Friday, August 1, 2014

Day 21: The Gila River Adventures

Not only did the trail parallel the Gila River, but it
also paralleled these railroad tracks. I never did see (or hear)
a train on it for the entire day, though!
May 3: I really wanted to slackpack the trail while Amanda was around, but it wasn't meant to be. From where Amanda picked me up off the trail, the next convenient place for her to drive a rental car was 36 miles up the trail--and I wasn't going to do 36 miles in a single day. No way, no how. Not when temperatures were soaring into the high 90s every day. I could cover the distance with two moderate days of hiking, though, and that's what we decided on.

I still needed a new camera to replace the one that stopped working. I had my backup camera but if that camera stopped working, I'd have a big problem! Once Amanda dropped me off, though, she'd have a day and half to bum around, shop and acquire a camera on my behalf, so I left her in charge of "camera acquisitions." Dealing with the warranty on the broken camera, I figured, I could handle after this hike was over. I didn't have time for that nonsense right now!

With that decided, I needed to get back to the trail and the earlier, the better. Not only would I be able to get more miles in by starting sooner, but it would be cooler. I'm not a big fan of waking up early when I'm in civilization, but I'd make an exception in this case!

Which is how I wound up at Kelvin Bridge at 7:00 in the morning following the Gila River downstream for the next 16 miles.

The first half mile, the trail followed a dirt road parallel to the river and near the end of it, I met a fellow on a motorcycle, apparently watching a movie on a portable DVD player. He introduced himself as Rudolph and liked to run trails. He was waiting for a friend to pick him up to drive him out to Picketpost trailhead--36 miles up the trail where Amanda was going to meet me the next day--then run back to his motorcycle. But his friend was late and hadn't shown yet.

It's a bummer Amanda had already left--she'd be driving right past that trailhead on her way back to Phoenix and could have given him a lift! She could have done a little trail magic--even if it wasn't for another thru-hiker.

We talked for a few minutes before I waved goodbye and continued onwards. "See you on later on the trail!" I said. If he did run from Picketpost trailhead to here, our paths would cross later in the afternoon. But I thought he was more than a little crazy. Running 36 miles in such high temperatures? Insanity!

Coolest mailbox on the trail!

Like I said before, the Arizona Trail paralleled the Gila River for the next 16 miles, but ironically, I almost never saw the Gila River during that time. A thick forest of trees surrounded its banks blocking the view of it and while the trail did parallel the river, it usually did so from high on the mountains on the north side of it. I could look down and see a large expanse of greenery where the river flowed, but the river itself wasn't visible nor was the cool water from it accessible. The only water I had was that which I carried!

The hike along the river was non-eventful except for one rattlesnake that scared the crap out of me when it started rattling just a couple of feet away from where I was. I practically jumped out of my shoes then turned around to find the snake coiled and ready to strike. I took photos and moved along.

After 16 miles, temperatures had soared to their highs for the day and I was miserable from the heat, but it was time for a break. The trail would now turn away from the Gila River which I'd been following due west and head more-or-less due north, but there was an old dirt road that led less than a quarter mile to the river. It was a good place to stop for two reasons: lots of trees would provide a lot of shade to rest in, and I needed to fill up with water before I headed deep into the mountains where I'd likely find nothing.

But ten other people had beat me to the banks of the Gila River: ATVers. Several of the machines were parked along the road. I didn't really want to join a crowd of ten strangers on ATVs, but I really needed water. I had to get to the river! So I walked up and introduced myself and they immediately offered me an ice cold Coke and water. (They also offered me beer and Monster drinks, but I passed on those. Coke and water was sufficient!) When I finished those, I had another Coke and water. They seemed to have plenty of drinks and kept wanting to foist them onto me! A very friendly group of people! =)

Oh, heck, why clear this dead saguaro off the trail when we can
just route the trail directly through it! =)

I sat down and talked with them, told them about the Arizona Trail and having walked there from the Mexican border which seemed to impress a few of them. Then they started building a BBQ and after cooking a bunch of food, offered some of that to me as well. Oh, how well I ate! =)

Rudolph showed up before too long--his friend hadn't shown up at the trailhead to pick him up and he decided to run to this point on the Gila River then turn around and run back. He took some water from the group but passed on the food explaining that it would require water for his body to digest or something and couldn't afford it. "Can't eat protein!" he'd say, or something like that. We were a little amazed at how little water the guy actually carried for such a miserably hot day, but he had all sorts of tricks to reduce his moisture loss. "Breathe through your nose," he told us, "not your mouth. You lose a lot more moisture breathing through your mouth than your nose."

I, however, had no compunction about wasting lots of water. I had the entire Gila River right here at my disposal! =) I'd drink until I felt positively full. I'd breathe with my mouth wide open if I hiked uphill and felt like panting. I'd eat whatever food I wanted. That running stuff just seemed like too much work!

Rudolph left, running back to where I first saw him that morning. The guys told me to fill up with as much water as I needed--I did need to pick up more than a few liters to get me through the rest of the day, through the night and at least through the first part of tomorrow morning. I felt a little guilty taking as much water as I did but at their insistence, I took more than I otherwise would have.

Eventually, they cleaned up and left leaving me with the river to myself. Or at least this side of it. A dirt road was also on the other side of the river and several people and their kids were frolicking on that side. But my side was all mine now. I laid out in the shade and napped for another hour and a half to kill time during the hottest part of the day. In the shade next to the river, the temperatures were comfortable and mild. I wondered if it even broke 80 degrees there.

As tempting as it was, I didn't camp here for the night. I had to get more miles on if I was going to meet Amanda at Picketpost trailhead on time the next day. I filled up with a couple of more liters from water from the Gila River. Although the ATVers had given me lots of water, I still didn't think it was enough to reach the next water source on the trail. After all, I wasn't breathing through my nose the whole time. =) And I needed enough to cook dinner and eat breakfast the next morning. Two more liters, I though, should do it.

I didn't bother to treat the water, though. The water was a bit muddy and unpleasant to look at--I carried the water for "just in case" I needed it. I'd carry it and if I needed it later, I could treat it then. I'd drink the water the ATVers provided first and if that ran out, move on to the river water.

Upon leaving the river, the trail climbed steeply upwards. In fact, where the trail leaves the Gila River would be the lowest point of the entire Arizona Trail hitting bottom at 1,649 feet above sea level. From here, it was all uphill! And a steep hill too--climbing nearly 2,000 vertical feet in the next several miles.

I set up camp partway up where the trail crossed a dry riverbed. The bugs at dusk were bad. I wasn't sure what they were--like tiny, miniature flies. Annoying little buggers, though, that finally had me pulling out the DEET I carried for the first time in the hike. The flies laughed at my ineffective efforts, however. At least the bugs weren't biting! Just annoying little things. After the sunset and temperatures started to cool, they eventually retired for the night as well.

The Arizona Trail followed that dirt road you see in the distance then
headed into the mountains on a trail near where it intersects with the railroad.
Rudolph is near that intersection on his motorcycle somewhere....

This is the Golden Spike--marking the completion of the Arizona Trail on
December 16, 2011. I gotta say, though, this is the ugliest
golden spike memorial I've ever seen. Really? This was the best they could do?!
I almost missed it thinking it was just a regular geographical survey marker thingy!

A railroad bridge over the Gila River. Note that you can't
actually see the Gila River directly anywhere in this photo
due to all of the trees around it. It's there, though!

This is one of those non-venomous snakes I found on the trail.
Get off the trail!!!!

Then I saw this much more venomous rattlesnake! I didn't realize it
when I took this photo, but later when I took a close look at the snake,
I realized you can actually see its forked tongue sticking out at me!
See the Gila River? Yeah, I don't either, but it's near the band of dark
green trees at the bottom of the canyon. It's there! Just not very accessible!

These gates are meant to keep out ATVs from the trail and are all
but impervious to vandalism. (The ATVers I met on the Gila River
weren't actually on the trail--I had to hike a quarter mile off trail to get there.)
Saguaro in heat!

This looks like a saguaro massacre, but I used the opportunity to try to lift
one of the smaller pieces to see how heavy it was. It's heavy, all right!

When I saw this, I knew I'd have company at the Gila River...
But what great company! =)
A rough day on the trail.... This would also mark the lowest point
of the entire Arizona Trail at about 1,600 feet above sea level.

Saguaro down! Saguaro down!
I imagine this is what a saguaro doing a face-plant
would look like. =)

It really was quite scenic--if you can ignore the extreme heat.
Saguaro blooms

The hoards of mini-flies weren't especially attracted to
my water, but it was the only place where the contrast was
high enough between the flies and the background that you
can see the little buggers in my photos.


Anonymous said...

A Benchmark is a Benchmark. At least they marked it. No love for the surveyors!!!

DC Stones

Karolina said...

Wow, this trail is so full of rattle snakes!Scary!