Out of the Frying Pan, Up to the Pines: CDT Days 2-8

Our first week and change on the CDT took us from the dusty Bootheel to the Burro Mountains, the desert’s answer to the Adirondacks. What a joy to be out of the relentless sun under piñon and alligator juniper!
But first things first: where we left off, we had just survived our first night on trail despite the wind trying to take our tent down. 

Day 2 — Here Comes the Wind — 20 miles

We were the last to pack up and leave the area around the first water cache, hitting the trail at 7am. As soon as the sun crested the horizon the heat started to build–and then the light breeze started growing stronger. At midday we reached water cache number 2 where we had hoped to find some shade, but with the sun directly overhead there was nowhere to hide.

Will no one rid me of this turbulent sun?

Several miles later the sun had moved just enough that we could grab a patch of dappled shade under a bushy tree. We spread out our tyveks and lay down with our hats over our faces. A tiny tawny bird wasn’t bothered by us, flitting in and out of her little nest as it was tossed to and fro in the growing wind. Anything not held down by our packs or water bottles would try to fly away.


We were confused by a blaze at where the trail crosses the Hachita Peak road, only realizing our mistake a mile later after a much deserved rest under a well-placed juniper where perhaps we got our senses back.

Heal my mind, tree.

We found our way back cross country, and stopped shortly after one more cattle gate where a few hikers had pitched their tents along the only available windbreak for miles. We tried in vain to set up our tent in loose gravel in a well-banked wash across the trail from them, but the wind could not be bested, even with the guylines wrapped around rocks the size of toasters–one big gust would pull the stakes free again and try to carry the tent away.

Such a pretty place to suffer.

We finally gave up and cowboy camped. Little yellow creosote petals showered down on us as the sun set, and Eva came over to snap some great shots of the purple-pink horizon. As the sky turned black an unfathomable number of stars and remote galaxies came into view.

Then the moon rose with such vulgar brightness that even the Big Dipper was diminished by it. The banks of dirt had many tiny holes that might house mice, but we only saw one big black beetle. Swallows swooped low over us as part of their evening ritual. We both struggled to sleep, and Todd started to wonder if the cold he was nursing was actually desert allergies. 

Day 3 — Sure is windy out here — 20 miles

Despite the rough night and sleeping in a little, we were on trail by 6:30am. In our evening frustration we had both failed to make our cold soak breakfasts, so after an hour and a half we stopped to have a snack and make up the cold soaks for second breakfast. 

Second breakfast is best breakfast.

It was a diverse day of hiking, and though exposed and windy it was a pleasant time. We got water from a surprisingly clean trough and easily treated it with the Steripen, then reached water cache 3, once again at a shadeless time.

So much better than the mucky cow pond a stone’s throw away.

After our second breakfast we put fancy shio ramen in our cold soak containers for lunch, but when lunchtime came we waited for miles and miles in hopes of finding true shade. Finally at 2:30 we reckoned we needed to eat, and settled for a big rock in the middle of a scrubby wasteland.

Nowhere to hide, but the miles go by fast.

We trundled on, and got to a reliable tank with a hose and a shady juniper by 5pm. We hiked one more hour, stopping at 20.69 miles, first just to rest in shade of a tree on the bank of an arroyo near Coyote Peak, then decided to stay after consulting the topo map and guessing the next several miles would be worse for camping. We had already decided to cowboy camp because the wind so strong.

As we got ready to eat dinner, Achilles and Raptor appeared and set up their tent nearby, leaving the fly off to watch the stars. We warned them that we’d likely be flopping around noisily on our crinkly sleeping pads much of the night, and gazed longingly upon their freestanding tent, the Big Agnes Copper Spur. The wind down the wash was so strong in the night that it kept trying to blow my quilt away. I turned it around, opened the toe box, and wore it over my neck like a collar so the wind would keep it on my shoulders. 

Day 4 — But wait, there’s EVEN MORE WIND! — 21 miles

We were on trail by 6:30am (after marveling that Achilles and Raptor managed to take down camp in under ten minutes) and were on trail before 6.

The wind was so strong it pulled my baseball cap off my head from under this hood.

It was a rough day for everyone, with very high wind hitting us at the worst time, as the landscape shifted from hillsides covered in scrubby brush and flowers to a barren, almost lunar landscape. At the water cache we met fellow Trek blogger Lookout and we talked about how surprisingly difficult we were finding it to maintain energy and motivation as the wind and sun treated us like so many dead cow carcasses.

Luxury means not having to shimmy under barbed wire.

We squeezed through cattle gates to cross ranch after ranch, with overgrazing contributing to the desolation. Todd commented that the roar and push of the wind felt like free falling in skydiving. The temperature had dropped into the high sixties for a high, and we saw rain clouds over the mountains, wondering if they’d come our way. Ultimately they did pass overhead and we experienced our first rain of the trial–but only about fifty drops.

After getting water from a solar tank we found shelter for the night among the biggest trees we’d seen yet.

At camp we met a new hiker, Grid from Montreal. Rising Sun and Baggins were camped nearby so Todd went to say hello while I made dinner. We had cell signal, and could see that the brutal wind was forecast to die down at sunset after 2.5 days. Our camp features many different kinds of birds singing through the evening and a few even calling out in the middle of the night.

Cowboy camping has its challenges, but the views can’t be beat.

Day 5 — In which we get back to town, and Todd gets a trail name — 15 miles  

It was a cold morning. We struggled to get going, and I lamented that I had sent my down puffy to Grants. The evening before at the water tank I had glanced at FarOut to figure out how much water to take, and the app had said that Lordsburg was “9.8 miles away.” I knew this wasn’t logical, but in my fatigue decided to believe it–failing to notice it didn’t say 9.8 miles by trail, so it meant as the crow flies. As the morning unfolded I learned (from my trusty partner) that we were indeed about 15 miles from town when we awoke. It’s funny how expectations set so much of what we experience–the day was harder than it had to be for such low mileage. Nevertheless it was a beautiful day.

We hit a bright spot when we reached the Pyramid solar well, where we climbed a ladder to get clean water trickling from the supply pipe atop a giant tank. After topping up our bottles I headed down the rocky bank off trail for some personal time involving a cat hole. As is often the luck of hikers trying to do such business, soon another hiker appeared and was coming closer to the tank, where Todd stood at the top of the ladder. In order to make sure I knew we had a visitor, he called out loudly and cheerfully to the approaching figure. It turned out to be an older woman moving at surprisingly fast clip.

Todd called out, “Do you need water?” She called back that she was all set. In his typical deadpan way, Todd said, “I prepared it especially for you!” the same way a person might cheekily offer to buy someone a drink at an open bar event. She laughed and introduced herself to him as Running Bird, and moved along the trail. I came back up the hillside to hear his tale, and we soon caught up with her. When we did, she asked us if we had seen “that nice fellow back at the water tank.” Todd said, that was me! RB shared that she had thought he worked for the ranch, and was moved by his thoughtfulness in offering her water. “You’re famous,” she said, “I already posted about you. I prayed for you and your family, your kids and your wife if you have any! You’re a saint!”

Can’t you just see this guy on a novena candle?

Speaking as the person whose dignity was protected down there on the hillside, I wholeheartedly agree. And so now he is Saint. We walked with her a while until we needed a shade break and she didn’t, talking about flowers, foraging, and various international experiences. We learned that her husband and golden retriever were waiting to meet up with her in Lordsburg. 

Just a few of the flowers from our first week. Many hikers struggled with previously unknown allergies.

We made our way back to town, noting that when we came over the ridge to see the town below we still had a handful of miles to go. We had another great meal at Ramona’s, and stocked up on groceries for the next day, when once again most restaurants would be closed.

Day 6 — Zero in Lordsburg — 0 miles 

We spent a day resting, doing laundry in the bathtub (the machines were out of order) and enjoying more freezer tamales from Saucedo’s. As we sat poring over maps in the breakfast area of our hotel, Houlin joined us for a chat. We also met some hikers yet to set out and wished them well. 

Much preferred to the more serious sign on the other side. Also, why do I keep trying these leggings?

Day 7 — Into the Gila, 100 miles! —20 miles 

We walked out of Lordsburg by road, soon crawling under a barbed wire fence to head east across more cactus and dust toward the Burro Mountains.

I spent some time trying to open this jammed gate before realizing there was a giant gap in the fence to the right.

We went through a gate with the first sign for the Gila National Forest, and gathered water at a cow tank favored by many bees, meeting Livvy and Hailey (who have trail names from another trail but have decided to reset) and Build-a-Bear. From there the trail started to climb more steeply, and changed from sand and dust to actual soil. We all took a long lunch break under big shade trees at the Engineer’s Windmill. 

Soon we were climbing even more steeply, rolling along as if in a SoCal canyon, and reached the 100 mile mark! 

Soon thereafter we reached the so-called Crystal Recliner (among other names), a formation of solid quartz with views all the way to Lordsburg and Pyramid Peak, requiring just a tiny jaunt off trail. 

A saint surveys his wilderness.

We finished the day with a hike to Cow Camp, a lovely spot just a bit off trail where we cowboy camped under an allligator juniper overlooking a slimy, mucky cow pond. (Between the Sawyer Squeeze and the Steripen, the water was clear and delicious.) The moon didn’t rise until 2:30am, which meant great enjoyment of the stars. 

Next time: Burro Peak to Doc Campbell’s 

By popular request I’m abandoning my plan to post only every ten days, and switching to serendipity mode. See you soon! 


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Comments 2

  • Scott Bischke : May 4th

    Way to hang through the first desert section, especially with the wind. On your previous post and then the start of this one I had thought to suggest a change to the Bug Agnes Copper Spur that we’ve used forever and then there it was (!) in your notes :).

    Your mileages are impressive, at least would be for us! We are finishing the SW Coastal Path in England right now and the difference between the lush green we see each day and the desert landscape you photos show you two are traversing is shocking.

    Wishing you all the best. Silver City (does it still go through there?) and the Gila totally rock.


  • Prof Jellybean : May 7th

    Thank you for not making us wait longer for your wonderful posts! I’ve read this one three times already and am eager to see what happens next. I think “Saint” is a perfect trail name for hubby for so many reason. 🙂


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