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About a year ago, I was buying a present for my nephew at Yikes! toy store in Tucson. It is filled with all sorts of eclectic toys and a small jar filled with tiny rubber chickens caught my eye. The perfect backpacker’s toy, smaller than my pinky finger and weighing nothing at all. I tucked him into my camera case and he went on all sorts of adventures with me this year. So instead of the usual year-end retrospective, I give you the travels of Micro Chicken!

Micro Chicken (or Mic if you’re into that whole brevity thing) started his year out right with a 3-day backpacking trip on the Arizona Trail # 16 & 17 from Picketpost to Kelvin

Micro Chicken aka "Mike" visits Trough Springs on his first backpacking trip

Micro Chicken aka “Mike” visits Trough Springs on his first backpacking trip

In January, I got my first taste of technical canyoneering, and Micro Chicken was along for every rappel and swim:

Micro Chicken's first canyon too!

Micro Chicken’s first canyon too!

Later in January, Bill Bens met Micro Chicken on a hike to Elephant Head in the Santa Ritas. Bill had seen pictures of him, but didn’t realize Micro Chicken’s incredibly small stature:

Bill meets Micro Chicken

Bill meets Micro Chicken

Ride 'em Mic!

Ride ’em Mic!

In February, I went for a hike on the Bellota and Milagrosa Ridge Trails for my birthday. Wendy and I found a magical place called Tequila Spring on the trail and Micro Chicken dove right in.

Uh-oh, look who’s wasted!

In March, I went on my first backpacking trip in Sedona on the Secret Canyon Trail.

Just me and Mic in the red rocks

Just me and Mic in the red rocks

In April, Micro Chicken and I were in Sierra Vista doing Arizona Trail work and decided to take a hike down to the southern terminus of the AZT.

Micro Chicken on AZT #1

Micro Chicken on AZT #1

I also had the second annual Birds, Blues, and Bellydance benefit for Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson and Micro Chicken’s feathered friends. Everyone had a great time, we raised about $1000, and I can’t wait until the next one. A million thanks to everyone who donated via the website as well- over $700 this year!

Elfie the Elf Owl

Elfie the Elf Owl

May was an especially exciting month for me and Micro Chicken. I started a summer job working in the Grand Canyon with Arizona River Runners and Grand Canyon Whitewater. What a dream to be able to teach people about the Canyon while having the ride of your life! Micro Chicken was a big hit with all the passengers and one even wrote a limerick about me and Mic.

She came from the windy Midwest

Micro Chicken secured for the quest

Archaeology not fashion

Canyoneering her passion

With fine weather and foul friends she’s been blessed!

Workin' on the river with Micro Chicken

Workin’ on the river with Micro Chicken

Some of Mic's admirers

Some of Mic’s admirers

And then one day on the river, this happened- Micro Chicken met Mega Chicken deep in the Grand Canyon

And then one day on the river, this happened- Micro Chicken met Mega Chicken deep in the Grand Canyon

My work on the river was exhilarating and exhausting and I can’t wait to go back next season. At the end of my commercial river season, I was invited along last-minute on a private river trip just for fun! I of course said yes and Micro Chicken and I joined my friend Chelsea on an 8-day lower-half trip. It was fantastic, and one of the hikes we did was to Thunder River:

Colorado River

Colorado River

Thunder River

Thunder River

In September, I transitioned back into a terrestrial lifestyle and was excited to go exploring closer to home. Micro Chicken and I started doing some peakbagging, usually with an off-trail component. Here’s Mic at Josephine Peak in the Santa Ritas and on top of The Biscuit in the Mustang Mountains near Sonoita.

Micro Chicken bags another summit

Micro Chicken bags another summit

Micro Chicken makes an appearance

Micro Chicken makes an appearance

In October I was up at the Mormon Lake Lodge for the Arizona Trail Rendezvous and Micro Chicken was along on a hike on the Arizona Trail to see some fall colors.

Micro Chicken and Aspen

Micro Chicken and Aspen

I backpacked the Samaniego Ridge Trail and Micro Chicken stood upon the tiny summit of Samaniego Peak after quite the scratchy bushwhack. Someday we’ll do this West Ridge route.

Ridge heading west from Samaniego Peak toward the Baby Jesus Trail

Ridge heading west from Samaniego Peak toward the Baby Jesus Trail

Samaniego Summit

Samaniego Summit

In November I went to see Fall colors in Ash Creek in the Galiuros. Micro Chicken was so excited he wouldn’t sit still so I only have this fuzzy one.

Fall Colors

Fall Colors

Micro Chicken in Ash Creek

Micro Chicken in Ash Creek

December was spent doing off-trail hikes to peaks in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness- Buster Mountain, The Cleaver, Table Mountain. So close to home but so very fun! The best was spending the night atop Table Mountain at the fireplace campsite. Micro Chicken by this time has become quite a dirty bird, but what do you expect when he goes on so many adventures?

Micro Chicken atop The Cleaver- Prominent Point and Mount Kimball across Pima Canyon

Micro Chicken atop The Cleaver- Prominent Point and Mount Kimball across Pima Canyon

Micro Chicken atop Table Mountain

Micro Chicken atop Table Mountain

Time will only tell what kinds of adventures Micro Chicken and I will get into next year. I can assure you that we plan on starting the new year out right!

Micro Chicken in a festive mood

Micro Chicken in a festive mood

Happy New Year and Micro Chicken and I will see you in 2013!

To donate to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson, click the button below.

Harris Hawk Head

Harris Hawk Head

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Pusch Ridge is a series of four peaks extending westward in the Catalinas: Pusch Peak, closest to town, The Cleaver, Bighorn Mountain, and the tallest,  Table Mountain.  From town, Table Mountain is a dark-green-dotted diamond shape, but from Oro Valley you can see that three sides of the Table are massive sheer cliff walls.

Table Mountain from Tucson

Table Mountain from Tucson

I have had a longtime fascination with Table Mountain ever since I came across pictures of the summit views. The thing that most piqued my interest, though, was a photo of the campsite on the summit. Underneath a stately Juniper tree was a beautiful stone fireplace made out of Catalina granite. That was it- there was no way that I was going to hike Table without staying at the campsite on top.

The fireplace at the summit

The fireplace at the summit

There is only a short weather window for this peak because it is off-limits from January 1- April 30th for bighorn sheep off-trail restrictions. Most of the time that it is open, the weather is too hot. Two years ago, I had attempted to backpack to the top for a lunar eclipse, but had a shoe failure and had to turn around. Last year, the weather didn’t cooperate with my schedule. This year everything fell into place and the experience was even more amazing than I had anticipated.

All the trip reports I had read said to take the Pima Canyon Trail three miles to a steep, loose, brushy gully.  The reports made it sound unappealing and I was not looking forward to it. I remembered that Cowgill and Glendening’s book mentioned that there was a ridge option that would probably have more shindaggers. Then I came across a report by a woman who went by the name “Bloated Chipmunk” on NW Hikers.net that had pictures of the route. It looked way better to me, especially with a full pack.

The morning of December 17th, Wendy and I met at the Pima Canyon Trailhead, excited about the adventure ahead. Our packs were heavy with 7 liters of water and warm gear for our night at the 6265′ summit. We hiked about two miles on the Pima Canyon Trail and saw the slabs of our ridge route to our left, across the brushy creek.

Chilly start to the hike

Chilly start to the hike

First glimpse of our day's objective- looks far!

First glimpse of our day’s objective- looks far!

We followed the trail until it crossed the drainage. There was a distinct sharp smell of cat urine and a large sprayed area under an overhang. We decided that hit would be better to backtrack and try to cross the creek closer to the slabs. There was a spur trail and a small opening in the brush that allowed us to get into the creek. We took a break before beginning the ascent and  I spotted a pair of antlers in the creek. When I went to investigate, I saw an entire deer that had been picked clean, probably by our feline friend.

Our deer departed friend

Our deer departed friend

There were tufts of hair everywhere and the skeleton was picked clean

There were tufts of hair everywhere and the skeleton was picked clean

The beginning of the route was on large slanted granite slabs and was quite fun to walk on. There wasn’t a lot of vegetation and the views were great! The ascent was an off-trail choose your own adventure with the occasional cairn. Sadly, the slabs ran out and we picked our way through patches of prickly pear and ocotillo.

On the slabs of the ridge route

On the slabs of the ridge route

Me and The Cleaver

Me and The Cleaver

Out of the slabs and into the brush

Out of the slabs and into the brush

As we gained elevation, we lost most of the cacti and hiked into the sea of shindaggers. Wendy and I wove a path between them when possible, but sometimes there was no choice. The only way to deal with shindaggers is to step directly on the center. We reached a saddle and took a break for lunch with a fantastic view of our objective.

Shindaggers aplenty

Shindaggers aplenty

After lunch, we climbed steeply up and toward the Table, aiming above a rocky outcropping with scattered oak trees. The vegetation changed again with our first juniper and pinyon pines appearing near the base of the Table.

Our route went up the litle drainage above the oaks

Our route went up the litle drainage above the oaks

Getting closer!

Getting closer!

Base of the Table

Base of the Table

By this time, Wendy and I were getting pretty tired. We wished that we had a flat table ahead of us, instead there was another 1000 feet of elevation to go. We pressed on, but went a little far to the west and got into some boulders that made travel more difficult. The bonus was that we got to see the great views down the west gully right before the final ascent.  Somewhere along the way we were in a brushy area and I looked down and found a black case with a camera in it.

Oro Valley, Tortolitas and Picacho Peak

Oro Valley, Tortolitas and Picacho Peak

Patches of snow at the top

Patches of snow at the top

Finally, we could see blue sky and the end of our climb. We went through some pinyon and junipers to a clearing with breathtaking views of the Catalinas and the sheer cliffs of Table Mountain dropping off below. We dropped our packs at the fireplace and toured the summit, dotted with patches of snow. Now came the payoff for lugging all our stuff up here- watching the sunset and sunrise from this incredible promontory and an enjoyable night by the fabled fireplace.

Cathedral and Kimball

Cathedral and Kimball

Prominent Point and the Santa Ritas

Prominent Point and the Santa Ritas

Snow-covered Mt. Lemmon

Snow-covered Mt. Lemmon

There was a small glass jar summit register near the fireplace and I read through it before dinner. The first name I saw was the woman from NW Hikers.net who’s triplog I’d read. The second entry I read was an entry from February that said “Lost camera in a black camera case” and gave a phone number! I was so excited that we were going to be able to reunite the camera with its owners. I lost a camera this summer and would give anything to have it back.

View Northwest

View Northwest

Wendy got our fire going and we had a decadent meal of cheese fondue with all sorts of items for dipping and chocolates for dessert. The fireplace was great- it had a chimney and everything which diverted the smoke upward. The fire warmed the rocks and it radiated heat all night long as we slept in front of it. We hit a perfect weather window and the temperature was quite reasonable for 6000′ in December.

One of my favorite campsites ever!

One of my favorite campsites ever!

A little chilly last night!

A little chilly last night!

The night was a long one, and it stayed cold for a while after it finally got light out. I spent the amazing sunrise hanging my head over the cliff face and watching the light change. We ate breakfast in our sleeping bags and didn’t want to leave.

View north from atop Table Mtn.

View north from atop Table Mtn.

Eventually, we tore ourselves away and started hiking downhill, packs much lighter after a day’s water and food were consumed. We followed what looked like the standard route down the face which was much easier than our ascent route. But if we’d taken this ascent route we wouldn’t have found the camera.

Incredible rock and views on the way down

Incredible rock and views on the way down

Bighorn and Pusch below

Bighorn and Pusch below

It was a beautiful, cool day and we shindagger-stomped our way down the ridge, taking short breaks and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. It felt like we were flying compared to yesterday’s ponderous ascent. The golden cottonwoods in the canyon got closer and closer and then we were back to our slabs down to the creekbed.

What a place!

What a place!

Getting closer to the bottom of the canyon

Getting closer to the bottom of the canyon

Our deer departed friend had been moved in the night and looked more macabre than ever. We found our way out of the creek and intersected the Pima Canyon Trail. Clouds started rolling in and the wind picked up. The last two miles back to the car on the trail felt like they would never end.  It felt great to look up at Table Mountain knowing we’d finally spent the night at the fireplace.

Slabby ridge

Slabby ridge

A look back at our ridge

A look back at our ridge

We had been talking for the last two days about what flavors of gelato we were going to get at Frost after our hike. The weather changed so quickly that by the time we got our gelato, we had to eat it in Wendy’s car with the heat on!

That night, I called the owners of the camera and they were so excited that we had found it! They had gone back up the next week to try and locate it to no avail. It had become a running joke between their friends that someone was going to finally find the camera that was lost on Table Mountain. I dropped it off the next day on their porch and they sent a lovely card thanking us for returning their long-lost camera along with some pictures from the day they lost it.

What an amazing, life-affirming couple of days on the mountain. I’ve found another of my favorite campsites and Wendy is always a blast to hike with. So glad I finally got to spend a night on Table Mountain and it certainly won’t be my last.

You can see the full set of pictures at https://plus.google.com/photos/108844153292489172003/albums/5826811070181856545

In Wildlife Rehabilitation news, I was going through old pictures when I came across this shot of mama and baby bunnies from 2010. So cute! You can read their story here.  Click below to donate to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson.

Baby bunnies that were born at the Wildlife Rehab to a broken-leg bunny

Baby bunnies that were born at the Wildlife Rehab to a broken-leg bunny

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