Day 33: Ghost Ranch to the spruce and fir forest between Mogote Peak and Banco Lona, ~20 miles, ~557 miles total
One more Ghost Ranch breakfast before returning to the trail. So much good food, it’s hard not to be in zero day hiker mode and eat until we are full. Knowing there is climb ahead helps us resist. Last chores taken care of, we walked out of the ranch by 9:30.
Up the trail through gorgeous red canyons and sandstone cliffs. Gabriel and I, took heed of the advice from Highlife this morning and DNR’s account of leaving the ranch last year. We follow the road/trail to the end of the canyon, avoid side trails and cross the stream. Easy. Thanks to those who have hiked before us.
Up out of the canyon we climb to views of the ranch, Cerro Pedernal, and the grassy plateau. The top of the mesa is a brief return to desert of juniper, claret cup hedgehog cactus, sagebrush, salt cedar, and evening primrose. Further up, we leave desert for Ponderosa and Gambel oak forest. We opt to take the non-road route and wander up a mostly dry stream to where it ends at basalt canyon. Better than road walking and so much to admire along the forest floor.
Early afternoon has us back on roads. I feel sleepy after the excitement of canyon walking and forest exploring. The air is also heavy, warm, prelude to storm. We catch up to Smudge, her friend Cheryl who has joined her for part of the hike, and Shutterbug.
Just as we began to amble on together the rain begins to fall. Jackets go on. Hail begins to peck us and sting our shoulders. White pellets cover the road in a few minutes. The air temperature plummets by 10 degrees (F). Lightning flashes. Thunder booms. Some flashes less than half a second between booms. I am now wide awake.
The storm rolls on after an hour or so. Wet, sloppy mud remains. It enhances the navigational challenges of an afternoon where one just wants to keep hands in warm pockets and hike on. Noting roads and trails requires concentration. My map soon falls apart, soggy from rain and frequently pulled from my pocket. Need to have a map baggy, just like home. Haven’t needed one for over a month. Gabriel uses map, compass, and GPS. We stay on route most of the time and go cross country to correct our errors and omissions.
Finally back on easier to follow trail/road, we are now slipping and sliding about in the mud. It makes for slow progress. The mud clings to our shoes. Weighing our feet down, first one pound, then two, five, ten pounds per foot. Finally, pancake-like disks of mud roll off our feet. Then the mud accumulation begins a new.
The mud is exhausting after 30 minutes, let alone a few hours. I think about how I want the trail to be challenging at times. But heavy, slippy mud wasn’t what I imagined.
Spring green aspen groves, gentle hills and the sound of coyote yips are the only pleasant distractions. I welcome going up a steeper hill in part because I finally warm up and begin to dry out my wet pants and gloves (foolishly, I underestimated the storm and carried my rain pants in my pack instead of putting them on).
By 7:00 we’d made it to a conifer stand that Gabriel had hoped would offer dry forest, based on his interpretation of the map. We’ll take a flat, cow free, semi dry spot, with one Ponderosa amid spruce and white fir.
A few dead limbs pruned, we set up the tent. Carefully, we enter and peel off muddy clothes. Quarantine them from the rest of our gear. Put on dry, warm, clean sleep stuff. Eat dinner inside our tent as we listen to a soft rain patter the roof.
We are no longer clean, fresh from town hikers. On the bright side, the rain is good for the land.