So much for our route getting easier! It’s only been 50 miles since Silver City, but the trail has got harder and harder.
After a few easy miles on tarmac then dirt roads on Wednesday evening, we spent Thursday morning winding through the Gila National Forest on steep, rough and rocky trails. We were making good progress, then in the middle of nowhere we bumped into a guy with no backpack, just a staff and a mobile phone. He immediately introduced himself as Doug the Hermit, and offered us a tour of his hermitage, further along the trail. Resistance was futile, so we spent the next two hours learning about how Doug became a hermit, and how he survives in a desert area on minimal food (mostly beans and rice) and by collecting water from a small seep near his cabin. After 16 years he is still struggling to get his vegetable garden going on the thin desert soil. It was fascinating to listen to him tell his story- for a hermit, he really seemed to enjoy company! But we still had about 16 miles to go before our next water source (the Gila River), so we excused ourselves, signed Doug’s trail register and went on our way.
What we hadn’t realised was that there was a huge climb still to do, over the watershed between us and the Gila River. It was about 1000m of ascent, which we ended up doing in the hottest part of the afternoon, each with about 4 litres of water on board. We were pretty frazzled by the time we got to the top!
Descending the other side, we hoped to get to the river before camping, but ended up in Goat Canyon, which had steep rocky sides and seemingly nowhere flat to camp. When we finally found a flat spot near to sunset, with no end to the canyon in sight, we decided we would have to stop and make camp.
After a long descent to the Gila River the next morning, we thought that surely now things would get easier. But no … We now had plenty of water, but the trail had turned into a proper obstacle course! River crossings were nice and refreshing, but resulted in large amounts of grit inside our shoes and boots – we must have crossed the river about 30 times, so it was a case of walking on until it really got unbearable, before stopping to empty out the grit.
And in between the river crossings there was sand, rocky beaches, fallen trees across the trail – all things we’ve encountered and dealt with before, but put them all together and it makes for a pretty exhausting time!
So we were really relieved to get to Doc Campbell’s Post, our next resupply point. Sadly, we were too late to buy beer, but it was good to sit round and chat with other hikers – Carpenter, Creeper, FiveStar and Henry from Blackpool. No Kathleen however – after hiking together from Lordsburg to Silver City, she set off from Silver City while we were still sorting ourselves out, but succumbed to her blisters and quit the trail.
It’s a tough trail, that’s for sure!