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Gila Wilderness Sept. 2010
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Robert Justice
(rjustice7) - F

Locale: Central Texas Hill Country
Gila Wilderness Sept. 2010 on 12/10/2010 10:09:07 MST Print View

Greetings all. I've been meaning to post this trip report for some time now and am just now getting around to it! My friend Josue and I traveled from the Central Texas Hill Country to Southwestern New Mexico to brave the Gila Wilderness on the first week of this past September.

The trip was originally planned by my friend Larry who ended up not being able to make it. He is the most experienced of our group and we missed both his company and advice. This was my first trip aside from a one-nighter Larry and I did at the Pedernales State Park here in the Johnson City, TX area.

My pack weight including a fully topped off Platy 3 liter big zip and food was about 18 lbs. Josue didn't quite go light but he's getting there. I let him do his own thing and he did very well. His pack was around 30 lbs. We spent 3 nights and 4 days in the Gila. I'd like to thank Eugene for inspiring us with his Gila trip reports. He was part of the reason we decided on this trip.

Before showing you the pictures from our trip, I'd like to say that if you're having doubts about backpacking you can definitely do it. As you'll see in the pics I'm around 350 lbs and am hoping to lose my weight dieting and hiking. I took on this trip at that weight and did just fine. If I can do this you can do this, and I highly recommend it!

Enjoy the pictures...

Sunset on the trip to New Mexico
Sunset on the road trip to NM. Surprisingly I took this picture out of a car window while we were driving.

Parked at a rest stop between Deming and Silver City, NM
Parked at a rest stop in between Deming and Silver City, NM.

Cool looking storm
A neat looking story in the distance as we headed to my grandparents on 61.

We had arrived at my grandparents house who live on the way, fueled up on some calories, and were ready to head up to the Gila Cliff Dwelling Visitor Center where we could check out the dwellings before heading off on the West Fork Trail Head.

We saw some bike tourers on our way
We saw some bike tourers on our way up to the Gila. That looks HEAVY!

Cliff Dwellings
The dwellings from a distance

Cool shot of caves
Cool shot of the dwellings from below

A quick shot of the Gila Cliff Dwellings. We took plenty of pics here but I'm going to move on to the trail.

Ready to get started

Shortly after visiting the dwellings we started our journey on the West Fork Trail Head.

face looks like a face.

I dunno what these are called but they made a good pic.

This is where we left the West Fork Trail and got on to Big Bear Trail.


There were plenty of water crossings on the West Fork Trail, but that is not the case on the Big Bear Trail. Not knowing this we kept moving instead of getting a refill beforehand. Not smart on our part and I'll be more attentive next time!


Big Bear Trail took us straight UP and for quite a long ways. We hiked switchbacks up mountainside for a good long while and it began to grow dark. We found what could be described only as a pitiful campsite that made due. The ground was very hard but it worked out.

I also discovered that the zip off fishing pants I brought for the trip were extremely restricting...more so than I had expected. Unfortunately I started chaffing this first day. Also I was intelligent and bought a new pair of Merrell Tawas without first breaking them in. I got no blisters but I'm guessing as big as my ankles are the plastic in the back began to really cut into the back of them. These discomforts lasted the entire trip but I was able to put it out of sight out of mind and still have an excellent time! You just gotta keep going!

Yes my partner Josue is using a blue tarp from Academy. I was able to persuade him to go somewhat light for his first ever backpacking trip but he wouldn't get a silnylon tarp for some reason. It seemed to hold up well enough as there was no heavy wind or storms of any sort.

I am using a JRB 8X8 that is for hammocks and supposed to be used in a flying V. Larry explained this to me after the trip. It just doesn't pitch a good A-frame but you'll see a few of my attempts...thank God for the weather conditions lol!

The next morning we continued up hill until eventually we started a slight descent where we ran into 3 other backpackers. They were definitely not packed light. They informed us that they had seen a tree stripped down by a bear and then later had actually seen the bear. We had also run out of water by this time and they assured us water wasn't far. We kept going...

We found the stripped down tree

These little guys made sure we didn't get lost.


And then we found the Middle Fork Trail and we finally got some water! The next few pics are of the Middle Fork. Extremely beautiful. We had to hike switchbacks down Big Bear Canyon wall to get there and it was worth it. The stripped down tree pic was taken while hiking these switchbacks.



One of MANY water crossings!



Paw print = bear

Our bear bag...just in case

I didn't take any pics of us setting up camp but here we are breaking down



Day 2 is the day we would hit the Jordan Hot Springs and run into a few more folks. We saw one light-weight couple and everyone else favored their 60 lb. packs.


Aaaaaahhhhhh so refreshing!

This is by far the ugliest pitch in the history of tarp pitching! It came out awful! But I didn't bother messing with it as the weather had been pleasant and I just needed it to keep any dew off of me.

Although it isn't shown in most of my pics we did have a fire each night which was nice. The next few pics are the finish of our hike.



And we're out of the woods but we had to make another 2 or so miles on the asphalt to return to our vehicle parked in the Gila Cliff Dwelling Visitor Center.

Mmm...the victory meal that my grandparents grilled up for us!

There are many more pics we took. I took 196, and Josue took 68, but of course I only posted highlights. We had an amazing time and I learned quite a bit about wardrobe, and took note of several other things I'm going to change up before Big Bend the first week of January which will be our next trip. This time Larry will be joining us.

Thanks for reading!


jeffrey bennett

Locale: Near the bottom
Gila Wilderness Sept. 2010 on 12/10/2010 12:24:43 MST Print View

Great trip report! I enjoyed it. The Gila is on my 2011 list. My cousin and I are planning either a spring break or early summer hike. I am currently reading the book Black Range Tales written by his great great uncle Jimmie McKenna. It is about Uncle Jimmies life in the Gila area During the Late 1800s. We are going to see if we can follow some of Uncle Jimmies foot prints. I hope to see some bear prints too.

Ps. I think eugenes trip reports have inspired several trips to southern New Mexico.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Gila Wilderness Sept. 2010 on 12/10/2010 13:45:58 MST Print View


Thanks for sharing your trip and congrats on getting out there and doing it.

As you say, "You just gotta keep going!"

Wish you lots of great trip and it will be nice to see future trip reports from you to see the evolution of your journey for going UL and losing weight.

Hope you don't take this the wrong way, but it is great to see someone who is larger out on the trail and just getting out and doing it.

Best of luck to you in your future goals.


Philip Delvoie
(PhilipD) - MLife

Locale: Ontario, Canada
Gila Wilderness Sept. 2010 on 12/10/2010 13:53:45 MST Print View


I enjoyed the report and the pictures. Good stuff.

(cuzzettj) - MLife

Locale: NorCal - South Bay
RE: "Gila Wilderness Sept. 2010" on 12/10/2010 13:57:50 MST Print View

As I too am on the larger side, I agree with you. You just have to go do it and keep going. It is a wonderful feeling and it is very inspiring to see you out there enjoying it!


Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Gila Wilderness Sept. 2010 on 12/10/2010 19:10:10 MST Print View

Rob, great report and pictures. I always like to see what the country looks like in different places than where I hike (Cascades).
BTW- I hate zip off pants there are like wearing to small hoola hoops on each leg.

Brian Camprini
(bcamprini) - MLife

Locale: Southern Appalachians
Re: Gila Wilderness Sept. 2010 on 12/10/2010 19:38:15 MST Print View

That looks like a cool area and a great trip, but that burger picture has me mesmerized. I just spent 3 hours at the dentist today, and I'll probably be eating nothing but soup this weekend. Whoa buddy that thing looks good.

todd h
(funnymoney) - MLife

Locale: SE
Re: Gila Wilderness Sept. 2010 on 12/10/2010 20:49:33 MST Print View


Thank you for posting so many pics! It looks like a scenic, great trip.

Best of luck on your weight loss. Please keep us updated on your success and share your future trips!


Larry Dyer
(veriest1) - F

Locale: Texas
I wish on 12/11/2010 03:12:41 MST Print View

Once again, I wish I could have gone. It's a shame what happened since it pretty much ruined half of my year. Oh well... we're going to make up for that.

One thing people might find interesting is that before this trip the hip belt on your Jam wouldn't even fit around you. Afterwards it did and you've kept the weight off! I think this had more effect than the average diet the typical American goes on for 2+ weeks.

Robert Justice
(rjustice7) - F

Locale: Central Texas Hill Country
Thanks on 12/11/2010 11:07:14 MST Print View

Thanks everyone for the replies and encouragement. I recommend this area to everyone! It's a beautiful place with dozens of options. 3.3 million acres, 1800 trails, this place truly has it all: Mountains, canyons, hot springs, meadows, valleys, rivers, you name it.

We didn't see many people out there either, and the temperatures that first week of September were no higher than 80 F during the day, and 55 to 60 F at night. Very pleasant indeed!

Tad- I definitely learned my lesson with zip off pants! Never again will I wear them unless I can find a pair that isn't so restricting.

Tony- No worries, I don't get offended about that kind of thing. Glad to have your support.

Brian- Yes sir, easily the best burger I've ever had!

Larry- I'm for sure glad that I can now use my hip belt, that thing is a big help!

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Gila Wilderness Sept. 2010 on 12/11/2010 11:48:53 MST Print View

Great photos! Looked like a wonderful trip. I know what you mean about hiking when short of water...takes the fun out of it. It seemed like a nice mix of sculpted rocks and lush undergrowth.

Larry Dyer
(veriest1) - F

Locale: Texas
Zip Pants on 12/12/2010 07:09:00 MST Print View

Strangely enough I love my zip off pants! Mostly because I can wear them as shorts at night without getting my sleeping bag dirty from the bottoms that inevitably seem to be filthy.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Gila Wilderness Sept. 2010" on 12/12/2010 08:30:51 MST Print View


You did an excellent job on this trip report; thank you for taking the time and putting in the effort to share this with all of us. September is probably one of the most opportune times to get out in the Gila and your photographs attest to that with the lush greenery and wildflowers.

"These discomforts lasted the entire trip but I was able to put it out of sight out of mind and still have an excellent time! You just gotta keep going!"

Every trip seems to throw their curveballs and you both seemed to react and take each one with ease; the ability to be flexible and just keep going like you mentioned is paramount to maintaining a good attitude and turning potentially trip ending situations into small bumps along the way. What was most appreciated in reading your post was your positive outlook and I'm thankful to you for the reminder to always keep your head up and not b@*ch about the little things.

Next time you're in the area and need help threading together a multi-day route let me know. I'd also be happy to show you where to grab the best post-trip green chile cheeseburger in Las Cruces on your way back to that big ol' state to the east of us.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
gila on 12/12/2010 19:05:47 MST Print View

thanks for the report! looks like you guys had a great time :)

we got to spend a week in the late Spring, I'm pretty sure my next trip down that way will be in the Fall

I agree, Eugene has been a great ambassador for SW New Mexico

Robert Justice
(rjustice7) - F

Locale: Central Texas Hill Country
Thank you on 12/12/2010 22:57:53 MST Print View

Eugene- Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. I agree with you on potential trip-ending situations. If you don't have the right mindset you'll end up leaving early. I think backpacking is 75% mentality and 25% preparation! Going light makes it much easier.

I will be taking you up on your offer in the future I'm sure. My friends and I have already decided that a trip back to the Gila is a definite and your advice would be well valued. I'd like to see other parts of the Gila, maybe even stay out longer than I did this last time. It's a remarkable place.

And I'll definitely be sure to inquire about the green chili cheeseburgers in Las Cruces. We passed right through there on I-10 on the way to the Gila and back.


john benton
(bentonjohn) - F
Gila Wilderness on 01/17/2011 13:43:30 MST Print View

A very nice trip report and wonderful pictures. I have backpacked there several times and your photos brought back some great memories. I used to live in Killeen and now live in the DFW area, so it is hard to get out there, but I have alsway had wonderful hiking expereinces when I do. I will hopefully do a 7-9 day trip this summer in the wilderness; probably spending the last night at Jordan HS as a reward for all the hard work.

I also dream of hamburgers (like your photo) and such on the last few days of my trips. I can't wait to get to Silver City, a hot shower, and a hot, greasy meal after a week of "roughing it". The perfect reward after a great backpacking experience!!

Kerry Rodgers
(klrodgers) - MLife

Locale: North Texas
Thanks! on 01/18/2011 16:08:49 MST Print View

Great report and pics, Robert. Now I know what month I want to go to the Gila, someday.

Once I was car camping with my wife and (at that time) toddlers, at the old Faywood Hot Springs, and these three twenty-somethings drove in and said they'd just spent 15 days backpacking in the Gila. It was two brothers (who've been doing it annually for years), the wife of one, and their infant in a sling! The mom said, "Babies are not much trouble in the backcountry, until they can walk." I didn't actually see them at the trailhead, but the packs they had (and the car looked empty otherwise) were definitely in the ultralight range.

ben wood

Locale: flatlands of MO
Re: Gila Wilderness Sept. 2010 on 01/22/2011 08:35:07 MST Print View

this is the first time i looked at your trip report. excellent, thank you.
i have spent most of my hiking time in the Gila and love to see others reports and see the Gila from anothers' point of view. I also appreciate your attitude of keeping a good mindset and continuing on. One i could use a little more of in everyday life.

thanks buddy

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Loved it on 01/22/2011 09:52:36 MST Print View

Thanks for the tip report.
Right on about being misled by all the water you saw at the beginning of the day.
I've had that happen too many times. Luckily, like you, I usually found water, but often after having to hike dry for a while.

And about the annoying irritations and pain, eventually the endorphins kick in while hiking, making the rest of the hike pleasant. The irritations are still there, but more subdued, until the buzz wears of at night:-)

I am looking to make it out there, but I have family in the area and they are going to want to eat up my vacation time when I come out:-(