I thoroughly enjoyed this report, thanks for carving out the time to assemble your experience. It's very gratifying to see someone's experience in the Gila as these are very rare here on BPL, the Forks of the Gila are prime canyon country for year round exploration as you showed. You nailed it, pinpointing your location in the Gila can be tricky, the maps aren't very accurate, and are best used for reference, but it keeps the crowds at bay.
I like the look of your pack, did you make it? Very nice pack weight for a 3-day in the Gila during fall, mind sharing a little more? I like your idea about synthetic gear use in the Gila, I've since picked up a synthetic winter jacket for that reason, my dilemma is the air is so dry there that down works so well and is ideal assuming you keep it dry, you just have to be judicious in your packing and take extra precaution crossing.
It was very interesting to read your thoughts on selecting a campsite in the canyon, as I struggle with this every time I enter the Gila, I'm always nibbling at the bone trying to find "the" campsite and it's easy to keep telling yourself "just one more bend and crossing and I'll stop.... ok... one more". Your first day leg to Hells Hole reminded me exactly of my trip last April there that had us doing one more crossing in the increasingly waning daylight, I was tired, the spring meltoff crossing was navel high, and I was intent on getting to Hells Hole with dry gear before sundown. We camped exactly where you did, pretty ideal spot. The West and Middle Fork are relentless, like you said, 26 crossings in 5 miles and eventually you just stop counting. I think we counted over 100 crossing from the headwaters of the Middle at Snow Lake to the Gila Ranger station 2 springs ago. The Gila tears shoes up, and feet, you can easily retire a pair of trailrunners there after 5 days or so of exploring. It sounds like the cold crossings, gravel, sand, dirt and pine got the best of your feet perhaps, the constant cold wet water and dry air and trail combination will work your feet raw pretty quickly.
It sounds like you made a smart decision heading out on the mesa instead of walking out the rest of the Middle on Day 3, however I think you would've been just fine hiking a few more miles down to the Little Bear Canyon junction and hiking up and out and back down to Spider. You would've been able to take a hot dip in Jordan Hot Springs. I like your idea of the Poncho tarp as a shelter, for 3 season use in the Gila it would be ideal.
Luke, I hope you make it out there again soon, hopefully next time we can connect up and do something in the upper elevations of the West Half of the Gila in the Mogollons. Shoot me a PM when and if you find yourself down here again. Awesome trip report.