23rd May 25.5 miles Hopewell Lake (625.8) to (651.3) It was about 7am when we crossed the quiet nation highway 64. We slowly climbed on a jeep road. To the left was a grassy meadow.… More
13.8 Miles (22km)
Rio Chama (561.7) to (575.5)
It was not below freezing overnight. This made me happy and assisted with a good nights sleep.
The morning bought the red rock cliffs alive which was in contrast to the chocolate brown Chama River. My 6.30am start had me following the river for several miles. It was on a road. As much as I dislike roadwalking I enjoyed the scenery.
It was 11 miles to make it to Ghost Ranch. A popular retreat in the heart of northern New Mexico. It promised so much more to the hiker. ‘All You Can Eat Buffet’. These magical words have thru hikers salivating for days prior to arrival. I was salivating.
Ghost Ranch also kindly accepted delivery of some packages for me. A balaclava, gaiters and microspikes. They also had my package with 4.5 days of food.
The ranch is not only well known to people of New Mexico but also to Hollywood. Many movies have been filmed here. I think the most famous movies have been City Slickers. Look up Ghost Ranch on Wikipedia, they have a full list, you’ll recognise a lot of the movies.
We relaxed for the rest of the day with several other hikers. Bambi and Purple Pants were there, so was the French couple. We all enjoyed contact with the outside world thanks to the wifi.
Dinner came and went. I set off at 6.30pm with Bambi. We only hiked another 2.7 miles. There was a flat piece of ground with a stunning backdrop. No need to go any further.
26.7 miles (43km)
Cold Camp (535) to Rio Chama (561.7)
It was cold overnight. I woke at 4.30am. I was freezing. I was wrapped up in my sleeping bag with just my nose protruding. I slipped on my down jacket for extra warmth. Usually it’s my pillow. I was unable to fall back asleep. I was just too cold.
There was a thick white frost on my tent. It melted quickly when I boiled some water for coffee. My little alcohol stove warmed the inside of my tent nicely. I didn’t want to get dressed and hike through the snow and wet swamps.
It was near 7.30am when I plucked up the courage to get moving. That’s a late start for me. As expected my feet were cold and wet within 15 minutes. The wet swamps were unavoidable. I was pleased that the snow was hard and solid. Unlike yesterday’s sloppy slush. It made me optimistic. With early starts we could make miles through the mountains of Colorado.
The descent off the plateau meant warmer temperatures and no snow. Finally I was happy. Both spontaneous and Crunchmaster have been laughing at my misery. It’s payback for my laughter at their suffering in the heat of the desert. Several months from now in the Great Basin of Wyoming I will be happily laughing at their misery again, maybe, hopefully.
The majority of the day was hiking through lacklustre pine forests. That was until we crested a ridge. Looking north I saw the impressive snow covered mountains of Colorado. Dark storms clouds covered sections of the sky. It was both impressive and intimidating.
The other side of the ridge dropped into the Chama river valley. It looked like a mini Grand Canyon. Red, yellow and white rock cliffs lined the valley. The late afternoon sky only intensified the colours. Our camp was on the banks of the Chama river.
Cuba (519.8) to Cold camp (535)
I slept poorly last night. Rain continued for part of the evening and night. The thought of leaving the relative comforts of the hotel in the morning were likely playing on my mind. I knew the snow covered mountains were near.
It was almost 11am when we started hiking out of town. The sky was overcast. It was yet to make up its mind if it would rain or just stay gray for the day.
The roadwalk out of town town to a trail after about 8 miles. This also coresponded with a sharp increase in the steepness of the trail. It wasn’t long before patches of snow appeared. In other areas the trail was a stream as the rapidly melting snow made its way off the high ground.
We crossed many patches of snow before we reached the plateau. It must have been yet another flat top Mesa that we were hiking on. It seemed like if we weren’t hiking in snow, we were hiking on a water logged swamp.
We were above 10000 feet and it was cold. A combination of the cold swampy water and the snow numbed my feet. I was unable to feel my toes, or wiggle them. Spontaneous and Crunchmaster were fine, or at least putting on a brave face. I took off my shoes and warmed my toes with my hands. Take me back to the heat of the desert. The days of me being the most comfortable of the three of us with these conditions are gone.
My toes were not warming up anytime soon so we decided to make an early camp. If 6.45pm is considered early. Light snow started to fall. Just enough to be annoying. I jumped into my tent, changed into my sleeping clothes and wiggled into my warm sleeping bag. It didn’t take long for me to warm up.
I had a look at my maps. It seems we were camping at almost the highest spot possible. I was too tired and cold to continue. We were at almost 10500 feet.
I did something that one should not do in bear country. I cooked in my tent. Korean ramen was my dinner. It’s my new favourite meal. Spontaneous has it sent from Korea. It’s very hot and spicy, just what I needed to warm myself up. And it worked. I finally felt warm.
I think I’ve mentioned on many occasions that I live in the tropics because I dislike the cold. I was tested today and realised I’m going to be pushed to my physical and mental limits in coming weeks. This is where the trip really begins for me. Hopefully I can get some sleep tonight, it promises to be very cold, probably the coldest night I have felt since sleeping in the cold of Bryce Canyon in late November, 2014. That night it reached -12C (10F).
We had all the best intentions of hiking out of town after lunch. We started packing. I mentioned that I was still quite tired. Next thing you know we decided to stay another day and rest our aching bodies. Oh, and maybe the crappy weather helped the decision.
The town of Cuba, New Mexico is a rather uninteresting town. Talking about uninteresting, that’s how I would describe my day. Well, there were a couple of nice meals but that was it.
While my day was uninteresting my thoughts and conversations with other hikers were not. In the coming weeks the trail will start to become rather serious. Lots of snow, unstable weather and a serious challenge.
Some hikers bravely state they are hiking through the snow and weather. Others talk of easy options like resting for a couple of weeks, taking easier roadwalking options or skipping ahead to the end of the trail in Canada and walking south.
So what are my thoughts. Well, I feel a little bit like Luke Skywalker. I’ve already completed the PCT, which is like the movie Star Wars. I learned my Jedi hiking skills and did battle with the trail. I went from a normal person to somebody who learned the skill of they hiking.
But hiking the CDT is like The Empire Strikes Back. I know I must face Darth Vadder. For me, Darth Vadder is the snow covered, difficult mountains of southern Colorado, the San Juan Mountains. It will be difficult but I trust that the skills that I have faithfully learned will see me triumph.
So there you have it. The sequel is rarely as good as the original, as many people say. Tomorrow I begin a journey of only about 150 miles that will see me enter Colorado. My Darth Vadder.
17.7 miles (28.5km)
Escarpment camp (502.1) to Cuba (519.8)
It was a town day. A short 17.7 miles away. Crunchmaster was desperate for town food so he was hiking before me today. I was on trail by 6.30am.
The mornings hike was more of the same. Stunning escarpments and mesas. Then came the usual roadwalking.
We checked into the Del Prada hotel, the cheapest in town. The Korean owner took good care of us. Town chores were taken care of early. Eating was the only thing left to do.
We also received the sad news that a CDT hiker was found dead just a little way north of us. He was hiking the trail southbound last year and has been missing for many months. I never knew the guy but many of my hiking buddies on the trail did. He was an experienced hiker. RIP.
27.5 miles (44.3km)
Ojo Frio Springs (474.6) to Escarpment camp (502.1)
I woke many times during the night. Each time it was raining. The morning was fine with only light clouds. Again I was hiking before the other had risen from their tents.
The morning sun did a wonderful job of lighting up the surroundings. Cliffs, river beds and canyons of all the colours of the rainbow.
I was ambling along the trail, near a set of cliffs that led to yet another mesa. I jumped when a large snake lay in the middle of the trail. Initially it wasn’t bothered by my presence. Then it puffed itself up into the defensive striking position. It’s tail quivered like rattlesnake but it wasn’t a rattlesnake. It’s called a Bull Snake. A cranky non venomous snake that is all show. It acts like a rattlesnake. I took some photos and videos then moved it off the trail. My hiking buddies would be along soon and I didn’t want them to stand on it.
I climbed onto the mesa then heard a crash of thunder. A large storm had build up behind me. I wasn’t paying attention. I was unsure what direction it was heading so I continued hiking. All the while studying the build up of this storm.
There were many flashes of lightning. Each time I would count how many seconds till the thunder growled. It was getting closer. 8 seconds. 5 seconds. 3 seconds. I looked for shelter but there was none to be found. I was on a flat top mesa, I was the highest point. I started running. The wind had now picked up and was icey cold. The storm was moving right above me.
In the distance I spied a dip in the trail. There were several small trees. I cowered under a small tree and put on my rain gear. The lightning and thunder continued. Then came heavy rain. Then hail.
I’m not sure how long I waited out the storm. Maybe 20-30 minutes. The rain and hail did eventually stop. The lightning was moving further and further away. I started hiking again. The mud was sticking to my shoes making them heavy. I slipped on many sections of the trail.
I approached a highway. Crunchmaster and Spontaneous were behind me. They walked right through the storm. Their assessment of the risk was clearly not the same as mine. Hiking during a lightning storm with me being the highest point is not a risk I want to take, if there is another option.
We reached a water cache stocked by the local Trujillo family. Thank you. We filled out water bottles and found out the next water was around 15 miles away. We had already traveled around 14 miles. It was almost 2pm and we decided to try and make it to the water cache.
I was tired. The constant up and down started to deplete my energy quickly. I didn’t think I would make it. I carried a little extra water in case I fell short and needed extra water for dinner and breakfast.
Another snake greeted me on the middle of the trail. It was very docile. I guess it was cold. This time I left it in the middle of the trail so the others could see it. They were not far behind me. And guess what, they didn’t see it.
We ran into a couple of weekend hikers heading southbound. They also got caught in the storm. The guy had welts on his back from the hail. We survived the start of the storm. As the day progressed it appeared to be intensifying.
It was 6.15pm when we stopped to eat dinner. It was at the exact spot that marked 500 miles. That’s 500 miles of hiking in 4 weeks. We were all exhausted. I didn’t think I could make the water source. It was just over 4 miles away. But I decided to try.
By 8pm I was 2 miles short of the water and too tired to continue. Crunchmaster was the same. Spontaneous was probably already at the water. It didn’t take me long to put up the tent and crawl in. Just one last thing to do before I fall asleep. The same thing I do every night before I fall asleep. Write this blog post. Good night. I know I’ll sleep well tonight. One of my most favourite days of the whole trail.
Sorry if the photos are out of order. My blog is getting cranky with me.
29.1 Miles (46.8km)
Dry camp (445.5) to Ojo Frio Springs (474.6)
Have I mentioned that I love New Mexico? Or that I love the CDT? Or that New Mexico reminds me of home. It’s like the outback of Australia. Lots of nothing much with occasional world class scenic gems. Well, today was one of those gems of a day. But it didn’t start out that way.
I left camp before Crunchmaster and Spontaneous were even awake. It’s becoming a habit. Maybe they were awake but they weren’t moving. I had 12 miles of hiking to get to the next water source and I had less than half a litre of water. No coffee. No oats for breakfast. My mouth was dry so I had to drink a little of my precious water. I might have been hiking on New Mexico highway 334 but it wasn’t a highway. Well, it would be where I come from. It was a single lane dirt road.
It was a cool morning, which saved me being in any danger of dehydration. With five miles to the water source I sipped the last of my water. It was a scramble down some rocks to the water. I filtered two litres and drank all of it by the time Crunchmaster and Spontaneous arrived. They also ran out of water. We suffered.
It was seven flat easy miles to the next water but I carried lots of water. I forced myself to drink often. By the time I made it to the second water source I’d drank all my water. Another two liters. It was now lunch time and we had covered 17 miles. Not a bad pace for the morning.
The next water was 12 miles so we made to decision to make it there to camp for the night. Our mileage on this section was determined by the availability of water. It wasn’t long before dark storm clouds appeared. They threatened and spat a few drops on us. Not enough to put on our raingear. The skies were full of drama. Grey, black and all the colours of the rainbow. Just when the skies were at their best a large bull elk wandered across the trail.
Photos are not able to show the beauty. And words are not able to describe the rush of positive emotions I was feeling. I love nature. I love it even more when it is just plain showing off.
I didn’t know it at the time but all day we had been hiking on top of a large flat top mesa. It wasn’t until late afternoon that we descended into a valley. Not just any valley. I felt like I entered another land. Like the lost worlds described by Arthur Conan Doyle. Canyons, mesas and strange shapes hills stretched as far as I could see. The setting sun and storm clouds added to the beauty. This is why I’m hiking the CDT.