Day 13: a bend along the Middle Fork of the Gila River to Ponderosa flats near 8400 feet, still hard to know where we are but it’s somewhere over 200 miles
Last morning in the Gila. I want to stay in this canyon along the river and admire the rocks, trees and light for days. But our feet need to dry out. We’ll run out of food if we stay much longer. And through hiking drive compels us: this is the year we get to hike the whole trail. (Thank you Justin for wise words spoken in a meadow north of Tuolumne.)
The Gila is weening us as we go further up river. The canyon has widened to large flood plains. Sometimes making for slow walking on sandy ground. Sometimes we negotiate jungle gyms of root wads and log jams.
The river can be out of sight for over a half mile. A sharp contrast after the last few days of its constant presence. A reminder that we are about to go from a feast of water to a strictly regimented diet; thankfully not a famine. There will be water. We hope.
Also a contrast after hiking just with one another is walking with other hikers. Today we find ourselves walking at times with Brother Bear, Data, Southern, and Brandon. All great guys. And all the better to get to know them here on trail rather than in the frenzy and chaos on Doc Cambells porch.
A little afternoon we part with the Gila. Learning that much of the water flows from Gilita Creek and other tributaries. Above Gilita, the headwaters of the Gila are blocked by an earthen dam. The silty water behind the dam is Snow Lake.
Walking across the dam and looking north we see rolling hills of dry grass, Ponderosa and juniper. Already I miss the lush canyon. But the expanse of open sky is and dry canyons have me wondering what is beyond.
A Forest Service campground is next to Snow Lake. This is something we look forward to as it has amenities we have not had for a while: a picnic table to sit at, running water that doesn’t require treatment, pit toilets and a garbage bin. Luxuries!
Walking up to the campground we see an USFS truck. The woman tending the grounds has been coming by every few days to make sure the spigot is on for hikers. Technically, the campground is still closed. We are so grateful for her thoughtfulness.
A leisurely lunch at a table. Time to check our rations and study up on the water situation ahead of us for the next 3.5 days into Pie Tow. We confer with Data, Brother Bear, and Southern.
I make chocolate pudding to fortify our lunch and take advantage of the last known abundance of good water.
Up T Bar Canyon we find good water and tank up for a dry camp. The canyon opens to a grassy coulee with rock out croppings above us. We climb the steep slopes opting for the more direct route. Our packs somewhat heavy with water, I am reminded that we haven’t had much up on the trail yet, the route takes miles to gain 1500 feet. So different than trips back home. What will we do when we get to Colorado? I hope we get into shape by then.
Finally on top, we are rewarded with an amazing vista of grasslands, distant trees and blue sky. So open. So far to look afield. We walk on a faded jeep track. Our appreciation of this gorgeous unnamed spot on the map is enhanced by its contrast to the last few days. Gabriel and I are admiring this golden late afternoon. Walking the plains. Feeling the wind blow by us.
Evening has us walking back into forest. Good protection from the breeze. We find ourselves in stands of pure Ponderosa pine here at 8000+ feet. (We are definitely not in Washington.) The evening is cooling off and it warrants it being a tent night. We camp on Ponderosa duff away from the road. We eat dinner and listen to turkey calls as dusk settles to a starry night.