Skip To Main Content

Mountain Classroom: Gila Wilderness and River Crossings

Scott Allenby

Proctor Academy's Mountain Classroom program emerged from a 10 day backcountry adventure in the Gila Wilderness. As the group turns the corner into the second half of the term, they will begin to travel eastward as they live and learn their way to New Hampshire prior to the end of the term. Read more from Katy '25 and Noah '25 in their most recent blog post from the field. 

Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom

Katy '25 

As Senior Junior Ranger Balch, I am going to explain the beginning of a very interesting 10-day trip in the Gila Wilderness (it's pronounced Hee-luh), with an even more interesting group of people. We had arrived in the Gila two days prior, but in order to maximize Anja’s birthday breakfast, we decided to begin our expedition on April 13. With our packs ready and our frizbee flying around, we said our last goodbyes to our bus, MTCLRM. (Little did we know, some of us would be back sooner than expected.)

We were quickly greeted into the wilderness with some river crossings, but thankfully they hadn’t been too rough (yet). Finding a campsite, we made dinner and a fire and slept peacefully under the stars. The next morning, we woke early and were a bit sore from the 7 miles we had done the prior day. The idea of doing 7 more miles was almost as comforting as the raging river that met us in the first 5 minutes of hiking. Cold. Just so cold. Absolutely frigid and a bit shaken from the strength of this river, we continued on. Eventually the sun came out, and so did blisters and soreness. Although we were cold, sore, dirty, and blistered, I didn’t see a frown on anyone's face. Unfortunately, our luck with river crossings was coming to a screeching halt.

Before I explain what happened, I need to explain WHY it happened. Molly had recently discovered a book that Toby brought, David Goggins You Can’t Hurt Me. If you are reading this and don't know who David Goggins is, picture the guy with the world record of the most pull-ups in 24 hours (spoiler alert; it's 4,030). Getting into that “calloused mindset”, Molly decided to take the most direct route across the river, which also happens to be the deepest and strongest part. After finding a calmer, less rocky path to cross myself, I looked over to see Molly Goggins floating down the river, pack and all. 

Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom

Back, L to R; Anja, Niko, Rose, Toby, Emi, Caleb. Front; Molly

Thankfully, Noah’s quick reflexes had his hand shooting out to grab her pack and she was able to stand up safely after floating downstream a little bit. As for her stuff, well you can imagine a down sleeping bag dunked in a river. After finding camp and drying gear out, we were making dinner when greatness dawned upon Toby. Tarp sauna. Putting rocks in the bottom of the fire and grabbing a tarp and a water dromedary, Toby and Noah made their own little sauna. Molly and I couldn’t let this greatness go untested, so the following night we made a tarp sauna of our own. It was pretty amazing.

On zero day (no mileage day) Caleb, Noah and I decided to explore the nearby canyon, Hells Hole. The rest of the group wanted to rest and pry thorns out of their feet, so we decided to do a little off-roading and get lost for a bit. Noah found the most intense sunglasses, and we dubbed them the “Leader of the Day Glasses”. They are thick glasses with no lenses, and the person who is LOD has to wear them alllllllll day.

After meeting back up with the group, we prepared for our next trip, which was to head to the top of the Mesa. Two groups set out over the hundreds of switchbacks and 1,000 feet of elevation gain in one mile, and we made it to our next campsite; a little locked cabin on top of the Mesa. Over lunch we chatted with a thru-hiker, named Oscar. It was here where we decided that we in-fact did not have enough food for 6 more days. We devised a plan, called Mission Mamma Bird. The logistics were that Toby, Molly, Noah, Caleb, and I would go back to the bus, restock food, and bring it back to our new campsite. We would drop some of our gear off at a junction so the rest of the group (Emi, Anja, Rose, and Niko) could grab it and bring it back to the new campsite. Waking up at an unholy hour, nearly an hour before dawn, Mamma Bird ate some oatmeal and prepared for our 12.5 mile day. Cold at first, it quickly warmed up to be a beautiful day. Only making two navigation mistakes and adding about a mile onto the trek, we had made it back to MTCLRM. We hopped in the bus, sped to town on some very sketchy switchbacks, and grabbed some food for our group back in the mountains. We may have stopped at Don Juan's Burritos on the way back, but we were otherwise very focused. Preparing for another long, uphill, heavy pack day back, we slept and hoped that overnight the food would magically become a bit lighter. Now I will hand it off to a non Senior Junior Ranger, Noah Gardner, to tell you how the rest of the expedition went. 

Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom

Noah '25

I slept well that night. Then I woke up better. We sent a quick satellite text to Emi informing her that we were planning on a 7:30 departure time. Then we set to work collecting the food that we needed to bring back to our group. We took our time collecting the food and making ourselves pancakes for breakfast. Then we took our time packing up our bags. Once all that was done, we sent another text to Emi informing her that we had hit the trail. The time was 11:30. With 10 miles and many feet of vertical ahead of us, we began our trail talk with an animated discussion of how to cut down on pack weight. An elderly couple that we passed noted that our discussions must have suffered dearly from the five days spent with nothing but our own thoughts. Then we all embraced our inner Oscar and put our heads down and brought the pace up. Hoping to get into camp before nightfall we all pushed through pain and struggle. Once we had made it halfway we did some rudimentary math, and realized that our pace would get us into camp so early that we risked having enough time for class. Fearing this revelation more than a headlamp hike, we decided to take a lengthy break, breaking into the apples and oranges that had weighed us down on the uphills. Once we were sure we had wasted enough time we re-entered our hiking groove. 

The next 4 miles went by without much to note, except one very bald thru-hiker who substituted his hair for an umbrella. The final mile was a blur of dizzying switchbacks and breathtaking views. When we reached the bottom of the canyon we were reunited with the rest of our group. The hikers were ready for food and the unofficial chef of our group, Anja, cheffed us up some dang good dang-dangs (quesadillas). Then we moved right into the second course, I forget what it was but it was probably good. Then we wrapped up the day with a little evening meet and hit the hay.

Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom

Middle Fork of the Gila River and Emi entering as Rose and Katy exit.

The next day was the best of the trip. Our fearless LOD and generally great guy, Noah, woke everyone up very punctually and our day began. We had a late start to the day and hit the trails after lunch. It was a long day full of river crossings and downed trees. We reached camp and had tents up and dishes done in under 45 minutes. Then we played some card games and went to sleep. When we woke up we basically did the same thing the next day. With one major exception. Our river crossing expert, Molly, tested Caleb’s swiftwater rescue skills during one of the more challenging crossings. In the heat of the moment, one of Caleb’s trekking poles was lost to the river, and when we all reached camp, Molly, had to break the bad news to the group. The river had omnomed one of our tent poles. Other than that it was a great day on MTCLRM. 

Once we had all gotten some much needed rest and recuperation, we turned around and did a little day-hike back up canyon to some hot springs. Heeding Caleb’s warning and keeping our heads above the water, we enjoyed swimming with the Brain Eating Amoebas. Then we got 45 minutes to ourselves as we sat in nature. That night we ate good as it was the last dinner in the BC. 

Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom

Sunset Light on a West Facing Cliff 

We awoke to a shocking realization, the instructors had been eaten by the wild Javelinas. To our great dismay we found a note where their tent had been just the night before. We had to find our way back to the bus, sans instructors. We instantly began the festivities. As the fireworks ran out, the reality of our situation set in. We quickly packed up camp and made record time getting out of the woods. On our way out we ran into a man, on a horse, wearing a hat, and he had a dog. That was pretty cool to us. Then we kept trucking and finally made it to the pit toilet, and the MTCLRM. We had cut the allotted hiking time in half and we all felt pretty good about that. But our work wasn't done just yet. We got no rest until all of our gear was neatly packed away and all of the dishes, clean. 

The day ended with a game of monkey in the middle and budding excitement in anticipation for tomorrow’s visit to Don Juan’s. As we were ordering our second round of burritos the next morning, Ryan and Ruth introduced themselves as the mother-son duo that were responsible for the magic that blessed our mouths. We told them our story and gave them directions to this blog so, if you guys are reading this, send burritos to Lander, WY. General delivery to Caleb Genereaux.

Check out more photos from Mountain Classroom here!

  • Environmental Stewardship
  • Mountain Classroom
  • Off-Campus Program