Friday Apr 16th, 2021, 0800-1830
Indian Springs to Monica Tank, alt to avoid Potato Canyon
The answer to the cliff-hanger of Day 29 is that Stellar was just fine, if a bit tired and sleepy. He made it back to camp around 1:30 am with water in tow. I woke up early in the morning as usual but took it easy, in case and understandably if he wanted to sleep in. He didn’t really so we were back on trail, grinding like always. It had been quite cold overnight. The little mud puddle at the spring was iced over. So it was good that we had another big climb to a place called Grassy Lookout to warm us up.
There was a fire tower and the beginnings, or rather, ending of a forest service road at the top. We had at last hiked all the crappy somewhat non-existent trail through the range and had a long easy road walk to look forward to. Of course, later I would be tired of the road and missing the trail. We took a long break at the fire tower, enjoying the views and cell service. We could still see the Mogollon mountains in the distance, now more than a week and a half away.
We also had to decide on a plan for the end of the day. Coming up was a treacherous descent into Potato Canyon. Several recent accounts warned of severely washed-out trail along steep traverses. The area was of course burned and suffering badly from erosion. TicToc and Cookie had told Cashmere not to even attempt it…these are 3 hikers in front of us who were hiking in opposite directions during this section. They also put a warning on the FB page.
We were going to try it anyway but after the water woes and mishaps with the bad trail in the Mogollons, we decided it was time to start taking the advice to heart. Water was going to continue to be a problem after Potato Canyon, with a dry stretch of at least 25 miles. Even then we weren’t sure that a reliable spring in the Magdalena mountains would be running, in which case we would be really screwed again. A final factor was the weather. We would be going over the Magdalenas Sunday morning, the day after it was supposed to snow. That didn’t sound like fun.
So we decided to do what Cashmere had done and follow the forest service road all the way out to HWY 60 and into the town of Magdalena from there. We would spend one more night at the base of these mountains, then probably 2 nights in town waiting out the weather. Then we could walk the route backwards into the Magdalenas, continuing on an alternate route all the way to Socorro and across the Rio Grande via a bridge, instead of fording the river on the main route near Polvadera.
With a rough plan in place, we walked at ease along the road. We saw 2 vehicles and heard some gunshots. We’d heard that turkey season was just starting, yet despite this, we continued to see turkey evidence all day. There were foot prints and poop all over the road and around several corners, a few surprised turkey. We had seen a big tom turkey the first day of this segment, 7 near a road the day before, and about 15 this day. It’s funny that we hadn’t seen any all trip and now that it was turkey season, they were all showing up. I thought turkeys were smarter than this. I yelled at them to get off the road before they got shot but I would have gladly sold them out to a hunter in exchange for some water. Sorry turkeys.
After about 9 miles we came to another fire tower atop Mount Withington. This tower actually had an occupant, the first watch person I have ever met on duty. Kelsey turned out to be the sweetest watch lady, giving us a lot of insight into her duties. She also had an awesome dog that we played with. After talking to her, I decided that being a fire watch would be an awesome gig for a summer. I’d get to spend days in isolation on top a mountain just looking out. It’s basically what I did on ships but with way better views.
While we had a late lunch, some of her coworkers arrived to deliver wood for her stove. Since the tower is mostly glass, it’s very drafty and cold. The rest of the gang were very nice too. Most were wildland fire fighters stationed in Magdalena. They offered us a ride all the way back to town and also food and water. We only accepted the water but were so appreciative of that. It was so helpful for us, since we didn’t know of any water sources on our alternate route.
After a long visit, we carried on down the mountain. The wind had been blowing strong and cold all day and we were chilled. I just wanted to curl up under some ponderosa and I’m sure Stellar wanted to catch up on lost sleep. We walked for another hour or so, just to where the trees began to run out. We found some flat spots near Monica springs and even a bit of water flowing there….would have been nice to have found such water the night before.
We hunkered down, expecting another cold night. At least we had some protection from the wind and a warm hotel room to look forward to the next night. It had been a pretty chill, as in easy, day. The bipolar trail phenomenon continues.