Day 14: May 7, 2019
Destination: Gila River Alternate Mile 63.6
Today’s Miles: 16.2
Start Location: Gila River Alternate Mile 47.4
Trip Miles: 235.8
Well, as you can see I’m taking my time through the Gila! More precisely, the Gila takes time. The hiking is slow going with river crossings all of the time, and in many places the trail is very rocky, or hard to find. That said, the Gila is absolutely a wonderful place to hike. I’m soooooooo glad I took this alternate! It’s incredibly unique and I stop often to look around at the cliffs and appreciate the beauty around me. Also, for what it’s worth, the water isn’t frigid, so it isn’t so bad having wet feet all day.
Although I don’t like having wet feet, this section is so fun that I forget about them and don’t really mind. By the way, if you are on the fence about bringing camp sandals on your CDT hike and plan to do this section, I recommend bringing them through the desert and for the Gila. I don’t have camp sandals and they would be nice at the end of the day. Just my two cents, though obviously I’m making do just fine.
I was worried it was going to be really cold when I woke up. Macro camped near Viper and me and he said that someone told him it might get down near freezing. It was still in the 40s though, so I made it up and out of camp before 7:30. Macro was gone already, and Viper was slowly getting ready. We both planned to stop at Jordan Hot Springs, which is a natural hot spring that was about 3 miles from where we camped.
The morning started immediately with a river crossing. One of eight hundred million for the day! The first one in the morning chill is always the hardest, mentally. It really is true that we will cross the Gila over 200 times before we leave it behind. Today I would spend the entire day zigzagging across it.
I read the comments in Guthook on how to find the hot spring. If you’re heading north, it’s on the right hand side. A little creek flows almost parallel to the Gila. It is warm to the touch! Then there is a huge campsite on the other side of the river, and on the right hand side next to the warm creek flowing in is a trail. The hot spring pool is just a short 30 feet or so up this trail. It is quite stunning! The water is clear and, since it was still morning, there was steam coming off of it. It’s not a big pool, but you can’t miss it.
I had the pool all to myself! I took off my shirt, and walked in with my shoes still on and my shorts. The bottom of the pool is rocky since it is just a natural creek bed, but the rocks are mostly fine gravel. Flip flops would be ideal, but bare feet would be ok. I didn’t see a point in taking off my already wet shoes since my feet were taped up inside them.
The soak felt exotic! The spring had the kind of beauty driven by nature’s pure and simple elegance. Warm water cascaded in by way of a small cascade, and rocks were piled downstream helping to create the pool. A dead tree crossed over head. I have only been in a natural hot spring in Japan. That spring was sculpted and refined, so it didn’t feel the same. This hot spring was truly wild!
I spent about 40 minutes enjoying the water. I was surprised Viper hadn’t shown up. It was tough getting out of the pool. I patted myself dry with my handkerchief, then hurried down to the trail to get warm.
There were a LOT of tents across from the spring, and I saw a couple of horses roped off not too far away. I walked around the site and encountered a man on a horse leading another horse behind him. He asked if I’d gone to the hot spring, and I said yes. He was holding some kind of construction helmet in his hand. That mystery was soon revealed when I came upon a large group of trail volunteers with helmets, working to clear the trail of deadfall. There were a lot of downed trees across the trail, as well as parts of the trail that had become very overgrown. This was even more obvious (and painful) when I hiked past the area the volunteers had cleared. There was a lot of trail finding today, trying to figure out where the trail went and where I should go.
I walked alone for quite awhile. Around 11:30 I decided to have an early lunch. I stripped off my shoes and socks and did my best to dig the sand out of my shoes. I rested my feet on my sitting pad whileI sat on a rock in the sun and ate. I had a green tortilla (spinach, I guess) with a buffalo chicken “creation.” I followed that up with a mint chocolate Cliff Builders Bar that I dipped in a Jiff peanut butter single serve cup. Mmmmmmmmmm!
This reminds me - I couldn’t find Jif Maple in Silver City, BUT they did have Jif Cinnamon! It’s not the same, but it’s a good runner up, and I bought some for my Pie Town resupply box.
After lunch I carried on. I saw my first CDT wild turkey. It scrambled up a very steep cliff. Those birds are quite agile! I also saw the first fish I’ve seen in the Gila, other than small fry. I believe they were small trout. Lastly, I saw some really big blue birds that almost looked like royal blue blue jays. I don’t know what they were though and couldn’t get a picture.
At one point when I was trying to find the trail, I chose poorly. The canyon walls closed in at the bottom of a series of cascades, forming what looked like a good swimmin’ hole. The other side of the river had shorter rock cliffs. The side I was on was a sheer rock bluff. I saw a little trail going up and back around the bluff. I didn’t really want to cross the river, though it looked like maybe I could climb to the top of the bank on that side and walk along it around the corner. But surely this little trail on my side was the answer, right?!?!
Wrong. But I took it anyway, because that’s what Hungry Cat does. He climbs the tree and then, when the excitement is done, wonders how to get down. So of course I took this trail and followed it up and back around the bluff. I hopped over a downed tree and took three steps and immediately saw that I’d chosen poorly. There was a path back down to the canyon floor. STRAIGHT back down. It was full of loose rock - gravel and stones. Maybe one would describe it as scree. It was so steep that I considered going back, but curiosity and laziness got the better of me. I took one step and almost slid all the way down. I grabbed a root sticking out of the dirt, but it broke. Fortunately, my footing stabilized. I slowly and tenderly worked my way down, grabbing rocks along the way and creating a giant pile of scree beneath my leading foot, and a small avalanche of debris below that, which continued as I moved.
After about 10 minutes, I made it down. I looked over and saw how much easier the other route would have been. Whatever - isn’t there a saying, “nothing ventured, nothing gained?” I’m going to go with that.
It wasn’t much longer before I surprisingly ran into Viper. I thought he was behind me, but he said he could not find the hot springs and kept going. It’s too bad he didn’t find it - I really think he would have had fun there. He told me that he had already fallen face first into the river once today. I was glad he wasn’t hurt. Some of the crossings are quite slippery!
We hiked together for the rest of the day and pitched camp in a sparse grove of pines, attempting to have some shelter from the wind, which now seems to be gone. Of course I pitched my tent near a dead tree leaning precariously on another tree. Keeping with my French theme, it seems I’m sleeping under a guillotine! Actually, it’s not directly over me, but it’s close enough to where I probably should have moved my tent. I was too tired though, so if this is the way I die, so be it.
Today was a good day! I was really into the beauty of the canyon and so grateful for nice weather and lots of shade today. I underestimated how hard it would be to hike in this section. I think I will be rolling into Pie Town sometime on day 7 out of Doc Campbell’s. I’m glad that I had a heavy 6-day resupply, or I might run out of food. As it is, this cat will be fine!
As a general update, I’m feeling well! Mentally, I’m really loving the trail. Honestly, the diversity and beauty are blowing my mind, and the trail towns have been great so far. Having the Garmin, even though it struggled for a few days, is really helping too. I love being able to message my wife every day. If I relied on cell coverage I would only be able to message her from towns and posts with WiFi!
Physically I feel great overall. My feet get tired and I have a few blisters, but those are all under control and surviving being wet all day. I’ve managed to keep up with sunscreen and I’ve actually flossed my teeth every day on trail except one! That’s a miracle.
I keep thinking about Colorado. I don’t know what I’ll do yet. The snow in the San Juans was so bad this year. I might be able to push through, but I might have to flip up somewhere north. If a week will make a difference, I might go to Denver or Colorado Springs to wait. Otherwise, I might flip up to Wyoming and hike south, then go back to Wyoming and hike north to finish. I could also flip up to Canada and finish the hike southbound. Of course, I hope I don’t have to flip, but I want to be safe first and foremost, and I also want to enjoy the hiking. I’m hoping maybe it will just be a fun chance to try snowshoes! :-)
Tomorrow my plan is to at least make it out of the Gila, which ends at Snow Lake (or begins), about 15 miles away. After that I will be able to have dry feet and also move faster again. The crickets are chirping and the stars are out. It’s time for this cat to sleep!