CDT NM 4th Section

Day 22: The Watering Hole and the Cabin at O Bar O Mountain.

Oh boy. This was a beast of a section of trail. The miles may not show it, but I put in work this day.

I got out of camp before 6:30 with the sun just above the horizon. I finished descending the ridge I had been coming down all evening the day before by coming through a gate into cow territory, chasing away the cows, and dropping into a canyon.

When the canyon bottomed out, I was at Batton Pond, the local watering hole. The water was murky and full of sea monkeys, so I only took a liter for my midmorning drink, figuring what was left in my water bladder would carry me to the next watering hole, which would hopefully be cleaner.

While I was slowly (because of the stuff in it) filtering my one liter behind a tree up the hill, I watched all the animals come to visit. Mostly cows, of course, bringing along their calves. But right next to them an elk cow. I could hear turkeys up the hill probably on their way as well. I watched the cows slowly increase the level of threat they saw in me, at first just drinking and chilling, then later running full speed past me when they couldn’t get around the pond on the side opposite me. I packed up and hiked out the way I’d come in, finding a road that led past the pond again from a higher vantage point. From there, I saw a coyote leaving the pond. It was the only water around, muddy and gross or not.

What followed was a several mile boring road walk to the next pond, which did turn out to have cleaner water. I took one liter to drink immediately and added two more to the one already in my bladder. I figured that would be enough to make it the 11.6 miles to the water source where I planned my dinner stop. A half liter with lunch and the rest spread out over the other approximately 6 hours of hiking that would take seemed about right. (The cows at this pond were far less intimidated by me, and the birds and chipmunks coming for drinks were fun to watch too.)

But I definitely underestimated the trail. When it started climbing, at first it was steep but not that steep, following a barbed wire fence (again!). Then, it was down me switchbacks into a canyon with a red-tailed hawk circling and screaming overhead. The switchbacks continued on the other side of the canyon, but this time I was climbing. Alright, not so bad, at least it was a clear trail, no matter how rocky. There was sometimes wind for air conditioning. There were almost always flies.

After surviving that hill, I found a nice shade tree for lunch. I experimented with a new beverage mix. It was strange and simultaneously “just okay, good I guess” and “you know what, I’d probably drink it again and one day come to truly crave it”

Chasing cairns over rough ground, I went up to the base of Coyote Peak, circled it halfway, and came down the other side to a road where I passed up the last cow pond until dinner. Across the road was an easy walk up a draw, but it was a climb, it was the hottest part of the day, and the flies were getting worse.

I told myself I could take a break when I was within 4 miles of my water source dinner destination. I was hungry and hot enough that every shade tree started looking like the perfect one, with no more good shade trees ever likely to turn up again. So I stopped with 4.2 to go.

Knowing the next 4 miles were all climbing, it took most of 45 minutes to psych myself up and feel like I had eaten enough to power through it. I wanted to relax in the shade and breeze all afternoon, but miles don’t hike themselves. (Unless you have a pair of twenty league boots. Let me know if you have some for sale.)

Right after I started, the climbing got serious. “Go straight up this ridge, no foot track, no switchbacks, minimal shade,” said the line of cairns going straight up the impossibly steep hillside. Until the CDT, I had yet to see such a thing called a trail. And climbing isn’t easy when foot-sized rocks are littered among the springy tufts of grass. You have to watch where you’re stepping and move your legs in a very energetic way, even when you’re not going that fast. I got through it by catching my breath every time I got to a tree big enough to cast a shadow I could hide from the sun in. It took ages. But at least this was the worst it would get.

Because right after a short section of flat (but still not a real trail–just cairn chasing), it was exactly the same thing again. It didn’t get worse. It just stayed tough.

This time I ran out of energy and got really hungry when I was only 80% to the top. I just plopped into the ground behind a tree and ate some more. Lost a little more time.

That gave me enough energy to hit the top of the ridge, and I was about to continue following a game track to the top of the mountain until I noticed that the trail had dropped into an adjacent canyon. I worked my way carefully down to it diagonally along the steep canyon hillside, since going straight down was definite slip and fall bait and I didn’t want to backtrack.

When I reached the trail, I was extremely relieved to find it was an actual cleared compacted foot track. It was still climbing at pretty decent incline, but my pace improved considerably not having to carefully judge every step. Also, it was 100% in the shade. I didn’t need quite as many breathers.

Of course, I did run out of water while still 0.4 miles from my destination. It seems like my pack should’ve felt much lighter than it did with no water, but my legs were rubber at this point. Still, I kept climbing.

I popped out at the top of the canyon finally, and turned off the trail into a cow track that went straight down the hill, over some craggy rocks and rocky crags. I could see the cabin right away, but it was an agonizing several minutes working my way down to it.

But once I did, and found that spigot in the yard, and dropped my pack on that bench next to it, I could finally relax and celebrate with…

Another new drink concoction!

Two consecutive dinners! (I had severely underestimated my pace on this section and had far more food than I needed.)

Filling my pack with 7 liters of water and hiking back up the craggy hillside in the dark by headlamp light!

Yes, it had taken me more than three hours to do those 4.2 miles, so dinner was late and it was already dark. Still, I made it back up to the trail, which, despite the extra weight, didn’t seem quite as hard as it looked. I think it was the combination of sitting and resting for a couple of hours and the belly full of food and water that made my legs work better.

I got on the trail (still an actual track!) and continued to the top of a saddle which was level enough to find a campsite on. It was after ten by the time I was in my tent. I quit blog writing at 11 in the middle of a post, deciding that it could wait until morning, that no one would blame me for sleeping in a bit after a day like this.

Trail miles: 17.7

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.

CDT NM 4th Section

Day 20: Adobe Ranch

Not too much interesting happened about this one, but I’ll lay it out in excruciating detail anyway.

Started hiking at 7, after trying some new tricks regarding heel blisters. A bit of slip and a splash while making breakfast resulted in the loss of a small amount of smoothie powder and water, but not enough to cry about. It did get all over the side of my bear can, but I’ve not yet had the chance and extra water to clean it.

The first part was just following an ATV track on gently rolling ridgelines alongside barbed wire fences and occasionally through gates conveniently hung between adjacent trees.

I pulled up under a shade tree at 9 for a snack and at noon for lunch. Both times, I filtered some 20 ounces of water from my dirty reservoir, leaving my water bag alone to get me through the rest of the day.

Right after lunch was a monstrous steep climb followed immediately by another twice as long. It went straight up a hillside, barely switchbacking, then turned slightly and went straight up again. It was midday and blazing hot with not nearly enough breeze. I made it by pushing for 100 feet or so to the next shady spot and stopping to cool off and catch my breath until the flies caught up to me and started buzzing around my head and legs to urge me onwards again.

The descent after that seemingly pointless hill climb (what views?) was equally steep and quite hard on the knees.

Having accomplished that, I crawled up under another tree, put on my headnet, draped a towel over my knees, and just lay there for an hour while the flies buzzed around me as they pleased. I didn’t really sleep, worried I might forget to keep hiking, but it did give the sun a chance to get lower and make more shade.

The trail was largely downhill for a while and not steep. I could zone out a bit as long as I followed it. It joined a road at one point, and I zoned out a bit too much, missing a turnoff. But a nearby sideroad connected back up after just climbing a small hill. Then there was another long climb. Not as steep as the afternoon ones–it had proper switchbacks. It got me up high enough to feel a proper breeze and see the sky had gone hazy for miles around. The breeze had brought in smoke from one of the wildfires around, perhaps the one near a bit of trail I’d already done by Silver City.

I stopped halfway up the hill because it was dinner time and there was a shady tree. It turned out the area was owned by ants, but they weren’t the biting kind, so I stuck it out with them until dinner was done.

One more little short climb put me up on a long, narrow mesa. After a mile, I went through a gate onto an easement through the Adobe Ranch property. It was just a flat dirt track stretching away as the surrounding prairie rose up to meet the mesa. It definitely looked like a ranch should. It put the “range” in “home on the range.”

After going down the road awhile, I checked the map and saw the trail had left the road a quarter mile back. I had seen nothing indicating a turn. I went back to the spot, and there was a signpost marker there with just the CDT logo and no other indication. There was no track there either. It would be easy to think, as I did, that it was just another “You’re on the right road!” confidence marker.

But if you stopped and looked out into the grass behind it, you could see another marker, and another one beyond that. And further ones were obscured by trees or by having to look directly into the setting sun for them.

Again, there was no track. It was all just “hunt for the signpost.” At one point, there stopped being trees altogether. And yet I could not see the next post. (It had fallen.) But the last two posts had me aimed at the sun, so I just kept walking at the sun until another post turned up.

The sun finally set, which was my usual stopping time. I didn’t want to camp in the middle of this open prairie on this ranch, so I kept chasing markers by the remaining light. I would stop if it got too dark to follow the trail.

But before it got too dark, the trail dropped into a low area and started following a cow track. Much easier to follow than the signs. After a few miles and a great loss of light, the cow track joined another dirt road.

“Great!” I thought. “This road will lead me right off of the ranch and out to county road 136, where there may still be a water cache!”

Wrong. I checked the map a few minutes later and saw that I was way off course. The road that did that had forked off somewhere I didn’t see in the near dark, so I turned around and cut diagonally across the grass to intercept it. I found it a few minutes later, and it was a much bigger and better maintained road. I could walk it in the dark without even looking at it and not worry about tripping. So I looked at the constellations that were coming out.

A third of a mile later I was stepping over the front gate of the ranch. A small jog down the county road put me at the marker where the trail left it again. And under that marker, some water. Great! I was getting low, and it was still almost 8 miles to the next guaranteed water source.

I decided to pitch my tent beside the road in a little sandy dip some kind of offroad vehicle had made. When unpacking, I noticed my long handled spork had gotten bent again, this time to the point of breaking. I didn’t know how to go about fixing it or what I would eat dinner with, but I would figure it out later. It was already too late, and that cool night air that had been so pleasant to keep walking in was turning straight up cold. To bed!

Trail miles: 21.8

Tomorrow: Pelona Mountain!

CDT NM 3rd Section CDT NM 4th Section

Day 19: Winston

I guess I must have been exhausted from that long hike the previous day because I slept in until 6am. My mouth was also so dry I nearly gagged on the very dryness of my throat while packing up. Because I had bent a stake trying to drive it into hard, dry ground the night before, I spent an extra half-hour while packing up using every tool and bit of artifice I could find to unbend and free the stake. I even had to spend time repairing my pocket knife when it broke while failing to do anything to the stake. (What ended up working was pounding with a rock at just the right angle and then wedging the ends of both trekking poles into the loop that the hook had curled into.)

Anyway, it was all downhill to the highway, so I still made it there by 8:30. Lunar had only had to wait 45 minutes and got a ride from the first vehicle to pass. That was the time to beat.

The first vehicle passed fairly soon after I arrived. I hadn’t even had time to draw my “CDT HIKER TO WINSTON” sign yet. I stuck out my thumb. But my hopes fell as soon as I saw it was some kind of small commercial truck.

The second vehicle came some fifteen minutes later. I had just finished my sign. I held up the sign and the truck pulled up and let the window down. Success! And it was a US Forest Service truck too…

…Wait, that’s not a good sign.

“I can’t let you ride in here, but do you need some water or anything.”

“There’s plenty of water here, thanks. Have a good one.”

Three hours and maybe ten vehicles passed, finally a fire and rescue ambulance pulled over and made some space for me in the jump seat in the back.

Shouting back and forth down the small corridor to the cockpit, I learned the passenger guy’s name was Toby, and they, along with many of the people who had passed me by, had just been let off the Dobie Canyon fire, which was completely out. They were on their way to a fire in Arizona after a stop at the Winston store.

Coming into Winston, they recommended a cafe, then dropped me at the store.

I left my pack behind the store and went in to buy a few things, including a shower and a root beer. I needed more sunscreen, but all they sold was spray in a metal can. Well, I guess I’ll take what I can get even if it weighs a ton.

After an hour in the bathroom doing all four S’s plus another (intense scrubbing) and generally prettying up, I put on my long johns and camp shoes and took my hiking clothes into the laundromat on the back of the store. With those started washing, I set off for the post office down the street. A local dog came with me for a ways. I passed the community center on the way, and saw that it had a large covered patio and a wifi password on the door, just as Lunar had promised.

I picked up my box and brought it back to the community center, then fetched my pack and boots etc. back to the community center as well, figuring they would be safer there. I plugged my phone into an outdoor outlet and got it on the wifi and started uploading pictures and videos. The connection was strong. They were uploading at a good clip.

I returned to the laundromat and my clothes were already sparkling clean, even cleaner than when Brendon had washed them in Silver City. I got the dryer started and set out for the cafe. It would only be open for two more hours and was a ten or fifteen minute walk from the store.

It turned out to be more of a food truck that never relocated. There were a couple of tables next to it with an awning. I order a tamale plate, a taco salad, and, you guessed it, a root beer.

The root beer was mostly ice, unfortunately, but I did get it immediately. I had to wait 20 minutes for the rest of the food and answer a lot of questions. Like whether it was all for me, whether I would eat it all there, whether I wanted sour cream or avocado. (Yes to all of the above!) But I forgot to say no tomatoes.

Both dishes turned out to be at least 25% tomatoes. I picked them out and quirks around them. I can’t say it was the greatest meal ever. The tamale plate was only a single thing that I wouldn’t actually call a tamale–more of a burrito, maybe, with a wetter filling? The taco salad was alright, though I sure would have rather had corn tortilla bits than the fried dough bowl it came in. No pictures of any of this, of course, because my phone was still charging at the community center.

Time was of the essence, you see. My best shot at a ride back to the trail was the store clerk who said she was leaving when the store closed at five. It was already 3. The only way to very a full charge and upload everything was to leave my phone while I got food.

Speaking of uploading, when I got back to the community center, Styrofoam cup full of ice in hand, I saw that a number of the photo uploads had failed and every time I retried the uploads, they just failed again immediately. Turned out my VPS storage was full, so I spent some fifteen minutes deleting stuff from my VPS that I could have spent uploading blog posts. I got the things started uploading finally and returned to the store.

My clothes were dry. I took them in the bathroom and put them on. And bought a root beer for my cup of ice. It was already 4pm

Back at the community center, I opened my box and repacked all the food in it into my pack. Then I returned to the store to get what I had learned was missing: apple cider powder and limes. I had to settle for lime juice instead since that’s all they had.

Back at the community center, I started furiously attaching pictures to blog posts and scheduling them. I only got three of them done before I ran out of time. But that was luckily enough to cover the next long stretch of hiking without interruption.

At 5, I went back to the store with my water bag and filled it in their kitchen sink. The clerk lady said to meet at her gray sedan in a few minutes. So I brought my pack and everything back from the community center to the store and began putting my boots back on. Just as I finished my final prep, she came out with her daughter and the trip back to the trail began.

We talked all the way out, about all the usual gossip: pandemic, economy, the state of the world, weather, wildfires, hunting seasons, other hikers… it was around 6pm when I arrived at the spot I had spent the entire morning. I hit the trail again, plodding out under my two ton pack with over nine days of food and a gallon of water.

After walking 0.8 miles in, I started looking ahead to see where the next water would be. Comments on Guthook indicated all the springs and tanks and streams were dry ahead. (A flyer in the post office indicated that most of New Mexico is in extreme drought.) There was maybe a gallon near the road in 25 miles, and there was definitely a tank filled by windmill well in 32 miles. Either way, there would be no water on the trail all the next day.

I hemmed and hawed for a few hundred feet, then finally admitted that the gallon I had wouldn’t be enough. I dropped my pack beside the trail, grabbed my dirty reservoir for filtration and my Nalgene, and hiked back 0.8 miles to the trailhead where I had seen a gallon in a water bottle. I put 3L in the containers I was carrying and drank everything else in the bottle. Then I carried the water 0.8 miles back to pack and added it to the already immense load I was carrying. Three tons now.

It was 7pm already, so I walked on another hour and some change until I saw the sun was almost set, found a nice spot and set up.

Rechecking my calculations, it seemed like even with having taken a nero, I was still on track to make it to Grants on time in two weeks as long as I could average 18 mile days from here on. An 18 seemed infeasible with that much pack weight, but I’d average 18 for the whole trail to that point (not counting this day), so I was clearly capable of putting down the miles once my pack lightened.

Trail miles: 6.8

Distance to Pie Town: 138.4 miles