CDT NM 4th Section

Day 21: Pelona Mountain

I made much ado about nothing in yesterday’s post. Nothing really interesting happened, even though the trail itself was really interesting to see. This day was the exact opposite. Very little of it interesting to see, but there were plenty of highlights.

Got out of camp no problem about 6:40, taking maybe 2 liters from the cache. One for my breakfast smoothie, one for my morning break somewhere along the way to the water tank.

The trail started by going up a draw then onto a hill until it ran right into a barbed wire fence. The terrain wasn’t level and there was no cleared track, but it was perfectly straight. 2.8 miles with nothing much to look at but that fence beside me and the occasional rabbit warren or anthill. I took my morning break in a place hardly distinguishable from any other except a trail marker signpost was nearby.

One thing there was very little of our on the prairie was shade. I found the only spot of shade on the trail that morning when it turned off a road and climbed up a small rise to skirt around a fenced property. On the western side of that rise, next to the fence, was a face of vertical rocks with soft dirt beneath creating a little shaded niche that would only last for another hour while the sun was in the east. So of course I took another break there.

To my right ran the trail, around the end of the fence. To my left I could see a windmill marking the last source of water for the rest of the day. Other hikers would follow the trail to a road that ran south through a gate straight to the windmill. But I could see the windmill! Why go out of my way? In front of me was the fence. The bottom wire was more than a foot off the ground and not even barbed. It’s like they designed it so creatures like me could crawl under. So I packed up again, rolled my pack under the fence, and set out across the prairie on the direct route to the windmill.

I had a grand old time at the water tank. First of all, it created a bit of shade, so I could hang out while the water was filtering and watch the rabbit and the birds and the cows and not get too toasty.

But it took quite a long time too. I lost nearly two hours there because my filter was running so slow. I got it flowing again with some serious backflushing, but that meant refilling the bag I had already filled, so that took time too.

And there was no avoiding filtering the water from that tank, given the dead bird floating in it. Thanks 0.1 micron filtering! (I fished the bird out with my trekking poles as a gift to the cows who had to drink the water unfiltered.)

It was nearly noon when I left, but I ate some granola bars so as to postpone lunch due to lack of miles gained.

I took a road back to the trail that cut off a mile of fencewalking. After climbing up a wide draw that would normally be full of water right next to the trail, I turned off into a 2 mile cross-prairie unmarked choose-your-own-adventure. There were some pronghorns out there, but they scooted away doing that weird two-legged run the moment they saw me a mile away.

A mile in, I spotted a group a three bushes on a hill each about human height. They were the only thing for miles that could possibly provide any shade, so I climbed up there for a lunch stop. The middle bush had a rock seat underneath it. With the wind starting to pick up, the tiny quantum of shade was actually fairly comfortable. Not big enough to lie down though.

At lunch, I discovered that I had failed to remove and discard the folding sporks that come with the the Bumblebee tuna packets. Normally this would mean they were taking up needless space in my canister, but this couldn’t have been a more fortuitous mistake.

The choose-your-own section ended by colliding with yet another barbed wire fence. The trail followed the right side of fence for 0.4 miles, passed through a gate, then followed the left side of it for another 0.3 miles before turning off to join a road. Are you sensing a theme for this section of trail?

The west wind had felt fairly pleasant up to this point, offsetting the lack of shade. But once I was on the road, it began an active hindrance. Heavy pack full of water. Road going subtly but continuously uphill. And a torrent of wind in the face trying to push me back down the hill. It took less than two hours of that fight and the soreness in my back before I was looking for another break.

Thankfully, the road carried me into an area with a few scattered trees, mainly small. Well, there was one wide one with a ton of space underneath, but as soon as they saw me coming, a bunch of cows got up and walked over to stand under it and claim it for themselves. Watching me as I walked by, I could see the scorn on their faces.

Since it was getting into the afternoon, even some of the smaller trees had sizeable shadows. I found a nice one and crawled under it for a mini nap. I gave myself thirty minutes to relax as I liked, but then the climb must continue.

I had a hard time tearing myself away from that spot. I gave myself a few extra minutes to get up the motivation to get going again and pack up.

The road, still generally climbing, brought me to a gate. On the other side of that gate, the trail followed, you guessed it, a barbed wire fence. An increasingly steep continuous climb up a canyon following that fence for two miles with no established trail to speak, just an assortment of meandering horse and cow tracks.

I decided to have dinner early, just before the steepest part of the climb out of the canyon and onto Pelona Mountain. In part because there was a really nice shade tree right there, and even more because I was getting hungry, but mostly because if I did, I wouldn’t have to carry the water I cooked with up that hill on my back.

After dinner, I felt ready to tackle the big climb I had had my mind on all day. I had already been climbing all day, so it was about time I had some panoramic views to show for it.

And, of course, the first thing I did before cooking was tape the handle of my long long-handled spork to the plastic Bumblebee spork. It was like they were made for one another how well that worked. But maybe I should have used a different kind of tape, because the medical tape seemed to hold water.

It really wasn’t that bad. It was fairly gently graded, with actual switchbacks going up to the saddle. Elk on the ridge watched me curiously, not running away, for some reason, until I was nearly at the top.

At the top of that climb, the graded trail vanished. From then on, I was playing chase the cairns and had to find my own footing between them. There was only one more steep climb to get to the highest point of the ridge I would descend all evening, so there wasn’t much to get me breathing. But the hillside was tufts of grass interspersed with foot sized rocks or occasional small boulders or fixed volcanic formations. To enjoy the sweeping views or the sunset, I had to stop because I needed to carefully watch every step coming down that ridge.

The sun was set and I had to keep going. But it couldn’t go on all night. I didn’t trust myself not to twist an ankle trying to walk on that terrain by headlamp.

Eventually, I came to a slight saddle with all those rocks gone. I threw up my tent right there up on the ridge, like someone might do for a photo for an outdoor gear advertisement. The wind had greatly decreased after the sun set, so it seemed like it would not only do, but be a quite comfortable spot for a good night’s sleep.

Trail miles: 19.7

Crossed 300 total trail miles this day, and could be as little as five days from Pie Town. Mayyyyyybe.

One reply on “Day 21: Pelona Mountain”

This is one of my favorite posts so far. Seemed like you had a good time today and the post just seemed…well…jolly!

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