It's been quite a while since I participated in a rescue mission. Partially this is because there haven't been as many call-outs in the past year, but also family has kept me closer to home. When a mission call-out for the Gila happened to coincide with a regular off-Friday at work, I jumped at the opportunity. The missions involved searching for some day-hikers who had not returned. We would be searching through the night for the first operational period, so I packed up lots of warm clothing and plenty of light/batteries.
5 OMTRS members responded, enough to field one team, plus provide some base support. Our field team consisted of 4 strong hikers, Gary, James Robert and myself. The other three had recently been in the Gila searching for Micah True only a few weeks earlier, so they all knew the area pretty well. This was a major plus considering we would be hiking in the night on wilderness trails. We were searching for a 50-something year old couple who were out for a long dayhike to some hot springs. Three other teams were already assigned the main trails that would lead to the hot springs, so we were assigned a side trail of the Middle Fork of the Gila River. Actually, we were assigned a "social trail". I had never heard this phrase before but it became instantly clear. A trail not marked on any maps, but it known through social circles. It turned out to be a pretty well maintained trail, even had a gate at the wilderness boundary.
Our main objective was to gain a large mesa simply titled, Gila North Mesa, and to run a loop of trails around the top. the idea being they could have got off on this spur trail to try to find higher ground to signal some help. Once we were on the proper social trail, it was easy going, but we were all pretty tired. We hit the top of the mesa around 1 am and stopped for a "night-lunch". James, ever prepared, brewed up a cup of Ramen noodles. I sucked some power-gel. Robert promptly fell asleep. All of us had worked full days already and the hike and late-hour was beginning to take its toll. Robert seemed especially tired, and kept dropping his flashlight on the trail, practically sleep walking. I gave him a caffeinated gel which seemed to help.
On the way down off the mesa it began to get light. To perform a thorough search, we took the spur trail all the way down to the Middle Fork (not the way we came). Again there was some confusion here because the maps showed the trail junction at the wrong place. We found out later from Gila Rangers that this trail had been moved 10-20 years ago but that most maps were not updated. Too bad Incident Command didn't know that. Below is our team at the trail junction of the spur trail and our "social trail".