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Peak 4910- The Cleaver

Peak 4910- The Cleaver

This was such a great hike, with much less blood loss than expected. Eventful parking lot, there was a large fire crew when I got there and tons of Pima County Sheriff conducting a search for someone when I left.

Weaving my way through the ocotillo and staying away from the nastier cacti, I kept to the ridge to the left of the drainage. The Cleaver loomed above. I reached a point where I had to travel in the drainage but it was not for very long.

Weaving through the desert vegetation

Weaving through the desert vegetation

Working toward the saddle

Working toward the saddle

Soon I was able to pick my way up toward the saddle on another ridge that was quite steep. It helped that the Alt Hiking Meetup group had been through here recently, their mashed-down vegetation made my travel a bit easier.

View NW from the saddle

View NW from the saddle

It was a relief to finally reach the saddle and the base of The Cleaver. Only one tough part left. There were two short scrambles near the base, then a bouldery ramp to the summit. The short climbs would have been nothing if I had been hiking with someone, but solo they got my heart racing a little.

Base of The Cleaver

Base of The Cleaver

Short climb at the base of The Cleaver

Short climb at the base of The Cleaver

Ramp to the summit

Ramp to the summit

The summit of The Cleaver- what an amazing place to be! I so enjoyed the challenge and seeing Pima Canyon from yet another perspective. Such a great thing to live in a place where a wild and rugged summit like this is in a canyon so close to my home. I took a lengthy break and read through the small summit register.

Summit Register

Summit Register

View down the drainage I came up

View down the drainage I came up

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

As I headed back, I was a little nervous about getting back down to the saddle. I remembered what Wendy does when she gets nervous: she sings Irish songs. I don’t know any Irish songs, though- the song I chose was Paul Revere by the Beastie Boys. It worked well, especially the “one lonely Beastie I be” line.

Prominent Point- another Pima Canyon peak I have my eye on

Prominent Point- another Pima Canyon peak I have my eye on

East face of The Cleaver and Bighorn Mtn.

East face of The Cleaver and Bighorn Mtn.

After the saddle, I saw a helicopter flying up and down the canyon. That can’t be good. I worked my way back the way I came. I was on the ridge on canyon right and saw the helicopter go up Pima Canyon, flying low. Trying to sidestep some prickly pear, I misjudged and ended up with a cheekful of spines. Great. Out came the tweezers and I tried to get the spines out before the helicopter flew by and caught me with my pants down. I managed to tidy myself up just in time before they flew over me.

I traveled the rest of the ridge down to intersect the Pima Canyon Trail. I was feeling tired and realized that I hadn’t really eaten a whole lot for how long I had been out. It was nice to be able to stretch my legs for the mile and a half to the trailhead.

Just before the trailhead, I came upon a Pima County Sheriff carrying a very large rifle and another with a backpack. They told me to talk to the other Sheriffs at the trailhead. I told them I had seen only two people all day- two men out taking pictures in the morning. They said that it didn’t fit their description. I wished them luck with their search. I wasn’t able to find out anything on the web later about who they were looking for.

A couple of hours after I got home, my body got revenge for not eating enough and I got the worst leg cramps I have had in a long time. But The Cleaver was totally worth it.

Still smiling!

Still smiling!

In Wildlife Rehabilitation news, I’ve begun to plan next year’s Birds, Blues, and Bellydance event to benefit Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson. We’ve had a blast the last couple of years and next year’s event (probably late April) will bring some new performers to the eclectic mix! Of course, our educational birds will be attending as well- Elfie the Elf Owl, Citan the Harris Hawk, and Luna the Great Horned Owl. Click below to donate to Wildlife Rehabilitation:

Citan the Harris Hawk

Citan the Harris Hawk

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The Biscuit

If you look at a topo map of the Mustang Mountains, a small range northeast of Sonoita, you will see the northernmost peak is called Mount Bruce. This ordinary name belies the beauty of this peak, for it has a most interesting shape. Sheer walls on the sides with a domed top- locals call it The Biscuit.

The Biscuit is one of those peaks that can be seen for miles and miles. I have admired it from many other mountain ranges and always wondered what it would be like to hike to the top. I saw that the Huachuca Hiking Club was leading a trip up there and contacted them to ask if I could tag along. Boy, am I glad I did! This hike was a blast and the views were incredible in every direction. Bill and I met up with the others from the hiking club at Upper Elgin Rd. and Highway 82. We drove past 8-foot high sunflowers lining the road and marveled at the beautiful rolling scenery and views of The Biscuit. As we were waiting for the others to arrive, I saw a very large hawk with a grey back and entirely white underside. I looked it up when I got home and it was a Harrier Hawk. Cool!

The Biscuit from our parking area. We grasswhacked, then went up to the saddle and curved around behind the peak to a break in the cliffs. Came down a ridge not seen in the photo to make a loop back to the cars.

We drove down Upper Elgin Rd. for a ways and turned off onto a good dirt road leading through the grasslands. The road stopped at a gate and we parked the cars. Steve, the hike leader, described our route, which started with a grasswhack toward our Biscuit. We waded through knee-high grasses and I was thankful I’d brought the tall gaiters- it is grass seed season. It got a little brushy as we crossed several small drainages. There were patches with sugar sumac, ceanothus, and everyone’s favorite, cat claw. After we crossed the drainage that goes up to the saddle, we found a faint path that went up through an increasingly brushy and ocotillo-laden slope. The view from the saddle was very interesting- on the other side was the much greener and more lush Rain Valley between the Mustangs and the Whetstones. Above us were the sheer cliffs of the Biscuit.

Grasswhackin’

Up to the saddle

‘Brella on the Biscuit

Getting brushy

View from the saddle toward the Whetstones, Rincon Peak in the distance

Monolithic Biscuit, can’t go up from this side without rope!

We took a break and then went up and contoured around near the base of the cliff. There was a break in the cliff once we got closer to the north side of the peak. The biggest problem with the route was that the rock was extremely loose and even large pieces were getting dislodged from the slope. There were a couple of spots that required scrambling, and where the rock wasn’t loose, it was razor-sharp. Sometimes it was both.

Sidehilling from the saddle

Scrambling up the break

Above the scramble, the hillside was covered in bright yellow goldeneye, which was such a treat. We found a large cairn marking another route up to the peak coming from the more gentle slope of the north side. We would use that as our descent and hopefully avoid coming down the sharp loose scramble. There were cairns on the route to the summit hidden in the flowers, and the summit finally came into view.

Mike takes a moment to take in the views on the flower-covered slope

View toward the Santa Ritas

Looking north, Rincons and Catalinas in the far distance

Where some summits have a cairn, or a post, or a mailbox, this one had a 4 foot tall circular rock wall. The 360 degree views were spectacular- so many different sky islands visible from just one spot!

Video from the summit:

Unexpected summit structure

Micro Chicken makes an appearance

Huachuca Hiking Club

We took a long break at the top, pointing out landmarks to each other. When it was time to go down, we went cairn-hunting in the flowers for the route back down the north slope. It was much easier than the route we had taken up. When we got close to the saddle, we contoured around the mountain to avoid several drainages and then descended back to the grasslands. The rest of the hike back was grass-seed hell, as we all got stabbed repeatedly. No mesh shoes for me next time! It was a short but interesting hike and I think we hit it at just the perfect time for wildflowers up top.

Cairn-hunting in the flowers

The more gentle northern slope

It may look serene, but we are getting stabbed by a million grass seeds on the way back to the cars

In wildlife rehabilitation fundraiser news, one of my favorite parts of volunteering at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson is getting to fly the raptors to see if they are ready for release. I took a beautiful Great Horned Owl out the other day and it did a great job and will be released soon. 100% of donations go toward animal rehabilitation.

Great Horned Owl

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Weaver's Needle

The Weaver’s Needle is a classic Arizona landmark located in the Superstition Wilderness, east of Phoenix. A spire standing 4553 feet tall made from volcanic rock that juts out of the surrounding desert which can be seen from as far away as the Catalinas and the Mogollon Rim. I have admired it from many angles on many different trails, so when I found out a couple of years ago that it was a fairly low-level technical climb to reach the summit,  I began researching the route. However, I would need to find someone to lead the climb. When I was on my Royal Arch Loop in the Grand Canyon last October, Kent mentioned that he’d climbed it and that he’d be willing to do it again. Well, I wasn’t going to let  an offer like that go to waste, so I suggested that we try to climb it around my birthday, February 16. We invited Steve, who had been on the Royal Arch Loop with us, and John, who I know from HikeArizona.com. Another climber, Dave, was planning on joining us, but got sick right before the climb. He was kind enough to loan me some gear and a camera- thanks Dave! My camera had stopped working after enduring a sandstorm at The Wave the previous week. (Report coming soon- I am still going through the myriad pictures I took in Southern Utah.) After months of anticipation, the day was finally here and four of us met at the Peralta Trailhead at 7am on February 26 to start our adventure.

Kent, John, Steve and me at Peralta Trailhead

Kent had previously climbed it from the east side, and he said that the off-trail approach was nasty and filled with catclaw. On the west side, the climb was a little more difficult but the approach to the base was all on the Peralta Trail. We got hiking at 7:15 am up the Peralta Trail toward Fremont Saddle. This is one of the most popular trails in the Phoenix area, but overcast skies and a forecast calling for a slight chance of rain in the afternoon were enough to keep the hordes away and as a result, we only saw a couple of groups of hikers all day! I was impressed from the start- I had never been on the Peralta Trail before and didn’t realize that it was surrounded by hoodoos and other interesting rock formations. The trail wove through the surprisingly lush creek. There were some gigantic Sugar Sumac that were towering trees, rather than the smaller bushes I’m accustomed to seeing. As the trail climbed toward Fremont Saddle, there were great views south to Picketpost Mountain, near Superior. We reached the saddle at 8:30 and I got my first view of today’s objective. Here’s a video from Fremont Saddle:

Kent on the "sidewalk" of the Peralta Trail

Weaver's Needle from Fremont Saddle

It was an impressive sight, the “classic view” of Weaver’s Needle, looking like an improbable climb for anyone but a skilled climber from this angle. We took a short break and then continued down from the saddle, going in and out of green areas near the creek. As we neared Pinyon Camp, the two summits of the Needle came into view. The trip reports and route descriptions I’d read said the climber’s route crosses the creek at a cairn after you pass the hoodoos on the side of Weaver’s Needle. There is another trail, the Weaver’s Needle Crosscut, that is cairned that takes off to the east just before you pass the hoodoos, don’t take that one and continue to the next one located at N33° 25.769′ W111° 22.568′. The two summits and the gully between them were clearly visible and the route up to the gully is a well beat-in path that quickly gains elevation. We could see two other climbers that had taken a wrong turn and ended up near the lone saguaro. The route goes to the left of the rock outcropping that the lone saguaro sits upon.

Pinyon Camp- the two summits come into view

On the climber's route

We reached the gully and the start of the scramble and stashed our hiking poles. The rock was good, grippy, and solid up to the base of the first pitch.

Start of the scramble

View from the base of the first pitch

John in his element

The other climbers were making their way up the chockstone pitch and we waited as they climbed. The overcast skies had been a boon on our hike up, I can imagine that is a toasty climb most of the year. Now we were literally chillin’  in the shade. The views were good but the waiting did nothing to calm my nerves. I knew the pitch wasn’t terribly technical, but this being only my second outdoor climb  (my first was Baboquivari, 2 years ago), it was a bit intimidating looking all the way up to the chockstone. Have I mentioned that I’m afraid of heights? I am, but I find that if I push through all the nervousness that I am always rewarded with an amazing adventure. Thankfully there were probably less people than usual trying to climb today because of the marginal rain in the forecast. Finally it was our turn and Kent got on his climbing shoes and began leading the climb up to the chockstone. It was all going well until one of Kent’s pieces of protection came out of the wall and sliding down the rope. Thankfully, he was able to adjust and make it up the pitch and under the chockstone. Kent set up a toprope, and Steve went next, collecting the pieces that Kent had put in as he went up.

Kent gets ready to lead the first pitch

Up the first pitch

Steve belays Kent, who has almost reached the chockstone

Now it was my turn. I was a little flustered getting started and John was great and talked me through it. Once I got started, I was fine, and the climbing wasn’t too hard at all- kind of like climbing a ladder. A ladder that is 180 feet tall. The climb to the chockstone is rated “easy 5th class”.   I had a mantra “Place my feet, place my hands” that helped me get a rhythm going and I concentrated on the task at hand and tried not to look down. There were several good places to take a rest and breathe for a second before continuing. I could see that I was nearing the chockstone and I saw Steve’s smiling face through the hole, ready to help if I needed to take my pack off to wriggle under the chockstone. Fortunately, both me and my pack fit through and the crux of the climb was over with! The notch between the two summits above the chockstone was windy and surprisingly roomy and I sat down to wait for John to come up. John chose to go to the right of the chockstone, a move rated 5.2. Under the chockstone is a 5.0 and up to the left of the chockstone is rated a 5.4.

Up the 1st pitch

View from the top of the chockstone

There was a vertical 15 foot wall and I chose to get a belay on it after feeling slightly uncomfortable on the first couple moves without one. I figure, we’ve got the rope, why not? Then we had an interesting scramble up a gully that was not exposed at all. Finally we reached the base of the final scramble, which I knew from reading had wonderful hand and foot holds, but was eerily exposed and I again asked for a belay. The view from that pitch was incredible for the second I allowed myself to look as I climbed up the “bomber jugs” while using colorful language to ease the tension. (I can often gauge how challenging a trip is by the amount of swear words I use- it’s a coping mechanism I guess.) I reached the top of the final scramble and walked up the final short slope to the summit.

Kent and Steve scramble up the final pitch

At the summit, looking down the final slope before the summit- Peralta Trail visible in the valley below.

I can’t believe I’m standing on top of the Weaver’s Needle!!! The views were phenomenal- if a little bit hazy-here’s a video:

I made it!

Kent throws a Wendy with Steve and John on the summit

I could see so many different landmarks from the summit- Four Peaks, the Catalinas and Pusch Ridge, Battleship Mountain, Canyon Lake, the Superstition Ridgeline, Picketpost- too many to name them all. I could also see the path of Segment 1 of the Grand Enchantment Trail that I’d hiked last year through the Supes. The one Arizona landmark that I couldn’t see was the Weaver’s Needle- because I was standing on top of it! We made great time and were on the summit shortly after 1 pm. As we were admiring the scenery, a plane closely circled us several times. There is the sweetest little campsite on top, complete with a windbreak. I aspire to sleep on this spire someday.

View from the summit, showing the small campsite- Four Peaks in the distance

This plane circled us a couple of times

Summit!

We had lunch and signed the register and all too soon it was time to head back down. We were pleased that the marginal chance of rain had not materialized and it looked like it was going to stay clear for our descent to the trail. That’s all I cared about, once we were on the trail, it could rain, snow, hail, or all three- which it ended up doing later that evening but long after we’d left the trailhead. I was glad that we were able to avoid downclimbing the pitches that we’d scrambled up by rappelling down. We went to the first rappel station and Kent went first. I felt pretty good about the rappel, even though part of it was a free rappel and I was just hanging in the air, letting myself down. I’d never done that before and Kent got a great shot of me in action.

Kent sets up the first rappel- the lower spire's summit is visible above his head and Fremont Saddle is above that

Peralta Trail visible waaaay below

Free Rappel

We did have to scramble down the gully to the top of the 15′ step and I took my time, singing the “Get down, get down” part from the song Jungle Boogie to amuse myself while descending. The scariest moment of the whole day was when someone dislodged a rock above me and when I heard Steve yell “rock!” I froze into position and a softball-sized rock bounced inches from my hand. Now having a crushed hand is no fun for anyone, but I am a massage therapist and my livelihood depends on having non-crushed, non-mangled hands. It would have been a very bad thing.  When we reached the top of the chockstone, I began to get nervous again. The trip reports I’d read said it was a little tough to start the rappel off the chockstone because you have to find a way to swing under it without hitting yourself on it on the way down. John went to the right of the chockstone and I wasn’t crazy about how it looked, and Steve tried the left side, which looked better, but was kind of tricky to maneuver into position to start. When it was my turn, I opted for the left, but got a little panicky on my way over to start the rappel. I couldn’t feel the tension on the rope, but once I moved as far over as I could I was able to feel the rope holding me and take my first couple of steps down the wall before swinging under the chockstone. As with the other times I’d been nervous today, once I got going, I was fine. The rappel took the entire length of a 60 meter (180′) rope and I made it down to the base of the climb without incident and even had quite a bit of fun! Kent did the rappel in two stages and we were finally done with the technical part of the climb. I had chosen at the beginning of the day to not bring along climbing shoes and there was not one point in the day where I missed having them. A little more scrambling and we were back to our hiking poles and headed down the narrow climber’s path toward the Peralta Superhighway.

Looking back at the route

We reached the Peralta Trail at 4:15 and stopped to refuel for the final leg of our journey, 4 miles back to the trailhead. We asked Kent now that he’d done both routes to the top, how they compared. He said that the climbing was appreciably easier on the east side, but that the Peralta approach with no brush to fight was the only way he’d do it again. An hour later, we were at Fremont Saddle, which we had to ourselves. John said that on a normal Saturday, there are crowds of people at the saddle- lucky us!

Weaver's Needle- so different once you've stood on top!

Peralta Trail

We got back to the trailhead just as the light was fading, 11 hours after we’d started. What a perfect day- the scenery, climb, and the camaraderie were all top-notch. After saying good-bye to John and thanking Kent for doing such a fantastic job of leading the trip, Steve and I headed back toward Tucson. We stopped at the River Bottom Saloon “On the banks of the mighty Gila River” for some fish and chips. Quite tasty, plus we got to see a slice of Florence nightlife, which provided some entertainment in the form of a bachelorette party going on in the next room. I got back home 16  hours after I’d left the house- what a day! Now for the rest of my life, when I see the Weaver’s Needle- while driving, hiking, flying, whenever- I will get that inimitable feeling knowing that I have stood on top. Our timing was just right- the following day this is what the Weaver’s Needle looked like!

Charger55 from HikeArizona.com got this picture of a snowy Weaver's the day after our climb

Here’s a link to the full set of pictures:

Weaver’s Needle Summit 2-26-10

I have several bits of exciting news on the Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser front! First, a big thanks to the folks at Heritage Highlands, I recently gave a slideshow presentation about my Royal Arch trip in the Grand Canyon and they were very generous with donations for Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson. I am also excited to announce that I have a date and venue nailed down for the Birds, Blues, and Bellydance fundraising event. It will be held Saturday, May 7th in the evening at Sky Bar on Fourth Avenue. I will be having a Great-Horned Owl, a Harris Hawk, and an Elf Owl from the rehab out for people to meet, there will be live blues, and there will be performances by several Tucson-area bellydancers, including yours truly. So save the date- it’s going to be a blast! For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture, here’s a picture of one of the birds that will be at the event- “Elfie” the adorable Elf Owl:

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

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Last light on Thimble Peak

Towering over Sabino Canyon at 5323 feet, Thimble Peak is a prominent feature of the front range of the Catalinas. For those of you not acquainted with sewing, (which I’m guessing is at least some of my readers), a thimble is a sewing aid that you wear on your finger to help push a needle through fabric. I was talking to my friend Bill Bens at a recent Arizona Trail trailbuilding event and mentioned that we should try for the Thimble soon. He said that he had a standing invitation from someone who knew the route- Steven, a man known in Tucson hiking circles as “Mr. X” of the X Hiking Club. As it got closer, Bill said that there would be 10-12 people going in the group including Matt Nelson, a friend of Steven’s and a professional guide that would help belay us up to the actual summit of Thimble Peak (most hikers only go to the lower, non-technical summit). Steven had scouted out a route to Thimble Peak that scrambled up all 7 Falls toward a drainage coming off the base of the peak. After summiting Thimble Peak the plan was to hike over to the NNW to a drainage that would deposit us at the end of the tram road.

Blackett's Ridge and Saddleback visible from the Bear Cyn TH

On January 19th, ten of us met at Sabino Canyon and shuttled over to the Bear Canyon Trailhead, starting our hike around 8:30 am up the access road. We reached the Bear Canyon Trail at 9am and made our way up the canyon. I remember years ago when a hike to 7 Falls was the whole hike, today it was just a means to get to the real fun! The group spread out a bit and I was happy to get a little time to myself. There was a fair amount of water in the creek, giving a nice sonic backdrop to the easy stroll. Bill and I stopped before the descent to the falls to eye up our route across the canyon before continuing to the falls for a break.

Cathedral Rock and the Front Range of the Catalinas to the left

Across flowing Bear Creek

View of the drainage above 7 Falls

This is as far as most people go, but it was just a warm up for the hike to come

After some snacks, Steven went over our plan for the day and some pointers about the scramble ahead. Then it was time for us to start scrambling up each level of 7 Falls. It was so neat to see each of the pools and look at the waterfalls from a totally different perspective. There was one that was quite large, with a rainbow visible in the spray. There were a couple of tricky spots, but Steven and Matt were there to spot us and talk us through the best way to go. We crossed the stream a couple of times and finally we reached what Steven calls “The Penthouse”. It was a gorgeous set of pools that I must revisit in the summer with my inner tube for some quality floating time. Here’s a video:

Scrambling up

Gorgeous upper waterfall

Steep terrain ahead

Matt and Steven spot and lend a hand- a slip here would send you down the large fall in the previous pictures

Today, there was no time for dawdling because we had places to go and a Thimble to climb. We bushwhacked up the drainage, which started out as series of broad ledges that made for easy scrambling. The drainage split and we followed the right fork. Pretty soon, our next objective came into view- a notch between the rocks that make up the base that Thimble Peak sits on and a tall rock face. I’d scouted the route on Google Earth the night before and it looked like it was going to get super-steep and nasty as we got closer to the notch. The scramble got progressively steeper and as we neared the notch, our nice ledges were replaced by unstable rocks and boulders. It was tough going, but we took our time and stopped for a couple of short breaks for shade and to catch our breath. Even though it was the middle of January, it was unseasonably warm and I  was glad that we weren’t attempting this in any hotter weather. The views down to the Bear Canyon Trail and beyond were incredible. Here’s a video:

Scrambling up the ledges in the drainage above 7 Falls

David eyes up our notch on the right

Grasses on rock make for a beautiful but slippery combination

Ledgy

Getting closer!

Looking down the steep drainage

Saddleback

Conditions deteriorated further after we regrouped at the notch. The steep, loose, and nasty terrain made me long for the unstable boulders of the upper drainage. The rock wall that made up the east side of the notch was beautifully striated and dwarfed the hikers behind me. But the terrain was so steep that before long, I was towering over the rock wall with a wonderful view of Helen’s Dome and Mica Mountain in the Rincons.

The higher we climbed, the more loose and crumbly the terrain

Glad we weren't planning on coming down this way!

Steven is just a small red dot compared to the giant cliff

Oh Helen- what a glorious sight!

After thrashing up the hillside, we reached the base of the rocks that Thimble Peak sits upon and contoured around on jumbled pink, white, and black-striped boulders to meet up with the conventional route that most hikers take to Thimble Peak from the upper Bear Canyon Trailhead at Prison Camp (Hiryabayashi). This point in and of itself is quite the destination at the base of Thimble Peak- great views of the Catalinas. By this time it was 1pm, and though we all wanted to be up top, we took a short, well-deserved lunch break first to refuel before the final push to the top of the peak.

Our route around the base of the Thimble toward the notch between the two summits

Wonderful Catalina views

After lunch, it was time to tackle the final chute and then climb a ten-foot wall to attain the summit. The chute was filled with giant boulders and had plenty of good hand and footholds. At the top of the chute, I put on a harness and lined up with the rest of the group to take my turn at the final obstacle. I was happy to have Matt belaying us up the wall to the actual summit, most people have to be content with the nearby non-technical summit which sits 10 feet lower. A couple of well placed feet and hands later, and I was hiking up the final slope to the flat-topped peak of the Thimble!

Scrambling up the chute

View from the top of the chute

Bill climbs with help from Steven and Matt

People at the Thimble Peak vista point on the Catalina Highway could be looking at us right now!

What a place- the summit is quite large and would make an incredible place to spend the night! The 360 degree views are spectacular in every direction and we all amused ourselves by pointing out different landmarks and trails. As we enjoyed the summit, we were visited by a soaring Peregrine Falcon. Here’s a video from the summit:

Matt marvels at the views

A victorious group atop Thimble Peak

Bear Canyon, Agua Caliente Hill, Mica Mtn. and Rincon Peak

After many photos were taken, it was unfortunately time to descend. I watched as Matt and Steven showed how to get down the wall. It was my first time rappelling where I wasn’t in charge of letting the line out myself. I’m trying to get better at trusting the rope- but it is always a struggle, as I am pretty afraid of heights, especially descending. The reason that I push through it is that every time it has proved to be worth the momentary discomfort.

We went back around the base to where the grassy slope extends northward. The conventional route goes back to the upper Bear Canyon Trail via a route that contours to the northeast. But we weren’t doing anything the conventional way today. Instead we took the western slope of the ridge toward some large rock towers on our way to a drainage that would deposit us at Tram Stop #9, at the end of the Sabino Canyon Tram road. There were great views back to Thimble Peak and more scrambling.

Coming carefully back down the chute

I love the vegetation at this elevation

We were up there!

The bushwhack toward the drainage took us past some wonderful rock towers

Bill says: "Just another crummy day in the Sonoran Desert!"

As we found the correct drainage and started heading down it, the split between the two summits of Thimble Peak became visible. Tram Stop #9 would come into view every so often but the rugged terrain in the drainage made for slow going. Finally, the front people in the group reached the tram stop and radioed back, asking if we’d be interested in riding the tram out to the parking lot. I was surprised that there was a tram there at all, as it was almost 5pm, and radioed back that I was definitely on board. I walk the tram road pretty often as a night hike, and wasn’t really interested in a 3.7 mile roadwalk on hard asphalt to cap off an already tough day. Some in our group insisted on hiking the road, but a bunch of us hopped on the tram and enjoyed sunset views of Thimble Peak on the ride out.

Looking back

Scrambling

'Shwacking down the drainage toward the tram road

Split between the two summits

Looking back up the drainage that we descended

View of Thimble Peak from the tram- no shame in my game for catching a ride on the last tram out and saving myself a 3.7 mile roadwalk that I've done a million times before.

Click the picture below to see the whole set of pictures from this hike:

Thimble Peak 1-19-11

What an adventure this day turned out to be- we had hiked from 8:20 am until 5pm and only covered 6.4 miles with 2600 feet of elevation gain. It was a great group and I had a smile on my face that lasted the rest of the week as I visited family in chilly Chicago for my grandmother’s 80th birthday.  And now for something completely different: pictures of non-hiking situations on my visit to Chicago!

Me with my two younger brothers, Shawn and Sanjay Rana out to see Shawn's band play

My Nonna at her surprise party

My nephew Devin and my Dad

Me and Mom

Olivia and my husband Brian

It was good to see my family and friends and everyone’s children. Brian and I did typical Chicago-in-the-winter things like sit at peoples houses and eat. Thankfully, we flew out before the “Snowmageddon” hit (or “Snowpocalypse” if you prefer) and buried everyone for two days. Now, for the Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture, here’s a trio of young Cooper’s Hawks that we had at the rehab in 2010. These three are among the 543 animals total that went through Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson last year: 113 bunnies, 124 quail, 54 hawks, 23 falcons, 38 owls, 13 waterbirds, and a whopping 267 songbirds!

Baby Cooper's Hawks- 33 came through the rehab last year

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La Milagrosa Canyon- people in upper right for scale

When I was on top of Agua Caliente Hill last week, I looked into the interesting canyons at the base and wondered what it was like down there. I recently joined the Alt Hiking Meetup group to find others interested in bushwhacking and scrambling, and someone posted a loop hike of those very canyons I was admiring from above. My Royal Arch Loop trip made me a little wary of hiking with a large group of people I don’t know, but I decided to keep an open mind and I signed up to do a loop of La Milagrosa – Agua Caliente Canyons. Translated from Spanish to English, the names lose a little of their luster- it becomes The Marvelous (or Miraculous) – Hot Water Canyon Loop.

Ten of us met on Martin Luther King Day and we started hiking at 9:15 am out of the trailhead located on Suzenu Ave. The “trailhead” is really just some parking alongside of the street, there is no lot or anything. To get to the trail, we went around the fence and started hiking along Horsehead Road. We passed the Milagrosa Ridge Trail turnoff and continued into the bottom of La Milagrosa Canyon. The canyon soon got narrower, the walls got taller, and large shelves of rock appeared for us to travel on. The canyon walls were wonderful, banded Gneiss so typical of canyons in the Catalinas. This canyon is very popular with rock climbers, and known as “5.11 Heaven” for the proliferation of tough routes.

Hiking out on Horsehead Rd.

Ledges appear as the walls narrow

As we got farther up the canyon, obstacles began to appear. At first they were just small spots where it helped to put your hand up on the rocks, but soon we were confronted with larger and larger boulder jumbles and it became more interesting. Only one of our group, LaFong, had been here before, and it helped to have someone who knew where the bypasses were. One of them shot straight up the slope to the left and I found myself precariously inching up a steep, loose chute thinking “I’m glad I didn’t try this one solo!”  We finally came to the largest rock jumble yet and found a way through it. A lot of the rock was slick without hand or footholds and it made traction a bit difficult on some of the larger angled boulders.

Giant boulders and short scrambles at first

Climbing up

Slick surfaces made the climb a bit tricky at times

We finally all made it up the rockfall and turned the corner to see a large dryfall with a deep pool at the bottom with ledges perfect for a break. The canyon had been in shade up till this point (about an hour after we started), which was good because the climb upcanyon was enough to work up a sweat.

Kitt Peak visible in the distance

LaFong, me and Bill take a short break at the dry fall

We had a quick snack and then Jeff, the trip leader, got us moving again. We scrambled up a crack in the middle of the ledges. By the time I got up to the next level, I could see that there was yet another steep climb up a rocky chute, this one had good hand and foot holds.

Jeff and LaFong go up and up

You want us to go where?

Ginger heads toward the bypass

Up the chute to the left of the falls

Soon afterwards, we intersected the Milagrosa Ridge Trail and followed it down, back into the streambed. We stopped at the streambed to regroup and plan our next move. After a bit of discussion, all but one of us decided to go for the whole canyon loop, rather than jump on the Milagrosa Ridge Trail to get back to the cars. From the streambed, the trail climbed up and up along the ridgeline. I had great views of Agua Caliente Hill and Peak 4778, where I’d been last week. Peak 4778 is steeper and predominantly grassy, while Agua Caliente Hill’s summit is darker, due to the oaks and junipers on top. I wished I’d brought my umbrella- the day was unseasonably warm and I couldn’t believe that I was sweating in January. Only in Southern Arizona!

Up and out of the canyon onto the Milagrosa Ridge Trail- Peak 4778 visible on right

We paused to regroup at the junction where the route went down into Agua Caliente Canyon and the descent into the canyon was on good trail. If we would have continued on the Milagrosa Ridge Trail, we would have eventually intersected the Arizona Trail south of Molino Basin. We reached some rocks and finally sat down for a lengthy (for this group) break.  Jeff and I talked about our wildly different hiking styles: he goes to bag a peak, spends 10 minutes on the summit, then hikes down. I, on the other end of the spectrum, want to backpack up to a peak and spend the whole night up there, taking a bunch of scenery and photo breaks along the way.

Lounging at our break spot after dropping into Agua Caliente Canyon

After our break, we continued down Agua Caliente Canyon, scrambling, rockhopping, and occasionally going high on the hillside to the right to traverse past tricky parts in the canyon bottom. The streambed was filled with boulders that had fallen from the hillsides, some as large as a house. I taught some of the other hikers about La Rompage, which sounds so much better than Butt-Hiking. It definitely came in handy a couple of times today.

Scrambling down Agua Caliente Canyon

Looking downcanyon

There were pools in the deeper, shady parts of the canyon

Canyon Goodness

As we progressed downcanyon, the obstacles became less and less frequent and soon it was just a matter of rockhopping down the dry streambed. Tiring on the knees and ankles, but a lot easier than what we’d just come through. We regrouped one last time at the exit of the canyon, a little under two hours from our lunch spot where we’d dropped into the canyon. There were great views from where we came with Peak 4778 in the background.

Stopping to regroup

The canyon opens up and becomes less of a scramble and more of a rockhop

Happy hikers near the canyon exit

Almost everyone donated a little blood to the desert today and some got up close and personal with the jumping cholla. This is why I hike with long sleeves, pants and gloves- I made it without a scratch. The whole hike took about four hours and 15 minutes and was 6.25 miles with 1050ft. elevation gain. An extremely scenic route that begs for more exploration. I’ll be back.

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture, I was thinking about a couple of roadrunners that we had at the rehab when I first started back in 2009. We got them just-hatched and raised them until they could be released back into the wild. It was such a special thing to be able to interact so closely with one of the Southwest’s most famous creatures:

Juvenile Roadrunner sitting on my leg

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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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First of all, November 13 is the one-year anniversary of Sirena’s Wanderings- a big thanks to all my readers and a super-big thanks to those who have donated to my Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser! My first post wast a video of a gorgeous rainbow I saw at Cedar Ridge on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand canyon while hiking out of my volunteer project. (it’s also the picture on the the header of my website) Click here to watch it.

As much as I enjoyed my recent time in the Grand Canyon, I was with a large group of people the whole trip and didn’t have much opportunity at all to enjoy the wilderness solo. I have primarily been a solo backpacker, and on the Grand Canyon trip there were all sorts of things I did differently from my usual routine on the trail because of the group around me. I had been thinking since I got back that I needed to go on a palate-cleansing solo trip, to a location where I was practically guaranteed solitude. I tossed around a couple of different options, but remembered one location that has been on top of my to-do list for a while now: The Spine.

The Spine

The Spine runs northwest above the Gila River and south of the White Canyon Wilderness, northwest of the small mining town of Kelvin. I had admired it when I bushwhacked through this area on the Arizona Trail (most of the passage hadn’t been built yet) in March 2008 with John Rendall and his friend Paul. I remember thinking that I needed to come back someday and explore further. I’d planned a dayhike out on The Spine once before, almost a year ago, but wasn’t able to go. This time I was bringing my backpack and staying the night. The temperatures have finally cooled in the desert, making a crack-of-dawn start unnecessary. I had a two-hour drive up to the spot in the wash at the base of The Spine where I parked my jeep. I packed light, but had to carry all my water for a dry camp. I started to hike away from the jeep, and something told me to go back and get the extra two-liter container of water that I’d left in the car. After taking on even more water weight, I started down the wash. Tomorrow will be Veteran’s Day and this area will be full of various people camping, driving, and hiking. But today, it is all mine. I see no one on the drive in and hear not a sound made by another human until I drive back out.

I had originally had grand plans of a full hike of The Spine and both arms, as well as an overnight on a patio underneath The Spine that I’d seen pictures of. But a busy work schedule at my very physical job as a massage therapist had left me pretty tired, and I realized that all I really wanted to do was get up to the patio with my copy of Desert Solitaire, and read, write, relax and enjoy the view.

But before I could relax, I had to pay the piper with a rugged off-trail bushwhack to get to my destination. It started out mellow, winding through attractive washes streaked with reds and golds.

Hiking in the wash

I turned into a side canyon and passed a copse of cottonwoods with a trickling spring at the base. There were tons of bees, so I hurried along. As I gained elevation in the smooth-rocked drainages, a hint of the amazing views to come tantalized me to the north. Several climbs over and under trees, a bypass of a dry fall, and decisions of which thorny bush would hurt the least, and I was at a saddle where I could see my climb to The Spine.

Cottonwoods at the spring

Smooth rock lines the drainage bottom

View down the drainage

Classic desert choice: both are spiny, which do you choose? If you picked the one to the left- you lose!

Climbing from the saddle- Copper Butte mine is on the right

It looked rocky, steep, and a little bit daunting, but I had all the time in the world to get up there and the weather couldn’t have been better. This was definitely a hike where I had to concentrate on exactly where I was putting my feet and scanning ahead to see where the best line of travel was through the ever-increasing boulders. At first, I had the help of a ridge that went part of the way up, then it really got interesting. Here’s a video:

Not a great picture, but it shows how rugged the climb is up the slope toward The Spine

I had to use my hands to push and pull myself up at times, I was skirting around loose rockfalls and brush, and it was very slow going, but I was enjoying the hell out of it. The views just got better and better and I could see the boulder I was aiming for getting closer. As I looked down to where I had come from, I could see my jeep way down in the wash, and no one else around at all. Perfect. Almost to the ridgeline, it was the most jumbled, but I took my time and an hour and a half after leaving my jeep, I reached The Spine.

Atop The Spine, looking north

Crest and arms of The Spine, which hang above the Gila River to the south

Wow- a great effort paid off with a great reward. The Spine is made up of a hodgepodge of giant red-brown boulders, some with a splotchy white coating that makes them all the more attractive. The big boulders were very sturdy and I was able to hop from one to another along the ridgetop. After a short while, my objective came into view. The Patio is on the northern part of The Spine, about 100 feet below the ridgeline, facing the Gila River.

Looking down on The Patio- Catalinas in the far distance

I had to hike along The Spine to find the best way down the jumbled boulders and scree slopes down to The Patio. It was precariously steep and loose in places, much more than my hike up to the ridgeline, but I made it down safely and headed to the north end,to make my camp. I chose the north end because it overlooks the White Canyon Wilderness and Battle Axe Butte, one of my favorite peaks. A bonus of the views from camp was that the ridgeline blocked out views of nearby Copper Butte, its sides all slashed up by the mine.

Video of The Patio:

I shed my pack and made myself at home, inflating my air mattress and finding a perch on top of a perfectly curved boulder and ate some lunch. It had taken me two hours to go only 1.6 miles, but it was worth every scratch. After lunch, I went exploring my new digs and was surprised to find a large fire ring with a ridiculous amount of firewood gathered nearby. I think it’s funny how people feel the need to have a giant raging inferno when a small fire is easier and less damaging. There were no views from this campsite, so I was not at all interested. At the south end of The Patio, there were fantastic views toward the Catalinas.

Home sweet home

View down The Spine from the patio

Sentinel of the south end of the patio

I spent the entire afternoon staring at the scenery, watching the wispy clouds roll in, listening to music and getting up every so often to check out the views from different parts of The Patio. My campsite faced the path I’d taken on the Arizona Trail over two years ago, a place I remember well because it is where I overheated trying to keep up with my friend John Rendall. The crazy thing is that John was 73 years old at the time! I bonked and had to elevate my feet above my head, holding my umbrella for shade, while John fed me GU until I felt human again. I wrote in my journal: “The upside was that I had the most beautiful view of these sheer white cliffs while I was recuperating.”  Men like John illustrate time and time again that if you stay active, you can enjoy all sorts of very physical activities late into life. A definite inspiration. And now, for a goofy shot of me from that day:

 

Bonk! A rather silly picture of me trying to cool off in '08- at least I'm still smiling...

My view when I bonked in '08 on the Arizona Trail

This trip was just what I needed- solitude in an amazingly beautiful setting. I took out my well-worn copy of Desert Solitaire and alternately read and watched the clouds drift past the bald peak of Battle Axe Butte (someone has to do it) until the sun began to set.  The wispy clouds I’d been watching all day made for quite a display as the sun sank between North and South Buttes on the Gila River. The ridge above me lit up a firey red and I moved around the patio, taking lots of shots of the ever-changing light. Here’s a series of photos:

 

5:29 pm- sun starts to dip between South and North Buttes, which are on either side of the Gila River

5:30- Sunset lights up The Spine a firey red

5:35

5:36

5:37- I spot the lone saguaro on the small ridge

5:38- this one is my favorite

5:41

5:43- view west with a crescent moon

The Patio had been somewhat of a wind tunnel all afternoon and I was a little bummed that I wouldn’t be able to have a fire, but as the sun set, the air calmed. I made dinner on my little rock perch and then made a fire and read some more. I was going to sleep on the ground, but I was reading and watching the stars on my rock perch and fell asleep up there. It was just big enough and quite comfortable.

The next morning, I awoke to the sound of great horned owls calling out to each other. I spent the morning writing pages and pages in my journal and lounging around camp and even had a small morning fire to keep away the chill. I don’t often have a fire when I backpack, but I really enjoyed it this trip. I even brought some white sage to add to the fire and it smelled wonderful. Around 10 am, I went into my backpack to get something and my hand came out all wet! Not a good feeling, as the rest of my water was in my platypus bladder in my pack. I took the bladder out and saw that I’d lost over a liter to a small hole. I transferred the remaining water into my extra container that I’d gone back for yesterday (I knew there was a reason for me to listen to the little voice that said to bring it along!) and realized that it was probably time for me to pack up and hike back down. Due to the precarious terrain, going downhill wasn’t going to be any faster than going uphill. Before I left, I dismantled my fire ring and returned the spot to its original condition, even sweeping away the multitude of footprints I’d made in my camp.

Morning view

This is why I backpack instead of dayhike- the sunsets and sunrises are not to be missed.

The hike back up to The Spine was easier than the descent, and then it was back to boulder-hopping on the ridgeline. I got a great shot from above of my sleeping boulder- from up here it looked so small. My descent went very slowly because I had to test a lot of my foot placements to make sure the rock I was stepping on wasn’t going to roll down the hill once I put my weight on it. Once I got back down to the saddle and into the smooth-rock drainage, I took a break to stretch and snack and and to admire the big, white, fluffy clouds that had rolled in. What a place. I would have stayed longer, but I was down to the last of my water, so I had no choice but to continue on through the pretty drainages back to my jeep. The spring I’d passed yesterday seemed to be flowing stronger and I stopped to listen to the sweet trickling sound over the rocks. When I reached my jeep, I took my GPS out to record my stats and saw that my entire mileage for the trip was only 3.2 miles. Probably one of the shortest backpacking trips I’ve ever taken, but one of the more challenging, for sure. I adore the sense of accomplishment that comes upon looking where you’ve been on the drive out and this trip was no exception.

Looking down on where I slept last night- it's the white spot at the far end in the middle of the frame.

Snack and cloud-watching spot

Success!

Looking back at The Spine from Battle Axe Road

A short list of why I love solo backpacking:

  • Quiet. Wonderful all-encompassing quiet.
  • What time you do things is all up to you and can be changed on a whim
  • No worries about how others are doing (especially valuable after my Royal Arch trip)
  • Privacy- no need to tell others not to look while you pee, change clothes, etc.
  • Dancing and stretching (two of my favorite camp activities!) are more fun sans onlookers
  • No need for earplugs to drown out hiking companion’s snoring
  • As much time as I want for reflection, meditation, writing, staring at the scenery, photography
  • Sense of accomplishment that comes from figuring out a route on my own
  • Not having to worry about what I look like, not even a teeny tiny bit

Though short in both time and distance, this was a perfect trip- a challenging bushwhack, plenty of time to relax and rejuvenate in a beautiful setting, and a healthy dose of solitude. This is the stuff that revitalizes my soul.

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture- With the cooler weather, things have calmed down somewhat at the rehab, so I thought I’d share one of my favorite characters from June 2009. I’d only been volunteering there for a couple of weeks when this little Harris Hawk was brought in.  I love his feet and the look on his face!

One-week old Harris Hawk

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