Monday, May 7, 2018

Thoughts on CDT Southern NM Section

I didn’t expect to be writing this summary so soon, but what can I say?

First, your feet. The path is so rough that you are going to get some blisters. If you go through the Gila, it will take any callouses or blisters off. Doesn’t really matter what shoe you wear. Get as good a fit as you can. Do not wear waterproof shoes!  You can easily get blisters again after the Gila because of the forced long stretches without water. And the Gila is going to eat up the lining of your shoes with sand!

Next is the wind, dryness, sand and dirt. The locals here in Reserve say it’s the windiest spring in memory. I think we had one calm evening. Your throat and nose get dried out nearly instantaneously. Sometimes by morning you can barely moisten your mouth. 

We all had hacking coughs early each morning when the throats tried to clear out for food and water. I had some kind of allergy (Juniper?) that caused continuous sinus drainage. Both the cough and drainage had about cleared up by Reserve. But one guy is leaving the trail because he cannot breathe through his nose. 

The wind created another problem. My tarp was like a big sail in a strong gale. I could hardly orient it in the wind, let alone set it up. Forget the standard procedure of 2 rear stakes then the from center pole, etc. I often had to stake all four corners before I could even try putting a pole up. And most places the stakes wouldn’t hold. You had to use rocks at most tie-out points. 

Once the tarp was up, it was good for nothing but a little piece of mind and as a noise maker. . It sprinkled maybe 5 minutes at night my whole trip. And it sure didn’t stop the dry, dusty wind from blowing in your face all night. 

Bottom line here is take a tent that provides some protection from the wind. But carry one that is easy to set up in the wind and uses minimal tie-outs. You will probably cowboy camp, but you might get surprised by rain. 

Another thought on tenting is that there are thorns and thorny plants everywhere. I constantly worried about my air mattress even though I used a cuben ground sheet under my bivy which itself has a cuben bathtub bottom. My ground sheet was penetrated. Just sitting down for a rest stop, the thorns can pierce your hands. 

Now to clothing. You are walking through a desert and a brushy river bottom. Maybe you don’t worry about future melanoma, and want to look youthful and cool. A lot of people wore shorts and short sleeves. I never saw anybody with shorts that didn’t have lots of scratches and cuts. Most people coming out of the Gila had removed the lower part of their zippered pants legs or just wore shorts. The scratches and chapping were extensive. Some folks looked like they had lizard skin. We put our pants legs back on for the last day in the Gila river crossings and it felt wonderful. If it’s too cold out, that could be different. 

If you have exposed skin, unless you are dark skinned already, it is going to burn. Prepare with sunscreen and lip balm. 

Overall, compared to the CDT, the AT was a walk in the park. Don’t under-estimate this trail. Prepare for dry water locations that had water in past years. The Bear Creek waypoints include water locations, but most are from prior years and too many are from south-bounders after the rainy season. The CDT water report is kind of reliable but only maybe 25% will be recent. You need to update that report in every town and talk to everyone about it. 

One hiker was repeating from last year and thought he knew what to expect. He hiked the whole day before NM 12 without water!

Finally, don’t presume that the trail you are walking that was the CDT a few minutes back still is. Check your map/GPS at junctions and as often as possible elsewhere. 

Good luck!

Day 22 - Water Tank to Reserve

5/6/2018. About 1.2 miles. 

We got up early needing to hike about 1.2 miles uphill for an expected 0800 shuttle pickup into town. 

Just before the Hwy 12 intersection was a hiker doing trail magic. We each got a soda, apple, and chips. Thanks!!  He said there was cell at the highway. Well it was 0700 and no cell reception for ATT. 

I used my Delorme inReach Explorer and texted a shuttle request via Iridium satellite. They responsed it would be about 0900 before they could get there. 

We talked to Cruise and NoDay (?) while we waited in the nice warm sun. NoDay was the young lady that surprised me while my foot was hurting yesterday and I explained my lack of conversation. She was very nice. 

I should mention my knee was killing me on the short hike this morning. It usually didn’t hurt early in the day, but I think the overly long, stressful hike yesterday made it worse. 

I decided to talk to my wife about options. I’ve been hiking over a week using Ibuprofen to make it through. The trail is just too rough to let it heal while walking. 

I could stay in town several days spending money on food and hotels, hope the trail to Pie Town is easy enough to let it heal, or leave the trail. Landstar says lots of ups and downs to Pie Town. It would be another 10 days of limping before a town with a bus if I continued.   I just don’t want to lay around town spending money. Also you really don’t want to stay in Reserve long (really). 

So I talked to Susan. She’ll take a few vacation days and come pick me up. We can visit Pie Town, Silver City, Gila Cliff Dwellings and maybe Carlsbad. 

Since I don’t seem to last long on the AT this probably isn’t much of a surprise to you. 

I really regret not continuing with Landstar. He’s good company and has a nearly identical walking speed. Also, I think the CDT is challenging enough, that hiking solo is not the best option. 

Day 21 - Dry Camp to Water Tank

5/5/2018. About 20 miles. 

It was cold this morning with some ice in the water. But nothing like the previous numbing cold. 

The plan has us getting water from a yucky pond in about 3.7 miles then a tank about 16 after that. Yesterday’s ‘detour’ was going to make this a long day. 

And it started with some big hills up to 9,200 ft. 

On the way, the pond was disgusting. Shallow, muddy milky looking. Not clear or even algae. Just a disgusting, somewhat scary soup. We each took a liter. And hit it with bleach or AquaMira and the UV Steripen. We ended up having to drink some later. We both used some flavoring (drink mixed) to hide the taste. 

After the mountains were steep downhills with poor footing. The trails are seldom of a quality to compare with the AT. Just tough rocks and dangerous footing most places with a few breaks of nice trail. 

We wanted to hit the good water at 16 miles later to camp and then get into Reserve via shuttle early the next morning. But that would stress our hiking speed. 

Landstar has difficulty going uphill. I am having knee pain on the downhills. And today we couldn’t take it easy. At one point on the downhills I got a pain in my left foot and was limping pretty badly. I took three sets of Ibuprofen today but it only helped some. 

We saw a UK couple speeding to a shuttle pickup to Reserve and asked them to request a shuttle for 0800 tomorrow for us. 

As I was limping with my foot pain, a group came up behind and surprised me. They wanted to talk. I wasn’t my usual sociable self (ha) and felt bad about it. 10 people passed us today. 

At about 7:45 pm (sunset is 08:00) we went through a gate and found trail magic of several gallons of water. The previous group was there and said the good tank water was about a mile ahead. 

We sped down the trail and across a road following the CDT signs. Turns out we had to go back down to the road and walk it. We got to the tank while we could still see to walk. Then walked a little ways and cowboy camped. We both had water, but no food, and hit the sack. 

We hoped to have cell signal but didn’t. 

Day 20 - NM 94 to Dry Camp

5/4/2018.  About 15 miles.  

Today began with a long, long, mostly uphill road walk. 

At our lunch break 9 hikers passed us.   We went on and finally came to a decent water tank just before a junction at 9,000 ft. The junction was where the official CDT met the Gila alternate we were on. 

After a short break we started down the obvious trail. 45 minutes later we checked our GPS maps and found we were way off trail. Another 45 minutes and we were back at our junction. Just in time to stop Sweet Tooth from making our mistake. 

Landstar picked the second of the three possible paths and again it was wrong. But this time after about 200 yards we checked, then went cross country 100 yards to the actual trail. 

This made a big impact on our hopes for reaching the town junction tomorrow. 

We walked as far as we could after that. We found a flat space to camp in a rocky area. The space was so small I set up my tarp in a high pup tent configuration. I used only rocks (v stakes) but the wind wasn’t bad. 

Day 19 - T-Bar Canyon to NM 94

5/3/2018. About 15 miles. 

It was cold last night. Weather predicted 28 F. Shoes were frozen and so was the water. I put on everything I had to try and stay warm. 

We had to hike out of the canyon without sunlight and heat. Landstar had ice on and in his tent. I had a little on my bivy and ground sheet. 

The footing up the canyon was awful. 

We hit sunlight and a solar powered pond where we took off layers and got some water. Pond water was just ok. 

The hiking got nice across a never ending meadow. Then we turned into a long forest service road. Good footing but uphill.  

Towards the end of the day the weather got threatening. You could see rain coming down on the mountains ahead. We got a few sprinkles. 

This happened on a long open stretch with no trees or cover. We walked fast to hit a tree line and set up camp as soon as we could. 

We pitched tents/tarp and ate as fast as we could. But the sky cleared after sun down and we never got any real rain. 

Day 18 - Gila Past Snow Lake

5/2/2018. About 15 miles

Trail got better. Not as many crossings. Though crossings got more slippery as stream bed was not broken up. Lots of trail. 

Then we left Gila and continued up the Snow Lake outlet. Didn’t realize it till too late.  We both had 1/2 liter of water left. We thought spigots would be on at the lake Campground. They were not. Lake was low and a long walk down. 

So we counted on water ahead. Got lucky at T-Bar Canyon stream and filled up. Went a mile farther to a tough campsite. 

Day was miserable. Wore rain jackets to stop wind. It sleeted on us several times, including lunch. Just kept getting colder. 

We camped late. Landstar ate in his tent and went to bed. I cooked under my tarp and then hit the sack. 

I got a weather forecast and it was going down to 28 deg tonight. Wore extra in bed. 

Day 17 - Continuing on Gila

5/1/2018. About 13 miles today. 

Walking this morning was a nightmare. Rocks, sand, bushes. Tough trail to follow. 

At a meadows we met riders from Texas. mules and horses. Said trail ahead was iffy. 

It got worse with narrow banks, falls, and not much trail. Crossings everywhere. 

The falls required a pretty good scramble to get around. Not sure how horses would do it. 

Landstar’s back legs are shredded from thorny growths. Bleeding good. Tomorrow we will wear full pants instead of shorts. 

Camp site was a bit rough. I pitched on a side trail. 

Day 16 - Doc Campbell’s to Middle Fork

4/30/2018. About 14 miles

Nice night at the RV Park. Warm and windy. Ate breakfast at a picnic table and used a privy!

Stopped at Doc’s to check messages. Then did a 3.4 mile toad walk yo the Gila Cliff Dwellings NM. Bought a cookie and they said we had to carry the wrapper out!  Cheap. 

The river is smaller and shallower in a more narrow canyon. Trail is clearer but more sandy. Not much solid dirt. Either sand, river rock, or river. Lots of photos. 

Knee brace and Ibuprofen are working. Hope I’m not jinxing it. Stopped for the usual long lunch break at 1200.   Crossings got more frequent. The trail became less used. We saw a couple of groups backpacking and one couple with a dog playing in the river. 

When I bent over to wash dust off my trekking poles my 1/2 liter Nalgene bottle fell in the river and floated downstream. It took a while to catch it walking through the river at breakneck speed. I’m amazed I caught it. Landstar did’t see what happened and thought I went nuts. 

Finally found a small camp site. 

Day 15 - Gila to Doc Campbell’s

4/29/2018. About 9 miles. 

We stayed on the Gila till about 1115. A few more crossings. Then we did a 1.2 mile road walk into Doc Campbell’s. We all bought soda, sandwiches, ice cream and more. We also got our Resupply boxes. Then ate some more, charged our devices and used the WiFi. 

We got a camp site in the RV park across the street. It had showers, jacuzzi and Wind. 

We had canned beef stew and fruit cocktail for dinner. 

We were camped a few feet from a mule and horse paddock. 

Day 14 - On the Gila

4/28/2018.  About 15 miles. 

We started out going down steeply into the Gila River valley. The knee sucked. I took Ibuprofen and Landstar lent me his knee compression brace. 

When we hit the Gila we would alternate crossings with trail that cut across bends in the river. A couple of crossings came up just short of my waist. Some were pretty strong current. 

The land trail was often back from the brushy river front and hard to find. Cairns got more common as we proceeded.  

The vistas are fabulous.  And the river fairly warm. Today we had storm clouds and strong wind but just a few sprinkles. 

We found a high camp site just big enough for two tents. It didn’t storm over night. 

I took 74 photos today. Scenic!