Don’t be a stupid hiker – like me!

03-09-12 – Water Canyon – Southern Ridge


Me and Jim with my new walking stick.


Every year, we camp in Water Canyon in the Mimbres Valley. My husband belongs to the Gila Rangers Cowboy Action Shooting Club ( ) and they have a range there. We have a truly enjoyable time since most of these folks are a lot of fun and have great attitudes towards life. For ten years, I have been looking at the southern rim of the canyon. Towards the top, there is a 20-30 foot cliff so I was discouraged from attempting to go up. One of the shooters got up to the top with her nephew, and one of the ranch hands, Buddy, told me to walk east up the canyon and there’s a hill that is climbable and you can get to the top. He encouraged my sense of adventure by telling me there are spectacular views and Indian shards up on top. It had to be doable; there are cell towers up there! The last time I tried to go up to the top, my husband broke his foot – it’s steep and rocky!

The view halfway up the ridge.



Looking west up Water Canyon towards Highway 35.


So, I gear up and tell Frank I’ll be back by 3:00- 3:30. My gear now includes a new walking stick that Jim Jones made for me. It has a strong rubber foot, the words “100 Hikes 2011-20112: on it, cool paintings and a brass cap up top. The dogs and I walk east up Water Canyon and I watch the ridge for a realistic way up. I soon see a grassy hill that looks doable. If I zigzag, I should be able to get up the side. As usual, I place twigs in the shape of an arrow showing where I ascended, just in case. About halfway up, I’m sweating and so take off my brother’s sweat shirt (more on that later) and hang it on a tree; I’ll pick it up on my way down. I waypoint it on my GPS and continue up. I come to the cliff-like area and easily find a natural staircase and climb and am soon up top. And I marvel at the view and the beauty and there’s a dirt road. I’m very excited and feeling proud that I finally made it! I walk towards where I can look down to see the camp sight and range {Anyone catch my mistake yet???? By this point, the mistake is made}. I take many photos and whistle and call to the guys below. This is great. The views up the valley are so beautiful. I can see forever, it seems. I explore the area including the cell towers. Someone once mentioned that there was a way down on the opposite side but I don’t see anything obvious. Anyway, I’m running out of time; it’s time to go back. I walk along, retracing my steps. And slowly it dawns on me; I don’t remember where I came up. No worries, the GPS will show me. When I look at the map of today’s trail, I can’t see where I have marked. It’s too bright out and I don’t see my tracks on the screen. I play around with the menus looking to change the color of the line to something brighter. I’m starting to feel frustrated inside. I can’t figure it out. How stupid can I be????? I’m close to tears as I realize what a mistake this is. I can see the camp but I can’t get down.


Looking south - beautiful!



An excellent view of much of the Mimbres Valley.


My husband is part of Grant County Search and Rescue. He has teased me about being prepared and not embarrassing him. “How would it look if I had to call them to go and find me?” he has told me as he ensures I’m properly equipped. Back on top of my ridge, I keep walking along the edge and there is no way down- it’s all 20-30 foot cliff. I pass by one stock tank and the dogs cool off in it. I didn’t see this on my way in so my bearings are really off. I’m worried that Frank and Jim are going to come looking for me. I don’t want Frank climbing a steep area; his foot is still weak. Jim is recovering from knee surgery. He’s going to kill me! I look out and see not too far away, a hilly looking area that I may be able to descend. I aim for it. Eventually I come to a second stock tank and see a cow trail along its edge. Maybe this is the cattle’s trail down into the valley. I follow it and sure enough wind down the side. When I hit the floor of the canyon, I see that I am MUCH farther up then where I started up. I have walked Water Canyon very many times in the ten years I’ve been coming out here – I’ve overshot my mark by quite a bit.  I practically run back to the campsite figuring Frank and Jim will start being concerned. I was over an hour late. They had started to talk about who they should call, maybe she came down the other side and it’s taking her a long time to walk way around, etc.

A shot of the camp site and range A.


I have to say, I felt so stupid. All I had to do is look back, maybe place a temporary cairn, know a lot more about the GPS, or made some kind of a marking for myself. But instead, I walked around taking pictures. I had placed 3 twigs in the shape of an arrow at the place in the canyon where I started to walk up. But didn’t think to put one where I had emerged up top. It could have been a much harder lesson if I stayed up there for a night; after all, it snowed that night and all the next day.


The next day, I have tight muscles; a steep climb will do that to you. It’s snowing and cold. We spend most of the day huddled in our RV playing cards and eating. When the weather breaks for a short time, my friend Margaret and I decide to go rescue the sweat shirt from its perch. The sweat shirt means a lot to me because my brother, the cop, gave it me after boot camp. It has our last name on it and I ‘m not letting it go easily. I learned a little more about the GPS and can now see the way point. We head out and find my stick arrow and head up. On our way, we notice what looks like building foundations.  Two holes in the side of the hill with many small rocks built up and sprawled around it. I’ll come back some warm day and check this out again. I easily find the jacket and we head back to camp as it begins to snow again.

The towers on top of the ridge - how did they get them up here???


The first stock tank we found.


In retrospect, I think I was too familiar with the area and wasn’t alert enough. I had a false sense of security and it bit me in the ass.

A cold, snowy day where no Cowboy Action Shooting happened. But there was comaraderie!



4.99 miles / 3.5 hours

44 down / 56 to go


About Gila Hiker

First I hiked 100 different trails in a year, now I write a monthly article in Desert Exposure about a local hike. Come on out to Silver City..... and bring your hiking gear!

Posted on March 12, 2012, in Challenge, Gila National Forest, Hiking, New Mexico, Outdoor Activities, Southwest and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. 2 comments. 1) learning is never a bad thing and learning while avoiding permanent pain or damage is very good (tears dry up; broken bones and frostbite haunt forever. 2) the sign of a true adventure is that it is never actually fun when you are doing it 🙂

  2. You had a GPS unit and still got lost? Perhaps you should stick to hanging around the camp unless you have someone that knows what they are doing?

    • I couldn’t read the screen because of the sun and didn’t know how to change the settings, so I think you may be right! I had a false sense of security because I have been walking this canyon for ten years and felt comfortable. I sure learned a little respect of Mother Nature – – not to mention humility.

  1. Pingback: Hike #61 – Gila National Forest – South Ridge of Water Canyon « 100 Hikes In A Year 2011 – 2012

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