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North America, United States, New Mexico, Leopold's Needle, Gila Wilderness Area

Leopold’s Needle, Gila Wilderness Area. Driving west into a setting sun, shortly before Glenwood, Jon Butler and I saw a wild tower. We spent an entire evening driving back and forth on Forest Service roads, trying to figure the best approach to the pinnacle. There was no best approach, just a selection of five-mile hikes. We camped at the Sheridan Mountain trailhead at the southern edge of the Gila Wilderness area and the following morning, July 9, hoofed it across some of the toughest land I have ever bushwhacked through. The 350-foot tower of volcanic rock was easy: two pitches; II, 5.5. We were off by one P.M. It was the hike back that nearly killed us. Staggering through the scrubby desert, Jon suffered from tunnel-vision and my eyesight became blurry. We separated and ran out of water. I could hardly manage 200 feet at a time before I’d drop to my knees and crawl under a pinon pine tree for shade and a 20-minute rest. Four hours later, we were at the car. At Glenwood it was over 115° that day. There are many other towers and spires, but don’t do them in the middle of the summer. We dubbed the spire Leopold’s Needle after the great American conservationist, Aldo Leopold. During the 1920s, Leopold was a Forest Service staffer in Arizona. He was convinced that large tracts of wild land should be set aside for preservation, a radical concept for the 1920s. At his suggestion, in 1928 the Gila Wilderness was created, the first wilderness area in the United States.

Cameron M. Burns