CDT NM 7th Section

Day 72: Rio Tusas Source

The rain let up before midnight. My overhydration woke me at 2:30, and I had trouble getting back to sleep thanks to what sounded like a mouse scurrying around in my vestibules. I didn’t do anything about it as it could just as easily have been the wind, and all my stuff was under me except my shoes, stove, and bear can.

I woke again before my 6:30 alarm and started getting ready. The clothes I was wearing had indeed dried while I slept, but the ceiling was covered with condensation, so I guess that’s where it all went. There was a herd of cows slowly coming by, rattling rocks, until it suddenly started running down the hill for no obvious reason. It was loud like a stampede, but they didn’t run over my tent.

Meanwhile, I had to spend twenty minutes or so repairing my left gaiter. It wasn’t the only thing that needed repairing, but it was the most urgent that was easiest to do in my tent. I finished packing and hiked out at 8:50.

The next few miles were either slightly downhill or slightly uphill but nearly level. It passed through a dense forest then switchbacked up an open grassy hill. My left pinky toe was screaming in pain with every step, so at some point I stopped pushing and sat on a cairn to take off my shoe and sock. It looked like a blister had formed and then torn open on the inside. I wrapped the toe in tape and kept going.

Soon, I found myself following the tracks of an elk that always stepped perfectly into its own tracks up a narrow ridgeline. The trail went onto a steep muddy bank where at one point my feet started to slide sideways across the banked trail. Luckily, the slide stopped before I fell out just slid all the way to the bottom of the hill to be impaled on the snags.

Just past here, I passed a couple of day hikers going the other way, pointing to my proximity to civilization. Sure enough, moments later the trail spat me out on the hilltop campsite overlooking the Lagunitas Campground. As the name implies, there are two little lakes there surrounded by campsites, many of them occupied. Some people were already on the bank of the upper lake fishing. This would be my water source for the day.

The campground also had a privy, which meant I could save time in several ways. I filtered water and finished my breakfast and avoided any hole-digging simultaneously. I hoped the generally downhill demeanor of the trail, in addition to the time savings, would let me get in a few extra miles despite my late start.

I didn’t make it very far before it was definitely lunch time, which I took on a rock in the shade by a grassy creek filled with noisy grasshoppers. The sun had come out and stayed out through some large patches of blue sky, but there were still sizeable dark clouds coming by.

Up through a forest with some deadfall across the trail and a few ripening blackberries not yet ready to pick and out onto a plateau where another herd of elk scatters, and then to the edge of the cliff over the start of Rio San Antonio. At this point, the rain started, but not seriously enough to react to. Just fat drops landing on me spaced about a second apart. The bigger concern was definitely the mud along the trail, avoiding slipping or stepping in puddles with the edge of the cliff so near.

The rain picked up a little bit, but I still didn’t want to put my Packa on just because I didn’t feel like stopping when I was in a groove. But I had to take an emergency stop anyway at the end of the cliff walk that obviated the time saved at the privy earlier. So while I was stopped, I went ahead and put the Packa on.

The rain picked up a little more in the next mile to the extent that I zipped up the coat, but it tapered off again right after, and I took the coat off because I was hot and sweating under it.

The trail dropped into the valley, followed the Rio upstream, and then crossed it. I could imagine the nobos who came through in early May just stepping over a little stream here, but it was at least shin deep at the crossing now. Instead of facing the cold swift water, I found a broken off top of a fallen tree, dragged it over, and tossed it across. It worked as a bridge but the creek was so full the middle part was slightly submerged even with the ends on the banks.

Just beyond the crossing, I turned aside before I scared off the cows standing there to climb up a hill beside another fork of the creek. It was afternoon snack time according to my stomach and my watch, so I vowed to stop once I had climbed up this one steep hill. As soon as I found a log to sit on at the top and sat, wouldn’t you know it, the rain kicked in. And I mean kicked in seriously and all at once. I put the tyvek over my pack and the Packa over me and went ahead with the break, but my back got soaked anyway. There was even a moment where a few small bits of hail were mixed in. I waited out the worst of it with my minimal and ineffective shelter and started hiking again when it lessened ten minutes later.

I had decided that, in case it kept raining the rest of the day or started raining at sundown like the previous day, I didn’t want to stop for supper. Bears aren’t much of a concern in those parts, so I could cook in my vestibule while under the rainfly of my tent. I could also, by not stopping until I was ready to quit for the day, stop an hour early while there was still some light out. To support this plan, which called for hiking the next 3.5 hours without stopping, I stuck a few cereal bars in my pocket.

It rained the whole time I climbed the next two mile hill, much of which was in the meadow with the creek or switchbacking up the narrow above the creek. Altogether, it was easily the biggest climb of the day. And I was absolutely soaked through to the skin. But by the time I reached the top an hour and change later, it had turned down considerably.

In fact, coming down into the open grassland on the other side, it had reduced to a light sprinkle. (This is where I came upon the gated entrance to “Yonderosa”.) Fifteen minutes after that and it had quit entirely. My clothes were slowly drying under the Packa, but the temperature has dropped sharply and I was shivering regularly.

Around this time, I started eating the pocketed bars. It was well past my usual dinner time, but I had another hill to climb. And more elk to scare off. I was seeing a herd every hour at this point.

Before the top of the hill, the CDT took a hard turn onto a side trail down into a little ravine which had a place where a creek should be, then up an even steeper hill. It put me out on top right before the bizarrely placed field of rocks that marked the headwaters of the Rio Tusas. A herd of elk at the opposite end was just leaving.

More importantly, though, given the vanishing sun, my empty stomach, and the time on my watch, was the campsite right there. Someone had built a firepit and laid in a bunch of wood, all of which was far too wet to use now. But I set my tent up beside it, made my bed, removed my shoes, wrung out my socks, zipped up the rainfly, and slid into my sleeping bag before starting cooking.

The sky had nearly completely cleared in the late evening and the only rain that came while I was cooking, eating, or going to bed was random drops from the surrounding trees. But I was tucked in and ready for the worst in case it came in the night.

Three more days of rain!

Trail miles: 18

Distance to Hwy 84 at Ghost Ranch: 58.2 miles

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