The Black Range of NM on the CDT, the first real deviation we had from the normal CDT hiker (as if there are many of those to begin with), and our next big challenge on this year’s hike.
The low-down: longer route, more remote route, less traveled route, and part of the “official” route we decided we wanted to hike. So after Silver City we headed off on our own into some uncharted territory.
The high-lights: nature galore! One afternoon on a high open prairie I found myself running with empty water bottles to a windmill 1.5 miles away from the trail for water. I suddenly stopped as I came across 10 prong-horned antelope that had also stopped to look at me. We all stared for a moment and then all took off running again. Amazing.
Elk are huge, and all over the Black Range. We followed some for awhile and I even had three big bucks with huge racks walk really close to me.
In the scary category, we saw a few bears but they ran away. However, one morning on an open ridge around 6 am, as we approached some brush, I notice a head pop up and check us out. I turned to Julie and said “there is a mountain lion bedded down there in the bush”. As I said this Julie watched it pop up, no more than thirty feet in front of us, and casually run away. We must have woken it up and since we were downwind of it, it didn’t smell us. In all my hiking, it was my first lion experience and thankfully we both watched it run away.
The other highlight is it was hardcore hiking training and we feel ready for almost anything now. Water was scarce, we went 47 miles at one point before finding potable water. Thanks to some trail maintenance folks for sparing a few liters to get us through here because all the springs we searched for were dry. We also worked our climbing legs and bush whacking skills. Much of the trail was non-existent. There were occasional signs and rock cairns, but we often couldn’t see one to the next and repeatedly found ourselves wandering through the woods wondering if we were going the right direction. We learned to use our GPS well here too.
The low-lights were that some of the sections were in rough shape with lots of overgrowth and fallen trees. This makes for slow and sometimes painful hiking at times. There also weren’t any people. We knew we were taking a more remote route but couldn’t believe there was absolutely no one out there using these trails. It would have been cool to share some stories with other hikers after a day of tough bush whacking filled with elk, antelope, bears, and mountain lions! But this is part of the trail we chose and it is all part of this amazing experience. We’re fortunate to have made it through unscathed, and without search and rescue called (my mom and sister freaked out a bit after we fell behind schedule and were out of contact for so long). There are many more miles to hike, and many more in New Mexico still, so onwards!