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CDT Post hike reflections

It’s only been two days since finishing, but I’m already suffering post-hike sadness. I was glad to put down my pack since my back and shoulders were killing me (I hiked the last 50 miles with my hipbelt tightly around my stomach and the shoudler straps completly off my shoulders…I can’t even lift my right arm anymore my trap muscles are so shot). Yet, I keep thinking back to all the cool things I did this summer and I’m already twitching for more adventure…

The next few entries, I hope to be a compilation of impressions, advice, and experiences. I hope it will be useful to those planning to thru-hike the CDT in the future.

About Starting late:
We started the CDT really late. Given that I had to take off two weeks to attend a funeral pretty much right after we started the trail, we put our “official” starting date at July 5th.

Benefits of starting late:
-We didn’t have a single nasty, or even slightly scary, ford. I *hate* fords, so this was a major plus for me.
-No bugs for 90% of the hike.
-No snakes spotted slithering in my path (well, no rattlers anyway)
-Nice and cool when we went through the Great Divide Basin. No 100 degree desert walks for us
-Along the same lines, nice and cool through NM, so running out of water and not having any along the trail wasn’t nearly as bad.
-Didn’t need an ice axe in Glacier or the Bob
-Didn’t have to walk across snow in MT, ID, or WY except Glacier.
-Made the hike more of a solitude adventure since we didn’t really see any other thru-hikers for most of the way.

Cons of starting late:
-Snow in the San Juans. However, this was far more manageable than I expected. Even while being snowed on at 13,000 feet, I didn’t think it was as bad as the Sierra on the PCT, especially since I had better gear for this trail than the PCT. None of the snow we were on was scary. I carried an ice axe and never even took it out of my pack. Even if there is snow in the San Juans for SOBOs, I think it can’t be any worse than the NOBOs go through every year. What was scary was the lightening in the San Juans, but you get that regardless of what time of year you head through.
-Freezing cold fords in the Gila in NM. There is no hiking experience I’ve had more painful than fording a river covered in frozen ice 70 times. I’m not sure how this compares to earlier SOBOs or NOBOs’ experiences. I made my first fire in four long trails to desperately warm myself up after the fords. Gnarls.
-All the trail magic sodas left by the side of the trail were consumed by people ahead of us
-Having everyone tell you how late you are! There’s nothing more depressing than nay-sayers telling you that you won’t make it.
-Rushing through the trail because you’re worried about not making it before the snows hit the San Juans. We purposely skipped the Butte route and other alternates, the Rocky Mtn Natl Park Loops, etc. because we didn’t want to waste time getting to the San Juans before the snows hit. Of course, they hit us anyway, and after we got out of the San Juans, it cleared up. Was skipping those cool parts of the trail up north really necessary?

All my pros and cons being said, I know that we lucked out on the weather this year. The big storm didn’t hit the San Juans until the second week in October. Sometimes, the snows come at the end of Sept. You never know how the weather will be your year, so starting out earlier is probably a safer bet. I believe that for my year, starting out late helped us avoid some of the gnarliest parts of the trail–the parts of the CDT that made me really dread doing the CDT (mainly, nasty fords, snakes, and slippery, steep, snow). For that, I am quite grateful. Of course, I think I was only able to make it through the whole trail, even after starting late, is because of the experience I had on the other trails: knowing my own speed, miles per day, and having discipline not succumb too badly to vortexes (townstops that draw you in and never release you back to hiking).

Mexican Border

Border patrol trucks greet me
Border patrol trucks greet me

Four border patrol trucks and one helicopter greeted me as we finished the CDT today at the Columbus/Palomas US/Mexico border. We woke in our tent in an arroyo to a beautiful sunrise and I could feel that the trail was almost over. That morning, the desert scenery that seemed run-of-the-mill for the last few hundred miles suddenly seemed precious like I needed to take a photo of it all (pretty miraculous since I’d barely pulled out my camera for the last 400 miles). We saw javellinas scurrying off down the trail and everything seemed perfect…until we got lost. Again. On the last day. We found our faint jeep trail end at a barbed wire fence and on the other side, there was no trail at all. Eventually, we found our way to the road, but that mile of bushwacking reminded us that the CDT is still a “trail” in progress.

In Columbus, we met up with Mickey and Ann, the uncle and aunt of a friend from school. They were amazing hosts and took a large poster-sized star with a hand-drawn CDT symbol and “Southern Terminus” written on it to the border. They suggested a nice route to the border, which I suggest all future hikers take: From Panchol Villa State Park campground, hit the southwest fence corner (it’s green) and hop it and another fence to hit a dirt road. Walk that road south 3 miles, and you have an off-Highway 11 nice country road route to the border. Of course, sicne we weren’t walking on Highway 11, the Border Patrol wasn’t exactly sure what we were doing, so we had an exciting ending.

Last sunrise over the Hermanos mountains
Last sunrise over the Hermanos mountains

Mickey and Ann got some fantastic shots of us at the fence and at the border. Unlike my camera, which has lost it’s ability to zoom, Mickey’s camera had a huge lens and he had a great eye for perfect finishing shots. They let us store our packs in their car and we walked across the border to the Pink Store to claim our free beer (the store owner’s reward to finishing thru-hikers). The Pink Store was such a great and unreal place to finish. It was so brighty and colorful and covered in art. Since it was a Mexican holiday when we finished, it was crowded and there was a liveband and it felt like a party.
We were treated to a fantastic lunch in a lively place…such a nice ending to a beautiful, but difficult, trail.

San Lorenzo, NM


Chicago Aeromotor wind powered water pumps. A hiker’s best friend.
Chicago Aeromotor wind powered water pumps. A hiker’s best friend.


“You actually hiking up in that canyon?” asked the local incredulously as we walked, backpacks fully loaded, past the house bordering the edge of McKnight Canyon in Mimbres. “About 30 cop cars just came through. They’re looking for a body.”

The first thing that crossed my mind was that there was some crazy murderer up in the hills killing hikers. Afterall, on my first long thru-hike on the AT in 2008, I was going through Pearisburg, VA right when a murdered convicted in 1981 for killing hikers had just been released from prison and had gone back to the trail to shoot two more people. Was it really so outrageous for another murderer to be out on the CDT?

As we hiked on up the canyon on the dirt road(as it snowed on us, of course), cop car after cop car passed us in either direction. After at least 20 cars stopped, someone let us know that a son had shot his dad while out hunting and the cops were looking for the body. Phew, kind of. Except the police were blocking any traffic–including foot traffic–up the canyon.

We kept hiking 10 miles into the canyon until the cops made it clear there was no way to hike around the police blockade–even cross country. We asked when they expected the blockade to be lifted, but the cop told us even if we camped and waited to be let through, it could take days. Giving up, we asked the cop for a ride back to Julie’s store in San Lorenzo. We were pretty stoked to ride in the cage of the cop car (it seems to be one of those experiences every thru-hiker gets sooner or later)!

We stayed with Pete again in San Lorenzo and started a boring roadwalk to Deming the next day. We didn’t want to detour 2 miles to camp in City of Rocks State Park and had almost no water until passing a rest stop on Highway 180. It was a pretty horrendous roadwalk made slightly better by getting to see Pete as he drove by on his way home, a javellina corpse, and a fruit stand (unfortunately, there was nothing for sale but organic apple butter, which I would have LOVED to carry out, but my shoulders hurt too much to add on the extra weight).   We ran into Keith, the trail angel in Deming, as he was pulling out of a parking lot we were walking past.

I really wanted to do that Emory Pass trail–especially since we had taken almost 2 hours to drive in the snow up the windy, narrow, guardrail-less road up the pass cache water. At least it leaves me something new to look forward to should I ever do the CDT again…

Doc Campbell’s, NM


Pie Town with Nita
Pie Town with Nita

I spent my birthday in Pie Town, NM–I can’t imagine a better place to spend my 25th than a place specializing in pie. The trail since then has been quite pleasant since then.

Gila Cliff dwellings
Gila Cliff dwellings

We’ve spent two very cold nights by the Gila River. locals tell us the nighttime temperatures have been 13 degrees, and it feels even colder in a canyon. The trail requires us to ford the frozen and icy river 70 times and my feet have never been colder. I didn’t know it was possible for feet to hurt and be numb at the same time. I felt like I was carrying lead weights on my feet. We took the trail to the Gila Cliff Dwellings, which was a nice cultural and historical lesson along the trail, and I found myself in shorts and a t-shirt again in the afternoon. The warm afternoon and super cold night temperature cycle in NM is still messing with me. As the days have been getting shorter, we wake up before sunrise and hike in the dark and then hike past sunset by headlamp as well. It will be sad to finish, but it is really getting quite cold in the morning and night.

La Ventura Rim Trail, NM


We crossed the lava of El Malpais and camped on the Rim Trail near La Ventana, a natural arch. Right as we crawled into our sleeping bags for the night, we heard a gunshot go off–RIGHT NEXT TO OUR TENT. We packed up quickly and booked out of there. Unfortunately, the gunshot sounded like it was coming from the trail, but there was an alternate trail for that section along a highway. So we jumped on the highway even though I feared walking in the dark along a narrow shoulder. I also feared that the shooter would be in a truck on the highway and could easily find us by following the headlamps bobbing along the road. A car passed us, and then it turned around right by us. Someone saw our headlamps. It had to be the shooter coming back for us. Ready to run for it into the shrubland, we watched the car pull up right by us. “We were so worried about you!” the driver called out. It was the Mumms–trail angels from Grants who saved our kitten the day before! They gave us a ride back to Grants and we had two real meals and a shower before hitting the trail again!

Bonita Canyon, NM

The kitten I found with the trail angel
The kitten I found with the trail angel

Coming out of Grants, a kitten jumped out of the desert shrubs and pur, meow, and rub against us relentlessly. I’m allergic to cats, but this stray seemed so love-able–like it had been a house cat until quite recently–that we didn’t want to abandon it to die attempting to fend for itself in the wild. Yet–our destination for the day was 22 miles away from where the kitten found us and how can two thru-hikers carry a kitten for that many miles? Well, the kitten refused to be carried, but as soon as we set it down, she hiked after us, meowing all the while. We found 24-pack of beer boxes by the side of the road, and tried to carry her in those, but she hated being carried, but as soon as we set her down, affectionately rubbed against us and meowed, begging to not be left behind. Eventually, we called the Mumms, trail angels in Grants that we stayed with, got a ride from a local on a dirt road, and met up with the Mumms who saved the kitty. We only got about 10 miles done that day, but we felt great about saving a kitten–and the kitten hiked almost 6 of those miles with us!