Backpacking Gila: Spring Break 2004

Trippers: Lucas, Emily, Katie, Anna, Daryl, Brian, Michael, Drew

Day 1- left the Corec pretty much on time Friday evening (!), luckily it was dark for the endless ride through Missouri/Oklahoma stretch of the drive, and by some stroke of luck, much of Texas was covered in a weird fog (honest, I’m not making this up), so we didn’t have to see much of it either. Saturday afternoon we stopped in Albuquerque to pick up a friend of Lucas’ and by the time we hit the mountains surrounding Gila it was starting to get dark. After driving through the flatlands all day, the mountain passes going through Gila Forest were slightly nerve wracking; it was a good thing it was dark when we arrived so we couldn’t see the sheer drops surrounding us. We camped in a rather crummy spot, but it was free camping near the visitor center.

Day 2- Sunday we hit the trail a little before noon. Due to our late start, that first day was spent mostly slogging along trying to get in our nine miles. The first couple of miles were all up hill, some marvelous views but I think we were all too busy gasping to appreciate them quite yet. Something eaten on the road (we’re blaming Wafflehouse omelets) was disagreeing with Katie, and my leg muscles were struggling with the fifty pound pack concept, so a lot of that first stretch was spent trying to keep us all moving forward. The first creek crossing led to the discovery by Emily and myself that hiking in sandals was quite practicable, I don’t remember the number of crossings we did but it was quite a few, and some of us preferred chilly feet to relying on agility to keep us dry. The weather had been comparatively rainy recently, so the creeks were all as full as they ever get in the desert mountains. While this was a bit of a pain for crossing, it did mean no serious shortage of drinking water throughout the trip, which was really nice. We managed to get in our nine miles before dark and crash for the night on a flat, albeit slightly swampy and nondescript, section of the trail.

Day 3- Monday began much earlier, and judging by the ice cubes in peoples nalgenes, a bit colder as well. During the morning, Granite Peak was off to the side of the trail, still impressively covered with snow, but we opted to keep on schedule instead of trying to take the day to climb it. We did run into our own snow patches climbing out of the valley at one point, and since some of us were still wearing our sandals, that got interesting. Nothing much above knees, at the most, but the snow was mostly on pretty steep slopes, so we slipped around quite a bit. We felt like real mountaineers (minus the Tevas). We ended the day with an elevation change of 800 feet in a ¼ mile- I think the fastest made the top in a little less then forty minutes, but it was quite a climb at the end of the day. The camp for that night was right on top of the mountain, covered in spine kinking rocks, and had an unbelievable view of the stars.

Day 4- again starting pretty early, we ran into the only other people we saw on the trail at Miller Springs, a disgustingly algae-ed creek we had to fill up at. A pair of guys from Colorado, they had climbed Granite and said there was waist deep snow near the top, so we were (on the whole) pleased we had passed it up. (I was disappointed. My Tevas could have taken it.) Most of the day was spent hiking downhill on some ankle twisting scree, with a last creek crossing and mountain to climb before we reached our camp. The trail was weirdly muddy for most of the day, causing some of us to ponder the meaning of desert, and the downhill rock-to-rock jumping gave our ankles a run for their money, but the camp we found for the evening was gorgeous, with a good view and soft, dry ground.

Day 5- this was the short day for hiking, and we were out of the canyons and back at the trailhead by early afternoon. After driving several hours out of the wilderness, we found a marvelous place to eat in Pinos Altos called the Buckthorn Saloon, complete with circa 1800 opera house and live music. Also visited an amazing collection of antiques, old articles and mining maps and whatnot, all from around the Pinos Altos area, just jumbled together in the back rooms of a souvenir shop. Pinos Altos was definitely a highlight of the trip; amazing little town. After dinner, we drove back to Gila and the Catwalk, a canyon where we planned on day hiking, but there was no camping there, so we slept in the cars at the trailhead. Some of us slept. Some of us looked at stars, counted pronghorns, and tried to multiply big numbers in our heads to send us into a stupefied daze. Cars were not meant for restful sleep.

Day 6- the Catwalk was a mile long canyon filled with fallen boulders and a river, excellent view from the catwalk but much more fun if you were on the boulders themselves. The morning was spent bouldering and trying to catch up on sleep from the night before. Some entertaining caves were found and explored, nothing real, just rock crevices, but it was nice to be near the water as it was getting pretty hot out by this point. Sometime in the afternoon we piled back in the cars and drove around for a while before heading to Arizona in search of good Mexican food for dinner, ended up eating at Booga Reds, quite satisfactory. We actually spent a lot of time in the cars; there’s a lot of space between everything in the southwest, nearly everything takes a while to get to. We found a campsite by the side of the road back in New Mexico where we spent the night, right near the highway but all to ourselves.

Day 7- stumbled out of our tents, got back in the cars, arrived home 24 hours later.  

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