CouchtoCDT

Hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) Northbound in 2013- sharing my preparation for the hike and my day to day experience while I'm on the trail. Inspiring people to follow their dreams.


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Section 6: Grants to Cuba

Summit of Mt. Taylor

Summit of Mt. Taylor

I lay in bed with the TV flickering on a random daytime show that makes no sense nor do I care who the actual baby daddy is.  This is the zero day that I had in Grants, it didn’t involve moving because of my aching foot that was tender to each step that I had taken.  The rest of the group had left that morning but I knew that an extra day would give my foot the rest it needed to make it to Cuba, which was the next destination for my next segment.

Grants is small towns that once use to be a booming city for Uranium mining and use to have one of the biggest and most productive Uranium mines in the country.  As the local shuttle drive told me high school kids were dropping out of school to go work the mines for the average starting salary of $80,000 per year, creating a huge void in the school system.  Once the government stopped buying the Uranium, the mine laid off 4,000 people overnight, starting a mass exodus out of the town.  Grant has since recovered but you can still see the boarded up shops of the downtown but you can still feel the local pride by its banners and its people.

After resting in the hotel room, doing some shopping at Wal-Mart and getting a resupply box ready to be shipped to Ghost Ranch it was time to leave.  My foot was feeling a little better but I was ready to keep moving.  I’ve learned the longer I stay in town the more comfortable I get and the more my head starts spinning with ideas.  I called the local shuttle to give me a ride to the post office and then to the Mumm’s who are local trail angels and were holding a new bladder system I had ordered from REI.  I was tired of always taking my pack off to drink water so wanted to try this new hydration system.  The Mumm’s are great people who leave out water caches at the start of the Malapais, entering the final canyon towards grants and one final one on the last stretch up Mt. Taylor.  They are wonderful people with a big heart and I was happy to meet them and give them a much-needed donation.

Hugo & Carole Mumm

Hugo & Carole Mumm

I got to the trailhead for the next segment and began the long hike to the base of Mt. Taylor, hiking about 10 miles that day to the water cache left by the Mumm’s.  I like staying next to caches as you can drink all you want and then camel up in the morning for the next day.  This was my first section alone since the border and I was actually happy to be hiking alone for this part.  I was able to hike at my own pace, my own schedule and gave me some time to think about the journey so far.

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I hiked up the 11,301 ft summit of Mt. Taylor, a leftover ridge from a volcano that had exploded many millions of years ago, now making it the high point of the CDT in New Mexico.  I was so happy to be gaining some elevation and the straight up trail and eventual switchbacks brought me back to this realization.  I summited Mt. Taylor in the morning with the sun rising over the huge horizon that laid before me.   To the south were the mountains I had walked through to reach Grants and to the west were the open plains of the desert landscape that hid Arizona not far away.  To the east and north you could see the next ridges and plateaus that would be my home for the next couple of days as I hiked on top of expanding Mesa’s.  I spent a little bit of time on top before making the descent down the mountain, following forest roads to my next water source, American Spring.  This was one of the nicest springs I had seen so far and was happy to get the water out of the pipe that was surrounded by great meadow full of grass and glorious shade.  What a change from the low-lying desert areas that had been my home for so long.  I ate a nice leisurely lunch there before continuing my trip down the mountain.  That day I hiked 27 miles making camp in a patch of tree’s after getting a burst of energy from Skrillz on my newly downloaded Spotify app.  Yes, some say technology is wrong in the woods but music is a great companion after a long day, especially Bob Marley.

Collared Lizard

The next day brought a boring road walk that seemed to never end.  It finally did at my next water source, Los Indios Spring.  This is the point where I’ve made one of my most stupidest mistakes of the CDT so far and taught me to read and then reread my map notes 10 times before making my next move.  The sign read Los Indios spring .5 miles so I thought that it was that far past the gate I had to walk through and down the 200ft canyon as noted on the maps.  I walked the .5 miles past the gate but, still no turn off or canyon.  I still saw foot prints so I kept walking, thinking the makers of the signs had made a mistake and I decided to keep on going.  I ended up stupidly walking about 3 miles before deciding to reread my maps and take the point of view of the southbound hiker and reading that at the gate you would go .5 miles down the canyon to the spring.  So this meant I had to walk the 3 miles back, go the .5 miles down the 200 ft canyon to get the water.  I don’t think I’ve ever walked so pissed off before in my life.  I walked back, got to the spring and threw down my pack in anger.  I knew I had made a mistake and being out of water for the last hour made me even more mad.  Why did I make this mistake?  What was I thinking? All of these things ran through my head to learn from the mistake I had just made and to not do it again but I knew that I would.

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After coming down off the high plateau and the breath taking view it provided it was back down to the desert floor where the fear of rattle snakes, heat and water resurfaced.  It was miserable.  That section of trail was miserable for me.

Back in the Mars like landscape

Back in the Mars like landscape

It was hot, the landscape was Mars like and it had no appeal for me.  It was only about 20 miles worth but it put me in such a bad mood that I found myself walking faster and harder then ever before.  After finally being in the tree’s and seeing green beautiful grass it was hard to right away switch back to the desert style hiking I had been enduring for weeks.

Beautiful View from the top of the Mesa

Beautiful View from the top of the Mesa

The last 20 miles before Cuba was a gorgeous change from the previous miles in the ugly desert because you spent so much time high on the plateaus that surround the area with wonderful rock formations, wonderful expanding views and cairned trail that was easy to follow.  It reminded me of hiking Utah which is one of my most sacred places to hike in the world.  I happily followed the cairned route up and down the mesa skirting the edge and then back to the middle again with my shoes filled with sand.  My shoes were dying and I couldn’t wait to get my nice new pair once I got to Cuba, saying good bye to these after 530 miles of hard walking.

My New Balance Leadville 100's lasted a long time over tough terrain

My New Balance Leadville 100’s lasted a long time over tough terrain

I walked into Cuba at 9 pm that night on Memorial Day, road walking the last 4 miles in the dimming light of the day as people drove home from parties and celebrations.  I was happy to get to town and plop down on the bed knowing that another section was done and a good rest was coming my way.  I lay on the floor of the shower with the water hitting my tired and bruised body knowing that this section was now done and that I was eating away at my eventual end of New Mexico.

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Section 1: Border to Deming

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Well, I’m finally here.  I’ve made it back to Deming after completing the first 56 mile section of the CDT.  Its been an amazing experience already and am happy that I’m out on the trail doing it.  I’m no longer dreaming, I’m doing.

My arrival into Deming was good because I had my family with me to wish me well for the trail and it was great to have everyone here.  At 8 am, Saturday April 20th, I was picked up by local trail angel Keith to take me down to the border.  He’s been helping hikers like me for many years and is great resource not just to get to the trail but for rides around town and to stash water for you as well.  On our way down, he showed me important intersections and introduced me to some of the people who I could take water from when I got there.  I encountered a great collection of local people with big smiles, great stories and colorful personalities.

Me and the trail angel.

Me and the trail angel.

On the border

On the border

After a 30 min drive we finally arrived on the border.  It’s not what you would expect from all that you hear on the news about it.  It’s pretty much a couple of buildings, a big long fence and streams of cars coming and going.  Keith talked to the border patrol to let us walk up to the international line to get some of the traditional pictures of me standing next to it and the plaque that all hikers want to get their picture next to. I wanted to take more pictures, but I was told that they will confiscate your camera if they think you are taking pictures of the government buildings and I certainly didn’t want that to happen to my new camera.  After some more pictures, I said goodbye to Keith and started walking.  I have to admit, as soon as I started walking I started to cry.  I was overcome with joy that I had set a goal for myself to hike the CDT and here I was actually doing it.  It was a powerful feeling to be doing something that I had sacrificed so much to be able to do.  It’s an amazing feeling that I hope everyone might get to experience in their life, and I know that I will never forget it for as long as I live.

The long road...

The long road…

The first 56 miles is walking mostly on 4×4 roads back to Deming.  First was the town of Columbus, which looks like an old abandoned mining town that has no reason to be there.  Oddly, there are a bunch of people driving around in really nice trucks but houses are ugly, so it makes you wonder what kind of business they are in…. just sayin’. I passed by a older lady in Columbus who was watering a couple of trees and she waved over to me and said ” I hope your having a great day” and I stopped and waved back at her and said “Yes, I’m having a great day”.  She looked so happy and I was happy for her.  About 1 mile outside of Columbus I walked up to a border patrol car that was out looking for a pair of illegals who had walked around the border fence.  According to the border patrolman there aren’t that many illegals crossing in this area because the land is very harsh south of here; you mostly get illegal drug activity.  I told them I hadn’t seen anyone.  Honestly, had I run into them I would have probably just helped them any way I could, and wished them well on their journey.  Being an immigrant myself, I can’t talk bad about someone else trying to make a better life for themselves in a new country.

On my first day I walked about 15 miles total, following a fence and then a 4×4 road to my first water cache that was not easy to find.  Since I decided to not use GPS on this trip, I didn’t have a waypoint to plug in, only a dot I had made with my pencil indicating the general area of the water cache.  I was happy to find it 30 mins before sundown where I made camp to get out of the 40 mph winds that had been hitting me all day.  The sun, wind and sand takes a toll on your body that you don’t realize until you’re out here.

Morning, April 22nd

Morning, April 22nd

Day 2 brought a gorgeous sunrise that made me feel ready to tackle my first full day on the CDT.  I packed up quickly eating my typical 2 Clif Bars for breakfast, as I walked the 3 miles to Willie’s house where I could get water.  Willie was an old Vietnam Vet who has been helping hikers for many years, giving them as much water as they need.  After chatting with him for a few minutes and taking just over a gallon of water I started the 10 mile cross country walk to the back side of the Florida Mountains.  I was certain I would see plenty of rattle snakes during this section, but I didn’t see any, which was fine with me because I hate snakes. I’ll be happy if I don’t run into any this entire trip.

Moooo.

Moooo.

Nasty.

Nasty.

My only water source out here is the water provided by the wind mills that are for the cows.  So most of the water sources I found either smelled of cow poo or were swarming with bees.  I know that I have to drink out of these disgusting troughs but I can be a little picky when I know there are more options ahead.  To treat this water I have both Aqua Mira and a Sawyer filter system and this is the only way I’m drinking any of this water.  I finally found some good water towards the end of my day and decided to stay the night there because my right knee had started hurting pretty badly.  My knees had never hurt before on hikes so I didn’t want to push it and hurt myself early on this trip.  I setup camp and watched the sun set over the vast horizon with its stream of reds, oranges and pink.  For a place that has very little, it shows off a lot.

On my third day I was happy to be heading towards Deming and getting out of the wind.  I had only about 18 miles to go to get to town and 3/4th of that was road walking which doesn’t take much time.  I walked through the Florida gap to another trail angel that let me take water from their hose which was much better than the water I had gotten from the tank the day before.  After tanking up there and taking about 2 liters with me I made the final road walk back to Deming.  I’ve decided to take a zero day (no hiking) at the American Inn Motel which is only $39 a night to let my very sore knee rest.  I have had to make changes to my plan after hearing that the resupply in Mimbres is no longer there, forcing me to do a 8 day carry to Doc Campbells versus the 3 days I had planned for.  I’ll head to the local Walmart and get some food for this next long carry.

All things considered, I feel great and am excited to finally be out here walking the CDT.  I’m already enjoying my time on the trail and am looking forward to putting in even more miles.  I have to stay focused on staying hydrated and injury-free so I can make it to the end.  Now I’m off to get some good local Mexican food, because it can’t get any more authentic than this! 🙂

Welcome to New Mexico!

Welcome to New Mexico!


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New Mexico Sections 6-10

This is my plan for sections 6-10 which ends in Chama, NM which is my last stop before I start heading into the San Juan section of my hike.  Here’s how I’m planning to hike these sections:

Section 6:  Reserve to Pie Town:  39 Miles

Ley Maps 28-26-Mail Drop

This section of trail is a pretty short section to go before hitting Pie town, and is not known to be that difficult.  There is decent water throughout this section with many solar wells and a couple of spots where local ranchers will let you take water directly from their spiggots.  Pie town is famous mostly for one thing… you guessed it, Pie!  There is very little here other than the two restaurants that serve some of the best pie in the world, according to some hikers.  If the Appalachian Trail (AT) has a “½ gallon challenge,” then I think that Pie Town should have a whole pie challenge.We’ll see if I actually do that when I get there.  A mail drop is pretty much mandatory here because there is no real grocery store in town other than the Top of the World store, which is 3 miles west of town and has a limited resupply selection.  I will be sending to, and staying at, the Toaster House which is a very friendly hostel that accepts packages (UPS only) and has cheap accomodations.  You can also call head to the Grants Visitor Center to see which windmills are operational. However, this is an old note I read from 2008, so I’m not sure whether or not it’s still valid.

Section 7:  Pie town – Grants:  86 miles

Ley Maps:  26-20-Local Resupply

This seems like it will be a very cool section because it takes you through a lot of canyons and Anazasi ruins.  The water supply is spotty in places with some stretches of 20+ miles if the sources you do find are not suitable to drink.  The area is also known for illegal drug activity  – with planes dropping bales of something for pickups waiting to haul it away.  I’m sure they move their smuggling spots around so I’m not too worried, but I might think about camping ‘out of sight’ in this stretch, just in case.  When I hit Grants I will be happy to stop by some wonderful Trail Angels – Hugo and Carole – who run a small B&B.  They are extremely welcoming and will help you with anything you need, especially water caches for the next section.  They used to allow people to stay in their home but as of this year, they are no longer doing it. Apparently an extremely rude hiker trashed the couple online about the accommodations and their help.  They will still help you with everything above, but you can’t sleep at their house anymore.  This just shows that you need to be nice to every person that you meet along the trail.You are just a person with a pack on your back , not some rock star, so don’t expect to get special treatment.  Be thankful for every bit of help you get.

Section 8:  Grants – Cuba:  111 miles

Ley Maps:  20-11- Local Resupply

This section is where you start hitting more mountainous  terrain, with more ups and downs, and an option to summit Mt. Taylor.  Mt. Taylor is just northeast of the town of Grants and is directly on the Ley route vs. the Bear Creek maps which goes around it.  The Navajo People call it Tsoodzil, the turquoise mountain. It is one of four sacred mountains that are part of the cardinal boundaries of the Dinetah, which is the traditional Navajo homeland.  As a big fan of native culture(s) I am definitely planning on hiking to the summit.  These places always have a unique power and feeling to them and knowing the history you can’t help but think of days gone by and the people who had been there before you.  The town of Cuba is said to be a little run down but, has all the things you need.  Thru hikers report having a good experience at Del Prado Motel, as the owner is very hiker friendly.  It has a laundry, comfortable beds and the owner will even loan you her laptop for the night if you want to use the free wifi.  The grocery store is said to be good if you’re not too picky.  You also have the option of staying at Circle A Ranch which is only a little bit past Cuba.  The ranch is hiker friendly and some hikers report this being their favorite hostel along the whole trail.  There is not a resupply there, but they do accept packages and you can use their full kitchen to prepare meals.  If you don’t want to stay in town, this might be a good option at only $60 for one night and $30 a night for two nights.

Section 9:  Cuba – Ghost Ranch:  55 miles

Ley maps 11-7- Mail drop

This section of trail goes through some good canyons with reliable water sources nearby or along the trail.  The real highlight of this section is getting to Ghost Ranch which is a great spot, and not to be missed.  It’s a Presbyterian retreat, but is very hiker friendly with basic amenties like showers, laundry and a cafeteria that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner at a reasonable fee.  They also have a library that is open 24 hours with good wifi and outgoing mail.  They will also hold packages for you at no fee as long as you clearly indicate what your arrival time is and how long they should hold the package for.

Section 10:  Ghost Ranch – Chama:  80 Miles

Ley maps 7-1-Local Resupply w/ equipment mail drop.

If you want to see an  intimidating-looking section of maps, this is the section.  There are more notes on the Ley maps here than anywhere else. Notes such as‘trust your compass’ and ‘pay attention’ are littered throughout.  There are a lot of alternatives you can use here, including some old routes, the new Bear Creek route, or even road walking the entire distance between Ghost Ranch and Chama.  You can take a train from Chama to Cumbres Pass.  There are a lot of forest roads, side roads, bad tread and everything in between for this section. However, I’m positive my navigation skills will be good at this point, so I hope it doesn’t  matter.  In Chama I plan on sending the gear that I will need for the San Juans, since they start shortly north of Chama.  I plan on buying my food locally, but I will have my sister mail me a box I’ll have packed up ahead of time, including warmer clothes, ice axe (if needed), microspikes for my feet and my maps for the next few sections.  I might also do a zero day here to prepare me for one of the parts of the CDT I am really looking forward to (not to mention one of the most physically demanding sections as well).  I don’t think that this year will be as high of a snow year as 2011 was, but low snow still means there is snow on the ground, so I’m sure postholing will be in my future.


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New Mexico Sections 1-5

Welcome to New Mexico

 

Wind, sand, heat, scorpions and snakes will greet me as I start the first leg of my CDT adventure in New Mexico.  It’s a beautiful, yet harsh landscape, where water supplies are limited. Here’s how I’m planning my trip for the first 5 sections in New Mexico.

Starting dates/routes:

My start date is Saturday, April 20th.  I will solely be using the Ley Maps and taking the Columbus vs. the Crazy Cook route. My research shows there is better water along the route and it is more scenic as well.  It is also the easiest to reach and since my family is driving me down to Deming, I wanted it to be easily accessible for them as well.  They will not be taking me to the actual border because honestly, I don’t think it’s safe for my sister, mom and nephew to be in that area.  It’s fine for me but, not something that I’m completely comfortable with.

The ride to the border will be with Keith from Deming, NM.  Keith is a long time trail angle from Deming and offers rides to the border for only $25.  He will tell you exactly how to get back to Deming, alert border patrol of your presence and knows the local landscape.

Here is my plan for the first 5 sections out of 10.  I’ve split them up with the help of Yogi’s CDT Handbook and various other resources:

(Mileage is my own estimates; please do your own research as well-this is also in North bound order)

Section 1- Mexican Border to Deming:  68 miles

Ley Maps Columbus 11-7  – Local Resupply

After taking some pictures and walking a couple of feet into Mexico I’ll start heading north.  Now it’s time to stop dreaming, and time to start doing.  My plan is to take it easy in this first section.  I plan on putting in some easy miles and not get too excited. I don’t want to push it too hard, too fast, and risk an injury.  I do not plan on doing anything as I walk through Columbus except maybe pop into a convenience store.

Section 2-  Deming to Emory Pass ( Hwy 152)  69 miles

Ley Maps Columbus 6-3 –  Hitch 40 miles to Silver city- Local Resupply

I plan on leaving a resupply box and Heet at Keith’s to keep things easy and to keep up my early momentum.  This will make for a quick and easy exit out of Deming after staying the night, probably in Keith’s back yard.  Hopefully take a shower and wash some clothes.  Once I’m in Deming I’ll tell my sister to mail my package to Doc Campbell’s because this is a must for resupply.  This gives it plenty of time to arrive and ensure it is waiting for me.

The ‘trail’ out of Deming is a mostly gravel road that hugs private property lines.  I hope to avoid any problems with local ranchers.  I think my biggest problem will be finding reliable water during this section, with most of it coming from cow tanks.  Maybe some nice old lady will let me take water from her faucet, who knows?

Section 3- Emory Pass (Hwy 152) – Hwy 35 (Mimbres): 26 miles

Ley maps Columbus 3-1- Hitch/walk 6 miles to town- Local Resupply

From what I can tell this is an uneventful section, but fun I’m sure.  The town of Mimbres is only a 6 mile walk (or hitchhike) and has a decent resupply from what I have read.  I expect to get creative here with food selection.  But it’s not too far to get to Doc’s where a resupply will be waiting for me.

Section 4-  Hwy 35 (Mimbres) – Doc Campbell’s: 47 miles

Ley Maps NM30j, 36-34 – Mail box to Doc’s- Zero Day

This stretch will start to be a change as we start heading into the Gila’s and getting close to more exciting terrain.  I’m excited for this section because I am a fan of Ancestral Pueblo or Anasazi culture.  I believe that I will start to see some cliff dwellings, rock art and possibly some ancient remains.

Section 5- Doc Campbell’s to Reserve – Gila River Route: 86 miles

Ley Maps 34-28 w/ river route – Hitch 30 miles to Reserve – Local Resupply

Once at Doc Campbell’s, I plan on taking a zero day.  I’m excited to look at the Gila Cliff Dwellings and all the sites in the area.  I will also have a chance to lounge in the hot springs and sleep in a bed if I choose to spend the cash.  Other hikers have stayed at the campground in the area for much cheaper and still have access to the hot springs.  Notes for the area say to bring cash and not to skip the homemade ice cream at Doc’s.  I know I won’t miss that!

When you leave Doc’s you can either take the mountain route or the river route. I am definitely taking the river route.  They say you do about 85 river crossings total, but the scenery and history along the river is unbelievable.  I can’t wait for this section as most say it’s finally like you’re in wilderness after walking on the roads for what seems like forever.