Day 11: The Alternate to the Alternate
Thursday, May 5, 2022 10:49 pm
Location: Gila River Alternate: Bear Creek (170.9 miles)

Today, I set out from Silver City to take the Gila River Alternate, a water-filled alternate route to the (very dry) official CDT.

I got up at 7, ate breakfast, and finished packing. Going through my laundry from two evenings ago, I discovered that I was missing a liner sock, and instead, I had one of someone else’s gaiters. Asking around found that it belonged to Petr (who hiked out yesterday). I’ll carry it with me, at least for a while, to try and get it back to him. No one else had seen my sock, but when the hostel owner came in, on a whim, I asked him about it, and he said he thought he saw one, went and checked, and came back with it. (It would have been inconvenient to have lost one sock, but I had enough that it wouldn’t have been problematic.)

Pale Ale, Sprouts, and I headed out at 8:30, only half an hour behind our initial plan. We decided to take it a bit easy today, having pushed fairly hard to get to Solver City in nine days (averaging nearly 18 miles a day).

As I mentioned yesterday, we opted to take the Walnut Creek Alternate out of town to reach the Gila River Alternate. This alternate is a roadwalk along a not-terribly-busy road that shoots straight north out of Silver City and connects to the CDT at the junction with the Gila River Alternate.

As we were leaving town, we saw written in chalk on the sidewalk, “Welcome to Silver City”; the CDT logo; “be well & safe”; “good luck”; “have fun”. Shortly after, a woman pulled her car over and actually thanked us for hiking the trail. It was a very nice way to leave town.

The roadwalk out of town was a mostly gentle uphill climb, along a largely residential street.

After nearly an hour and a half along the road, I saw off in the distance a house shaped like a castle. Shortly after, I passed a woman who’d come out of her house to put something in her mailbox. I said hi, and asked if she knew what the story was with the castle.

She said that a Spanish couple had always wanted to own a castle, so they moved here, and built one. Then the husband died, and the wife stayed there for a little while before deciding to sell. (A castle is probably too much for one person to maintain.)

Consistent with deciding to take it easy today, we took a short 15-minute break around 10:15, about four miles outside of town. We were happy that it was noticeably cooler than it had been, though the lack of clouds still meant lots of sun exposure.

While we took our break, we saw a heavy-set guy walk past us slowly, in jeans and a sweater, with a large pack. I thought him a curiosity, a bit overdressed for the trail.

After we resumed hiking, I passed him, and asked him where he was heading. “Same place as you”, he said. We learned his name was Shane, and he’d also started at Crazy Cook, and after five hours of hiking in the desert, decided that it wasn’t for him and got picked up. He came to Silver City, rested for a few days, and had set back out to try the Gila River Alternate.

At 11, we reached the boundary to the Gila National Forest, this time with a sign. We’ll be in the forest for a while as we hike along (and through) the Gila River.

Gila National Forest
Gila National ForestPale Ale, Longstride, and Sprouts take on the Gila National Forest.

The Walnut Creek Alternate continued to take us through a large picnic area by road, but we saw a trail (and also found it on our maps), and decided to make our own alternate to the alternate, cutting through the picnic areas, rather than around them. I’m glad we did, because we decided to stop at a shaded picnic area for a snack break. There also happened to be someone there: Shelly, a former park ranger in fire management; and also previously, a smoke jumper. (Smoke jumpers are sent in by plane to contain and put out small fires before they can spread.) She was there with her dog Jack, who had a bit of a cute underbite. We had a very nice chat with her.

Shelly pointed out that we might want to be more cautious with our food; bears are coming out of hibernation now, and because it has been extremely dry in New Mexico, they’ll be more likely to venture closer to our water sources. Normal (though not advised) practice in the desert has been to store food in tents (because there are no trees to do a bear hang from; but also there are no bears in the desert, so it’s mostly just rodents to worry about). So we’ll be doing a bear hang tonight, and for the near future.

Our chat and break ended, and we set out again. We continued our alternate alternate, taking a few trails to cut off the more looping road. At one point, we passed under a power line that had fallen from its usual height; it was low enough that we could have reached up and touched it. (But we didn’t.)

Our shortcut eventually ended, dropping us back on the (now dirt) road that took us to the CDT junction with the Gila River Alternate. At the junction, we found several other hikers who were taking a break. One of them, Shadow Hawk, noted Shane’s blue jeans, and gave him the trail name Blue Jeans. (Which fits, sure, but I hope it doesn’t become a demoralizing name for him.)

Continuing straight on the road that was the Walnut Creek Alternate, crossing the CDT put us on the Gila River Alternate.

The Start of the Gila River Alternate
The Start of the Gila River AlternateA nice tree-lined dirt road, before it becomes steep and rugged.

Pale Ale and I were in the lead, and keeping with our decision to take it easy today, after about two miles on the Gila Alternate, we stopped for a “short” break (that lasted about an hour), allowing Sprouts and Blue Jeans to catch up and take a break too. The group stopped at the junction passed us.

During the hike further into the forest, we got a few glimpses of mountains in the distance. But views were generally sparse today.

The trail both climbed and dropped steeply, and the road became impassable by cars. Parts were loose dirt and gravel, causing Pale Ale and I stopped slip around several times. She sprained her ankle; I tweaked my back.

About quarter to four, we reached Bear Creek, the first flowing water near the trail. (Well, not really; it was a short walk from the trail to where the water actually was; but useful water was much closer, and much more plentiful, and much less tainted with cow poop than the Saddle Rock Riparian Area.

Hikers at Bear Creek
Hikers at Bear Creek

We stopped and relaxed by the creek, where the group we’d seen at the junction had already gathered. A couple of hikers even got in the water (though it was really only deep enough for sitting, not swimming).

I dangled my feet into the water from the shore. The place felt peaceful and calm. Water striders flitted across the surface of the creek. Ripples in the water reflected sunlight in shifting patterns onto the rock cliff opposite our shore.

Eventually, the other group left, and the three of us cooked dinner. Blue Jeans was too hot and exhausted to eat his dinner, though we encouraged him to eat something. He shared with us some cold Dr Pepper, reminding me that I’d forgotten I wanted to put my own bottle of Diet Dr Pepper in the creek to cool it off.

Dinner completed, we moved to campsites a short distance removed from the creek, set up our tents (Blue Jeans, a hammock instead), and hung out bear lines, which we managed to do without too much fuss.

Tomorrow, we’ll pick the pace up; we should just be able to reach the Gila River.