Cuba, NM to Ghost Ranch, NM
The trail climbed nearly 4,000 feet, leaving Cuba and the valley bottom, and ascended into the San Pedro Parks Wilderness. Big open meadows, still saturated with water from recent snowmelt, sat at roughly 10,500 feet. In 2011, I recall brief moments where three other hikers and I postholed across some of these meadows, but now the snow just lurks at the north-facing edge. There were a few short moments that the trail threaded through the forest, where snow drifts sat waiting for the summer warmth. I stepped into deep postholes, sometimes knee-high, that the herd of hikers ahead had packed down.
From those meadows, where I saw a tiny glimpse of what’s to come, I dropped back down into the desert, and into a beautiful valley called Ojitos Canyon. It was early morning when I met Muley, a 64-year woman whose short stride, like my own, was quick and steady. We hiked for fifteen miles together, first through that gorgeous canyon where those sandstone mesas intrigue your eyes, vibrant in color and disbelieving in shape and texture. Then along the Rio Chama that was chocolate brown and swollen at its edges. The 2016 snowpack, which all of us hikers have been watching, was pouring into the river and would make a great ride for the kayakers driving to the put-in upstream.
Muley and I reached Ghost Ranch a little after noon. It’s a beautiful ranch, where artists of all kinds come from near and far to paint, write, meditate, or any other form of creativity and talent. I enjoyed the afternoon, taking a moments rest while charging my electronics and transferring the contents on my resupply box into my pack. My friend Tina threw in a bag of white wine, a nice treat to the end of a thirty-mile day. I also picked up my new Six Moons Designs trekking umbrella. I had lost mine while in Maine, and while climbing up one of those terrifying segments of trail that looked more like a frozen waterfall than the iconic Appalachian Trail. I was so pleased to have an umbrella again, and in fact, I’d use it later that night as a shield at the head of my tarp. Throughout the night it would sleet, leaving a beautiful, but chilly morning to awaken to.
I really enjoyed walking with Muley. She had a depth of knowledge across many interests, from biology to fitness and beyond. She’s also hiked the Colorado Trail three times, and was out there around the same time that I was in 2011. So she knows exactly what’s ahead, and like me, has tired from the hikers who like to impose their opinion about moving forward into Colorado. Ultimately, it seems many hikers are taking time off, whether in Chama, or elsewhere. They are gearing up with snowshoes and ice axes and cold weather gear. That’s all good and fun, but don’t tell me how to hike my hike. I’m also gearing up with cold weather gear including proper waterproof pants, proper knee-high gaiters, an extra baselayer, new gloves and balaclava, Rocky Mountain Gore-tex socks, Hillsound Crampons and new waterproof boots. (I am skipping the ice-axe and snowshoes. It’s all extra weight and I doubt I’ll use it enough to get the bang for its buck.)
Gear and snow aside, because in all honesty, lets just enjoy the warm, dry trail while we can, I also spent a few miles with another hiker, Goosebumps. She’s a few years younger than I am, but like me, has hiked many trails. We shared a few miles, hiking into the evening, talking about travel and relationships. Ohhh, gossip! I miss hanging out with the ladies from back home, so it was nice to hang out with another like-minded woman. But of course, by early morning I was plowing ahead again, and as both Goosebumps and Muley had said, I was right about to catch up to the herd of the CDT. Though, it seems I’ve passed several of them without any notice, happy little hikers tugged snuggly in their sleeping bags, dreaming merrily while I hike along at those wee early hours, or even into the late evening, soaking up every ounce of available daylight.