CDT NM 6th Section

Day 171: San Mateo Mountains Near Spud Patch Canyon

The weather read my previous post. New Mexico has decided to remind me what season it is.

In fact, I didn’t even make it to midnight the previous night before putting my coat on.

I was expecting rain, of course. That was in the forecast. And it was supposed to be colder too. I knew that. There was some sprinkling on the outside of the tent as I was packing up. And there was a wind shaking the tent all morning. So I put my Packa on before I left camp. Good for wind and rain.

(Side note: It is not a good idea to repair DCF fabric with that rubberized extra sticky tape you’ve seen on television. It doesn’t flex quite as much as the fabric, peels off, gets stuck to another area, and when you in unfold and have to separate it, tears a new hole in that new location. It creates the very problem you’re using it to solve!)

I was expecting something more like the light sprinkling from the scattered rain clouds I had gotten in camp. The sun was shining! I saw I was walking toward a much larger cloud, but I didn’t realize I was about to get five minutes of a cold hail and rain in a driving wind that left my finger tips almost unusable for the pain and my bare legs chilled to the bone. Even once the cloud passed and the rain cleared up, I stopped to put on gloves (with chemical hand warmers inside) and snow pants. I thought I might regret this later, as the forecast had said only morning showers.

I wound up keeping both on all day. Sure, the clouds went back to being patchier and the sun came out, pushing me to the brink of being uncomfortably warm when it shined directly on me. But then it would go behind a cloud and another gust of wind would hit, forcing me to lean or step to the side to avoid falling over. I struck a balance by unzipping my coat most of the way but keeping it on.

Also, the precipitation did not confine itself to the morning. Every big cloud that went over wanted to drop a little hail or snow. No big cloudburst like the one I started the day with, but on multiple occasions, I pocketed my sun hat, pulled my hood up against the pin pricks of ice falling from the sky, then dropped the hood and donned the hat again when the sun came back out. Very frustrating.

What was most annoying was the trail. It was just the dirt road all day. After the big morning shower, it was annoying because the mud built up into big balls under my heels like snow does on microspikes. At midday, it was about annoying because it left the trees and ran across the wide open plateau where the wind could pummel me at will.

I was ready for lunch, but stopping out in the open would mean the wind snatching the food right out of my hands, or tipping over my water bottle as I filled out, wasting my precious water.

My bowels seemed to have forgotten I had just emptied them the day before. They’ve got the memory of a sea slug, I reckon. But I had to very forcefully enjoin them to wait because… well, I’ve already described how the wind affects that process in one of my posts from the Basin of Wyoming. Besides that, there was just no privacy on the open grasslands.

Anyway, point is, I was very annoyed as I walked on for another 45 minutes before reaching the trees again. And when I came near them, I hurried into them in search of a bit of protection from the wind. I can’t say they were thick enough to keep the wind off. There was still plenty of wind. But, in mathematical terms, they transformed the wind from vector to a scalar. There was plenty of wind swirling every which way, but it didn’t have enough direction to steal my hat.

For hours after lunch, back on the road and in the wind, there was no need for the sun hat, so I tucked it away. There was not a single break in the clouds until much later. I also put up the Packa. I thought the precipitation was done, but I was wrong. Still I didn’t really need the rain protection when it was always hail or snow.

It was more road walking, though there was more civilization. Late in the day, I saw camps with trucks and trailers, probably hunters.

I missed a turn at American Canyon and by the time I noticed I was most of a mile from the trail. Luckily, at that moment I happened to be standing at a cross road that went up a canyon parallel to the trail to a road that crossed the trail. I could make more forward progress even as I found my way back to the trail. And it was quite a lovely little canyon to walk up. All these shallow little canyons out here are. Easy walking, except for the waning twilight making the rocks in the road harder to see.

Yes, all the dirt roads out this way are filled with lava rocks. The roadwalk is much like the Basin in terms of excitement level, except that the deep sand is replaced with rock and the chill wind is not as welcome.

Anyway, it was well past dark when I found the trail again, nearly walking right past it. There was nothing to set it apart, and I just happened to check the map when I was close to it. A few minutes down this trail brought me to the Ranger Ross water cache that was my “full day’s hike” marker. I ignored the cache for the moment, and turned aside into the woods looking for a tent site. It wasn’t easy. There was a lot of broken wood, and anywhere the ground looked clear, there were actually rocks poking up everywhere. I ended up manually clearing a spot that was on a significant tilt.

I cooked in my sleeping bag. And I slept with my water filter. With the temperature dropping and the wind still along whipping, and sprinkles of rapidly melting snow coming down every few minutes, it was clearly not going to be a cozy night.

At least the next day would be clear again and slightly warmer.

Trail miles: 19.1 (but actually hiked maybe 2 more)

Distance to Grants: 30.5

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