Week 2 on the Continental Divide Trail leads into what’s maybe the most famous New Mexico trail town, Silver City. Then the trail leads us into what’s our first big CDT alternate, the Gila. On this detour we pass our next resupply point, Doc Campbell’s Post, before detouring to visit Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
Day 8: Arriving in Silver City
After falling asleep in one of the most crap places I’ve ever camped, we wake up and bushwhack our way back to the trail. Silver City is within striking distance and few things rival “town” as motivators (I guess trail magic or thunderstorms would be close behind).
My foot is hurting badly, but as we know, the best solution to this problem is to ignore it and hope it will go away. We follow a dirt road east past a copper mine before we reach the second CDT road walk (I don’t know why I’m even counting because the number of road walks is basically “countless”) – 12 mi / 19 km north on Highway 90.
Silver City is a medium-sized trail town (that is, it’s medium-sized relative to other trail towns) and there are plenty of options for food, drink, and accommodation.
We make our way to a place called Vicki’s Eatery for breakfast and have one of the most friendly servers I’ve ever had. We also get excellent food. We even get the outdoor patio to ourselves (which is a win-win since we would most certainly make the restaurant’s interior smell like a filthy hiker).
Vicki’s Eatery – can recommend.
The brewery is still closed so while we’re waiting for our post-breakfast beer we hit up one of the many Silver City thrift shops where Appa trades up his hat.
After being granted entry to the bar and watching some Kentucky Derby (which I care nothing about), we hit the supermarket, Food Basket, for our resupplies (and more beer). A note on beer sales in New Mexico, you can’t buy beer before noon on Sunday (a silly and outdated law).
Now we make for the chain hotels in the town’s northeast corner (a thirty-minute walk from the downtown area) where we find our home for the night at the Comfort Inn & Suites (where they’ve got laundry, a pool/spa, an included breakfast, and clean rooms). Appa and Moist head back into town while I stay behind to finish my audiobook and soak my feet in the jacuzzi.
After a soak, I do the only logical thing and order a pizza. The rest of my afternoon and night consists of beer drinking, pizza eating, and television watching. It’s incredible.
I love thru-hiking.
Day 9: The first zero
It was bound to happen sooner or later, and based on my feet being in the shitter and this hotel being awesome, Silver City, day nine of the CDT, is our first zero.
Zero days are the reason I thru-hike. They are unbelievable. You can spend the day doing anything you want. I tend to spend them attempting to do as little physical activity as possible (I’m getting quite good at this).
I wake up to our included breakfast where I find our fellow thru-hikers Dr. Bug, Stud, Ted Olsen, and Turtle also beginning a zero day. We may never leave this place.
As much as I would like to do nothing today, I need to take care of some business. I walk down the road to CVS to get sunscreen, toothpaste, and insoles for my shoes. They don’t have my usual insoles, so I instead get some Dr. Scholl’s with a money-back guarantee (because I’m fairly certain these things are going to fall apart).
If there’s one thing I’ve experienced thus far in Southern New Mexico, it’s how nice everyone has been.
All of our servers at all the restaurants we’ve been to? The friendliest I’ve ever had. This guy working at CVS? Seriously stoked about his job and life in general. He makes a genuine effort to help us out and when Appa considers buying a small tripod, he even opens one up to test it for us (which turns out to be a good thing since the one he opens is broken).
We leave CVS and I need to head to Walmart to try to find a USB-C cable for charging my phone. Moist comes along and since nobody wants to give us a ride, we end up walking the entire 1 mi / 1.6 km (yes, we walk everywhere, but town miles don’t count, so this is far). Walmart has neither Superfeet nor USB-C cables (really, Walmart?) so I head back to the hotel to begin my day of lethargy.
Appa and Moist are a bit less lazy than me and they decide to walk back downtown (so brave). I insist on staying in the room to drink a box of Capri Suns and watch daytime television (it’s like being home sick from school in the nineties).
At eight in the evening, I head downstairs to see if this “free cookies” business was a hoax or not. Yes, apparently, in addition to the included breakfast, the hotel provides cookies every night. I am pleased to discover that said cookies exist and even more pleased to see that you take as many as you want. It’s like a cookie buffet. It’s incredible.
I close out the night watching Star Wars and the NBA Playoffs.
First zero? Great success.
Day 10: Leaving Silver City
Leaving town after a zero might rival being stuck up on a ridge during a thunderstorm as one of the worst parts of thru-hiking.
After a hiker takeover of the breakfast room we retreat to our room to pack up and polish off the rest of our beer (we would have packed them out, but carrying bottles is no fun).
On the way out of town, maybe just to delay getting back on the trail, we stop at a small Mexican restaurant, Don Juan’s, and get some bomb burritos which we enjoy on a bench (that’s for sale) in front of the local hardware store.
You hear the CDT called many things, the Continental Divide Trail, the Cash Deficit Trail (aka Colorado), the Constantly Disappearing Trail, or the Cutting Distance Trail. The Cutting Distance Trail because there are a seemingly endless number of alternates, shortcuts, and detours that you can take whilst hiking the CDT to make your time on the trail less (and get back to those sweet, sweet zero days).
Leaving Silver City we take the first of many CDT alternates: the Walnut Creek Alternate.
This alternate involves walking a road north out of town before rejoining the CDT 7.5 mi / 12 km later. It saves 3.9 mi / 6.3 km of walking which might not sound like a lot, but these small cuts add up throughout a trail as long as the CDT.
Immediately after rejoining the CDT, we take our second alternate (we cross the CDT and continue onto another alternate), the Gila River Alternate. The Gila (as it is commonly called) is perhaps the most well-known of all the CDT alternates, but we’ll talk more about the Gila tomorrow.
Shortly after starting the Gila Alternate, we walk through the domain of the CDT mountain hermit. Apparently, some guy lives up here in the foothills and talks hikers’ ears off. We don’t run into him, but there are signs of him everywhere.
After some exciting cow and deer sightings, the trail enters into an awesome canyon where we find our first running water of the entire trail. Very excite.
We continue through the canyon eventually passing Dr. Bug, Stud, Turtle, and Ted Olson (and a turkey!) as we pass over a ridge with some nice views of our surroundings.
As we descend, it starts to rain (hooray!) and as the thunder rolls in (HOORAY!), we decide to stop for the day since the next part of the trail takes us up a fairly large climb (should this rain develop into a storm, on top of a climb is not where I would like to be).
Tonight, CDT night ten (but only night seven of camping), is the first night I set up my tent.
Day 11: The Gila
Getting up early is always a challenge for me on the trail, but today we manage a 5:30 alarm.
It didn’t end up storming last night, but since it was our first night out of town (aka depressing) I’m not upset that we decided to stop earlier than we would have normally (because on a thru-hike you usually just walk until it’s dark – or sometimes even after it’s dark).
We make it up a large climb and as soon as we’re at the top it starts hailing.
I got a free CDT-branded Montbell umbrella from Turtle back in Lordsburg and I decide to put it to the test. After many minutes of adjusting, I finally get the umbrella secured to my pack in a way that I don’t have to hold it (since I’m using two trekking poles).
I guess it works alright.
Making it past the climb, we pass the CDT’s intersection with the Columbus Route. This is an alternate whereby hikers start at the Columbus Border Crossing instead of down in the Bootheel (I don’t think I met anyone who took this route).
I told you, the CDT is full of alternates.
The trail heads down to a creek where Moist and I find Appa. Time for a break. I am famished. Time to stuff my face with candy.
It continues to rain off and on as the trail leads down a long set of switchbacks.
About halfway down we run into another thru-hiker – hiking south. Strange. We stop to talk to him and he tells us that we are about to enter into the heart of the Gila River (which apparently means that we will be constantly crossing the river and will have wet feet for the next week). He is hiking northbound, but he got sketched out with the navigation through the Gila so he was going to hike back to the road and hitch ahead.
Appa and Moist have been through the Gila before and believing that nobody should miss one of the most spectacular sections of the trail, we adopt Stubing into our pack. Three has become four.
At the bottom of the switchbacks, we walk through a gate that might as well be a portal to another dimension.
We have arrived at the Gila.
We eat lunch before getting our feet wet on the first of many river crossings. I am very happy to have my gaiters at this point – without them (as I will later discover) my shoes fill up with debris during river crossings.
It’s not always easy to follow the trail, but there honestly isn’t that much you can do in the way of getting lost. The Gila River runs through a large canyon that prevents you from wandering too far away from the water (and the trail – wherever it may be).
We continue crossing the river (don’t even bother trying to stay dry or taking off your shoes at each crossing, it’s a waste of your time), and the deepest we get is nearly waist-deep. According to the maps, there are some hot springs around, but we find only a few vents of warm water – nothing worthy of taking a dip.
To celebrate the Gila and the addition of Stubing, we stop early and have a fire.
We’ve come a very long way from the waterless Bootheel.
Day 12: Doc Campbell’s Post
Another 5:30 wakeup and we get our feet wet within five minutes of starting.
The trail disappears after most crossings, but we discover that taking a minute to find the trail lets us make much better time than crashing through the bush. I don’t think I can overstate how many times the trail crosses the river (my hatred of having wet feet/shoes on the trail quickly fades into indifference).
We see our first day hiker who has come out to the Gila to unsuccessfully find a hot spring (tough luck, buddy).
Our destination for the day is Doc Campbell’s Post.
This place is a bit of a mystery to me. Apparently, it’s just a small shop in what’s basically the middle of nowhere. Many hikers, myself included, send resupply boxes here since the store’s selection is rumored to be quite limited and expensive. I’ve also heard that Doc, the man who I assume owns the place, is a bit of a grouch.
We pass a sign that lets us know that Highway 15, the road Doc Campbell’s Post is on, is only 1 mi / 1.6 km away, but then we would have to do a much longer road walk to reach our destination so we instead continue another 3 mi / 5 km through the canyon.
We reach an overpass and scramble up to the road for more, you guessed it, road walking.
Doc’s isn’t too far up the road, but thanks to Stubing’s magical thumb we get picked up about halfway there and take a short ride in a pickup bed to Doc’s. That’s right, my footsteps from Mexico to Canada aren’t connected, get over it.
When we arrive at Doc’s we think it’s closed because of, well, the “CLOSED” sign in the window. But after a couple of minutes of lingering outside a woman comes out and tells us that they’re open (uh, thanks?). Picking up a package at Doc’s will cost you $3 – not bad. I recommend coloring or otherwise making your box stand out to make it easily identifiable among the dozens of other packages it will be stacked with (I also recommend sending a box here).
For those of you arriving at Doc’s when there’s nobody there, the wifi password is “campbellpost”.
We explode our resupply boxes and backpacks at the picnic tables on the side of Doc’s. We also take this opportunity to charge our devices (there are some outlets out here) and dry out our shoes and socks in the grass.
I didn’t bring any camp shoes for the CDT, but I’ve been missing a cheap pair of shoes for camp (since we’re still in the beginning phase of not trying to crush miles and have time at camp) and around town (or wherever the resupply stop happens to be).
Luckily, Doc Campbell’s has flip-flops for sale. I buy them (despite them being too small).
We’re soon joined by several other hikers including, Fainting Goat, JPEG, Chris, Acorn, Stud, Dr. Bug, Turtle, Sherpa C, Lumber, and Paul Bunyan. For the CDT not being a popular trail, there are a lot of hikers here.
Hikers can choose between two hot springs near Doc Campbell’s for camping and soaking, the closer Gila Hot Springs and the slightly further (0.8 mi / 1.3 km) Wildwood Hot Springs. Walking in the direction of both, we meet the owner of Gila Hot Springs who tells us that it’s pretty crowded but he, “might have room for us under the bridge.”
As attractive as sleeping under a bridge sounds, we decide to check the other option, Wildwood Hot Springs.
When we arrive, the place is empty. No employees, no guests, no hiker trash, just a box for us to deposit our fee into. After a brief survey of the place, we decide we’re staying.
There are two bathing areas, one clothing-mandatory, and one clothing-optional. We have the place to ourselves and we take advantage of them all while polishing off the scotch Appa sent to himself at Doc’s (CDT Protip: send yourself a bottle of booze to Doc Campbell’s – but don’t do that because mailing alcohol is illegal).
It would seem that all the other hikers we saw at Doc’s have either continued hiking or are sleeping under a bridge since nobody else shows up for the rest of the night.
Day 13: The Gila Cliff Dwellings
After a slow morning, we take another dip in the hot springs and head back up to Doc’s for breakfast.
My phone’s GPS is busted so I call in an order for a new burner phone to hopefully resolve the issue. GPS and the CDT app (iOS/Android) has proven essential in staying on and/or around the trail and I fear that should I find myself alone in the snow in the San Juan Mountains in Southern Colorado, I will not have a fun time navigating.
At Doc’s, we also confirm that everyone else stayed at the crowded Gila Hot Springs last night.
Today we’re getting back on the trail, but not before we make a detour to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, 5 mi / 8 km up the road from Doc Campbell’s.
It’s $5 per person (payable in cash) to go in and walk around the cliff dwellings, and it’s most certainly worth your time and money.
It’s not until we’ve finished at the Cliff Dwellings and are back at the trailhead that I realize that I’ve forgotten my trekking poles at Doc’s. I’m exceptionally good at forgetting my poles.
It would take about an hour to walk back to Doc’s and then back to the trailhead. Worth my time if you consider what I paid for the poles. But since logic doesn’t apply on the trail, I decide to try to get them sent ahead and set off into the heart of the Gila without them.
A slow and steady uphill in the blazing sun takes us past a group on horseback and an enormous group of backpackers on a guided trip. After cresting the hill we plunge into a box canyon leading to a landmark known as Little Bear in the Middle Fork of the Gila.
We’re now in a bit of a bubble as Turtle, Acorn, Chris, Fainting Goat, JPEG, and Ted Olsen all soon show up to stare in astonishment at the spectacular place we’ve found ourselves in.
Once we start hiking again, our feet are immediately wet. The trail cuts the curves in the river and it might just be me, but all of a sudden the submerged rocks are more slippery than the previous fork we hiked through.
We still find our progress is a lot faster if we take the time to find the actual trail between crossings. This area is frequented by day walkers and is full of cairns to be destroyed and campsites with tents set up at three in the afternoon. That being said, it’s definitely not crowded by backcountry standards.
At Doc Campbell’s, Moist, Appa, and I all bought wooden Gila Hotspring shot glasses and so we decide to stop for a break and to put them to use.
Moist also sent himself a bottle of booze to Doc Campbell’s, but we have yet to break into it. Passing a 10/10 campsite, we decide to take a break and celebrate life for a bit. Our life celebration quickly escalates into an empty bottle of whiskey and us marching down the trail drunkenly singing Disney songs.
We reach Jordan Hot Springs, which is the first natural hot spring we’ve found on the trail. We join two older couples from New Orleans and a guy from California who are down here for the day. The soak is much needed (despite having already soaked this morning).
When we get back on the trail we find Stubing already in his tent.
We try to convince him to pack up and come with us, but he politely declines our drunken insistence. Before deciding to camp ourselves, we pass two groups of non-CDT hikers, Dr. Bug and Stud, and finally Turtle and Ted Olson. It’s about now on the trail when people have started to buddy up and hike/camp together.
We get one more buddy tonight night at camp as JPEG from Michigan joins our fire.
I set up my tent but without the fly. No rain tonight.
Day 14: TEDOLSON!
When we wake up in the morning JPEG is already gone (maybe he doesn’t want to listen to any more Disney music?). But more noteworthy, it’s difficult to find a place to make poop (sometimes in the Gila it can be tough to find adequate spots 200 ft / 60 m from the water – since the water is everywhere).
It’s nearly eight by the time we get walking (I guess our decision to drink yesterday may have had something to do with this).
But we’re in the Gila which means that big days aren’t expected and where the more fun you’re having on the trail, the better a thru-hiker you are. We decide to go swimming.
While we’re swimming and drying out our shoes we are passed by Turtle and Ted Olson.
If you’ve been paying attention until now, you may be wondering why this man is referred to always as Ted Olson. Well, it’s because 1) he always introduces himself as “Ted Olson” and 2) he has an awesome name. Appa, Moist, and I have taken to simply calling him TEDOLSON! – which may end up being his trail name.
Turtle tried to dub TEDOLSON! “Roughrider”, but we got it from the great TEDOLSON! himself that he’s not too keen on that name and actually prefers our endless and unrelenting shouts of TEEEEEEEEED-OLSON!
After spending an hour swimming, we run into Stud, who has been separated from her husband Dr. Bug.
We haven’t seen Dr. Bug today so we keep hiking for another couple of minutes down an alternate we find until we come upon, yes, Dr. Bug. We send him back to Stud and then speculate on who is going to be in trouble with whom before spending the rest of the afternoon looking for an awesome campsite (because you can’t just settle for any old campsite in the Gila).
Our time in the Gila is coming to an end, but we’ve still got a couple of days left before making it to our next resupply in Pie Town. I think I’m going to have to start rationing my food.
Week 2 Totals
- Day 8: 9.2 mi / 14.8 km (arrive in Silver City)
- Day 9: Zero Day 1
- Day 10: 17.1 mi / 27.5 km (leave Silver City)
- Day 11: 17.2 mi / 27.7 km (start of the Gila)
- Day 12: Arrive at Doc Campbell’s Post
- Day 13: 14 mi / 22.5 km (leave Doc Campbell’s Post)
- Day 14: 18 mi / 29 km
CDT Week 2 Total: 75.5 mi / 121.5 km
- Day 1: The Middle of Nowhere
- Week 1: The Bootheel
- Week 2: The Gila
- Week 3: We Got A Dog
- Week 4: One Month In
- Week 5: Don’t Die
- Week 6: The San Juans
- Week 7: Big Decisions
- Week 8: Three Is Company
- Week 9: Moist Is Dead?
- Week 10: Shortcuts to Town
- Week 11: Farewell Moisture
- Week 12: Wyoming!
- Week 13: The Winds
- Week 14: Yellowstone
- Week 15: The Final State(s)
- Week 16: MURKAH
- Week 17: Fires!
- Week 18: Canada