CDT Day 11: Mile 17.1 – 33.1 (Gila River alternative) (16 miles – 25.6 km)

Saturday April 27, 2019

Last night I dreamt about a mountain range under a moonlit sky. Stars were gently falling from the sky like feathery snowflakes. It was such a beautiful dream. I woke up in the middle of the night almost a little disappointed that the stars were still up in the sky. It was so still and silent, so peaceful. Especially following my dream.

I must have gone back to sleep again only to be woken by what sounded like dogs barking somewhere down the canyon. Hammer thought it was turkeys gobbling. The gobbling was sporadic and getting closer. Whatever made the sound passed us up on the ridge to the west of our camp.

We broke camp and were on our way by 6.30. The trail descended gradually and after numerous switchbacks the never ending decent to Sappilo Creek, just before its junction with the Gila River was completed. By 9am we were standing next to a fast flowing stream. The Sapillo was a small creek, but the Gila was flowing fast. We had to cross the Sapillo and then the Gila here.

Hammer felt that this crossing was going to be a bit of a challenge. I have to admit to feeling apprehensive. Knowing that we will be crossing the river all day, we swapped our woollen hiking socks for neoprene surf socks.

Hammer crossed first and found that the current was stronger than it appeared from the banks. I followed and was at first surprised that the water was not as cold as I expected. Stepping out into the main channel the water level was just below my hips and my hiking poles were being ripped out of my hands. The current was beginning to spin me sideways so Hammer jumped back in without his pack and just stood downstream of me reassuring me that he would catch me if I fell. It was almost a washout but I made it across with my heart in my throat.

For next three hours we crossed the Gila numerous times, but these were all far gentler crossings. The surrounding canyon walls were spectacular especially when contrasted against the the huge trees growing on the banks. The waning moon was still up in the sky. We were really enjoying this crisscrossing of the Gila as we headed upstream.

After lunch we encountered 3 more tricky crossings. At one crossing the water was at Hammers nipples and he almost swam downstream. It seems that he stepped into a hole. It was a little disconcerting when you sink almost up to your neck. You do feel a little powerless against the current, especially being weighed down by your pack. While Gila certainly flies swiftly in parts, it does not rage. When the current is strong it was usually in a small section of the flow. By carefully selecting where we crossed we managed to cross it well over 40 to 50 times with only 4 of these crossings being especially challenging. The day was very warm the sun was baking hot on the upper parts of the body while the rest of the body was wet and cool.

The surrounding canyon walls were carved by the river into the most spectacular formations. And the width of the river and its banks changed as we wound our way upstream.

Late in the day we came upon a big burn area, always very sad to see, especially in this arid environment. Further on we realised that the fire had spread and was still smouldering in a new burn area. Naked flames were visible , which was very concerning. We walked as far away from the fire as possible before the sun went down and we could set up camp.