CDT NM 6th Section

Day 172: Acoma Pueblo

I was right in sleeping with my filter this night. I woke up at 3am once from the cold and discomfort. (I hadn’t fully inflated my pad.) Also, I needed to rip the gloves and hand warmers off my hands because the pressure on my palms was affecting my circulation. But the warmers kept cooking away in my pocket until morning.

I did manage to get a few more winks even with the cold wind still blowing, but every position was painful and the dreams were bizarre. After a few “it’s too cold to get up” false starts, I started moving about at 7:30. What with it being so cold my water was half frozen, broken zippers being even harder to operate with gloves on, it still being cold and windy, my head being a bit fuzzy from lost sleep, needing to refill water from the cache and losing and finding the cap to my bag in the process, etc., I didn’t actually hike out until 9:30.

Not even half an hour in, Squints came up behind me on a steep hike. We chatted for a moment and then he fell behind checking stuff on the map. He caught me again on the next climb, proving he’s the faster hiker, so I let him pass. I stayed close behind chatting with him about gear, audiobooks, and how he was one of the few to get some of my trail magic in Montana until the next water source, at which point I went ahead while he collected some. But yet again he caught me on the next steep climb and passed me. I chased him a bit longer, but when I stopped to take a picture, he left me behind for good.

Until I caught up to him taking a break at a picnic shelter sans picnic tables. He was leaned up against a post on the sunny side. But I wasn’t interested in lunch yet. I hadn’t even been hiking three hours! I was only interested in the privy across the road. In addition to using it, I wanted to remove my snow pants. It was not quite cold enough to warrant them, and with all the climbing, they were chafing the backs of my knees something awful.

When I emerged, Squints was packing up. He was continuing along the official CDT, probably aiming to make Grants that night. I waved goodbye and went a different way: up the road toward the ridge of the San Mateo Range. It was an easy climb, a gently graded dirt road. I was on the ridge in 45 minutes.

I joined the Gooseberry Trail up the back side of the ridge, and this one was much steeper. On the other hand, it was on the leeward southern slope with plenty of direct sunlight, so even if I had to stop frequently to get my breath, at least I wasn’t as cold. (It was a much warmer day than before, but the wind and shade had made it easy to get cold on the downhill sections even while I was too hot on the climbs.)

At the end of the sunny section, where the trail was set to climb up onto the ridge and into the shade of a dense forest, I stopped. My stomach said it was lunch time, and my common sense said I should stop while I was still in the sun and not in the wind. I piled my stuff on rocks and started by putting some tape on my left toes. My socks were chafing them and they didn’t quite fit into my left boot’s toe box. A problem I always have thanks to asymmetrical feet. I was just about to start making lunch when another sobo by the name of My Trail Name Is Jesse came up. He was part of the group that had camped with Squints a mile behind me the night before. We didn’t have much of a chat before he went ahead, promising to see me in Grants the next day, and I went back to eating lunch.

After lunch, I pushed for the top of Mt. Taylor (TzoodziƂ). I was basically right there already. A few switchbacks in a forest on a trail still covered in crunchy snow from the night before. The trees were also still holding onto some ice. But in spite of that, the summit itself wasn’t too cold. Despite being out in the open, the thick forest along one side kept it out of the wind.

I had the place to myself, and the whole trail down as well. All the others were well ahead. The only people I saw were a few miles down the hill, after the Gooseberry Trail ended and I was taking a road back to the CDT for a mile, during which the same truck with two guys passed me three times. Once I joined the trail again, I was again on my own.

A few miles along, I turned down a side road to Big Spring. I got to where it was supposed to be and followed its drainage for a while, but it was dry the whole way. The comments for it on Guthook said something about a cache, but there was no cache.

I backtracked to the trail, and found another Ranger Ross water mug just a hundred feet past the turn-off to the spring. The moral was clear: stop being proactive about water and it will just show up for you.

So I did top off my water bag, though I still had plenty, as there was probably no more water to be had until Grants, plus I wanted the option to boil a very large quantity should the night be too cold for comfort. I swapped shades for headlamp and walked on another hour and a half, until I stopped seeing any sort of glow on the horizon.

At half past 7, I was ready to call it. It was almost the point where I’d be shivering as I set up my tent given that the cold wind was still blowing. I turned off the trail and went until I found a spot totally surrounded by trees. They didn’t block the wind altogether, but they did slow it a bit, making it swirl more than gust. I was reminded of my second to last night on the PCT last December, when I camped just off trail totally surrounded by shrubs. Then, it was more to hide from humans than wind because I wasn’t supposed to be out camping, but it felt a little the same somehow.

I set up much more efficiently than the previous night, put on some extra sleeping layers, and started cooking. I was ready for sleep a good quarter of an hour earlier than the previous night, and it seemed like it was going to be a much better night’s sleep on the whole.

Trail miles: 17.2 (but actually 20 because of the alternate)

Distance to Grants: 10.4 miles (but only 5.3 to the trailhead–the rest is road)

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