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Elephant Head

I returned to Elephant Head  after two years with “Santa Rita” Bill Bens and Wendy. It was Wendy’s first time up and though she was a little nervous on the final scramble, she pushed through like a champ to the summit! Click on the picture below to go to the album from that trip. The captions tell the story, but if you want to read more about the hike, click here to go to my writeup from 2 years ago. :

Elephant Head 1-31-12

One of my favorite pictures of the set was when Bill met Micro Chicken, who has been riding along in my pack for several months now.

Bill meets Micro Chicken

My friend Taylor was in Tubac the next week and wanted to meet for a hike, so I suggested we do Little Elephant Head. I hadn’t been up there before, but it looked like a great destination from my hike of Elephant Head the week prior. The hike starts out at the same TH as Elephant Head, then turns left onto a spur trail that follows the undulating ridge out to the Little Elephant. This turn is blocked by a row of rocks at the saddle with the connecting ridge before the trail heads downhill toward the Quantrell Mine Tr. junction.

Floating rainbow over the Santa Ritas

The ridgeline that leads to Little Elephant Head

I know Taylor from a volunteer project that I did in the Grand Canyon in 2010 with the GC Hiker’s and Backpackers Association. He’s a hiking guide in the Canyon and has an infectious exuberance for the outdoors.

Taylor Branch serves up hors d'ouevers in style on the South Kaibab Trail!

It was on that trip that Taylor mentioned that he also did volunteer work on the Colorado River with Game and Fish. He said he’d put in a good word for me and that is how I got to go on my river trip last year. On my 12-day river trip last May, I fell in love with the Grand Canyon all over again. When I got back, I called the boatman in charge of my trip and asked him about the possibility of working for a commercial outfitter as a swamper (a boatman’s assistant and general gofer) next summer. He said that if I wanted to that he would put in a good word for me with his friend at Arizona River Runners. I said absolutely! I spoke to the person in charge of hiring numerous times on the phone last summer, asking all sorts of questions and finding out what the requirements were.

Looking back at Lava

After getting my Wilderness First Responder certification, I called and called again to try and set up a interview. Finally, in January I got one. I sat down with the owners and the first thing they said was, “We’re happy to talk to you, but we want you to know right off the bat that we don’t have any jobs available at this time.” I was a little sad, but went on with the interview. Well, I’m calling it the most epic interview ever because the next day, the owner called and said that he would like to offer me six trips this summer and a full-time position with a track to become a river guide! My first trip launches in May and I could not possibly be more excited. I don’t think I have even grasped how my life has just changed. It will all become very real come mid-May.

I wish it was May already!

So back to the hike, I was excited to see Taylor and give him a big hug for getting me on that river trip last year. He had never been to this part of the Santa Ritas and was really impressed with the views and the giant ocotillo forest. The route was very easy to follow, well beat-in and trimmed back. The ridge weaved this way and that and finally approached the exposed summit ridge. There was no exposed scrambling as on the big Elephant, instead there was a nice path that led to the top. We took a long break, enjoying the views.

Taylor Branch and Elephant Head

Summits of Elephant and Little Elephant

Summit ridge

From the looks of the register, it’s pretty popular with the locals, and I can see why. It’s a gorgeous little hike! Perfect if you don’t have the time or the energy to go “full Elephant”. There’s a couple of features like the Devil’s Cashbox and the Devil’s Throne that look particularly interesting, I’m going to have to take Santa Rita Bill up on his offer to check them out.

Massive ocotillo forest

Arizona Rainbow Cactus

2 summits in 2 weeks

Mount Hopkins

I am also going to have to come back when the ocotillo forests are green and blooming. It must be incredible!

In Wildlife Rehabilitation news, the second annual Birds, Blues, and Bellydance fundraiser to benefit Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson will be on Saturday, April 14th from 7-10 pm at Sky Bar- 536 N. 4th Ave. Live blues by The Railbirdz, birds from the wildlife rehab, and bellydance performances throughout the evening. 15% of all sales at both Sky Bar and Brooklyn Pizza will also be donated, so come by and have a beer and a pizza for a great cause. Hope to see you there! Here’s a picture from last year’s event:

Citan the Harris Hawk

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I’ve put together a look back at the past year of hiking and backpacking. For those who are regular readers, I’ve added quite a few pictures that didn’t make it in to the blog in other posts. You can click on the name of the hike to go to the journal entry about that hike, and all of the pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them. Enjoy!

In January I teamed up with Bill Bens and Mitch Stevens for a hike up Ragged Top in the Silverbell Mountains, northwest of Tucson. It was the first of a series of hikes we did together that required scrambling, something I really hadn’t experienced much before this year. I really took to it, and sought out a number of hikes with a scrambling element for the rest of the year.

Ragged Top

Coming up the South Gully- Photo by Bill Bens

Me and Bill at the summit with Picacho Peak in the background

In February I started the month with another scrambling route up Elephant Head in the Santa Ritas with Bill and Mitch. Another rugged, tough route leading to superlative views.

Elephant Head

Summit Ridge of Elephant Head

Summit ridge of Elephant Head

Summit cairn made of elephants

The day after my 36th birthday, I hiked my first piece of the Grand Enchantment Trail, a 730-mile route that goes from Phoenix to Albuquerque. I also started my Wildlife Rehabilitation Fundraiser to benefit Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson, where I am a volunteer.

Starting the Grand Enchantment Trail

Antelope Peak

Nighthawk at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson

In March I tackled another piece of the Grand Enchantment Trail in the Superstitions from the Tortilla TH to First Water TH. This was my first time in the western Superstitions, and I loved every rugged, rocky minute of it.

Campsite View on Horse Ridge, looking at a snowy 4 Peaks

Entering La Barge Box

Me and the Weaver's Needle

I attempted to summit Baboquivari again, but was turned away by ice and snow on the first pitch. However, we got to spend the night at the Lion’s Ledge, one of my favorite places I’ve ever slept and any time on Babo is time well spent.

Babo's East Face

Dave takes in the sunrise

Lion's Ledge- we slept right under the cave-like spot with the dark stain running down the face

I also wrote about Arizona’s State Parks that were slated to close due to lack of funding and hiked the Hunter Trail at Picacho Peak State Park and the Flatiron and Peak 5024 at Lost Dutchman State Park. Thankfully, only a couple of the state parks ended up closing and nearby towns helped pick up some of the expenses for the other ones. It was a great spring for wildflowers. I gave several slideshow presentations about my Arizona Trail hike to raise funds for Wildlife Rehab.

Poppies and Lupine at Picacho Peak

Lost Dutchman State Park in bloom- Flatiron in the upper right

Hoodoos on the way to Peak 5024

Looking down on the Flatiron

In April I was fortunate to hike two pieces of the Grand Enchantment Trail in April- the Santa Teresa Wilderness with my friend Judy Eidson, and the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness. To give an idea of how remote the Santa Teresas are, when I called the Coronado National Forest to ask a question about the trails, they said, “We have no idea, no one goes out there, let us know what you find when you come back, ok?” I look forward to my return to Holdout Canyon – a spectacular place.

Holdout Canyon, Santa Teresa Wilderness

Winding Mariposa Lily

Taking in the view

Climbing above Preacher Canyon

Pretty waterfall in Cottonwood Canyon

Desert Honeysuckle in bloom, Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness

Great Blue Heron

Bends in the Stream

In MayI heard that Forest Service crews had been clearing the Sutherland Trail, so I teamed up with Lee Allen, David Rabb, and Tom Kimmel to hike from the top of Mount Lemmon to Catalina State Park via this formerly fire-damaged trail. The 6000 ft. of elevation loss was tough on the knees, but the views and the company more than made up for it.

Happy to be on the Sutherland Trail

Sutherland Trail

Penstemon

All spring long, I’d been telling my husband Brian, “Don’t worry, once it heats up in June I’ll be home a lot more often!” But then I bought the one piece of gear that made my summer bearable: my green inflatable innertube, known affectionately as “the floatie”, and the hiking really didn’t slow down at all. The floatie’s maiden voyage was to Hutch’s Pool on a overnight backpacking trip using the Box Camp Trail down to Sabino Canyon.

Coming down the ridge on the Box Camp Tr.

Coral Bean bloom

Happy to have Hutch's Pool all to myself!

I enjoyed the floatie so much, I took it on a trip to Horse Camp Canyon in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness and floated the black pool on a day when I had the only permit for the whole canyon.

Important piece of summer gear in Aravaipa

Made even sweeter by the fact that I had it all to myself!

Also in June, I began harvesting and processing saguaro fruit and making syrup and delicious fruit leather. I really enjoyed it and everyone loved the flavor. Can’t wait to do it on a bigger scale next summer.

Saguaro fruit cut open

In July, a month that I would normally be cowering in my house avoiding the heat, I was able to find lots of ways to keep active this year. I went on short hikes early in the morning or night hikes, and was able to get away to the cooler Sky Islands for a couple of backpacking trips. Early in the month, I went to the Santa Ritas for an overnight at Baldy Saddle and saw one of the best sunsets I’d seen all year.

Baldy Saddle- Yep, I was right- it was an awesome campsite!

Looking north at the Santa Rita Crest- 7:19 pm

My favorite of the evening- 7:34 pm

Mountain Spiny Lizard Fight

Later in the month, I hiked the Grand Enchantment Trail through the tall, cool Pinaleno Mountains (also known as “The Grahams”) with Judy Eidson and Connie Simmons.

Through the waist-high ferns on the Clark Peak Tr.

View from Taylor Pass

Slick Rock, Ash Creek Trail

Sunset on The Pinnacles, Ash Creek Trail

The "spirited cascade"

I squeezed in one last hike in July, a trip to Chiricahua National Monument with my friend Wendy. Fantastic hoodoos and rock formations to tickle the imagination.

Hoodoos come in Large, Small, and Medium size for your viewing enjoyment

Punch and Judy Rock

August was all about the pools: Jammed Log Pool, Romero Pools, Lemmon Pools, Tanque Verde Falls- I hiked in early, got my float on, and was hiking out by 9 or 10 in the morning.

Who says the desert is a dry place? Photo by Bill Bens

Wendy takes a turn on the floatie at Jammed Log Pool

Tanque Verde Falls dwarfs me in my floatie- photo by Wendy Lotze

Lemmon Pools

Fly Agaric Mushrooms- these were over 8 inches across
Campsite view down Lemmon Canyon toward Tucson
Monday Morning Goodness at Romero Pools
Rattlesnake from night hikes in Sabino Canyon

Gila Monster from night hikes in Sabino Canyon

In September the leisurely hikes of summer came to an end, because it was time to start ramping up the difficulty levels to get in shape for the Grand Canyon in October. I hiked a long loop in the Santa Ritas, Pusch Peak, a dayhike to Lemmon Pools and an overnighter in Aravaipa to break in my new hiking shoes on uneven terrain with a full pack.

Lunch at Burnt Saddle- Elephant Head on the ridge in the foreground

So many unusual wildflowers! Crest Trail, Santa Ritas

Tiny Twin-Spotted Rattlesnake on the Foursprings Trail, Santa Ritas

View west from the summit of Pusch Peak

Lounging in Aravaipa Canyon

Rincon Mountains seen from the Lemmon Rock Trail

Shadow of Mount Lemmon on the Galiuro Mountains

And at the end of the month, I snuck in one last hike with the floatie in Sycamore Canyon in the Pajarita Wilderness near the Mexican border with some friends.

Near the slot pool

The Slot Pool- Bill and Ray went up and to the right, Lee and I swam across.

The green floatie- best $2 I've spent all year!

As much as I grumbled about training with a loaded pack on dayhikes, I was thankful for it in October when I spent 11 days in the Grand Canyon backpacking the Royal Arch Loop and at the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association Volunteer Service Project. The Royal Arch Loop was the most difficult trip I’ve done to date.  Remember at the beginning of the year when I said I enjoyed scrambling on hikes? The whole year I’d made myself more and more used to scrambling and traveling on exposed areas, and it all came in handy on the Royal Arch Loop. Aesthetically, my favorite trip of the entire year and I can’t wait to do it again.

Sunrise on Mt. Huethawali from South Bass Trailhead

A Grand Vista

The Royal Arch

The anticipation was way worse than the actual rappel

Elves Chasm

A majestic pose before continuing across the slope

Kent, Ron, and Paul on the saddle leaving Copper Canyon

I hiked out of the Royal Arch Loop and back into the Grand Canyon for six days of work on the Volunteer Service Project. We got a lot of work done at Cottonwood and Bright Angel Campgrounds, and in our free time we hiked up to the North Rim for fall colors, pizza, and beer, as well as up Wall Creek and the Miner’s Route. 11 days and a little over a hundred miles of Grand Canyon goodness.

Hiking up to Cottonwood CG

Yay! We walked up into fall on the North Kaibab Trail!

Wall Creek Waterfall

Cairn where the Old Miner's Route meets the Tonto

After spending the last half of October mourning the fact that I wasn’t in the Grand Canyon anymore, in November I found plenty of places close to home to hold my interest. I took two solo backpacking trips: one to The Spine near the White Canyon Wilderness, and one on the Samaniego Ridge Trail in the Catalinas. I also hiked the little-used Brush Corral Trail in the northeastern part of the Catalinas with some friends.

Traveling atop The Spine from boulder to boulder

5:38 pm- looks like a postcard

Morning view of the White Canyon Wilderness

Samaniego Peak

Hiking up to the Mule Ears

Samaniego- what a wonderful ridge!

Incredible views on the Brush Corral Trail

Brush Corral Trail ridgeline

Between the oaks

In December I made one last trip to the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness (my 4th this year) and enjoyed the fall colors. It is trailbuilding season on the Arizona Trail and I led my first work event up near Oracle on the 9th  in the Black Hills passage. I plan on sneaking in one last trip before the end of the year to my favorite very large hole in the ground before the year’s over.

Fall colors in Aravaipa Canyon

The inagural crew of the Crazies North

Whew! I sure got a lot of adventures in this year! Thanks to one of my favorite websites HikeArizona.com, I was able to keep track of my miles hiked and other stats. This is the first year that I logged all my hikes, and by the end of the year, I will have hiked approximately 750 miles. Lucky me.

I want to thank all of my readers and people who came to my talks who donated to my Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser. Since February, over $700 worth of donations have been given to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson! If you haven’t donated yet but would like to, you can send a check made out to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson to Pima Federal Credit Union  P.O. Box 50267 Tucson, Arizona 85703. Please put Hiking in the memo, so they know where you heard about their facility. Any amount is appreciated! You can also donate via PayPal by clicking the button below. Even if you don’t have a PayPal account, you can donate securely via PayPal with a credit card.

"Elfie" the Elf Owl thanks you for your donations!

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This week, I teamed up again with Bill Bens, who runs the Tucson Hikers Yahoo Group, and Mitch Stevens (my companions for my Ragged Top hike) for a hike up Elephant Head in the Western Santa Ritas. I have never been to this part of the Santa Ritas before, but have always been intrigued by this peak:

Elephant Head

Elephant Head and Baboquivari

The description of the hike mentions 2nd and 3rd class scrambling, so I definitely did not want to attempt this peak solo for the first time. Bill had been up here a number of times and was helpful to figure out the route on the last part of the hike.

The parking area for the Agua Caliente route is in grasslands and oak trees at 4200 ft. I just love the vegetation at this elevation. You get these tall yellow grasses, with oak trees and the occasional juniper mixed in for good measure.

Mount Hopkins from the Ocotillo forest

You can see Elephant Head if you are driving on I-19, it’s the closest peak in the Santa Ritas to the freeway.  Although from the freeway it looks precipitous and fully improbable that there is a hiking route, a very well-beat-in path exists to the top. I would rate this hike as advanced, but the trail in and the route up to the top are both pretty well visible and cairned along the way. The first part of the hike takes you along an old roadbed that crosses Agua Caliente Creek, which was running from the recent rains. There were a number of places along this hike that would make beautiful destinations unto themselves.

Bill and Mitch crossing Agua Caliente Creek

The old roadbed climbs to a saddle then contours around to the junction with another route into the canyon, the Elephant Head Bike Trail.  We also passed the turnoff to the Little Elephant Head summit. There were many purple Santa Rita Prickly Pears on this part of the hike, some that were purple on one side and green on the other.

Purple on one side, green on the other

There was also a healthy population of Arizona Rainbow Cactus, like this one growing out of the rock:

Arizona Rainbow Cactus

We met the only other people on this hike at the Quantrell Mine Junction, which was all decked out with a brand new sign.

Quantrell Mine Tr. Jct.

After contouring on the roadbed, it’s time to work for it as you approach the Chino Canyon hiker’s route. As you contour around, you will see a very deep, rugged canyon between you and Elephant head. This is Chino Canyon and the end of the nice, contouring trail. The turnoff was marked by a collapsed cairn which we rebuilt. The turnoff is just as you round the corner and reach a rocky outcropping. Here is the view:

View from the turnoff into Chino Canyon

From the Chino Canyon trail junction, it had been described that the trail was a well beat-in path steeply down Chino Canyon to the creek crossing that had several nice little waterfalls from the recent rains.

Waterfall in Chino Canyon

I was really impressed with the condition of the hiker’s route in Chino Canyon, it was more well-defined than some trails I’ve been on, and it looked like there had been recent maintenance. From the Chino Canyon crossing, it is a steep but well-marked trail up to the ridge that goes up to the summit. This is the most difficult part of the hike in my opinion. We took it slow and made it up to the saddle where the true routefinding and scrambling begins.

Summit Ridge

If you use hiking poles, this is a good place to stash them for the return, from this point to the summit requires the use of your hands to pull yourself up and through the cairned maze of rock. I was happy that I had Bill along, because he had been up here before, and had placed many of the cairns that we were using to find our way.

Chino Canyon and Little Elephant Head behind me

The scrambling part of this hike was a lot easier than the Ragged Top hike we’d done last month. The rock on Elephant Head is grippy, and stable, with big handholds. There are ample cairns to follow on this part of the hike.

There was a couple of tight squeezes past oak trees, and some 3rd class scrambling, but on the whole there was very little exposure.

Tight Squeeze

Mitch is excited to be on the Elephant!

Every time it looked like we could go no further, a route would appear to lead us to the next section, until we reached the actual summit ridge, which was very easy because it was solid rock.

Summit ridge of Elephant Head

We reached the 5641′ summit in about 2 1/2 hours, and the views were spectacular!!

I added my elephant pendant that I made to the other elephants in the summit cairn, and we all enjoyed the view for a bit. We couldn’t linger too long, however, because it was an afternoon hike, and we wanted to get back before we lost daylight. The rock made for solid footing on the way down, and there was only one part that made me a little uncomfortable, but the obstacle was easily solved once I figured out where to put my hands and feet.

Carefully descending

I love this shot that Bill took of me and Mitch, it really gives a neat perspective on the summit ridge:

Summit Ridge

The descent didn’t take very long, and soon we were back at the saddle, ready to cross steep and deep Chino Canyon once again. The bottom of Chino with its waterfalls would be a great place to come back and camp someday. One last 500 foot climb out of the canyon back took us back to the wide old roadbed of the Quantrell Mine Trail. We caught the last vestiges of the sunset and made it back to the truck just as the light was fading.

Last light

The hike took us 5 hours total, and my GPS showed 2700 feet of accumulated elevation gain. Not too shabby for an afternoon’s work! Speaking of my GPS, a 6 year old Garmin Etrex Vista, it looks like it may be on its last legs. It has been turning itself off even with full batteries, and the screen sometimes won’t come on. Not a great thing for someone starting the Grand Enchantment Trail soon. A new one is a bit out of my price range right now. I was wondering if any of my readers might have an old GPS that they would like to sell or donate. I can be contacted at aztrail4fms@live.com.

And now for another picture from the Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser- here’s a beautiful Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

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