout the day but the sky was clear and a deep blue. Deer hopped lightly on their hooves. Jacob took two hops, trying to bound like the deer and said,
“That takes a lot of energy.” We walked, as bipeds are apt to do.

We had late afternoon river crossings, much of the snow turned to mush in the sun, and water ran. Our feet were soaked and the sun went down and then they started to freeze over. I stopped feeling pain in my front right toe while setting up the tent. Jack Frost nips at toes as well as the nose.
It was cold that night and we huddled close.

The next morning our shoes were frozen clogs and my toe was feeling like I had burned it. We tried to get moving as quickly as we could to warm up before the sun hit.
Icicles grew out of the tundra. The soil in alpine tundra seems to soak up moisture, and when water freezes it expands, and creates a neat texture.
My feet were still freezing, and we stopped at a pass surrounded by jagged, treeless peaks. I pried off my frozen clogs and stripped my feet bare.
“This is love.” Jacob said as he lifted his shirt and held my feet against his stomach to warm them.
“Or, as my former boss said, it’s being a good climbing partner.” He added.
I thought it was also just being a good friend.
We ate, warmed up, and continued on and the sun came up to warm the tundra icicles.

We walked through snow not yet touched by human tracks, but were covered with animal tracks. At one point we followed what looked like coyote and rabbit tracks traversing a steep slope. I wonder how the rabbit faired.
The next few days were intense with competing emotions. These San Juan’s are magnetic, and hard. I’d look to the peaks around me full of awe and respect and whisper, “I love you San Juans” in one moment, and I’d curse and almost cry with the bitter wind at my face and yell, “I hate you San Juans!” in the next moment. It’s an unrequited love/hate, as, of course, the San Juans don’t feel that way for me.
They are the mountains that draw you in and bind you to them. They are the addiction.

“I wonder if Eskimo kisses came about to detect frostbite.” Jacob pondered. He then stopped walking, turned, and rubbed his nose against mine.
i don’t know, but it sure feels nice to rub noses in the cold.

We made it safely to Wolf Creek Pass and into Pagosa Springs yesterday. It’s raining in town today and looks like snow up high until tomorrow. We’ll wait it out and try to catch another weather window to get to Cumbres Pass.

I love you, San Juans.

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