5th June

10.2 miles 

Rock Lake (749.8) to Ridgecamp (760)

I force fed myself breakfast. It didn’t make things any better. I was nauseous. Add to that almost no sleep and the fact that I didn’t eat dinner last night. I knew all to well what was going on. I had altitude sickness.

We were away early but the snow was melting fast. It wasn’t long before we were knee and thigh deep in horrible soft slushy snow. This depleted my already depleted energy levels. We were averaging less than 1 mile per hour. At one point we managed 0.2 miles per hour. Thanks in part to climbing a mountain that we didn’t need to climb. 

I struggled to make progress. But I kept moving, slowly but surely. I was suffering from altitude sickness. The nausea, the low energy. I’ve had it before and wasn’t too concerned about my health. I knew that staying in Pagosa Springs around 7000ft then camping at over 11000ft was no going to be a good idea. I was right.

I’m sure I would have made much more distance if it weren’t for the poor snow. Constant Postholing slowed us incredibly. At one point I crossed a snow bridge. Underneath was a small stream. The snow bridge collapsed and I fell up to my armpits in snow. The water was only ankle deep and as the whole area collapsed I managed to get out ok. But I felt a little twinge in my left knee. This twinge was only really noticeable when I had to lift myself out of a postholing incident.

By 3pm we were at the junction with an alternate route called the Creede Cut off. It is a short cut that follows a low route away from the snow covered mountains. It was tempting to take the easy option. Most hikers this year seem to take this option.

We sat and debated what to do for over an hour. You see we have a problem. Spontaneous will be getting off trail in 7 days. He will fly to LA to meet his girlfriend. She arrives from Korea. They will travel for 2 weeks. Travelling at the pace of today would see him miss his flight and miss his girlfriend. Not good. So the option of taking the cut off was considered heavily. We almost took it. 

I reasoned with Spontaneous. If he could stay with me for some of the dangerous areas in the next 20-30 miles that would be great. If we were still making very slow time, or I was still suffering from the altitude then he could race ahead to the nearest town and get to his flight in Denver. 

So either way I will be hiking the CDT alone very soon. A rather sad prospect. Spontaneous will get back on the trail but when and where is his decision.

So we set off together again to complete the San Juan mountains. We made camp a few short miles after the cutoff route. I managed to eat a large dinner meal. Here’s hoping the altitude sickness is slowly moving on. And that my knee gives me no problems.

clouds starting to build

conditions like this means slow going

22 Responses

  1. Alison

    Yikes! How do you extract yourself when you posthole up to your armpits?!?! Be safe!

    • BikeHikeSafari

      Haha. The whole snow bridge collapsed so it was hollow underneath. I should have taken a photo. It was kind of amusing really.

    • BikeHikeSafari

      There’s still a lot of snow but it’s melting fast. I think I’ll wait it out for a while then head back up. Evolution basin is possibly the nicest part of the whole Sierra.

  2. Claire De Lune

    Altitude sickness is very serious – get off the trail and go to hospital before you end up with very serious complications

    • BikeHikeSafari

      There are many stages of altitude sickness. I’ve suffered a lot of the mild symptoms before so I’m well aware of how it affects my body. The strong headache and gurgling fluid in the lungs are the real signs to get down off the mountain fast. By the following day I was better. Thanks mostly to camping a bit lower at night.

  3. leggypeggy

    Oh Brad, you have our sympathy. Poor John and I had terrible altitude sickness when we travelled overland across Central Asia to China. It was worst in Tibet where we camped one night at 5200 metres (17,000 feet). There was no other place where the truck could pull off the road. In relation to high altitude, I’ve since been told that the difference in altitude between where you sleep one night and the next should never be more than 300 metres (about 1000 feet). It can be a much bigger spread during the day, but not for sleeping. Thoughts with you on the trail and hope you take a few rest days. Snow does melt.

    • BikeHikeSafari

      I’ve had altitude sickness before and climbed above 20000ft many years ago in Bolivia. I slept at a lower altitude the next night and felt so much better. But I’m resting now.

  4. Claire De Lune

    Im glad you are ok my only experience with it was in Switzerland where a girl I was with completely lost it had to be winched down the mountain, nearly died and was in hospital for a week. It happened so quickly one minute she was fine and the next thing off her head and legs (we were on top of glacier), what was even weirder was she was from Colarado!

    • BikeHikeSafari

      That’s horrible news. It happened to a friend when we climbed Mt Kilimanjaro several years ago. He has no recollection of reaching the summit.

    • BikeHikeSafari

      I’ve been lucky, only mild symptoms, and I’ve been over 6000m before, but I know all the symptoms and know when it’s time to quit.

  5. Karen

    Do you worry about all that snow just giving way in an avalanche?

    • BikeHikeSafari

      Absolutely. It is my biggest fear. At this time of year the Avalanche risk is much lower but wet snow avalanches are real. The worst thing is they set rock hard like concrete.

  6. ADL

    I wonder when altitude sickness will tag me since it can happen anytime I’m told. Hiking thru soft snow (not deep) proved to be my big challenge since I have no experience in it. Spikes didn’t help. 2014,15 were drought years. Can’t imagine postholing all day. You are really toughing it out.

    • BikeHikeSafari

      Altitude sickness is weird. I’ve been to 20000 feet and was ok. Have fun on the snow

  7. mediumsteve

    I have to put in a plug for ginger candies, which lives in my Rx kit until needed. I have advanced liver disease and have had some level of nausea daily for about 12 years now. So, with some expertise behind me let me say that ginger is good for that, as is keeping *just a little* something solid going through the stomach at all times. Also want to point out that the real danger with altitude sickness and garden-variety dehydration is that they affect reasoning and mood – and it can be a pretty subtle thing to detect degradation of your judgement when your judgement has degraded.

    • BikeHikeSafari

      Thanks for the advice, I’ll keep that in mind

    • BikeHikeSafari

      Yes they certainly do. But there are times when the snow is so soft that the wide footprint that they create also sink into the snow. Sometimes we would sink into the snow up to our knees with snowshoes, without then we would have sunk to our hips or deeper.

      • Vaclav

        Thank you for your answer. Did you have snow shoes in bounce box?

      • BikeHikeSafari

        I walked around the town of Charma, NM, asking if any of the locals wanted to rent me some snowshoes for a couple of weeks. One local was kind enough to rent them to me. I posted them back to him further up the trail. I think I was lucky and it saved me the cost of buying them.

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