For 2013 Hyperlite Mountain Gear is sponsoring one thru-hiker on each of the Appalachian Trail (AT), Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and Pacific Coastal Trail (PCT). Here’s the sixth update from the trail by Peter, Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s sponsored CDT hiker. Peter (trail name, “CzechXpress”) will keep all of us up do date with periodic posts and pictures from his journey. We hope you’ll check in regularly to follow Peter along the trail!
The zero day that I had in Grants, which involved moving as little as possible because of my aching foot that was tender to each step I took was rather uneventful. 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 town that once was a booming Uranium mining town, and was once home to the biggest and most productive Uranium mines in the country. As I learned during the local shuttle drive, high school kids were dropping out of school to go work the mines for an 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. Grants has since recovered, but you can still see the boarded up shops downtown. Regardless, you can still feel the local pride in 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 and 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 was tired of always taking my pack off to drink water so wanted to try this new hydration system. I caught the local shuttle to the post office and then to the Mumms who are local trail angels and were holding a new bladder system that I had ordered from REI. The Mumms are great people who leave water caches out at the start of the Malapais, entering the final canyon towards Grants and a final one on the last stretch up Mt. Taylor for hikers to use.
I was very happy to meet them and did not hesitate to give them a much-needed donation. I got to the trail head 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 Mumms. 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, on my own schedule and have some time to think about the journey so far. 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, currently making it the highest point of the CDT in New Mexico. I summited Mt. Taylor in the morning with the sun rising over the huge horizon that lay 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 mesas. 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. The spring 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 before. 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 trees 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.
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 made one of my most stupid mistakes of the hike so far. It taught me to read and then re-read 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 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 sign makers had made a mistake and I decided to keep on going. Stupidly, I ended up walking about three miles before deciding to reread my maps. Taking the point of view of the southbound hiker, 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, then go the .5 miles down the 200 ft canyon to get the water. I don’t think I’ve ever hiked 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 questions ran through my head. I wanted to learn from the mistake I had just made and avoid having to deal with a similar situation again.
After coming down off the high plateau and the breathtaking view it provided, it was back down to the desert floor where the fear of rattlesnakes, heat and water shortages resurfaced. It was miserable. That section of trail was miserable for me. It was hot, the landscape was Mars-like, and it had no appeal for me. It was only about 20 miles long, 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 trees and seeing beautiful green grass, it was hard to switch back to the desert hiking I had been enduring for weeks.
The last 20 miles before Cuba were a gorgeous change from the previous miles in the ugly desert. I spent so much time high on the plateaus that surround the area with wonderful rock formations, beautiful expanding views and a 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, my shoes filled with sand. My shoes were dying. I couldn’t wait to get my nice new pair once I got to Cuba, and say good bye to these after 530 miles of hard walking.
I walked into Cuba at 9pm that night on Memorial Day. I road walked the last four 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 in the tub with the water hitting my tired and bruised body knowing that this section was now done and that I was nearing the eventual end of New Mexico.