Just Below Flat Top Mtn(658.9)-1mi south of Blue Lake(676.4)
Camping Elevation: 11,607ft
This morning started off with snow from 5am-6am. Good thing it was early and we were in our tents. We weren’t sure what to expect or if it would stop and I was just thinking that we have only just started the San Juan Mountains section and we’re already getting snow, this is going to be rough. There was a dusting on the ground as we started hiking at 6:45am, but it didn’t matter as we were going to be hiking on snow much of this leg. I was just glad it stopped before we started hiking! We had a bit of a climb to get over Flat Top Mountain this morning. As we set off, we were immediately hiking in the clouds with no views and it was windy and cold!
It was really windy all day and it started off in the 30s and felt like it was barely in the 50s for a high. We were all wearing most of our clothes and multiple layers to stay warm most of the day. I had on my rainpants over my regular hiking pants just for warmth. Drop-N-Roll gave me an extra pair of Darn Tough socks to test out and they were much warmer than my regular running socks that I wear. I wore my beanie all day with my buff (like a big neck warmer) to keep my neck and face covered at times because of the wind. I also wore both my shirts and both my down jacket and rain jacket a lot of the day with the hoods up. That wind was constant and strong! We are hoping the wind isn’t a regular thing cause it really affected our comfort level today! The good news is that the timing was just right and this morning just as we were at the top of Flat Top Mtn, the clouds started to lift and the sun came out. It was a pretty dramatic change that happened quickly and suddenly we were seeing the San Juans up close for the first time! It was cold and windy and we were still warming up, so I got a video and then two quick shots of the before with the clouds and then as they were lifting.
I’d say that about 50% of the day was in snow with us going in and out of it all day. We were surprised by how much it has melted and how little we postholed until we hit the longer snowy stretches at the end of the day. We were postholing deep on most steps the last hour or so today and we were spent. We are hoping it will be frozen in the morning so we won’t posthole.
In the late morning, we ran into the group that had started a few hours before us yesterday. They are a fun group of guys with the team name MeGaTex. They met on the PCT in 2010 and hiked together. Their team name combines the states most of them are from. Here is a classic picture of them today. I think I have the names right. It was so uncomfortable out there and difficult hiking that we had little time to stand still and talk.
We somehow caught up to them this morning as they seemed to have had a difficult day. We flip flopped most of the rest of the day and they camped a mile or so before us tonight, so we may cross paths again on this leg or see them in Pagosa Springs. Speaking of today’s difficulty, you can see we made far fewer miles today. Our average in the snow should be around 16mi/day because it takes so much longer. Nkw that we are in the snow, we must work much more cohesively and the four if us did really well today. We joked that we all need to get on the same bathroom schedule because we need to stick together and unlike most hiking days, if someone needs a break, water, or to use the bathroom, everyone else needs to wait. It’s nice that we have a smaller group than our usual six cause that’s a lot to coordinate. We all took turns with the GPS and leading today and that was nice. There were a variety of terrains we hiked through. All of it was pretty much exposed to the wind with little protection. The trail is more difficult and requires more use of our hiking poles, so we had to take timed breaks and huddle near a rock or tree to be sheltered and warm enough to all eat a snack at the same time. We lucked out at lunch break and found a rock wall that blocked the wind, but we were all still wearing all our layers and cold. There was trail at times, snow of all depths and hardnesses, rocks, and really soggy wet marshy areas. We ended the day with at least an hour of deep and exhausting postholing. LoveNote, Drop-N-Roll, and I are still wearing our trail runner and had cold wet feet all day. On the PCT in the Sierra, that is normal because it’s 80 degrees outside while you’re walking in snow. Totally not the case in the San Juans right now and I am envying the waterproof boots Stryder has! This snowy section will only last a couple of weeks and it’s too late to get boots now, but I’d recommend it to others in the future. It took over an hour for my toes to warm up in my sleeping bag and they are still stinging. Not looking forward to putting on my soaked shoes tomorrow. I laid my socks and gaiters on a tree tonight to dry a bit and they were frozen solid in 30mins. I now have all my footwear wrapped in a garbage bag in my pack in my tent to they won’t be solid in the morning. All of this is the price we pay (and it is worth it!) to hike in the San Juans. Here are more pictures from today.
I also should mention that I have developed a bit of a dry cough over the last few days as we have hit higher elevation. It is concerning as it is not a good indication of my body’s acclimation out here. I know water helps with acclimation and I’m working hard to drink more. The cough comes while I hike and the air is damp out here if you ask me. At least it doesn’t occur at night, so that’s a good sign. Just hoping my body adjusts! Annoying thing is that I have to get up multiple times to pee at night now and that just happened and my thermometer reads that it’s below 30 inside my tent so it’s even colder outside, Argh! Speaking of the cold, we found a great camp spot in the trees with patches of dry ground surrounded by snow. It is very protected from the wind which makes all the difference. Due to limited camp space and just need for warmth, Drop-N-Roll and LoveNote chose to squeeze into DNR’s tent together, which is the same as mine.
They barely fit and should be cozy warm. With how cold it is tonight, it’s not a bad idea. I’m still impressed with my sleeping bag and sleeping pad and how warm they keep me. I think this is the coldest night we’ve had and I feel warm. I just hope tomorrow is warmer than today was or that at least the wind dies down!
I’m so glad you took this route. Yes it’s harder and colder, but so much more beautiful then road walking! You can walk on a road anywhere in this world, but to walk in snowy mountains? Rare here in Perth anyway! Lol