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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   November 2009

HIKING APACHERIA


Hiking How-To

Before you head for the remote reaches of Apacheria yourself, read how Jerry packs and prepares for his own outings.

By Jerry Eagan



I'd been asked to write an article on "gear and tech stuff" for hiking in Apacheria, but I tried to put it off. When I think of "gear and tech stuff," my mind goes to the annual Backpacker Gear Guide, Outside Magazine's ads or the REI catalog. I've been a member of REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated) ever since my first wife and I lived in Oregon in the 1970s. For my money, REI's the best place to buy not only high-tech hiking gear, but hiking and camping gear of any kind.

hiking
What the well-prepared Apacheria hiker totes: Complete light pack with gear, knee and elbow pads, photographer's vest.

Over three decades, I've spent several thousand dollars on gear, but aside from, say, a windproof lighter or fire-maker flints, I could hardly call myself a "techie" or "gear head." About the most sophisticated gear item I have is a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receiver, which shows me where I'm at on the planet's surface.

The first GPS I bought was in 1998, when I was sounding out several places out west to move. My current device is more sophisticated, and has a nice backlit color screen, which I firmly recommend. While I have a National Geographic CD-ROM kit for mapping both Arizona and New Mexico, and theoretically could download both onto the GPS, I never have done so.

A word about GPS devices: If you've set it up correctly and you find yourself saying, "That can't be north!," ix-nay that nagging voice. Trust the GPS, no matter how weird the direction pointer appears to be. The only times I nearly spent the night out because I was "turned around" weren't due to the GPS device. What "felt" like north to my mind and body was totally wrong.

This might be a good place to discuss "panic." I've experienced panic several times on my hikes. I think "panic" may manifest differently in different people. For me, panic is a sense of urgency that's translated into moving too fast, not stopping long enough to catch my breath, and knowing the slopes I was traversing were becoming increasingly steeper, with dicier ledges to cross. I was so tired I realized I'd begun to avoid any stretches that required steep ascents. As a consequence, I saw I was driving farther down these steep slopes. And taking too many chances.

The cause? The sun was closer to setting; I didn't want to spend the night. I was very tired. I lost hope I'd make my car before dark, and I knew that in those steep slopes, I'd have a hard time even finding a place to sleep.

I said: "Jerry, this is panic. Stop. Take a long break. You are prepared to stay the night. This is not a lethal situation right now."

I ate something, consumed several "GU" packs, and, even though I had to crawl about 50 feet, I made the car 15 minutes ahead of sunset.

A neat variation on the GPS is a gadget that allows you to post terse messages, such as "I'm OK," "911" or "Help. Hurt," or "need assistance but not hurt." A trusted friend or spouse would get a signal, on a computer or phone, alerting them to your precise location if need be.

These devices cost around $125 and service, per year, to send out the hounds and choppers to find you is roughly another $85-$95 per year. I'm deliberating on purchasing one. My friends Dennis Jennings (www.steelhorseadventures.com) and Pete Crum both have one of these devices plus a cell phone.

Cell phones don't always work in many places I hike, but sometimes they provide entertainment. Once, out hiking in the Burros, in the middle of a rainstorm, Pete got a call from his wife. We were amazed, but there were several cell towers nearby. Great amusement and irony, because we were at a very powerful pictographic site, watching a huge summer storm dump an inch or more of water on the parched landscape.



I also have several hundred maps. I have Bureau of Land Management (BLM) maps and US Forest Service (USFS) maps, as well a half-dozen rubberized coated paper wilderness maps, and, best of all, a hundred or so 7.5" US Geological Survey (USGS) maps.

Typically, I have these maps broken down into gallon-size baggies, with a series of related quadrangle maps and at least one, sometimes two BLM Surface Management maps. I've seen people hike with no maps or a broad-scale Gila Wilderness map, but these are only general maps that won't do you much good if you're "turned around" and need to relate the map to specific topographic features around you. These rubberized paper maps can be purchased at the Cliff Dwellings headquarters.

I use a photographer's vest that I wear all the time. In it I have survival gear such as: Ka-Bar knife; compass; extra pair of glasses; hand pruners, for clipping my way through thick brush; a signal mirror; four or five carbohydrate "GU" packs; fire starter; whistle; at least one head lamp and one Maglite; at least one safety blanket I can wrap up in if I have to spend the night outdoors; safety matches; a military-style poncho and wool hat; a small magnifying glass with a light in case both pair of glasses are lost or damaged; if possible, a very lightweight long-underwear shirt; snacks; and, finally, several water bottles.

Toilet paper is always essential, of course, as are a couple of extra hankies, in case, God forbid, the TP is ruined by rain.

One of the latest purchases I've made, which made sense, was a squeeze purification water bottle. A gallon of water, which, in the summer, is easy to consume, weighs 8.34 pounds. I've carried that much water at times, and when added to the normal load of around 20-25 pounds (I also carry a pack in addition to the photographer's vest), I lug around a bunch of weight.

Because I often climb rocks and divert to a high point — to orient myself and view Apacheria — the vest allows me to do so while leaving the more cumbersome pack at a rest spot. I still have enough survival gear in the vest to feel assured I could survive if I broke a leg while going high.

I carry duct tape to wrap around a broken bone. (Strapping tape, applied directly to the skin, can pull out nasty cholla needles. Press the tape down hard over the skin, then jerk hard. It works well enough to get home, where a spouse or friend can finish the job.)

I broke a rib hiking on one of the many Wildhorse Mesas around here, and slid on scree slopes that ripped the butt of my pants out, leaving me flapping in the breeze after that excursion. I've walked across scree slopes as steep as 60 degrees to get to places I want to investigate. One cave that has incredible pictographs is accessible only by crossing very steep scree (talus) slopes, where one could conceivably slide 300 feet. I doubt I'd ever go down that far, because I'd dig in my medium-to-heavy hiking boots to slow the slide, and always use a sotol stick as a hiking staff. (Agave yucca stalks, peeled, are also good natural hiking sticks, but they can be heavier and thicker.)

If you find yourself about to cross a rocky slope that also tops out over a seriously dangerous drop, and where there's plenty of caliche (a crumbly local rock that is generally white in color and breaks apart easily) that fragments underfoot, make certain you have very good boots. Don't mess with casual footgear. Serious hiking requires serious boots. If that means buying a new pair every 14-15 months, do it. Ankle and sole support are critical.



Most of what I've mentioned can be purchased locally at Gila Hike and Bike or hunting shops. But, for the best photo vests, military-type packs or gear, ponchos, etc., I use the US Cavalry catalog (www.uscav.com) I've also bought many smaller items from "US Cav," such as lighting devices, wool "Ernie Pyle" hats, and lightsticks. I also use the local Army-Navy surplus store, as well as one in Deming.

A recent purchase were some old WWII "spats" or lace-up "leggings," like most American combat soldiers wore then. They are heavy canvas and I think will protect against snake bites. I've been bitten once by a rattlesnake, but it was either a dry bite or the fangs couldn't sink into my flesh because the snake hit right on the inside of my left ankle bone. There was nowhere for the fangs to go.

Besides snakes, there are bees. Killer bees ARE in the area. I've wandered into them several times. If you do, don't panic. They're attracted to carbon dioxide, which you exhale, and also have a tendency to bump into you, to sense what kind of thing is in their territory. I've had to sit very, very still, breathing through my nose, and allow them to bump into me, until they get bored and move on.

When the bees seem less interested, move slowly and deliberately out of their way, prepared to run like hell for up to a mile if they swarm. Several years ago, Africanized "killer bees" killed a number of dogs in Deming. The sting is like a serious thump on the body. The only time I've been stung was when I was sweating profusely, in the Floridas, and the bees got stuck in my sweaty hair. I got whacked twice, and knew it.

At least half a dozen times, I've been bitten by something — spider, tarantula or scorpion — out there. Scorpions seem to have a kind of electric jolt to their sting, and the spider bites were sharp, quick and enough to make me wonder what the hell just happened. Several times, the bite turned purple or deep red, and there were fang marks. I look for agave plants and use the yucca juice to smear on any wounds of any kind.



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