Date- October 23
Location- Above Gila River
Elevation- 6,473 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 22.7 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 2458.2 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, 20s-70s
Injuries- Cuts and scrapes
Pain level- Low
Wildlife encounters- eagle, carp, whitetail deer, giant tadpoles **bear**
Days without shower- 7
Days without laundry- 7
WHOA… WHAT A DAY!
So, I thought today was going to be a miserable grind. I was wrong! Today was one of my favorite days on trail in recent memory. It was hard, it was easy, it was breathtaking, it was confusing, it was straightforward, there was a trail, then there wasn’t a trail, there was a TON of water, and ten tons of… FUN! At least by my definition of fun.
It was freezing this morning, as expected. Jetpack was up and hiking on the high route by around 6:30 am. I laid in the wash until about 7:15, then packed up quickly and hiked a little less than a mile to Snow Lake Campground. We both should have camped here last night. There was running water and four vault privys! I could have had my 5-Star Poo Cabin and not been freezing!
I didn’t sleep well last night due to freezing to death (like most nights lately). Luckily, I’m a creature who only needs 3 hours of sleep to function at full capacity. To be honest, anything past 3 hours of sleep makes me sluggish – hence why I have a hard time getting up in the morning. Every night, I wake up between 1 am and 3 am, completely well rested and absolutely ready to go. The only problem is… it’s between 1 am and 3 am.
Anyway, I ate a light breakfast, filled up on water, and threw some trash away at the campground. I did this before beginning the immediate short descent into the river canyon (a little after 8 am). I was prepared and braced for the worst – bundled up like a little wilderness marshmallow.
Both the canyon and river were not so bad for the first 9 miles. I crossed the river a total of 14 times up to that point, and didn’t have to get my feet wet until the 12th crossing. After that, things got serious! But before I go into those details… FIRST, some descriptions:
The canyon was packed with ponderosa, cottonwood, scrub oak, and dozens of other scrub, underbrush, and trees I couldn’t identify. There were meadows, marshy areas, cliffs, dense tree groves (of every species), caves, rock-slides, boulder fields, sandy stretches, smooth limestone, thorny bushes – you name it! All were surrounded by either steep forested slopes or shear rock walls and cliffs. Sometimes the canyon was more than a quarter mile wide, while other times it was hardly more than a hundred feet wide – with cliff walls rising hundreds of feet on all sides. There was always a trail somewhere… you just had to find it. There were lots of faint paths (false and true) that would sometimes lead you to the main trail when you didn’t even know you were off it – OR they led you nowhere.
The entire day was a guessing game. Nonetheless, you never had to guess too hard because you were getting funneled along all the same. Being on a trail made it infinitely more enjoyable. Why? Because if you weren’t, then you were in one of the following: the water, the weeds, on the rocks, or someplace else that was overgrown, prickly, sharp, scratchy, muddy, slow-going — or any combination of all those things. Hell, sometimes the main trail WAS ALL THOSE THINGS!
Despite all the obstacles, I still managed to move fast! Especially for the first 12 miles; I had those knocked out a little before 11:30 am. It was at the 12-mile mark when I ended up killing close to 40 minutes taking care of a MAJOR distraction…
I noticed a cave on the far side of the river – that was actually IN the river. To be honest, it was impossible to miss. My curiosity got the best of me, and I wanted to go check it out. My feet were already wet, so I began wading towards the opening of the cave… ready to explore. Almost right away, I noticed a school of carp swimming in a deep clear pool at the mouth of the cave. There were half a dozen small ones of about 1 or 2 pounds, and a BIG one that was pushing 10 pounds!
HOLY CRAP – CARP!
The geographical layout of the river (downstream from the cave – about 50 feet) was shallow and rocky enough to keep the carp in the deep pool at the mouth of the cave. The pool was about a 500 square foot area. Although I didn’t have any fishing gear, I knew I could catch that big carp. All I needed to do was gig it hard enough in the head with the blunt end of my staff to stun or disorient it. Then, I could basically scoop it up. Most people don’t eat carp. However, having grown up on a river in Florida, I’ve eaten my fair share of grass carp. Although they are a bony fish – the meat is white, tender, and tasty!
The following sequence of events were all caught on video (I set the camera up for filming) – but I think it might be too long to upload to the blog. So, pictures might have to suffice.
I approached the big carp at the mouth of the cave with just my staff. I leaned in and thrust hard at its head and struck a perfect blow that glanced off and then smashed the rocks beneath it. This first hit left the carp with a dent on its head, but still able to swim. It was disoriented enough that I could get very close without spooking it into some other area of the deep pool (4 – 5 feet deep at the deepest). I hit it one more time in the body before I stirred up too much mud and silt to see anymore.
While the water cleared in the slow current, I lashed my knife to the end of my staff with some bungee cord I had on my pack. Now that I knew I could reach the fish, I just needed to spear it and pull it up. By the time I had my “gig” fashioned, the water was clear.
If you didn’t already know (from previous writings), I do a fair bit of gigging and bow-fishing back home. So my thrust is practiced, and I know how to account for the refraction of the water.
I approached the carp again and dealt it a hard blow to the head with the spear point. Unfortunately, the bungee cord wasn’t strong enough to hold the knife flat, and the carp’s armored scales and hard head wouldn’t let it penetrate all the way, before the knife would slip one way or the other. It took multiple efforts (adjusting the knife each time) before I was able to make contact under a pectoral fin and lift it to the surface. Then, it thrashed off the knife.
THE DINNER BELL RINGS
I approached it one more time and hit it in the head hard enough for it to lose its wits. Disoriented, it shot right up into a couple inches of water at the back of the cave – essentially “beaching” itself. I shuffled up through the water to the back of the cave, scooped it onto the land, and then grabbed it! Carp finally caught!
I gutted and scaled it, then removed the head and tail. Next, I put two ziplocs over either end, wrapped it in my groundsheet, stuffed it in my pack and hiked on. I hiked another half hour before stopping on some smooth limestone on the side of the river to let my feet warm up, dry my sleeping bag, and have a bit of lunch. My feet had gotten icy cold while trying to catch the carp, making them less responsive.
I spent half an hour lying in the sun, snacking, admiring the beauty around me, and drinking a couple liters of water before packing up. I felt good! It was just after 1 pm and I only had a little over 9 miles left to go. I was excited that I was going to make it all the way to meet Jetpack, and have a special dinner to cook for us – as a bonus!
At this point, I had crossed the river or gotten into it, over 30 times in service of hiking the trail (not catching carp). Before finishing the next 9 miles, I would cross the river or get into it a total of 115 times over the course of this nearly 23 mile day (give or take a few off that number to account for human error). There might have been times I zoned out and didn’t count a crossing, counted the same number twice, or just got ahead of myself.
Most of the late morning and all afternoon, I could hear night crickets chirping throughout the canyon. It added to the surrealism of it all, which I found very soothing.
The last six miles to the meadows were the hardest. It had the least trail, the most river crossings, and my feet were getting cold again. I saw several whitetail deer throughout the day. All through the last 10 miles, I probably saw more than 50 different bear scats. In fact, I saw more bear scat today than I have anywhere else – even Shenandoah National Park. I couldn’t believe I didn’t run into a bear in the canyon… during the day.
Earlier in the day, I smelled the smell of burnt popcorn. Then it smelled like sweet burnt popcorn. I never smelled anything like it and thought it might be some kind of plant nearby. At this point in time I was not on the trail, but about to cross the river to find it. As I waded across and was pushing through some dense scrub bushes, the sweet burnt smell turned to rot. I pushed a little further where a small sandy clearing opened up, revealing a twisted – decomposing elk. It looked as if a hunter had parted it out right there, and then threw the skin and everything else he didn’t want into a pile to rot next to the river. I couldn’t even tell if any predators had gotten to it yet, but there was a lot still there… and oh so PUTRID!
I finally slogged into the area called “The Meadows” a little before 6 pm. Not bad timing at all for having dallied for nearly two hours. I had to climb a couple hundred feet out of the canyon to reach it, but it wasn’t difficult. When I got up there, I wasn’t impressed. Yeah it was good for camping, but it paled in comparison to the epic camping I’d found all along the river. The only upside to this spot was that it was out of the canyon. Thus, it wouldn’t get as cold tonight and tomorrow morning.
It’s nothing more than a spread out grove of ponderosas on a flat shelf. Not really a meadow, but perhaps it’s much nicer than whatever was located all the way up out of the canyon – on the high route. Speaking of which… Jetpack was not here when I arrived. I think I can figure out what happened.
It was only a 20 mile day for her to reach this spot. However, it would have also been an 800 ft climb down for her to reach it from the side trail. I imagine she probably got to the side trail very early and saw that she’d have 1,600 ft of round trip elevation change (since she isn’t doing the low route). In all likelihood, she didn’t know if I’d even make it this far, and then decided to keep going. Hell, she might even be camped up there at the junction, but I’m not climbing 800 feet up there to find out…
There was plenty of wood and rocks up here, so I improved upon a fire ring that was previously set up. I got my fire going, laid out my cowboy camp, then hung up my shoes to dry on my trekking pole – next to the fire. I seasoned the carp and set it up on a rock plank to slow cook. Meanwhile, I ate some cold soaked biscuits and gravy, tended to other chores, bundled up, collected wood, and periodically turned the fish. It was going to be a slow process.
After dark had already fallen and the fish was well on its way to being done (while writing this journal), I heard something big move behind my fire ring. I sat up in time to see a black bear trotting towards my fire. I yelled out loudly and surprisingly as I saw it… and then we both proceeded to have heart attacks. It strayed to my left until it was behind me, where I heard it stop and begin panting. I finally got a bright light up, and yelled some more. It was just in time to see the black bear (of a couple hundred pounds) take off into the darkness.
Great. I knew I was pushing my luck with the fish after seeing all that bear scat. I got up and yelled in its direction for a couple minutes longer. Then, I gathered up more wood, finished cooking the fish, ate it quickly, and cremated the bones. I’m laid out next to the roaring fire. It’s been over an hour since the bear visit. I’ll keep the fire going until whenever I pass out… However, in case the bear comes back, I’m going to set up my tarp. I think the only reason it approached from the back of the fire is because it smelled food and smoke, and couldn’t see me lying on the other side. Erecting a shelter is usually deterrent enough for most bears. Most!
I have about 18 miles to Doc Campbell‘s tomorrow. I’ll make it by my Thursday goal. However, I have a feeling Jetpack is going to have been there a while – by the time I roll in. I’m going to try and get an early start so I can get there before they close at 4 pm. I just gotta look at some cliff dwellings too…
STAY AWAY BEARS!!
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