I was super comfortable temperature-wise and slept in again. My hips were sore from the sleeping, but I was very sleepy and couldn’t get moving. I did wake up a bit early than the previous day, and even with taking the time to sew a big hole in the sock I had been unable to exchange in Santa Fe (while listening to cattle wander by outside, I still managed to pack up and hike out before 10…maybe around 9:45. Just before I took down my tent, I was passed by a sobo who greeted me and left to never be caught. I later learned he was probably Sandman.
Right off the bat, I was on a very steep descent down the mesa. The kind of descent that’s slow and hard on the knees. 300 feet in the first 0.4 miles, and then, starting half a mile later, another 1000 feet in the next 3 miles. Things leveled out a good bit for the next few miles after crossing the highway, except for the occasional drop into and climb out of a steep wash. But I was still in pain from the way my pack was pressing hard into the pointy part of my pelvis just to the right of my spine. I could adjust it to press less there by having it press more into my shoulders or into my hips. At one snack break, I adjusted the height of the shoulder straps, and I think that helped somewhat overall, though I never got an true relief and I’m sure to come out of this with a big bruise in that spot.
I stopped for lunch a bit early when I couldn’t tolerate keeping the pack on a moment longer. There was a nice log to sit on in a sunny spot. Just as I was finishing up, another sobo arrived named Grady. We chatted for a bit about the trail and our experiences with the snow in CO while I packed up, and then we hiked out together. When we ran out of conversation for the trail, he soon outpaced me on the climb, but I caught him again at the next water source. It was the first and only water I crossed all day, so I grabbed a few liters and made myself an energy drink.
Grady left just ahead of me again, but this time I didn’t even try to match his pace. It was nothing but climbing for the next several hours up into the San Pedro Parks wilderness area and the mountain top at nearly 11000 feet. I had seen and tried to match his climbing pace already and I stood no chance. I just put in my headphones and hiked at a comfortable pace for me. A couple of hours in, I stopped on another sunny log for a snack and then kept climbing. I had planned to stop at 6 for supper, but I didn’t like any of the prospects for spots to do that, and given that the sun was setting, just decided to hike on into dusk.
The temperature dropped as rapidly as the sun. It had been a pretty sunny and comfortable day all day, but that just means that temperature varies more wildly at elevation, and it was at these altitudes I began seeing more and more unmelted snow. But I had committed to walking on until 7 before stopping, so I just put up with my pack biting into my hip bone and my pinkys losing feeling and the general coldness as the light faded. I let my sunglasses hang on my chest rather than lose time packing them up and getting out my headlamp.
The summit was just covered up with excelled camping. Lots of flat open grassy fields between lines of trees. Perfect elk grasslands I guess, because there was an enormous herd of elk of both sexes beside and crossing the trail around me. I didn’t know if it was legal elk hunting territory, so I made sure I was whistling in a very non-elk-like way as I walked just in case there were any hunters around.
Just before 7, I called it and pulled off the trail into a small field and set up. The brutal cold was instantly ameliorated when I got my coat on. It was even better once I got the tent up and a few more layers of clothing on. And best of all once I got into my sleeping bag and got some hot food and drink in my belly. It felt much colder than the previous night despite the weather report, probably entirely attributable to being nearly 2000 feet higher in elevation. But it was still nowhere near as cold as my last nights in Colorado had been.
Trail miles: 17.0
Distance to Cuba: 18.2 miles