CDT Update: Gila River Alternate

Hiking along the Middle Fork of the Gila River.
Hiking along the Middle Fork of the Gila River.

After departing Silver City we took the Gila River alternate. The alternate is not actually on the official Continental Divide Trail but the hike is so awesome that about 90% of CDT hikers choose it over the official trail.

We did not have cell service during this section, so here is a condensed update of the last eight days:

5/2: Departed Silver City, the scenery is very pretty. Interestingly, we encounter our first natural water source on the CDT, a small creek about 160 miles into the hike. All the previous water sources have been man-made windmills and cattle troughs. Starting tomorrow we will literally be wading in a river.

5/3: We have reached the Gila River. It’s a very pretty river in a canyon with steep rock walls that rise sometimes 100 feet sometimes 500 feet overhead. Often the rock walls block the trail and you must wade across the river to the other side to continue walking. Over the next five days we will wade across the Gila River 232 times.

5/4: We continue hiking the Gila River. In the afternoon we reach Doc Campbell’s, a small store where we have shipped a resupply box, and we camp in a nearby RV park. We crossed the Gila River 57 times on the way to Doc Campbell’s. Doc’s is known for its home made ice cream and aFloat (aka Deb) indulges in two cups, chocolate and coconut, for lunch.

5/5: Today we took a side trip to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Very interesting walk through the cliff dwellings. The Pueblans built and resided in these cliff dwellings for only one generation, to the perplexion of anthropologists.

We returned back to the CDT via a slot canyon called Little Bear Canyon, a very impressive passageway which delighted us with its cliff walls. We are now hiking the Middle Fork of the Gila River which is not quite a deep as the Gila River we had been hiking although the canyon walls seem higher and more impressive.

We crossed the Middle Fork 17 times and had an enjoyable soak in Jordan Hot Springs at the end of the day. This is a little gem in the middle of nowhere, with clear turquoise waters.

5/6: We continue up the amazing Middle Fork of the Gila crossing it another 89 times today.

We were only able to hike 14 miles today. It’s difficult going with the constant river crossings, only short sections of actual trail, with loose sand and grapefruit-sized rocks.

It felt like we had the river all to ourselves. We did not see a single other person today although we did see footprints of other hikers.

5/7: Crossed the Middle Fork of the Gila 69 more times. Today we saw elk, deer, javelina, and a very large black bear rolling around on its back bathing in a muddy spot in the river, apparently to cool off.

We camped at Snow Lake with a dozen other CDT hikers. More hikers than we have seen in one place since Lordsburg.

5/8: We woke up to a very cold morning. One hiker with a thermometer reported the temperature dropped to the low 20’s during the night. My shoes were still damp from yesterday’s river crossings and they froze solid. Fortunately they were frozen into a shape that I could still get my feet into them.

Later in the morning we encountered a large herd of elk (probably 40 or 50). They all galloped in unison, then all stopped and looked at us before galloping off again.

We are still officially on the Gila Alternate, but this portion is now well past the Gila River and making its way back to the official CDT. We hiked 21 miles today, the biggest daily mileage of this trip. In six more miles we will be back on the official CDT.

5/9: Back on the official CDT, we hiked 19 miles today. Saw 6 elk this morning, climbed to 9300 feet, our highest elevation yet. We never really knew that New Mexico had such tall mountains. The wind blows fiercely in the afternoons and there isn’t many places to hide.

5/10: Today was a short 10 mile hike to Highway 12 and a trip into the small town of Reserve, NM where we ate, cleaned up, did laundry, bought groceries, ate some more, relaxed, had beers and dinner and retired to our room to finish our ice cream. Deb has new shoes that were mailed here and she tested them out around town. Thumbs up so far for the new Altra Lone Peaks.

Tomorrow we will resume hiking to Pie Town, after a leisurely breakfast and 28-mile shuttle back to the trail.

4 replies on “CDT Update: Gila River Alternate”

When you ford a stream/river, do you take off yer boots or just wade in and walk with wet feet? Me = envious. I have a new knee which precludes hiking for some time.


Enjoying your reports! Glad to find another hiker to follow this season. I’ll live vicariously through you and Deb for the next few months.


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