Setting off from the hunter’s camp, I told Beads I would probably see her at a lake in around 30 miles to camp at and went ahead. The trail wound around rugged peaks on a grassy plateau before dropping into a deep forested valley. The climb out the other side felt steep though in retrospect probably wasn’t too bad. My stamina was dropping daily as the half dose of antibiotics worked it’s way out of my system. I rounded over the top of the mountain and in the next valley came across a hiker. The first thing I noticed about him was what he was wearing. Full waterproofs, zipped up head to toe. It was a pretty mild day, I was in shorts and a T shirt. I thought ‘man he must be warm’. As he came closer I noticed his pack more. It was huge. You could park the titanic in the main pouch and that would just cover the tip of the iceberg of what was in that pack. Then there was the extra attire. He was sporting a bear grylls style black and orange machete, worn stylishly on the waist. ‘Hows it going?’ I asked as he sat down to pass out. ‘This is hard work’ he explained as he unzipped his waterproof to reveal the fleece below, while sweat dripped from his brow. The sales man at an outfitters had definitely seen him coming. He told me he was hiking the Colorado trail from Chama (the next town along) and I can’t remember how many days he said he had been on trail for, but I was slightly alarmed. I wondered if he knew how far he had to go. I suggested he take off the waterproofs to be a little cooler and walk with as few layers as possible. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he should probably ditch everything to increase his odds of surviving the next days…or weeks.
Arriving at a beautiful blue lake surrounded by trees on a saddle, I decided the day was still young enough and this wasn’t the place to stop. Scenic as it was I kept going. Ominous clouds built in the sky once more as I studied the map. I reached a point where to go further would keep me on high ground for the next fifteen miles at least. The thunder clouds grumbled at me as I rose up the next climb. I decided to keep going, noting a tarn I could drop to in another five or six miles if things got bad. Needless to say, they did, and I found myself sprinting off the edge of a mountain once more. With the sky darkening I dropped to Green Lake. Once again a little off route. Arriving at the lake as electric cracks shattered the sky over head, I found a sign saying ‘no camping’ at the lake. I don’t know what they would have advised a single hiker arriving alone at dusk in a lightening storm to do, but I walked a short way from it and pitched up. Within moments, heavy hailstones started and the wind picked up as the back of my tent buffeted down onto me. I will be honest and say I was not convinced the tent would hold up to much more. I held my foot against the top of the tent in an effort to stop the supporting pole from breaking. Soon it became cold even inside my sleeping bag. I began contemplating that I might have to get dressed and walk all night to avoid hypothermia if the tent broke. The lighting seemed to settle over the small valley I was in and stay there. Over this hike it seemed most the time lightning struck inside a valley, it would restrict itself solely to the valley. In retrospect, maybe I would think twice about constantly sprinting into valley’s each time a storm appeared.
This was a long night. I was tired, and a bit fed up. Ten or fifteen minutes would pass then another huge strike would light up the tent. I put in my earphones to try to block it out, but it wasn’t much of a help. I had no concept as to whether the strikes were getting closer or further away, but I remember feeling that each strike might be my last. During the day in these high areas you walk past hundreds of trees and one in every so many would be a lightning struck tree, destroyed and charred. A daily reminder that lightning can strike anywhere, and it is a frequent and dangerous event. Later I found out from some locals that during this storm a motorcyclist had gotten off his bike at the top of a nearby pass to take a photo and was struck dead.
The next morning I woke to scattered clouds and the calm sort of forest you might seek out for a day’s hike. There was a small path that had led down into the area I had camped in, but it went back the way. I hiked to the south side of the valley and scrambled my way up the large rocks on the other side. I walked out across the hill til I found the path I should be on. I knew Beads would be a long way behind, but when coming across my muddy footsteps in the trail after seeing none the past miles, would be confused where I had come from. The trail slowly wound around and down towards Cumbres Pass. A sign on the ridge warned of dangerous snow conditions here in winter times. I would bet the original north bound hikers would come to this and think twice about proceeding. Nobody wanted to post hole, and nobody wants to be buried alive in an avalanche. I arrived at the pass early morning and started walking down towards the town of Chama. There weren’t many cars passing and I figured the descent into New Mexico was a welcome one. The temperature would warm the further I went. I wouldn’t have to suffer through cold nights any more.
My walk down was long and I arrived much later in the afternoon than I had planned. I had a 50/50 mentality for the the next section and would need more maps to advance. My hike now hinged on it. I spent an hour walking around to find a computer, eventually coming to the local library and printed out my new maps. They were black and white and low quality. This posed a problem. I printed them as far as ghost ranch, the next stop, hoping the resort could help. I booked into a motel and sat on the bed trying to decipher them. Imagine all the contour lines, forests, rivers, roads and any other features on a map being grey and pixelated. I had a pen to try to highlight what should have been a red line for the trail, but couldn’t. The maps were useless. A short while later I received a text message from Beads. She was in a bar down the road and wondered if I was still in the town. I walked down to join her. She had this one last section to hike for her trail to be finished, but would be taking a few days off at Ghost ranch first with more friends and I would probably cross her walking the other way in the next days. She split the motel room with me and headed off the next day morning.
I carried on my search in the town for a better quality map, before eventually giving up. I was at a little bit of a loss. I could have asked to join Beads, but wanted my route to be a continuous southwards line. I knew that many hikers had walked the road here coming north from Ghost Ranch to avoid snow so there was a possible way south. I called the ranch and asked if they had a computer and printer I could use and they informed me they had a reasonable quality system I could use as well as cheaper camping for CDT hikers and good food. The dullest alternate on the CDT. A dry roadside for 45 miles. But it would keep me going and get me back on trail. At least on a main route I wouldn’t have the worry of running out of water.