CDT Day 127: Arroyo Chavez to Cerro Colorado – Hard As Rock Camp to Ice Cold Mesa Camp
Miles hiked: 27.9
Total miles: 2256.6
Sun, check. Clear sky, check. Warm day, nope. Some meteorological stuff that I’ll probably never understand somehow transformed a bluebird day into one of the coldest that we’ve had on trail thus far. It was hard to get a handle on the nominal temperature through the arctic wind-chill, but I can say with confidence that the number doesn’t matter one bit when you’re hiking in all your layers, hands in pockets, with a popsicle nose and frozen water. Cold is cold, freezing cold is freezing cold, and it is no fun to eat couscous while it freezes on the spoon.
The wind died down in the night, but I still slept restlessly, turning over and over like a tubesteak on the rollers at a 7-Eleven. At least they’re heated. I had been a little cold all night, too. When SpiceRack and I finally mustered the courage to get moving around 7:30am, my thermometer showed the temp to be around 10°F and the wind was picking up again. Even wearing all my warm layers, I needed to keep moving in order to stay warm. My face was soon numb though, and I tried to look away from the wind as much as possible. Spice and I moved between juniper trees along the cliff’s edge, hunched against the blast, not saying anything, struggling forward without any other option. I kept a water bottle in my jacket to thaw so that I would have something to drink if I ever felt the need.
I gotta admit, the first morning leg was pretty lame. Even when the sun began blasting us through the clear sky, I was just about as cold as I can remember ever being. A few hills here and there offered brief respite from the chill, but never enough for a break. Around some cliffs, then across a flat. We kicked through some tall grass to a spigot and trough looking for water. All we needed to do, supposedly, to turn on the flow was turn the red plastic handle. I tried, but it was frozen in place. Shoot, no water here. Luckily, with it as cold as it was, we still had plenty to make it 8 more miles to the next source. But having anticipated a break, I followed Spice into the empty trough for a sit-down out of the wind. Even with full sun and no wind, I left colder than when we got there.
One thing in our favor was the terrain. Super flat and good for cruising with hands in pockets. It warmed up just enough for me to look around and appreciate where I was. Following cairns and posts across a sandy plain between a band of cliff and Cabazon Peak, I was struck by the beauty of the empty landscape, and why the heck there was a house over there. Who is living out here? Why? We popped down into a dry riverbed, then back up for the final miles to lunch.
Ojo Frio Spring looked nastier than the trough it fed. Spice and I scooped surprisingly clear water from a concrete circle, avoiding the green algae. She mixed her treatment drops, I hung my filter from a tree. We hunkered behind a bush, ate all the things, and felt warm for the first time today. We learned via text that the rest of the hiking crew, who were a half-day behind us after spending a night in Cuba, had somehow been forced to hitch back there after finding the water cache at the paved road frozen solid this morning. Good thing we left town when we did. We had expected water difficulties in New Mexico, but not because it was all frozen. Spice and I were just skating by and we decided not to trust any piped sources or springs while it stayed this cold. Only nasty cow trough water for us.
We left for the big climb of the section up to the mesa that surrounds Mt. Taylor at around 3pm. Protected from the wind for the first time today, I finally got to take some layers off and actually started sweating as the trail switchbacked between benches of changing flora. By the time we reached the top, ponderosa pine were a thing again and Cabazon didn’t look so tall anymore. We shifted back into flat-cruise mode and hiked about as fast as we could while we still had daylight. The trail meandered between meadows and trees first west, then south as the sun sank lower and I got colder. Wind woooooed in the tree tops, but it was also straight up cold now. Eventually I was back in all my layers and bouncing cairn to cairn by headlamp. Spice’s light bobbed away behind me and we traded groans and cries of frustration as the all but invisible lava rocks rolled, twisted, and stubbed our ankles and toes.
Trail turned to dirt road, stars speckled overhead, feet turned to stumps, smiles turned to tears, dinner time came and went. We pushed on out of the trees, feeling the chill of a meadow, then back into them, finding a flat spot to camp immediately after calling it a day. Tent up, curry couscous in hand. It freezes to an icy mixture before I can even finish the small portion. My Oreos fare better and I munch them buried deep in my quilt. I snuggle as close as I can to Spice. That was a cold day, and it will probably be a cold night.