May 24-26, 186 miles hiked + Gila River detour
We woke up early and got coffee and cinnamon rolls at a bakery downtown, then began the 6-mile road walk out of Silver City, which turned into a dirt road that wound into the pine forest and hills. Around mid afternoon, the trail made a sharp right onto a very rocky jeep road that seemed to climb straight up the mountain. We followed this for another few miles, the road rising and falling dramatically according to the whim of the mountain’s contour. I had been grumpy most of the morning and afternoon, for some reason, and also wasn’t feeling very good. Being in town always threw off our hiking routine, and I noticed it usually took at least a day for our bodies and minds to readjust to hiking again, and readjust to hiking food. Or maybe it was town food that we were no longer used to. We climbed and descended, again and again, the afternoon wearing on and the miles passing slowly. Right before stopping to camp, we were at a small spring in the forest and spotted a brown bear on the hillside! It quickly shuffled up the hill away from us.
I was excited to hike the next morning. In a few miles, we’d start our descent to the Gila River, which we’d follow for several miles to Doc Campbell’s Post, a tiny store where we’d get our next resupply box. The Gila was known for its incredible beauty and wildness, and this section was also known for being slow and difficult because there was hardly a trail and hikers had to cross the river several times during the traverse. We reached the river by mid morning, and it was every bit as beautiful as I’d read it was. We were in a deep canyon, and red cliffs rose from the water. There were bright green trees of all kinds, and perfect little beaches were everywhere. The river was calm and clear.
We started down the river. There was almost no trail, and we had to cross the river and then bushwack through the thorny weeds and brush around the shore several times just in the first mile. It was very slow-going, yet so beautiful, we didn’t care. After three hours of this, Phil looked at his phone to see how far we’d gone. We have a CDT hiking app, made by another hiker, that has a GPS on it.
It was then that we discovered we were going the WRONG WAY down the river. I almost didn’t believe the gps, thinking there must be some error on our phones. But no, the phones were right, and we were now three hours off the trail and in a completely different canyon than the one we were supposed to be in. When we’d started hiking down the river, we should have gone upstream instead of downstream, and neither of us had looked at our phones to see where the trail went. We’d simply gone left, since that seemed the natural “north” direction. Instead of backtracking, which is what we should have done, we decided to hike overland to the right part of the river. The river wound circuitously through several canyons, and from our maps it looked like we weren’t that far – just one canyon over!
Those would be our famous last words. We ended up basically rock climbing out of the canyon we were in (a little scary with a pack and violin on my back), then bushwacking/climbing up the spine of the top of the canyon, often climbing through incredibly thick and thorny brush and trees. For some strange reason, there was a barbed wire fence along the spine of the mountain, so we often had to traverse the steep side of the hill. It was the first time on the trail that I felt a little scared for our safety, as we didn’t know how we’d get down the canyon on the other side. By a miracle, there happened to be a stock trail that went down into the right canyon from the mountain we were on. After a few hours of bushwacking, we started descending and found the trail using our phone’s GPS.
It took us six hours and the rest of the day to get to the right part of the river, but we finally made it around 7pm. I was so thankful to finally see that water, and start hiking in the right direction.
This mistake was costly for us because the next day, we were getting off the trail to fly to Seattle for our dear friends Ness and Emma’s wedding. This involved getting to Highway 15, hitch hiking to Silver City, and renting a car and driving three hours to Tucson, where we’d catch a flight to Seattle. This was complicated by the fact that we had to get to the rental car office before they closed at 5. The next morning, we hiked the remaining 12 miles along the Gila River, getting to Doc Campbell’s around two. Our entire lower halves were soaking wet from river crossings and we had run out of food. We grabbed our boxes, scarfed some ice cream, Dr. Pepper, and a Snickers down our throats, and started walking back up the highway with our thumbs out. We walked and walked, growing more stressed with each passing minute. Neither of us had realized that the 40 miles to Silver City was more than an hour’s drive down an incredibly remote, windy road. Three o’clock passed, then three-thirty, and still no one picked us up. Phil said, “if we use all of our mental energy to will a car to pick us up, it will happen.”
Then, a car stopped. A thirty-something guy who said he’d been living out of his car for the past year hopped out and said he was going as far as Silver City. We crammed into the already-packed shell of his pickup, facing backwards and watching the landscape unfold in reverse, like a Cliffs Notes version of what it had taken us three days to hike. We walked into the rental car office at 4:50. We had made it.