With all the hiking on the CDT I've done now the Gila river was my favorite section, The Bob being the second. The Gila river route was simply stunning, walking up this river with cliffs all around.
In other good news I've survived one of the first big hiker killing areas. Rumor has it something like 30% of CDT hikers quit during this section. I'm not sure of the truth of this as statistics for the CDT are quite rare but hey, I'm still here after a fairly difficult hike. The difficulty of the hike does come from it being hard and physically exhausting terrain. Instead, the difficulty comes from a few points like constant wet feet from the numerous river crossing, some estimates are about 250 crossings in 50miles. The crossing themselves were mostly slippery but fairly easy crossings, though some of the swift moving theigh and waist deep crossings even had me a bit concerned of being swept away.Some I didn't expect was that the constant wet to dry cycle during the day lead to chaffing of the lower portions of my legs.
The other difficulty in the area is the route-finding. Yes, you're never really 'lost' since you just follow the river upstream but choosing the wrong route means a literally painful bushwash through dried, thorny plants, and rocky streambeds that unless you've got hiking boots on (which would take forever to dry) will be poking your feet for hours.
Naturally, going from wet to dry so often and crossing sandy rivers often mean your shoes would get filled with pebbles and rocks, yet it would take far too much time to actually empty your shoes every time you made a crossing this often meant hiking uncomfortably for a while.
Honestly, this section really killed my pace, often thanks to the painfully rocky terrain or bushwacking I'd only do a mile or mile and a half each hour. Talking to other hikers, this section killed everyone's pace.
Despite all these difficulties, seriously, the Gila has been my favorite section so far. As I said previously it was simply a stunning hike along and through the river. There were no big climbs and it was refreshing to just pull out a bottle and fill it with water when I wanted to drink instead of carrying pounds of water with me.
This section also contains the CDT famous 'Doc Campbell's Trading Post' at the Gila Hot Springs. Basically this is just a random (expensive) store in the middle of nowhere that accepts hiker packages and after 6 days out since Silver City I needed the food I sent here. At Doc's I ran into a number of hikers who I had met previously as it becomes a hang out for the hikers as they pass by. There is no cellular service here, but there is free wi-fi as the store.
I did not stay here but instead decided to join Uberdude, Cloud, GnomeGod and other hikers in a group I've been calling GnomeGod's Frat House on a hike through Little Bear Canyon back to the Gila River and to a wild hot spring (Jordan Hot Spring). The hike through Little Bear Canyon was cool and towards the end it turned into a slot canyon.
The goal that evening was to make it eight miles from Doc's to Jordan Hot Spring, I didn't quite make it though the Frat House group did. Instead I camped just outside the canyon with Muley (not sure about spelling) who I would end up camping near for the rest of the Gila as we kept pretty similar paces.
The next day, as I had originally intended to take a zero mile day at Doc's I decided I'd take a short day and enjoy the hot spring that was just a couple miles away. It was awesome, I had about four hours in this spring alone. The temperature was a around 95F which is a bit colder than other springs in the area, but I found it perfect for a long soak. For a natural hot spring, this thing was huge. The pictures, with the water so clear make it look barely a foot deep but the spring was easily three feet deep or so it was deep enough and big enough to swim around a little bit.
Easily, this was my favorite part of this section, eventually a day hiker came by in the early afternoon and I figured I should get some miles in for the day. Though the next day was also pretty fun as I got to scramble up the rocks on the side of the river as it was too slippery to just walk up the river.
SSoon though, the Gila River became the Gila Creek and I reached Snow Lake and started needing to carry water again as I left the Gila.
If you're looking for an awesome overnight (or perhaps two nights) loop to hike, I'd highly recommend starting a Doc Campbels or the Gila Cliff Dwelling Visitor center (trailhead is there) and going down Little Bear Canyon to the Gila River, hitting Jordan Hot Spring a couple miles upstream, then following the river downstream to the the 'Gila River Bridge' and walking the road back to your starting point.