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Posts Tagged ‘E.D.’

** From October 2015**

We walked out of Pie Town full and happy meandering along listening to podcasts. Right at the split between the route for the Black Hills and the Gila River route, we got a facebook message from Patch.
Patch: Where are you guys at? And where will you be in a week or so? I want to mail you guys something!

Me: We are just hitting the Gila alt. Will probably be in Lordsburg in a week. How are you and where are you?

Patch: Jesus, you guys are flying along. I’m doing well! I’m in Ghost Ranch. I took several days off with my Dad. Hoping to catch Das Boots and maybe Scally.

Now we were curious! For the next week, we pondered what it could be. We had several theories of interesting proportions going.

When we were pondering oneoo of the theories, we were all bushwhacking down toward Snow Lake when Wonderer dropped his phone in knee high grass somewhere. We all threw our packs down and fanned out trying to help him cover more ground to find it. Back and forth we went. Wonderer shooed us, taking a map from The Darkness and we started bushwhacking down when we heard a loud cry of joy. We looked up to see Wonderer grinning from ear to ear in a power stance holding his phone high above his head. We cheered from below in relief.


At Snow Lake, the cold started to set in. We wanted to get a few miles further down into the Gila canyon before we found a campsite. When we bailed into the privy south of Grants for that massive round of thunderstorms, this was where Whistle bailed out ahead of us and Scallywag had bailed back to Cuba behind us.

We put on shorts to save the leggings for later and walked past an ominous sign telling us to be prepared for a lack of trail, storm damage, and flooding. We got to the first crossing. The Gila River was a creamy dark color which obscured the bottom. The water rushed fast and the “trail” on the side was hit or miss. We used hiking poles to test the depths before getting in the icy water. The sun had already set out of the canyon and the shade added to the cold sinking into us. We began using the Crosby-o-meter to test for depth further than the banks of the river. Being 6’4” it was easier to tell how deep it was on him than us.

It was icy. It was rushing. Hiking poles necessary. And it was deep.


The shallowest crossing came up to my knees and I still couldn’t see the bottom. Most crossings reached mid thigh deep or more. Before each step, I’d plant a pole in the water to keep three points of contact with the unknown bottom at all times and my poles quivered from the water rushing at them. I started to not feel my feet anymore. Lucky for me, they seemed to know where to step anyway.

We found a great campsite that night. Everyone peeled off the wet layers as fast as possible in order to get into sleeping bags. I had to sit crossed legged for a while with my feet wedged in my knees to warm them up.

In the morning, we packed up and began walking as soon as it was light enough. We had discovered the difficulty of finding shallow crossings at night and decided to keep pushing as much as we could in the daylight. The ground and all the grasses were completely frost covered. The trail sometimes existed, other times it didn’t. At the minimum, we crossed the Gila once per third of a mile. My feet were already numb from the frost before even dipping into the icy water.

The Darkness, Crosby, and I walked without stopping. I ate to keep warm. At least warm enough. We all had several layers on and the cold seeping in from our feet and legs was rough. We paused to talk to some hunters and Wonderer caught up.

Wonderer: E.D. hiked up on the last trail. She said she was too cold and she’d take the higher routes over to Doc Campbell’s and meet us there.

We were grateful that she sent a message so we wouldn’t get caught up waiting and not seeing her. The four of us stuck together taking turns bushwhacking ahead and finding better crossings. The progress was epically slow. My feet were numb still and I was munching though food faster than normal to keep my metabolism going.

We took the shortest lunch break ever, then kept crossing. We knew we had to cross even if there was no trail because if we didn’t we’d run into a tall cliff wall. The canyon was beautiful beyond words, but with the extra waves of thunderstorms the past week, the water had risen significantly and as we got further down, it became harder and harder to find spots to cross below mid-thigh deep.

Wonderer watching The Darkness cross.

Eventually, toward dusk, we came to a crossing that none of us could agree on the best way to cross, so we went in slightly different places and watched each other. The Darkness chose a spot which looked awesome until the middle where it got expectantly deeper. Wonderer, Crosby, and I watched as her face change drastically as she went up higher than her waist getting the lady bits wet. But her feet held and she crossed to the bank.

She looked at all of us on the bank.

Me: Sooooo, next available campsite?

The Darkness: Yes.

None of us talked much as we had to cross a few more times before I found something that would work. Not ideal, but functional if we cleared a few dead branches and flood debris from the big flood in 2013. We made it work and made a campfire to boost morale as we ate dinner.

The morning brought a repeat of cold, frost, and icy water crossings still increasingly difficult to find suitable crossings. We had seen another trail heading steeply out of the canyon in a few miles to the higher routes that E.D. had hopped up to. We contemplated it until it started raining on us while thigh high deep in icy water with numb lower extremities. As we pulled out umbrellas and crossed again, we all looked at each other and knew we were bailing up and out. Once we found the trail, it was easy to follow. The link between the bottom of the Gila canyon and it was obviously not used much and very obscured.

Despite the rain, hiking up out of the canyon got our blood flowing and warmed up more than we had been in almost three days. We cruised along the top toward the west fork of the Gila River which we’d have to cross a few times before getting spit out at the Gila Cliff Dwellings. That was also cold. But there were only four crossings bringing our crossing total to 81 times on the middle fork and 4 on the west fork. Burrr.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings.

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**From October 2015**

We walked to the edge of Grants and tried to hitch back to the trail on the other side of the lava, thereby significantly decreasing our chances of getting struck by lightening. We waited. Saw a bunch of cops. Waited some more. Saw more cops. Still waited. We started doing magic tricks that ended with us smiling with our thumbs out. This elicited lots of smiles and waves, an offer of burritos, and an offer of the greener variety, but no rides.  Starting to become frustrated, we tried smiling with a $20 held up.  Nothing.

Crosby decided it was time to call the Mumms and ask if they had any time to drive us down. Luckily, they did and could meet us somewhere in an hour. We decided that we would rather eat for an hour than sit on the side of the road, so we inhabited a subway in the meantime.

Carol Mumm thought we were being very smart and told even more lightening lava stories. The extra time with her allowed us to hear more of her stories, and man, she is a good storyteller. We passed her some gas money and she went over where water was all the way to Pie Town to make sure we didn’t miss a key source.

As we walked, we saw an Arch, received a really delicious type of orange and cookies from a passing car, and a few high fives. It sporadically thunder stormed the rest of the afternoon. We knew we had to stealth camp that night and needed to get toward some trees. A split in the route came up with a water source on one and nothing on the other. The route with a windmill included an extra four miles or so.

The Darkness needed water, so she and Crosby went that way and neither E.D. nor I did, so we went the shorter way and agreed to see each other in Pie Town or before. E.D. and I walked until a little after sunset, found a fence lacking “no trespassing” signs, waited for no cars to pass, then hopped the fence to find a stealth site.

The mud.

Up at dawn, we jumped back over the fence quickly and resumed walking toward Pie Town. We had a few thunderstorms that day as we trudged through some of the thickest mud I’ve ever attempted to walk through. Each step would add a small new layer until each foot would have several pounds of mud attached. It felt like wearing platform shoes with lead weights. Whenever I’d start to feel frustrated, I’d pause and use my hiking pole or a nearby rock to scrape the rest of the mud off. This happened almost the entire day. Instead of getting frustrated, I decided that I would laugh each time I had to scrape a new platform shoe off. Eventually, it just became funny in it’s own right. Each passing shower or thunderstorm seemed to make the mud deeper and stickier.

Water source.

With no sign of The Darkness or Crosby, we decided to just bust some miles and make it to the Toaster House in Pie Town late that night. However, about four miles away and well after dark, we saw a mysterious light off in a field near a mysterious built contraption of unknown origins. I thought Inspector Gadget might be onto something with his alien theories. E.D. thought the light was watching us. We kept walking. The light moved. A mile later a large truck passed us, turned around and rolled down it’s windows.

Truck Dude: Are you…guys…ummm…ladies ok? It’s awful late to be out walking.

E.D.: We’re fine, thanks.

Truck Dude: [Looks at our packs] Oh no shit, more hikers! I thought you guys came through earlier in the year.

Me: That’s the northbounders. We started in Canada and are going to Mexico.

Truck Dude: Awesome, so you know where the Toaster House is, right?

E.D.: Yup. We’ll manage, thanks!

We booked it. The mysterious light in the field returned. We walked faster. The mud got thicker. Finally, we reached the edge of town, found Nita’s amazing oasis of the Toaster House, found somewhere to sleep and passed out.

In the morning, we fiddled with the wood stove and looked through the trail register commenting on all the people we knew. Some of Nita’s friends came by with boxes of food. We helped them unload the boxes and chatted with them for awhile.

When the post office opened, we took care of chores and went to eat lunch at a small place down the road that had a one room museum, a tiny little store, and one table for people to all sit at together. It was a nifty concept having only one table. We talked with the other folks eating there and struck up conversations that we would not have otherwise had the opportunity for if we had sat at different tables.

Thanks Nita!!!

Crosby showed up while The Darkness hit up the post office and ate with us too. Later in the afternoon, the four of us had the opportunity to meet Nita and she gave us an awesome tour of Pie Town. It was wonderful to hear her tell stories as well about her life, the Toaster House, the town, and stories of other hikers. Wonderer managed to make it in and catch up with us toward the end of the day, too.

We took our time leaving the next day, examining the weather reports closely from the wifi at the RV park next door. We seemed to be narrowly beating the snow down the state and needed to keep moving. Daylight still waned and the evening did not get any warmer.

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As we piled into the Travel Lodge, we dropped our packs, had a beer and went to stuff ourselves full of AYCE Asian medley food. We topped it off with a continuation of a TLC binge.

We hid from the rain in the motel room which was conveniently next to a Wal-Mart. At one point, we gave up on relying on our shells and bought $5 umbrellas. Life instantly became better.

While we looked at the bleak forecast of rain and thunderstorms on and off for days, we browsed the CDT facebook page for information . Patch had just posted very snowy pictures of Cumbres Pass. The rain suddenly looked better and better.

The Mumms came to the motel with our packages and wonderfully gave us a full water report for the upcoming windmills.

Easily Distracted picking up a tarantula.

In the morning, after breakfast and lunch and a slow meander, we left Grants headed toward the Bonita-Zuni Canyon to cross El Maipais. We found some more tarantulas, used the umbrellas on and off, and we had some entertaining conversations relating to absolutely nothing.

One conversation had gotten pretty in depth between The Darkness, E.D., and Crosby. So in depth, in fact, that they missed the left turn into the next canyon and kept walking.

Wonderer and I were about 200 feet behind them. We yelled. They kept walking. We “cooed.” They kept walking. Wonderer made high pitched noises. They kept walking. I pulled out my phone and called The Darkness.

The Darkness: Are you kidding me? You’re calling me?

Me: You’re going the wrong way.

They all stop.

The Darkness: Really?

Me: Turn around. Wonderer and I are at the turn.

The Darkness: Oh shit. Ok.

They walked toward us. When they got to us, we took the turn and found a good stealth spot for the evening.

The privy. Photo credit: Crosby

In the morning, we wandered toward El Maipais watching the increasing threats of thunderstorms from multiple directions. We got to the edge of the park at lunch, so we began eating lunch at the picnic table while we assessed the possibility of crossing the 7.5 miles of lava in increasingly inevitable thunderstorms. It began to rain. We moved into the privy. All five of us fit in the well-maintained privy. As the storm lightened, two park rangers opened the door and looked extremely confused.

E.D.: Oh sorry, we can hop out. We were hiding from the thunderstorm.

Ranger #1: We just need to clean it quickly.

We all bunched into the overhang outside of the privy and talked to the rangers about how to cross.

Ranger #2: Well that storm will hit you, probably half way across. That storm over the ridge may hit you, it may not. That storm way over there probably won’t hit you. But that main one there looks the biggest, will definitely hit you, and there could be another wave right behind it.

Ranger #1: Six park employees have been struck by lightening here. Two of which were in this parking lot actually.

Ranger #2: There is iron in the lava that attracts the lightening.

Great. Thunder cracked. The rangers left. We moved back into the privy. The rain got heavier than the first storm. Then the hail started. Marble sized hail pelted the ground and filled the increasingly large puddles everywhere. As Wonderer sat on the closed toilet seat eating a jar of jiffy spreadable cheesecake, we watched large lightening bolts hit the lava on the trail.

Wonderer: Why do Americans eat this?

Crosby: No one I know does…

Me: I’ve never seen it before…

The Darkness: Have you seen fluff yet?

E.D.: That looks interesting…

After multiple hours with all five of us in the privy and the weather not improving, we decided to hitch back to Grants. At a break in the storms with more pending, we managed to snag two rides into town and we all piled back into the Travel Lodge.

The Darkness turned on TLC to continue our marathon abilities. Being Sunday, the TLC marathon was sister wives, a worse show than normal. After five hours of sister wives, Wonderer finally spoke up.

Wonderer: What is the plot to this show?

The Darkness: There is no plot…it’s just their lives.

Wonderer: Hmmmm.

E.D.: Yeah…

In the morning, we plotted to wander out again to the other side of the lava to avoid the still present thunderstorms.

Between storms.

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As soon as I reached the top of the mesa, I found myself amazed at how suddenly flat the terrain became. Luckily, more of the climb than not had trees to shade us as we climbed during the heat of the day.

At the top of the mesa, we took a break in some shade leaning against our packs in different ways contemplating potential campsites location areas for later. We kept walking toward a water source which we knew would be half a mile off trail.

Me: E.D., do you remember this water source called “ojo de los indios”? It’s off trail quite a bit.

E.D.: Oooooooooh. And down. Very down.

Me: Good?

E.D.: Good, but down.

We headed in the direction of the water source, knowing that with the heat, none of us could skip it for the next source on trail. E.D. and I arrived at the side trail within a minute or two of each other and set our packs down to determine how much water we needed while we waited for The Darkness. Since the sun was setting, we grabbed headlamps while we stashed our packs so we only had to take water bottles down. After close to twenty minutes, we still didn’t see her, so we went down to grab some water.

E.D. was right. The trail was, in fact, half a mile off trail and down. We could see the cow troughs from above as we descended down to them. We had to go around one fence, then hop another, then hold bottles under a piece of PVC pipe feeding the cow troughs from the underground spring. It was dark as we had all of our bottles almost full. Then, we saw a headlamp and we “cooed” to find The Darkness coming down.

Eventually she wandered up with a smile on her face that screamed she had something interesting and potentially devious to tell us.

The Darkness: Guess what?!

E.D.: …what?

The Darkness: I talked to some Navajo ladies collecting piñon and they told me how to find them!

She held out a handful for us to see. Cue the “ooohs” and “aaaahs” as we contemplated how to find more the next day.

Sunrise.

We showed her how to get to the good water spot, then hiked back up to start cooking dinner. She finished getting water quickly and was back up to the top cooking with us in no time.

I convinced them to hike just a bit more at night because we were loosing daylight fast and needed to get some miles in so we didn’t run out of food. We got a few more miles in before finding a nice forested campsite for the evening.

In the morning, we awoke to a drastic change of weather. Instead of sweating buckets in tank tops, we now had on most of our layers, including puffys most of the morning. The CDT at this point mostly followed dirt four wheel drive roads and occasionally had bits of trail built in. We were coming up on the split in the trail where we could follow the official CDT around Mt. Taylor, or we could take the purple route over it.

While we thought about this, we noticed we sat on a large amount of piñon. Some hunters pulled up. Not only were they completely clad head to toe in camo, their ATV was clad in camo as well. We chatted and mentioned the piñon. The hunters showed us how to eat it by cracking it with your teeth. They also showed us the difference between old, rotten piñon and good piñon.

The Mt Taylor summit.

Despite the weather being cold, at least it wasn’t raining. We decided to hike up Mt. Taylor anyway because it would be the last time we’d hit 11,000 feet. We found a campsite near the top and summited in the morning in a cloud.

As soon as we dropped down about five hundred feet, we could see again. We cruised over to another mesa where we met back up with the official CDT and entered the world of piñon.

There was piñon everywhere. We set our packs down, collected, ate, and shared piñon for far too much time. We filled the Melanzana skirt pockets full. The piñon tasted deliciously fresh and we got fully distracted.

Piñon!

Whenever we tried to move further, we found richer, tastier piñon. It distracted us all morning until we realized that we had passed lunch just eating as much piñon as we possibly could.

Eventually we made it into Grants where we found a Crosby again!!

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**From October 2015**

We lingered at Ghost Ranch while Crosby and Memphis planned to hitch over to Santa Fe for the balloon festival. Memphis, having finished his flip and went a little extra, would head out after the festival, while Crosby found a way back to the trail.

Extra fiber…?

The Darkness, E.D., and I set out meandering through the desert, attempting not to run into the increasingly numerous plants sporting large spike devises. Eventually we followed the Rio Chama over to one of the more entertaining water sources we’d seen yet. It boasted a cow trough hidden slightly off trail amongst high grasses and a dead coiled snake near the easiest spot to grab water after we scraped the green slime to the side.

After grabbing some water from the trough, which tasted surprisingly good despite its outward appearance, we hiked on into canyons and on mesas. I found myself surprised at the amount of trees in northern New Mexico. I somewhat expected a desert more like the first 700 miles of the PCT, but I am quickly learning that the different areas of desert have significantly different characters.

For example, this desert boasted quite a few tarantulas. So many, in fact, that I purposely set up my tent each night simply for the peace of mind that I would not wake up with one on my face. Fascinating to watch, I found that the tarantulas photographed quite well and did not seem to mind my phone hovering near them.

I had heard through the thru-hiking grapevine (mostly from nobos) that to be free of the big snow potential, we needed to get south of Ghost Ranch. However, we still had to climb up and over the San Pedro Peaks to get into Cuba which reached 10,500 feet. We climbed up towards the end of a day looking for a flat campsite. Right as the sun had set and dusk began getting dark, we narrowly missed a turn in the CDT. One of those where the obvious trail goes one way and the CDT breaks off to the side. Just down in some trees off the trail, we found an excellent campsite.

San Pedro peaks, which we camped on that night, resembled more of a large mesa instead of mountains. When we woke up, the large grassy, swampy, fieldy areas were covered in frost. Cue: frosty feet. Meaning: very cold feet.

My feet did not warm up until we hit a dirt road at the bottom of San Pedro peaks which would take us into Cuba. We went from lots of layers straight into tank tops. With a several mile meander into town, we made some of our necessary town phone calls, then went straight into El Bruno, a popular Mexican restaurant.

Stuffed full of Mexican food and margaritas, we stumbled into a motel room where we proceeded to have a TLC binge for “My Strange Addiction.” Coming from the mesas and frosty feet straight into five hours of reality television was a shock. However, it gave us fodder to quote incessantly for the rest of the trail. Our favorite included a couple and their very strange addiction to coffee enemas.

Man: I thought coffee enemas were disgusting. Then I tried a coffee enema. Now I’m addicted to coffee enemas.

You can imagine how the rest of that show went.

We continued watching TLC the next morning until we had to leave with several hours of 90 Day Fiancé. Not as entertaining.

The Darkness’s new leggings.

Of course, leaving town took forever. But The Darkness had bought a Melanzana skirt to match the ones E.D. and I picked up in Leadville as well as some French Fry leggings. We had a several mile road walk out of town, which went right past the Cuba Café. By that time, it was noon and we decided lunch should happen.

Finally, we stumbled out of town in absurd heat. Once we got off the official road walk and onto a trail, we found patches of shade to take a break under. The trail between Cuba and Grants had very diverse landscapes to go through. Some looked like Mars. Some had amazing petrified wood. Others had thick piñon pine forests.

On some BLM land, The Darkness found a piece of petrified wood that she became rather attached to and decided to carry. E.D. and I took turns guessing how much it weighed.

Me: Five pounds.

E.D.: Six pounds.

The Darkness: No, it’s not that much. Maybe four pounds.

Me: At least four and a half.

E.D.: At least five.

The Darkness: Maybe I shouldn’t carry it.

Me: No, you should definitely carry that, it’s super cool.

E.D.: Yeah, I agree.

That evening, we found a spikey-plant free location. We set up our tents without rain flies to see the stars without having unexpected tarantula visits.  This location also had just enough cell service to get a text from Crosby that he was doing his best to keep up.  Due to our lingering and his not lingering, he was closing in.  We texted him our location and our plan for Grants, the next town.

In the morning, we had another extremely hot day. Despite starting early, we hit one of the main water sources for the day right at lunch, before a large climb. We sat at a questionable tank.

E.D.: Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

The Darkness: I feel like an arm is going to come out of it and pull one of us in.

Me: It’d be another good horror movie set.

The color of the water discouraged us from drinking it, however, we did anyway. We decided to update the source for sobos because all of the water sources had notes from and for the nobos. We gave it a Halloween twist because that was coming up in about two weeks.

From the water source, we plugged up one of the big climbs in this stretch. At the top, The Darkness did some talking that ended up extending this section by about half a day at least…

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**From October 2015**

As we were hitching and not getting picked up, a mini bus pulled over. A tour mini bus. With older people. We thought there was a mistake. Until Memphis popped out of the window and the driver opened the doors and told us to get in. Only Memphis could yogi a ride from a paid tour group full of people in nice shoes and cardigans. In exchange for the ride, the driver had us talk about our hike until we got to Chama.

Hoping out of the tour mini bus, we set our packs down in the bar. E.D. and I had both sent packages to the post office, so we ran over there before it closed while The Darkness, Crosby, and Memphis got a head start on beers. Technically, E.D. finished her flip in Chama, but The Darkness, Crosby, and I had been trying to convince her to just keep hiking and become a true sobo. What’s another 700ish miles? Why not, right? We had celebratory beers anyway, partly because Platoro had none.

Full of food and beer, we heading toward the Y, the best, cheap, hiker friendly motel in the area. It was about a mile away, so we threw our thumbs out just in case. At an intersection, a very large man in camo pants and a neon green shirt waved us down and ran across the street. He was giving out New Mexico bandanas to passersby. When he heard we were hikers, he offered us a ride in his monster truck to the motel.

We climbed up and got there lickity split. As we piled out, we saw the front desk lady laughing and shaking her head. Leaving our packs outside, we meandered in to see what spaces she had.

Front Desk Lady: I knew you were hikers the second I saw five of you jump out the back of that thing! Haven’t seen to0 many of you since April!

She hooked us up with a good deal on two rooms between the five of us and we set about the normal chores plus a few extra ones. In The Darkness’s absence from us, she had decided to stop brushing her hair and had formed a single dread under her hat with all of her hair somehow in it. One job was to brush that out.

The weather had begun to look nasty again as we managed to sneak in the laundromat right before it closed with a six pack. We snagged that and decided to leave the next day late morning or so, hoping it might have a chance of improving in the morning.

However, when we woke up, the weather in town had cleared, but we couldn’t see the ridges in the slightest. We took our time leaving the rooms and ultimately decided to road walk to Ghost Ranch as we heard thunder cracking. In short time, we were trudging along the road in full rain gear plodding away.

Apparently we looked odd enough that a cop turned around. We dutifully took off our sunglasses and chatted politely. She seemed simply curious. We pointed where the trail actually was and her reply was:

Cop Lady: Yeah, I wouldn’t want to be up there either.

Thunder clapped again.

Cop Lady: Hmm, yeah, definitely not. Have fun.

We proceeded over to a store on the side of the road where we enjoyed sodas and chips and scoped out the maps for possible stealth sites. Loitering until we finished our snacks, we headed back out and found a slightly stealth spot off the side of the road near a fence. We stayed on the roadside of the fence.

Suddenly, I woke up to dogs. Loud dogs. Sniffing. Great. We probably shouldn’t have camped where we did, but we weren’t trespassing either. The dogs went away eventually, although not silently.

The next day, we had a fun activity planned. Walk 14 miles to a bar on the side of the road. On the way, a car slammed on it’s breaks and pulled over.  All of us paused.  Then Axel popped out of the car excited having finished his flip.  We met his sister who had taken him to Ghost Ranch for a massage and they passed us sodas.  We meandered along finding odd bits of trash, license plates, and other questionable roadside items until we found the bar.

The $2 bill.

The Bar, El Cuerno, had five bar stools. The bar itself had no food, however the gas station convenience store attached had a microwave in which one could put frozen pizzas and other classic convenience store items in to heat up. The bartender also ran the convenience store and conveniently believed in tabs. El Cuerno had $1, $5, $10, $20, and a few $50 bills plastered to the walls and ceiling.

About three hours into our patronage of El Cuerno, we decided to put a bill for the CDT up. The Darkness looked smug and pulled a $2 bill out. We wrote “CDT SOBO 2015” with all of our trail names.

Eventually, we meandered on to find another stealth campsite when we ran into the spot where the trail crosses the road. Conveniently, it had a wonderful campsite near some questionable water.

Coming into Ghost Ranch.

We meandered into Ghost Ranch just in time for lunch the next day and were greeted well. They reminded us that lunch was not AYCE like our guidebook (Yogi) said. We just said ok and loaded a tray up each. Probably higher than most, if not all, but we did not need seconds after that.

Snagging a campsite, we split the cost and headed for the shower room where we could charge devises and do some laundry. Underneath one of the sinks, we found Whistle’s discarded and decrepitated Altra shoes. We knew they were his because we had been following his tracks for close to 2,000 miles.

Whistle’s discarded shoes.

We used plenty of their wifi and hoped to watch a movie in a room ED remembered with great fondness. However, when we wandered that way, a religious meeting of some sort had staged a coup of the movie room for the entire evening. Instead, Memphis downloaded some comedy podcasts and we enjoyed them over the picnic table at the campsite.

In the morning, we plotted our route to into Cuba, New Mexico.

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**From October 2015**

Around dusk, we stumbled up to a campfire “cooey-ing” and receiving excited “cooey” responses. We knew we had found The Darkness. Dropping our packs haphazardly we each gave her a big hug and all spoke at the same time with different stories from the past 1,000 miles that she had gotten slightly behind us.

We set up tents and swapped story after story until the weather tried to snow and rain on us. We were glad to have her back, joking that the harem was reunited. Since Scallywag had taken the San Juan’s loop, he was about five to six days behind us and we needed a new bull elk. We decided Crosby was up to that task.

The weather decided not to improve in the morning, so while The Darkness stoked the fire back up, we poked around on maps and Memphis mentioned a tiny “town” called Platoro was where he had gotten off trail going nobo to flip. Taking some dirt roads over that way avoided quite a bit of above treeline in the sleet that started trying to dampen the fire. Plus, then we could catch up more since we had not exhausted our stories the previous night.

Meandering around on the dirt roads, we heard all new tales of hikers a few days behind us like the whereabouts of Lighthouse and Fun Size, Das Boots, and the Swiss Couple. The precipitation shifted switched between rain, sleet, and wisps of potential snow faster than most politicians can change positions. However, with good conversation, we stumbled into the “town” of Platoro, Colorado.

It looked creepy. Everything seemed closed. The weather added to the creepiness. Memphis started to meander away from the group looking for something.

The Darkness: Where’s Memphis going?

E.D.: Not sure.

Me: This is the point in the horror movie where we start getting picked off one by one…

Crosby: Follow?

We followed Memphis though someone’s lawn, whose windows had plywood covering them and we walked past a business of some sort, also with plywood in the windows and went toward an “open” business. It appeared to be a store, restaurant, cabin rental, and RV spot all in one. We looked longingly. We lingered. Memphis returned saying it would open in about half an hour. We wondered if we could linger on the porch out of the rain when a man approached us seemingly out of thin air, who we later learned was Michael.

Michael: You all look cold! Why don’t you come inside and warm up by the fire with tea and coffee until we open.

We gladly took him up on the offer, placed our packs on the porch, and went inside to hover as close as possible to a wood stove. Michael was incredibly hospitable and gracious opening early, putting an extra log on the fire, and letting us do a jigsaw puzzle until the kitchen could be ready again.

All of us scarfed down food as fast as they could crank it out of the kitchen. At that point in the hike, all of us needed to put on weight or at the very minimum, not lose more. The cold had been depleting our calories faster that we were able to replace them with trail food—food that we were all getting tired of.

Memphis disappeared for a bit and came back saying he got the “CDT” cabin for us all for the night because the weather tonight looked bleak. The single room cabin had three beds, an old TV, and a VCR. Naturally, all five of us fit perfectly and watched a George Clooney movie that night while the rain refused to let up. Right as we were trying to fall asleep, huge thunder claps kept us up just long enough to be thankful for the shelter.

We waited for the restaurant to open for breakfast and scarfed down even more food, while we attempted to motivate ourselves back out into the weather that had improved, but not greatly. After we reluctantly finished packing up and thoroughly talking Memphis into a cooler hat, Michael brought us back to the trail, while trying to give us jobs for the following summer.

Out into the misty, cold cloud drenched hills we climbed. We had to cross a large creek to jump back onto the CDT itself which Memphis skillfully hid from E.D. until we got to it.

Memphis: WHOA! This was raging when we had to cross it. This was why we bailed into Platoro.

We all looked at it and managed to rock hop across without our feet getting wet. What a difference snow melt could make.

The misty campsite.

Once we had climbed back up, we found a glorious campsite. Unfortunately, it was only lunchtime. As we all sat there, The Darkness scrambled around and got a small fire going while we ate. She was so excited for people after hiking alone for a week.

On top of the ridge.

It was one of those days where we all had to put on rain gear, then take it off twenty minutes later only to put it on twenty more minutes later. We hiked over one of the last 11,000 foot ridges and dropped down to a campsite by a marshy lake where The Darkness decided we needed more campfire time.

Pitching our tents, we set about helping her gather the driest wood we could find in a largely wet area. With the help of some heet, we had a fire going in no time.

The five us of sat around the fire that whole evening, well past dark talking until we hit hiker midnight (around 9pm) and fell asleep just as another rain shower passed through.

In the morning, we had to climb one more lower ridge and meander along it until we got to Cumbres Pass which we could take into Chama. The rain had ceased, but clouds passed through frequently adding a new texture to the hike. When we looked back at the last ridge over 11,000 feet, we saw the snow line. Had we camped higher, we would have woken up in snow. The top of this lower ridge had a thin layer of snow as well that melted quickly as we hurried south.

I hiked toward the road with Crosby and E.D. and the three of us caught The Darkness right before hitching. However, Memphis was nowhere in sight. We all thought he was in front of us, so we thought that he might have gotten lucky and found a ride. We threw our thumbs out while we tried to look for him coming down off the trail when we found him in the oddest way…

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Since we had woken up at 4am and hiked all day, we planned to stop at sunset again to allow ourselves to catch up on sleep again. We had seen another spot around 11,000 feet on the map and were aiming for that before we soared up to another set of ridgelines. At that point, 11,000 feet had begun to seem low.

All four of us hiked slightly different paces toward the end of the day and had spread out a bit before camp. About a mile before the spot we wanted to check out for campsites, I saw a trail split. Remembering that we no longer had the Colorado Trail with it’s signs, wide trail, and easy grades, I stopped and checked Guthook to make sure. A well trod path extended slightly to the right and a spur broke off the to left and looked distinctly less traveled. I knew we were supposed to stay contouring for a bit and the well traveled path looked like it went straight down into the valley. Sure enough, Guthook noted a junction and that we needed to stay left on the less noticeable trail.

I plodded along and found Crosby sitting on his pack by a water source reading a book. I sat for a bit and we found ED, but no Memphis. Continuing to the spot we thought about camping, we found good spots and set up. Still no Memphis.

E.D.: Do you think he took the wrong turn back there?

Me: Maybe, that was not an easy one to catch.

Crosby: Memphis would like sitting down at a fire if he did take the wrong turn. Let’s get one going.

Campfire

We set about doing so, got it going and began eating when we saw his blaze orange hunting vest draped over his pack. We “cooed” to get his attention and he beelined for the fire. He plopped down.

Memphis: I went down that horse trail back there. I went…down. About 1,000 feet down.

The sky changed colors as the sun went down over the ridge and we eventually migrated to our tents and I convinced everyone to get up early again to make the miles we needed to get to the road at a decent time. We had contacted Karla, per Karma’s recommendation, and given her a day that we should get to Wolf Creek Pass, but we hadn’t had any cell service to give a more accurate ETA.

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The other side of the sunset from the campfire.

In the morning, we all got up a little slower, but started hiking upward immediately again. We hiked along a ridge and crept up to the highest point left in this section and sat to watch the sunrise. The whole sky and tree cover below had an orange glow. It seemed magical. It got more magical when we noticed we had several bars of cell service and LTE.

Good morning!

Right as I was wondering if 6:15 am was too early to message Karla, she messaged me. We gave her an ETA at the pass and she said either she or Mark would be there and to keep her updated.

We also got an email from Frodo who was organizing a finishing party for Scout in Chama the following evening. She said she’d be willing to come get us from Pagosa Springs and drop us back off. We responded back with a “yes, please!”

Last but not least, I found texts from The Darkness. It read:

The Darkness: I’m Creede Cut-Offing for you all. See you somewhere around Wolf Creek Pass or Chama at the latest.

We texted back our plan while we let the sunrise warm us. The trail meandered down and all around smaller ridges, a few lakes, and then went tantalizingly close to the road, but not down to Wolf Creek Pass for several miles.

At the bottom of the pass, we found a cooler with sodas. We had one while we waited for Mark to pick us up. We did not have to wait long and Mark didn’t even seem to mind our smell! He knew we would want food first and suggested the Mexican restaurant in town. Karla met us there and we all ate plenty of delicious food.

They took us home and let us shower and helped us with laundry. It was such a nice change to be in a house instead of our go to cheap motels. It was topped off by sleeping in the man-cave and some a-mazing pancakes in the morning! It’d be hard to beat the trail magic from Karla and Mark.

Karla brought us over to Riff Raff Brewery where we found Axel and Let It Be having a beer. We joined while we waited for Frodo. After a group picture and big hugs from Karla, we all jumped in Benny, the van Frodo was using up and down the CDT.

Photo Credit: Axel

She brought us to a motel in Chama where we found Scout, Whistle (who we hadn’t seen since Lincoln, MT around mile 300), Guy-on-a-buffalo, Apache, and Wonderer. So much of Scout and Frodo’s family joined and it was a fantastically supportive group of people. We were later joined by Ridgerunner and K2 as well who had finished their flip a few days prior.

There was dinner, cake, root beer floats, and some beer. Scout and Frodo were so gracious to come get us, too. A lot of us stayed up late talking and were a little slow to move in the morning. We did eventually figure out rides for who needed to get where and were unsuccessful at convincing Whistle to take several zeros and wait for us.

When we got dropped off back at Wolf Creek Pass, we realized The Darkness had skipped town there and had gotten about 5-7 miles ahead of us. After some quick texting back and forth with a horrible picture of a dead creature on the side of the trail, we had a plan.

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**From September 2015**

While we all enjoyed the lunar eclipse and the stars, none of us had slept well. It was definitely a two caffeine packet type of day. The first of which occurred as soon as we all had walked sufficiently to warm ourselves up. We crossed a high plateau full of little pools of water.

Bye, Colorado Trail.

At the end of the plateau, the trail split. To the right: the Colorado Trail full of nicely groomed and maintained switchbacks which make for a very elegant photo. To the left: the CDT where the trail immediately becomes less trodden, signage goes away, and the trail goes straight down, not bothering with switchbacks. Alas, the CDT’s fling with the CT had ended and we were back to navigating again.

We came across a remote trailhead with a register. Axel was still ahead of us. We saw that Whistle, Scout, Guy-on-a-buffalo, Apache, and Wonderer were not too far ahead of us. Probably about four days ahead.

The San Juans were really too beautiful to put into words, so some of these posts will be shorter with more pictures, however, even the pictures don’t always give them the justice they deserve. Everywhere, we saw a view. Everywhere, new peaks arose. Everywhere, alpine flowers still held blossoms. Herds of elk roamed about. If we couldn’t see them, we heard them bugling at night.

We saw one of the best sunsets on trail from a crazy cool ridge that had a beautiful trail carved in it. After we snacked and watch the sun set, we meandered on top of the ridge to a saddle which we called home for a night.

No explanation needed.

The morning brought a cold climb up to a ridge with neat rock formations. One of which was labeled as “the window” on the map whereby Ley had a sketchy dotted line through it if you wanted an extra adventure.

The “window” from the south side.

We had along decent after the window to a stream which forced some noise out of each of us as we walked through. It was cold. On the other side, we found an amazing campsite with seats! Unfortunately, we found it around 10am and had to keep hiking away from its epicness.

For the next move through the San Juans, we had to cross an unassuming valley floor with knee high grasses and a trail that disappeared into them. This seemed completely normal until we reached a stream channel in the middle which did not look jumpable. We spent too much time analyzing how to get across this channel and all took slightly different routes. Memphis and ED went for the throwing of packs to the other side with running leaps after scouting close to a quarter mile of its length. I decided to watch Crosby try and cross without a pack to see how deep it actually was. He ferried his pack and my pack across and it was mid-thigh on him, so about waist deep for me. Brown cow water channel. At least we hit it in the morning where the sun could easily dry us off over the course of the day.

We began climbing back up to more ridgelines and started noticing thunder clouds forming. The weather forecast from lake city did not include thunderstorms. I managed to scan my weather app quickly from the top with the barest hint of 3G and glean that isolated afternoon thunderstorms had entered the forecast for the next two days. We escaped that day with only a few sprinkles and watched the rain pass over adjacent ridges.

One of many isolated storm pockets.

That night, we camped below 12,000 feet for the first time in three nights. We purposely chose a lower elevation for a change to see if we’d sleep a little better. Memphis wanted to stop early and have a fire and had found a potential campsite. It had plenty of room once we flung the horse shit out of the flat spots with our trekking poles.

Memphis started a fire and we sat around it to eat dinner. Crosby recited the longest poem I’ve ever heard someone recite. Some ghost stories occurred and I convinced everyone to get up at 4am and morning night hike to get more miles in before any potential thunderstorms. That way, if we did have to hunker down, we’d have already hiked enough miles to not run out of food.

It was a fun morning night hike several thousand feet uphill first thing. Through denser forest to shrubs, to ridgeline. We got to see the sunrise and have second breakfast while we watched it. That day, we got to hike the famous “knife’s edge,” which had some amazing trail construction and offered swift, gallant views.

The knife’s edge.

The trail dropped down to a valley shelf then up onto bare, gravel ridges that had sparse vegetation in the saddles. We watched various storms from the ridge pass over adjacent ridges, but only heard a little bit of thunder. None of us saw lightening and none of the storms passed over the ridges we walked.

Some of the ridges after the knife’s edge.

 

 

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**From September 2015**

Naturally, we stood on the side of the road sipping beers trying to hitch a ride at dark. When cars came by, we hid the beers behind our backs. In twenty minutes, two cars passed. Both had Texas plates. A work van passed. The work van turned around. We turn, chug the rest of the beer, and shove the cans in our pack side pockets.

Guys: No one else is going to pick you guys up. Can you squish?

Memphis: Yup!

We had a good ride down to Lake City where the guys dropped us off and we found Axel who had gotten about five miles ahead of us from Salida. We dropped our packs and immediately went for food and beer. Showers could wait. For us at least.

When we got back to the hostel, Alix was there to take money and show us the ropes. We met Lucky and chilled around an indoor picnic table somewhat thinking of the chore order for the next day. ED hadn’t been feeling well, so she was finally planning on going to a clinic.

The next day, while we were making a laundry plan, Crosby caught up and walked into the hostel. He looked like he wanted to stay the night, but we weren’t looking for a zero until ED came back with giardia meds looking miserable and curled up in a ball on her bunk. We zeroed. Axel left, planning to hike eight miles to a yurt.

The zero day became a lazy laundry, chatting, wandering around town day and catching up on phone calls to the other world. We asked Alix if she’d be willing to drive us up to the pass the next morning if we tossed her some gas money and she agreed. We got some San Juan’s updates from Jeff who had decided to slow to ten miles a day with a book to finish his flip in Chama. He was still laying in his bed giving us the beta for the next section at 10am.

The next morning, Alix drove us out of Lake City and we hit the trail anew, ready for the San Juan loop that we had anxiously been awaiting for pretty much the entire trail. Big thanks to Alix! She also has a really cool blog here.

Just past the yurt looking down into the valley.

We hiked over toward the yurt for a lunch break since it had a water source nearby and who doesn’t want to check out a yurt? Memphis beat us there and we eventually caught up and checked it out. It was the same one I’d stayed in on the Colorado Trail four years before.

The trail then climbs to the high point for the Colorado Trail at 13,000 and change. This also began the 40 mile or so section above 12,000ft entirely. Nothing but sweet, beautiful ridges with solidly built trail. We had the Colorado Trail for just a bit more before it split off toward Durango and we went toward Wolf Creek Pass.

The nicely signed Colorado Trail which we were about to leave.

We camped fairly high that night in a hidden spot that Memphis and Crosby found as the sun had just finished setting. At first with the low light, I thought instantly, “oh shit, a moose” until I heard the sound of someone blowing up a Thermarest. All of us had begun to notice the shorter daylight marked by decreases in mileage and colder temperatures. The weather report we saw gave us a six day window of awesomeness—exactly what we needed.

Good morning, Mr. Moose.

In the morning, we woke up to Memphis deflating his pad as usual and we had another glorious day. It was nice having Crosby along to mix up the conversations a bit during breaks. We wanted to stop frequently because each high point brought about a different view and usually none of us had tired of the previous view.

Continuing past the dirt road which would eventually lead to Silverton, Crosby reminded us that we could watch a lunar eclipse tonight. We knew we had to get higher for a better, unobstructed view. Part way up the climb my stomach forced me to sit and eat before dinner. I’d gotten to the point where I couldn’t ignore my stomach anymore. I impatiently ate a cliff bar and some chocolate to fuel me up the last climb of the night. ED, Crosby, and Memphis passed me while I ate.

The iPhone’s attempt at capturing the lunar eclipse.

They had found a good spot on a ridge around 12,600ft where we could see the moon and the stars. We set about cooking dinner and waiting for the eclipse. The temperature began dropping and we put on layers sequentially. Even with the full moon, we could see a brilliant amount of stars and no light pollution. We watched almost the full eclipse when a few clouds blocked the last bit.

At that point, we gave up on hiking more and laid down in a line to cowboy camp and watch the shooting stars on the other side. We listened to some tunes and tried to pick out the constellations we all knew. Memphis strategically placed himself out of punching range so he could snore uninterrupted.

That night was cold. So cold, in fact, that we woke up with the sunrise completely covered in thick frost.

Shaking off the frost and watching the sunrise.

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