Even though yesterday wasn’t as short as a true half day, the big break in the meadow and stopping an hour early was almost as rejuvenating. “Better shape up!” Prana shook me playfully, and in perfect musical style I rolled over and burst into: “Cause I need a man! And my heart is set on yo-oo-ou!” I continued to belt out the entire Grease number. Not what he was expecting, methinks.
The damp cooking lid harbored a feathering of ice as we packed up wearing all of our layers. Time to find sun! At the crest we climbed until we had views for breakfast and were not disappointed. The Mimbres River being birthed in the valley below, rocks and spires sprouting everywhere, ridges marching away into the distance.
Looking back past Black Canyon, the crest looked about the same as it did right here, which is to say, not too bad. Over our next rise, the more tangled regrowing forest appeared impenetrable, but the path magically unspooled onward, very faintly. New aspen crowded close together, way too many locust bushes tangled the understory, but it was far, far from the worst trail I’ve ever been on. There were some snagged clothes, some moments lost to disentangling, but the going wasn’t slower than the uncompacted tread in the canyons. Were the previous crest miles that much worse than here? Or did we fall prey to others’ exaggerations? By the time we return to do that stretch it will be better than it is now or worse than it is now, but not the same – so perhaps we will never have the answers we wonder about.
A few slow, thorny miles brought us to where another trail on our wishlist – the Grand Enchantment Trail – joined the CDT for a stint. That was where we’d planned to get water, but now there was no need. Seeming to be mostly out of the burn and back into pines, we slowly climbed Diamond Peak, dropping our packs for the summit spur, which had fabulous views. We’d hoped for a fire tower but only found the 4 defunct leg bases, concrete squares and metal attachments, and rolls of old telephone wire. A white insulator was still nailed to a tree fallen across the trail.
When we zigged onto the back side of the ridges the ecosystem changed abruptly to dry sand and gravel, with trees spread far and no undergrowth. Zags brought us
back into encroaching aspen and locust, and brutally rocky tread. At one point I mis-stepped, twisting my shoe around my foot, and was not able to get the shoe to stay on straight the rest of the day. How do those physics even work?
A last series of ridge walks wove us around colorful peaks and blocks – granite? volcanic? limestone? – pinkish and covered in neon green and orange and gray lichens, and then bid goodbye for now to the Aldo Leopold Wilderness.
We dropped for miles through more rocky and sloped-tread sidehill, and eventually landed in a peaceful pine forest bottom. An eight foot cairn stood sentinel, or so I thought; it turned out to be an old and crumbling chimney. We found water at mile 251 where none was marked on our maps, but we needed to put away mileage tonight as much for food supplies as for water. Time to get to work.
Well, I reasoned with myself as I hiked and hiked, we won’t be getting to the water in the light. It’s ok though. It will take longer, but we can do what we need to in the dark.
We reached the lush Caledonia Trail trailhead, and a freshly cut tread led forward across the dirt road. “Oh, wait,” said Prana, I remember reading about this somewhere. It’s a new section of CDT, and it goes over the hill instead of following the road!” Yes! We only needed to bank about 30 minutes to locate the trick tank in the light rather than be stuck searching by headlamp. The new trail was beautiful and well made, and shaved 3/4 of a mile off the convoluted road. The trail provides the best kind of trail magic.
The sky was flaming out as we gained the ridge which was home to the trick tank, a type of water tank often installed for wildlife, which is designed in such a way that its roof both collects precipitation and prevents evaporation, and has one small access point for drinking. Once we spied its white roof, we collected a few quarts, enough to get us through to tomorrow’s spring, and cooked our rice ramen under a cacophony of stars.