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