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My Book is Finally Out! Best Dayhikes and Overnighters on the Continental Divide Trail

The Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trial: Colorado by the Continental Divide Trail Coalition and Liz Thomas, Colorado Mountain Press, 147 pages
The Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trial: Colorado by the Continental Divide Trail Coalition and Liz Thomas, Colorado Mountain Press, 147 pages

After 1.5 years of work, my book, The Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trail: Colorado by Colorado Mountain Press is out!

This book highlights 20 dayhikes and overnight trips on the CDT in Colorado. Hikes range from 2 miles to 30 miles with family friendly strolls to Colorado-style extreme trips.

Hike #13 Cottonwood Pass to Tin Cup Pass. photo by Johnny Carr.
Hike #13 Cottonwood Pass to Tin Cup Pass. photo by Johnny Carr.

To decide what hikes to include, I interviewed dozens of former CDT thru-hikers and asked them what were the most memorable and scenic spots on the CDT–the type if spots you would want to take your friends or family on a dayhike to show them what the CDT is all about. These are the spots where hikers felt alive, where wildflowers were out of control, where elk viewing is primo–the exact image of what you expect to see when you’re on the CDT.

Family friendly hike #5 Arapaho Bay to Knight Ridge. Photo by Johnny Carr.
Family friendly hike #5 Arapaho Bay to Knight Ridge. Photo by Johnny Carr.

While thru-hikers may be big on remembering the big, scenic spots, they aren’t always great on details like “where is the turn?” or “is there any water on this stretch?” and most importantly, “how do I drive a car to get here?” Detailed route descriptions, water and trailhead camping info, and driving and parking directions are included. For hikes over 10 miles, I include camping info for those who want to turn the trip into a overnighter, or even a 3 day adventure.

Hike #3: Parkview Mountain offers some of the most epic views in the area. Photo by Johnny Carr.
Hike #3: Parkview Mountain offers some of the most epic views in the area. Photo by Johnny Carr.

The book also features great photography by CDT thru-hikers. Collecting so many photos, stories, and route descriptions from current hikers makes this book a shared work of many hikers’ ideas, brought together b a love of the trail.

The Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trail: Colorado goal is to open the CDT to a whole set of people who haven’t before had a chance to explore it. Until now, data for the CDT has been very thru-hiker focused. With this book, the CDT is meant for everyone to explore and experience–from the Boy Scout Troop (check out hike #20, Cumbres Pass to Blue Lake), to the family visiting from out of state (Herman Gulch or Stanley Mountain), to the extreme Colorodan looking for a new test piece (#18, the Knife Edge).

Hike #15: Snow Mesa, is relatively flat and feels like walking on another planet. Photo by Steven Shattuck.
Hike #15: Snow Mesa, is relatively flat and feels like walking on another planet. Photo by Steven Shattuck.

As many of you know, I thru-hiked the CDT in 2010 from Canada to Mexico. In the process of writing this book, I was able to re-visit the CDT in bite-size chunks as a dayhiker. For anyone who has thru-hiked, I can not recommend revisiting the trail as dayhiker enough. There are things you miss as a thru-hiker because you are busy thinking about food or the next shower. Even the grandest scenery can lose a little spark after you’ve seen it day after day. When you revisit the CDT as a dayhiker, you come to it with new eyes, fresh legs, and an open mind.

Hike #8: Herman Gulch is just a 45 minute drive from Denver
Hike #8: Herman Gulch is just a 45 minute drive from Denver

Whether you’re just getting into hiking, looking for a new place to explore, or dreaming of the day you can thru-hike, there is something for everyone in the book. I encourage you to tackle hikes way beyond your ability (worse case scenario: turn around very early) and to explore hikes that may seem too easy for you (worse case scenario: you’ve got extra time to hang out at the restaurant afterwards). All the hikes in this will inspire you and give you something to dream about.

I will giving a presentation and signing books on Tuesday, May 24th at 7 Pm at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, CO. The event is free. More info here: https://www.cmc.org/Calendar/EventDetails.aspx?ID=33084

You can buy Best Hikes on the Continental Divide Trail: Colorado on Amazon here.

 

Continental Divide Trail Northbound Gearlist

Gearing up for a CDT thru-hike in Lordsburg, NM
Gearing up for a CDT thru-hike in Lordsburg, NM

Last month, I was in Silver City and Lordsburg, NM sending off this year’s crew of Northbound Continental Divide Trail hikers. Although I won’t be heading out on a CDT thru this year, time down in the Bootheel of New Mexico has given me the space to do some brainstorming on what gear I would—and did—bring out to the southern terminus of the CDT. Although all my miles on this trip have been daytrips or walking to water caches, and my camping has been in the backyard of a trail angel who lives on the CDT, I’m pretty sure this is the system I would bring out when I’m lucky enough to hike the CDT again.

Running dispatch for the CDT Shuttle from the Econo Lodge in Lordsburg, NM
Running dispatch for the CDT Shuttle from the Econo Lodge in Lordsburg, NM

Temps for the month have been in highs around 70, lows around 40, wind between 10 and 30 mph.

A few notes:

Despite the lack of rain, I opted for a full coverage shelter in the MLD Solomid. We’ve been having 30 mph winds in the afternoons and at night both south and north of Lordsburg, so I wanted a shelter that is tried and true in staying up in that kind of weather. Needless to say, I had no problem keeping my Solomid up and keeping the wind off my face at night in this shelter. Most importantly, it has been raining and snowing in the Gila, so even though we’re in New Mexico, rain gear and a good shelter are worth having.

With all the thorns, sands, and tumbleweed between the Southern terminus and Lordsburg, gaiters are a must for this trip. I also purposely opted not to bring an inflatable pad because of all the thorns in this section. I would potentially pick up an inflatable pad at Doc Campbell’s (a town where you can resupply before the Gila) before entering the higher altitude and cooler Gila Wilderness.

Much spikage and thornage on the section between Lordsburg and Silver City as evidenced by these <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00HNR2A7E/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00HNR2A7E&linkCode=as2&tag=lizthoadvhik-20&linkId=5VWXO4AI3EUWWI7G rel="no follow"">Altra Lone Peaks</a>
Much spikage and thornage on the section between Lordsburg and Silver City as evidenced by these Altra Lone Peaks

My Montbell windshirt was a must in this climate. Even though there was no rain while I was there, the NWAlpine Eyebright offered a breathable alternative to wearing my down jacket all day. Even though the trail starts in New Mexico, it can rain in the Spring and this year’s hikers got poured on! I would definitely carry my Mountain Laurel Designs rain kilt, which also makes a nice mini-ground sheet. I especially enjoyed my Montbell Down Parka early in the morning and in the evening—I slept in it all nights.

I would opt not to bring sleep socks (reflected in the gear list). I didn’t wear the tights, but know that they would be very useful in the Gila.

Also given the spikiness and cross-countryish nature of the section from the border to Lordsburg, I would seriously consider during the impossible and wearing pants instead of my Purple Rain Skirt, although I would switch back to my skirt as soon as the spiky cross country ceased.

My 28 degree MLD Spirit Quilt was just warm enough for the coldest nights, and perfect for the usual desert temperatures. Even though it only weighs 17 oz, the fabric is pretty tough and because it is synthetic, I never had to worry about feathers ending up everywhere as I tossed and turned off my groundsheet and onto spiky things in the night.

I’m trying out the GoMotion Fusion Backpack sternum strap light and felt that the desert would be the ideal place to use it. The GoMotion weighs more than I’m used to carrying for a headlamp, but hiking in the desert is easiest before the heat of the day sets in late into the evening, so I was willing to invest in a more robust headlamp. Plus, since the CDT has so much road walking, there is a lot of easy hiking that can be done at night by headlamp.

Backpack, Shelter, Sleeping Bag, Sleeping Pad

ItemModelWeight
backpackGossamer Gear Kumo17
waterproof pack coverGossamer Gear Pack Liner1.2
sleeping padGossamer Gear Nitelite Torso5.4
shelter+guylinesMountain Laurel Designs SoloMid11
shelter support (poles, etc.)(Using trekking poles)0
shelter stow sackMountain Laurel Designs cuben fiber large1.5
stakes (rubber banded)6 Toaks Titanium V-shaped stakes3
sleeping bag (no stuff sack)MLD Spirit Quilt17.2
ground sheet or bivy sackGossamer Gear polycryo - medium1.5
HipbeltGossamer Gear Kumo Hipbelt3.7

Clothing Carried:

ItemModelWeight
underwear - bottomsEx Officio briefs1.5
long sleevesSmartwool PhD Arm Warmer3.4
base / wicking layer bottomUniqlo tights3.4
insulating topMontbell U.L. Down Parka 6.5
raingear topNW Alpine Eyebright5.4
raingear bottomsMountain Laurel Designs Rain Kilt1.7
windgear (soft shell) topMontbell Tachyon Windshirt M1.8
warm hatOutdoor Research Transcendent Down beanie1.7
spare socksDarn Tough Run/Bike ulralight 1/4 length1.2
clothing stuff sackMountain Laurel Designs Cuben fiber-size M0.3

Cooking and Hydration:

ItemModelWeight
stoveTrail Designs Gram Cracker0.1
windscreenTrail Designs Caldera Ti-Tri0.9
fuel bottlenone - fuel tabs0
matches / lighterpaper matches 0.1
cook pot and lid Trail Designs Fosters Can Pot1.3
utensilsToaks Long Handled Spoon0.3
Food bagOdor and Critter Proof bag1.5
water storagePlatypus 2+L hydration bag1.5
water storageSawyer 2 Liter squeeze pouch1.3
More water storageSawyer 2l squeeze pouch1.3
Hydration hosePlatypus hydration drinking tube (trimmed to reduce weight)2.7
water treatmentSawyer Mini Filter1.4
Water treatment cleanerSawyer Mini Filter Cleaning Syringe1.1

Miscellaneous Gear:

ItemModelWeight
LightGo Motion Fusion Backpack Sternum Strap Light3.5
trekking polesGossamer Gear Light Trek 4 two-piece hiking poles (2 of them)8.2
sunscreenSawyer Stay Put Sunscreen0.7
toothbrushCut off toothbrush0.2
toothpastePowdered toothpaste transferred into a tiny bottle.5
toilet paper2
hygienemicro bottle alcohol gel0.1
PillsImodium, Benadryl, ibuprofen, naproxin0.8
firestarting kitWetfire Fire Starter0.1
Gear Repair Gear Aid Tenacious Tape 0.2
Blister Care/Gear RepairLeukotape sports tape.5
compass1.2
CameraI'm still looking for a good one? Have any suggestions?5.0
Safety pin0.05
trowelQi Whiz original potty trowel0.6
Maps5
Sun UmbrellaMontbell UL Trekking Umbrella5.4

Worn Items:

ItemModel
Trail Running ShoesAltra Lone Peak 2.0s
SocksDarn Tough Ultralight Run/Bike Merino
Pocketed SkirtPurple Rain Adventure Skirts
Long Sleeve, collared shirtStill looking for a good one. Any suggestions?
Sports braEx Officio Give N Go Crossover Bra

I’m still looking for a good camera and a good long sleeve collared shirt for the CDT. The sun was pretty intense, so I’d up my hat to something with 360 full brimmed coverage that would stay on my face during intense wind. Is there a model out there that you like that won’t require a trip to Australia to procure? I would probably look for a long sleeved shirt instead. I’ve increasingly been toying with sun gloves , too, but haven’t really experimented. Does anyone have a brand they like?

Are there any pieces of gear you would recommend for bringing on the CDT? What gear have you enjoyed carrying in the desert?

Former Secretary of the Interior and Conservation Hero Bruce Babbitt at Outdoor Retailer

Former Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, is a conservation hero. An Arizona native and former governor of that state, the 800-mile long Arizona Trail travels across part of his ranch.
Former Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, is a conservation hero. An Arizona native and former governor of that state, the 800-mile long Arizona Trail travels across part of his ranch.

For conservation policy geeks like me, a true highlight of the Outdoor Retailer show was the chance to see former Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, speak at the Conservation Alliance breakfast. The Conservation Alliance is an organization funded by outdoor companies to protect the places where we recreate. For many years, CA had difficulty recruiting Babbitt, who served under the Clinton administration and is responsible for protecting areas such as Grand Staircase National Monument, creating the National Landscape Conservation System, and reintroducing the wolf into Yellowstone. Finally, today he spoke in front of 300 industry people to call for radical change from both the Obama administration and the Outdoor Industry.

Although not the most charismatic speaker, Babbitt’s speech gave the audience an insight into his sharp mind. Throughout his speech, he analyzed strategies the Outdoor Industry can take to make an otherwise ineffective Congress care about wild areas.

Babbitt called out Utah Governor Herbert and strongly criticized the Transfer of Public Lands Act, a bill that will “dismantle the BLM, scale back the Park Service, and remove 9 of every 10 acres from the Forest Service.” The bill, if passed, will move public lands from federal management to Utah state level management, including Glen Canyon, Flaming Gorge, and Grand Staircase.

The former Secretary also criticized academics who support the Transfer of Public Lands Act. Several researchers have used economic evidence to argue that there are benefits of moving land from federal control to private oil and gas companies.

Specifically, Babbitt condemned these studies for leaving out evidence that outdoor recreation provides an economic benefit. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that outdoor recreation is a $646 billion industry. Yet Babbitt lamented that the Commerce Department, politicians, and the academics who wrote pro-Transfer Act reports, do not realize the size and power of the industry, and thus, have not been pushing to conserve land.

The speech ended with a call for the Outdoor Industry to have their voice be heard, and also for President Obama to take advantage of his lame duck period to conserve more land. In response to Obama’s most recent conservation moves—including the protection of the Montana Front Range (which benefits the CDT viewshed) and the San Gabriels and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (which benefits the PCT viewshed)—Babbitt replied, “We haven’t got that far. It’s not really that impressive.”

Of course, this is easy for the man behind the most expansive land protection record of any presidency to say. Yet, Babbitt believes that places that we recreate can and should be protected: “Public lands aren’t just the West. They’re national lands owned by all of us as Americans.”

Babbitt’s talk started and ended with a standing ovation. As hikers, we often don’t busy ourselves with the politics behind our trails and treasured landscapes. Yet, as an outdoors person, I was exceptionally honored to sit ten feet away from one of the powerhouses of conservation who makes my adventures possible.

2015 Year In Review

 

From desert, to rain forest, to alpine, to rock, 2014 brought me to familiar, beloved landscapes and new territories. This year challenged me and gave me new skills. Here are some photo highlights of my year.

January: Moab Canyonlands and Arches Trip, Utah
January: Moab Canyonlands and Arches Trip, Utah
Almost Feb: Outdoor Retailer Winter 2014 with beloved hikers, Salt Lake City, UT
Almost Feb: Outdoor Retailer Winter 2014 with beloved hikers, Salt Lake City, UT
March: Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon. AZ and UT. Photo by Rob Kelly of <a href="http://qiwiz.net/">QiWhiz</a>
March: Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon. AZ and UT. Photo by Rob Kelly of QiWhiz
April: Trans Adirondack Route, Upstate New York.
April: Trans Adirondack Route, Upstate New York.
May: Volunteering with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition on the Southern Terminus shuttle to bring 100 hikers, including the Warrior Hikers shown here, to the CDT. Silver City, NM
May: Volunteering with the Continental Divide Trail Coalition on the Southern Terminus shuttle to bring 100 hikers, including the Warrior Hikers shown here, to the CDT. Silver City, NM
Desolation Wilderness/Crystal Range Traverse with Sierra Club Fastpackers. California. Photo by Brian Gunney.
Desolation Wilderness/Crystal Range Traverse with Sierra Club Fastpackers. California. Photo by Brian Gunney.
June: Tahoe Rim Trail Personal Record, California
June: Tahoe Rim Trail Personal Record, California
June/July: Pioneered the Chinook Trail horseshoe traverse of the Columbia River Gorge, OR/WA with Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa and Brian “Tomato” Boshart.
June/July: Pioneered the Chinook Trail horseshoe traverse of the Columbia River Gorge, OR/WA with Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa and Brian “Tomato” Boshart.
June/July: Urban Thru-hike of San Francisco
June/July: Urban Thru-hike of San Francisco
August/September: Pacific Crest Trail, Cascade Locks, OR to Canadian Border
August/September: Pacific Crest Trail, Cascade Locks, OR to Canadian Border
September: Humphrey’s Basin Loop, Eastern Sierras, and White Mountains trip. Photo by Alejandro Pinnick.
September: Humphrey’s Basin Loop, Eastern Sierras, and White Mountains trip. Photo by Alejandro Pinnick.

 

September: A wonderful opportunity to speak to my peers at the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West Annual Gathering at Stampede Pass, WA. Photo by Jeff Kish.
September: A wonderful opportunity to speak to my peers at the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West Annual Gathering at Stampede Pass, WA. Photo by Jeff Kish.

 

October: Wonderland Trail with Malto, Bobcat, and Swami. Photo by Cam “Swami Honan.
October: Wonderland Trail with Malto, Bobcat, and Swami. Photo by Cam “Swami Honan.
November: Colorado Trail is still clear of snow!
November: Colorado Trail is still clear of snow!
December: The Denver-area thru-hikers reconnected with each other to put together weekly hikes.
December: The Denver-area thru-hikers reconnected with each other to put together weekly hikes.

Book Review: I Hike: Mostly True Stories from 10,000 Miles of Hiking

<a href="<a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0985241500/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0985241500&linkCode=as2&tag=lizthoadvhik-20">">I Hike</a> by Lawton “Disco” Grinter, Grand Mesa Press, 192 pgs. Available in <a href="<a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0985241500/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0985241500&linkCode=as2&tag=lizthoadvhik-20">">paperback</a> and <a href="<a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AEFDBHU/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00AEFDBHU&linkCode=as2&tag=lizthoadvhik-20">">e-book format.</a>
I Hike by Lawton “Disco” Grinter, Grand Mesa Press, 192 pgs. Available in paperback and e-book format.

After an awesome week hiking in Moab with Lawton “Disco” Grinter (from the Trail Show, the Walkumentary), it seemed like the next best way to continue my Disco fix was to read his book I Hike (Grand Mesa Press, 192 pages, paperback and Kindle).  I Hike immediately differentiated itself from other adventure tales on my bookshelf because Disco picks and chooses stories across many trails, sparing the reader the termini-to-termini focus. The result is a rich set of vignettes that document the wisdom and maturity that hiking can bring to a young person.  Each chapter has a different locale, but the stories are tied together well with a theme of living a simple fulfilling life with friends (on a trail).

Based on Disco’s work on the Trail Show, I had assumed I Hike would be a funny book filled with triumphant tales of trail shenanigans. It certainly has plenty of that, but although the same joyous humor that Disco shares on his podcast comes through in I Hike, I was surprised by the depth and wisdom of many of the chapters. I Hike is thick with insight only gained from walking. In the least serious example of this, readers learn alongside Disco that eating a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting is a poor decision. In the most serious case, Disco reflects on the dangers of hiking and the fragility of the simple hiking life.

Author Lawton “Disco” Grinter
Author Lawton “Disco” Grinter

In writing I Hike, Disco doesn’t shy away from the difficult parts of hiking, but reflects on them. Why is it that sometimes a long hike is hard and we feel like we want to quit? I Hike also explores what I find to be one of the most beautiful aspects of trail life: the seemingly miraculous transition from suffering to salvation. Yet Disco takes this idea further: it isn’t the transition itself that is incredible, but the irony of how quickly our fates change. This is because being on the trail, no matter how bad (with some exception), isn’t suffering (as the saying goes: “A bad day on the trail is better than a good day at work”). Instead, what is incredible about hiking is that we learn how whimsical our fate can be. Our desire and delight in walking is impacted by our perspective as much as by the weather.

I tried to ration the chapters—forcing myself to do some chores and money-making ventures in between each story—but found myself powerless and read the whole thing in a sitting. Disco’s way of writing is funny and engaging, and because he explains technical hiker terms so well, I Hike may be a better introduction to long distance hiking than A Walk in the Woods (for one thing, Disco has end-to-ended several trails and Bill Bryson couldn’t make it past Gatlinburg). I am eager to share this vivid slice of thru-hiking life with my non-hiking friends. Moreover, I wish I could have read this book before I started thru-hiking so that I could have had a better idea of what I was getting into—the fantastic, the hilarious, the heartbreaking—and could have learned about the trail in a non-guidebook style medium.

Throughout I Hike, I was repeatedly reminded of the kindness and generosity of the hiking community. In numerous stories, Disco and his then hiking partner/fiancé now wife, POD, go through extremes to help those in need, even when they have nothing to gain and much to lose by doing so.  Reading I Hike on a lonely day was like a portkey into the magical hiking world that can seem so fantastical compared to humdrum cubicle life. I Hike is a reminder that no matter what life (or the trail) may present, the hiker family will provide redemption.

Disclaimer: I don’t usually read hiking books because I am worried my own trail experiences might get muddled up with someone else’s (or that reading about others’ trip may alter my expectations). This is one reason why I hadn’t read I Hike until now (it came out at the end of 2012). Disco graciously sent me this copy and forever changed the way I think about hiking books. Far from mixing with my own experiences or altering my expectations, I Hike helped me understand and digest my on-trail experiences better. I am very grateful that he was able to share his stories with me.

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

Tarantula
Tarantula

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!