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Sep 10 2010

 Guides 19
 Routes 39
 Photos 5,577
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46 female
 Joined Nov 22 2005
 Tucson, AZ
Mogollon Mountains - GET #20Southwest, NM
Southwest, NM
Backpack avatar Sep 10 2010
Backpack25.20 Miles 4,500 AEG
Backpack25.20 Miles2 Days         
4,500 ft AEG
 no routesno photosets
1st trip
This was another one of those long time goal hikes of mine - or at least, it started out as such. Even before I knew a thing about the GET, I knew that it would be uber-cool to hike from the Catwalk National Recreation Trail to Jordan Hot Springs near the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Friends told me it was a tough hike, with a small window of good weather to complete it. Too early and you're likely to run into considerable snow up high. Too late and the temps down low are brutal.

While this may have been only my first attempt at this particular hike, I know for certain that it won't be the last. The Land of Enchantment has me absolutely enchanted - and I think that this is a long time goal I can chew away at for the rest of my life and never get too much of it.

Logistically this is a tough trip. The car shuttle between the Gila Cliff Dwellings parking area and the trailhead for the Catwalk is somewhere around 3.5 hours one way - not counting the 4.5 hours each th is from Tucson. I got Mr. Wendy to agree to a huge favor, which involved following my group out to the th a day or two after we'd left, towing Lil' Bit to the exit th, then driving home (with likely stops along the way for dove hunting and fishing). So, in theory, all we had to do was walk the 60-some-odd miles in between, up and over the Mogollon Mountains - much of the route along the GET. If we didn't make the ambitious 16 mile-per-day average that we were aiming for, then we could bail out of the detour to Jordan Springs and just hike out the GET route for a 50-odd miler. No problem, right? I mean, we did have 4 long, warm summer days, right?

We started out well enough - though the magic of the Catwalk and Whitewater Creek did cause us to dally perhaps more than we should have. Then there was the torrential downpour in the early afternoon that drove us into a creek-side cave for a reprieve. Things were feeling long and tough, but not undoable... that is, until we reached Camp Creek Saddle.

Those of you who look at the GET route in this area will be quick to note that the trail does not go to Camp Creek Saddle. In fact, it doesn't go anywhere near there. Luckily, we also figured this out. Unluckily, we didn't figure it out until we were at said incorrect saddle looking at our maps at the correct route some two miles to the north.

No problem, right? Just hop on the Holt Apache Trail north from Camp Creek, and we'd only have added a few miles to our ambitious itinerary. Ah, it seemed so very, very simple on the map.

Almost three hours later, we'd only managed to bite off about a mile and a half of that two miles along Holt-Apache. The trail was nearly non-existent, littered with (what felt like) hundreds of downed trees, raspberry bushes, locust and every manner of thorny, prickly, mean and devious vegetation. The fire that burned through this area several years ago decimated this trail, and I would be shocked to learn that more than one or two people had been on it all year. From time to time, we'd see signs such as broken branches or rock cairns, but the vast majority of the time was spent debating whether or not we were on a trail at all (let alone the correct trail), and whether or not the second storm of the day was going to strike while we were ridgeline hiking in a burn zone.

About the time the storm seemed to be imminent, we made it to a minor saddle which was still mostly forested. Exhausted, beaten and frustrated, we made a quick camp and managed to make ourselves eat something before we fell into our respective sleeping systems. We'd hiked over 12 miles, which didn't seem like much in the great scheme of things, but we'd climbed over 4000' feet, and with that amazing chunk of bush whacking, it definitely felt more like the 16 miles we'd planned on.

We all slept fitfully, worried about our location and the long-term effects the detour would have on the trip. When we woke, we took a fresher look at the situation. Steve had to be back to Tucson first thing Tuesday morning for a life-or-death business trip to Boston. There really was no room for error in his schedule. Even if we abandoned the overly-ambitious Jordan option, we were still several miles short of our first days goal, moving slower than we anticipated, and we were all dragging hard. It was a very difficult decision for me - those of you who've hiked with me know that I don't say Uncle very easily. But, it was in the best interests of the group to do an about face and head back to the car which we hoped would still be in the Catwalk parking lot. We could always drive around to the cliff dwellings and do a shorter backpack into Jordan from that end, and get our hot spring fix that way.

Of course, that was all dependent upon Mr. Wendy keeping to his usual late to bed late to rise pattern. Steve used his extraordinary legs to run (yes, literally) back to the trailhead hoping to beat Gary to Lil' Bit. I wish I could say he'd succeeded - but I'd be lying. When Sarah and I arrived almost an hour later, Steve was sleeping beneath the shade of a Sycamore, lulled by the tunes of a revivalist baptism in the creek, and bemoaning his luck at having missed Gary. By now the car was most certainly nearly to Silver City, if not at the Cliff Dwellings already.

The rest of the adventure involves hitching rides around southwestern New Mexico, staying in cheap motels and eating stale dinner roles at the pub because the kitchen was closed. It was an adventure I'll not soon forget, and with all luck I'll not soon repeat either. We were too exhausted from walking about downtown Silver City with our packs and jamming ourselves into the back seat of sedans to even consider another couple of days of backpacking. Instead, we showered and hopped into Lil' Bit to head back to Tucson by mid-day on Sunday. Cut short, but certainly not light on adventure!

Oh, and just to make it all the more perfect, I had essentially no camera for this whole fiasco. That's a whole different tale, one which is neither interesting nor something I care to be remembered for. Thank gawd this is a site for recording trip reports and not for recording all the stupid pumpkin stuff we do in the rest of our lives...

A few other notes, however, for those who may look at hitting this part of the GET. The Catwalk Trail is AWESOME, and definitely worth the extra miles. However, I highly recommend a weekday visit, as the place was an absolute zoo on Saturday. Of course, it was Labor Day weekend, but I imagine with those kinds of swimming holes, waterfalls and scenery that it's pretty packed most summer weekends.

Oh, did I say that there were waterfalls and swimming holes? Well, I lied. There aren't any. Infact, the canyon is featureless and dull - no shade, no interesting cultural relics, no incredible rock formations. And there are absolutely no cool places to scramble around and check out. The Devil's Elbow just a couple of miles up the South Fork did not at all call to me as a place to put on my water shoes and explore, and there wasn't a single shady, forested, perfect campsite to be seen the whole way. None. I mean, don't even bother going. It's that bad. If you don't pick up on irony, then I've succeeded brilliantly.

In all seriousness, don't miss the turn off for the East Fork. It's easy to miss, and the South Fork trail bears an eerie resemblance to the trail in the written description. If you do miss the break off and find yourself at Camp Creek Saddle, DON'T take the Holt-Apache cut off. Hike the long way around. Something tells me your legs will thank you for it.

Finally, this would be an awesome trip to do in the fall. The canyon was thick with sycamores, ashes, walnuts and maples. I can imagine that the color in autumn is going to be simply beyond superlatives. In fact - who's up for it? There's an elbow I didn't get to explore up there...
wildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observation
Wildflowers Observation Light
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.- Barack Obama

WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

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