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Posts Tagged ‘solo backpacking’

Click here to read Part 1!

The original plan of 23 straight days in the Canyon didn’t work out as planned, but I was still having an amazing time. After 8 days in the Canyon and a rest day playing tourist in Zion, Chris Forsyth drove me out to the Schmutz Spring Trailhead in Tuckup Canyon. I loaded up with a bunch of water and said goodbye to Chris. He was such an amazing help, not only for planning the hike beforehand, but also hiking with me, shuttling me all over the place and endlessly going over plans, backup plans, and backup plans for those backup plans. I also want to thank Rich Rudow, Chris Atwood and Jamie Compos for all their help when I was planning my trip. For the next seven days to Toroweap I’d be solo.

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Thanks Chris!

Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush

The next morning I started on the Tuckup Route. The descent into the Canyon was easy and I spent some time poking around the artifacts at the “Cubicle Boulder”. There was cowboy stuff, historic glass, and chips of rock from the manufacturing of stone tools.

Happy to be hiking back in!

Happy to be hiking back in!

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Tuckup Trail

Old fencelinedsc00515From the boulder, the route was cairned in the grasses toward Cottonwood Canyon. What an interesting and vast landscape in this part of the Grand Canyon, much different than what I’d previously been through. It was pretty warm and I heard a rattlesnake buzzing- it was a safe distance up the slope and just letting me know of its presence.

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Tuckup Trail on the way to Cottonwood Canyon

Rattlesnake

Rattlesnake

I contoured into Cottonwood Canyon and found myself a camp on a bench above. I collected some water, hoping I wouldn’t have to use much of it as it was reported to be mineralized. I’d brought quite a bit of water down from the rim with me. As night fell, I was washing my hands when I heard the unmistakable scream of a cat. It was as if someone played the “wildcat noise” sample from a sound effects board. Totally put my hair on edge and I picked up my pot lid and hiking pole and banged it while yelling “Go AWAY!” I saw some eyes reflected in the cottonwood across the creek that stayed there for a while, then they turned and went up the hill. Most likely a bobcat, but holy crap, I’ve never heard such a noise, especially when out solo! It didn’t mess with my sleep, thank goodness. I’d had enough of that this trip.

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Tuckup Trail

Fossil shell

Fossil

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Cottonwood Canyon Camp

The next day I contoured out of  Cottonwood and made my way around the arms of Rocky Point Canyon. Just as Rich Rudow had told me, the Tuckup Route comes and goes, and there’s trail construction in the drainages. Sometimes tough to find, but it’s there.

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So

The route goes in and out of a million gullies of varying depth and size

So many gullies to work in and out of

North of Dome Pocket Canyon, I found some potholes of water and set myself up with my umbrella for a siesta. It was delightful.There are few things I like better than a backcountry nap.

Shade and water are all I need for a siesta north of Dome Pocket Canyon

Siesta spot

Life finds a way

Life finds a way

I worked my way around Dome Pocket Canyon and the first arm of Fern Glen Canyon. There were some potholes marked on my map that I was shooting for. I was getting close and I went to step over a bush. My toe caught a branch and I fell, my shin and knee hitting a projecting piece of sandstone. Good thing I was wearing a knee brace, it took some of the impact and good thing it wasn’t limestone. That would have been a bloody mess. However, it did hurt as I hiked the last bit to camp. Only the morning would tell how bad it was. I had a spectacular sunset and moonrise at the potholes.

Pottery sherd from the rim of a vessel

Pottery sherd from the rim of a vessel

Gorgeous clouds over The Dome

Gorgeous clouds over The Dome

Micro Chicken finds a funky rock

Micro Chicken finds a funky rock

Took a fall about 5 minutes from camp, banged up my knee and shin

Took a fall about 5 minutes from camp, banged up my knee and shin

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Sunset and moonrise with The Dome

The next morning, the shin was sore, and my left knee wasn’t 100% happy. But I figured I’d be ok. I hiked over to the Willow arm of Fern Glen Canyon and took several of liters from Willow Spring, hoping I would find water in potholes and not have to drink it. There was a mineral crust on the walls that was way worse than Cottonwood Spring and the water was also said to cause intestinal distress.

Sunrise

Sunrise

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Walking along

Mineralized walls from the water in Willow Canyon

Mineralized walls from the water in Willow Canyon

Willow Canyon

Willow Canyon

The way from Willow Spring was tough to follow- there were several routes, some cairned more than others. Lots of cactus to avoid, especially tough when there was only a tiny bench of trail with a prickly pear growing in it. As I got closer to where some potholes were marked on the map, I realized I needed to be on the lower route so I found a rockslide to hike down to access the lower trail. The potholes I was camping at were all dry. I looked everywhere and none of them had any water. This made me nervous. I’d expected to find water in the evening, now there was none. I skipped making dinner and ate snacks that didn’t require cooking instead. It was a restless night and I woke up when it was still dark and got packed up so I could move at first light. Temps had been in the 80’s during the heat of the day.

I had seen a pothole nearby on my map that was supposed to be a good bet, but it was a bit of a bushwhack to get to. I checked there first. Nothing. I was going to have to go back to Willow Spring and get a bunch more of that mineralized water. Better than dying of thirst. I had been told that contouring along Stairway Canyon was arduous and didn’t know how long it would take me. There was no way I was going to risk going ahead with the water I had.

So I made my way back through the cairn maze to Willow Spring, collected 8 liters of water and tried to rehydrate before moving on. My pack heavy with 16 lbs of water, I hiked a third time through the cairn and cactus maze. I got some prickly pear spines in my feet through my shoes and when I stopped to take them out, realized that I’d lost my tweezers! What the heck did people do before the invention of tweezers? I tried with a needle but couldn’t get them out.

Cryptobiotic smile at the end of a tough day

Cryptobiotic smile at the end of a tough day

I stayed on the lower route into a gully along Stairway Canyon and didn’t like the looks of the exit, so I backtracked and hiked up a rockfall to the higher level. The higher level trail had clear trail construction in and out of the gullies, but now I was losing daylight. I’d spent a whole day chasing water. The route hit a saddle on a windswept ridge and I had to call it home for the night. I found a flat spot just big enough for myself that was protected from the wind but surrounded by razor sharp limestone. It was a marginal camp made even worse by the fact that I could actually see where I’d camped the night before.

Marginal camp on the ridge, surrounded by razor-sharp limestone

Marginal camp on the ridge, surrounded by razor-sharp limestone

Despite the marginal camp and the ever-growing intestinal distress, I enjoyed a spectacular full moon rise with The Dome. It was a rough night and I had to get up a bunch of times. Also, there were mosquitoes again- what?

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I had camped at the slickrock at the left side of the picture the night before but the moonrise was gorgeous!!

The next morning, I was shaky and sick from the water. Ugh. As I was getting ready to leave camp, I was taking my camera out of its case and it slipped out of my hand onto the sharp limestone. Good thing for warranties, but that wasn’t going to help me out here. At least it was only the last two days of the trip.

I hiked the high route around the bays and gullies of Stairway Canyon. It went well and I got to see some Bighorn Sheep from above. I was nearing an area with slickrock and possible potholes and found a way to the lower trail. Nothing. All dry. My stomach grumbled.

Cat

Cat

Willow Spring water got me feeling like...

Willow Spring water got me feeling like…

I was heading for potholes that were just south of Big Point all the way out on the rim. At this point I was pretty concerned and going through contingency plans if there was nothing there. Just before noon, I saw a beautiful glimmer in the distance. Water!! As I got closer, I realized why this place was said to be reliable- there was a pothole double the size of a hot tub along with about 10 other good ones. I yelled and cheered and gleefully poured out the rest of my Willow Spring water.

BIG pothole under Big Point

BIG pothole under Big Point

This is my happy water face

This is my happy water face!

I was a day behind schedule but couldn’t fathom the thought of not spending the night at this one of a kind camp. There were views downriver with a drop to rival that at Toroweap Lookout. I made the decision to just have a really long day the next day, it looked to be about 15 miles. The rest of the day was spent lounging about, enjoying the view, and cooling off and rehydrating with the sweet, sweet water. It was my last solo camp of the trip and I spent a while writing about my experiences. Camped next to a juniper and enjoyed one last bright red sunset over Vulcan’s Throne.

Spectacular view downriver of the mouth of Cove Canyon

Spectacular view downriver of the mouth of Cove Canyon

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The next morning I was up and hiking early. I had Big Cove Canyon and then Cove Canyon to work around on my way to Toroweap. There was an option to take a shortcut over the mesa but I stuck to the sweet swoopy trail. Which was sweet and swoopy until I wasn’t on the right level anymore and then had to scramble up or down to correct. Thankfully there was always a break in the cliffs nearby so I didn’t have to backtrack too much.

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Moonlight

Micro Chicken, my adventure companion

Micro Chicken, my adventure companion

Cove Canyon

Cove Canyon

I found the best artifact of the whole trip, a worked Archaic blade that was a gorgeous color. There are three main arms of Cove Canyon, but in reality it is like a fractal- arms break down into smaller and smaller arms and you have to work your way around all of them. It was a lot more routefinding than I had expected.

Archaic blade fragment

Archaic blade fragment

My friend Meg was picking me up at Tuckup Traihead and she had said she’d hike in to meet me. The last three miles are an old road and I was shooting for being on the road before I lost daylight. I really hoped I wasn’t going to have to try to navigate cairns in the dark. By this time I’d been hiking for 12 hours straight with very few breaks. I hit the road before I had to put my headlamp on- success!

Smiling because I am going to make it to the roadwalk before dark

Smiling because I am going to make it to the roadwalk before dark

Meg met me in the dark on the roadwalk, it was great to see her and we hiked the last bit under the Milky Way to the trailhead together. We were almost there when Meg stopped me in mid-sentence to look at the moonrise. It was the perfect end to the trip, a giant orange almost-full moon coming right out the side of Big Point. What a place. The next morning, we visited Toroweap Lookout with the classic view of Lava Falls 3000 feet below. It was a great end to my journey.

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Meg came all the way from Tucson to spend the night at Toroweap and take me back home- thanks Meg!

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End of the journey at Toroweap lookout

I so enjoyed the time I got to spend in the Canyon- the place is endlessly fascinating. I know that each section of my traverse of the length of the Canyon will come with its own challenges, it’s the price of admission to such a rugged and wild place. I’m already daydreaming about what section I plan on doing next.

If you haven’t already, please sign the petition to urge President Obama to designate the Greater Grand Canyon National Heritage Monument that would expand the protection of the Grand Canyon against development, mining and other threats to this wonder of the world. Map of the proposed monument below, learn more at www.greatergrandcanyon.org.

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GGCHNM_ValuesMap

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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

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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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