trip report! part four: on the trail at last…or so we thought

December 6, 2009

The last installment of our story left us geared up and ready to go.  As we were heading out on the trail, we thought to check with the ranger regarding wildlife — mostly, how careful did we need to be about hanging our food out of bear reach?  Turns out the bears were already hibernating (we should have taken this as an omen), and our only real concern should be for javelina, which are apparently pretty nasty little hog-like beasties.  Didn’t get to see any, which I don’t think I’m very disappointed about.

And so, we departed down the Gila west fork trail.  Most of our hiking at first was through some pretty nice sandy floodplain, and the trail, being along the river and well-marked with cairns, was easy to follow.

As described above, wide, flat floodplain. We've already had to wade a few times, evidently.

Soon, however, we came upon a cairn that marked what appeared to be an intersection, as the floodplain continued ahead, still looking easy to follow, and another clear trail ascended a ridge to the south of the river.  Consulting the map and scouting a bit, it seemed very strange to us that our trail would climb that much uphill, and there was, indeed, an intersection early on the trail with another trail that took off up a ridge to the south.  We decided to carry on down the river.

The trail narrowed in fairly quickly, and a few times we had to bushwhack between crossings, fighting our way through lots of willow.  A few times, we considered turning back, but just as we’d almost be convinced, we’d find some older footprints or horseshoe imprints, and decide to push ahead.  It was, after all, late in the season, and the trails are not necessarily well-maintained through the late fall and winter.

Other footprints we saw along the way. Pretty popular watering hole, it seems.

Oh, logic.  After a good bit more bushwhacking, it became abundantly clear that we were not on the trail at all.  At this point, though, we had gone too far, through too much brush, to really consider turning back.  And so, we kept on keepin’ on.  At least following the river, we couldn’t get properly lost.

Time to look for a campsite.  Pretty much anything not on rocks and not in willow would do, at this point, when we were getting cold, wet, and hungry.  After just a little bit of scouting, lo and behold!  The trail was across the river!  I was so excited that I took a picture.

Actually, this is not the trail.

What we at the time thought was the trail opened up into a large, flat, sandy washout from a slot canyon, and being that it’s the dry season, was a perfect place to make camp.

Nice camping, indeed.

We were hoping to camp near our intersection for the following day, when we would head up over the ridge, so we dropped our packs and scouted a bit up the slot canyon and further up the river, just to check out how close we were.

The slot canyon walls right above our tent site.

Upstream, the banks started to close in around us, making some pretty nifty canyon walls.

Cool scrambling on the canyon walls.

Our scouting failed to uncover the sought-after intersection, which is when we began to suspect that perhaps all was not as well as we thought.  Oh well, we still had a sweet campsite, and we’d worry about the rest in the morning.

We got ourselves dried off, patched up the miscreant mutt’s minor paw wound, and set about the usual business of making camp and dinner.  It got cold.  Mighty cold.  Before full dark, our wet sandals had frozen.  We had plenty of warm things with us, though, and made a nice fire with some of the driftwood that had washed out of the slot canyon.  Only the mutt really complained, and most of that was just impatience to go to bed inside the tent.

Please, can we go to bed yet?

After some tea by the fire, and a bit of rodent-chasing on the dog’s part, we finally retired for the night, vowing to find the trail the next day, but not really worried.  We didn’t ever plan to make miles on this trip, and were equipped to spend 5 nights on the trail, 6 if we really needed to.

Cozy by the fire.

Waking up well-rested and warm the next morning, we heard voices for the first time since leaving the trailhead.  Yet, they seemed oddly far away.  After a moment, it became apparent that they were on the top of the south ridge.

Yes, that south ridge.

A shouted conversation revealed that indeed, that’s where the trail was.  Whoops.  Guess that “intersection” really was our trail turning sharply up the ridge.  Hooray for further bushwhacking to start the day off right!

Stay tuned as our adventure (very gradually) continues…

Continue to trip report!  part five: permafrost is way uncool


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