Cuba, NM – Chama, NM (Colorado Border)

May 14:Miles hiked – 22 

Total mileage – 540
Getting out of town is always a hard task, and today was no different, especially having spent two whole days relaxin at the Cuban Lodge. I took one last shower and packed up before beginning the seven mile roadwalk out of town. On the way out, I stop at Rebel’s Roost, a trail angel house that I didn’t learn about until last night. Super cool place, I wish I had been here instead of the motel! He has a solar shower, laundry, kitchen, and accommodations indoors and outdoors. Plus two loving pits and a nice view! 

The owner, Vince, makes me a smoothie before I hike on. I turn off the highway onto Los Pinos Road, a nice seldom traveled country road which passes by very nice farmhouses. Even though the scenery is enjoyable, the roadwalk hurts my feet and joints. I’m pretty happy when the pavement ends and I begin following a dirt track up to the Los Pinos Trailhead, where trail begins to climb steeply up to 10,000 feet. The terrain has done a complete 180. Before Cuba, I had been walking along a desert ridge. Now I ascend through thick forests of grand pines and aspen. Elk roam through the forest here, unconcerned with me as I walk by. The elevation hits me hard today. I’ve gone from 7000 feet to 10,000 in merely hours so there was no time to acclimate. My vision is blurry and I have to stop with every few steps.

Around 9000 feet the snow starts. It is slushy and I fall through with nearly every step. At the top I find myself in a mountaintop meadow covered in snow and anywhere that’s not is submerged under a few inches of icy water. A river rages through the meadow, the result of all the snow melt taking place right now. For miles I walk along the ridge, postholing and feeling my feet go more numb with every step. I finally begin to descend and the snow disappears quickly, but I’m cold now and it’s starting to get dark. I find an awesome spring that is bubbling up from the ground before turning a corner and running into Kelsey and Chardonnay! We camp together in a clearing. I’m so happy to be in my tent!
High of the day – new surroundings

Low of the day – crossing a meadow full of slushy water and thinking my feet were going to fall off 
May 15:
Miles hiked – 21.5

Total miles hiked – 561.5
I woke up today to the sun shining through my rain fly and took my time packing up as I only planned on 20 miles for the day. Kelsey and Chardonnay were already gone by the time I got out of my tent. By 8:30 I was on my way as well, hiking through a thick forest on a nice trail. The past few forested section like this have reminded me a lot of the AT, especially with how steep and rugged the trail is, and this morning is no different. I think about all the mornings spent watching the sun rise through the trees, brushing against the dew soaked foliage, and finding a shelter a few miles in to have breakfast at. The forest is too thick here to watch the sun rise even if I had been up early enough, it’s much colder on the trail than it was in the small meadow we had camped in. I’m still at 9000 feet, but the trail is descending quickly and before long I’m back in meadows of sage brush with the sun especially warm today. Beside the trail are massive cliffs with layers of color, the bottom red, then white, the yellow. This is what I imagined New Mexico to look like! 
Flowing water has been abundant since Cuba, so my pack is light with only one liter and one more day of food. I’ll be at Ghost Ranch tomorrow, where I have a package to pick up. I’m thankful for this when I reach the only climb for the day. It’s only 1000 feet, but it’s extremely steep and exposed. I pass the girls on the way up, finding a nice forested mesa to take a break on at the top. I eat nearly all my food here before cruising on downhill for the rest of the day through a mixture of maple and pine trees before reaching the Rio Chama, Chama River. It’s the first major water source since Mexico, even bigger than the Gila, and I had planned to camp here, imagining a lush and picturesque tent site along pristine river with swimming holes. Instead, I find a swift current of water that looks like the chocolate river from willie wonka with nothing but a gravel road on either side. Looks like its onwards! About a mile down the road, which is also the trail, I find exactly the kind of spot I was looking for and settle in for the night with a fire to cook dinner by. Beautiful sunset against the river and real food in my future.
High of the day – having a super light pack for once on this trail!
Low of the day – steep climbing.. the PCT ruined me!
May 16:

Miles hiked – 10

Total Miles hiked – 571.5

(Writing this a week late)

Woke up early along the river and hiked the rest of the road into Ghost Ranch. Super beautiful place where Georgia O’keefe used to live and was inspired by, as well as the location of a major dinosaur dig where the uncovered an entire skeleton. I catch up to Treeman there who has plans to take the free bus to Santa Fe where he will rent a car for a week to let snow melt. I don’t want to do all that, but the bus will take me to Taos as well, where my cousin Denise and her husband Todd live. After seeing storms predicted, in easily convinced and we’re on our way, after enjoying the all you can eat lunch at Ghost Ranch of course! The next four days are spent in hot tubs, listening to live music, and relaxing times with family in Taos. Maybe a beer or two as well. Thanks so much Denise and Todd!
May 21:

Miles hiked – 15

Total miles hiked – 586.5
I get back to the trail around 10:30 and waste no time getting to hiking even though another meal at Ghost Ranch is tempting. After four days off I’m itching to hike, and being back is like being home. It’s a beautiful day, much better than what was predicted when I left Ghost Ranch, and I’m glad because the hike out is gorgeous. I had expected a long road walk to link back up to the CDT but instead there was nice trail alongside a creek with canyon walls rising high above on either side, similar to the Gila except there was no river to cross hundreds of times! I cross paths with many day hikers out from the ranch who are interested in my journey, but before long I turned off onto a new trail leading steeply up to a mesa where there was once again no one else around (after missing the turn and hiking in the wrong direction for nearly a mile). The climb is brutal but at the top I’m rewarded with great views of the mountains surrounding me which are starting to become quite tall. I hike on, now following a jeep track and again miss a turn and go another mile out of my way. When I backtrack I see why I missed the turn, there was no trail! I head cross country through desert bushes and then up the side of a mountain. It’s hard to keep the trail as trees start to pop up at the higher elevation, I spend a long long time here without making much progress at all. I finally find trail again at the top and stop for a break as it’s been a frustrating past hour. While eating lunch, I’m surprised to be passed by three other hikers, who I’m not sure are thru hikers as it was a quick exchange but they definitely looked like it. I wonder who’s around me now that I’ve taken a few days off.

I pack up with ten more miles to go until rejoining the CDT. The terrain begins to change drastically, with the scrub pine turning into thick forests of grand fir and Aspen. There are flowers everywhere, dotting the vibrant green grass with a rainbow of color. I think it’s safe to say the desert portion of this trail is over. I turn a corner and ahead of me see nothing but snowy peaks all in a row, the ridge I’ll follow to Chama. I don’t have any of my snow gear yet but hopefully it shouldn’t be too bad until I get it, however I’m soon to go above 10,000 feet and won’t be coming down anytime soon. I stop for one last break in a nice green meadow filled with dandelions, not leaving until golden hour sets in. I find myself hoping the group of three I saw is camped at the upcoming water source where I’m headed, but find no one when I arrive. Great water though! After tanking up I head off trail up to a ridge where I set up camp for the night. It’s been one day back and I’m already starving, dirty, and have dried blood all over my hand from a fall. It’s quiet as night sets in aside from coyotes which seem close. The forest is a creepier place to camp alone than the open desert, and after four days in civilization I feel paranoid about what creature may come for me. The night is dark and full of terrors.
High of the day – the quick transition from desert to high country
Low of the day – getting lost multiple times
May 22:

Miles hiked – 27

Total miles hiked – 613.5
I heard the strangest thing last night just before falling asleep. There was some sort of screeching/wheezing sound just below my tent and then it sounded like stallions were galloping through my campsite. This persisted for a couple minutes, Then there was a strange unexplainable flash before everything became quiet. Other than that it was a particularly warm night, and I slept great. I woke up at six and was hiking seven, through grassy meadows and forests of Aspen. Everything was lush and green, reminding me of back east around this time of year. The meadows were reminiscent of the ones leading into the Sierra, with snowy peaks looming in the distance. I meet another thru hiker named WildLand who experienced the same exact things I did last night. Creepy!

The trail takes continues to climb higher and higher peaks until the snowy mountains aren’t in the distance anymore, I’m in them. It’s hard to keep the trail in the forest, but luckily there’s footprints from others before me. I enjoy the novelty of it all, snow, a stream running alongside me, and plenty of shade from the thick forest around me. It’s the perfect temperature for hiking today, the snow is still hard enough to walk on top of but it’s warm enough for me to stop without freezing even with only my shorts and shirt on. Eventually my surroundings open up leaving me walking through vast snowfields at nearly eleven thousand feet. The only view I have is of a blanket of white along with tall pine trees in the distance. It’s completely silent on the snow aside from the crunch of my footsteps and the howling of the wind, it seems there’s no one else in the world even though I know WildMan is right behind me. I continue on through this sort of plateau for a while before beginning to descend. I find a patch of dry land to stop for a late lunch as clouds begin to float by. Further on I have a little viewpoint where I see the mountain ahead of me covered in misty clouds which are headed my way. My pace picks up but after walking through a river for a trail most of the day can’t find any water to camp by! And so it becomes a 27 mile day. I swear I never plan to do big miles! I find a trickle of water and a nice campsite in some trees just as the mist is upon me and the thunder is overhead. It rains for about 20 minutes before passing and becoming completely clear but cold! Pretty beat after all the snow today, tomorrow only brings more.
High of the day: walking through the Aspens, one of my favorite trees ive seen!
Low of the day: unexpected afternoon thunderstorm, I guess I should start expecting them
May 23:

Miles Hiked – 25

Total miles hiked – 638.5
A few pellets of hail against my tent wake me up around six this morning. I begin packing up slowly hoping it will pass, which it does and I emerge from my tent to a sunny skies. The birds are chirping and the temperature is perfect.. little did I know what was in store for my morning.

After a pleasant enough downhill walk deeper into the valley, I reach the Rio Vallecitas, the river which all the snowmelt from the day before was running into. I hear it before I see it, a loud crashing through the woods and am utterly dismayed when I finally do reach it. The water rushes faster than any river I had to cross in the Sierra, and it’s deep as well as wide. There’s a log crossing, but it’s sketchy and I’ve never been one for them anyways. I spend nearly an hour surveying up and downstream looking for a suitable place to cross but it’s the same no matter how far I go, so eventually I have to go for it. I truly don’t know if I can make it across, but what other choice do I have at this point? It’s either cross the river, or hike 50 miles back over the snowy mountains I’ve already come across. The water is bone chilling early in the morning, but the adrenaline I have pumping makes me pay no mind as I step waist deep into the surging current. There are no good footholds, each rock is slippery and loose. I make my way very slowly, finally reaching the rapids in the middle and leaning with all my weight into them, submerged up to my chest. It feels as if any moment the river will take me, just as the kings river felt when St. Nick stepped in and pulled me out. Of course, this is the CDT. There is no one here to help me, and at the moment while in the middle of the river this is literally do or die. I turn away from the rapids and lung my body through the water with just enough force to grab a tree on the other side and gain enough footing to pull myself out. On the other side, water seeps from the inside of my raingear which I had been wearing while I let out a whooping cry of victory. My body is shaking, this ford was easily the most difficult thing I have had to do on any of the trails. I truly can not believe I made it across.

I hike on, freezing now and all shaken up. Clouds begin to roll in, and I fear for thunder storms. I realize the fear is what makes the CDT so difficult. Every day I’m scared about storms, obstacles ahead such as snow or river crossings, where I’m going to find water, where I’m going to camp, if I’m even still on the trail. The mental fatigue all the worries put on you transforms into physical fatigue the longer it goes on. It’s been just over a month and I’m tired, so so tired. I will be in Colorado in two days, where it will only get harder.

I run into Jeremy mid morning, who I had met briefly back in Pie Town. He’s packing up in a sunny meadow where I explode everything to dry. We catch up for a few minutes before he heads on, leaving me to enjoy my morning honey bun and warm my soul. The trail becomes tame again from here, winding through nice dry meadows up a gentle grade. I go above ten thousand feet again today, but there’s not nearly as much snow. Instead, there is mud and water from where snow has melted, and I spend my day hopping from dry spot to dry spot. I have a late lunch again at the top, where I keep expecting views but am let down every time. Nice dry patch though! 

After lunch I head through more high elevation meadows with occasional views of snow covered mountains ahead. I hurt after a long day, but the snow through here is consolidated so I have fun sliding down the slopes on my feet and making my own way down through the valley, where I dip below ten thousand one last time. I catch up to Jeremy right at the end of the day, and we end up camping together in a nice meadow with a snowmelt stream flowing swiftly nearby. If all goes as planned I’ll reach Colorado tomorrow. Here we go.
High of the day – camping with someone else is always a high on this trail!
Low of the day – I really thought I might die while crossing the river this morning, by far the most terrifying thing I’ve done on a hike
May 24:

Miles hiked – 17

Total miles hiked – 655.5
It’s freezing when I wake up, likely due to the high elevation we camped at, but from my vestibule I can see a large patch of sun which I drag my things into to pack up. Just as I’m about to leave, Jeremy crawls out from his tarp and applauds me after he sees me successfully leap across the river that flows across the trail. From here I climb high onto a ridge with unreal views on both sides of me. At the top is a meadow type plateau area where I see two large Elk having breakfast. Up to this point, all the elk I thought I had seen were just deer, but today there’s no mistaking them. They are truly a beautiful creature, I thought they were reindeer at first glance. It had only been two miles but I would’ve been crazy to pass up such a nice spot for breakfast so I sat down a took the time to see what I’m seeing. The mountain I’m on slopes deep down into a valley where raging snowmelt flows. For the first time the trail truly feels as though it’s deep in the mountains, which at this point it is.

After continuing on down the ridge for a while I head into a thick forest covered in snow. There are no footprints nor any trail markings, so I’m left bushwacking my way steeply up the mountain, only knowing the general direction I need to head in. The miles take forever in these conditions, at times I don’t even make 2 an hour. All the snow is hard and icy here, and it’s a surprisingly long distance to find any water to drink. At the top is a great view of even taller mountains ahead, with snow covering even the exposed south face. I finally find a creek to camel up but the wind is excruciating, so I walk another few miles to find some trees to eat lunch in. Jeremy catches up and we continue on one behind each other, making our way very slowly through the snow, which is starting to become soft now causing even me to posthole. The clouds start to congregate leaving me worried yet again about storms. Around four we reach a low point and see nothing but snowfields ahead, as well as a 1000 foot climb up to 11,000 feet, so even though it’s early we decide to call it for the day. I spend the afternoon drying my shoes/socks and reading. Early morning tomorrow to knock out the 11 miles to Colorado and the town of Chama!
High of the day – breakfast on the ridge

Low of the day – slow slogging through the snow
May 25:

Miles hiked – 11

Total miles hiked – 666.5
As planned, I’m up at five and on trail by six. It’s surprisingly warm, which isn’t entirely a good thing anymore because it means the snow wasn’t quite solid even in the morning. It was a beautiful morning walk through snowfields though, with the rising sun tinting them orange. By the time sunrise is over though, it’s hot already and my climb is just beginning. I strip down to shorts and my shirt, making my way uphill through a snowy forest just like the day before. It’s quite an interesting experience, walking through areas like this with not much of an idea where I’m headed. Eventually though the forest breaks and I’m looking towards Colorado, a vast landscape of mountains all covered in white. The trail starts following a jeep road, which is covered as well but at least the path is wide and easily followable. A snowmobile would have been nice here!

The next few miles are just like all the ones before: a complete slog. There are footprints, but whoever left them behind was just as lost as I am so they aren’t much help. I walk along the sides of mountains, up and down steep snow banks, and through muddy rivers of snowmelt. Uphill without trail in the snow is hard, it takes all the energy I have which isn’t much considering I’m out of food at this point. 

About an hour later than I should’ve, I reach the boundary of the Rio Grande National Forest and the border of Colorado. I should be excited to make it here, but instead the only thing I feel is fear and uncertainty. I feel stupid. Stupid for starting this trail so early. Stupid for starting this trail at all. I think about the past few days and how hard they’ve been, between the river to navigation to endless snow. I know that it hasn’t even really gotten started yet, the section to the north through the San Juans will be at least twice as difficult. I check the weather from the ridge I’m on and see storms forecast for the next week. I know I can’t hike north from here, certainly not on the official trail at least. The amount of mental stress that has built up in just the past four days is heavy, and I sit at the border where I should have been drinking a beer,smoking a bowl, and reminiscing on how great New Mexico was, but instead all I can do is sit there and weep. New Mexico wasn’t great. It was lonely, terrifying, difficult, unpredictable, brutally hot, icy cold, the list goes on an on, but words like “great” and “fun” don’t appear anywhere on that list. I walk the last 2 miles to town completely demoralized, and become even more so after I sit at the road for nearly two hours before some kind soul pulls over to give me a ride to Chama. I immediately get dropped at a restaurant where I find Fun Size and another hiker I hadn’t met, but when I sit down with them I realize how shaken up I really am. Words don’t come out right, it takes me 15 minutes to even glance at the menu, I’m a complete mess. This is what the CDT does to you, and I’m not sure what my CDT experience will become from here, but I know that I won’t be hiking north from here, not anytime soon. This fact is more terrifying than the trail has ever been, and leaves me feeling lost, confused, and completely heartbroken.
High of the day – Colorado

Low of the day – Colorado

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4 thoughts on “Cuba, NM – Chama, NM (Colorado Border)

  1. wow, stupid is the furthest word I would ever use to describe you. That is beating yourself up. You have challenged yourself and thus far have done a remarkable job. Your journey has taken you here. Do not cut your self short. I am so proud of you. And you should be too. EVerything we do in life develops who we become and are. all this will shape your very being . Love mom

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  2. I feel you buddy. Thank you for those brutally honest review of your last couple of days. I hope I won’t feel the same getting into Chama. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished so far. I guess no one on this trail expected it to be that brutal.

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  3. Thanks for sharing PJ. Taking time off is a good idea. The CDT is tough but as you noted it is way tougher this early in the year. Do not lose sight of your goals! I am cheering for you!

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  4. There is the saying in thru hiker speak: hike your on hike, but I would suggest that after a little time off trail you should partner up with someone so you can watch out for each other backside. Try not to give up you will never forgive yourself. You life will be filled with the thought, “if only”.

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