Golden Vistas | Continental Divide Trail – Average Hiker
Continental Divide Trail – May 8th, 2009
Leaving Snow Lake
I was up early this morning, excited about the prospect of real toilets and running water. It took me about 45 minutes to get to Snow Lake campground. Water was still turned off for the season, but the toilets were unlocked, so I washed off with water from the lake. I left the campground marginally clean and refreshed. Shortly after leaving the campground, I entered a completely new landscape. Golden vistas surrounded me, and stretched on for miles.
The dry, golden grass was a stark contrast to the clear blue skies. The Gila, followed by this austere but beautiful landscape, offered beautiful hiking. Clear, cool temperatures were the icing on the cake. Everything was so remote and peaceful, with occasional wind gusts offering the only sounds.
Golden Vistas & Pounding Dirt Roads
Much of the hiking today was on hard packed, dry dirt forest service roads. The golden vistas that stretched on for miles, were cris-crossed by these roads, along with faint animal trails. I saw my first Elk, and temporarily felt “wild.”
The “wildness” lasted until about noon, and then my feet began to hurt. I walked on far more dirt road than trail. Road walking pounded my feet, and I always tried to avoid it as much as possible. Paved roads were the worst. I would walk on the shoulders, or in ditches if these lasted more than a few miles.
Lunch @ the Mystery Pond
The beauty of the landscape was completely overshadowed by my screaming feet by about lunch time. Climbing over a small hill, I was relieved to see a small livestock pond with a rather elaborate solar array in the middle of it. I assumed this was used to pump water for cattle, but could not see where it was being pumped. Either the pipes were buried, or water covered the rest of the alien space craft.
I stopped to get some water, and decided to make a couple of PB&J tortillas. Lunch never lasted long since I constantly snacked while I walked. Like a cow, I was almost always chewing on something – a piece of jerky, gorp, or a handful of nuts. Chocolate and candy is the best, but I did not often include it in the snacks. I have enough issues staying clean and bear resistant without spreading melted chocolate all over myself. There was the occasional Snickers for dessert, but even that was carefully consumed.
Heading Cross Country
Leaving the spacecraft pond, I climbed up FS (Forest Service) road 28 for what seemed like an eternity, but was only about an hour. This road was intersected by even more dirt road walks, until my feed finally screamed STOP! Pulling out my maps, I looked for a cross-country alternate. FS 24 was about two hours due north. I checked my maps and compass, and took off across the grass, quickly engulfed by golden hills. These could be a little disorienting at times. I would pause at the top of the hills, looking for any hint of a road. All I could see were endless miles of grass, with no movement or hints of civilization. The rolling oceans of grass, with occasional scattered brush, were beautiful but desolate.
I spotted FS 24 late in the afternoon. The sense of relief I felt as I spotted the road would not be the last time I felt that emotion when seeing something familiar. This “trail” would often challenge my logistic abilities, especially here on the southern sections. I would eventually end up getting a GPS. Route finding was a slow process, and I worried about beating the weather north. While the technology increased my speed, I'm not too proud to say that I did still become lost sometimes.
Camp for the night
Hiking the forest service roads continued well into dusk. I never saw man or cow all day, only my first Elk of the trip. There was a quick flash of his/her white butt as it effortlessly floated up and over the hill in front of me. I wish I could hike like that. Over the course of this hike, they became some of my favorite animals. The haunting echos of their distant bugling were often the last and first thing I heard some days.
Hills rose higher and higher on each side of the road, as I began to look for a place to set up my tarptent. The winds had increased, so I did not want to climb to the top of the hills for the night. I finally pulled off the side of the dirt road, and around the side of a small grass hump. You could really say I set up camp in a ditch beside the road. I did not want to set up my shelter, and advertise my presence next to the road, so I cowboy camped for the night. Nobody riding by would see me unless they were intentionally looking for me.