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Doc Campbell’s Post to Pie Town – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Doc Campbell’s Post to Pie Town Overview

This section presents CDT hikers with a major route choice: hike the official CDT route through the Black Mountains, or hike the Gila River alternate. While I haven’t hiked the Blacks before, and I’m sure it’s nice and all, you’d have to be crazy to skip this alternate. The Middle Fork Gila River is incredible, and offers an experience like no other on the CDT. The Middle Fork Gila River is one of my favorite non-mountainous hikes of all time. There are over 200 river crossings, steep canyons and remote country that practically nobody other than CDT hikers visit. There’s also a great chance of seeing wildlife through this section. 

Friday May 4th – CDT Day 14

Another cold night. Instead of jumping in the hot springs this morning, I packed up and started hiking to warm up. 

 

 

It was a road walk of about 4 miles to the Gila Cliff Dwellings visitor center. I bought a few stickers to add to my collection of hiking crap and headed out for the cliff Dwellings. Outside the visitor center, I ran into a guy named Henry who had just type the PCT last year. A New Mexico resident of 25 + years, he had plenty of good info about the area. 

I bumped into Camel and Sequoia at the start of the cliff dwellings Trail. They just finished and were headed out. I spent about an hour here. It’s a cool thing to see but I’ve been to Mesa Verde previously and the dwellings are basically the same. 

Next I walked over to the TJ Corral trailhead to hike little bear canyon. This leads down to the middle fork of the Gila, where the popular CDT alternate runs. It’s about 2 miles uphill then 2 down to the river. The last half mile of little bear canyon is awesome. A spring runs downhill and forms a very small creek in the canyon. It’s narrow and has steep sided walls, and has a lush tropical feel to it. The pictures don’t really show how cool it was.

Little bear canyon then dumps into the middle fork of the Gila. Now this is truly a sight to be seen. Very tall and steep cliffs frame the middle fork and create scene you couldn’t dream up. It’s hard to find the words for how beautiful this place is. Pictures and video don’t do it justice. You just have to see it for yourself. 

Now I’m walking northbound along the middle fork, crossing the river every couple hundred yards. It’s slow going with the sand and rocks, but mainly due to the sheer beauty. Everything in sight is picture worthy. There are a lot of tadpoles in the water and I saw my first school of Trout as well. 

I made it to Jordan hot springs around 2:30pm. Once again, I bumped into camel and sequoia here. They just stopped for a dip before pushing on. I, however, intend to camp here. Short day, but I want to take my time through what will probably be the highlight of New Mexico. 

Above Jordan hot springs is a camping area, but the grounds isn’t very flat. Still, I found an acceptable spot. I spent the afternoon in and out of the water, taking in the scenery. The water is warm but not hot. Maybe 90°, nowhere near the temp of the Gila hot springs campground. I ended up losing a contact lens in the spring, the first time ever in 150+ nights in the backcountry. Good thing I carry extras. 

Around 6pm, a group of people showed up whom I had passed on the trail around 12:30pm. They set up camp in an even less flat area that I passed on. Others arrived at the campsite across the river. A few people joined me in the hot spring and I enjoyed a good conversation about travels and adventures.

Bed time at 9pm. Short day today, long day tomorrow to make up for it. 

Miles – 13.5
Total Miles –  225.7
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – trout

Saturday May 5th – CDT Day 15

Got my feet wet just a few hundred feet away from camp with my first river crossing around 7:30am. It takes the sun a while to reach the bottom of the canyon, and so it feels cold. All the Jordan hot Springs campers were camped nearby, and didn’t see anyone else all day. 

I really enjoyed this morning’s hike. More steep canyon walls, pinnacles and spires towering over the river. Deeper pools along the river bends hide trout, some appeared to be 15″ or more. Lots of tadpoles, lizards, and birds everywhere. 

I find myself hiking in 3 hour blocks before stopping for a break. At 10:30am, I dropped my pack. 8 miles on the GPS, 5 according to the Guthooks app. Hmm, it’s going to take forever to get out of this canyon. 

After turning a corner on the river, I saw a black bear cub on the other side. It was about 150ft away, and thankfully no momma bear in sight. It ran uphill and that was that. Finally, some Wildlife!

I stopped again around noon thirty to air out the feet and clean the sand out of my shoes. My feet are doing pretty good and I intend to keep it that way. A lot of interesting rocks on the bank which kept me occupied for a while.

As the afternoon wore on, I began to get really tired of all of the deep sand and loose rocks on the trail. Not to mention the constant River crossings. I don’t mind the wet feet but the slippery rocks are a pain in the ass. When my feet slip on a rock coated in algae or whatever, often times my foot gets jammed into another rock or my shins get bashed up. It’s getting old.

Later in the afternoon I saw a deer getting a drink from the river. I took another break around 4:30pm to refuel, as I planned on hiking late this evening. The canyon walls were becoming less steep and tall, and more pine trees. Ah I love that smell. 

There were nunerous small caves along the river this evening. Some dry, some wet. I airways wanted to sleep in a cave, but I wasn’t ready to camp yet. Maybe sometime on the CDT. 

As I entered Flying V canyon I scared off a herd of elk. Wow, what a day for wildlife! Making up for lost time I guess. I contemplated camping here but the ground was not great. Sandy, Lumpy no pre made sites. I continued on, disappointed as it was already 7:30pm. 

No campsites further upstream until I reached swinging cross canyon. There was a tent here, first people I saw all day. It was 8pm now, and I had been hiking since 7:30am. I did my camp chores fast and ate a bunch of food. What a day. 

Today’s mileage is 26 according to my GPS and only 19.5 by Guthooks. I’m not sure if Guthooks uses Ley maps or bear creek, but I’m really disappointed in the variance. It seems almost nobody on the CDT is using a GPS to create a track of their hike. Almost everyone uses Guthooks which doesn’t create a track, just let’s toy follow along. I’m not sure anyone realizes how terribly inaccurate the mileage is or if they even care. 

An owl is hooting nearby as I write this. I’m tired but not as bad as past days. Looking forward to hiking out of this canyon tomorrow, even if it is beautiful.

Miles – 26
Total Miles –  251.7
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – trout, black bear, deer, Elk

Sunday May 6th – CDT Day 16

Last night was really cold, I was not expecting sub freezing temperatures. When I woke up in the morning, my shoes were frozen solid. They were soaking wet when I went to bed from yesterday’s River crossings. I put them in a garbage bag and brought them in my quilt to warm them up. My Sawyer water filter could have been ruined by the freezing temperatures, but I got lucky. It was likely not below freezing long enough to do it any harm. Needless to say, I got a late start this morning. I didn’t start hiking until 8:30am. 

Today’s hike along the Gila River middle fork was nowhere near as impressive as yesterday, but still a pretty nice hike. The canyon walls were rolling hillsides more often than sheer cliffs and spires. There were about 30 more River crossings, which seemed like much less than yesterday mile for mile. Along the river banks were more thorn bushes now. These were unavoidable and wreaked havoc on my shins. 

Along one of the last bends in the river before reaching Snow Lake, I saw a small cave in the canyon wall. I explored this for a moment and pressed on. 

Just ahead is the last river crossing, finally! I stopped counting around 20, but between the Gila River and the middle Fork Gila River, it must have been close to 200 River Crossings. Not having bridges over the river and the general in accessibility of it keeps the crowds away, so it’s worth it. The middle Fork was one of my favorite hikes, and probably my favorite non-mountain hike of all time! 

When I reached snow Lake I was a little surprised that it was a man-made lake. And I had a hard time envisioning snow here. As I walked around the lake, I caught up to some hikers finishing a weekend trip. We started talking and when I mentioned I was hiking the CDT, they offered me some water and beer back at their Basecamp in the dripping vat campground above snow lake. Sounds good to me! 

I hung out with Sam, Kim and a group of about 6 at the campground for about an hour. I used this time to air out my feet and dry my shoes for the first time in a few days. I really didn’t want to get back on trail now, but I still had a lot of daylight left to cover miles. 

It’s a road walk leaving the campground for a while before a trail veers off the road. The trail follows a little Canyon uphill, which became more scenic as it climbed. Nice hike. A few water sources along the way, but I was shooting for the pond at the top of the climb. 

When I reached the pond, I stopped in the shade underneath the solar panels. It’s a cow pond and the water was murky, but it’s a big pain so the shit water is diluted. I drank the rest of my water and filtered 5 liters. It’s about 20 miles to the next water source.

After leaving the cow pond it’s a short climb up a hill. At the top, I was blown away by the view. Huge expensive view of rolling hills and golden grass with some mountains in the distance. A sea of gold illuminated by the sun. In fact, that’s what I called this area, “The Sea of Gold”. I imagined Hank Hill saying, “boy I tell you what, this here is God’s country”. The vast view had me stopping and looking around in awe every so often. Except for a dirt road, nothing man made as far as the eye could see. I didn’t mind the dirt road, it’s just like a wide trail that never gets used. My pictures didn’t really capture this beauty of this area.

Eventually the sea of gold turned into a forest. Here, I linked up with bursum Rd and followed this for a few miles. I found a spot along the road to camp for the night. Nothing special, but it was 7:45pm now and sundown is fast approaching. 

Another great day on the CDT. I’m only 16 days in and I’m already starting to wonder how I can ever go back to a normal life again. 

Miles – 22
Total Miles –  273.7
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – trout

Monday May 7th – CDT Day 17

Another calm night. Most nights so far, any wind present during the day dies down when the sun sets. It’s only day 4 since leaving Doc Campbell’s post, but it feels like a week. I still have almost 90 miles to Pie Town, so I’m hoping to cover some big miles today. 

 

I started hiking around 7:30am, continuing north on bursum rd. It’s a gravel road and not all that scenic at first, passing through a pine forest. Eventually the forest gives way to a large open grassland. 

Now mid morning, I passed a watering hole called Collins tank. I skipped it since I was pretty well stocked with water, but as I passed it I saw camel and sequoia leaving the tank. It turns out they were camped about 2 miles up bursum Rd last night.

We hiked together for the rest of the morning along forest road 94 until we reached Dutchman spring just after noon. At this point I had hiked 16 miles straight without stopping for a break. This left me pretty tired, thirsty and hungry. 

We spent about 2 hours here resting, eating, cleaning up and stocking up on water. It’s another 22+miles to the next water source, so I carried 5 liters. The extra water weight was very noticeable when we set off again. 

Is a short climb up forest Rd 94 to the top of a hill where the Gila River alternate ends and we meet up with the official CDT route again. There was rumors of cell service up here, if you have Verizon. I had nothing with AT&T, and it’s been about a week now without cell service. 

Finally, the CDT splits off from the road to an actual trail. It follows a ridge for a while and passes through a burn area. Better views now, with rolling hills and mountains in all directions. Lots of ups and downs though. 

After about 2 hours of hiking it was break time. This is the most elevation gain we’d had in a while, with Burro Mountain being the only other competition. I kept the break short and moved on after 15 minutes. 

The next section is more ups and downs through pine forest and Rocky outcrops. I was feeling pretty whooped now. I was fully hydrated and acclimated to the 8500ft Elevation, having slept at a similar Elevation last night, but was feeling a little lightheaded and slightly delerious. I think the effects of diet deficient in calories was starting to catch up to me. I didn’t have much fat to lose before the trip and have already lost some weight. Keeping my body fat percentage high enough is going to be a challenge. 

I hiked another hour or more before stopping again. I have to eat, but need to ration my food for the coming days. Camel and sequoia caught up and took a break here as well. A friendly rancher drove by and had knowledge of several other hikers ahead of us. He made sure we had enough water and drove off. 

We hiked another 30 minutes before reading a saddle with a flat spot to camp around 6:45p. An elk scurried away as we approached. We were all pretty tired and ready for food and rest. 

Miles – 24.5
Total Miles –  298.2
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – elk

Tuesday May 8th – CDT Day 18

Hit the trail around 7:30am yet again. We took the Govina canyon alternate based on the chance it had water. Todd Cienaga tank had some nasty brown cow water. This water was murkier than my ex’s soul. Lots of mud and flies, just the smell made me gag. I’ll pass. 

Govina canyon was a nice hike, but no more water. After climbing out of the canyon, the trail then climbs another 500ft up Wagontongue Mountain. The trail doesn’t reach the summit, and instead skirts the side of the mountain. There’s no clear view with all the pine trees unfortunately. 

A small burned section on the descent provided about the only good overlook of the surrounding landscape. It’s massive and wild looking, nothing man made in sight. I set my stuff down on a log and a minute later my backpack, hat and camera were each covered in about 50 ants. Shortly after, I saw a horny toad bumbling along the trail. 

I hiked another 10 minutes before finding a spot to take a break. Camel and sequoia kept going, not wanting to stop until they reached the next reliable water source. This is about 6 or 7 miles more, so about 2 hours. I pushed hard yesterday before lunch, but find I do better when I stop once every 3 hours or so for food and water. It was a good choice. 

After lunch I ran into Gillian, a woman from LA horsepacking the CDT. Pretty sure I already ran into her before, maybe the crazy cook to Lordsburg section. Later, I bumped into Duece, a guy from Wisconsin. Around this time we saw some some interesting notes left along the trail made of sticks… “yum yum snack tree ahead”, “mmm snack tree” and more. Not sure what that was all about. 

Made it to today’s water source, Aragon Well, around 2pm. It’s a large metal tank with goldfish and a large coy fish swimming in it. The water is surprisingly clear once scooped, and filters well. Good water. Camel and sequoia were here already, and duece showed up shortly after. We hung out under a shade tree nearby for about 2 hours. I drank 2.5L of water, washed up a little and carried 5L to get me to the next water source about 23 miles away. 

We set out into the heat of the day with a goal of about 8 miles. It’s pretty much all a dirt road walk for the rest of the day. These roads don’t see much traffic, and some aren’t even real roads anymore. Just a wide trail.

Made camp around 7pm at a flat spot just west of Cabellenza canyon. Another basic, nondescript campsite. Many like this so far on the CDT, the product of just camping wherever you happen to be at the end of the day when you’re tired. 

Running low on food. I’ll be fine but need to carry more next time. Me hungry!! Looking forward to Pie Town, about 32 miles left. 

Miles – 24.2
Total Miles – 322.4
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – Horny toad 

Wednesday May 9th – CDT Day 19

Started hiking at 7:30am. I’m glad we stopped before reaching Cabellenza canyon last night, it was full of cows this morning. Beyond the canyon is a campground. It has a bathroom, picnic tables and water troughs for horses. No water though. 

Across the street from the campground is the turn off for Mangas mountain. There were a few gallons of water cached under a tree here, left by a local Korean war veteran from what I understand. This was greatly appreciated! I chugged another 1.5L and refilled my bottle, carrying 2L out of here. 

The road up to Mangas mountain was an easy walk. At the top, I saw camel’s pack alongside the road. Just as I dropped mine, he came down from the summit which has a fire lookout tower. He moved on while I headed up to check out the tower. 

At the summit, I saw the tower and a small cabin for the lookout person to live in. The tower is manned, and the lookout yelled down and asked if I would like to come up. Yes, please! I climbed up and entered the tower, greeted by Patrick. He’s retired and it’s a summer job for him. I spent about an hour up here chatting with Patrick and listening to lots of interesting things about the area. 

When it was time to leave, Patrick gave me a gallon of water. I chugged another 1.5L and filled up my hydration bladder with another 3L. Now carrying 5L, I didn’t need to filter anything at the next water source. 

This afternoons hike is all downhill along a series of dirt roads. Easy hiking, but not super scenic. I eventually caught up with sequoia just before the water tank we planned on stopping at, about 15 miles from this mornings camp. Camel was waiting here under the shade. 

I ate some food and moved on after a short break. It was really hot this afternoon and I just wanted to get to camp early for once. It’s more Road walking through ranch land. There was one guy on a dirt bike and one truck pulling a cattle trailer, otherwise no traffic at all. 

Around 5:30pm, I was walking by a driveway to a ranch as a truck pulled out. The woman driving asked if I was OK and needed water. I didn’t need water, but was looking for a place to camp at this point. It’s all private land the rest of the way into Pie Town, but fortunately the rancher gave me permission to camp on their land. This was great news, as I already hiked over 24 miles toady and didn’t want to do another 10 into town. 

Camp tonight is on the edge of a field with an imposing mountain in the near distance. I belive the ranchers actually own the mountain. I can’t imagine owning such a large tract of land, or such a prominent feature of the landscape. 

Ate everything I had left except for tomorrows breakfast. I’m so ready for town tomorrow. I just want food, food and more food! So damn hungry all the time. If you ever want to lose weight, hike 8-12 hours a day for weeks on end. Also, really tired of being dirty. Crawling into bed and feeling sticky every night sucks. In such a dry environment, it’s hard to stay clean. Any water found is for drinking. In a few weeks, this will be a problem of the past

I’ve hiked around 180 miles now without getting any cell phone signal. I was expecting to have service in all the towns along the trail, but that might not be realistic. No service at Doc Campbell’s and I’ve heard no AT&T in Pie Town town either. We’ll see tomorrow. 

Miles – 24.3
Total Miles –  346.7
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry tent
Animals – jackrabbit 

Thursday May 10th – CDT Day 20

The sun hit my tent at 6:15am this morning, getting earlier every day as the summer solstice approaches. This got me moving and on the trail by 7am.

This mornings hike was nothing special, just 10 miles of dirt roads through ranch land. I passed an animal shelter along the way that had a cooler full of water by the road for hikers.

Around 10am I entered Pie Town. The dirt road I was on good right through a residential area. There were several debris themed homes and yards, so the toaster house stuck out a little less than I was expecting. Nevertheless, it was easy to find. 

There were about 10 people inside the toaster house when I arrived. There’s much to say about this place… It’s eclectic, cluttered, full of energy and good vibes. This is a hiker hostel that operates on a donation basis, and for many, a favorite stop along the CDT. 

First thing I did was take a shower and wash off a week of dessert grime. The washing machine is also in the bathroom, so I did laundry at the same time. Then I snagged a bed upstairs in the loft before they were all taken. There’s no clothes dryer, so I hung my clothes on the balcony outside the loft to dry. I was so hungry that I just put the semi wet clothes on anyways and headed up to the pie town Cafe for lunch. Only ate about 700 calories so far today, not nearly enough for a 10 mile hike. 

The pie town Cafe is known for its burgers. The menu is basically just burgers and tacos anyways. I asked how big the burgers were… 1/2 pound. Cool, give me two! I ate both burgers and fries in less than 5 minutes, no problem. I could have ate a third. 

It’s been nearly 200 miles since I’ve had cell service, but at least the Pie town Cafe has wifi. I downloaded a wifi calling app so that I could call my dad and discuss the next resupply. It’s amazing how remote this area of New Mexico is! 

There were people hanging out drinking beer at the RV park next to the toaster house when I returned, so I joined. Shortly after, we realized all the places to get food in town close at 4pm. Time to eat again, only 2 hours later. 

This time we ate at The Gatherin’ Place. Really friendly people here! I ate a French dip sandwich and pie with ice cream. Afterwards I immediately regretted eating so much. I felt like I was going to puke as I walked back to the toaster house, but I have the stomach of steel and so tragedy averted. 

I immediately laid down once I returned. I fell asleep for an hour and a half, product of a wicked food coma. I felt better afterwards and joined the others outside on the patio. 

The evening was spent telling stories, drinking beer and relaxing on the patio. It looks like a log cabin, and has those party lights strung up. The seats outside are mostly car and van seats and lazy boy recliners. Everything about this place is odd and entertaining. 

Time for bed, and an actual bed at that. I’ve been sleeping like crap on my foam mattress, so this is gone be great! 

Miles – 10.1
Total Miles –  356.8
Rain – no
Sleep – hostel
Animals – jackrabbit

Friday May 11th – CDT Day 21 (Zero Day)

Sleeping in an actual bed was everything I hoped it could be. I woke up refreshed and feeling great. Still not feeling any recurring pains from the demands of the thru hike, which is more than many others can say. Today is a zero day, no hiking. Just eating! 

Several of us hikers headed up to the pie town cafe for breakfast. They don’t really have a menu, they just tell you what breakfast they have that day. Today it was eggs and bacon or biscuits and gravy. I got the eggs and bacon, with extra bacon and a side of biscuits. While I wasn’t super full, it definitely hit the spot. 

After breakfast I used the wifi to order some food from Walmart.com and had it sent to the Sands Motel in Grants, my next resupply stop. When walking back to the toaster house, I noticed a billboard for a septic tank cleaning company called “the stool bus”. Clever, now I won’t be able to forget that! 

Back at the toaster house, Tony and Joan showed up to collect the money from the donation box and pick up the trash. Tony and Joan are friends with Nita, the owner of the house. They help her with the necessary elements of running the house. The use the donation money to pay the electric bill, restock food in the pantry, fridge and freezer, buy laundry detergent and toilet paper, and of course, keep the fridge stocked with beer. It’s cool to see how this place keeps going, with so many people coming and going. 

There’s no grocery store or convenience store directly in pie town, but there is a place called top of the world located 3 miles west on highway 60. Joan and Tony where kinda enough to give Strider and I a ride there so we could pick up a few things. However, they were not returning back to the toaster house, so we had to walk back. We walked less than a mile before getting a hitch back.

After returning, it was time to eat more food. We headed up to the pie town cafe again. This time I ordered a double bacon cheeseburger, which is one pound of beef. The pie town cafe is under new ownership, and only been operating for 6 weeks. Therefore this is the first CDT season for the new owners, and so they are not used to people ordering huge amount of food yet. Brad, the owner and server, said this was the largest burger they’ve made yet. They took my picture with a picture of wimpy behind me, and said they might use it for one of their advertisements. Good times! 

Camel, Sequoia and I were sitting outside on the patio of the pie town cafe when another hiker named Left showed up. She was looking for her friends who were somewhere along the CDT. After chatting a while here, we invited her back to the toaster house to drink some beer with us.

There were a lot more people at the toaster house tonight. It was a good time hanging out with all the other hikers, seeing new faces as well as old. I went to bed shortly after 10pm, got to get my 8 before setting out on the trail tomorrow morning.

Miles – 0
Total Miles –  356.8 
Rain – no
Sleep – hostel
Animals – none
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