• Brandon A. Kelone

What I Wish I’d Known Before Hiking the CDT: New Mexico

Updated: Apr 30, 2020

I dreamed about hiking the CDT for a lot of years before the opportunity finally made itself available in the spring of 2019, in what would turn out to be one of the greatest adventures of my life. The good times along the CDT were amongst the best of my life, and the hard times were amongst the hardest of my life. All in all however, I am unbelievably grateful to have set out on the trail, and the things that I learned along with the experiences that I collected literally changed me as a person.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking back on those miles now that a year has passed, and as I’ve thought it over, a lot of things have come to mind that I wish I’d known before setting out on the longest thru hike of my life. As I’ve thought about it more and more, I’ve constructed this list as a somewhat abbreviated version of the things that could have aided me greatly before setting out from the Mexican border on my hike of the CDT.

Since the CDT is so gargantuan, I have broken this publication into several segments, starting at the southern border and working north from there.

Before I get too far into it however, I’d like to note that this is in no way a prescriptive list of how to hike the CDT. We all have to hike our own hike.

That said, having walked the trail firsthand, I figured that it would be worth my time to put this out there as a means by which to help those of you who are about to set out on the CDT for yourself. If you find 100% of this advice to be worthless, it’s totally okay with me. But even if you get one tid-bit of information that helps you on your way and makes your experience on the trail more enjoyable, then it’s worth my time in putting it together.

With that said, here’s what I wish I would have known about the New Mexico CDT before starting out on my northbound journey.

1) The Desert Really Isn’t So Bad

I went into the CDT thinking that the New Mexico portion of the trail would be a special kind of hell.

I expected rattlesnakes to be around every corner. I thought that waterless stretches would be nearly impossible to complete. I thought that it would be nothing but desert all the way to Colorado. I expected that the trail towns would be miserable. I thought that the daytime temperatures would be over 100 degrees throughout most days… I thought New Mexico was going to be awful.

On my ride to the start of the trail however, I was introduced to a new way of thinking about the southernmost state of the CDT. I was blessed to have a friend who was able to drive me to the start of the trail. He’d been working for the National Forest Service in New Mexico for the last five or six years, and so he was able to shed some light on my hike in a way that nobody had before him.

As we drove out towards Crazy Cook (by the way—the road to the start of the trail was not nearly as bad as people had led me to believe it would be; it was very passable in his Four-Runner), he said, “Man, I don’t get why everyone talks so much sh*t about New Mexico. From what I’ve seen out here, this place is beautiful. If you asked me, I bet New Mexico ends up being one of your favorite states on the entire trail.”

It was the first time that I’d thought about the southernmost state of the CDT under a good light. For some reason I had been envisioning the CDT as being some giant monster that I was about to fight, when in reality, I was embarking on a beautiful journey into the wild of the Continental Divide. And once it was all said and done, I could look back and see that New Mexico was probably the tamest of all the states along the hike. Colorado was like walking through a glacier in the midst of winter. Wyoming had the challenges of the Great Divide Basin in addition to some extremely rugged trail through the alternates I walked in the Wind River Range. Idaho was simple (though rainy), but it only lasts for a few hundred miles that bounce back and forth between Montana and Idaho. And Montana… oh, God there’s a lot to say about Montana. So let’s just keep it short and sweet by saying that New Mexico was actually pretty tame compared to my expectations of what I’d find in the first state of the CDT.

Now that it’s said and done, I can’t quite say that New Mexico was my “favorite” state of the CDT, because when I look back on the trail, every state of the trail was my “favorite” state… except for Montana. But more on that later. For the time being, I’ll just say that the New Mexico CDT was an extremely pleasant surprise. I absolutely loved it!

Much like the PCT, those first 750 miles of the southern portion of the CDT are certainly much more desert-esque than what you find up north, but that is not to say that it’s just 750 miles of desert. From Crazy Cook to Lordsburg (the first 80 miles of the trail) the trail is certainly hot and dry, and moving north from Lordsburg to Silver City is pretty similar, but then there are places like Jack’s Peak (just after mile 100) and many places in New Mexico (especially the northern part of the state) where you’ll likely hit snow if you’re hiking early in the season. And if you’re able to take the Gila River alternate, the lore of New Mexico being all dry comes to a screeching holt as your route will literally cross the Gila 50-100 times, depending on whether you take the high or low Gila River alternative route.

By and large, when I look back on the New Mexico portion of the CDT, I don’t remember it as a desert. To be clear, there were desert stretches, but there were also forests, rivers (just wait until you see the Gila!), beautiful sandstone formations along the southeastern edge of the Colorado Plateau (Ghost Ranch), and at least one snow-capped mountain (the Mount Taylor Alternate is a must-do!).

So don’t go into New Mexico like I did, thinking that you’re in for 750 miles of suck. Looking back on it now, that first state of the CDT was an absolutely beautiful experience! Water was more plentiful than I had expected, the desert wildflowers were in bloom, temperatures never broke 95 degrees (and I started my hike fairly late, on May 10th), and the people that I met in the trail towns of New Mexico were the best of the best.

The next time I hike the CDT I’m going to be going into New Mexico with excitement rather than fear or trepidation. It was as beautiful as any hiking that I’ve ever done in my life. It may have been isolated in the southernmost state of the trail, but the time to myself was nice as well.


All that said, I feel like I’d be irresponsible if I didn’t at least acknowledge that some people did suffer in New Mexico. As the miles went on and I got to talk to other hikers, there were a lot of people who had to be rescued from the stretch between the Mexican border and Lordsburg, but from what I can tell, they were people who went into the trail under-trained and underprepared. This shocked me, because I expected that anyone setting out on the CDT would probably be experienced and prepared for some hardship, but apparently I was wrong.

To avoid this happening to you, I advise not getting black-out drunk on the night before setting out into the desert (seriously—a lot of people got dehydrated and extremely sick from too much alcohol before the trail!). Go into it prepared for some hardship, but don’t go into it thinking that you’re about to step into the depths of hell. New Mexico has as much potential for beauty and wonder as any other state on the trail!

2) There’s More Water in New Mexico Than I Expected

I went into the CDT with a good bit of desert hiking experience (Arizona Trail 2011, Pacific Crest Trail 2015, and an additional 2,000+ miles throughout Arizona and southern Utah). But I was still expecting the deserts of the CDT to be the hardest that I’d ever hiked. In fact, when I finally decided that I was 100% going to hike the CDT, the first thing that I put on my “To-Do List” was to map out all the water sources that I’d be able to find in New Mexico. I really expected that finding water was going to be the biggest challenge for the southern portions of the trail.

In reality however, it wasn’t that bad.

In fact, I found that the water situation in most of New Mexico was not even much of a problem. Overall, I was able to get by in 80% of the miles with only 2 liters of water capacity, 15% of the miles with 3 liters, and the remaining 5% with 4 liters. I should note that I carried a 4 liter capacity throughout all of New Mexico; it was just extremely rare that I used all 4 bottles at once.

I should note that the 2019 CDT followed an historically wet winter. The year before (in 2018) dry conditions were the trouble and wildfires became a major issue as thru hikers continued north. That said however, if you have hiked the Pacific Crest Trail or Arizona Trail or some other thru hikes that have dry stretches, it’s likely that you’ll do just fine on the CDT. Temperatures never broke over 95 degrees for me in New Mexico (and 95 was the *extreme* high; I rarely saw anything over 85), and the longest waterless stretch that I *thought* I’d see was 32 miles, but even on that stretch I ended up finding water 22 miles into the day (for those who are curious, that was on the official route between Pie Town and Grants, which is a place that few hikers ever see; the vast majority of people take an alternate around that section of trail).

With water caches, the New Mexico CDT should not be a problem for you if you have experience in hiking in dry conditions before starting this thru hike.

3) You’ll Probably Spend a Lot of Time Alone

Some people don’t like hiking alone. Others do.

I personally quite like it, and as such, I loved the time that I got to myself in New Mexico. It should be noted that I intentionally started my NOBO thru hike a bit later than most others so that I could allow for a bit of extra time for the snow to melt off in Colorado (so much for that… but more on that later). Most hikers start NOBO hikes of the CDT some time in April (April 20th was a pretty popular start date in 2019), and those who had started earlier had a good bit more company along the way. But I started my hike on May 10th and I absolutely loved the solitude that I found out there.

I met one other hiker on my first day, and literally saw *nobody* from there until Lordsburg. Then, on my fifth day I met my second other hiker. Between Crazy Cook and Silver City I met a total of two other thru hikers. It was an awesome way to start out the trail.

Ultimately, if you’re setting out on the CDT, you can expect a lot of time to yourself. If you’re the type who likes hiking with others, then start sometime in mid to late April or come to the trail with a hiking partner. If you’re the type who likes time to themselves, then you’ll probably find the isolation that you desire without any trouble at all.

As thru hiking becomes more popular, it’s likely that there will be more people headed out to the CDT, but I doubt that it’ll ever see the traffic of the AT or the PCT. The CDT has so many added challenges that the other two long trails don’t have that I would be flabbergasted if the CDT ever reaches the popularity of the other two.

4) Don't Worry About Rattlesnakes

If you talk to a hundred different people who have hiked a trail, you’re going to get a hundred different opinions on whatever question you might ask. Case in point, although I saw a grand total of two rattlesnakes on the entire CDT, I met another hiker who saw twelve of them in one day along the New Mexico CDT!

So although individual experience may vary, I personally found that rattlesnakes were a non-issue out there.

In the 15 years that I’d been hiking through rattlesnake country before starting the CDT, it had become clear to me that snakes are really not too big of a deal for hikers. Rattlesnakes want to hang out with you about as much as you want to hang out with them. They’re conditioned to see big animals (like hikers) as potential predators, and although they’ll often curl up and become defensive when you approach, so long as you leave them alone, they’re going to do the same in return.

I am inclined to advise not hiking with headphones “turned up to 11” while you’re in snake country, and if you are going to listen to music on trail at all, do so with one headphone in one ear, and the other ear free so that you can hear the environment around you. If you’ve never encountered a rattlesnake in the wild, you’ll be amazed at just how loud they can be when they want to be heard. It’s quite an unmistakable sound that they produce!

So based on my personal experience walking the southern portions of the CDT, I don’t think that rattlesnakes would be much of a concern if I hiked it again. Be aware of your surroundings. If you step over a really big rock or a log, then take a hiking pole and tap the opposite side before stepping over; this way a snake will strike at the pole or give you a rattle before you put your boot right on top of them (although it’s worth noting that a good friend of mine who hiked the AZT last year and part of the CDT actually stepped on a rattlesnake in the heat of the day and all it did was slither away).

If you leave them alone, rattlesnakes will do the same for you. In all likelihood, they’ll hear you coming well before you’re within striking range and they’ll slither off on their merry way before you even realize you were close to one.

And if you do have the opportunity to see a rattlesnake while you’re out there, give it safe distance (5 feet or so), snap a picture, and be on your way.

5) The New Mexico CDT is Incredibly Beautiful!

This was something that only one person prepared me to expect from New Mexico. All the lore that I’d read online and in trail blogs seemed to indicate that New Mexico would be a 750-mile trudge through monotony and agony.

But guess what…

It’s beautiful in New Mexico.

If you’re hiking NOBO in the spring, prepare yourself for wildflowers and sunsets like nowhere else on earth. The contrast of the flowers against the drab desert brown is nothing short of spectacular, and “beautiful” barely comes close to saying just how memorable the southernmost state of the CDT can be.

If you want my advice (although I’m not sure if anybody ever asked for it), I would recommend going into New Mexico ready for it to be just as (if not more) beautiful than any of the other states that the CDT crosses through. There’s a hell of a lot more than just a desert in New Mexico, and the parts that are desert have their redeemable qualities too!

6) New Mexico Gets Cold Too

This was one thing that caught me off guard in New Mexico, and I wasn’t the only one. There were several other hikers I met during that first month of my hike who remarked at just how astonished they were to see temperatures regularly drop below freezing at night and for snow to blanket the ground within the first couple weeks of the trail.

We all know that it can get hot near the Mexican border, but it’s hard to reconcile that with the same model of New Mexico that will freeze in the evenings. This might be a good time to embrace the duality that New Mexico so perfectly embodies.

It should also be noted that I started my NOBO hike of the CDT about two weeks later than most other hikers that year (I started on May 10th). When I told people online that I was starting so late, I had several nay-sayers inform me that I was probably going to melt under the sun and die of heat stroke for starting so late. Granted that the daytime temperatures did occasionally get a bit warmer than I would have liked to see, I was shocked at just how cold it became at night. I had at least one evening where I recorded temperatures right above 20 degrees Fahrenheit!

And those who started with “the herd” in mid-April dealt with even more extreme cold temperatures (including multiple inches of snow around the Gila River).

It should also be noted that those who hiked the CDT southbound encountered far more extreme cold temperatures in New Mexico as they reached the end of the trail—temperatures that were literally in the single digits!

All that said, some people go out to the CDT looking for it to suck, so if you’re that kind of hiker, then prepare yourself for some cold nights, because you’ll almost certainly encounter them. If you wanted to take what I’ve learned and apply it to your own thru hike of the CDT, pack for cold weather in New Mexico, because you’ll almost certainly encounter it in the evenings.

7) The Trail Towns of New Mexico Might Be More Dangerous Than the Trail Itself

I don’t have any interest in fear mongering, but I think this is a point that’s worth consideration. I should also note that I personally did not encounter any particularly dangerous situations in trail towns, but many of the hikers who I met later on recounted stories that left me feeling like I got somewhat lucky.

Lordsburg, New Mexico in particular has a really bad reputation when it comes to hiker safety. The first thing that I ever heard anyone tell me about Lordsburg, before I even knew where to place it on a map, was that, “Lordsburg is a piece of sh*t place.” I don’t wish to perpetuate that exact idea any further than it needs, suffice to say that there’s not a lot going on in Lordsburg based on my own experience. I did meet a couple of people during my four hours in town who made me happy that I wasn’t spending too much time there, and I had one encounter in the laundromat that made me feel like I’d overstayed my welcome in said laundry facility, but I was never actively robbed, actively threatened, or actively made to feel fearful for my own safety. Just… uncomfortable, I guess you could say.

A little farther down the trail I met a hiker who told me a story about an attempted mugging in Lordsburg. And before leaving town I had a local tell me about a stabbing between residents of the community while at the same laundromat where I’d been cleaning my clothes and charging my electronics.

Grants, New Mexico had the same feeling for me as I got in Grants, although I should note that I met one of the nicest trail angels in Grants that I’ve ever met in my life. So just like any generalized statement about a trail town, these claims and warnings should all be taken somewhat lightly and more as “suggestions” than “advice.”

If I were to hike the CDT again, I might make a point of carrying some form of protection in the trail towns though (pepper spray or an easily accessible knife at least). If you end up carrying pepper spray, it might also give you some ease from anxiety about the rumors of stray dogs that I kept hearing about too. I personally never had any issues with dogs, but I met a number of other thru hikers in 2019 who did.

Note: I do want to emphasize one more time that some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life were in the trail towns of New Mexico. So just because there are a few bad apples to keep your eyes out for, that doesn’t mean that everyone down there is nefarious. Just use common sense, I guess.

8) The Gila River Alternate is Beautiful

It’s funny that I went into the Gila River alternate with so much apprehension. I don’t know where that fear came from other than maybe the fact that people had warned me to be for trail that would be hard to follow and uncountable river crossings. Maybe both of those things are true of the Gila, but focusing solely on that fails to acknowledge the beauty! Maybe it’s a challenge to make big mile days during the Gila alternate. But maybe—just maybe—the CDT isn’t just about making big mile days. And considering how spectacular the Gila River is, I highly recommend taking that route and not fretting over the fact that your 30-mile days will just have to be pushed off to some other section down trail.

There are sights to see and experiences to be had, and the Gila River alternate offers enough of both to make slowing down worth your while.

It should be noted that not everyone takes the Gila alternate, but from what I’ve collected, the vast majority of CDT hikers do. This is not however to say that the red line through this area isn't without its own good qualities. Although I've not personally hiked the Black Range (official CDT through this section), the few reports that I have collected from those who have hiked it were mostly glowing. Jerry Brown, a GIS surveyor of the Continental Divide Trail had this to say of the official route through this stretch:

The Black Range hike is without doubt the most remote, least developed, and isolated hike on the entire CDT. Beautiful country, mostly on the crest of the divide, with abundant mountain wildlife and spectacular views. We saw a bear and a wolf the first time up there, and another bear when I returned to update the map last summer. It is logistically demanding - you need to plan on carrying enough water to go 25 miles in a few places. Hikers usually resupply by hitching into Winston and back, which can be a challenge due to the remoteness of the area. I’ve also been on both routes in the Gila and they are also awesome. They go nowhere near the Continental Divide, however, and the Black Range is on it.

Alternatively, the Gila River alternate is ripe with beautiful scenery, some amazing cliff dwellings (seriously—check out the Gila Cliff Dwellings just outside of Doc Campbell’s Post!), simple resupply options, and terrain that you won’t see anywhere else on the CDT. This all comes at the cost of 40+ miles of dirt road walking at the end of the alternate, but dirt roads are something you'll become accustomed to once you finish New Mexico.

There are multiple routes to follow along the Gila alternate, but I followed the river itself up to Doc Campbell’s Post, then took the “Gila High Route” after Doc’s (after stopping into the cliff dwellings), and then at the crossing of the High and Low routes (the different trail alternates make a figure-8 pattern through there), I stuck with the Low route again. This gave me the chance to splash around in the river crossings a bit, but not get bogged down and tired from crossing 100+ times. I also quite enjoyed the ponderosa pine forest that makes up the Gilia River High Route section.

I personally don’t think that there’s a right or wrong way to take the Gila, as I really enjoyed the high route section and really liked being along the river in the low route.

In the end, it’s about hiking your own hike, so everyone gets to make their own choices on where to go, but if I did it again, I’d probably do exactly what I did last year. It gave me ample opportunity to splash around in the river, and then I found that the high route was a nice change of pace with good, well-graded trail, nice views, and easy miles.

9) Don’t Get to Colorado too Early

I knew going into the CDT that the Colorado snowpack was likely to be the biggest challenge I’d face on trail. What I didn’t realize was that there would be other very major challenges as well… but more on that later. For the time being, I want to focus here on the logistical challenges of hiking the CDT as a continuous unbroken path—a task that very few thru hikers attempt. Unlike the AT or the PCT, the CDT is far more conducive to “Flip-Flop” hiking, or hiking from the Mexican border to the NM/CO border, and then “flipping” up to Canada, then hiking the rest of the trail southbound from there. There are several other ways to execute a “Flip Hike,” but for the sake of brevity (something that I’m not very good at), I’ll leave it there.

So I went into the CDT hoping that I might be able to hike the trail as a continuous unbroken path, but I also realized that the likelihood of doing so was very low, especially in light of the fact that the 2018/19 winter in Colorado was one of the biggest in memorable history. Still, I wanted to do everything within my power to see if I could walk it as a pure NOBO hike.

It was for this reason that I started my hike much later than what is typically recommended. By starting my hike on May 10th (most people start sometime in April), I figured that I’d be giving an extra two or three weeks for the snow to melt off in Colorado before I arrived there.

I couldn’t tell you why, but I’ve always liked hiking big mile days early in my thru hiks. It probably has to do with built-up excitement to finally be on the trail. And although I was mildly successful at tamping it back a bit in the early New Mexico miles of the CDT, I still had this *thing* inside of me that said “go-go-go!” The thought of not getting to the Canadian border before winter was the material of nightmares, and it was all I could do to force myself to slow down a bit through New Mexico so as not to hit the mountains too early on.

The CDT was unique however in that it wasn’t about just making it to Canada before the winter. As is the case with the PCT, if you start out from the southern border too early, you’re going to be in trouble when you hit the high mountains before the snow from the previous winter has had time to melt off. And although this is a noteworthy challenge on the PCT, it’s a much greater challenge on the CDT.

There had only been a few people that year who had hiked that first section of the Colorado CDT from Cumbres Pass to Wolf Creek Pass (Chama, NM to Pagosa Springs, CO) once I arrived at that section. There had been reports from the few who had already made it through of snow that was 20-30 feet deep in places, dangerous avalanche conditions, sub-freezing temperatures at night, nowhere to camp without being in the snow, and all sorts of horror stories like that. There were also ongoing concerns about snowfall that sometimes hits in the late spring months in southern Colorado. Additionally, there had been at least one very closely followed rescue of an early season thru hiker who had to be extracted from the South San Juan Mountains by Search & Rescue teams, which nearly resulted in his losing his life.

All this is to say that I set out on the CDT with a firm understanding that if I wanted to have any hope of walking the trail as an unbroken northbound path that I was going to need to start the trail later than most others and take my sweet time in the state of New Mexico.

To make a long story short, I (along with one other hiker who called himself “Hemlock”) were the first two thru hikers in 2019 to make it through the state of Colorado while following the official route through Spring Creek Pass (Lake City, CO). There were some others who *nearly* made it through using skis, but they ended up bailing off of the official route before making it to Spring Creek Pass.

There’s a lot more to be said about this, but for the time being, I’ll just say that I felt like I did a good job of burning extra time in New Mexico. I arrived much later into Colorado than I ideally would have liked, and *still*, the southern Colorado portion of the CDT was by far the most challenging and dangerous hiking that I have ever experienced in my life.

New Mexico is beautiful, as I’ve said earlier, so if you want to do yourself a favor, take your time in the southernmost state of the CDT. It’s only going to provide for extra time for the snow to melt off north of the NM/CO border, and once you get up there, you’ll likely be grateful for every bit of snowmelt that you get.

Enjoy New Mexico. Colorado can wait.

Now that that’s all said however, I should finish this point by saying clearly that there’s nothing wrong with a flip hike. If you do need to boogie on through the trail, then probably just don’t plan on hiking it as an unbroken path. Hike your own hike, and be sure to take some pictures along the way.

10) Follow the Red Line (Official Route) North From Pie Town

Good Lord—there is a lot to say about Pie Town, New Mexico! I didn’t have high expectations for what I’d find there, but it ended up being an incredibly cool little town. Granted that they had no beer there and that resupplying in Pie Town would basically mean using hiker boxes or hitching out of town, you can always just ship a resupply box to the Toaster House and call it good. That’s what everyone seems to for their Pie Town resupply.

But this isn’t about Pie Town. This is about the walk north of Pie Town.

Leaving Pie Town, you’re going to have a dirt road walk that stretches for something like 15 or 20 miles (my memory fails me at the time), and at the end of that road walk you’ll have two options that will lead you to your next resupply town of Grants, New Mexico. The vast majority of hikers are going to take the “brown line” (at least it was brown on the maps back in 2019), and I never met a single other hiker who followed the official route (red line) for that stretch that leads through the “Chain of Craters.”

There ended up being two major reasons why I stuck with the official route out of Pie Town: first, I wanted to burn the extra time to let more snow melt off in Colorado, and secondly, I sent a resupply box to the Toaster House in Pie Town with enough food to get me through another four or five days. The only reason that I wouldn’t have taken the long route between there and Grants would have been a reported “32-mile waterless stretch,” which ended up not even existing, as I found a clean-flowing well only 20 miles into that day.

So if you have the time and resources, go into the volcanic fields along the red line between Pie Town and Grants. The topography is amazing, you’ll probably have the trail to yourself, and you’ll avoid a long paved road walk into Grants by doing so.

11) There are bears in New Mexico

I expected that I’d eventually see bears on the CDT, but I didn’t think that I’d end up seeing them so early on. In fact, I didn’t think that I’d see a bear for at least 2,000 miles into the trail. So imagine my surprise when I found one within the first 400 miles of trail! Granted that it was a black bear (black in species, but not in color), and I saw it before it saw me, it was still a surprising encounter. As you assess your strategy for storing food at night, take into consideration the fact that there are bears living in literally every state of the CDT. The one run-in that I had wasn’t enough to spook me all that much, but it did make me a bit more aware of my surroundings, which is probably a good idea on any long trail.

12) Dogs May or May Not be an Issue for You

It’s hard to say what will or will not be a challenge for any individual thru hiker based exclusively on the experience of a single other hiker like myself. So as I continue on with this piece, I hope you’ll take into consideration that I’m only basing this on my own singular experience of walking through the New Mexico CDT. I make no claim that my own experience will mimic anyone else’s. As such, take everything I have to say with a grain of salt.

For me personally however, I did not have any issues with dogs attacking me while I was hiking the CDT. I was told by a number of sources that dogs would be an issue in New Mexico, so I was always waiting for the day to come when I’d have to take a hiking pole and throw a swing at “Fido.” But that day never came. Based on the month I spent in the southern part of the CDT, if I were to hike it again, I’d do so with less concern for being attacked by dogs. Alternatively, I want to stress again that I met several other thru hikers from 2019 and also from the 2018 season who reported first-hand experiences with dogs on trail, and some of them walked away with bite-marks to prove it. Once again, just be aware of your surroundings, and if you have pepper spray, New Mexico might be a good place to keep it ready.

13) There Will Be Snow in New Mexico

Specifically, you’re likely to encounter snow on the Mount Taylor alternate coming out of Grants, then you’ll probably hit more between Cuba and Ghost Ranch, and finally you’ll encounter it in the last 20 miles before reaching the New Mexico/Colorado border. Some people used snow shoes in these sections, and some people just went with micro-spikes. I personally didn’t have either, and I did not feel like having snow traction would have helped all that much in New Mexico. No matter your choice, be prepared for snow not only in Colorado, but quite possibly along every state of the trail.

14) It May Rain in New Mexico; It May Rain Hard

I was lucky to have spent the preceding decade living in the desert before heading out to hike the CDT in 2019, because in that time I was able to learn a very important lesson about desert rain. It sometimes rains hard in the desert. I met at least one fairly kind gentleman on the CDT who walked into the first portion of the trail with very little rain gear, and then very nearly got himself killed because a storm hit during his first week and just about washed him away.

I too saw some of that same rain, but I went into New Mexico expecting it. For those who went into the start of the trail prepared, it wasn’t so bad, but be sure not to underestimate the southern states. It sometimes rains hard down there. My personal recommendation is a well-tested rain jacket, rain pants, and a small umbrella. Most people end up using the umbrella in New Mexico to block the sun, but it can be a lifesaver in the rain as well.

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To be clear, that list is not in any way exhaustive. There are plenty of pieces that I could add or subtract from what I’ve listed above. But now that some time has passed, and I’ve had time to look back on the experience I had in that first stretch of the trail, those are the main points that come to mind in regards to the “I wish I knew” sort of things. You’ll likely look at this list and already be well prepared for it, or you may want to add a few things of your own. Regardless, this is at least a good start when it comes to things to be prepared for along the New Mexico CDT.

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