Trip Report: Gila Wilderness trip


Location: Gila National Forest

State: New Mexico

Miles: 26

Days: 3

Type: In and Out

Impressions of the Gila Wilderness; three days and two nights along the Crest Trail, with a side on the Apache Holt trail to Apache Cabin and spring. Peak bagging along the way of Whitewater Baldy – 10,895; Center Baldy- 10,533 and Mongollon Baldy fire lookout–10,770. I guess about 26 miles.

It is incomparable in my mind to sit on a high peak, with the sun lowering, the view vast, and the comforts of camp nearby. I look over a green glow of the pointed conifers, making the lines of the peaks across the large valley shaggy yet flowing with the shapes of the steep slopes. A vague memory taps me; ah yes, reminds me of the Maze in Canyonlands. A great landscape with no evidence of man, no roads, buildings, agriculture, towers or mining tailings. I sit on Whitewater Baldy with the sun becoming a memory, the winds chasing the tree tops, and I rise to return to camp. I am the only one in Hummingbird saddle, situated nicely in the trees and sheltered from the wind.

The morning the birds start up as my natural alarm clock pre dawn. I love this time of day. With coffee in hand I wander in the small meadow, and experiment with the camera as the sun makes orange streaks through the trees. It’s cool and crisp. Its been warm in the day, even at 10,000 feet, where this trail stays, at least in the 80’s. The morning prior I had been camped on a small bench just above Apache cabin; between it and the small spring. I had a fair view out through the Aspens, and again my morning cup of java, I wandered in the cabin “yard” and looked out at the morning grace across the forever view.

The Crest trail is very nice, a good CCC trail. It is maintained, and the amount of fallen trees cut through testify to that maintenance. You drive up the narrow road out of Glenwood, through the not so ghost town of Mongollon, to the Sandy Point TH at about 9,300 feet, for the Mongollon Mountains. This is part of the massive Gila Wilderness, over 400,000 acres of it.
You hike through pines, firs, spruces, lots of little green plants along the trail, some flowering and some not. My favorites are the stands of Aspen, some so tall and old the trunks near the bottom are wrinkled, dark and give a lie to the species. Harbingers of old fires. I love walking in a deep forest, no sign of recent fires. Springs along the trail flow from Bead Spring, which was like its own stream, to Hobo Spring, a mucky seep, which gave my filter a run for it’s money.

My favorite of the Crest trail was the part past the junction with Apache- Holt trail. The trail soon becomes a little footpath through massive forest of ancient Douglas fir and Aspens, thick impressive stands, and clings narrowly to the steep mountain sides. It is about four miles from the junction one way to Mongollon Baldy and the fire lookout. I did this as a RT dayhike, having spent the night at Apache Cabin, then picked up my gear and overnighted it at Hummingbird, so as to have short 5 mile backpack out the third day.
The trail opens up about a mile from the summit of Mongollon Baldy, a lightning started fire in ’96 burned off a lot of the slope and the lookout was evacuated. Views here are tremendous over the Gila and southern New Mexico. The wind was up and the gusts through the burned standing trees mimiced eerie shreaks and moans.
At the top I felt a nervous sadness, from my lowly view I could see three large smoke clouds, fires, burning off to the east and south. The fire lookout was built in 1948 and the cabin earlier– in the 20’s I believe. I did not bother the lookout, I could hear voices from the tower, possibly on the radio reporting in.
Although far away I felt a little anxiety staying in the woods. I would not like to be here with fire around me.
My guidebook says this area has “moderate use”. Sat I saw no one, Sun I saw a family of four dayhiking from some base camp; then another solo backpacker took a break at Hummingbird Saddle, then moved on. Mon am on my short jaunt out I saw no one. Two vehicles at the TH besides mine. If this is moderate use I’ll take it.

Oh,yeah–my impressions?? Day one I struggled with the altitude and the up hill and carrying the pack, Day three I felt a sense of longing as I left; a sure sign I’ll return. It is one of the special ones, to roam and explore. And I have just started.

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