CDT Day 138: Flying V Canyon to Doc Campbell’s – Solo Gila Camp to Finally Hot Springs Camp
Miles hiked: 30.2
Total miles: 2506.3
Wildlife seen: 7 javelinas, 1 eagle, many deer, 1 big frog
Gila crossings: 173 (172 wet, 1 bridge, 190 total)
The CDT disappeared today. Or maybe I disappeared. The Gila felt a world away from the trail as I know it, both physically and spiritually. Cliffs, water, wildlife. It was incredible. An incredible challenge in a place of incredible beauty. A walking meditation that rooted my mind in the present. A mad dash through a wonderland that deserves a meander. A strange day. A good day.
With over 30 miles of terrain of unknown difficulty ahead, I was eager to get hiking at first light. My 4:15am alarm was too early and quickly ignored. Tired beyond belief, I wore out the snooze button, convincing myself that it was still too dark to find the trail. Suddenly it was 6am. Okay, gotta go! At 6:20am I was hiking, definitely no need for my headlamp. There was zero trail as I fought through dense willows and thorny things, hoping that the stuff dangling from my pack was secure. It will either be there or not when I stop. The ground was rocky, smooth stones and gravel churned up by the river, that required tough feet and soft ankles to traverse. Though the air felt warm at 30°F, the water felt colder, quickly numbing my feet after the first few crossings. Occasional cairns or scraps of tread told me that I wasn’t the first human to come this way, but for the most part I just pointed myself downriver, skipping from gravel bar to forested bend as cliffs forced me to cross the river again and again. Water, shin deep, usually about 10 feet across.
Giant cliffs of volcanic-looking rock soared above, but it wasn’t until they began glowing in the sun that I paid much attention. I was focused on moving fast, efficiently through a place of wild power. A place that refused to be inscribed by human movement. The feet of tiny humans have nothing on the power of the river. Piles of debris caught above my head on tree trunks hinted at this power. The trees were tall, but the cliffs were taller. By a lot, and carved by rain and wind into pointed spires that reminded me of the Sagrada Família. They demanded my gaze even though all I wanted to do was secure my footing on slippery stones. I hiked as fast as I could, repeating the number of each river crossing like a mantra until the next. It was all that was in my head. It was all that left my lips. I felt like a fanatic. I felt alive.
As the morning progressed the water warmed. My feet were in pain with constant soakings, as many as 10 crossings in 10 minutes, but I did feel a noticeable change after the sun reached the canyon floor. Around 10am, I took a five-minute break to delayer, apply sunscreen, and check my progress. Even with absolute focus and maximum effort, I was only averaging 2mph. This was shaping up to be an epic grind and I doubted whether I’d be able to make it out of the canyon before dark. I accepted the challenge. It excited me.
I eventually found a pattern to the river that eased my passage as it twisted and looped without concern for my southerly bias. Staying as far from the water as possible revealed more frequent trail and smoother ground. My pace increased and my mind wandered to Spice, up there somewhere above the rim. I hoped that she was cruising, I hoped that she was free. This canyon was spectacular, but I missed her. Push hard, you’ll see her tonight. But remember to be here, now.
The route turned back into a trail at The Meadows, where a popular path from the rim joined the river. All of a sudden, the way was clear and a big cairn marked each side of the river crossings. They remained frequent, but the canyon widened a bit with significant stretches of meadow in between. I opened up my pace, making up for the slow going in the upper canyon. Ponderosa gave way to golden oak and sycamore. Dense coverings of horsetail lined the trail.
I stopped around 1pm for a quick lunch and water break. I have never been more efficient, filtering two liters, eating a bunch of chia seeds, refilling my snack pocket, and even pooping, all in 30 minutes. I left feeling good about the rest of the day. If the trail stayed like this, then I knew I had a shot. And it did. I was slowed briefly for a good conversation with some day hikers out to visit Jordan Hot Spring with their puppy, but I really was able to stretch my legs and the miles flew by. The river crossings remained steady, but less frequent as the canyon became milder and wider, with large parks of yellow sycamore and oak. Even the water was a welcome refreshment now.
Although I wasn’t exactly sure why anymore, I hiked as fast as I could. If I had been thinking straight, I probably would have stopped to camp at a gorgeous patch of natural hot springs near the road. I was so close though. I climbed up to the road with the sunset then practically ran the last 4 miles to Doc’s. At 6:10pm I pulled into the porch, a feeling of accomplishment washing over me, feet still squishing in soggy shoes. A lady working on her laptop in the darkness tipped me off as to the whereabouts of Spice and escorted me the short distance to the campground/hot springs place. She was surprised to see me tonight and I felt a bit like an intruder, but the hot springs and a campfire took care of that. Not much energy to think about anything, but the final number echoed with rhythm in my skull. 1-7-3, 1-7-3, 1-7-3…