CDT 2021: Day 27, Gooseberry Springs Trail Junction to Mt. Taylor Alternate Junction

Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death

Zigzag rounds the slope of Mt. Taylor

The highest point of the Continental Divide Trail is at Grays Peak in Colorado, which is above 14,000 feet. Many more climbs in Colorado go as high as 12,000 and 13,000 feet.

It will take me about two more weeks of walking to reach the Colorado border, and that's fortunate. Starting the trail in New Mexico has given me a few warm-up climbs spaced among easier terrain.

DateSunday, May 9, 2021
WeatherMostly cloudy, with temperatures from upper-30s to upper-50s
Trail ConditionsWell-maintained trail and gravel/dirt roads
Today's Miles14.0
Trip Miles410.8

The trail has already gone up a couple of times above 9,000 feet. Today I will climb to the highest elevation yet, to the top of Mt. Taylor. Its summit is 11,301 feet above sea level.

The trail won't stay that high for long, though. It will soon drop to around 8,200 to 8,400 feet. In a couple more days, the CDT will descend farther to 6,000 feet. I won't climb back above 10,000 feet for another 100 miles.

Cheshire Cat and Zigzag

Money and Chef Boy-ar-dee left our campsite at 7 a.m. Zigzag and I were about to leave soon after when Cheshire Cat arrived in his car.

We were surprised to see him here. The road didn't appear to be ideal for a little car like his. He always seems to be in pursuit of helping hikers, though. From that standpoint, it wasn't surprising at all to see him.

Low sunlight filters through trees

The trail immediately began to climb after we left camp. The Mt. Taylor Alternate, which we started yesterday afternoon, left the dirt Forest Service road and followed the Gooseberry Springs Trail.

The morning was chilly but above freezing. With a bright sun in a nearly clear sky, the temperature gradually rose to be more comfortable, though not what could be called warm.

A forest of aspen trees

The trail went through a mix of forests, starting with Ponderosa pine, then a stand of aspen.

Zigzag pauses to catch his breath

By 9 a.m., the trees thinned out, and the mountainside had wide areas of grass. We were now getting long-distance views.

Zigzag and I were becoming winded on the steepest parts of the climb, and there were a number of those.

A bare mountain slope

The trail curved around to a slope that was even more barren of trees. This was the part of the mountain we saw yesterday from the mesa.

A long climb up Mt. Taylor

Zigzag and I huffed and puffed our way up the mountain. I had to pause a few times to catch my breath, but I think Zigzag struggled a little more on the climb. I could tell he was feeling the effects of the higher elevation.

Though the trail was exposed, the temperature remained cool. I didn't need extra insulation. My windshirt and the calories I was burning were enough to keep me warm.

Money and Chef Boy-ar-dee on Mt. Taylor

We reached the summit shortly after 10 a.m. A brisk wind was blowing, and the temperature felt much colder when we stopped walking.

Money and Chef Boy-ar-dee were about to leave when we got there. A day hiker showed up soon after they left.

Zigzag and Gravity at the summit of Mt. Taylor

The day hiker took our photo as we stood next to a sign at the summit. I'm unsure why a metal cutout of the cartoon character Pogo Possum was mounted on the sign. It may have just been put there as a joke, and no one bothered to take it down.

Maybe a cutout of Zachary Taylor's head would be more appropriate, though also less quirky. The mountain was named in 1849 to honor the 12th president of the United States.

Before he became president, Taylor was the commanding general during the Mexican-American War. That conflict led to a treaty, which gave the U.S. control of 525,000 square miles of territory, including all of New Mexico.

Mexicans who lived in the region before the war called the mountain Cebolleta (tender onion). Navajo call it Tsoodzil (turquoise). It is a sacred mountain to them and at least three other Native American cultures.

A view of Sandia Crest from Mt. Taylor

The sky overhead was clear, but clouds were starting to form in the distance. From the mountaintop looking east, we could just make out Sandia Crest between layers of clouds. The mountain is commonly known as Sandia Peak and is 65 miles from Mt. Taylor near Albuquerque.

A view looking south from Mt. Taylor

Zigzag and I hunkered down in a pit near the top to get out of the wind. Rocks had been warmed by the sun, which also helped us feel more comfortable.

I ate a fried apple pie for a snack during our break. This was one of the heaviest items in my food bag, so I chose to eat it first.

Snow on the north side of Mt. Taylor

The first quarter-mile of the trail going down the north side of the mountain was covered in icy snow. Several hikers had already trampled on it. Though slippery, we didn't have any problems with post-holing.

Communication towers near Mt. Taylor

The snow ended where the trail turned to follow an exposed slope. Leaving the trees, I could see several communication towers ahead on a smaller, adjoining peak.

As we got closer to that peak, the trail joined a gravel road. This took us steeply up past the towers.

A view of Cerro Alesna

The Mt. Taylor Alternate followed the road for the rest of the way down the mountain. The road was rocky and rutted at times until it rejoined the CDT.

While descending from Mt. Taylor's adjoining peak, a dark, pointed column caught my eye. It was about 15 miles away and was called Cerro Alesna. The column was dark because it was made of solidified lava rock, which had been formed from a volcanic vent before becoming exposed by erosion.

Following a road down Mt. Taylor

The road we followed remained on open ground for much of the descent, with only a few sections of thin trees for shade. When we were ready for lunch, we looked for a log to sit on that was in shade.

A road through aspen trees

The sky was much cloudier by 2 p.m., and the temperature had dropped. Although some clouds thickened and became darker, we never saw any rain.

The Mt. Taylor Alternate route flattens

After the descent ended, the road continued in and out of mixed stands of aspen and pine trees.

One weakness I've found in the Guthook navigation app for the CDT is its information on alternate routes. It often fails to provide the same kind of details that can be found on the official trail.

This has been the case for the Mt. Taylor Alternate. No water sources or campsites were shown. Without these waypoints, there was also no place for hikers to write comments.

We knew one water source was ahead, though we weren't certain where. Just Awesome had walked this section five or six days ago, and he tipped me off yesterday in a text message about a spring that was not far off the trail.

Upper American Canyon Spring

We spent several minutes searching for the spring and eventually located it in a canyon, about a quarter-mile from the road.

Water from the spring ran through a pipe to a cow tank. The water in the tank was covered with scum.

The pipe allowed us to collect water directly from the spring. This way, we could filter the water without clogging our filters with scum from the tank.

The Mt. Taylor Alternate re-connects with the CDT

There wasn't much farther to go from the spring to where the Mt. Taylor Alternate re-connected with the official CDT route. When we got there at 5 p.m., we looked at the map and realized the terrain was about to change.

The trail junction was in a forest on flat ground. The topographic map showed rolling hills and thinner vegetation ahead. Where we stood looked much better for camping, so we decided to scout for a spot to pitch our tents. We found one less than a tenth of a mile from the trail junction.

Zigzag sits in his tent

Where we were camped was burnt in a fire last year. It must not have been a severe fire because the trees were green. Only the bottoms of their trunks were blackened.

A road was at least 100 yards away from the spot we chose. While Zigzag and I set up our tents, I noticed a car drive by. I didn't see the car well, but I thought maybe the driver was Taxilady.

Several minutes later, the car came back in the other direction, and this time, it definitely appeared to be Taxilady. She didn't have Doggone with her, so we guessed she was trying to find him.

When the car drove by one more time, we saw Doggone was now with her. They stopped when we shouted and waved at them.

Doggone told us he had just finished hiking the official CDT route after starting from the trailhead outside Grants. That was a distance of about 25 difficult miles.

"I won’t be on the trail tomorrow," he said understandably.

And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.