I woke with the surprisingly early sunrise and the birds, like 5:30am, and I was on the trail before 7. It wasn’t too long before I saw the day hikers coming up. I took it as a good sign that I would have no trouble getting a ride. I consistently passed them every five minutes or so on the descent, but never said much more than a simple greeting to any of them.
I woke up at 6 from a crazy dream of being lost in a dense, crowded, multilevel megalopolis, like if Manhattan were crossed with downtown Singapore. I was starving and immediately ate breakfast, then dozed off again and had some more big city dreams, waking up again just after 7. I skipped any extra morning repair work and hit the road around a quarter after 8.
I took a pause in the middle of a hill climb less than a mile later. Around a half an hour break to get myself in a better hiking state.
A few miles ahead, near the summit of Burnt Mountain, the trail briefly left the forest for a meadow with something like a view, and I paused to hop on the cell network to send a text to Weatherman (the same trail angel that gave me a ride last year) with my progress. I put my ETA at 5pm.
I was not in any particular hurry. I didn’t really start getting ready until a couple with a dog came walking through noisily talking about nothing. I didn’t really hear what they were saying, but I certainly couldn’t sleep through it. I think I woke up about 7, started packing about 7:30, and started hiking around 9.
I turned down the next road, but it turned it ran parallel to the highway. It was the continuation of the road I had been walking the previous evening, a formerly straight shot now interrupted to improve the intersection with route 43. There was no direct trail down to Lost Trail Pass.
As far as the hiking went, it was an even less interesting day than the previous.
I woke at 6, but didn’t see any need to be in a hurry, so I laid there until the 6:30 alarm. While I packed up, it lightly rained several times making me thing I might have to wait or pack up in the rain, but it always stopped within a minute. I left camp around 8:15 and the sky cleared up quickly.
In fact, it was straight sunny the whole time I was climbing the long two mile hill that started the day, sunny enough to be too hot at times. In fact, when I got up on the ridge and saw a snow bank, I grabbed some snow for the back of my neck.
But before that, there was the spring right at the top of the first ridge I reached. Just the part that was piped into a trough was putting out a solid 10L/min. There didn’t look too be any water sources along the trail for the rest of the day, so I grabbed a couple of liters for my dirty reservoir.
Next, I came over the top of Elk Mountain and stopped next to Horse Prairie Mountain for a break on the edge of the cliff.
Soon, the trail met up with yet another 4×4 road along center of the ridge marking the border. This one had a fence along it, but it did pretty much the same boring thing it did the day before. I stopped for lunch (and water filtration) in a stand of trees down the side of the trail for some shade. When I had nearly finished, thunder boomed from not too far away. Expecting to get caught in the rain soon, I packed up as fast as possible and put my Packa on my pack to hike out.
But the rain never happened. I was hiking in shade half the time and sun the other half. I was surrounded by brooding storm clouds, but none passed overhead.
Coming down to Deadman Pass, I saw a truck parked by the ridge and what I would eventually learn was the new owners of the ranch land below cutting a new road at a pretty decent pace.
By 4pm, I had completed the full 13 miles to Bannock Pass. I honestly had not expected to get there so early. I thought I would be coming in late enough to warrant just making camp. But there was plenty of time to try to hitch into town.
It’s not a heavily trafficked road. Based on comments and what I saw, I’d guess a vehicle coming through every half hour. But it was time for a snack break anyway.
There was a young girl waiting there with her dirt bike. Her brother Chance was coming behind with the old wood truck to lead her up to where her uncle and cousin had been cutting firewood. And because she “might have gone 70 up that road” we chatted for quite a while before he arrived. Long enough for a truck to come by heading the right direction but not the right distance. She seemed like an action hero with the bike and helmet, but declined a photo.
When he did arrive, she fired up the dirt bike and they headed up the trail. But moments later, they came back with a 4×4 and Chance picked me up. Turns out they had driven all the way up there to get the wood just to meet the others coming back with procrastination on their minds. And so I was headed into town after only half an hour.
Chance, by the way, is a buffalo ranchhand, moving 3000 head of buffalo around every day. Turns out managing buffalo is a lot harder than managing cattle. A lot more dangerous. A charging buffalo will happily lift the front of your Jeep off the ground if it feels like it. But then, 2 two-year-old bulls have enough meat on them to keep a busy restaurant supplied for a whole month, so all that powerful muscle they have is worth dealing with in the end.
Chance dropped me at the city park. They offer camping and showers for $12 a night. I only had $10 cash on me, but the host said he wasn’t going to put up a fight over 2 bucks. He even threw in a bar of soap for the shower.
I went in for the shower right away. I have to say, I was in there a while. I first emptied my pockets and got in fully dressed. Then I took each item of clothing off and scrubbed it with soap on fold-down accessibility bench. Lots of dirt came out. Then I gave myself a good scrub as well. Only then did I dress in my secondary clothes, wring out the wets, and go out to hang them on the fence. (It’s always windy in Leadore, and this day was no exception.)
I set up my tent and walked back into town for dinner. Everything was closed at 7 except, apparently, the Silver Dollar. It had all the open signs on outside and the door was unlocked… but the place was empty and the lights were out. After I walked through to the backyard and back again, a lady came out of the house next door carrying a baby and offered to make me a hamburger with fries. Steak was off the menu since they weren’t thawed out–I was literally the first customer of the day. So I said I’d take a bacon cheeseburger in the backyard and I took a can of root beer from the freezer case with me.
Half an hour later, I got an incredible deconstructed cheeseburger with some so-so fries (what do you expect with the kitchen being out of operation? you can’t just instantly jump into deep frying). Based on the sign on the door, I assumed I could pay with card–had to, in fact, since, you’ll recall, I spent the last of my cash at the city park–but she didn’t have the machine working nor did she know how to work it. She left my check on the counter to pay in the morning when she would hopefully have it working.
I walked back to the park to get to bed and was accosted by a child doing zoomies across the middle of the highway on a mountain bike his dad had unknowingly lent him. He kept asking random questions and then cutting the bike around to nearly hit me because he had nothing better to do in a small town of 110 people. Thankfully, when we arrived at the park, he struck up a conversation with the other campers, some cyclists eating dinner. They kept him entertained while I got ready for bed. Sorry I wasn’t in the mood, kid.
Sleeping in the park is an assault of sounds: fireworks at dusk, traffic, the periodic whirring of the motor on the orbiting sprinkler irrigation system across the highway, howling coyotes, an owl. The smell of smoke from the campfire the cyclists set became no smell at all when it stuffed me up. I got to sleep pretty late, but it wasn’t due to a lack of tiredness.
As I said before, I slept fitfully at the Salida Inn, and I couldn’t stay asleep past 5. Eventually, I gave up and went into the kitchen for a muffin and to start the coffee brewing early. It was just me and a Great Divide cyclists who put on his helmet as soon as he rolled out of bed. By 6:45, I was walking into downtown a Salida and then out again to the edge of town where the bus stopped. The town was relatively quiet except for the gangs of roving deer in everyone’s front yards.
The floor of the shelter took a while to warm up and even once I had was not a very comfortable sleep. I tossed and turned all night with every angle hurting my back or my hips. That said, it did rain off and on throughout the night, and all of my stuff, including my tent stayed as dry as it was to begin with.
Which is to say that when I finally got up at 6am, only my shoes and socks were damp, as they had been when I took them off.
It wasn’t the most comfortable campsite. It was tilted enough for everything to slide to the foot of the tent, and there was a hump right where my lower back would go. I could sleep on either side, but my hip abductors would get sore from the way my legs sagged over the hump, so I had to keep switching.
It was briefly not raining when I woke at sunrise, but it started again, and it was raining on the rainfly on and off the whole time I was getting ready. My shirt, shorts, and towel had slid off my mattress and into a corner where they could apparently peek outside the rainfly, and were wetter than they had been the night before. The towel had inflated like a balloon. I wrung them out and changed into them. I even put my wet socks back on to put in my wet shoes. I crawled out of my tent into a cloud during a brief moment when the rain stopped and got started about 8:30.
With the cold wind blowing the rain, my fingertips would quickly become painfully cold of I walked the usual way, so I pulled my fists inside my raincoat and balanced my poles across my arms the whole morning.
Most of the four miles to the pass were on a wide muddy road that was impossible to walk in without slipping. I walked on the grass on the edge where possible, but I had to keep switching sides to avoid trees and bushes, and often risked sliding in the deep, squishy mud of the road.
I hadn’t even bothered to make my breakfast shake or drink anything I was so eager to be done. The water in the air and in my clothes was plenty enough for me.
A couple of hours later, I rolled into the pass and was immediately accosted by a man with a pickup truck asking if I needed a ride to town. Of course I agreed, and I was rolling down the highway with him and his two dogs no more than two minutes later.
He said his trail name was Knucklehead and he had been a long distance hiker himself, which led him to move to Lake City where he used to go to resupply. After the 17 mile trip to town, he drove me around to orient me, stopped to pick up his wife who was painting sets for a play while I got some cash from an ATM, then left me at the end of town where the grocery store was.
I spent the next couple of hours in the laundromat around the corner until I could finally leave with clean, dry, warm clothes. I went ahead and got my resupply and packed it outside the grocery store. I also bought a bag with pancake mix, syrup, and breakfast sausage because I had reserved a cabin with a full kitchen. While I was packing, I encountered more hikers: Machine, SendIt, and Spurs were staying in the recently reopened hostel that Knucklehead had told me was closed, and they told me Waldo and Boomerang were there too. I could have saved 150 bucks if I had known, but the cabin was not refundable. Anyway, they probably had the place full.
I walked into town and had a late lunch/early dinner at the Packer Saloon and Cannibal Grill. It was mostly staffed by Eastern Europeans, which I thought was strange for a bar dedicated to the Green Bay Packers in the middle of nowhere in Colorado. Who would have thought to hear the bar staff speaking Bulgarian and the servers speaking Turkish in a place like that? I mean, sure, there are Packers fans in Bulgaria, but who knows that? It turns out the owners are from Slovakia and bring in workers on J1 visas for the busy summers.
Just as I finished, a man sat next to me at the bar and we started chatting. His name was Justin, and he had just purchased and started brewing at the Lake City Brewing Company. He told me he was very proud of the Baltic Porter he had just finished. Since it was pouring again, I didn’t feel like walking the 20 minutes out to the cabin yet, so I went one block up to the brewery and tried the porter, and it was as good as promised. The old owner was working and let me stash my pack in the brewery so it would be out of the rain, but when I finished my one beer and paid, the rain had already stopped, so I started walking out of town with my hands full.
I realized I had no butter for pancake making. I popped into a barbecue restaurant, but they had no butter to spare. They just used a spray in their kitchen. So I dropped my stuff and walked back a few blocks to the hostel. Everyone was there, and they let me take a stick of butter from the fridge. After a brief chat, I set out again to pick up my stuff and find my cabin.
I found the property of the Texan easily enough, and I counted down the cabin numbers to find mine. The door was unlocked, so I just went inside, threw a bag in the fridge, and went in the bathroom. After spending all day working my way across town, I finally got to take a hot shower.
I spent the rest of the evening chilling in the cabin and making long phone calls. The bed wasn’t the cushiest, but it didn’t have a lump right at my lower back. All my wet stuff was spread out and hung up, and the heater was cranked up near 80. And yet, it was kind of hard to get to sleep. I managed.
This was a work day. After the hotel breakfast, we stayed in the hotel until 4. Mama was dealing with travel agent stuff and I was working on blog stuff and getting my clothes washed.
When we left, we made two stops at Walmart and REI, for resupply and gear replacement. Then, we immediately went to Olive Garden for dinner, then onto a labyrinth of a Courtyard hotel in Santa Fe.
We were the most untouristy all day, but it was nice to get in before dark.
Day 12: Taos Ski Valley
We really picked up the pace on being touristy, and put in a huge day.
After checking out of the hotel, we drove into Old Town Santa Fe to look inside the Loretto Chapel, the Oldest House, and the Oldest Church.
After a couple of hours of walking around there, we drove to 10000 Waves, an expensive spa in the style of a Japanese onsen and looked around inside. We didn’t have reservations for a soak or a massage, but they didn’t seem to mind us just wandering around the gardens without any introduction or warning.
Then we went around to see the Opera House, but it was blocked, so we couldn’t get close. Then, we began our drive to Taos.
Along the way, we turned off onto the High Road to Taos. We had no intention of following it all the way there because it went right through the wildfire zone, but we did Tahir take it as far as Rancho de Chimayo, where we stopped for lunch. It was a very nice, pleasant restaurant with some excellent cocktails. Mama’s quesadilla came with so many pieces she had to carry half of it out.
Further up the highway, we turned to follow the Rio Grande Gorge where all the rafters and kayakers were until we had to climb up onto the West Rim. A few miles later, we pulled into a rest area next to the immense gorge bridge. As nice as the views were of and from the bridge, the highlight of the stop was a bighorn sheep that just casually wandered around the rest area, mostly unbothered by the hordes of tourists milling around it.
Right about then, we decided to spend the night in Taos Ski Valley, as, due to the fires and forest closures, a hotel there was offering rock bottom prices on condos. So we booked it and headed straight up the Hondo River Canyon to the valley and Alpine Lodge or something. We checked into our little condo above the ski shop with a Murphy bed and a ladder to a loft above the bathroom with two more beds, then I went over to the Blake’s restaurant for crudite and cider.
Mama met up with me just as I was finishing, and soon after we returned to the room, I went over to the hotel’s spa area to soak in the hot tub and then spend an hour or so in the sauna. I got back to the room well after 11 and climbed up to the loft to sleep.
Day 13: Ghost Ranch
Another touristy day, though maybe somewhat less so. I ate a couple of leftover quesadilla slices and drank a Coke for breakfast (before and after taking an extra hour nap). Meanwhile, in the hour before checkout time, I packed up all the food I bought in the back of the car.
When we left, we headed down into Taos to check out all the artists in the visitor center. Since the Taos Pueblo is closed, the artists bring their wares down to the visitor center each day. Some were very talented. Some seemed like they just put in a lot of time. But all we bought was some fresh-baked bread and fruit pies.
On the way out of town, we stopped at the San Francisco de Asis Church, a beautiful adobe building some 400 years old. Then, we set out on the highway towards Ghost Ranch. On a whim, we swung by Black Mesa Winery and Cidery because I had sampled one of their offerings with dinner the previous night and wanted to try the full flight. Only one was better than the one I had already had. But it was worth it to sit in their garden with the hummingbirds and play a few rounds of hako.
Next stop on the route to Ghost Ranch was Socorro’s Restaurant in Española. The enchiladas there were better than the quesadilla I had for breakfast, but the service was kind of slow. Probably because it was one of the more popular family-owned cafes in the area. And that was dinner.
Finally, up through the red rocks we rode to the ranch, arriving and getting checked in before 6. We watched a couple of history movies before moving into our room, which was boiling hot, smelled funny, and had no air conditioner. Later, housekeeping brought us a box fan and we went out to watch the sunset on the mesa and walk the labyrinth in the rock garden.
Once the sun set, we visited the 24h library where I read from a book plucked from the shelf. It was a fully stocked library comparable to any public library, except that you didn’t need a library card–you just signed the card from the back of the book and deposited it at the door.
Once it was too dark to easily see how to get back to the room without a flashlight, we went back and went to sleep without any further ado.
Day 14: Chama
This time we worked hard to be up and out by sunrise. We wanted to see the sunlight paint Chimney Rock. It was cold enough out to require a jacket at that hour. I walked over the near mesa trying to find a good angle for photographing the Chimney Rock mesa, but the best shots would have been from (closed) national forest land. The lighting never got particularly spectacular, so I went back to the room to chill for an hour before breakfast.
Breakfast was served in a camp style dining hall. A good variety of breakfasty options served in the institutional fashion.
I took some time in the room getting ready for the day, and then we were packed up and out by 10, check out time. We didn’t leave though. We spent the next hour touring the on-site museums of anthropology and paleontology, both fields for which Ghost Ranch has active dig sites.
Then, we joined the history tour leaving from the welcome center. A very good storyteller explained the history of the property for the last thousand years. We had heard some of the stories, but learned a lot of new ones.
After the tour, we did leave. We drove straight to Chama, only an hour away. There isn’t much in Chama with the railroad closed, but we did drop by the station to get an idea what we were missing.
Then, we went to the Boxcar Cafe across the street for lunch. We split a Chicken Cobb Salad and then sat around for half an hour just messing with photos because our room wasn’t ready until 3. We stopped in at a fudge shop where I got a quarter pound of chocolate walnut fudge and a root beer for the following morning. We still got to the motel before 3, but had no trouble checking in.
After a few hours in the room, with Mama napping and me working on this post among other things, we went out again to the Local, a bar and pizzeria that made some pretty incredible pizzas. We weren’t even there an hour because they had the fastest service we’ve had in New Mexico. Our pizza was done in maybe fifteen minutes and took only twenty more to eat. And it was very good!
From there, we had two more stops: first, a grocery store, primarily to get a razor for my last shave, but we discovered they had some very nice hiking shirts at a very low price, so we left with a few more things than expected. Second, the gas station for an expensive fill-up.
Then, it was back to the motel to catch up on my seasonals with my friend Sam in Vancouver. And then to sleep to prepare for a big day hiking, hopefully recovered enough to get good mileage after the four-day break.
And this day actually counted as a hiking day, since I probably walked a mile over the mesa looking for a good sunrise photo! Real hiking post tomorrow though.
So, I got to sleep far too late and woke up to the wake-up call at 4am. Maybe 4 hours of sleep. Ouch.
What with the bathroom visit and repacking a few items for the plane I had out, I could see I wouldn’t make the shuttle I had scheduled for 4:30, but I didn’t need to leave for the airport that early anyway so I didn’t worry about it.
I ended up going down to check out around 4:45 with my two microwave breakfast croissants in hand. I left behind in the room my last root beer and my last beer and the remnants of my carton of iced coffee.
The shuttle driver was in the lobby and said he could take me right away. So I popped into the breakfast lounge to nuke the sandwiches and hopped straight into the van. He had me into the airport by 5:30.
I was able to walk right up the counter and check my backpack, but they said I could not leave my butane lighters inside. I had flown with them in a checked bag previously without knowing, but I was good and took them out. They said I could carry one of them in my carry-on, so I tossed one and kept the wolf design one that had consistently worked the best on the trail.
ABQ is not a particularly large airport. It’s one of the bigger ones in the southwest, I think, but at that hour, there was basically no wait for security either. I was through security and headed to my gate within ten minutes. Said gate was all the way down at the end of the terminal, of course. I sat down and waited 45 minutes to board and totally forgot to go to the bathroom before getting on.
I didn’t go on the plane either. It was a five hour flight back to Atlanta, so there was only one full drink service, unless I slept through one. I tried to work on this blog at first, but ran out of steam. I had downloaded some shows, but fell asleep before I could get to them, or watch any of what was on the seat-back entertainment system. The lack of sleep during the night just caught up to me all at once.
I woke up before the final trash collection and descent. Right before landing, I joined the multi-seat game of word scramble being played just ahead of me and absolutely crushed them in the two rounds we got in before the plane parked.
ATL is, of course, home ground and deeply familiar. I could get home nearly on autopilot. I had to ride all the way from concourse E to baggage claim, so of course my bag well and truly beat me there.
I got out my coat and put it on because it looked like a cold, rainy day out, then went to the MARTA station. I could get halfway home on the trains and save a solid 50 bucks. It would just take a little longer, and I was in no hurry.
An hour and a half later, I was getting into a Lyft and heading home. My mom must have been watching out the door like a dog with separation anxiety because she was coming out to get pictures the moment I arrived in the driveway.
I was very sleepy, and I only got a handful of things done before I fully ran out of steam and headed to bed. You’d think my sleepiness would compensate for the change in time zones, but daylight saving time undid that and I would end up being up late for several following nights. And there was just so much to be done with regard to upcoming life events but also finishing these trails off.
Firstly, some things need fixing. I need to fix the zipper trucks on my tent. I checked out the website for my tent, and it looks like I can do that repair myself in a few minutes.
My sun gloves need stitching. Again, I can do that by hand in an hour or so.
I need my Darn Tough socks replaced. I’ve already got the warranty slip for that, but I need to mail them.
My old Big Agnes sleeping bag could use restuffing. I’ve got to pay them for that service. But they’re pretty good to hikers and they’ll give a reasonable price. Still, it’ll be a lot of shipping cost.
I really want to look into some alternatives to my gear I’ve heard about on the trail that are much lighter and smaller than what I carry. Obviously, summer packs are already lighter, so I think, with a relatively small expenditure, I could end up with a much lighter pack next year.
Next year? I hope to get back out there next year. What do I have left on these trails? Let’s see…
358.9 miles of official CDT in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico
349.5 miles of official CDT in southwestern Montana and Idaho
29 miles of PCT in Socal (east of LA)
86.5 miles of PCT in Central Oregon
I’d also like to do the Gila Alternate of the CDT (105.2 miles)
That totals 928.9 miles. At an average pace of 18 miles a day with a 3 day transition time between trails, I can get that done in 61 days. Here’s how I would choose to do it IF the sections in question reopen. I don’t know why they wouldn’t reopen the PCT sections next year, but there could be parts of the Montana section closed:
Start with the Oregon section in mid-June, maybe flying into Portland or Butte or Eugene
Head out to Montana (method to be determined) at the end of June. Section should take about 3.5 weeks
Fly Bozeman to Silver City (or to somewhere with bus service there), do the Gila River (about 6 days)
Hitch, etc. through ABQ to Ghost Ranch and hike north at the end of July to catch the tail end of the nobo season. Actually, the bubble will be way ahead, but the weather through the San Juans should be the best it gets all year (about 4 weeks).
Hitch etc. from Monarch Pass, fly out to LA to finish off the PCT last at the end of August (about two days).
This is just an ideal scenario, and there’s a lot that has to happen between now and then for it to be possible. Most of it is on me. Mostly, I need to raise the money. And to do that I must work and not hike. Which means no more daily posts for a while. Doesn’t necessarily mean no posts. I may throw up some random unscheduled things related to these trails, but the daily thing is on hiatus as of today. Thanks for reading this far!
(NB: Day 171 failed to upload for some reason and I only just realized it a couple of days ago. If you were looking for it, go back and check. It’s in the timeline where it should be now.)