Communication Breakdown and The Hermit

Day 11: May 4, 2019

Destination: Gila River Alternate Mile 22.8

Today’s Miles: 15.8

Start Location: Gila River Alternate Mile 7

Trip Miles: 195.9

It got cold last night! I camped down in a kind of seam between two mountains, and I think that made the temperature about 10-15 degrees lower than on higher ground. At night I woke up and had to put my down hood and thermal coat on. As such, I had a slow start. In my head I thought that it might be too cold to start fording rivers. What I didn’t realize was that I still had to hike 13 miles or so before getting to the Gila. I should have paid more attention to the maps!

I finally got going around 8. It took me a while to warm up. When I climbed out of the seam though, the first rays of sunlight hit me and I was instantly hot. I quickly realized that the rest of the area hadn’t gotten as cold, and that today was already getting hot!

I didn’t hear back from my wife last night when I checked in, and as I climbed up some rather Martian-looking rock, a message popped through saying “hi, I just wanted to check in.” It immediately made me feel like she probably hadn’t gotten my last few inReach messages. I tried again to send and it made the sound for “sent.” I hoped that would do the trick.

Welcome to Mars!

I climbed up the red rocks a bit further and there was a little stream. Near it was a sign someone had written indicating that there was a better water source 0.3 miles away. Guthook and the trail were at odds, showing differing routes, so I stuck with the trail.

When I turned the corner I heard a little whistle, and an older gentleman came around and introduced himself as Doug. He said something like, “I kept waiting for you to show up. I saw your head appear and then it took you forever to get here.” It sounded a little bit creepy, but I quickly discerned that he was harmless and friendly. Turns out there is a monastery nearby, and Doug is living right off the trail in a cabin. He is practicing a Catholic Hermitage, under the direction of his “spiritual advisor.” In other words, he is a hermit by choice for spiritual reasons. He was clutching a rosary in one hand as he introduced himself.

Doug liked to talk. I mean, he’s a hermit after all! He probably only has hikers to talk to. He talked my ear off about the terrain coming up, his place, and down quilts for backpacking. I really wanted to get going as I was trying to keep climbing higher so I could get a message out to my wife, but it was hard to break away. I enjoyed talking with Doug though - he was a nice man and certainly knew his little area well. He asked if I wanted a tour of his cabin, but I politely declined. He later mentioned that the tour can sometimes take 4 to 6 hours as there is so much to see. What?! I was glad I declined, but also thinking maybe I should have said yes for the stories! He was a nice guy after all - how does one end up as a hermit? It would have been interesting to learn more. He also said he had a garden, which would have been fun to check out. Has anyone ever tried to abduct me in my younger years, it would have been pretty easy. “Here little Hungry Cat, I have a sparkly for you to play with if you just come into my kidnapper van....” Me: “ok.”

Doug and his Registree

He walked with me for a bit and continued talking. I found a good time to inject a “well, I gotta get going,” and then we parted ways. On the trail he had built a “registree” - a tree with a mailbox in it with a logbook for CDT hikers. I signed it before I left. I hope Doug finds what he’s looking for out there. I couldn’t help but wonder - is talking to hikers “cheating” for a religious hermit?

The next few hours had some pretty brutal climbs. It was definitely the hardest terrain we have had yet. The angles reminded me of Maine a bit - very steep, although there were some switchbacks. Every time I would get to a ridge or high point, I would try to send a message to my wife. The inReach was saying that it went through, but I could tell she either wasn’t getting them, or I wasn’t getting her responses. It was getting a little frustrating as I didn’t want her to worry. There was nothing I could do though, so I kept walking. I could hear that old Led Zeppelin song playing in my mind.... “Communication breakdown, it’s always the same! Having another breakdown, it drives me insane!” Insert Jimmy Paige riff here.

The ups and downs today really took it out of me! It was quite hot, and around 1:30 I finally took a break for lunch. I actually ate some Spam for a change. I never ate Spam once on the AT and generally find it disgusting, but for some reason I was compelled to buy it in Silver City. It wasn’t too bad for mystery meat. I wouldn’t say I heartily enjoyed it though. It was just fuel.

After lunch I hiked slowly, climbing and diving. Eventually I made it to the canyon floor where Sapillo Creek hits the Gila River. This was an exciting moment! I would be crossing this river a bajillion times over the next few days.

Reaching the Canyon floor

Guthook indicated that the trail was to the right of the Gila, and that we didn’t have to cross the Gila for another 2 miles or so. I figured I would walk up until it was time to get my feet wet, and then camp, and do all of the wet stuff tomorrow until Doc Campbell’s Post, where I would stop and pick up a resupply box I’d shipped.

Well, much like other parts of this route, Guthook was wrong. Viper, the French hiker, showed up and we worked out that we needed to immediately cross the river. He was thinking about setting up camp, but when I told him I wanted to give it a try and find the trail, he decided to come along.

The water came up to my thighs. We got across fine, and then crossed over again looking for the trail. We found it, only to have it disappear again and we had to ford the river again. So, while Guthook said the trail was on the right bank, we actually had to cross multiple times because the canyon cliffs would jut into the water, leaving us no way to pass without crossing.

After a while we decided to call it a day. Viper took the first camp spot and I went to find another. I tried to set up on a gravel bank, but it was too windy, so I had to cross the river again to find a spot that was more protected.

I found a good spot with strong soil for my tent stakes. After I set up, I walked down to the water to cook dinner. I tried one last time to message Gillian, and watched the swallows come out at dusk to feed on all of the bugs that were flitting about in the sky.

As I lay here in my tent, cows are making a racket not too far away. I thought I heard and elk bugle, but I’m guessing it was a cow. It’s dark - I didn’t know cows made noise after dark! I thought they just had a bowl of ice cream and went to bed.

Viper crossing the Gila

The landscape again changed quite a bit today. I went from scarce water to walking alongside, and in, a river in a red rock canyon. I was grateful for the solitude, experiences, and scenery today. I’m crossing my fingers that my wife got my messages and isn’t worried. I’ll be at Doc Campbell’s Outpost tomorrow afternoon, and I believe they have WiFi so I should be able to check in then. Until tomorrow!

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