Maybe it’s wanderlust, but my fall hike this year found me deviating from the established route a bit. Or perhaps it’s a streak of comically inappropriate perfectionism to blame. In any case, as usual it seems, I returned from the trail this autumn with a laundry list of potential changes in store for the route. A few of these are considerable. Most are small. But it all adds up to a bunch of work, and progress, in the map and guide game, is generally slow business. Clearly I’m my own worst enemy here.
The good news is that the GET experience is improving, bit by bit, season after season. The route, as now laid out, is undoubtedly superior to what I and others have hiked in seasons past. It’s superior in that the route is simply more enjoyable for hiking, for example with less high-grade roadwalking, and fewer intrusions upon the sense of solitude. The route now avoids a direct confrontation with the mine at Morenci. And the San Francisco River, prone to flooding as it is, no longer is on the route at all.
There are changes in place that improve the scenery, sometimes dramatically. In the Mogollons, the outrageously cliff-bound South Fork of Whitewater Creek replaces the less surreal main fork as the route of choice. In other cases, a mile or two at a time have been tweaked to improve routefinding ability, for instance near Freeman Flat in the Gila Valley, where a straightforward stretch of cross-country travel seeks to avoid a confusing maze of 4WD roads on the edge of town.
The route is longer now, too. At 730 miles, it’s grown a good 15 miles this go-round. And not for nothing, either. In my estimation, the new Magdalena Ridge Observatory near South Baldy means this part of the range won’t ever again be much good for hikers. So the route now goes the long way around, via the West and East forks of Sawmill Canyon, along the way improving the prospects for finding water and solitude, while rejoining the scenic ridgeline beyond the zone of development. David Canyon, in the Manzanita Mountains, is new to the route as well. No longer is there a need to walk along paved Highway 337 near Ponderosa Pine, and this (more circuitous) canyon route is replete with wildflower meadows and lots of quiet.
And then, of course, there’s the Santa Teresa Wilderness segment, and the perennial attempts at marking a feasible route over (or around) Cottonwood Mountain. The latest maps may at last show something productive here. I won’t know for sure until my next hike.
Speaking of the latest maps, here’s what’s available:
GET Topo Map Set CD v1.3 – like the route itself, a considerable upgrade over previous versions, showing all of the recent changes to the route. Includes updated waypoint data and overview maps, as well. Existing map set owners may upgrade at no cost (see website for details), and I recommend anyone planning to hike this coming spring to upgrade, especially since the guidebook descriptions will continue to reflect the new maps while disregarding the old.
Also available on the website, newly updated:
GET Town Guide – up-to-date (as much as possible) for spring 2008. Note Morenci & Clifton, no longer directly on route.
Water Chart – also now available in PDF format for downloading and printing; many changes to the mileages on this chart, as well as info on “new” water sources, and a full update based on my fall 2007 observations
Paper Maplist – which overview maps to carry for each segment, all listed in one convenient place
Online overview maps – Washed, waxed, and ready to shine. Includes new Google Maps interface, where you can mouse around the trail at various zoom levels and with various base map data, including a new Terrain feature. The next best thing to the Google Earth file (which, btw, also updated).
Full-route elevation profile – The shape of things to come. Find it under Overview Maps.
Guidebook – The mileages and segment info on the TOC page is now current. Plenty of work remaining on the chapters, though. First things first – to recreate Chapters 14-16 based on the new route layout in this area, which is entirely different from the original. Look for these to come back online soon. I’ve also taken a sworn oath to publish at least some of New Mexico this winter – through the Gila, if not beyond.
What else needs doing? Ah yes, the Trek Planner. This is currently dispensing rogue advice from a few paragraphs, due to no more San Francisco River fords to contend with, and frankly who knows what else. Like life itself, it’s all connected, man. And the butterfly continues to flap its wings.