Gila Hell

There we were, deep in the meanest, roughest country in the southwest, and an 83-year-old fanatic was our leader…

This will be our routine, I’m sorry to report. Very early every morning, at an hour when the
Mogollon Mountains are still velvety silhouettes against the star-smeared sky and the predawn tranquility of the Gila Wilderness has swallowed us into the deepest valley of our dreams, we will be jarred awake by the abrasive voice of the Cougar, reciting one of his incessant rhymes. “Grab your britches and get ready to go./We’re packin’ into the Sapillo,” he sings out, beating a spoon against a tin cup as he stalks through camp, calling his followers to action. Those who drift back to sleep risk the shock of a bucket of cold river poured into their sleeping bags. The Cougar hates malingerers and slugabeds.

This is the first morning of our adventure in the Gila Wilderness, half a million acres of rugged mountains, steep canyons, and nearly inaccessible meadowlands straddling the continental divide in southwest
New Mexico
. The Cougar, whose real name is Alex Cox, is 83 years old and far too stubborn to act his age. Even in a place as isolated as the Gila Wilderness, he is a menace to society. Nevertheless, part of our group will follow him down Sapillo Creek this

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