Monday Apr 26th, 2021, 0630-1800
Rattlesnake Spring to Comanche Pass, Segment 35, mm 690.5
It was another relatively warm and calm night. I heard some sort of nightjar calling but wasn’t sure what kind. While I was forcing my dinner down the night before, a single mosquito got a bite in before I could even recognize what it was. It’s maybe the 4th I’ve seen all trip. Flies and gnats have also been a non-issue. I guess our struggle to find water all the time comes with some real benefits.
To start the day, we walked some more ATV roads out to a graded forest service road, then up 4 miles to a somewhat abused and neglected campground. It had a great spring cistern (Pine Shadow) and we stopped to collect water. We had a huge climb to over 10,000′ again… something I had not been looking forward to in my off-condition. The trail did a million switchbacks up the south facing side of Manzano Mountain but it wasn’t terrible. In fact, the trail appeared to have benefited from some recent maintenance. My stomach hung in there at least. I kept thinking that if I could just get through this last big set of mountains, we’d be over the last hurdle.
For the rest of the day, we followed a crest trail that stuck pretty close to the entire range ridge. I love these ridge hikes, even if they involve a lot of short and steep ups and downs. It felt like the proverbial roller-coaster and I kept thinking what fun it would be to trail run this section without a pack. There was a fair bit of snow remaining on the north-facing sides, mostly patches that were easy to slide past or go over in a matter of a few steps. I postholed a few times but nothing that slowed me down. In my ultralight condition (little food and 10 lbs in bodyweight lighter than when I first started the hike), I was flying along the trail. I imagined myself as an agile little deer bounding through the forest. I love when I feel so in-sync with the woods and mountains. I spooked numerous mule deer throughout the day, which always reminded me just how uncoordinated and bumbling I actually am. Still, we traveled over 9 miles in 3 hours, coming to an off-trail spring just in time for lunch. I offered to go down to the spring to collect water for both of us. The side trail was in perfect condition and didn’t drop much in elevation. Normally I hate going off-trail to get water but Spruce Spring was very easy and rewarding. Prefect clear water was flowing into a metal trough, such a joy to collect.
We took a pretty long lunch break and I didn’t feel near as energetic in the afternoon. I could feel the labor from the morning in my legs on the uphills. We still had a lot of little climbs and one sizable ascent of about 700′ through a burn area. The trail continued to be in pretty good shape, which surprised me based on some of the reports I’d read from previous years. We passed through a wide variety of habitats, from dense, snowy woods to open, rocky scrub ridges. There were also a few meadows, freshly unburdened from their snow and just beginning to green. Spring was just starting to touch these mountains, as the aspen still had yet to put out leaves. Far below, the brown desert plains and green line of the Rio Grande valley seemed a world away.
We made it to a road that led past an observatory, fire tower, and campground. There was also a side trail that is used for hawk counts and research. We then reached the second part of the crest trail, which led down from the Capilla Peak area and to our second spring along the crest, Ojo Del Indio. We had a decision to make here. We could try to push another 10 miles to the next spring, not carrying much water in-between. This would mean a 30 plus mile day with a whole lot of elevation gain. Or we could call it a day and camp up the hill from the spring. We opted for a compromise, to collect water for dinner and push on another few miles to where the trail started going up again. This, in retrospect, was a good decision. We went down to the spring, which didn’t have a side trail but was easy enough to find. It turned out to be a beautiful spot in a meadow, with 2 large rubber troughs. A game camera was trained on the scene, recording our actions. We resisted the urge to go for a swim in the second trough but did discretely wash the dirt from our feet and legs. With such a nice spring, I don’t know why there was no trail leading there but it did add to the isolated feeling of the place.
The remainder of the day was easy. We were nervous that we wouldn’t find a protected flat spot at the saddle but were pleasantly surprised. I couldn’t find a suitable ponderosa but a juniper fit the bill nicely. The winds were raging overhead but we could barely feel a riffle underneath. Only one gusts ever touched my tent all night, which was a huge relief given how high we were. I forced dinner once again but was beginning to feel a little bit of my appetite coming back. I was so glad we didn’t try to go farther, as I was quite exhausted after this day.