Alamogordo Daily News                                                                                                                          April 10, 1968

  A Wild Trip

Ride The High Gila

By ELWIN R. ROACH

 

 

This is Saturday, the 23rd day of March, in the year of 1900 and 68 ... And if we should survive, it will only be by a miracle from God.

It all started yesterday when we left by raft, at the West Fork of the Gila River, in order to complete a 45 mile voyage through the Gila Wilderness.

We had two, one-man rubber rafts for the three of us, Bobby Roach, Freddy Roach and myself, Elwin Roach. Freddy carried the supplies and Bobby and I were in the other raft.

All was fine except for being exhausted, wet and five holes ripped in the supply raft. This was after we had traveled for 30 minutes. Being so late, we camped for the night and made repairs. We slept warm, but the ground was very hard and uncomfortable.

Saturday, the 23rd

We had learned a lot but not near enough for these ever persistent rapids that bury themselves at the base of cliffs and the shallow waters that insist on tearing our rafts apart.

We almost hit a barbed wire fence, but were able to land before any damage was done to us or the rafts.

Soon after this we had to stop and carry everything overland because of a large oak tree that had fallen across the river.

Shortly there-of we hit bad rapids and submerged rocks that force its to land in order to make repairs to the air tanks of Bobby and Elwin's boat. With this accomplished, everything went fine...for about 15 minutes. After encountering a sharp curve and rapids that emptied into the ugly face of a perpendicular cliff, we lost the potatoes and canned goods. The camera was ruined along and our exposed film.

After drying out and continuing on, the bottom of the supply raft hit sharp rocks that ripped it from end to end. Everything fell through and was lost, except for a few odds and ends, our sleeping gear, a loaf of soggy bread and six eggs. With no eating or cooking utensils, we are forced to boil the eggs in a can and are drying the bread over a log.

We still have about three days to go, so with no food or fishing gear, I guess our diet will be squirrels and blue jays for the remainder of the trip.

Sunday, the 24th

We were awakened at 6:00 a.m. by the music of turkeys on each side of us, with all efforts exhausted it looks as if we will remain hungry. Two more flocks were seen today but still no luck in securing food.

After traveling for about an hour, both rafts were capsized when we hit high and very swift rapids that was married to a mammoth-sized boulder with an estimated 10 to 15 feet of high pressured under-towing water around The base. This high pressure quickly forced Bobby and I under, which put our Byes in the hands of the river. The torrent waters were playing with us as if we were water logged toothpicks in an agitated rain barrel.

We lost all sense of direction under the churning whirlpool. We were unable to touch bottom; but what was worse, we couldn't. surface. For myself I knew that I was going to drown, because all efforts failed to bring me to the fresh life-giving air. As my lungs were bursting, I could feel myself blacking out, and sorrowfully thought, "What will Margit and the kids do now that I will be gone?" I started to inhale, but held it one more millisecond, and suddenly a current of water shot me to the surface. There was Bobby about four feet away, with one hand holding the raft, and other stretched out to pull me to safety.

Freddy hit the same under-towing whirlpool and capsized; but he was fortunate enough to grab the side of the raft. This probably saved his life; because his legs and feet were tangled inside the raft and he would have been dragged upside down long enough to drown. We are demoralized, cold and wet, but thankful that we are still alive. We lost numerous items in this episode which hurt our voyage a little more.

We finally made it 18 miles down river to Sapillo Creek, and to our surprise and good fortune, there was an old cabin that was stocked with more than enough groceries. We will sleep good tonight with a roof over our heads and a full stomachs.

The sailing much smoother for tomorrow. With luck it will be our last day or the river, with this being almost the halfway point.

Monday, the 25th

We slept well last night and had a good breakfast this morning. Bobby has just smoked his next to the last cigarette. He got them all wet the first day and has been having trouble drying them enough to smoke. We found some water purifying tablets for the muddy river water. Sure hope that they work; because we can't afford to get sick on this trip.

We left the cabin at 9:00 am, with hopes of completing this turbulent trip. Fifteen minutes later the supply raft turned over in rough water and got away with all the food and sleeping equipment We found it about half a mile down-river where it had hung on some rocks. The river was fairly calm here so Freddy was able to swim across to where it was before it was swept away by the perpetual currents.

Later we came to the same type of rapids and cliffs where we almost drowned. Bobby and I were able to land but Freddy was swept over to begin another hazardous venture, But fortunately 'he was able to make it to shallower water with the tow line. The current was so swift, however, that he was dragged down stream until he hit a tree. He didn't lose the lose the raft but suffered rope burns and cuts on his hands. He got a soaking but was thankful that nothing was lost.

We had to land a1ain and carry everything over rough ground because of the suicidal rapids in Hells Canyon. After carrying all of the vet gear over land for 300 yards, we're sure hoping that this will be the last time.

We stayed fairly dry today. We were only soaked from the waist down for 7 hours.

Well, we are camped again and low on groceries. We had not actually planned on all extra day, but this was not the first thing we hadn't planned on.

We can't make as much time in a day as we would like, because we must camp around 4:00 in the afternoon in order to dry our sleeping gear.

Tuesday, the 26th

Got up before dawn and had left-over potatoes mixed with creamed corn. We had tasted better breakfasts, but it did fill our stomachs.

We departed camp at 8:00 am with high hopes of staying dry and making good time. But to our dismay, Freddy jumped into his raft, got over-balanced and fell headfirst into the river, he said that he was cooled off pretty fast but had felt much better before he took the plunge.

With the holes ripped in the bottom of our rafts, it makes it impossible to keep from sitting in the water waste deep. After remaining so long in this icy water, with your legs folded under, it makes it very hard to walk on dry, level land due to the pain in the legs and feet. What is worse is when one must jump into the swift currents to stop the rails before hitting treacherous rocks and rapids.

We finally made it to Turkey Creek abut 11:30 a.m. and were we ever glad; because with this, we knew that the worst part was behind us.

We had only one can of peas for dinner; that is, lunch, which was actually the only one we've had since leaving West Fork.

The best part of this trip occurred at, 1:30 pm. when we reached our destination. Just 45 miles and 3 1/2 days later.

If this trip is ever tried again, it will only be after careful planning, and when the river is down. It is at its peak during the month of March.
 

b


Some of the original notes from which the story was written:

Note: There were no pictures in the original newspaper article, and the only ones taken by us that survived are the three at the top of the page. The map is the one we used on the trip. Moreover, at the time I thought my life had come to its end, which was 12:00 noon, my picture fell from the bedroom wall and the glass in the frame shattered. Margit noted the time since it was such an unusual thing to happen.

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