The Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail have a few characteristics in common that also distinguish them from other U.S. long trails. Most obvious, they are the only trails that extend the full distance from the Mexican border to the Canadian border.
Both trails have a southern terminus in a remote desert. Getting to those locations isn't easy for hikers without some help.
When I hiked the PCT, I was driven to Campo by one of several volunteers with the famous trail angels Scout and Frodo.
For the CDT, getting to the border was a little more complicated. The terminus, which is called Crazy Cook, is even more remote than Campo. Getting to this spot in New Mexico's bootheel region requires a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Zigzag and I chose to use the help of Dion and Andrea, two Triple Crown hikers who operate a shuttle service at the beginning of the northbound hiker season.
Their son was not traveling with them on this trip. His trail name is Buddy Backpacker, and he holds the record for being the youngest Triple Crown hiker. He completed the AT at age five, the PCT when he was six, and finished the CDT when he was nine years old.
|Date||Tuesday, April 13, 2021|
|Weather||Lightly overcast early, then clearing; becoming partly cloudy in late afternoon; temperatures from low-50s to mid-80s|
|Trail Conditions||Flat then gradual climb on sand and gravel|
Dion and Andrea met us in the lobby of our motel at 6 a.m. Before leaving, I purchased a couple of fuel canisters from them. This was one of the helpful services they provided for hikers. I couldn't carry fuel on the plane and there was no outfitter store in Lordsburg.
I put one of the canisters in a box of food I was leaving behind at the motel. The trail will lead Zigzag and me back to Lordsburg in five days, and we've planned to stay here again. This way, I won't have to shop for food for the next section of the trail.
Dion and Andrea drove separate 4x4 vehicles, with more hikers to pick up on the way. Doggone rode with us and Dion. Baguette and some hikers I had not met yet were riding with Andrea.
The drive to Crazy Cook took a little more than three hours.
About an hour before reaching the terminus, we stopped at a water cache. There were a number of these set up along the route to Lordsburg. Except for a few low-quality cow tanks, some of which were far from the trail, these were our only sources of water.
Volunteers and shuttle drivers like Andrea and Dion make sure the caches are kept stocked with water. The cache where we stopped was also where Zigzag and I, and most other hikers, planned to end our first day on the trail.
The last three miles of the road to Crazy Cook were extremely rough. This was why a high-clearance vehicle was needed.
Before going to the terminus, we stopped a short distance before it to look at an etched stone lying on the ground. It was the reason this spot was called Crazy Cook.
The stone marked the grave of Frank Evans. He was a member of a survey team in 1907 when he got into an argument with the crew's cook. The "crazy" cook swung an ax at him and killed him on the spot.
We arrived at the monument marking the trail's terminus a few minutes before 9 a.m. Each of us took a turn standing at the monument for a photo.
More hikers arrived soon afterward, brought here by other shuttle drivers. In all, there were fewer than a dozen of us, a far smaller number of hikers than those at the start of my PCT hike.
We hung around the monument for several minutes, though really, there wasn't much to see or do here except have our pictures taken. I didn't feel hesitant or nervous to leave. I just didn't feel an urgency to start hiking.
I've done this enough by now to know what I am getting into.
Before leaving, I walked over to the border fence. It was not at all like the fence at Campo or the controversial wall built on other parts of the Mexican border. This was just a wire fence with a rickety gate.
Anyone could easily pass through the gate, though this area is apparently not a priority for stopping illegal border crossings. The bootheel is so remote and desolate, it's not easy to survive the number of days needed to cross the desert.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Border Patrol has a heavy presence in the area.
After hanging around the monument for 30 minutes, Zigzag, Doggone, and I began hiking north. The footpath was sandy but just firm enough that it wasn't difficult to get traction.
The route was sometimes confusing, however. Several cow paths intertwined with the trail. Except where a metal sign stood, it was difficult to be sure which path was intended for the CDT.
More than once in this part of the trail, I found myself on a different path than Zigzag or Doggone. Still, the terrain was wide open, and that usually made it possible to see the next trail marker in the distance and head in that direction.
The arid land was only good for cattle grazing and didn't seem much good even for that. Despite the many cow paths, I didn't see any livestock. A broken-down fence and a windmill that no longer pumped water were the only other signs that this was ranch land.
The trail entered Big Hatchet Mountains Wilderness Study Area. It is maintained by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, as is a lot of the land around here.
After walking about an hour, Zigzag and I met a hiker named Top O'. He was from Texas and was also hoping to complete his Triple Crown this year. At first, I thought his name was the shortened word for topographic map. He explained, however, that it came from when he was thru-hiking the AT and remarked about being at the "top o' the mountain." He also often says, "Top o' the morning to ya," he explained.
Where the trail took the route of a two-track road, it was much easier to follow. Hikers were spaced far apart, but it was easy to see them all ahead because the terrain was so flat and wide open. Hikers carrying silver sun umbrellas were even easier to pick out.
I had an umbrella with me, but after trying it for a few minutes I didn't like the way it was attached to my pack so I could walk without holding it. It wobbled too much and obstructed my view. The sun wasn't overbearingly hot anyway, and I soon tucked it back into my pack.
After seeing mostly just scrubby grasses, I began to pay attention to and appreciate some other desert vegetation. Stands of Cholla cactus were particularly noticeable. They stood like pipework sculptures growing from the ground.
Purple prickly pear was another cactus that was common in this area. I made sure to steer clear of this is one. It has backward-pointing hooks that can latch into the skin like a fish hook.
After about six miles, the trail began a gradual climb up a dry wash filled with loose gravel. We were entering South Sheridan Canyon in Big Hatchet State Game Refuge.
I didn't see any wildlife. The area was established primarily to protect desert bighorn sheep that live at higher elevations, but several other animals live here. Among them are javelina, coatimundi, and a variety of desert snakes.
Some wildflowers began to appear along the trail. The first I noticed was a couple of bright yellow Gordon's bladderpod flowers on a long stem.
I thought at first they looked like the poppies I had seen in the desert on the PCT. The color was not as orange as poppies, however, and these flowers were limited to a small space. Poppies were usually spread widely over many hills.
Gordon's bladderpod is part of the mustard family.
Apache plume was a wildflower that was more plentiful.
Though named for the Apache tribe, Hopi Indians were said to steep Apache plume leaves and then use the liquid as a rinse to promote hair growth. Roots were boiled in water to relieve coughs in the fall. A tea made from twigs in the spring helped indigestion.
The temperature gradually rose into the 80s. To be sure, this wasn't nearly as hot as the desert could get, nor as hot as I thought it might reach. Though bearable, occasional breaks were helpful in the few times we could find shade.
Zigzag and I stopped for lunch at 1 p.m. in the barest of shade. We had already walked nearly nine miles.
At 2 p.m., I found several hikers squeezed into the shade from the sidewall of a wash. Doggone and Thirteen were there, as was a hiker I had just met named Sunshine.
There wasn't much room for another hiker in the shade, so I kept walking. Also, because of the white gravel in the wash, I felt it was hotter there than out in the open with a breeze.
The trail left the wash and followed another two-track road.
At 9.5 miles into the day, I somehow missed a turn and went up a canyon. I walked about a quarter of a mile before beginning to suspect I had gone the wrong way. Confirming I missed the turn, I backtracked part of the way back and then went cross country to find the trail.
Shortly after I was back on the trail, Baguette caught up to me. As we walked together, she mentioned a big tree was described in the Guthook app. That seemed like a good spot for another break.
Baguette powered ahead of me, and soon after, I twisted my ankle on a rock. The ankle wasn't badly sprained and I just walked off the pain.
When this happened a second time, I realized it was probably happening because my legs were becoming a little wobbly from fatigue. I drank some water and ate a snack bar, and felt much better.
When I arrived at the tree Baguette had mentioned, she was the only hiker resting underneath it.
Except for a tree like the Dover Oak, which is said to be the largest oak tree on the AT, a tree isn't likely to be mentioned in other trail apps. This one was noteworthy because it provided enough shade for several hikers and was the only one for several miles.
From the tree, just 1.7 miles remained to reach the side trail to Water Cache Number 1. That was where Zigzag and I planned to stop for the night. I hadn't seen him in a couple of hours.
The trail went through another deep wash filled with loose gravel. I didn't enjoy walking in these because it was almost like walking on beach sand or snow.
The water cache was near a ridge of the Hatchet Mountains. The trail would pass closer to the ridge tomorrow but never climbed it.
When I arrived at the metal box holding the water cache at 5:20 p.m., Baguette had just finished getting water. She said she had not seen Doggone or Zigzag. Their names weren't written in the logbook in the cache box, either. This surprised me. I thought for sure they would have passed me when I took the wrong turn.
I talked to a hiker named Bedbug, who was camped where he could see the trail past the water cache. He said he didn’t see two older hikers go by, so I guessed Doggone or Zigzag missed a turn like I did or took a longer break.
Doggone and Top O' arrived about 30 minutes after me, and Zigzag arrived 30 minutes later. I never could figure out how I passed Zigzag without seeing him. Doggone said he made a 1.5-mile mistake, and I wondered if maybe he took the wrong turn I did but went farther.
Doggone was carrying a collapsible chair, a luxury item most thru-hikers don't bring because of the weight. He was willing to do that because Taxilady was meeting him at short intervals, and he didn't need to carry as much food as we did.
I searched several minutes for a flat spot to pitch my tent, but couldn't find one that was also out of the wind, which had picked up throughout the day.
Then I saw Top O' had set up to cowboy camp in a wash, and this sheltered spot looked like a good idea. Zigzag and I did the same.
This was just my first night on the CDT, but I already knew one reason I was going to like hiking in New Mexico. I could see how wide-open spaces would offer a beautiful sunset view nearly every night.
I was tired, but it was a good tired. I already felt comfortable and at ease. That is to be expected, I guess. I must be getting the hang of this thru-hiking business.