WARNING – Big post. Set aside more than a minute.
First full day out of Docs. I did 22 miles on the Gila, a total of 165 crossings for the day. For the most part it was the same sort of mix, most zero-effort calf-deep stuff, with a few, faster thigh-high crossings. The final crossing of the day was a ” crotch tickler”. Unlike the Northeast, the rocks in the river were almost free of slime, so it was more an exercise in picking a shallow path, than gymnastics. In the deeper pools there were Gila trout, along with some monster tadpoles, and teeny tiny black ones too. So many in fact, I probably stepped on some. I found a spot deeper than most, maybe 5 feet – so in I went, leaving my clothes on the river bank. Shockingly cold. 30 seconds, and I was done.
I hiked without pant legs, just the shorts, in the vague hope that my shoes would dry faster. It was a foolish hope. Every few hours I’d stop and take a proper break, squeeze the water out, and let my feet de-prune. Inevitably in 100 feet there would be another river crossing. By mid-afternoon I was sunburned, so the river crossings started feeling really good. I’d stop and soak my legs in the cool water.
I camped with Tim from England ( now Pigpen ), Grit, Teva and Cricket. Stickman camped off under the trees but joined the dinner circle. Former PCT hikers all, we swapped stories until dark. Good times. Cowboy camping under a half moon. About 30 miles back to the proper “red line” CDT.
Woke up freezing. The problem with camping in a river valley is that the cold air settles. Wet shoes and socks were crunchy with ice.
Epic views, click here for video.
25 miles. I was going to do only 20 to this road crossing where there was supposed to be a well, but the mileage numbers were old. The well was another mile and a half! At that point we were clearly on someone’s ranch and at the bottom of a wide windy valley which was sure to be another freezing night. I bumped into Carbomb who suggested we head up the valley to the tree line. It looked close, but was more like three miles. Im out of my reckoning in the desert, the distances are funny here in the clear air and flat.
“I have crossed many mountains and many rivers, and trodden many plains, even into the far countries of Rhûn and Harad where the stars are strange.”Aragorn
At the well we talked to the rancher – an interesting guy named Dave who was tanking up a water truck to bring some cows that were farther away. The canyon they lived in was drying up, he said. It was kind of sad – he was clearly the last of his line, with his beat up old pickup truck and his old dog sitting in the passenger seat. He was celebrating his 50th anniversary next week, he said. He mentioned his kids were off in college and I could not help a think that I was witnessing the end of an era.
Carbomb smoked me, but and 3 miles later I found a USFS road in the treeline. Boom, done. Dropped the pack. I am super tired, I need to start slowing down. I think my body is not responding because it is breaking down as fast as I am building it up. Maybe I will take a nero or zero with everyone else at Davila Ranch on the Pie Town alternate. Of course I have to get there first. I’ve done the math a few times and I think there’s 30 miles before the next water. I have five liters so this will need some creativity.
Because today was going to be at least a 22 and possibly 29 mile carry, I got up by quarter after six. I started to do the road walk down in the canyon and was gratified to feel how much colder it was. Carbombs idea to camp up in the trees a top the ridge had paid off. I did a mile or so of roadwalk and then ran into Stickman. We did the road walk together and at about mile six hit Dutchman’s spring. It was basically a big steel pipe sunk into the ground, at the bottom of it about four feet down there was water. The forest service had rigged up some sort of can with a string so that you could lower it and get water. There was also water cached at the spring, which seemed a little strange. Later we found out that was also done by the forest service. They are responding to the big influx of hikers this year by keeping tabs on the groups as they pass through, and handing out snacks.
I’m not sure that this is a good idea to make things easier, you’ll just end up with a repeat of what has happened on the other big trails. Not that I am special or anything but I feel like the CDT should be kept wild. This also includes the over blazing of what is often an obvious footbed, they plastic sign the trees that are already old school blazed.
Once we got off the road the trail started to do some serious up and down. I felt like it was a little bit of practice for what’s to come, not quite white mountain territory but some pretty long steep climbs at 8,000 feet. Definitely got the heart pumping. Saw a herd of elk WAY high up.
I ran into a few more hikers today, 2 people from England’s named Bollocks and Pocahontas and an older fellow like myself named Enigma.
After a lot of the ridges were done I again met up with stickman while I was having lunch at a crossroads. We talked a little bit about his job, and workplace safety. On construction sites they say you’re fired before you hit the floor, meaning if you slip and fall they retroactively fire you so it was not on the job. He was short on time because he’s low on food. I had no desire to do another big ridge and there’s a alternate through Govinda Canyon which seemed pretty interesting. Normally there are four water sources along it but we knew they were all dry. We did the Canyon walk together, passing by a bunch of cows. There was one cow pond that technically had water in it but was gross enough that I think you probably could have walked across the top.
Stickman again accelerated away from me. At about 4:30 I got back to the trail proper, did the math, realized I was over 20, and called it for the day. Tomorrow will be just under 20, I think 19.8 and it will end at a US forest service campground with trash cans, pit toilets, and it is rumored that there is water. It is also rumored that there is a trail angel who stocks a water cache. This has been a super dry, super remote section. I still have over eight miles to go before I get to water tomorrow, but I have a two liter bladder dedicated for that purpose. It looks like I won’t have to dig into that tonight.
Got a late start due to some bathroom issues but was moving by seven, no pun intended. Man cannot live on bagels and clif bars and couscous alone. I need real food! The first handful of miles were along somewhat lousy descent off wagon tongue mountain. The trail was well laid out, but not well maintained which made for frustrating going. From there it was more sea of grass with juniper trees and ultimately we reached the road to the Aragon well by about 11.
This tank was particularly nice there was a solar cell feeding a pump which was pumping water directly out of the ground. You could fill yourself from up from the hose which means you didn’t have to filter. We were all planning to come to this US forest service campground on the pie town alternate where there was rumored to be a water cache period I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to go all the way up and over to the ranch we’re going to so I packed out five and a half liters period because I’m stubborn or stupid or just slow and have to make the most of my day I powered on through the heat of the day up and over some woods roads and finally meeting into and a road which is county maintained from there the going went a little faster and I reached the campground by 4:30.
The campground itself sucked, a single pit toilet with no TP, a few fire rings and a few horse corrals. Right after the campground was the water cache furnished by someone named Jetta. I topped off two of my half empty bottles and took enough water to soak dinner. After a two-hour rest and meeting a bunch of other hikers that came out of Reserve, I checked my math and I needed .7 for the 20. Given that there were a bunch of people behind me, I decided to push on up the ridge and find a spot. Note to self – this is contradictory with my desire to find a good trail family to hike with. A pretty cool guy named Triple Threat mentioned that it is going to be 38 degrees down in Reserve tonight which is 2000 feet lower. It should be significantly below freezing and I still don’t have my tent. I will bring in my brass monkeys along with my phone my charger and my water filter.
Climbed the USFS road up Mangus mountain to 9600 feet. From here it was first bad jeep roads, then endless roads down through ponderosa pines. Gorgeous. The woods are not like in New England. Here you have one massive pine tree around every 20 ft and the forest floor is just dry grass. It’s like you’re in a large room supported by huge columns. It’s a little dusty but there’s a great pine smell all around you and all you hear is the wind in the pines . Sometimes it’s like everyone boarded the spaceship and left Earth and forgot to tell you.
I spent 4 hours at Devila ranch, a sort of do it yourself hostel that has a toilet, a shower laundry machines and a few propane burners where you can fry up some potatoes and onions that they provide. It’s also a great place to get out of the noonday sun, which still presses down on you like the weight of a fallen hill.
I learned that the Pie Town post office closes at noon which meant I would have to do 14 miles before noon the next day. I left after a few hours to split the 14, joined by Shadowhawk. 7 miles in the sun was still up and the road was nice and flat so we decided to grind it out and night hike to the Toaster House. Not quite 30 miles, but I was ready to be done. I picked up my first blister!
May 13 – the zero
Spent the day in Pie Town, where the pie has lard. But it was a good day off.