River trip through Gila Wilderness demands experience and careful attention

SILVER CITY, NM, April 20, 2023 – Gila National Forest employees recently completed a 4-day trip down the Gila River, putting in at the East Fork Gila River and taking out at Turkey Creek. They report numerous trees down across the channel, making navigation difficult and hazardous.

Within a few short miles after a popular put-in off of New Mexico Highway 15, near Gila Hot Springs, the first of many down trees across the river, or “strainers” as they are known among rafters, is encountered on a blind river bend. Downed trees and other obstructions act like sieves that can easily entrap unwary rafters between the object and the pressure of flowing water. With the Gila River flowing at 300 to 400 cubic feet per second through this segment, river hazards can arrive surprisingly quickly.

“There was recently a tragic fatality on the Gila River that occurred when a group was unable to avoid one of these river hazards, entangling their boat and one of their friends under water in the tree’s branches,” said Gila National Forest Supervisor, Camille Howes. “While it is not the largest or fastest flowing river, or the highest-rated in difficulty, the challenges of floating the Gila River are amplified by its remoteness. Help is not nearby when it is needed.”

The 40-mile Gila Wilderness river trip is not recommended for inexperienced rafters. An understanding of how to read the river, a cautious approach to unknown waters, and a readiness to portage, carrying boats and gear around numerous obstacles, as well as well-developed wilderness skills, are necessary. Travelling with an experienced, qualified guide is recommended.

The full float trip report can be found on the Gila National Forest website. Information about flow on the Gila and other rivers is provided at USGS Water Data for Gila River at Gila Hot Springs, NM and other useful river user information is available from American Whitewater. For more information contact Maribeth Pecotte at 575-388-8211 or Maribeth.Pecotte@usda.gov.

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