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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!

Grants, NM

I’m in Grants, NM and enjoying a lovely time with the trail angels Carole and Hugo–who also amazingly cache water throughout this area for thirsty hikers!

When we finally dragged ourselves away from the pleasant Circle A, we found the roadwalk down to Cuba was pleasant with friendly dogs following us. One dog even leapt over a cattle guard to keep up. Yogi mentions Cuba being a bit run down, but perhaps because the weather wasn’t the best, we found it quite nice. We ate two meals a piece at Brunos Mexican restauraunt, which had a surprisingly very nice atmosphere inside.

The roadwalk afterwards was rain, snow, wind, and cars zooming by. We were supercold, like Colorado cold. I used my umbrella to block out the freezing rain, and got bummed when a fast driving truck with a trailer zoomed by and turned my umbrella inside-out! As soon as we got onto the dirt road, things were great and we warmed up. The new foot trail was beautifully routed with so many cool geologic features. I wanted my sister the geologist to be there to tell me everything that was going on. We saw petrified wood, and crazy melted lava…rocks of bright red and green and purple. Absolutely amazing.

The next days were relatively warmer. Foottrail was good and mostly uneventful. We failed to follow Jley’s route/roadwalk and followed CDT signs on foottrail instead, which was a cool route with a lot of elevation gain. We lost it after a while, and bushwhacked back to the road.

Soon, we crossed onto Forest Service land, and it was all roadwalking. I find it fitting that the BLM has footpath built on every mile of it, and the second we crossed onto Forest Service land, the trail becomes roadwalking. But, that was fine, since I can read while roadwalking! And we met several kind hunters who chatted with us and knew about the trail.

We followed CDT signs again before American Tank thinking it was Jleys’ alternate. After walking maybe 5 miles on it, we realized that it wasn’t, and that we had no idea where it went. We saw Jley’s comment: “Don’t follow the CDT signed trail as it won’t have water for a very long time.” Uh oh. We bushwacked over to the trail for several miles, up and down over steep, snowy slopes with bear footprints.

FYI–ever since we entered NM, I’ve been dreading Mt. Taylor. At 11,300 feet, Taylor is the highest point in NM and I kept imagining something like the San Juans, or even the San Pedros. I had even been contemplating taking the official route just to avoid the summit, which I imagined was snowy and frightening. We were seeing snow patches at 7,000 feet–what was 11,300 going to look like? Afterall, it is pretty much November.

The day into Grants, we woke before daylight, and walked by headlamp.    We saw what appeared to be a pack of wild horses and elk–the first we’ve seen in NM. The roadwalk was so pleasant all the way up Mt. Taylor. The snow wasn’t bad–or often wasn’t even there in the open areas (more snow in areas under trees). The footpath to the top of Taylor had quite a bit of snow as it was under trees and was slower walking, but as soon as we summitted, the snow was gone. And really, Taylor was nothing close to being like the San Pedros or San Juans. It was quite nice. Pleasant walking down Taylor with more reading. And now, we’re having a pleasant time with the Mumms. Again, NM is really proving itself to be just a pleasant, enjoyable state.

Cuba, NM

Cabazon, a free form rock formation bigger than Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower
Cabazon, a free form rock formation bigger than Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower

Coming out of Ghost Ranch, the weather started getting pretty yucky on us. We learned quickly the hilarity of New Mexico mud: when it rains, the mud sticks to your shoes and then more mud sticks, and next thing you know, you are walking with heavy clown feet. It was a bit of a bother, but also funny to watch all the mud on our shoes.

It rained all the way into the San Pedro Parks wilderness and we camped higher than we had been planning–10,000 feet. There was snow all over the ground and the wood was very wet and difficult to get the Bushbuddy woodburning stove started. Ironically, though, there wasn’t much water to be found that day. I eventually got the fire going, but right as it boiled, I spilled the water and had to rebuild the fire and boil what little water I had left. That was a cooooolld night.

In the parks, we got snowed on and postholed through calf deep snow. Route-finding was much better than the Jley maps make it out to be–I suspect the posts that mark the “trail” may have been more visible in the snow. “Yikes,” I kept thinking, “if the San Pedros are this cold, wet, and snowy, what is Mt. Taylor at 11,300′ going to be like?” Right when I thought the trudging in snow/being snowed on would never end, we started going down, and instantly, saw golden aspen and a beautiful valley. We had a great time off and recuperation at Circle A Ranch—when I noticed Harry Potter 4 on their bookshelf and comfy couches by a big fireplace, I knew we had to stay there. MJ and Jack were so nice to us and we were their only guests. Amazing to have such a beautiful place to ourselves. They let us pick apples from their yard, which made my day, as my only sadness of hiking Southbound is that I’m missing out on my favorite fall rituals, one of which is picking apples.

Sipping tea, eating brownies I made in their kitchen, reading Harry Potter, sitting by the fire, and watching the storm rage outside…a very happy Snorkel.

Ghost Ranch, NM

Ghost Ranch on a good day
Ghost Ranch on a good day

Taking a zero at Ghost Ranch, NM after a nero. This place is just TOO good. I think NM is the most beautiful state on the CDT so far–the fall colors are gorgeous and the desert canyons and sandstone make me itch to climb. Ok, so we’ve been almost entirely on dirt roads since we hit the state, but there’s a huge unseen benefit to roadwalking:I can read Harry Potter and walk at the same time! No worry of tripping on rocks or bumping into a tree. We picked up HP at the thriftstore in Pagosa and I’ve been practicing my acting as I read with full gusto.

Leaving Pagosa Springs
Leaving Pagosa Springs

Aside from costing a little money, Ghost Ranch is hiker heaven. Ghost ranch was summer home to Georgie O’Keefe and the landscapes are seen in her paintings. Also, the ranch is a big dino hotspot–home to the only full dino skellies found in N. America. There’s a museum onsight displaying the Native American history and artifacts found right on the property and the dino bones (unfort. no O’Keefes, though). We get AYCE meals every 5 hours and the internet is open 24 hours and free and there is a library with books and DVDs that anyone–even hikers–can check out. I spent my afternoon under a beautiful yellow cottonwood sitting on a bench reading and looking out at Mt. Pavernal (O’Keefe loved to paint this Fuji-esque mountain). I couldn’t have spent a fall day in a better way.

Bushwacking down a canyon to get to Ghost Ranch
Bushwacking down a canyon to get to Ghost Ranch

I ran out of food the night before and had about 90 calories of GU for the gnarly 8.5 mile bushwhack into town. By gnarly, I mean up and down, but mostly down 2,000 feet loss fighting through cacti and pinion pine going down steep cliffs. I kept ending up too far east and then too far west off course, caught in mini-canyons caused by dried up strems. When we found the “trail,” it ended up being an old, rocky jeep road that just happened to be completly destroyed and split in two from a landslide. You’d be walking on the road, then it’d end and there’d be a cliff and you’d carefully go down and look up and see the road 100 yards ahead and below or above you. The Forest Service really needs to check out what “trail” conditions are like before designating/designate/build trail.

Ghost Ranch on a rainy day (aka: perfect day for a zero day)
Ghost Ranch on a rainy day (aka: perfect day for a zero day)

The only bad news about Ghost Ranch is that I might have food poisoning. An hour after the AYCE lunch, I vomited and only had a few bites of dinner, which I vomitted up, too. A sad state for a hiker!

Pagosa Springs, CO

San Juans before the snow
San Juans before the snow

For the entire length of my CDT hike, locals have been telling us that we’re late. We’re behind the pack. We won’t be able to get through the snows in Colorado.

As we entered the San Juans, the scariest, highest part of the entire trail, we knew the forecast. After 10 days of sunshine, we’d get thunderstorms and rain.

San Juans pre snow
San Juans pre snow

For me, the San Juans were among the 5 most trying days of my life. Waking up wet and frozen to put on frozen shoes on my chaffed feet and posthole up to my knees at 13,000 feet while getting snowed on and having lightening go flash-boom (as in, right right above me while I’m above timberline without the comfort of trees), was one of the most terrifying parts of my life. I was constantly afraid of dying.

Without warning, without even conspicuously ominous clouds over head, lightening flash-boomed above us with no “one-one thousand, two-one thousand” counting that normally lets me know the strike is at least 1/5th of a mile away. At the top of one 12,700 foot spur ridge, I started to break down. I had zoomed up 1000 feet practically running in fear and desperate to get over the ridge to lower ground. I knew we had 12 miles above treeline.

Snow
Snow

The bushbuddy stove was difficult to work at altitude. Even though I collected sticks below treeline and tried to keep them dry, the wetfire firestarter–which can burn underwater–had a hard time taking so high up. Twice, we went without hot food because it started snowing hard as I was trying to get dinner ready.

But we did it. Pi, our friend from the PCT, was the only Southbound thru-hiker behind us, and he is leaving the trail. Now, we are the last CDT thru-hikers on the trail.

Steamboat Springs, CO

Lizard friend on the roadwalk out of Rawlins
Lizard friend on the roadwalk out of Rawlins

I’m in Steamboat Springs, CO! From Lander, we walked through the 120 mile long Great Divide Basin desert with maybe 6 good watersources all the way through. Wildhorses wandered through the sagebrush unfettered by the ever present wind. The trail travels close to some oil rigs and mineral exploration, giving the hiker a taste for how some land is chosen to be used in Wyoming. With the persistent wind, it is susprising there aren’t any windmills out there. We walked right into Rawlins, WY, where I randomly ran into a friend from school (he saw people with backpacks walking along the road, noticed the road crossed the Continental Divide, and had to turn around just to see if it was me). Coming out of Encampment, WY, we had several inches of snow making route finding a bit trickier. The snow melted off and it became a nice enough day that we ran into some hunters shooting grouse right across the trail. Must be time to pick up some orange clothing! We hit the Colorado border that night and entered the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness. It’s very pretty here but so many ups and downs. People in Steamboat Springs know a lot about the CDT as compared to in WY, so people have been quite friendly to us. Onwards through CO before the big snows hit…

Lander, WY

The Winds
The Winds

I’m in Lander, WY (headquarters of NOLS) right now after a week in the Wind River Range. We got quite a surprise hit with an August 30th snow up at 11,000 feet. We were still packing summer gear and suddenly it became near winter conditions. It made some of the cross country parts of the CDT a little trickier with a white-out and led to a cold night of sleeping on the snow, but sure was beautiful. Wyoming is amazing because it is so varied in terrain: we went over a snowy 11,000 foot pass in the morning and ended up in the toasty desert that afternoon. Incredible!

The next leg has 100-some miles or so through the Great Divide desert, but the good people at the Lander BLM office have shared maps with usletting us know where all the water is–and whether the local cattle have found it first. The desert will be a welcome break after our adventures in the snow and hopefully we won’t have to bear bag our food for the next couple of days.

Dubois, WY

Ol’ Faithful
Ol’ Faithful

We’re taking a zero day (no CDT miles hiked today) out of Togoetee Pass in Dubois, Wyoming! Yay! Finally made it to Wyoming! The trail goes right past Old Faithful in Yellowstone and some nice backcountry geysers including the nice and toasty Witch Creek (the stinky hikers were able to take a warm soak there). We got a wicked storm that brought snow to the mountains, but just lots of freezing rain to us. Two nights in a row, we’ve woken to frost and the locals keep telling us “winter is upon us.” The next leg is 140 miles through the Winds without resupply and we keep hearing from people who live in the area that within the last 10 days, 5 problem grizzlys have been put down and that we should be careful. The northbound CDT hikers we’ve met told us the Winds were their favorite part of the trail, so I’m quite excited to be reaching 11,000 feet for the first time on this trail. On to more adventure!

Encounter with a grizzly

Near Lemhi Pass
Near Lemhi Pass

 

Yesterday, we had our first grizzly encounter. After Lemhi Pass, I was on a high from visiting the Most Distant Fountain–the spring that is most distant from the Missouri River and is right up against the divide but still falls east. Lemhi Pass is also where Lewis and Clark passed over the Continental Divide for the first time a white man had done it–on August 12th, 1806, 204 years to the day.

As we rambled up the road/CDT (they are pretty much the same a lot of the time), I noticed the grizz walking the road/CDT 100 yeards ahead of us uphill. We decided to keep walking at it slowly, making noise, since it was far enough away. As we came closer to the hill, it appeared to have gone away, until we realized it was right over the hill, coming at us. We grabbed their bearspray and we all backed away slowly, as we watched it get on its hind legs and come towards us.

We all decided we couldn’t wait for it to move, so we should go way around it. We hopped a fence and walked in sage until a horrible smell came over us. We looked over and saw a large, black, rotting elk carcass right on the road/CDT. The grizz must’ve felt determined to defend it.

Darby, MT

Extreme mud
Extreme mud

 

When I run into a dayhiker, I always wonder what motivates them to do a certain section of the CDT. Today, we walked through a burnt section, that crossed the same dirt forest service road every 2 miles. The sun blistered through the scorched section down on us, the trail wasn’t greatly maintained, and blowdowns (or rather, old burnt trees falling down), were all over the place. Either way, the dayhikers seemed to be having a great time.

Storm Lake
Storm Lake

We’d been miraculously making 24s for the first time on this trail, and I realized we could make it to the pass at that speed. There was a problem: Our packages were at the Sula Country Store (13 miles from the pass) and one of those packages had shoes–which Brian no longer could wear with his broken foot. We had to get the shoes, get to Darby (31 miles from the pass) to mail them. Also, Sula’s diner isn’t open past 3 pm, so dinner options there didn’t look great. The store closed at 6–could we make 25 by 5, hitch a ride to the store and get there by 6?

Goat Flat
Goat Flat

Miraculously, at 5 pm, we made it to Lost Trail Pass, a three way intersection at the Idaho/Montana border. For the past 3 hours of our hike to the pass, we’d been watching a storm blowing in, and as we reached the road, I grabbed my jacket. Across the road, I saw a kid hopping out of a pulled-over RV, taking a picture of me. “Great, I must look so dishelved that the kid wants to take a picture of a dirty hitchhiker,” I thought.

The RV turned around, and to my dismay, picked us up! It was an old 70s style RV that immediately reeked of old cigarette smoke. With now shabby looking valour seats, torn up sheets as curtains, and particle board walls, it certainly made for an interesting habitat. But the front window was amazing like a tour bus as we headed down the pass towards Sula Country Store with the Bitteroot Mountains on our left. The storm hit and even at the speed of the 10 mile per gallon RV, wind came through the window at me. The tattooed, slightly faded woman in the front held a bong, and her kid (the one who I thought took a picture of me–turned out it was the “Welcome to Montana” sign behind me), came up to the front seat.

I bought my first pack of cigarettes at the Sula Country Store. The RV driver was getting them for himself, and I figured it’d be a gift. We picked up our package, and since the RV was headed towards Darby anyway, hopped back on. The lady in the front seat used the bong and handed the kid the bong to hold while she did something else. When the kid asked her a question, she threatened to medicate him. The miracle of the trail is getting the chance to interact with people completely different than my normal eco-Ivy League crowd. Either way, they were nice enough to give us a ride to Darby, and the unbelievable fact that we got to Darby by 6pm–with our package from Sula–made it well worth it!