Backpacking trip reports, photos, videos, gear reviews, trail maps, GPX files, and more!

Grants to Cuba – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Grants to Cuba Hike Overview

This next section of the CDT is a bit of a rollercoaster ride. After leaving Grants, the trail climbs to the highest point in New Mexico along the CDT at 11,300ft on the summit of Mt. Taylor. This is an alternate route, but almost everyone does it. Then the trail heads back down into the lowlands and is rather uninteresting for quite a stretch. Just when you’re thinking the best is over, bam! You find yourself on the edge of a high mesa with an awesome view. It’s then a 2 day hike through some of the most interesting desert landscapes I’ve  ever hiked through. The section of trail south of Cuba might be my favorite desert hike of all time!

Friday May 18th – CDT Day 28

I was up to 12:30am last night updating my blog(an 8 hour endeavour), so I slept in this morning and got later start than I wanted. I stopped by the post office to mail my bounce box and a post card, and started hiking out of town around 10:30am. A truck recognized me as a CDT hiker and offered a ride to the Mt Taylor trailhead, which would have saved about 5 miles of toad walking, but I said no thanks.

South of the trailhead, I passed a prison. Some prisoners were working outside of the walls, under the watchful eye of a guard. They waved, I waved back.

At the trailhead, I had a 1000ft climb ahead of me. I knocked it out without too much trouble and soon found myself on top of a mesa. Great view of Grants below, and Mt Taylor in the distance. I hiked over to a shade tree and took first lunch.

While under the tree, Nugget passed. Hadn’t seen him since like day 4. Then two more hikers passed… Cardboard and Sandy Cheeks, first time we’d met.

I had noticed that there was a spot in the same location on all my pictures, so I decided it was time to check it out. Nothing on the filter or the lens. I removed the lens and examined the sensor and found a speck of dust… I blew it off and viola! Good to go. Nothing like a speck of dust ruining every single picture.

The hike across the mesa was cool. Flat, easy and views of Mt Taylor. Eventually the trail enters woodlands and the view disappears. This began a long stretch of relatively boring hiking. Time to put on some music. This continued for a couple hours.

I took second lunch around 4:30pm, only about 1.5 miles from the Mt Taylor alternate junction. You could hike right past Mt Taylor, as the official CDT route does, but why? Isn’t that why we’re out here? I laughed at the thought of the purist hiker I encountered in El Malpais, knowing he’s going to skip it for the sake of hiking the official route.

At gooseberry spring, I saw flower man, cardboard and sandy cheeks. The water was in a trough, and was the clearest trough water yet. Nice. I filtered 3L and moved on.

I headed up hill towards the summit of Mt Taylor, with about 3 miles and 2500ft Elevation Gain remaining. I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d actually summit it tonight, since it was 6:15pm now. I hiked on and left my plans open to the moment.

 

After passing through some aspens, the trees thin out and the trail followed an exposed ridge. Looking back the way I came was some of the most beautiful scenery I had seen so far on the CDT. The sun was setting and a magical haze engulfed the lowlands. This motivated me to move on towards the summit. However, I was getting pretty tired. If I climb the summit, it will be like 25 miles and about 6000ft elevating gain today. This with a fully loaded pack that is resting on my shoulders more than it should, due to weight loss. As mentioned before, my hipbelt cannot be closed any tighter now.

I decided the remedy is to stop for third lunch and water. Good call. Plus, I got to soak in the awesome Vista just a little longer.

The rest of the hike to the summit was just as tiring, but there were amazing views around every corner. I felt a bit rushed due to the setting sun, but this also provided superior views that would not have been available any other time of the day. Breathtaking!

After a bunch of switchbacks and false summits, I finally reached the real summit. Woo-hoo, 11,301ft… highest on trail yet. This is the highest point the CDT gets in New Mexico. I had it to myself, but the sun was setting fast. It was really cold now, and I was forced to drop my pack and put on my fleece hood. I snapped some pictures and video, then headed downhill.

The trail wanders through thick forest along a series of switchbacks before reaching the saddle I saw on the map. Sandy cheeks and Cardboard were here, and I asked if I could join. It’s a nice large flat area with some pretection from the wind, perfect.

This is the coldest evening yet. I shivered profusely while doing camp chores and eating, hurrying up so I could get in my sleeping bag asap. This was the first night I closed the vestibule on my tent for extra warmth, and the first night I had to add clothes to the inside of my sleeping bag to keep my feet warm. And I’m a warm sleeper!

Looong day, I’m out.

Miles – 23.8
Total Miles – 489 (start at 475.5 end 499.3)
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – horny toads

Saturday May 19th – CDT Day 29

Very cold night. No surprise since I camped at 11,000ft. Thankfully it was calm with no wind whatsoever. I slept much better with my new thermarest neoair inflatable sleeping pad. The sun hit my tent around 7am so that’s when I got moving. On the trail around 8:30am.

Awesome views this morning. The trail skirts the mountainside as it traverses downhill towards a saddle below La Mosca lookout.

From the saddle, it’s an good climb up to the lookout tower. Unlike Mangas mountain Lookout, this tower was not manned and the top level was locked. Still, great view. I had 4g lte here(AT&T), which I assumed was due to the large cell phone towers next to the lookout. Cardboard and sandy cheeks were here too, but left long before I. Nobody on the CDT lingers long at cool places, always consumed with covering miles.

More good views coming down from the lookout, but they quickly fade. Just like my cell signal. Those towers weren’t AT&T at all… Not surprising. Now it’s more dirt roads again, with an occasional field or meadow thrown in.

This morning dragged on. Miles were slow and my motivation to walk mundane dirt roads was low. My pack is still really heavy and the weight sitting on my shoulders was annoying. I took a few snack breaks, further slowing my pace.

I took first lunch at American Spring. Good clear cold water. While I was sitting down here, a man and his family came over the hill and saw me. “Are we on your land”? I told him it’s public land. He was out here to do some target shooting. I moved on, back to more dirt roads.

If you can’t tell, I’m getting tired of road walking. I’ve been thinking back on my walk through New Mexico and trying to put a percentage to road VS trail. So far, it’s easily been 50% road walking when you count a dirt road of any kind. It’s probably more like 60% or even higher. There’s been some nice parts of the state but myself and many other hikers are ready for Colorado.

Eventually I hit a trail to follow. However, it passes through a non-descript forest with little to see. I was really dragging still, when I came across Sequoia sitting under a tree. I sat down next to her and we caught up on the last week or so. I hadn’t seen her or camel since Pie Town. Good to see a familiar face out here.

Camel was farther up trail and waiting for her at the next Water source, so it was time to move. I was in much better spirits now. Roads, trails, it didn’t matter.

After hiking a short while, we saw someone on an ATV and some campers in a clearing. The woman in the ATV asked if sequoia was sequoia, as camel was back at the campers waiting for her. We followed her back and saw a few other hikers leaving, as well as pony whisperer sitting with camel. What we have here is some trail angels set up to sort CDT hikers this weekend. Unexpected and well timed!

A woman named Glenda ran up to me, greeted me by name and gave me a big hug. There were chairs for us, and she promptly got us some iced tea and made us sandwiches. Her husband Eddie was also here, letting us know we can refill our water and they’d take our trash. Eddie had even heard my story already about the poor experience I’d had at the sands motel.

I spent a while catching up with camel and sequoia while simultaneously sharing stores with Glenda and Eddie. Their whole reason for being out here was really touching. While camping out here last year a CDT hiker passed by, and camped nearby. They kept seeing him and thought, what the heck is this guy doing out here? So they asked, and discovered the CDT. They were so inspired by our stories and the magnitude of the challenge that they decided they wanted to help out as many CDT hikers as they could. So they came back out here this year to camp for the weekend with that intention.

I often forget how doing something like the CDT provides inspiration to others, but it does. And knowing that motivates me to keep going on days like today where I really wasn’t feeling super motivated. It wad hard to leave and go back on trail, but this show of generosity and kindness lifted my spirits more than food and water ever could have.

Not far up tail, camel and sequoia were sitting under a tree. Camel had shin splints and asked if I knew how to wrap tape for that. I gave him the KT tape strips I had, but had no instructions on how to wrap for anything other than knee or ankle. Sequoia walked back to the campers to ask if the had Ace tape. Looks like they’re stopping here for the night. I was only at about 15 miles for the day, so I pressed on with my goal of 20. It was already 6pm now.

The rest of the evening was a nice walk though large open fields and spotty patches of trees. I saw many jackrabbits, and of course, cows. I ate dinner in one of the fields so I didn’t have to eat in the dark at camp later.

I hiked until 8:30pm, just barely light left when I found a suitable spot along the dirt road I was walking. Nothing else to do now except rest.

Miles – 26.8
Total Miles – 515.8
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Sunday May 20th – CDT Day 29

I feel asleep fast night while writing in my journal (on my phone) which I use to update my log when I get into town. I didn’t wake up for a few hours, when the wind picked up. I got out of the tent and laid rocks over the stakes for piece of mind. Even with the wind, I slept much better on the inflatable air mattress than the foam one.

It was still pretty windy when I broke camp. This always makes putting the tent away a pain. It was cooler than normal too. Weather changing? It’s been so consistent in New Mexico.

More road walking this morning. It’s the same field over and over again for the most part. There are occasionally some rocky chasms or canyons, not sure about the correct terminology. Didn’t bother to explore further. I want to cover miles today. However, I wasn’t doing a vet good job at it. I took several breaks to eat, etc.

Today’s water source is Los Indios spring. I arrived around noon, surprised that it was located in such a beautiful canyon. It’s a ways off trail, but worth it. And necessary! Not many other options. The trail hugs some cliff walls down into a canyon, where a little oasis exists. Lightfoot and pony whisperer here, so we caught up on trail gossip for a bit.

I stayed way too long at the spring, about an hour and 45 minutes. I ate lunch, hydrated, and cleaned my socks. Camel and sequoia showed up as well. When I left, I passed a hiker I’d never met, an Asian guy named sematape. Not sure on the spelling, or if that’s his real name or trail name. I didn’t see anyone else all day, until I made camp.

The rest of the day was almost all trail, not roads, and well maintained at that. Trees and branches recently trimmed and well marked. Am I actually on the CDT? It’s not usually like this in New Mexico.

About 2 hours after leaving Los Indios spring, the trail reaches the edge of the Mesa I’ve been walking on. You’d never know you’re up on the mesa until this point. Pretty nice view, especially after the last day and a half coming down from Mt Taylor. I ate again here and soaked in the scenery.

Next it’s a 4.2 mile hike along the same flat top mesa before reaching the point at which the trail heads down. Same ‘ol scenery in this section.

 

The top of the mesa is roughly 2000ft above the wash I camped in late this evening, so the views here were excellent. It’s steep at the top heading down, but really not too bad after the first section. It was slow going because the scenery was so damn spectacular! I began the decent at 6pm, so the setting sun created great lighting. Lots of good photos.

The landscape below consisted of buttes, mesas, canyons, and just about everything you can imagine in a high desert setting. Some of the best scenery yet. The kind you don’t want to rush through, but then you remember your a thru hiker. Damn.

Down off the mesa, the sun was setting fast. I wanted to camp early but was having a tough time finding a flat spot out of the wind. Lots of cool canyons and great scenery in every direction.

 

Around 8:30pm I came across a large wash, marked “Canada de Las lomitas” on my map, in arroyo Chico. Carpenter and creeper were camped here, so I headed down a ways out of sight. It was less windy here but still occasional wind gusts even down in the wash. I decided to cowboy camp tonight, the first time I’ve ever done so. Way to celebrate day 30 on the CDT.

Miles – 24.8
Total Miles – 540.6
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, cowboy camping
Animals – rabbits, large green lizard /iguana

Monday May 21st – CDT Day 31

It was a little windy last night, and a bunch of sand got all over me and my stuff while cowboy camping in the wash. Otherwise, it was a good night.

Now that it was daylight, I could get a good look at the terrain. Spectacular! Beautiful high desert landscape with lots of interesting features.

The first few miles were in a lowland with impressive mesas and sandstone cliffs. Then the trail climbs a little into an area that looked like a mixture of the bandlands and Utah. Weird formations, interesting rocks and geology.

Next the trail climbs in elevation and runs along the edge of a cliff. Great views of the desert below. Lots of prominent landscape features for the skyline. Dare I say New Mexico’s monument Valley? Sure had my attention.

The trail then drops down off the high point for a while and enters an area with hoodoos, badlands and colorful rocks. I made terrible time through this stretch, just too much to see. I veered off trail often to check out anything that caught my eye. And there was a lot!

I ate first lunch under an enormous wall of hoodoos and pillars. I noticed a lot of clouds building in the distance, but this was day 31 and still only a few sprinkles of rain. Not too worried.

After lunch, lots more distractios to slow my pace. But hey, this is why I’m out here hiking the CDT. Most hikers just fly by anything interesting, but I like to explore, take pictures and video. The clouds continued to build, and looked like rain in the distance. Probably nothing to be worried about.

The trail today generally stayed high on a ridge or mesa, so big views were common today. Finally! Over every hill or pass was another great photo op.

The skies were very dark now and continued to overtake any remaining blue. Rain looked inevitable at some point. It was very windy too, which was getting old.

After a few hours of threatening rain, it finally reached me. I took shelter under a rock overhang, which seemed to be a popular hang out spot for cows. They even managed to shit right along the very edge of the overhang, where it meets the wall. There really wasn’t any good place to set down my things. Just then, the rain picked up and turned into hail. I got fairly wet as the wind was blowing right into the overhang.

When the rain let up, I moved on. The Trujillo family water cache was at the next road, a short walk away. Pony Whisperer was here too, only person I’d see all day. Before I could refill my water, the rain returned. Nowhere to take shelter around here except a few scrawny juniper trees. That’s what I did for a few minutes until it passed. Then I ate second lunch and stocked up of h20.

After the water cache, the landscape continued to impress. Pony Whisperer kept hiking as my pace once again slowed to a crawl. Today’s hike has been one of the best desert hikes I’ve done anywhere.

After climbing up to another Ridgeline, the trail follows a dirt road for a while. The fine dirt turned to mud, which stuck to my shoes and made waking a pain. I heard some coyotes bowling pretty close by, but never saw them.

Then the trail goes over deadmans pass. This too was a cool area. High up above the desert below, colorful rocks and cliffs. The tail skirts the edge for quite a while.

More interesting canyons and cliffs this evening. The sky was still very dark and I was certain another round of rain was coming. I wanted to make a few more miles though, so I stopped quickly for dinner.

Shortly after, I saw pony whisperer who had just made camp. About 2 more miles for me. However, I made it barely 1 mile before it started raining. It didn’t look like it was going to let up soon either.

I sheltered under a juniper for a while, debating on what to do. I saw a flat spot nearby, so I decided to set up the tent there. I got the tent up, put my pork in the vestibule and sat in the tent, pretty soaked myself. I set up my air mattress, sleeping bag and took off my wet clothes.

After only a few minutes of being out of the rain, a wild gust ripped one of my tent stakes out of the sandy ground. Then another. Crap! I had my camera gear, dry clothes and sleeping bag in here and certainly didn’t want to see them get wet.

I had no choice but to get out asap and fix the tent. This meant going barefoot, no time for shoes. The ground was wet, muddy and surprisingly cold. I grabbed some heavy rocks to weigh down the stairs so they didn’t pull out of the soft sand again. The rain died down but the wind remained. I hope the tent makes it through the night.

Miles – 23.8
Total Miles – 564.4
Rain – yes, and hail
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – rabbits, prairie dogs

Tuesday May 22nd – CDT Day 32

Winds died Down and the tent held through the night. My hiking clothes were still wet, so I hung them up at dry in the tree right after waking up. It was funny seeing my footsteps in the mud this morning. Last night was not so funny though.

Blues skies, sunshine and less windy… For now. New Mexico is a windy state. At least, my experience on the CDT has been that way.

After leaving camp, I finished hiking up to the Ridgeline I intended to camp along last night, before the rain. It’s called La Ventana mesa. Great views, but nowhere to camp. It would have likely been even windier last night up here anyways.

Ups and downs along La Ventana mesa. To the east, the terrain drops sharply and offers big views. To the west, a gentler slope with often interesting sandstone formations.

The clouds were building by early – mid morning and the threat of rain returned. I stopped to prepare, emptying my backpack to line it with a compactor bag. I had a pack cover as well, which I apparently left on the ground here. More on that later.

I hiked some more and took first lunch. The skies were improving, Rain not looking imminent. Mountains across the valley reminded me that I’ll be wet for a while in Colorado soon enough.

This afternoons water source was jones spring I believe. Its located at located at the end of a narrow and lush canyon, with an over hanging ledge for shade. However, the local rancher didn’t want hikers hanging out here, spooking his livestock. I took my water and moved on.

The trail then passes through a long stretch of lowlands and a cow pasture before approaching mesa Portales.

Very cool hike along the base of the mesa. Colorful and strange rock formations kept me busy. Every corner turned was something new. Then the trail climbs up to the top of mesa Portales. This was a bit of a scramble at times but fun and awesome views the whole way up.

On top of mesa Portales, just incredible views. What else can I say! Great hiking up here.

I took second lunch under a juniper tree. The wind was picking up though as it does daily… Maybe 40+ mph wind gusts now. I also found my first piece of obsidian up here.

I tried to hurry down the mesa, with Cuba only a few miles away now. The trail down had some cool little canyons and views near the top, which dwindled with the drop in elevation.

Down on the valley floor, it was back into cow fields. Nothing left to do but knock out miles. I found another piece of obsidian on the road leading out to hwy 197.

It was a 4 mile road walk down 197 before reaching the main strip, hwy 550. I used this time to call my dad since I had cell service, but no lte.

I ate dinner at Mel’s drive thru chicken and BBQ. Mmm town food! Then the final walk over to rebels roost.

Rebels roost had a few hikers sitting on the porch when I arrived. I paid for 2 nights in advance, knowing tomorrow will be a full zero day. Time to shower! This must be the most anticipated part of reaching town for most hikers.

It was a good night sitting around on the porch swapping stories with the other hikers.

Miles – 25.2
Total Miles – 589.6
Rain – no
Sleep – hostel
Animals – rabbits, prairie dogs

Wednesday May 23rd – CDT Day 33 (zero day)

A bed always feels good after a few days in the wilderness, but somehow I always manage poor sleep my first night back in civilization. I was hot, sore and did a lot of tossing and turning.

Went out to breakfast with five star, pony whisperer, camel and sequoia. Priscillianos had big portions, perfect for us human garbage disposals.

Back at rebels roost, I was feeling super tired and was getting a headache. I laid down for an hour and a half or so, and that helped. My lower back was really sore though. I hurt it in December doing deadlifts, and i was just getting some recurring stiffness. I never feel this stuff while hiking, only on zero days. Weird.

Called my dad and got my resupply situated for Chama. This is where most hikers are sending snow gear. Recent reports of snow levels convinced me to pass on sending the ice axe, but I am getting my micro spikes. Also, a 20°sleeping bag (I use quilts these days actually), puffy jacket and warm hat.

Later, Vince (owner of rebels roost) was kind enough to give me a ride into town to hit up the grocery store, and get more food from Mel’s drive through.

Back at the roost, hikers were heading out to get in a few miles before dark. I spent the rest of the evening getting my gear ready for the morning. Awesome sunset tonight.

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 589.6
Rain – no
Sleep – hostel
Animals – none

Like what you see?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *