CDT Day 140: Gila River to Doug the Hermit’s corral – A Campfire is Born Camp to Endless Night Camp
Miles hiked: 19.2
Total miles: 2534.6
Gila crossings: 31 (255 total)
I don’t think Campfire could have chosen a more difficult section to join SpiceRack and me. From a mileage perspective, Doc’s to Silver City seemed like a slam dunk, but today has a real shot at being the hardest of the CDT yet. The terrain, at least, was challenging every step of the way, from trail troubles in the Gila to trail troubles on a steep-ass hill in the dark. There was a lot to like about the beauty and challenge, and the river and earth spoke to me with a rare clarity. Maybe I just listened better today. However, it would be irresponsible to ignore our struggle after sunset. The fabled dirt road never appeared, and five miles stretched to infinity. The difficulty of staying on trail was laughable, but none of us were laughing. Bed has rarely felt this comforting, and after a beating like this one, home is needed more than ever.
The day started well enough. No alarm was needed, and we three were packed up and moving at 6:45am. The sky was light, though the sun was still hours away, and we hiked in a few layers for warmth. The trail was much easier to follow now, but it still disappeared with regularity into complex networks of cow tracks. Fortunately, it appeared that cows like to walk down river too, so usually we didn’t have any trouble getting where we needed to go. Some deep crossings soon numbed my feet and I stumbled along the rocky ground with familiar stumpiness.
The first welcome rays of sun reached us around 9am. I basked, arms spread, face up, greeting the day, annoyed that I now had to apply sunscreen. There, there, my poor feet. The sun is here now. All is well. The crossings came frequently, but with little drama, and I settled into a quiet rhythm while SpiceRack and Campfire talked about all kinds of things behind me. Though the animals were nowhere to be seen, the tremendous impact of the livestock that graze along the river was shocking. Where a healthy variety of bushes, cactus, and grass thrived upriver, here on the south side of a fence, large swaths of shore lay denuded, lumpy with footprints, churned to dust. It made for easy walking, but saddened me all the same. We stopped in one of these poop-dust fields at 10am for a tea break. It was with slight concern that we realized we’d only come 3.5 miles in nearly that many hours. We were moving well, but the Gila didn’t want to say goodbye.
Warm and sunny. Cool cliffs. Amazing trees. Numb feet became chilled feet. The trail got worse and harder to follow. We discovered an undeveloped hot spring when we noticed steam rising from a sandy beach. Chilled feet became warm feet. Then we crossed the river again. Warm feet became chilled feet. We chased away two fighting bulls with wild shouts and flailing arms, then shepherded a family of three down river.
I lost the others when I stopped to poop, and, when I found Spice again, she was walking in the river, feeling the endless power of the water tug at her legs. I splashed after her feeling it too, trying to think of anything as consistent and difficult to perturb as a river. Fish swim in it, trees fall in it, cows poop in it, deer drink it, humans walk through it. The river keeps going, giving and receiving like it always does, like it always will. There is much to learn from this river.
We said goodbye to our friend, the Gila, at the confluence with Sapillo Creek, after filling our bottles for the dry miles ahead and watching sycamore leaves twirl and dance on the warm breeze. And for the first time in days, there was a reliable trail to follow. It was uphill, brutally so, but it was a great relief to be able to turn my damn brain off for a few miles. Lunch happened halfway up, then we stuck to the trail as it brought us back into the land of forested hills. Goat Canyon was goatless, and some trough water was nasty. And still we climbed. Not until after dark did we reach the top, 3,000ft above the Gila.
On the north side of the hill, the forest was cold and damp. As soon as we crossed over Tadpole Ridge, that forest transitioned to a warm and dry desert filled with loose rock and spikey plants. As I alluded to in the opening paragraph, we were expecting the trail to become a dirt road here. I was certainly ready for some easy walking, but it never came. Instead we rollercoastered across a rocky slope, with regular steep sections of sketchy footing. I slipped once, ending up harmlessly seated in the dirt, but a fall to the side might have ended in a cactus. Stiff bushes clawed at our legs, torsos, and faces as we pushed along the overgrown trail, optimistic that the road was just ahead.
After an age, we were back in gentler forest where the branches were safely overhead and pine needles made footfalls soft and the trail hard to follow. Where’s that damn road!?! We gave up on the trail altogether after losing it again, instead following a dry creek with occasional checks of the GPS. The creek might actually have been the trail for all we knew. This was slow going, and I couldn’t help feeling for Campfire. My capacity for handling BS like this is pretty deep, but even I was near my limit. I considered suggesting that we stop for the night, but it was only two miles further to camp. I tried not to think about that it would probably be over an hour of hiking at this pace. Maybe the road is just ahead.
The navigation became more of a challenge when the forest morphed into slickrock and scrub. Quality cairns guided us safely down cliffy benches and through dense bushes, but it was mentally taxing to remain so alert, constantly straining wide eyes ahead for the next pile of rocks. Spice’s headlamp died too, which added some urgency. I have the same model, so I knew that mine wasn’t far behind.
We lost the trail in a garden of rock fingers, then found it again above, just in time to save me from a growl of frustration. A short distance further and a trail register told us that we had made it to our destination. We split up to find the spring and a patch of flat ground. The water did not exist in the darkness, but we had enough to make it through the night. Need sleep. Find in morning. We set up camp in an empty corral, not wondering too hard about who put it there.
Water for dinner started to boil at 9:30pm, far too late if you ask me. Campfire was getting cold, so Spice pumped her full of hot drinks, but she was in rough shape, though I was amazed by her fortitude and ability to push through the most exhausting of nights. Spice and I reassured her that it is usually a lot easier than this, but I’m not sure she totally believed us. Spice blew the top off a bottle of yellow drink, we shared a meal, then I lay down my tired head. Asleep instantly. What happened to that road?