Distance: 14 miles
start: 6:15 am
stop: 1:00 pm
Elevation: 8030 ft
Others Here: Cloudbuster
Others in town: Dragon Dan, Deco
Camp: Cumbres Suites in Chama
Well, I’ve walked to Colorado and I’m beginning to feel like a thru-hiker. We had a short 13 miles to Cumbres Pass today and experienced our first significant snow.
If I had to guess I’d say there was about 2 miles of snow under the trees on northern slopes at around 10500 feet. Navigation is a little more daunting in the trees because there are no obvious landmarks. I guess the excitement of the first real snow challenge threw me off and my first reaction was to use the phone gps. I couldn’t get a gps lock, so I followed Cloudbuster who was using the Guthook app. After we made that first mile or so out of the snow, I stopped, gathered myself and looked at the map. I realized we could have just used the compass to walk westward and would have hit the fire road at our present location. So when we hit snow in the trees again a little later, we both used our heads more than the gps.
It was a great feeling walking into Colorado. Now we just have to decide what to do about the next section through the San Juans. We hear that snowshoes are a requirement.
Please skip the next couple paragraphs of you don’t want to hear my rant. Speaking of GPS and smartphone apps, there seems to be a disturbing trend developing. Cloudbuster and I have talked quite a bit about this along the way. We both believe a gps or phone gps app is a smart backup to help with navigation. In addition, carrying something like a Spot or Delorme with sos features for family’s peace of mind or a potential rescue beacon is a no brainer. There are two cases within the past few years when such a device could have saved the hikers’ lives.
Now comes the but. What disturbs me with the increasing reliance upon gps apps like Guthook, is that many people who use it do not carry any paper maps. Not only do they not carry maps and compass, but they don’t know how to use them. It is a fantastic app, but what happens if you are up in the unforgiving San Juans where the trail is covered by 10 ft of snow and your phone breaks, it won’t work due to the cold, you drop it in a stream, the battery dies, or whatever? Now you have no navigation device whatsoever. If you happen to be carrying maps, you never learned to read them so they are worthless to you except maybe to start a fire or use for toilet paper. I don’t think I’m being old fashioned or luddite-ish. It just seems common sense to learn how to read a map and compass on a trail like this. Not only that, but it is much more rewarding and forces you to be aware of your surroundings. I could see an app user following the bouncing ball across a dangerous traverse just because the app says to go there. Where if you have map, compass, and an awareness of your surroundings, you can recognize that the traverse is not safe and find another way around, down low, or up high. OK … rant over.