After hiking 13 miles on the Gila river to get to our resupply, we only stayed at Doc Campbell’s for two hours. Long enough to eat home made ice cream, drink a few sodas, and pick up, sort, and pack our food for the next six-day long section through the Gila River Wilderness.
We left Docs at 4pm and walked four miles. I forgot my battery pack, left charging by the picnic table but luckily was only a few minutes away from Docs when I turned around to get it. I walked the four miles and caught up with everyone at the Gila Wilderness entrance.
We hiked past the ranger station and an additional mile down to the river and a small set of natural hot pools built with stones on the side of the cliff. Setting up camp, we ate dinner and Shadow and I hung out and soaked our feet in the hot springs for a good 45 minutes before turning in for the night. This would prove helpful as the rest of the hiking through the middle fork of the Gila was very physical, hard going.
Waking up and setting off at 6:45am the next morning I briefly soaked my feet in the hot springs before crossing the cold Gila river and passed by a few campers and tents still sound asleep. After several dozen cold river crossings we warmed in the sun after a few hours. After eight miles we reached Jordan hot springs and were met by a group of kids from El Paso soaking in the beautiful clear pools. We soaked here and made lunch, then packed up and were on our way through the river once again for several dozen more crossings over rough and rocky terrain.
Sometimes the trail was easy to pick up, other times it was tempting to walk along the bank hoping trail would simply show up. I quickly figured out that the trail could almost always be picked up immediately after a crossing if we headed strait towards the opposite side or cliff wall instead of looking for it immediately along the banks.
The terrain was slow going through sand, rock, reeds, over downed trees and through the river again and again. However, this alternate was completely worth the effort. Beautiful cliff walls of volcanic rock opened up before us in an alien-like landscape. Pock-marked formations, spires, caves, jagged angular shapes and an occasional ruin site all made this traveling quite magical.
The next day we hiked 19 miles and 60-70 river crossings. Twisted fell behind after I was passed by a couple and a dog heading south to the Gila ruins via the river. I waited and took a snack break but after 25 minutes I was ready to head back and look for him just in case something happened. Just as I started back, he appeared. “Just taking a few morning breaks,” he smiled and thanked me for waiting. About an hour later we caught up with Shadow and Mouse who had stopped as well and were worried someone had slipped and gotten hurt.
Hiking onward I joked that there was never any solid trail for longer than two minutes, and this was the truth! Soon we encountered some slick rock and a water chute to navigate around. Every section of trail led to another crossing and we hiked another four miles, the last two finally yielding consistent trail. We rounded a nose of land and found a nice camp above the river and stopped here.
The next morning – our fourth day in the river – was flat out brutally cold water. My feet and lower leg muscles were numb for over two hours before the sun finally hit us. Stupidly, the NRS lightweight neoprene socks I’d purchased for the Gila were in a box I sent to Cuba, NM, as I changed my mind last minute on needing them. I needed them. We took a warm up break at 9:30 am and I thought my left leg had a shin splint coming on. Likely due to the cold muscles. I put on my compression sleeves as a precaution but by the end of the day everything was fine. I decided to keep wearing them for the foreseeable future just in case.
We passed flying V canyon, then a massive meadow where I read a note on the Ley mapset that mentioned 85 more river crossings to Snow Lake. Shit. It was fun and it was absolutely stunning scenery but we all wanted to make better time. We simply reserved ourselves to enjoying the beauty and brutality of the Gila alternate. I absolutely recommend this to anyone doing the CDT! At a 180 degree bend in the canyon we were treated to some alien rock walls. Then we had lunch in a sunny spot in the pines.
The canyon began to lose some elevation and with it we also got break from the sun. We finally hit good consistent read for several miles making good time and came upon the bottom of Snow Lake dam. We crossed the dam and hiked up to a parking area where we said hello to a young man hanging out on a bench who told us the hikers he’d seen over the weekend. We then hiked out on road past a nesting bald eagle and through a few miles of cross-country with little trail before breaking out into a magnificent, large basin of grassy hills and more volcanic rock.
Nearing dusk we rounded up a hill to a large stock pond where we made camp for the night. When morning came each one of us either wanted to stay in our bags or get up lightening quick and start hiking right away to get warm. The temperature dropped down to 25 degrees and my water bottles were almost completely frozen. Since I cowboy camped, eschewing to set up my tent, my sleeping bag had frost on it from the condensation released from my body overnight and the nearby pond. I made two coffees and then a third to carry in my hands and get them warm! Hiking out of the pond and up to a road we were treaded to a wonderful sun rise to start the day.
This day was all about the dirt road. About 23 miles through open grassy plains and then into lodge pole pine and oak forest as we climbed in elevation.
We had to carry all our water on this day and reached Dutchman Spring about 5pm where we all filled up. We climbed one more mile to a trail head where our alternate ended and the CDT main route picked up again. Tired, we all decided that this would make a good camp and began setting up and sat down to make our dinners. Just as we mentioned that we hadn’t seen any other hikers since Silver City (five days now), a car came to the trail head and dropped off a young hiker who told us he had started only a week ago from the border of Mexico. He had been hiking the Appalachian Trail since starting in February and stopped after 1600 miles in Vermont due to too much snow. So… he flew to New Mexico and started the CDT. He said he was trying to hike the Pacific Crest Trail as well all in one calendar year! We now know he has skipped at least one CDT mile as his ride picked him up at Dutchman Spring and drove him the mile we just hiked 😉
The next day Shadow and Mouse took off a few minutes before me. I started off down the trail with the young hiker and we chatted while finding the trail which shortly headed down some steep switchbacks. Wanting to take it easy on a knee that has been annoying me some, I slowed down and the young hiker took off. After an hour I was warmed up and I passed Twisted, Shadow and Mouse on a 1000’ climb. I rested at the top and took a lunch break.
After 30 minutes the group caught up with me but I was ready to go again and started hiking. Descending, I dropped through a burn area then up again past John Kerr peak. Down another burn area and past a pair of dry lake bed sand onto a dirt road. One mile later I reached Aragon tank and filled up on water – another 20 mile carry. Here I met Adrian who grabbed water and camped. I hiked three more miles onto the next trail alternate towards Pie Town and camped alone near some cattle.
The next day I got hiking by 6 am and planned on a 30 mile day which would put me within 10 miles of reaching Pie Town. The alternate was all dirt road and I dropped down through more lodge pole and douglas fir forest when I came upon a line male elk grazing 50 yards in front of me.
He quickly picked up my scent and took off but not before I gotta photo of this 2-3 year old male. I reached Valle Tia Vinces tank which was dry and afterwards I accidentally hiked a mile down the wrong road. I cut cross country for40 minutes to reach Manga Overlook road and hiked 1500+ feet over three miles to a fire lookout tower and met Patrick who was manning the tower for the forest service. I learned there were already three fires this season all started by campers who left their area without properly extinguishing their fire.
The still-operating tower was built in 1937 and I spent an hour chatting g with Patrick who actually lives in Puyallup, WA about 45 minutes south of Seattle where I live! Another downhill and more road up and down and up and down. As I reached about 25 miles for the day I started seeing a few ranches and reached water. I hiked another five miles and camped 10 miles outside of town. I cowboy camped again and made dinner and hit the sack.
In the morning I delighted in another incredible sunrise, then after only a few minutes of hiking, Twisted jumped out of the woods into the road and whistled at me!
Surprised to see him we swapped stories of our last two days of hiking, what we saw, what we missed. We both were thinking the same thing: BACON! We trudged 10 miles and made it to Pie Town where we had a great breakfast at The Gathering Place and then headed over to Nina’s Toaster House – a sort of hostel for hikers – for the night and a rest day the following day.