After two long weeks of midterms and a few frantic days of packing we are on our way to the Gila Wilderness. The first leg of our journey consisted of a relatively brief drive down to Boston from Brunswick, and now we're sitting on the third floor of Tracey and Coco's house in Brookline unpacking our gear, checking it and repacking it. There are some admittedly odd items mixed in with our tents, layers and other standard backcountry equipment: paintbrushes, sketching kits, and camera gear will be accompanying us into the wilderness. Over the course of our travels we hope to capture the spirit of the wilderness in several artistic ways so that we can communicate the experience back to students at Bowdoin and inspire them to seek out their own adventures.
The Gila Wilderness is the oldest wilderness area in the United States and contains some of the best backcountry camping in the US. It's an area rich with history and natural splendor. The river-carved canyons contain several ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings and the forests and mesas served as a stomping ground for Aldo Leopold during his early years in the forest service. Later, he would look back on his time in the Gila for inspiration while pioneering the national wilderness movement.
From our starting point at the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument we plan to follow the West Fork of the Gila River out into the canyons, camping several days along the way. The river should provide ample water for our travels, allowing us to keep packs light.
The true challenge will come when we exit the West Fork canyon. We'll be spending a night atop the mesa between the West Fork canyon and the Middle Fork, which is uncleared and will only have limited sources of water. Erring on the side of safety, we are going to to carry water with us over the Mesa.
From the mesa top we will push on to the Middle Fork. We hope to spend two days base camping in the canyon so that we can do an out and back hike to the top of Yellow Mountain, an 8000 foot peak that rises above the wilderness surrounding it. Finally, we will follow the Middle Fork back towards where it rejoins the West Fork before finally hiking out of the wilderness. In total, we expect to be in the wilderness for eight days.
Here in the comfort of Boston, it's hard to believe that we'll be spending the next week in tents with only snakes, bears and other wildlife for company. Nevertheless, group excitement is high. Tomorrow, we'll pack our final meals, do our last gear check, and then head for the plane. Next stop, New Mexico.