Day 1: Fewer Cactus Than Expected
Monday, April 25, 2022 10:30 pm
Location: Sheridan Canyon Water Cache (14.2 miles)

A new day, a new trail. Today is my first on the Continental Divide Trail.

I got up around 5:20 am, and just over half an hour later, I bid farewell to CareFree, and headed to the shuttle pickup location. It was cold outside — the weather forecast said 37° F — and still before sunrise, as I made my way across town.

Two pickup trucks, each carrying five hikers, left Lordsburg promptly at 6:30. In my truck were Brendan; Marte, from the Netherlands, here for her first thru-hike; and Diva and Olive Oil, who, like me, are attempting to finish their triple crowns (completing thru-hikes of the AT, PCT, and CDT) this year. Our driver was Jabba, who would also be hiking; someone else will take our truck back to Lordsburg.

As we got to talking, I learned that Olive Oil was the same hiker I’d written about early on the AT after finding a bag of stuff she’d left behind, including her new trail journal and a large copy of War and Peace. Small world!

CarmatesLongstride, Marte, Olive Oil, Diva, on the way to the southern terminus.

The Terminus is a three hour drive from Lordsburg, so along the way, we stopped in Hachita to use the restrooms and fill up the trucks with gas. Somehow, when we got out, the keys were left in truck and the doors got locked, leaving us locked out. Luckily, It wound up only being a ten minute delay, as someone else from the CDTC was nearby, and he and Jabba were able to use tools to break into the truck.

After roughly an hour and a half of driving on paved roads, we turned onto a somewhat rough and bumpy dirt road. After bouncing around on the road for a while, we reached the first of five water caches the CDTC maintains, and restocked the cache. This cache would be our hiking destination for the day. We also passed by several hikers that had been dropped off at the terminus yesterday.

We arrived at the terminus at 9:50. A small roof-only shelter provided some sun shade. There was also a terminus monument, and a message board with nothing on it. In comparison to the PCT, this border with Mexico was quite subdued. Instead of a large eyesore of a fence as on the PCT, the border here was a simple barbed wire fence, with a gap that allowed easy access to Mexico.

I lost count, but I think there were about 15 hikers starting in my group (including hikers from another shuttle), and one dog.

The Crazy Cook Terminus Area
The Crazy Cook Terminus AreaThe “Crazy Cook” southern terminus of the CDT. The terminus monument is visible, as is a sun shade and message board.

From the terminus, the trail headed west, and then northwest, snaking its way through desert scrub. There were no clouds in the sky, though there was haze from dust kicked up into the air. A light wind blew, helping to keep it a little more comfortable. There were no trees to speak of. Shade in this desert will be hard-won.

The Start of the CDT
The Start of the CDTThe beginning of the trail. A trail sign marks the path ahead. Wide open plains and desert scrub.

The CDT is known as a “choose-your-own-adventure” trail, due to the numerous alternate routes. The trail gave a little taste of this only a couple of miles in, when the trail split out into a number of small paths, all roughly leading in the right direction, but not on the trail, which had veered right when several of us had veered left. I commented to another hiker, “I wasn’t expecting choose-your-own-adventure quite so soon”. (It didn’t take us too long to work our way back on-trail.)

Partly due to my experience on the PCT, and also my hiking in Saguaro National Park last week, I expected there to be lots of cactuses in the desert. And there were some, but not anywhere near what I’d expected.

A Fruiting Cactus
A Fruiting Cactus

After just four and a half miles, and nearing noon, I stopped for a twenty minute break. While this was a short distance for a break for me, I was hungry; I’d gotten up early, and had breakfast on the way to the terminus, but normally I would have eaten more by this point in the day.

After relatively nice trail for the first half of the day, most of the latter half of the day followed two different drainage washes. The ground was rough, with loose rocks that made it a little harder and slower to hike. For a short while, some really annoying flies followed me, landing on my sunglasses and presumably trying to get at my sweat.

The land was strikingly flat, save for the random mountains and hills that popped up. I knew this would be the case from the elevation profile, but it was still surprising to actually see it in person. In the plains to the south, dust devils kicked more dust into the air.

LizardA lizard suns itself on a rock.

Not even a day in, the CDT already feels very different to the PCT. While the PCT largely felt like a well-defined trail, the CDT, at least so far, I get the feeling that most of the route was placed for convenience and not built as trail; and that it just feels less frequently used (at least this section, anyway).

After another five miles; I stopped for a break under the shade of a tree next to the trail, with first-time thru-hikers Plus-One and Roger. It was quite relaxing to be able to sit down and not have the sun blaring on me. I sat with them and chatted for about an hour, letting the sun tick its way across the sky.

Another hour later, a large tree provided ample shade, and a group of six hikers who’d thru-hiked the PCT in 2019 (including Diva and Olive Oil; also, The Director, Crazy Burrito, Catchup, and Lauren) were there. (Catchup and Lauren are also hiking with their dog, Odin.)

All together, there were ten of us that took refuge from the sun there. I wasn’t originally planning on stopping again so soon, but the water cache was less than an hour away at this point, and there was still plenty of daylight left.

The trail continued on a dry river bed, winding its way through the mountains until it reached a dirt road where the first water cache is located. I collected seven liters, enough for dinner, drinking water tonight and tomorrow morning, and filling my pack water bladder nearly to overflowing. Water was in large water boxes, with spigots; filling my bottles was a little tricky, but not too hard. Stopping at the last two trees and burning daylight there turned out to be a really good idea, there was no shade whatsoever at the cache.

After collecting water, I sent my tent up in a campsite near the cache; five other hikers cowboy camped nearby, and the group of six camped at a larger spot a short distance down the road.

Olive Oil invited us to join her group for dinner; I think everyone camping at the water cache was there.

As the sun went down behind the mountains, a cool breeze blew through, and it became chilly out.

At least for right now, it’s a clear, moonless night, and the sky is full of stars. Not a bad way to end the first day on trail.