Backpacking Trip Report: Spring Break In the Gila

Area: Gila Wilderness

State: New Mexico

Mileage: 35

Days: 3

Type: Loop

For spring break I decided to avoid the typical college student destinations and instead go backpacking. My roomate decided he also wanted to do something and would be trying backpacking for the first time.Our route was basically to head up the west fork of the Gila river and eventually come back down the middle fork. We did not set a specific point for crossing over between the canyons.

The first thing we noticed about this trip was the amount of river crossings. It seemed as though I crossed the river every 200 yards. Definately not a trip for those who like to keep their feet dry. Luckily, the water was never much higher than our knees.

The first day we went something like 10-12 miles, but I think our average speed was about 1.5 miles an hour due to the river crossings. We were exhausted after the the first day, our own fault for driving the last 24 hours straight.

Late that night it started snowing and when we finally awoke, there was approximately five inches of snow on the ground. We were not really expecting this much snow for the trip based upon the dry winter and being from Wisconsin, it wasn’t too much to handle; although we did decide to take our shortest route option.

The second day was characterized by blowing snow and a climb out of the west fork valley at Hell’s hole. Temperatures were in the mid 20’s F and wind gusts were probably in the 20-30 mph range. Eventually we made it to some more sheltered areas and found a great spot to rest near Prior Cabin. We continued another 2 miles before finding a decent spot to camp at.

The second night was by far the coldest night I have ever camped in. The temperature dropped down to -2F and I was literally frozen. I ended up starting a fire in the middle of the night and dragging my bag out next to it. Miraculously I kept ash from burning holes in it. We ended up cooking breakfast at 4:30 and started hiking at about 6. The first few miles were painful as my boots were frozen stiff even after sitting by the fire for a few hours.

The third day was definately the highlight of the trip as we made our way to the Meadows on the middle fork of the Gila River. We had an amazing view from above and quickly forgot about the temperature.(It was still in the single digits).

Anyhow, we proceeded down the canyon side and into the river valley on our hike out. It was clear blue skies and the sun was beginning to warm things up. At about 2 in the afternoon, the temperature was 70F and were both in shorts. At this point, we wished we would have taken one of the longer route options, but I guess thats how things go.

Eventually we made it near Jordan Hot Springs, but I wasn’t impressed and somewhat disgusted with the impact on the canyon there. It looked like a park… So we kept on hiking until Little Bear Canyon and began a little climb back to our car at West Fork Trailhead.

Overall, I definately enjoyed this trip. I really wish the temperatures would have been a little nicer throughout, but that’s how March is.

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