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I stared across the Grand Canyon at the farthest ridge in sight and felt the nerves and excitement coming up again. Dropping my vehicle off at the Tanner Trail on the South Rim, I’d return to it in a week if all went well. This would knock out another big chunk of my project to traverse the length of Grand Canyon.

To jump to a specific day, hold control and click the link to open a new page. Mobile users, just click the link. 

Day 1 Nankoweap Trail
Day 2 Nankoweap to Kwagunt
Day 3 Kwagunt to Awatubi
Day 4 Awatubi to Colorado River at Lava/Chuar
Day 5 Lava/Chuar
Day 6 Beamer Trail to Tanner Trail
Day 7 Tanner Trail

I also wrote an accompanying article for Gossamer Gear with my complete gear list for this trip.

  

Planning and Preparation

The Colorado River through the Canyon is 277 miles long, but once I’m done I will have hiked over 600 miles. The extra miles are from weaving in and out of side canyons, hiking in and out for access, and changing from one layer of travel to another. To date, I’ve completed 71 river miles. One of my favorite parts of this project is that there are often several routes to choose from, depending on what my preferred line of travel is and what I want to see. So the first step is deciding which route to take.

For this week-long solo trip, I hiked from the Nankoweap Trail on the North Rim to the Tanner Trail on the South Rim. I had a couple of options after descending Nankoweap: the river route, which is what the Hayduke Trail uses, or the Horsethief/Butte Fault Route. Each had its challenges.

Horsethief_Butte Fault Map

Overview map of the route

The river route sounds like it might be a stroll along the beaches, but in reality it is often a thrashfest through shoreline tamarisk and thorny mesquite and acacia, combined with travel on the rocky slopes above, contouring in and out of countless small ravines and drainages. The Horsethief/Butte Fault option was more strenuous and logistically challenging due to having to climb and descend numerous passes and a dry camp, but has unique geology on a historic route. Both routes require a boat shuttle across the river (or a packraft if you’re so inclined).

DSC06593

River crossing at Lava/Chuar

The Butte Fault, which contributes to the depth of Grand Canyon, creates a weakness in the layers that allows travel behind a series of buttes and side canyons. This route was used first by Native peoples, then by rustlers moving their stolen horses from one rim to another, and also by miners and cowboys. I used to work as a river guide and had floated by the river route over 20 times, plus I’m a huge geology, archaeology and history geek, so I chose the 41-mile Horsethief/Butte Fault Route.

DSC06371

Historic coffee pot in Awatubi Canyon

There was the added challenge of thumbing a ride across the Colorado River on a boat on day 4. Historically, people had forded at a low-water spot near Palisades Beach – but since the Glen Canyon Dam was put in in 1963, that was no longer an option. Since I had to get a ride across, I opted to have my rafting friends place a cache bucket for me so I would only have to carry four days of food off-trail with a dry camp instead of the whole seven days. I also had the logistics of a shuttle – It was 180 miles and 5 ½ hours between trailheads.

My friend Meg shuttled me to the North Rim and we basked in the warm hospitality of map guru Li Brannfors. I used a variety of resources to research this route and can’t go without thanking Chris Forsyth and Rich Rudow. I actually ran into Rich at the Marble Canyon gas station on our drive. He said, ” If you’re ever in a spot where you’re using your hands to climb too much, you’re off route.” I also really appreciate Doug Nering and Bill Ferris, Bob Bordasch and Rob Jones for their excellent websites. Li sat down with me and went over the route as well and gave me fantastic insight and maps. I also managed to get on a Grand Canyon Helicopters tour before the trip, which gave me a birds-eye view of the route.

Butte Fault

View of the Butte Fault, Awatubi Crest and Kwagunt Butte

 

Day 1

On the way to the Saddle Mountain Trailhead we got the Bison sighting Meg and I had been hoping for. The upper trailhead to access the Nankoweap Trail has expansive views up and down canyon. I met trio of hikers who’d just done part of the route and they pointed out some tips and landmarks. I was ready to go a little after 9 am and had a long day ahead.

Saddle Mountain Trailhead

Upper Saddle Mountain Trailhead

The Nankoweap Trail is billed by the Park Service as the hardest named trail in Grand Canyon. I started out at at 8800 feet at the trailhead off FR 610, and the creek where I was camping was way down at 3300 feet. It was a 3-mile trail through the Saddle Mtn. Wilderness just to access the Nankoweap Trail. There were fantastic views of the Vermillion Cliffs, Navajo Mountain and slope of the Kaibab Monocline in House Rock Valley. Eventually the view opened up to my right and there it was- the buttes, spires and temples of the inner Canyon. I looked waaaay in the distance, back to where I’d left the Jeep and the excitement of having a whole week to make it over there made me do a little dance. I gave the Canyon respect and asked for safe passage.

Edge of the Kaibab Plateau

Edge of the Kaibab Plateau

The trail enters Grand Canyon National Park after a steep dive through the upper layers. The Supai Sandstone extends out toward Marion Point and so begins a lengthy traverse. The trail was a lot better than I had expected in the Supai. The footing was solid and though the trail got narrow at points, it wasn’t alarming. It was not flat and there were tedious work arounds from rockfalls.

First Glimpse of Inner Canyon

First glimpse of the inner Canyon

Nankoweap Trail

Nankoweap Trail

Supai Traverse

Supai Traverse

Nankoweap Exposure

Nankoweap exposure

After Marion Point there was more of the same until Tilted Mesa. There was a Grand Canyon Field Institute trip that was being led by Christa Sadler. I’m a big fan of hers, she’s a backpacking and Colorado River guide and wrote one of my favorite books- There’s This River. It was nice to meet her and I wished them a good trip. That was at lunch on Monday and was the last time I’d see people for 5 days.

Butte Fault

Butte Fault

Nankoweap Selfie

Nanko Selfie

I could check out the beginning of the route I’d be taking across the canyon while coming down the Nankoweap Trail. After I left Nankoweap Creek, I would be on the Butte Fault/Horsethief Route until I hit the Colorado River, three days away.

The Redwall is steep and then there were traverses on horrible, loose, gravelly ball bearings in the Bright Angel Shale. My least favorite part of the trail, I planted each step carefully and was thankful for my hiking poles. I was happy when the rock layer changed to something more stable. I heard a buzzing sound and stopped – I couldn’t see the rattlesnake but it sounded like it was coming closer! I moved down the trail and finally saw it slither underneath a rock above me.

Thin Trail in the Bright Angel Shale

Thin trail in the Bright Angel Shale

As I neared the creek, my calf threatened to cramp so I stopped and ate some dehydrated green olives and slammed water with electrolytes. I caught it in time and managed to stave off actual cramping. Nankoweap Creek was lush with cottonwood trees and the wonderful sound of running water. I found a spot to camp upstream with great views of Mount Hayden and where I’d come from.

I checked out my options for starting out the route and then settled into camp for some night photography. The Milky Way was gorgeous! So good to be back.

Nankoweap Creek

Nankoweap Creek

Day 2

The sunrise turned the cliffs scarlet and it was colder than I had expected, glad I brought what I did. My detailed gear list is on the Gossamer Gear blog. The Horsethief/Butte Fault Route ascends and descends the faultline through a series of six side canyons: Kwagunt, Malgosa, Awatubi, Sixtymile, Carbon, and Lava/Chuar. Climbs and descents range from 500-1600 feet each.

Nankoweap Camp Sunrise

Nankoweap Sunrise

I went south in the side drainage west of where the trail meets the creek and then east up a drainage toward a break in the cliffband. This drainage led to large, dark red slabs that I had seen yesterday from the trail. I took a quick break under a juniper, my favorite tree. The route continued up the drainage with the angled rock providing ramps to get around the small obstacles. I was having so much fun! Looking at Nankoweap Creek, the fantastic geology, the junipers – it was so exciting to see new ground.

DSC06266

Butte Fault

The ramp ended and the drainage entered the Kwagunt formation, which was a mushy yellow slope that was steep and loose but totally doable. Cresting the saddle, the views of Kwagunt Canyon and Butte were amazing. This area looks like nowhere else in the Grand Canyon I’ve ever seen. The fault has twisted the landscape and the palette of colors is so unusual. I traversed over to the eastern saddle nearest to Nankoweap Mesa and found a juniper for a long break.Hiking up to the Nankoweap-Kwagunt Divide

Nankoweap Mesa

Nankoweap Butte

I spent two hours in the shade, relaxing, enjoying the view and eating snacks and my Jacob Lake lemon raspberry cookie. I wanted to descend the eastern drainage, so I followed the ridge out and then dropped some elevation and traversed around to a rockfall. I crossed it, testing the footholds, and came back to the ridge that had a break in the cliffs to get into the eastern drainage. The hiking in the drainage was colorful and the route went easily down to Kwagunt Creek.

DSC06276

Jacob Lake cookie, yum!

When I got to the creek, I was worried because there was a white crust in the creek which indicated minerals in the water. I had a terrible experience last year with mineralized water in Grand Canyon making me sick. It turned out to be ok. I visited an archaeological site and found corrugated and painted pottery and stone cores used for making tools.Ancient Artifacts

I had looked at the route out of Kwagunt to the Malgosa divide and chosen what I was calling the “grassy knoll”. It was a little less steep and I liked the looks of it. I made camp above the creek.

Day 3

This was the day where I would walk away from water for two days.  A dry camp always adds extra challenge and weight and I wouldn’t see any water until I hit the Colorado River. I got all ready to go by 9 am, loaded up with 9 liters of water, which weighs 20 pounds. Then I decided to spend another couple of hours by the creek since it wasn’t so hot. This is what I love about solo hiking, being completely on my own schedule.

Nine Liters of Water

Nine liters of water – ouch!

Dates, Goat Cheese and Bacon

Goat cheese, dates and bacon

I started hiking at 11, up the grassy knoll which was manageable and not too loose. There were some flatter terraces on the 1400 foot climb to the saddle. The views up Kwagunt Canyon made for a great distraction while taking breaks.

Looking back at Nankoweap Butte

Looking back at Nankoweap Butte

Kwagunt Canyon

Kwagunt Canyon

At the Kwagunt-Malgosa saddle, I could see my ridgeline route into the drainage and the impressive upturn of Kwagunt Butte. I also took photos of the route heading up to the next saddle. The ridgeline was good footing for the 500-foot descent.

Kwagunt Butte

Kwagunt Butte

Off-trail Terrain

Ridgeline route into Malgosa Canyon

What goes down must come back up, so I started hiking in the drainage up to the Malgosa-Awatubi saddle. I had several different route descriptions and one said, near the top, you have two options –  stay to the left for the direct route to the saddle. Well, I went left a little early and ended up in a very steep and loose chute, pulling myself up with my hands. I recalled Rich Rudow’s advice: “If you’re ever in a spot where you’re using your hands to climb too much, you’re off route.” Oops.

I got to a place where I could break out of the chute to get a look around. I definitely didn’t want to go back down the way I came so I looked at the slopes around me. Those looked sketchy, steep and loose too. I pulled out my camera and looked at the picture I’d shot from the other side of the canyon. It looked like the chute I was in would go, it was just a matter of how sketchy it would be to rejoin the saddle. I committed to climbing up the rest of the chute. Finally I reached the top and was met by several ravines to work around. It was a steeply angled traverse on loose shale but not for too long. I placed each foot carefully, digging in with my hiking poles until I reached flatter ground and breathed a sigh of relief.

Kwagunt Butte Uplift

I took the steep chute to the left of the saddle, don’t go that way.

After a break at the saddle with views of the swoop of the Awatubi Crest, I started down into Awatubi Canyon. The travel was straightforward and I saw an old coffee pot on the grass above the canyon bottom. I had planned on camping at the Awatubi/Sixtymile saddle but I’d burned some time and energy on taking the wrong route earlier, so I decided to stay in the Awatubi drainage instead. The clouds rolled in and I was pondering setting up a tent, but took a chance and slept under the stars (clouds?) again. My bet paid off and there was no rain.

DSC06369

Awatubi Canyon

Day 4

I was up and packed by 7 am. I wanted to get the climb out done while it was cool. I had 4.5 liters left of my 9 that I left with from Kwagunt and miles to go to Lava/Chuar beach on the Colorado River. The climb out of Awatubi was straighforward and took me about 30 minutes, sometimes in the drainage, sometimes on the sides. I looked for deer tracks to help guide my way. The light was dramatic and overcast, glad that it wasn’t too hot.

Hiking up to Awatubi-Sixtymile Saddle

Awatubi-Sixtymile Saddle

I descended from the saddle into Sixtymile Canyon and took the western bypass route, which shot straight down a rubble-filled hill. In an hour, I was down in the dry creekbed. Downstream of where I crossed looked intriguing, with Redwall narrows and filtered light. The climb out of Sixtymile had routes on the sides of the drainage and a good track on the last climb to the saddle. It took me a little under an hour and a half.

Pouroff Bypass Route in Sixtymile

Rubble-filled bypass

Sixtymile Canyon

Sixtymile Canyon

Cresting the Sixtymile/East Carbon saddle gave view into another world, one where the South Rim was visible and the vistas opened up to familiar temples and buttes. Desert View Watchtower was just a tiny nubbin on the horizon. I took a lengthy break here, enjoying the scenery. As with other parts of the route, helicopter tours buzzed overhead.

Views to South Rim from Carbon Saddle

Sixtymile-Carbon Saddle

The hike down East Fork Carbon Canyon had a good track and cairns most of the way. It was much more traveled than other parts I’d been on. There was even historic trail construction on a rocky switchback early on. Several bypasses to avoid steep pouroffs in the bed of the drainage were required, typical Grand Canyon. None of these were technical but some were loose and all were rocky. Eventually the obstacles ended and it was just a pleasant walk in a mostly-dry streambed. There were areas where water was flowing but it had the telltale signs of being highly mineralized. No thanks, I’ll wait till the river!

Historic Trail Construction

Historic trail construction

East Fork Carbon Canyon

Carbon Canyon

I hiked along the tilted strata until I reached the head of the Carbon Canyon narrows. I had last been here on the first river trip I ever worked back in 2012 with Grand Canyon Whitewater. We’d done a dayhike up the narrows and I remember the trip leader Brock saying, “Yeah, I used to backpack but I got into boating – and instead of hauling gear on my back for days, I get to come up here with a daypack and a cold seltzer.” I like both ways of exploring the Canyon myself.

Micro Chicken in the Carbon Canyon Narrows

Micro Chicken in the Carbon Canyon narrows

There was a good river runner trail between Carbon and Lava/Chuar Canyon and soon I was heading down the red Dox Sandstone bed of Lava/Chuar. It rained on me for about 5 minutes, just long enough to put my camera away and get my umbrella out. It was super exciting to see the Colorado River and know that my concerns about water were over. It was 2:30 pm and I had 1.5 liters left. I had gotten lucky with the overcast weather today.

Hiking to Lava Chuar

Fantastic geology between Carbon and Lava/Chuar

Lava Chuar Rapid

Reached the Colorado River!

The next matter was finding my cache. Since I had to carry so much water and cross the river, I had opted to have a friend cache a bucket with food for my last three days to help lighten the weight of my pack. I had photos of where they had hidden it, but when I looked, it wasn’t there. I had a momentary panic until I found it about five minutes later. It had been moved, but not disturbed and everything was still in the bucket. Whew! I always put some treats in the bucket and got my coconut water and mandarin oranges chilling in the river.

Lava/Chuar beach is a popular river camp and I thought I might have some company. I’d reached the beach with plenty of time for a river trip to come in. I had no idea when a boat would arrive to get a ride across, but I had put extra food in my cache and had all the water I needed from the river. I was able to relax and know that I had the supplies to wait.

Sunset Reflections

Sunset Reflections

The sunset was spectacular, first turning the water golden with fiery cliffs reflected, then the sky became purple and pink. What a time to have the whole place to myself. Doesn’t get much better than an outrageous river sunset after a challenging route, I was ecstatic.Lava Chuar Sunset

Nighttime brought the star show and I spent hours taking long exposures and light painting, enjoying the sound of the rapids. I spent the night in the mouth of the canyon and the wind picked up during the night.

Milky Way Light Painting

Me and the Milky Way

Party Lights!

Party lights!

Day 5

The next morning, I was up and packed early so I could move upstream to the beach where it would be easiest for someone to pick me up to cross. I organized my cache bucket, it would be given to whomever gave me a ride with my trash and extra food in it. Then I settled in to wait.

Thumbing a Ride Across the Colorado River

Thumbing a ride

The day warmed up and I spent a while sitting with my feet in the river with my umbrella, the cache bucket made a very convenient seat. I moved to the shade under a tamarisk where I could watch for boats and spent time writing, listening to music, and relaxing. Well, relaxing as much as you can when you’re in the middle of a Grand Canyon sandstorm – the wind was relentless. In times like this, you’ve just got to accept your gritty fate and make the best of it.

Attitude

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a BIG difference”

I was pretty confined to the beach, I didn’t want to spend time in the mouth of the canyon because by that time, the boats are already in the rapid and can’t give me a ride. So I sat on my beach, looking upstream and telling myself, “at some point, you’re going to look up and there will be a boat there”. I did a couple of sewing projects, stared at the river, and thought about castaways. How crazy would it be to look toward the sea for weeks, months, years?

Another backpacker appeared across the rapid, he looked so tiny and really brought home how wide the Colorado River was at this spot. Once it got to be early evening, I realized that I was not going to get a ride across today. How strange to not see a single boat since I hit the beach at 2:30 yesterday! Commercial rafting season had recently ended but there were still private trips on the water. I was just in a spot with no boats. I was glad that I had added a layover day to my itinerary so it wasn’t a problem, only I was supposed to be on the other side of the river. No way to do that safely so I was staying put.

Waiting on the Beach

Winds gusted all day long and sand worked itself into every crevice of my world. Still, it was a great day and I really enjoyed having the time to just relax on my own private beach. The last time I stayed here was on my very last river trip that I worked as a guide in 2015, we had a full trip of 28 people. Now, the camp was all mine!

Day 6

I slept on the wet beach to try and minimize the nighttime sandblasting. I still didn’t set up a tent because sometimes that can be even worse. The fine silt gets trapped and whirled around in the noisy tent. Thankfully, when I woke up, the winds had stopped.

I wondered when I’d look up and finally see a boat. I’d been texting and joking about my marooned status (with my Garmin InReach satellite communicator) with my husband and a couple of friends last night, which helped to keep my spirits up. I could see a couple of backpackers coming down the Beamer Trail to Palisades Beach across the way, they looked minuscule.

And then all of a sudden, I looked upstream and there they were! Boats! I waved to get their attention and they started rowing over. I asked for a ride and they said they’d be happy to take me across. There were rafts and kayaks and they asked me where I had come from and I explained my route. It had been 44 hours since I arrived.My Uber is here!

I put my pack on the head boat, a cataraft, put on a life jacket and hopped on! The boatman was John Vyrmoed, Vice-President of the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association and he joked about him being my Uber to get across. We rode through Lava/Chuar rapid, it was fun to be on a boat again! John deposited me at the base of the rapid and now I was finally on the same side of the river as my Jeep. I thanked him profusely, told him I’d rate him 5 stars for the Uber service and they took my bucket with them when they left.

I'm on a Boat

I’m on a boat

I dropped my pack and hiked back to the top of the rapid to connect my line and immediately began to see other backpackers. I found a spot on Palisades Beach to enjoy the afternoon. Funny, I moved only about a half-mile downstream from where I’d been for the past two days. It was a big, gorgeous sandbar that went partway into the river, perfect for relaxing. I only had 3 miles to go to my camp at Tanner Beach that evening.

Lava Chuar Rapid

Lava/Chuar Rapid

About an hour before sunset, I started on the Beamer Trail toward Tanner. The trail was flat and followed the sand for a while, but then cliffs appeared and the trail went up to traverse them. Reached Tanner at sunset and headed to find a spot to camp. As I wandered through the camping area, I heard, “Sirena?” and was pleased to find some folks that I know from the HikeArizona.com website. We had dinner together and shared tales of the trail. I left after dinner and camped on the hill underneath the impressive Comanche Point. Went down to the rapid to take one last round of night photos. Man, I hate the idea of hiking out. If someone would show up regularly with a bucket full of supplies I would never leave!

Tanner Rapid

Tanner Rapid

Day 7

The last several times I’ve hiked out of the Canyon, I’ve taken all day to do it and it makes it so much more enjoyable! Instead of trying to rush out, I leave early and take long breaks at different spots to enjoy the scenery and take it all in before topping out at the rim. I was in the shade for the hike up the Dox hill and feeling strong. After the route I’d been on, the Tanner Trail felt luxurious and fancy. My feet were not so happy, I felt a bunch of hot spots and put some blister bandages on. Realized that I was wearing socks that I hadn’t used in a while and changed them, that solved the problem.

Last Camp under Comanche Point

Last night’s camp under Comanche Point

I reached the Redwall Overlook, one of my favorite views, and took a couple of hours to eat and relax. One day I’ll camp here, but today I had to leave eventually. Took another long break on the Supai traverse, tucked under a juniper tree. Had my only injury, a branch at my break got me in the forehead. Bummer, I’d almost made it out without a scratch, and this one was going to scar. Everything scars due to my dark skin – I’d just have to look at it as yet another Grand Canyon souvenir.Redwall Overlook - Tanner Trail

I passed beneath the Desert View Watchtower and took another break at the tiny juniper at the 75-Mile Saddle with great views downstream. Then it was all about the final climb to the trailhead. It was steep and the air was thin at 6-7000 ft. Still, I felt great.

DSC06708

My happy place!

I had saved one of my favorite snacks for the climb, a Honey Stinger waffle dipped in a single-serve Nutella packet. So good! I could see the rim but had plenty of water and food to sit on the trail for a while and watch the sunset. What a feeling to look all the way across the Canyon and see the Nankoweap Trail where I’d come from a week ago. I’d been so nervous – it had all worked out better than expected and was one of my best trips ever!

Top of the Tanner Trail

Top of the Tanner Trail – success! I came from the farthest ridge near the left of the the photo.

Smoky Sunset from Lipan Point

Sunset from Lipan Point

Thanks to all my readers for another year! I met some folks on the hike out who have used my blog as a resource for their Canyon trips and that made me so happy to hear. I haven’t posted as much this year due to getting my consulting company, Trails Inspire, off the ground but I’ll have a year-end retrospective of my wanderings up soon. Happy holidays!

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It’s that time of year again for a retrospective of where I’ve wandered- and this one has been busier than most! You have been warned- it’s pretty heavy on the pictures. Grab a beverage.

When the year began, I was already neck-deep in planning my Arizona Trail Trek. It was a logistical Hydra coordinating the two and a half month schedule with 13 fundraisers, all the public hikes and backpacking trips, shuttles, media contacts, and a million little details. It didn’t leave a whole lot of time for hiking.

I did manage a Sabino-Bear loop and a trip up Agua Caliente Hill, always good choices for the colder months.

Umbrella weather in January

Umbrella weather in January on Agua Caliente Hill

In February, I hiked the Romero Trail to Romero Pass, a good workout along a gorgeous canyon.

Comfy seat at the waterfall campsite

Comfy seat at the waterfall campsite

Sunset lights up Samaniego Ridge

Sunset lights up Samaniego Ridge

I also turned 40 in February and celebrated with a visit from my friend Kristin. We’ve been friends since I was 4 and lived two doors down. She still lives in the Chicago suburbs and I was so happy to get to spend some time with her at the High Jinks Ranch and in Oracle.

Me and Kristin

Me and Kristin

Out for my 40th!

Out for my 40th!

On March 14th, I started my Arizona Trail Trek with a hike to the Mexican border and the kickoff event in Sierra Vista with food, music, and Arizona Trail Ale. A great beginning to an incredible experience.Arizona Trail Trek Logo

Arizona Trail Trek Start

Arizona Trail Trek Start

Mexican Border on the Arizona Trail

Mexican Border on the Arizona Trail

The rest of March was spent hiking north toward Tucson, with events in Patagonia, Arizona Trail Day at Colossal Cave Mountain Park and I even held and performed at a Belly Dance event at Sky Bar in Tucson. That’s got to be a long-distance hiking first!

Santa Ritas

Santa Ritas

Terry with River taking a rest on Katie

Terry with River taking a rest on Katie

Wildflowers!!

Wildflowers!!

Jess Walker from Belly Dance Tucson

Jess Walker from Belly Dance Tucson

Arizona Trail Day hikers at the first big saguaros headed northbound on the AZT

Arizona Trail Day hikers at the first big saguaros headed northbound on the AZT

My Arizona Trail Trek continued through April and May- it was quite a challenge and I am surprised that I stayed on schedule or early throughout the trip. I was so fortunate that I and everyone with me stayed healthy and safe throughout. I became a Trail Ambassador for Gossamer Gear this year, and was really happy with the way my Mariposa pack performed throughout my hike.Rincon Sunset

Rincon Sunset

Boulders along AZT/Cody Trail

Boulders along AZT/Cody Trail

Ripsey Ridgeline

Ripsey Ridgeline

Camp above Ripsey Wash

Camp above Ripsey Wash

Lovin' the pass!

Lovin’ the pass!

Roosevelt Bridge

Roosevelt Bridge

Micro Chicken crosses the Roosevelt Bridge

Micro Chicken crosses the Roosevelt Bridge

What a place!!

What a place!!

Peacocks!

Peacocks!

Just me and my llama

Just me and my llama

Happy to be in the cool pines!

Happy to be in the cool pines!

What a great group!

What a great group!

View from the Dale Shewalter Memorial at Buffalo Park

View from the Dale Shewalter Memorial at Buffalo Park

Swooping singletrack through the aspen

Swooping singletrack through the aspen

Cedar Ridge with O'Neill Butte to the left

Cedar Ridge with O’Neill Butte to the left

Ribbon Falls

Ribbon Falls

What a trail!

What a trail!

Tater Canyon

Tater Canyon, Kaibab Plateau

Tantalizing glimpses of Utah sandstone

Tantalizing glimpses of Utah sandstone

Arizona Trail at Stateline Trailhead, Arizona/Utah border

Arizona Trail at Stateline Trailhead, Arizona/Utah border

It had been a dream of mine to thru-hike the Arizona Trail since I learned about it in 2007 and I’m so glad that my hike was able to bring wider recognition to the trail I love so much. I raised almost $18,000 for the Arizona Trail Association and I’ll be doing a series of talks in the new year, check out my Speaking page to find one near you!

I was pretty tired after my thru-hike, but I had less than three weeks left until I had to start my season working on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with Arizona River Runners and Grand Canyon Whitewater. I had an incredible season- met a lot of wonderful people, hiked them all over the place, and told a million stories.

Comanche Point and Palisades

Comanche Point and Palisades

Incredible double rainbow over Diamond Creek Rapid

Incredible double rainbow over Diamond Creek Rapid

On the Arizona Trail on a boat!

On the Arizona Trail on a boat!

Little Colorado Confluence

Little Colorado Confluence

In case you haven’t heard, the Little Colorado River Confluence pictured above is threatened by a possible development with a tram and a restaurant right at the river’s edge- please visit Save the Confluence to learn more and sign the petition!

After my river season ended in mid-September, the inevitable crash came. I am usually pretty wiped out after river season anyway, but combined with the thru-hike my body and mind were exhausted. It was not a fun time and I couldn’t even bring myself to write about how depressed and tired I was. I didn’t feel up to doing anything, I just rested and wondered if I’d ever feel like myself again. The worst part of it all was that the fatigue reminded me of all those years ago when I was sick with Fibromyalgia and I was even concerned for a while that I was having a flare-up.

I had anticipated the crash, having done other extended trips, but this one knocked me down for two months. I still managed to get out a bit, and that helped to keep me going, although it was also a reminder of how incredibly tired I was.

Maples on Mount Lemmon

Maples on Mount Lemmon

Windy Point Sunset

Windy Point Sunset

Whitmore Overlook

Whitmore Overlook

Finally, I started to get my energy back and the feeling of emptiness that depression brings waned. It felt great to be enthusiastic about the days ahead again. I traveled to Page for work and took a drive into the Grand Staircase-Escalante up Cottonwood Road. All sorts of great stuff to explore in that area. I hiked a peak I can see out of my backyard, Peak 3263 (or the southern end of the “Sombrero”, just to see what was up there. And then I did the classic Aspen to Saguaro hike from Mount Lemmon to Catalina State Park. Over 6000 feet of elevation loss through an array of different life zones. It felt great to be able to hike all day again.

Thousand Pockets

Thousand Pockets

Grosvenor Arch

Grosvenor Arch, GSEM

Sombrero and Panther Peaks from Peak 3263

Sombrero and Panther Peaks from Peak 3263

Lemmon Rock Lookout

Lemmon Rock Lookout

Looking out toward the West Fork and the Rincons

Looking out toward the West Fork and the Rincons

December brought a trip to the Cienega for fall colors and a backpacking trip in the Santa Ritas with some lovely ladies and Jasmine the Mini-donkey!

Cienega Creek Fall Colors

Cienega Creek Fall Colors

Antelope at Empire Ranch

Antelope at Empire Ranch

Starting out at Temporal Gulch TH

Starting out at Temporal Gulch TH

Jasmine on the Arizona Trail

Jasmine on the Arizona Trail

Mustangs in the Morning

Mustangs in the Morning

Grassy trail with Josephine Peak and Wrightson

Grassy trail with Josephine Peak and Wrightson

There was a winter storm in mid-December and I went out to play in the icy waters of Montrose Canyon with some friends.

Montrose Canyon 1st Rappel- Photo by Dan Kinler

Montrose Canyon 1st Rappel- Photo by Dan Kinler

Montrose Canyon- Photo by Dan Kinler

Montrose Canyon- Photo by Dan Kinler

Montrose Canyon- Photo by Dan Kinler

Montrose Canyon- Photo by Dan Kinler

I spent Christmas backpacking in the Tortolita Mountains, it was a great getaway close to home.

Christmas in the Tortolitas

Christmas in the Tortolitas

Christmas Camp

Christmas Camp

I rounded out the year with a tough and spiny bushwhack to Bighorn Mountain, the last of the Pusch Ridge Peaks for me to summit. I’m going to be picking out spines for days, but it was well worth it.

Grassy shindagger and cactus-filled slope to the summit

Grassy shindagger and cactus-filled slope to the summit

Bighorn Summit- finally I've stood atop all four of the Pusch Ridge Peaks!

Bighorn Summit- finally I’ve stood atop all four of the Pusch Ridge Peaks!

Well, that was quite a year! Thanks for reading- it’s always fun to share stories of my wanderings with others. I kept track of all my hikes on HikeArizona.com and my year-end stats are 1,021 miles hiked with 150,775 feet of elevation gain- that’s equivalent to 5 Mount Everests stacked on each other. No wonder this post is so long!

Here’s to a fantastic 2015- I’m not exactly sure what it will bring but I’ve got a feeling I’ll be exploring fantastic new places. Happy New Year!!

Thanks to all who donated to the Arizona Trail Association or to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson this year!!

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Baby Great Horned Owls

Baby Great Horned Owls

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Buster Mountain summit view toward Mt Lemmon

Buster Mountain summit view toward Mt Lemmon

I had originally planned on hiking Pusch Peak from Pima Canyon until I came across this description http://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?ZTN=17807 on HikeArizona.com the night before. I really enjoyed my hike up Buster last year and wanted to see more of the area. So glad I hiked this one and covered some new ground instead- the trail up to Peak 4223 was delightful with fantastic views!

On the ridgeline looking north

On the ridgeline looking north

I love autumn days when I can start my hike at noon. The weather was wonderful all day, sometimes overcast, sometimes breezy. Found the trail with no issues- it is very well cairned with good tread and hardly any poky things- almost seemed too easy! Interesting views of the Romero Canyon Trail and Samaniego Ridge. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Peak 4223 to the left, Buster on the right

Peak 4223 to the left, Buster on the right

Romero Canyon Trail

Romero Canyon Trail

I passed Peak 4223 and made my way across the ridge to the low saddle. I saw a flurry of activity and got really excited for a second- was it one of the newly released bighorns? Sadly, no. Just some deer.

Approaching Peak 4223

Approaching Peak 4223

Atop 4223 looking toward Buster

Atop 4223 looking toward Buster

After looking at dry Buster Spring I contoured around to meet the saddle to the east of Buster. There was no trail, but occasional cairns popped up from time to time. Thankfully the grass seeds weren’t too bad, that can turn a hike into a foot-stabbing nightmare quick. Also, not much shindagger on this route, not like areas in Pima Canyon where you are shindagger-surfing. Speaking of which, I had a great view of Table Mountain’s summit where Wendy and I spent a chilly night last year by the fireplace.

The views into Alamo Canyon are some of my favorite in all the Catalinas, so dramatic with the massive Leviathan and Wilderness Domes. The saddle felt remote, Buster blocked out civilization beyond, the sprawl of Oro Valley pink-tiled roofs.

Great views into Alamo Canyon

Great views into Alamo Canyon

One last short steep bit to the summit and I settled in for a long break. It was windy, but not cold. I loved that there was very little chance that I’d see anyone else today, even though the first parking lot was full.

Leviathan and Wilderness Domes

Leviathan and Wilderness Domes

After an enjoyable time on the summit, reading old logs and listening to music, I started down the east side. The small saddle below the summit really speaks to me and I stopped again. Spent time playing with my camera settings and investigating a cairned route that I think connects up with the trail in Alamo Canyon.

Table Mountain

Table Mountain

Micro Chicken

Micro Chicken is getting close to his second birthday. And yes- I’m wearing sparkly nail polish. Don’t judge.

Who the heck was Buster anyway? Here’s the history from the HikeArizona page:

Though details are slim, the history of this immediate area seems to revolve around the late Buster Bailey. Buster moved here from Texas in 1927. His father built their home somewhere in the area that is now Catalina State Park. Buster’s family soon moved back to Texas, but Buster returned to his one true love, The Catalina Mountains. He worked for area ranchers, he worked for the Zimmerman family, who developed what is now Summer Haven on Mt. Lemmon, but Buster’s real claim to fame was as a bootlegger, operating his still near the waters of the now dry Buster Spring. Remnants of his still are said to be in place, though in disrepair, somewhere near the current spring. This was Buster’s stomping ground, and you just can’t help but feel connected to him while you’re here. It’s said that he packed his product down alternating routes, so not to leave any obvious trails. It would be safe to say that if you’re on any passable route in or around Buster Canyon, Buster, himself had been there.

View north

View north

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Sunlit Saguaros

Gneiss!

I really needed a day like this- just me and the Catalinas. What a great route, I’ll have to check out the Alamo Canyon variation sometime.

In Wildlife Rehab news, I came across this picture from of a baby ringtail that we raised that was sent to an educational facility. Look at that yawn!! Donations go toward housing and feeding the animals at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson.
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Yawning Baby Ringtail

Yawning Baby Ringtail

Here’s a video:

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Looking down on Lee's Ferry at the top of the Spencer Trail

Looking down on Lee’s Ferry at the top of the Spencer Trail

I travel quite a bit for my job with the Arizona Trail Association, visiting the Gateway Communities for events, presentations, and meetings. I was in Page representing the ATA at the Balloon Regatta festival the first weekend of November and my friend Rob took me for a fantastic hike.

We drove over the Glen Canyon bridge and turned on a dirt road that we parked off of to begin our trek. Ten miles to Lee’s Ferry, off-trail until the last two miles on the Spencer Trail. It was just getting light out and we hiked along the deep sandy two-track for a short time before setting off onto sandstone slabs. Seeking Sandstone was the theme of the day, much easier to hike on than sand.

Seeking Sandstone

Seeking Sandstone

Vermilion Cliffs at sunrise

Vermilion Cliffs at sunrise

We reached a survey marker, our first objective, about 45 minutes into the hike. We crossed a large sandstone bowl and ended up at the upper end of Ferry Swale Canyon. There was a scramble down into the sandy wash, and then we took a sandstone ridge steeply out of it and into the Valley of Moqui Marbles.

Survey Marker

Survey Marker

Sandstone

Route crosses the wash and goes on the ridge in between the two canyons

Route crosses the wash and goes on the ridge in between the two canyons

Up the ridge

Up the ridge

The Moqui Marbles started out small, the size of peas. They were nestled in the striations of sandstone, dark and round. Then larger ones appeared, then sparkly ones, then a valley of massive marbles. It was so wonderful, I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

Embedded Moqui marbles

Embedded Moqui marbles

So amazing!

So amazing!

Sparkly!

Sparkly!

Marvelous Moqui valley

Marvelous Moqui valley

Gigantic!

Gigantic!

Rob is way ahead because I can't stop taking pictures of this incredible valley

Rob is way ahead because I can’t stop taking pictures of this incredible valley

After the Marvelous Moqui Valley, we had a short slot canyon to climb up to get on the mesa top, headed toward one of the junipers that we’d seen on the horizon from way back. There were balloons launching from Page for the Balloon Regatta festivities that go on all weekend.

Small slot on the way to the mesa top

Small slot on the way to the mesa top

Crocodile rock

Crocodile rock

Balloons

Balloons

We hiked across the mesa top toward a sandstone formation with three humps and the Echo Cliffs came into view. All of a sudden, there was a set of large, curled bighorn sheep horns lying on the sandstone with a jawbone.

Look- I'm a bighorn!

Look- I’m a bighorn!

After going to the right of the formation, we finally started coming upon remnants of trail here and there. Rob took me over to a spectacular view of the Colorado River and Waterholes Canyon in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We will connect with the Spencer Trail  on the ridge

We will connect with the Spencer Trail on the ridge

Amazing overlook of the Colorado River

Amazing overlook of the Colorado River

A short distance from the overlook, we reached the top of the Spencer Trail and I was wowed once again by the jaw-dropping view. The area around Lee’s Ferry is a geological wonder, and we had a long break, looking at the Echo and Vermilion Cliffs, and the start of the Grand Canyon winding below with the sweet sound of the Paria riffle. Rob pointed out different routes he’d done and I wished I had another week to explore the area.

Panorama from top of Spencer Trail- click to enlarge

Panorama from top of Spencer Trail- Echo Cliffs, Colorado River, Marble Canyon, Lee’s Ferry Vermilion Cliffs, Paria River- click to enlarge

Too soon it was time to drop 1500 feet in two miles on the Spencer Trail. I have looked up at the cliff many times from below at the ferry, trying to discern any part of the route, but never could see where it went. The trail is made up largely of steep steps covered in sand. It got us down quickly and before we knew it, we were back at the parking lot.

Steeply down the sandy steps of the Spencer Trail

Steeply down the sandy steps of the Spencer Trail

Echo Cliffs

Echo Cliffs

Ferry!

Ferry!

The launch area was empty, what a difference from the crowded frenzy of commercial river season. Another difference is that it was not incredibly hot out, as it usually is when we’re rigging and launching our boats at the ferry in the summertime. Rob’s friend Burl was at the ferry with cold drinks to deliver us back to Page. First time on the new Hwy 89 bypass during the day and I was surprised at how scenic of a drive it was. What a great hike, I’d definitely be up for this one again anytime.

In Wildlife Rehab news, I released a couple of the “Fuzzball” baby Great Horned Owls from the last entry near the San Pedro River. Such a treat to see the young ones go into the wild Donate to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson and help to defray the costs of raising fuzzballs!

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If they don't fly out, take apart the carrier and wait.

If they don’t fly out, take apart the carrier and wait.

And wait...

And wait…

Just before flying into the cottonwood

Just before flying into the cottonwood

 #2 Sat with its head poked out like that for a while

#2 Sat with its head poked out like that for a while

Out in the world but not quite sure what to do

Out in the world but not quite sure what to do

Not the soaring flight I'd hoped for, but it'll do. Good luck little owls!

Not the soaring flight I’d hoped for, but it’ll do. Good luck little owls!

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Battle Axe Butte 2008

Battle Axe Butte- Arizona Trail 2008

Every year for my birthday, I like to go on an adventure to a place I’ve wanted to go for a long time. Recent birthday events have included climbing Weaver’s Needle and visiting The Wave. Earlier this year when Wendy and I spent a night on The Spine, we visited the artesian well and I looked up at Battle Axe and knew that this would be my birthday present to myself.

Sunrise on Battle Axe from The Spine

I had to work at the Superior Eco-Tourism Fest on my actual birthday, so I planned on hiking it sometime the week before. I contacted John to see if he was interested, and we found a day that worked for both of us. I thought it would be a good idea for him to get a preview of the Grand Enchantment Trail and was excited when he said he’d never seen the area before. John and I hadn’t met before, but I have exchanged messages with him on HikeArizona.com. Last year, he hiked the entire Arizona Trail as dayhikes from south to north. Then he hiked it all again from north to south! Incredible. Some days he hiked over 30 miles- the speed required to cover that kind of terrain that fast boggles my mind.

This is one of my favorite places in all of Arizona, the striped cliffs, the artesian well, and the toothy ridge of Battle Axe. I have admired it for years and have countless pictures of it from all directions. It is on the old Arizona Trail route and when I hiked through here in 2008, it was covered with so many wildflowers that they completely covered the trail.

Up the ridge

Up the ridge

We parked at a spot that I’d camped in 2008 and made our way up the ridge. I told John that it was going to be a little different pace than he was used to because I require silly things like breaks and water. He was more than gracious and patient. As we neared the first scramble, the scenery got ever more interesting.

John waits patiently

John waits patiently

John sped through the scramble, I went a little too far right and had to backtrack. There are plenty of ledges to hike up and the brush isn’t too bad. We saw the spire from the description and headed for the chute to the right of it. The slickrock chute was great and then we followed along the wall toward the saddle. The whole route was a lot more stable than I’d expected.

Juniper!

Juniper!

We reached the saddle with great views to the south and took a minute to look at the route. John was able to scramble straight up from the saddle on the ridgeline and I followed. I carefully picked my way along the jumble of white rock. To my left was a massive sheer drop, so I tried not to look that way. We reached a spot that gave me pause. To get across it, I had to climb up over one of the ridgeline rocks and lower myself down onto a small catwalk to get across. Fortunately, John found a way to lessen the exposure by climbing down and around instead of all the way across. Still a move that got my heart moving.

Looking at the lower summit

Looking at the lower summit

John right before the catwalk

John right before the catwalk

Summit Ridge of Battle Axe Butte- photo by John

Summit Ridge of Battle Axe Butte- photo by John

Once past the catwalk, it was smooth sailing to the summit. We signed in the small, rarely used register and took what was probably John’s longest break ever. The views from the top were spectacular! I was so excited to be atop Battle Axe- something I never thought I would do 5 years ago, looking up at it from my campsite on the AZT. I showed John where the GET route he would be hiking went and eyed up peaks to hike in the future.

Summit view to the southeast

Summit view to the southeast

The Spine

The Spine

Pinals and Battle Axe Rd.

Pinals and Battle Axe Rd.

The scramble down was no problem at all and we went back through the chute near the spire and down to the ledges. We stuck to the ridgeline on the way back and found two large cairns. In no time at all we were back to the trailhead. Afterward we drove up Battle Axe Rd for a bit. Never get tired of this area, always more to explore!

View of our route

View of our route

In Wildlife Rehabilitation news, baby bunny season has started and we rescued a Great Snowy Egret who had been caught in a fishing line. They had to go out with a boat and cut it out. Poor thing. Here’s Janet Miller, founder of Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson giving it some food. This year’s Birds, Blues, and Bellydance fundraiser will be on April 20th 7-10 pm at Sky Bar- 536 N.4th Ave in Tucson. Mark your calendars, it’s going to be a great time!

Janet feeds a Great Snowy Egret

Janet feeds a Great Snowy Egret

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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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