Dyer and Riches: CDT Thru-Hikers

Company in Cuba
Chama River Valley
Chama River Valley

June 6, 2000—Day 35, 563 miles —We spent a pleasant rest day in Cuba, awaiting the arrival of Mark, an old friend from England.

Seven Grain found Mark wandering on Cuba's main street, his jetlag compounded by 16 hours on a Greyhound bus. I saw them approaching and my heart sank. Mark was hefting what seemed to be a small wardrobe on his back and was wobbling dangerously.

In the weeks before his arrival, I had pleaded with him to pack light, but it looked like he had not understood these instructions. As the backpack slid off his shoulders and he collapsed with a groan, I could tell we had problems. After a short period of cursing and perspiring, Mark's demeanour brightened considerably. I was still unsure about Mark's fitness, but he seemed confident—"Don't worry, I've been running!"

"I'll give that boy a day," muttered Darryl darkly, rolling his eyes.

We thought it would be prudent to give the newcomer a day to acclimatize to the high altitude, and it took us that amount of time to rummage through his backpack, rejecting spare clothes, shoes, books, and the largest tube of toothpaste I have ever seen. By the time we had finished, Mark had two equal piles of gear. We mailed the unwanted items to Denver, and Mark sheepishly repacked his new kit.

It was Mark's good fortune to join us in time for some exciting hiking. A local outfitter had advised us that the best way into the San Pedro Parks Wilderness was to follow the ridge line straight up the side of the mountain. It was the crack of lunch by the time we had finished logistics in town, and our ascent began on the hottest day we have experienced on the trail so far.

The outfitter was right about the directness of the ridge route. It was the steepest incline Darryl and I have attempted thus far. It was lucky that Mark was too short of breath to complain.

The plateau of the San Pedro Parks Wilderness was our reward; quiet, green pastures crossed by gurgling streams and fringed with spruce. It had been a tough introduction for Mark, and he was sore, sunburnt, and blistered. But as we made camp that night, with elk grazing at the far end of a great meadow, he begrudgingly admitted the pain had been worth it.

North of the San Pedros, the landscape became dry again, and Mark suffered some more as we scrambled up the Mesa del Camino. The descent from the Mesa was an adventure. We lost the trail and ended up bushwhacking through dense vegetation, only to find ourselves peering over sheer cliffs. Backtracking for a couple of miles, we finally found an elk trail and made a treacherous descent into the valley below.

After a stop at the Ghost Ranch Living Museum we headed north to Chama along the road. A route through the Carson National Forest would have been problematic due to many district forest closures because of fire risk. Chama has the feel of a mountain town, and with the Colorado border less than ten miles away, we are excited about getting into the high country.


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