I don’t like “up” very much. To be honest, it depends on how much “up” there is, and whether “up” is complemented by “flat” and “down.” Too much “up” pushes my breathing and burns my thighs. Working against me on “up”: I grew up at sea level; I never hiked much until moving to 6,000 feet; I’m not 40 anymore.
It was another Tuesday, another foray into the Gila National Forest with the “Tuesday Group.” Our hero route suggestion-er proposed Goat Canyon, a favorite of his, and frequented by us individually and as a group. It lies next to Saddle Rock Canyon, and a canyon over from Black Hawk, and so on. These Gila hills are only hills because of the canyons that define and divide them!
A Forest Service road climbs out of Goat Canyon up to a ridge threaded by the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). While ones of us (often me) frequently request not too much “up,” this morning we were more interested in sun, given that it was about 19 degrees at 8 am. Off we went to Saddle Rock, and up Goat Canyon we headed. The canyon itself is beautiful, approaching “slot” width in places, heavily trafficked by cow and atv, and bounded and strewn with the amazing variety of rock that makes up the skeleton of the Gila mountains. Still shadowed, the canyon air was chill and, chilled, we set a fast pace.
We reached the Forest Service road and started up. Oh no. Really “up.” I kept hoping that every turn would bring us to “flat” or even, maybe, a little “down” where I could catch my breath. Every turn opened up more “up.” Shortly, I was the last of the line, with another hiker graciously keeping me company, despite my breathy assurances that he could go ahead and I’d catch up.
It’s a truism about hiking groups: the faster ones stop to wait for the slower. By the time the slower ones catch up and want to rest a minute, the faster have rested and set off at pace again.
We finally reached the end of “up” and the crossing of the CDT. Turning up the trail, we moved through native rock gardens, little groves of oak and pinion, and shouldered the hills on trails wide enough for one pair of feet. But the views…oh, the views. This is why I keep breathing through “up”–because my senses and soul expand with the views. With the space and blue and clouds and distant mountains.
We who live snuggled up to the Gila National Forest are fortunate. Our Forest, with its three Wildernesses, its cliff dwellings, forests, plains, rivers, elk, mountain lion, wolves, is not under threat of shrinkage, of undoing. But there are other public lands that are.