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Posts Tagged ‘Melanzana’

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 September 2015**

The wind howled that night even more than the people howled at the moon. As I attempted to sleepily chug some granola with coconut milk powder, I knew I’d have trouble getting out of the tent that morning. Gusts of wind hit my tent and all I just wanted was to pull my sleeping bag over my head. Eventually, my mind won and I put on almost all of my layers, packed up quickly, and started hiking. Impervious to the weather, Memphis headed off first as usual. E.D. poked her head out of her tent as I shivered stuffing my tent into my backpack.

9:30am – puffy still on.

New in the past few years, this stretch of trail stayed above treeline on a beautiful ridge for about 14 miles. I kept my puffy on as I hiked uphill, higher on the ridge. This ridge was by no means flat. They almost never are. This particular ridge had quite a few ups and downs. The trail shifted sides of the ridge a few times and did not duck far enough down to water for at least seven miles. I did not remove my puffy until 11am and never removed my trusty Melanzana.

The alternative to this ridgeline went over Tincup Pass on a dirt road and remained a route option for bad weather. With the amount of ATVs out and lack of thunderstorms in the foreseeable future, we had opted for the ridge.

CDT ridge walking.

Eventually, later in the day, we finally began descending in an epic plunge through trees and switchbacks. At the bottom, the dirt road from Tincup Pass linked back to the trail. Guthook showed some PUDs coming up which did not sound very exciting. However, Ley had mentioned a ghost town called St. Elmo down the dirt road the opposite way of Tincup Pass. About the same mileage without the PUDs, E.D. and I decided to explore.

Sometimes, walking down the dirt roads is a refreshing break because it requires less mental effort in navigation if the body or mind is tired. Plus, there’s a ghost town. That we’d hit at night. Perfect!

About four miles of wandering down the dirt road, we hit St. Elmo and it was, indeed, creepy. We had passed plenty of campsites on the way in with fires burning and cars pulled off to the side of the road, but no one in the “town” itself. The buildings had a stock, old feel to them and when we peered inside with headlamps, the wallpaper which was on only half on the walls moved in the breeze.

The town hosted several large signs dictating the illegality of camping within the “town” limits—not that anyone would sleep well there. We found an old sign that had lots of pictures of previous residents and a little information on who kept up the “town’s” current appearance.

It was too dark to take pictures of St. Elmo, but this was nearby at dawn.

We had to switch dirt roads in town and we had slight difficulties with this at night while simultaneously trying to not get freaked out. This road hosted some interesting cliffs and not nearly the camping opportunities that the previous road had. We ended up finding a side road toward a broken bridge to camp on. We went around the large stone blockades figuring that was for cars and not people on foot and camped. We did not notice the RV on the other side of the broken bridge until it’s generator came on mysteriously later.

We skedaddled just before dawn to try and catch Memphis, who would doubtless be confused. We jumped back on trail at the Hancock trailhead and went around a beautiful lake on the way to Chalk Creek Pass. We still hadn’t seen Memphis. We didn’t find him on the long descent down either where we’d usually catch him.

Right as we were about to head up to another ridge toward Monarch Pass, we thought we might pull a fast one on Memphis if we took a dirt road over to the main road and walked that up to Monarch Pass and beat him to town.

It worked. Right as we got to Monarch Pass, immediately after taking our headphones out a Subaru of two ultra runners playing Eddie Vedder pulled over and asked if we needed a ride into Salida. Why yes, yes please!

We found the hostel and a pizza place while we texted Memphis the plan. Halfway through a pizza, Inspector Gadget and Last on the Bus messaged us asking where we were and how long we’d be in town. They said they’d meet us tomorrow for breakfast. Memphis got to the hostel right as we had finished a pizza each and we began the laundry process.

Gadget and LB did find us in the morning as we found Axel, who we’d been following about a day or two behind for almost two thousand miles. In my resupply box, my Mom’s friend Kathy had included an amazing array of temporary tattoos. While we decided on a breakfast location, I convinced everyone in the immediate vicinity that they needed to put on a temporary tattoo. Then, we set a few aside with Gadget and LB to get Mellow Yellow one at their next stop. With thru-hikers, hostel guests, and hostel staff fully equipped with at least one temporary tattoo each, we created a breakfast plan.

Axel had contacted Karla, an amazing trail angel in South Fork, Colorado who was passing through the area. They had planned on breakfast at a specific restaurant, which I later learned was the only good breakfast place in town. While she drove in, LB, Gadget, E.D., Memphis, and I hopped in LB’s car and got on the table wait list, so they could roll right into a table, which turned into a fantastic time.

After breakfast, we went back to the hostel to pack up slowly. So slowly, in fact, we decided we needed lunch before heading to the trail. LB suggested we go to Midnight Pizza and Brewery, so we enjoyed two pizza locations in Salida. That was an awesome suggestion.

We did finally get back up to Monarch Pass that afternoon where we dallied more at the small store there because we searched the register to see how far ahead others had gotten from us in the meantime. Finally, we said goodbye to LB and Gadget and tried to get a few miles in before dark.

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**From September 2015**

Eventually, we managed to extract ourselves from the vortex of Leadville and made our way back to the Trail with a ride from a former thru-hiker in a Subaru. She dropped us off at Tennessee Pass where we moved sluggishly down the trail and quickly encountered a cooler further distracting us from Mexico.

Once we extracted ourselves from the cooler, we proceeded along the trail. Eventually, we paused and ate the subs we packed out for dinner and debated about a campsite location. The three of us came up with an “ideal” spot and a “probably spot.” I then came to the dilemma of how much of the sub to eat. I ate half just fine and wanted more, but sometimes, the other half can be too much, especially going uphill. My stomach overruled my rational brain and I ate the other half.

About a quarter mile later I regretted that as we plugged away uphill. If I was sluggish before, I became more so. Memphis had shot ahead uphill like usual and E.D. was not too far ahead of me having the same problem. When we got to the top of the climb, I noticed E.D. had found a campsite and was ready to fall asleep to digest the subway. I wanted to go a little further, but a raindrop hit my face and it was dark, so we set up tents and figured we’d find Memphis in the morning. Just as we got tents up, it began to rain and it continued most of the night.

The aspens on the way down to Twin Lakes.

The next day, we eventually got high enough to send Memphis a text. He replied that he was almost to Twin Lakes and heard about a hiker cabin available for dirt cheap by the store that Yogi slammed in her town guide. I had skipped Twin Lakes on the Colorado Trail four years prior, so I was curious. Since the weather fell into the “less than ideal” category, we wanted to see if we could snag said cabin. We had camped at about 11,000 feet and the snow line in the morning only fell about five hundred feet above us.

Memphis got into town before the store closed, rented the cabin for $30 total for all three of us and told us the location before heading to the only restaurant in the nearby hotel. With the weather turning worse in the evening, we found the cabin most comfortable and it even came with a TV/DVD set up. We had a choice between three DVDs.

When the store opened in the morning they could not have been nicer. Don’t listen to Yogi on this one. They rocked.

Leaving Twin Lakes included an adventure of its own. Ley had a dotted route cutting off about a mile, but potentially went through some swampy stuff around one of the lakes. There was a longer route with a bridge and an easier graded trail up to the steeper stuff. Memphis chose the wet feet route, I chose the dry feet route, and E.D. delayed deciding by making a phone call.

On the way up toward Hope Pass, I ran into six older women who wanted to chat. They had known each other for awhile and several had on Melanzanas.

Hope Pass was marked by a cairn with prayer flags.

Hope Pass seemed to go on forever on an overstuffed stomach, however, the storms abated. Right before the pass, I could hear the wind howling, but didn’t quite grasp the extent until I stood on top of the pass clamping my hand on my head to keep possession of my hat. I did manage to take a few timed photos and hung out there until my face felt sufficiently battered by the wind.

Descending Hope Pass was the first time in a long time that my knees began hurting. The south side had a very steep grade. I had to stop and stretch the muscles around my knees a few times.

I ran into Memphis at a stream toward the bottom. There was an opportunity to see some historic building that he was very excited about and a dirt road alternate parallel to the trail.

I continued on the trail and eventually stopped to sit at the junction of the trail and the end of the dirt road alternate in a I-have-to-eat-now moment. Just as I finished chomping an unappetizing, but effective cliff bar, E.D. and Memphis appeared and wanted to camp early. I threw my pack on and we agreed to stop for the first decent campsite we saw.

Surprisingly, that was not far down the trail. It even boasted a fire pit and a stream. We all set up and Memphis immediately set about to make a fire for the early stop. We all cooked, chatted, and slept an extra hour or two that night.

Lake Ann Pass seemed like the top of the world.

In the morning, we charged uphill to Lake Ann Pass. It was another long, steady climb with nothing but rocks toward the end. We definitely had stopped at the best campsite on the way up, which made all of us pleased. Lake Ann Pass gave us a whole new valley of scenery to stare at in awe.

The rest of the day, we spent descending and meandering around in large aspen groves. We passed one strange individual. He was obviously a hunter and not very chatty, although not threatening under what appeared to be segments of an elk he had shot and compartmentalized in large bags on his external frame pack.

We wanted to get up toward Cottonwood Pass to better get across 14 miles above treeline the next morning. This meant that we had to climb 2,000 ft at the end of the day into the waning sunlight. We managed to finish the climb and find a not so great campsite right off the road. A large group of loud people came up to park and look at the brilliant array of stars. They howled at the moon.

Coming up to Cottonwood Pass and the view of the next day’s ridgeline.

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**From September 2015**

Reluctantly, we left the warm hut at Berthoud Pass and headed out into the bitingly cold Colorado morning wind. Of course, we had to begin going uphill in the shade and we all had quite a few layers on to begin with despite knowing we’d all have to stop in half an hour or less to remove a layer.

Memphis, in his unending ability to shoot straight uphill went for it first while Sleepwalker hitched into Winter Park, E.D. huddled in her puffy and I mentally convinced myself to get battered by the wind. As usual, about halfway up the climb, I had to stop and take my puffy off, but kept my trusty Melanzana layer, hat, scarf, and gloves on against the wind. Most of the day, we spent high on ridgelines and I felt grateful that our main obstacle was only wind. Plus, the wind wasn’t that bad – I could still walk straight.

The Silverthorne Alternate Split

These were the kind of ridge walks that all the pictures highlight of long-distance trails but so rarely come. Offering 360-degree views, an actual trail to follow, a few cairns here and there, and the feeling that you’re on top of the world. This is not to say that they are flat up there. There were several large ups and downs to get between ridges along with a mine sight that we pondered during a break.

After twelve miles of relentless wind, but stunning views, we opted for the Silverthorne route over the Greys/Torreys route. My personal reasons went as follows for making that route choice:

  • I’ve already climbed Greys and Torreys in 2013.
  • It’s forty extra miles and therefore approximately a day and a half longer.
  • I’d rather spend that extra time in the San Juans.
  • There’s a Chipotle in Silverthorne.
  • I like Dillon Dam Brewery more than Breckinridge Brewery.

When we got to the route split, Memphis, E.D., and I took a break and looked at both routes from high above treeline. Then we enjoyed a 2,000 foot plunge back into the thick lodgepole pines on a dirt road on the Silverthorne route. We mindlessly followed the switchbacks down, enjoying a reprieve from the wind until we found the end of the road. Switching Guthook to the Silverthorne route and examining Ley’s map notes, we found the slightly obscured and overgrown trail which distracted our attention with a one log bridge over the creek. We mistakenly felt excited that we might not have to worry about navigation as much if we didn’t have to get our feet wet immediately.

E.D. and I forged ahead of Memphis a bit following the trail which became less prominent the further we hiked away from the road (classic). We saw a very large bull moose strutting his exceedingly gigantic rack around the wildflowers east of the trail. We proceeded with caution and hiked around him going further up the next valley. I paused and E.D. went ahead.

I was then looking for a sharp right turn, which I assumed should be marked somehow. This was kind of wrong. I realized I had probably passed the turn about 200 feet or so into this thinking and backtracked to find a small cairn that stood probably eight inches tall under at least a foot of wild grasses which marked a significantly less trod trail to the right. Because if you’re on a well-marked trail, you’re probably not on the CDT.

I found E.D. by the water just down the trail. As we got water, we saw Memphis passing by the same small cairn I missed and we yelled until he saw us and walked over. There wasn’t really any good camping by the water and we knew we’d wake up covered in cold frost if we stayed, so we decided to venture up to the ridges and see if we could find anything up there.

The climb that ensued from that water source immediately fell into bursts of bushwhacking. We could clearly see some trail up but nothing leading to it. E.D. tried to go where the map said it was and ended up in large patches of brush while I was too tired to try that, so I went straight up the hill through the burs until I hit one of the switchbacks two hundred feet up or so. Memphis watched from the creek. I yelled to E.D. to bushwhack over and picked the burs off of my knee braces and socks.

We had switchbacks for the middle portion of the climb out of the valley, but as we climbed higher, the “trail” became a twisting mess of game trails that looked like it could have been an actual trail at some point. In the end, we just picked between the most trodden path and the most direct path when either seemed like the best idea. Memphis was catching up as we reached this point and we hit the ridge roughly at the same time.

At this point, Ley left a large note on the map saying that going southbound, it would appear that we’d need to hike off a cliff…but don’t worry…it’s only very steep for about ten feet, then we’ll see switchbacks. Right. The three of us peered over the other side of the ridge were the trail seemed to disappear. We had hit this point before sunset, which was our goal so we did not have to navigate that with headlamps. We could see some switchbacks, but they were definitely twenty or thirty feet down. And every way to it included loose gravel.

We each found our own ways to the switchbacks which lead to a contour trail around the side of the ridge to another ridge. We walked in the dying sunlight catching views of the sunset each time we crested a different part of the steep ridges. Right as we needed to actually turn our headlamps on, we came to a steeper section with lots of loose footing. We slowed down and hiked on, eventually hitting a wide ridge.

It’s a cold sunrise at 12,000ft.

Having just squeaked through navigating the footing on the previous section in the dark, we did not feel like descending, so we camped on the ridge at 12,000+ ft. We figured that way, we’d have better star viewing opportunities as well as a good sunrise.

The ridge did not disappoint for either. While cold, we did not wake up covered in frost and we only had 14 miles to Silverthorne and, therefore, Chipotle. Of course, we all had our orders in mind already.

Well before sunrise, I heard Memphis deflate his sleeping pad and start shaking things. We had agreed a long time previously that since Memphis is a natural early alarm clock, he should not try to be quiet because it was easier to wake up to a tent being packed up than an actual alarm clock.

I ate breakfast in my sleeping bag as Memphis walked between both my tent and E.D.’s tent shaking his tent. He said, “Good morning” to which I replied “morning” through bites of granola and E.D. made a sound. It was a typical morning.

Memphis left and I managed to pack up my stuff in almost all of my layers and wave to E.D. when I finally got moving. Going downhill did not warm me up. I cursed as I hit the frost line and went down into the valley, which managed to freeze my feet further.

After plunging through the creek at the bottom of the valley, I paused in the sun to finally take off a layer and grab a quick bite to eat. The trail on that side of the creek had significantly better maintenance, so I checked Guthook. Still on trail. Sharp left turn coming up though.

I did find the left turn which, in true CDT fashion turned onto a “trail” which did not appear for twenty feet (around the corner behind the large shrubs) and had a sign that laid on the ground in dense ground vegetation. I paused to verify that I did have to leave the very well maintained trail for the turn when Memphis appeared walking toward me from the well maintained trail. He had apparently walked almost a mile down the trail before noticing he missed the turn. He took it out on the climb by shaking his head and climbing quickly. When I made it to the top, he was already there and had been for a bit.

After a snack, both of us wondered why E.D. hadn’t caught up yet when we heard someone walking up. However, much to our surprise, it was Shortstack and Action! We hadn’t seen them since Lima, Montana. The four of us chatted while looking at Silverthorne, Colorado, three thousand feet below us.

Eventually, motivated by Chipotle, we wandered down three thousand feet and directly into air conditioned burrito land with unlimited soda refills where E.D. found us a bit later.

One of the better sunsets in this stretch

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