Day 15: Saving Grace of Sapillo Creek


About 150 feet past our rocky make-do campsite, nooked in the last bend in the trail before the side hill, was a camp in a massive circle of pines: pine needle carpet, no rocks, and probably no scorpions. Haha – there is just never telling what waits up-trail.

We climbed to and crossed the front of The Twin Sisters, where a horny toad surprisingly scampered from us; walked the top of a broad saddle; then dropped through a burned area. One last glance back to Silver City and its environs, and we plunged down the back of the ridge and into the Black Range.

The trail wove in and out of a burn, which a cyclist we encountered informed us happened in 2013. Not much regrowth yet, tree-wise, for that long ago. The cyclist was the first person we’d seen in over 24 hours, and, though we didn’t know it yet, only one of two people we’d see for eleven days. The pines lashed in the escalating wind, and purple lupine bejeweled the clumps of twirling grasses.

We kept a strict schedule, timed breaks and goals for minimum distance between them. We had to reach our water source by tonight, ideally in the light, most ideally with a bit of evening left to deal with if it was empty. I pulled up the water data to see how far our next option was if Sapillo Creek was dry, and swallowed when I saw 50 miles. It would be 50 miles to the next water, whether Sapillo Creek was dry or not. Dang. I put the data sheet away and tried not to think about it.

The trail was beautiful, zigzagging through the ridges, miles and miles of narrow tread cut into the hillside just below the tops. Apparently even the bears liked it. None of the views were necessarily instant fine art; it was the type of beautiful that is perhaps sensed more than seen, the feeling of solitude and space and much to explore, all the details oh so pleasant when you zoom in on them, and knowing it goes on with as much pleasantness for as far as you can see.

At about 15 miles into our 20 for the day, a rocky canyon opened to our right, and in another half a mile the trail made a smart right turn and followed the spine of bare rock down. Spectacular! This is the kind of hiking I’d been hoping for. The rock was some kind of conglomerate, host to a huge amount of lichen. We took a snack break contemplating the branching drainages (Gardettos from the hiker box- they have some weird shit preservatives, but man, are they delicious), allowed ourselves a half a liter of water each, and then plummeted down steep trail to the bottom.

A campground at the base offered no running water, but did have a dumpster, and since we would be carrying our trash for 14 days, we spared a second to empty everything out. The little luxuries, you know!

My brain is constantly inventing and reinventing backup plans and contingencies when I adventure. It’s an annoying, automatic setting, but sometimes it does prove its use. It noted a few people in the campground we could first try asking for water, but the real plan B was to hitch- who knows to where, because we didn’t – on the paved road we crossed out of the campground, and hope for the best.

A wide canyon gaped across the field, and the trail led to it through waist-high gamma grass and head-high sage. At one cairn pile, someone had left three pint bottles of water. “Well, I’ll feel a little better knowing that’s there if we have to hike back to the highway,” I mused aloud.

We crossed into our first wilderness area of the trip, finally – the Gila Wilderness! As soon as we were through the gate, a magic descended: we were in the canyon, we were in shade, it was deeply, peacefully quiet, there was no cow shit anywhere. The trail was well worn in, and the canyon walls were some kind of…sedimentary conglomerate? of volcanic chunks? I’m not sure, but they weather into spires and hoodoos.

It’s a simultaneously long and short final two miles, and even though the water- if it’s there- won’t be until the upper end, I scanned the ground for any sign to our answer. A few trees flashed bright, bright green, the vegetation crowded a little thicker…

“Woohoo!” Prana cheered from ahead. “Yeah yeah yeah!” A great sound. The stream was almost flowing, a few pools trickling into each other- deep enough and clear and plentiful. “I am jubilant!” he crowed into the twilight.

Prana filtered liter after liter as I cleared a place for our bedroll and cooked dinner. A bat swooped through in acrobatic loops. “Aw, I hope he’s not alone,” said Prana. A second bat swooped into the dance. “Yay!” we cheered.

Sopillo Creek’s water was delicious, cold and sweet, and we drank and drank and then made tea. We combed every hiker-submitted comment on the map app over dinner, and things looked bleak and dry until Prana discovered comments made on another trail, the Grand Enchantment Trail, where it joins the CDT. A month ago there was flowing water a mile down the canyon it exits. Last October as well. The gamble? We would have to carry water for 34 miles and one night instead of 50 miles and 2 nights. We could only carry 2 1/2 gallons each, so it would be a lean and rationed 50 miles anyway. But just barely doable. Ok. My head swam with numbers.

The moonrise must be coming later, because the stars were spectacular.

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