Gila Wilderness, Altitude, Bears, Trail Magic, River Crossings

Thursday, April 24, 2014 9:00PM
CDT Day 12 – 12 miles (approx)

So there we were at Jim and Connie’s. Our last day of pampering (or so we thought). The plan was to wake up and hit it. We had breakfast, which was our second morning in a row of homemade biscuits and gravy and eggs, and began packing our packs. Most of us had resupply boxes and we were busy sorting through we we needed for the upcoming stretch Doc Campbell’s which is two or three days away depending on how fast or far you hike. I’ve been knocking out 20’s fairly easily so far but I still packed for 3 days even though I thought I’d get there in two. I almost always have an extra day of food in my pack when is roll into the next town. Some ultra light backpackers would cringe at the thought of carrying anything extra down to the ounce or gram. But since I’m used to humping 100lbs of gear at times when I was in the Marine Corps an extra day of food means nothing to me. Actually quite the opposite. It means everything to me. I love to eat. I love it. Every time I eat out here its like a competition with myself to see how much I can cram into my belly. I ate like a pig on on the AT last year and I still lost almost 50 lbs. I gained 40 of it back by the time I started this trail but the last 15 was on purpose because it knew I’d probably be losing more over the duration of this hike since I’d be hiking 1,000 miles more than I hiked on the AT and I’ll be doing it in in a shorter period of time. Not to mention the fact that I’ll be hiking over mountains that our 10,000 feet taller than most of the mountains in the Appalachian’s with the exception of a few peaks. Okay, okay I’m way off topic here. So we are packing our packs and getting resupply boxes ready for Doc Campbell’s and Pie Town as well. Both places have crap in terms of resupply stores. And Pie Town is 130 or so miles from Doc’s and from Pie Town the next resupply town is Grants, NM which is 150 miles from Pie Town. So If you’re not putting it together let’s just say that both those stretches are by far longer than any stretch on the AT, double in most cases. The 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine is the longest on the AT and it’s not even close. Okay back to packing at Jim’s (side note: forgive the lack of paragraph breaks), we end up taking our sweet ass time and end up not being all ready to step off until almost noon in getting all our boxes ready. So we are standing there next to the RV in their carport and Connie blurts out, “You boys might as well just go hike up to the start of the Gila and then let let us pick you up to come back for one more night and then we’ll drop you back off there first thing in the morning.” I wasn’t gonna say anything but I was thinking about that multiple times haha. It’s hard gettin outta dodge me times. I was the first one climb on board and the rest toppled like dominos. You’d think these people would be sick of us by now but nope. They couldn’t wait to have us back. And we couldn’t wait for one more hot shower, one more big comfy bed, one more awesome hot meal. As soon as as the decision was made there was a little more pep in everyone’s step.

We hit the road at 12:20PM and at the prospect of being able to charge my phone later that night, I jammed out with my headphones in for the duration of the 12 mile walk. I almost never do this but since it was all paved or dirt roads I figured I’d rather listen to music than the sounds of cars and society. I was practically dance walking at times. Unaware of the world around me. Not caring if anyone saw me “walking” in this manner. Since its a small community and Warrior Hike had been in the local paper and several stopped me on the road to see If I was one of the vets. Always cheering on and thanking for my service. I’m always kind and appreciative and thank them back and continue on almost never breaking stride. They understand I’m out here to walk. I make the 12 mile walk fairly quickly and finish before 4PM and head back to relax in the hot tub and hit the rack early.

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Friday, April 25, 2014 9:08PM
CDT Day 13 – 20 miles (approx)

Started the day on a two track off a dirt road in the Gila National Forest. Didn’t know how long I was gonna go for. Was just gonna take what the trail gave me. 5 of us started up the hill and I didn’t keep a pace conducive to the other guys keeping up. I wanted to hike alone. I wanted some solitude in the Gila Wilderness. It was time to have some “me” time. I really do get my best thinking and hiking done when I’m solo. I have fun with myself. Stopping where I want to stop. Hiking how I want to hike. I recommend everyone try it and really give yourself a chance to enjoy it.

I came across some of my first views once the two track peaked at the top a couple hills. I could tell I was in for a damn good day from this first few glimpses of layered mountains in the distance. Walking on two track in fine with me but it definitely doesn’t have the same feel of a footpath. I dip back down into a valley and come across my first “flowing water” in Bear Creek. It wasn’t a continuously flowing Creek. It stopped in places and then picked back up further down. I didn’t need water from here so I just observed it and continued on. It was a beautiful creek canyon though and camping here would have been perfect. I following this canyon up a ways. Lush pines and cotton woods all over. Most of the time that I’m walking I am extremely vigilant in looking for wildlife. Bears, mountain lions, and snakes are my chief concern. I’m not scared of running across any of these creatures. On the contrary, I want to see them. Call me crazy. That’s part of all this hiking stuff. Nature and wildlife. So as I’m walking along looking all over, around, above, and behind I hear a very loud noise pop out of nowhere. Ducks. Three ducks are startled by my presence and take off from the water to my left. I about crapped myself. Haha you win this round ducks.

I hike up out of the canyon and this time I’m further in and have a more expansive view that is totally 360 degrees. I’m beside myself. I am standing above the Devil’s Garden. Large rock pillars all over. Cliffs are above me alas well that have very similar rock features. I stop and take my lack off and take some time to revel in the moment. I am alone with no human souls in sight. These moments make all the sweat filled hill climbs worth every drop. All the rocks are covered in lichen of every color, texture, and variety. Green, orange, yellow, red, flaky, smooth, there were so many kinds. I appreciated each kind’s differences.

I hike on. Rejuvenated by the views and the power of the wilderness here. So different from what I know and so beautiful in its own way. By the way, apparently the Gila Wilderness is the first officially designated wilderness in the world. Don’t quote, I was told that by somebody and never checked it. I start hiking up. And up. And up. And up. I get to just shy of 8,000 feet. I can’t tell if I’m huffing and puffing because of all the up or because of the altitude. I’ve heard that after 7,000 feet you start feeling the affects of altitude. The saddle that I was climbing to and going over was at about 7,800 feet. This is well over 1,000 feet higher than the highest point on the Appalachian Trail which is Clingman’s Dome in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee at around 6,600 and change. I handled the climb pretty well. It actually felt good. I like a challenge.

It was around 5 o’clock when I crested the saddle and knew at that point that I still was going to hike for a while. The map showed hardly any big ups ahead. Most of it followed a canyon at a steady down for a long ways so I knew I could cover good ground.

At one point in the canyon I heard something ahead of me and saw a brown body scatter once it heard me. I knew it was a bear immediately and like any idiot would do I started chasing it with my camera out and recording. I captured some awesome video of this brown bear climbing the canyon walls away from me. I wanted a shot of his face so I hollered up at him to get his attention. He immediately stopped and turned around. We locked eyes for a little and ×he lifted his massive head in the air and began sniffing the air with his big brown south. The video I got is pretty awesome. Apparently the black bears in this region go through a brown phase during the year. Some of the locals referred to them as “Cinnamon Bears” yum. I push on and keep my eyes peeled on the canyon walls for more bears of lions. I come around the corner and see a massive brown creature partial behind a tree and almost freak out instantaneously when I quickly realize it was just a grazing bull. No horns. But this bull was a monster. It looked like he had been hitting the gym pretty hard. At one point I thought he was gonna charge me. He didn’t. I was glad.

I hiked on and made sure to cook and eat my dinner well before stopping to set up camp. I found a nice ridge overlooking you Gila River Canyon. Had the perfect view of the most incredible sunset. Today was a GREAT day.

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Saturday, April 26, 2014 8:51PM
CDT Day 14 – 20 miles (approx)

I wake up and the sun is casting beautiful shadows in the nooks and crannies all up and down the massive river canyon that I am about to descend into. This is why I chose this route, the Gila River Route over the Black Range route. The river route adds miles and is not the official CDT route but I’ve heard it is amazing and made my decision long, long ago to take this route.

I my way down the many switchbacks and reach Sapillo Creek which feeds into the Gila not more than a mile away. I walk up on a couple horses tied up and realize I am not alone. Three gentlemen have made camp at the river fork. Without hesitation I wave as soon as I see them and the three of them all stand up out old fashioned courtesy. These men were decked out in authentic western attire. They weren’t pretending. Shotguns and rifles were laying around. I wasn’t the least bit worried, I would tell immediately that these were some good natured individuals. Call it intuition but I went right up to them and said good morning and introduced myself to each of them with a FIRM manly handshake as to establish my male dominance over them. Wayne, Steve and Monty were as polite and friendly as I could imagine. Always answering questions with a “yes sir” or “no sir” in a thick country western cowboy accent. I learned that they were Turkey hunting this weekend with their team of horses. That would explain the gobble noises I heard while I was still laying in my sleeping bag earlier that morning. Shortly after introductions Monty slapped a tinfoil wrapped cylinder into my hand. What was this, I asked and was told that it was a breakfast burrito. TRAIL MAGIC jackpot!! Fresh cooked bacon, pork, potatoes, eggs, and cheese. Wowzers. I ripped my pack off and sat down and scarfe it down. We made small talk for a bit and then they told me that just up the way were some cliff dwelling ruins. We hiked up together and they gave me the tour. Pretty awesome. Grabbed some good video and pictures. I said my goodbyes and thank yous and gave them my info at their request so they could follow the rest of my hike.

Time to hike on and hit the river. No more than 5 minutes after leaving them was my first river crossing. The first of more than 80. You read that right. 80 plus! Time to get my feet wet as they say. And I did. All damn day. Soaking wet, pruned, waterlogged feet. Tiny river bed stones find their ways into your shoe and it is wonderful let me tell you. There is no sense in stopping to clean them out every time you cross or you’d never get anywhere. Just gotta hike on and push the fight. I stopped counting the number of crossings at 30 and still had plenty to go. The first part of the day was sunny with a slight breeze. The current wasn’t too strong and it never got above my waist. But the second half of the day the clouds and severe wind rolled through. 50-60mph wind gusts pushed me around while fording and while I wasn’t in the water the wind chilled my wet lower body. I wasn’t complaining at all. Just being in this river canyon was amazing. The views and rock formations were unreal. So unique. Even the disastrous flood last fall that left much of the vegetation washed out and driftwood wedged in trees all over couldn’t ruin this place for me. The ospreys screeching in the sky gliding through the wind effortless amazed me. Everything here amazed me. Even my wet cold feet couldn’t tarnish the joy. My worst day on trail is still better than my best back in normal society. I take joy In the worst moments and this was by far one of my best days on trail yet.

I made it all the way to Route 15 and camped at a free campground. Set my fly up for the first time as it was starting to sprinkle. I was only one mile from Doc Campbell’s and will go there first thing in the morning to recharge and resupply.

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