I'm anxious for the trains arrival even if it hours away. Stopped at "shot in the dark" cafe before heading off to the station. The moon is huge and no doubt will be waiting for my arrival at 5am in New Mexico. My reservations about leaving Lily is overtaken for my desire to view the Gila running with water. My departing gifts before my adventure was as follows. One skinny yet varnished walking stick, and a Prayer cross with white and orange beads that seemingly match my backpack. My kid always seems to keep those things in mind and is never without a smile even being gone so long. She is got an understanding that this is now what I've become. More of a lovable tramp than the suit and tie guy I once was. I still have no name for my backpack and this is really about the only thing that disturbs her about my trip.
Ran into a familiar face at the cafe. It helps put me at ease. I'm hoping to be there at least two weeks before resupply and want to be gone a total of 28 days.
Started out this morning with that same moon which was now bigger than my kids imagination and brighter than any thing I'd ever seen. Four miles in on Hi-way 90 it ducks out of sight and just my preview of sunrise becomes a cruel reminder of the days I have ahead. No matter how long it takes me I wanted to see part of these "Little Burro" Mountains and I have.
As my day continues I find a sign for the CDT ( Continental Divide Trail) and check out the trail head. Nothing to write home about. Then I finally see FS-861 which is where I'd like to spend the night. All in all this became a 22mile first day of adventure. Except there really was no adventure to be found at the moment. After setup of camp though I have enough water left for 2 days I look for some listed on my Forrest Service Map. Only to find this in its place. Maybe 20 years ago lol this whole area is a abandon ranch that looked at onfe time to be quite charming.
Well back to camp for Beef Stroganoff that makes me miss Johanna's already. Ciao
It is a late start for me and I'm just exhausted from yesterdays insane millage. The Bivy I bought withstood 50mhp + wind gust and I'm very proud of my purchase. When I got this Bivy in a trade for my Mountain Hardwear tent I was nervous but not any more after last night. Call it "bomber" or "bangarang" its going to do just fine I hope. The inside of it is small and just enough for everything I've got with me.
I went up and around FS-861 to FS-860 (8 miles) today with hopes of finding something curious and fun. No avail and went back on route 90 heading to Silver City. Along 90 a nice Mexican asks me if I'd like a ride into Silver City. I decide this is best and leave the lower Gila on the back of a truck. 12:40pm I'm in Silver City and by blind luck find highway 15 to the Gila via Pinos Altos. I refueled via three bananas, one orange and 1gallon of water and feel like Silver City is nicer than I remember it from years ago.
I setup camp not more than 1/2 mile deep into the trail head. Met two hikers asking me if I was going to go up to Canada and take the whole CDT. While this is intriguing to me on some levels; it really is not what I plan on doing. I want to explore the Gila, see if I like it enough to stay awhile and then go from there back home.
I find though that almost all the people who I've run into on this trip so far have been very nice, and wanting to give; be it a ride, food, water or what have you. Its not what I expected and to be honest the less people I see the better I like it. At least when its nice enough to enjoy the views and wildlife. By the way one of the reasons I haven't mentioned wildlife is that apart from a few cows and birds I haven't seen any. Mainly due to lack of water in this place.
Off to bed early as I want to see how many miles I can "bangarang" out tomorrow.
As morning broke I did a quick accent up 74 to see if there was and water to be found and the view etc. Nothing of interest, so I went down broke camp, and have chosen to continue on NM-15.
Back at Arrastra to encounter a table with three empty bottles of Stella beer. Now while I give these people high marks for their beer of choice; I'm sadden by the litter they have caused. I am truly heartbroken when I see trash on trails and campgrounds. It does more than irk me and makes me realize why I'm not the gun slinging type.
Back on 15 and making miles now. However I don't understand the magic of the Gila and beginning to think that this is the land of "Dis-Enchantment". This has become my mantra as I pass mile and mile of the same scenery. When an Australian woman is the prettiest thing you see in three days; its time to re-evaluate your trip plans... I'm also facing a water issue as all I find along the way is "pond scum" type things. I am only 11 miles from Lake Roberts / 26 from the Cliff Dwellings, and know I can Re-up my water but night fall is coming fast. I make it down from the pines to where NM-15 and 35 meet and call it a day. About 20 miles in all today and while I feel good physically mental wise I'm convinced this trip is going to be dull and "Dis-Enchanting". Little did I know what would be waiting for me over the next 10 days.
Pre-dawn found me confronted with an eerie and most uncomfortable situation...Complete silence. I mean nothing not a single noise was present. For me this is interesting yet made me feel uneasy as I'm used to something, anything in the back round or even in the distance. Alas nothing heard for at least 45min and it kinda creep-ed me out. It was a relief when I started to hear the beginnings of morning.
Ran into a few homeless campers on there way to Texas for a job. There are more people I met out on this trip that this was there "home" so to speak and they respect the environment far more than the "REI Type" campers Ive met so far. I wanted to enquirer about the "campground host" position here at the lake but realize this lake would not hold my attention for more than a day. However I get to have two meals here and fully unfold my map for viewing. Thus finding a trail that reaches 9300ft and starts just up the road. TR-96 should be a bangarang 10 1/2mile vernight hike. :-) as its well past 3pm before I start out.
Day 5 Pt. 2
After setting up camp away from the bag I have general concerns. There is really nothing but lava rocks so will my bivy tear? Is the bear bag hung correctly enough? How cold will it be up here? These concerns are really just minor because being on the trail is just plain fun. Plus I am prepared for every thing that comes my way not only from my years as a boy scout (Thanks to scoutmaster Kris Fimbres) but in general via home testing equipment, reading and experience on shorter outings. Still until you actually can be out here doing it over and over again, you become a little concerned.
BTW...I refuse myself a campfire this entire trip because everything like in Arizona it is so damn dry and always windy. One of the benefits to that is stars look terrific up here; I spend hours watching them. The moon not near as powerful when my journey started; still rises with strong intentions of filling the sky with its light. It is only then I sleep in earnest, no longer mesmerized by the details of the Milky Way.
Woke up bright and early and instantly made a run to see if my food supply was safe. It was and I'm happy to also report that Marmot slogan is correct and "for life" is just not a line they use. I have no idea how my bivy survived with me tossing and turning on lava rocks all night but it did without a scar. Camp is broken pretty fast, I can break camp, eat breakfast and be on the trail in about 20min. This helps with letting me either take my time or getting in more miles.
I can't tell you how it happens but more than once on this trip...The trail just gets lost or is suddenly no longer a viable option to take. Their seem to me no switchbacks or walk around; it just vanishes or ends with no carirns to guide you. This gets me in places I really don't want to go and you have to be very careful out here. Because being of track one moment could lead you to being lost forever and dead the next.
There is no doubt I am lost now but I took a heading last from the Daryl's so I can always backtrack and find their spot again. Plus when you prepare and have food and water that will last you days... You really don't care as much. I don't say that "lightly" but you do get a feeling of confidence when you have everything you need to last days as opposed to being without. So I continue where I think the trail should be and either I will find that or NM-15 the way I'm heading. I want to make clear this is not condoning "bush whacking" but it is sometimes the only thing to be done.
Broke camp fairly early and on my way to Alum Canyon Trail. The strong winds I've encountered decided to take a break today. Reviewed my picture taking before I leaving camp and have come to the conclusion that so far they are awful. Alum trail is not that hard nor is it long only about 1 1/2miles down and you are in the Gila river.
Peaceable, Tranquil and exciting is how I describe my fist encounter with the river. Its flow is medium in stature but I can hear and see lots of birds and wildlife running around. I spend the morning right on the river with nobody around, purifying water to drink and just taking in the sounds and sights. The trail from here is only another 3miles and ends at the Gila Bridge / Grapevine campground. However it crosses the Gila about 11 times.
Feeling a very strange sensation across my face, I stop and take a picture just to make sure...Yep, its a smile. One that has not left my face since today started.
As I press further along I start running into people. At one crossing I yield to a equine group of mainly kids and a very scruffy looking trail dog. Another a friendly couple from Silver City looking for the hot spring finding it interesting that I walked here for my journey.
All to soon my trail ends directly into a campground. Filled with yapping dogs, tables cluttered with potential litter and the rambunctious family volleyball match. Its a wasteland of REI tent purchases and Igloo cooler chests. One tent that catches my eye in this recreational pig sty is a Mountain Hardwear EV-3 . A $750 alpine tent meant for Everest, certainly not some place like this. I doubt this perfectly sculpted tent as never even had a whiff of snow fall on it.
I'm disgusted and stay only long enough to have something to eat and head toward the cliff dwellings another 8miles away. A man asks me if I'd like a beer and a burger but since I just ate, I said "no thanks" and head out of the wasteland at best possible speed back on NM-15. Past another human commercialized site with RV's and tourist call "Gila Hot Springs"; all yours for just $6 a soak.
About an hour or so till sunset and I'm close to Scorpion Passing T.J's Corral. Meet a backpacker along the way who has so much equipment outside his pack... I wonder what on earth could he have in it? He is a nice enough fellow who went to the U of A. We talk a bit about what to see north of the dwellings but he seems more anxious to talk more about my backpack and its design than trail heads. This is not the first nor the last on this trip people seemed very curious about ultra-light packing and how it can be beneficial. However I want to head to Scorpion and say my exiting salutations.
At the campground right across from the river I'm very surprised to see only one truck there. It's like the people prefer the security of others instead of solitude. All except for me and this man who I can now call a friend. His name is David and I find his journey as fascinating as other people find mine. He sometimes goes with the wind, just like me. He has been out here over a week but just returned from a supply run in Silver City. We drink beer and discuss the Gila, ranchers and other topics too numerous to list. His intelligent conversation, knowledge and passion for the area makes the trip worth it as he enlightens me to the best places the Gila has to offer. Plus I have to take time to thank him in this blog for the beer :-)
Till tomorrow all...Bangarang!
As evening fell our conversations turned to New Mexico and how really I was not thrilled with my trip so far. While this was no doubt the wrong thing to say; it was sadly the truth. I had not seen one thing except the Dwellings that I could not see in AZ.
My morning started out un-eventful, as I broke camp and decided to start at Woody's Coral and TR-160 This took me quite a ways from my destination of Jordan Canyon but put me in the direction of my Wolf encounter the previous night. I figured it would be a long shot to see one and I was right. Their was nothing on the path, just unnecessary miles to reach TR-28 via Tr-813.
Day 10 Pt.2(Warning a little bad language in this entry)
There is the famous line from the Wizard of Oz..."Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more." This would best describe the transformation into Jordan Canyon Tr-157. It was like I entered the Emerald City. Each step brought me even closer to deep, bright green ferns, trees and waste high bamboo shoots. On a hint from my friend David I also looked out for and could confirm lots of mint in the area. This along with the high canyon walls had me memorized.
So entranced I was with the beauty of this lush canyon... I failed to notice time, further surroundings or even great picture opportunities. I can only tell you this canyon made the trip worth it and held some of the most wonderful breathtaking views these eyes have ever seen. I finally, fully got it! If people only came to this place they would have un-refutable proof of a God.
This trail has to crisscross the Gila 25+ times because you will run out of trail on one side; leaving you with sheer rock formations that are impassable unless you cross to the other side. Not a problem when your lost in all this beauty. Here if I would have fallen in, I would have just laughed it off. Funny how surroundings change your feelings about a situation.
There is also a line from another movie, a Harry Potter movie in fact. " Yeah, take it away, Ernie! Fasten your safety belts, clench your buttocks! It's going be a bumpy ride!"... So as quick as my pleasure trip down this path was full of excitement it became shall we say a little more exciting.
I should explain that when in bear country one of the deterrents is a bell; that rings to alert and hopefully scares bears into the thought of leaving the area. You also make noise when you backpack alone. Clap, sing (yea sing) tap your stick on logs etc... just making general noise from time to time. Randomly making these noises really becomes second nature and is a must.
You go on many trips and never see any bears at all... However, sometimes, like on this late afternoon; you seem to encounter a sleuth or sloth of them. It was getting to be that time of day and hearing the rustling of the first two bears (They make a very distinguishable thud noise) leaving the scene without actually seeing them makes me feel like its going to be a bumpy ride. Because if I don't have them in my line of sight and they do decide "Hey...Lets have Pete for dinner"... I really can't defend myself...
Sure enough, at a river crossing with the trail ending on my side... There he was, looking very intent. Almost sitting directly in the middle of the river, studying it. I can only assume this was his personal fishing spot and I was not going to be welcomed. Despite all my ringing leading up to this; it did not deter him from his trance. I froze still with my mind racing...He seemed not to flinch for what seemed like an hour. Then suddenly, he took off running. I'm happy to say to the other side of the Gila. I'm happy but still not out of danger as he slowed down, stopped 10 yards from the his bank and had his eyes on me as he did that river before.
Words that came to mind with out me uttering a sound went something like this... "Shit, oh shit...I can't believe...shit. Holy, Fuckin Shit! Think, shit, fuckin think, oh shit and so on. Now would be a good time to make some noise and see what is what I guess... I ring my bell, but we already know how that helped. I wave my stick and make indescribable noises. Since I found my voice, at this point I'm sure some of my previous thoughts were flying out. Still if an eye batted or a muscle twitched on his part; I couldn't tell. Finally I bang my already broken stick against a log and yell... "I am man dammit! Yes...that is what came to mind and mouth...I will never know if it was the stick breaking once again or my final shrill that made him head uphill and out of my way; but he did at last.
The penalty for my late setup is no dinner and a quick hang of my food plus anything else that may attract you know who. My shoes are just soaked and I leave them outside and am in a clearing that had been used by many before me. As I zip up for the night I once again hear the now familiar thuds of a bear's steps. I lay still as to hope this orange bivy of mine will act as a frighting protection. I hear sniffing of my shoes and the thuds slowly fade away; hopefully he's not going for my food bag. Surprisingly I fall asleep very fast and relatively sound for the night with my last thoughts being...You guessed it... "Shit, oh shit...I can't believe...shit. Holy, Fuckin Shit! Think, shit, fuckin think, oh shit
Day 11 and 12
After what was maybe the deepest sleep I encountered in years... I awoke hoping to find the "hot spring" in Jordan Canyon. After breaking camp and still a little stiff from the exhausting hike the previous day I set out around 10am. By 10:05am I realized I had to be right near the spring itself as I watched a small creek of running water against the current of the river. My suspicions were confirmed as I dipped my hand in to very warm water.
So needless to say it was a slow hiking day after my morning at the "spa". On the way back I started running into people of all types. So by the time I was 5 miles or so away from the spring I was meeting people quite frequently. More so than any other time on the trip. The trail you take literally ends up being a creek surrounded by 20ft. high rock, so if it rains...You won't be taking this trail for sure. However since I've only seen one cloud in over 10days; suffice to say its not a problem today.
"Regular backpackers" well they enjoy the finer things of camping along with their adventure. A chair, full size toothbrushes and razors. Extra shoes clothes and maybe even a pair of jeans to go out in. Oh and a tent that always looks to be able to fit a truck in as opposed to a person. Dan was a nice enough fellow and even gave me his card. I know that we all have different ways of getting to and in nature...but we share nature and that's the great thing about it.
Realizing after a day of rest I was ready to leave the Gila for good. My ankle feeling worse by the day and swollen to the size of a baseball, the weather seeming to turn colder and my map basically torn to shreds thanks to windy conditions; all tell me its time to leave. When backpacking, to me at least, little things that are bothersome one day can possibly turn disastrous the next. Seemingly small mistakes become magnified and I'm not immune to these problems or mistakes for that matter.
So I leave on TR-160 once again and head south and plan for a two day trip out of the Gila. It's really more of a slow limping hike with spurts of a pain shooting though my ankle. The Gila is not a place to "Code W" and I'm far from that at this or any point on this trip. For those of you that don't know. "Code W" is forest service talk for people they help that really are just a "wimp out" by that hiker. Also their is no magical helicopter that is going to save you. No clicking your heels three times to go home. So onward I go down to Little Turkey Park for a rest.
The cabin at Miller Springs was nice but not nothing to say wow over. Honesty I'm in too much pain today to see anything as exciting even if it were. It just serves as vivid reminders of how much farther I have to go.
I say to myself... Hey I want to change course to be closer to running water. Even though it will take me miles away from my original destination point. This on the surface may seem odd. Yet my thinking is " If I have to stay here longer because I can't travel as far every day; at least I'll have water with food." So I divert myself west on Tr-155 and set camp up on a ridge for the night. Bushwacking a little off the path. At least I'll have running water the rest of the trip.
4:00am...The best way to describe what happens next is "POP" "POP" "crash" "POP" I awaken to what I thought was gunfire for some reason. Perhaps for about 15min I sit with my eyes open and hearing this on again off again "POP". I finally open my flap door and see a huge glow over a ridge a few miles away. This can only be one thing... FIRE !
I start to think Day 14 is not going to go well at all... Not well at all.
Day 14 Part 1 of 3
Even my most wildest, "worst case scenario" didn't come up with this one. Day 14 was going to be at best life changing and at its worst...Well lets just say I would be telling lies in saying some old tough cliche like " It never crossed my mind". No it all crossed my mind in an instant. Death, serious injury and panic to name but a few; and that was just for starters. If I wasn't taking to myself on this trip... I was certainly doing it now.
It's dark and a little away from sunrise, no wind yet and that can only be an act of God; as it was windy this entire trip. I can see the glow but really have no grasp of the direction or speed of this fire. Not even sure how to even proceed. I'm now positive there is a book out there I forgot to read when it came to this. Just because this could not even be happening. Right?
So I'm going to try and explain it from my thoughts as oppose to actions. The actions are vague at best any how because I was literally on the run and being at one point as close to flames only a few football fields away. Fleeing for my life, not knowing most of the time exactly where the fire was or how I was going to get out of there. South and West was the safest route from my own observation and my encounter with a spotter plane. The Sun is finally up... I say finally because this was without any doubt; the slowest day of my entire life. Nothing happens fast enough today not my accelerated hiking, not the water running into my bottle. NOTHING at all.
No matter what heading I took, it seemed smoke was coming over my head. Not knowing at the time what exactly was going on was probably in retrospect a good thing. The "Miller Fire" was to last weeks and burned more than 88k acres, closed the ruins, NM 15 and countless trails. It drove me faster, further than I even thought possible. Still, where was I going? I had general ideas and made sure the canyon I followed below had water. I used my compass for direction but that was it. Always south and west. Circumstance caused me to take risks but also to "Take Care of Myself"; best I could.
Trail running was never my strong suit, however I am, if nothing, swift. The canyon I'm about to enter is entirely draped in shadow. If there was ever a more spooky, erie situation...I have not a recollection of facing it. Not a soul but mine and God's. Every countless step I take is focused on leaving this fire way behind me. Realizing I have no choice but to lower my gear first then find a way down. I tie a rope and lower my pack. Still I cant seem to find a way into this damn thing, time is ticking and that fire is not standing still.
Thoughts outside the box is what makes me tick...So in a way when I'm faced with what seems like an impossible situation; it helps. This I can say in retrospect because during the moment I came close to a full on freak out. No pack, its down countless feet below me. No conventional way of getting down that I can see. No way to go forward and then backtrack, because that fire I guess is still coming my way. The eventual answer was looking right at me the whole time.
A tree, yep just a narrow tree that jetted up out of most of the canyon. Looking right at me the whole time. Two issues with this tree... One: Its going to take a leap that literally I have no clue if I can make it. Two: Trees have branches and this one is no exception. It did however possess another tree right next to it that had even fewer so I opted for that one. A quick second and third thought maybe even a fourth and off I went.
When I spiraled down and looked up I just yelled "That was awesome" then resumed my mode of getting out of there. I was in pain and scraped my leg, yet I know I had a smile on my face; because I realized something at that very moment... No matter how this ends up I'm going to know I gave myself every chance to get out of there. The "what ifs" don't matter because I'm doing everything I can to create distance and survivability.
We are about half way into the day now and really it was becoming like a normal hike for me. With the tiny exception of a fire somewhere behind me. I see white smoke but nothing else, I heard a helicopter once and while it sounded close it was not right on top of me; so that gave me some relief.
The water in the canyon was flowing more and more so I must now be on or near the Gila itself and heading out the right way. As this day went on I realized that sleeping would be a wake up every hour to check the direction I last would see smoke. That I should prepare myself for a night hike and find higher ground, perhaps even a cave. After all, rock does not burn.
This being the longest day of my life as I previously stated. It took three parts but and will now try to just hit the highlights and move on as my trip nears its conclusion.
Slowly as the afternoon wore down, the wind picked up, gusting in my face. I marveled at the amount of ground I covered; all due to my adrenaline fear induced day. Physically I knew it was all adrenaline today with a terrible let down tomorrow. Mentally I explored all possibilities. Name a scenario and I promise you I thought of it. From would I let fire burn me or jump to my death. To who hotter... I won't name names here. I was confident but if I stopped or could see smoke, that confidence turned very quickly into despair.
Countless times as I said before; I would block out the thoughts of family and friends. This worked for most of the day but begun to seep in my every thought. The terrain was getting "lower" and "flatter" and that is the perfect description of my spirit. I did all I could to get distance, followed every bit knowledge I could draw on. Yet lower and flatter the two seemed. The canyon seemed to merge with another and clear trails that seemed to mark the way before, were now disappearing right before my eyes.
I had a. hour of light left when I reached this merger. A big decision loomed. Do I continue south and west? Or perhaps I'd be better suited going up this canyon that was flatter and had some outcrops and such for sleeping? I choose the latter option and found what to me could best be described as a large V-shaped area of rock. I climbed it, laid out just my mat, mummy bag and prayer cross and started looking at the sky turning to twilight and the thin layers of smoke crossing it. Needless to say I gripped the cross a little tighter that evening.
I went as far as I could in body and spirit. I really could not tell you if I had any thing left if that fire would have approached me again. If I would have seen a glow coming my way could I have kept going? I just thank God I will never know the answer to that question. No glow in sight and I passed out completely among the stars and smoke. The last thoughts I can remember were "what happens will happen and its out of my hands".
Day 15 just has to be better? Right?
Slept right through my alarm and still clutching my prayer cross. I was stunned to see nothing but clear blue sky. Either the winds changed the direction of the smoke or...well...honestly I didn't care for an explanation of it. I just wanted to be safe and for the first time in more than 24hrs it seemed likely. Heading back south and west, continuing the plan that started from fear. To say this day started as a miracle would be a gross understatement.
My body had some issues but not many ill effects as I thought would be the case. I was not refreshed. Is any one after 14nights backpacking? Still, I could walk, there was water and I kept to my task. Following that canyon the main trail started to reappear. As it climbed slowly above the canyon I decided this had to be the way. South and west, it became the mantra of the morning; just has it was the entire day before.
On that long road headed to the Town of Gila three hunters gave me a lift to Silver City. Plenty of beer was offered and accepted. Their generosity allowed me to have a piece of mind for the night. The trip may have ceased but the process of what happened was just beginning. That being said convalescing in SC for the next 4 days seemed like the right thing to do.
I'd lost over 12lbs on this trip, felt excruciating pain that still exists, serving me reminders time to time. My first words uttered on the phone with someone who asked how my trip went were... "Remind me never to do this again." She exclaimed "Why bother? ...I know you will any how." Perhaps she's right :-)
Till the next entry... Bangarang