Posts Tagged ‘The Spine’

Picketpost Mountain- the route to the top goes up the large gully in the center

Picketpost Mountain- the route to the top goes up the large gully in the center

First of all, the most exciting thing happened- I got my camera back!!! I lost my camera this summer at the end of my season working on the river in the Grand Canyon. It dropped out of my pack in a side canyon and I thought I’d never see it or the photos again. I hadn’t backed up the SD card, so out of 6 trips I did on the river, I only had pictures for two. Then a couple of weeks ago, I got a call from Arizona River Runners saying that they’d been contacted by someone who found my camera. I don’t yet know how or when they found it, but I am so very happy to have the irreplaceable photos back. The best part is the camera still works! I must have accumulated good camera karma from finding and returning the one on Table Mountain in December. Here’s one of my favorites, I’ll put together a blog post of some more soon.

Archaeology hike on the Unkar Delta

Leading an archaeology tour of the Unkar Delta

I went on three overnight trips in January: another Night on The Spine near the Gila River with my friend Wendy, a night on Battleship Mountain in the Superstitions and a night on the summit of Picketpost Mountain off the Arizona Trail near Superior, AZ. For a great writeup of our trip on The Spine, visit  Around the Next Corner with Wendy.

Wendy on The Spine

Wendy on The Spine

The trip up Battleship wasn’t to the summit, but to the deck of the boat for the night. When I’d hiked here in 2011, I thought it would be a great place to spend the night. Other than the bizarre January mosquito population, I was right!

Atop the deck of the Battleship

Atop the deck of the Battleship

My camp with a view of the Superstition Ridgeline

My camp with a view of the Superstition Ridgeline


Battleship Sunrise

I was in Superior planning the Legends of Superior Trails Eco-Tourism Fest coming up onFebruary 16th and figured since I was in the area, why not spend the night atop one of Arizona’s iconic peaks. It was going to be a little cold, but three days of rain had resulted in some of the best visibility I’d seen in a while. The top of Picketpost Mountain was just the place to take in the views.


Beautiful colors and textures

I started out in the afternoon from the Picketpost Trailhead on the Arizona Trail. My pack weighed down on me the first bit of the hike. I had thoughts of just continuing on the Arizona Trail and picking a nice campsite instead of scrambling straight uphill. Once I warmed up, I got in the zone and all was well. I didn’t see anyone after I left the parking lot- nice to have such a popular hike all to myself.

Base of the first scramble

Base of the first scramble

The temperature was perfect for the climb and I enjoyed working my way through the various obstacles. There was water running in the chute and patches of ice that were easily avoided. As I neared the saddle, the trail got mushier and mushier. It was easier to rockhop than step in the squishy mud.



Ice in the chute

Ice in the chute

The trail had water running down it on top of the mountain and the whole summit was saturated from the previous days of rain. As I hopped from rock to rock, they sunk into the trail. Made things a little unstable.

View from the saddle

View from the saddle

I reached the summit mailbox and the fancy new bench and was so glad I’d decided to spend the night. The views from Picketpost on an ordinary day are outstanding, but the absence of dust in the air made it truly spectacular. I could see so many Sky Islands from here- too many to name. Mount Wrightson, over 100 miles away, was as clear as could be.

Mailbox register and fancy bench

Mailbox register and fancy bench

Catalinas in the distance

Looking toward the Gila River with the Catalinas in the distance

Santa Ritas visible to the right in the far distance- over 100 miles away

Santa Ritas visible to the right in the far distance- over 100 miles away

I decided to camp right at the summit, rather than look for a more sheltered spot from the wind because I wanted the 360 degree views. There is room for one person right next to the tree that is free of rocks and I called it home for the night.

I hiked out to the cliffs overlooking Superior and was pleased to find a scattering of junipers, my favorite tree. Then it was time for the sunset- some clouds had rolled in making for a beautiful show. The temps plummeted as the sun went down. Since I was staying at the summit, there wasn’t really anywhere I could make a fire without making a huge mess, so I opted for a hot water bottle instead for heat. My dinner from Los Hermanos tasted even better than usual.

Found a juniper!

Found a juniper!

Looking down on Superior

Looking down on Superior

Picketpost sunset

Picketpost sunset

Great place to watch the sunset

Great place to watch the show

I settled in for a long, chilly night. My trusty Exped Downmat had broken and I was awaiting a replacement. I never appreciated how much extra warmth it gave me until I used a friend’s air mattress for this trip. It was breezy and I slept in fits and starts, once waking up for a couple of hours to write in my journal and admire the moonlit landscape. I also got to read through most of the logbooks in the mailbox, which were quite entertaining. Lots of familiar names and one thing that was interesting is how many small kids had been up to the summit.

Micro Chicken on the mailbox

Micro Chicken on the mailbox

By morning it had changed from breezy to full-on gusting wind. I ate a quick breakfast and made my way down the hill. The scrambling wasn’t too bad, as my pack was a lot lighter after having eaten my dinner and consumed a bunch of water.

Just enough room for one

Just enough room for one

Windy morning

Windy morning

I reached the turnoff from the Arizona Trail and met a group of guys who hadn’t been up before. They looked apprehensively at the mountain as I told them where the route went. I told them that there were folks as young as 4 and as old as 85 years old that had made it up there and they went on their way.

What a great night on the mountain, worth every bit of cold and wind for those killer views. It’s definitely a place I’d sleep again.

In Wildlife Rehabilitation news, it’s the time of year when I start planning the Birds, Blues, and Bellydance Fundraiser to benefit Wildlife Rehabilitation in Northwest Tucson. The third annual event will be held on Saturday, April 20th and once again at Sky Bar at 536 N. 4th Avenue has generously donated their fantastic venue for all the fun! Here’s a pic of Elfie and Raja from last year’s event.

Elfie the Elf Owl

Elfie the Elf Owl



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A great crew! Sasha the dog, Chris, Steve, Francisco, Al, Rob, David, Tom, Joe, Lee, Max, and Shawn

A great crew! Sasha the dog, Kris, Steve, Francisco, Al, Rob, David, Tom, Joe, Lee, Max, and Shawn

I have been building and maintaining the Arizona Trail with the Arizona Trail Association since 2007. I love being a part of creating and maintaining the trail for generations to come. Several months ago, I became a trail steward for segment 16c and am in charge of maintaining 5.1 miles from Spine Canyon to Walnut Canyon in the Gila River Canyons passage. I chose this passage to adopt for a couple of reasons:

  • I have seen this area covered in wildflowers in the spring and it is amazing, there are also fall colors along the Gila River.
  • I have great memories of my Night on The Spine and the hike I did on Passage 16 & 17 the first three days of the year.
  • I wanted a remote segment that would require overnight trail events.
  • To drive in, you go past the Artesian Well on the old Arizona Trail route, one of my favorite water sources.
  • It is also a part of the Grand Enchantment Trail from Phoenix to Albuquerque- bonus stewardship!

I had my first work event on December 7th & 8th to put in a gate in Walnut Canyon and an OHV barrier about a mile east. Ten of us assembled at Battle Axe Road and AZ 177 and prepared a precarious load on the Bureau of Land Managment (BLM) truck.

We met at Battle Axe Road and loaded up the BLM truck with the gate and the ATV barrier.

We met at Battle Axe Road and loaded up the BLM truck with the gate and the ATV barrier.

The drive out to the site was slow, bumpy and very scenic. We took another road that led down toward the Gila River and arrived in Walnut Canyon just north of the river around lunchtime.

Driving Battle Axe Road with the White Canyon Wilderness in the background

Driving Battle Axe Road with the White Canyon Wilderness in the background

Adjusting the rigging after a couple of miles of the rough road

Adjusting the rigging after a couple of miles of the rough road

We dropped a crew to begin the gate and drove a mile east to the OHV barrier site.  The barrier was an interesting modular design that required no welding in the field. Just a lot of postholes and concrete. Thankfully the BLM provided a power auger and jackhammer. We ran into some caliche that would have taken forever to dig with just a rock bar.

Pieces of the ATV barrier, concrete, and plenty of tools. Rob (in red) is the one who designed and welded the pieces to be assembled in the field.

Pieces of the OHV barrier, concrete, and plenty of tools. Rob (in red) is the one who designed and welded the pieces to be assembled in the field.

Power auger for the holes

Power auger for the holes

Max works the power jackhammer

Max works the jackhammer

Holes are dug and the big barrier piece is in

Holes are dug and the big barrier piece is in

Mixing concrete

Joe and Tom mixing concrete

It had taken a long time to get out to the site, so we worked until the last light getting the gate and barrier set in concrete so that it could cure overnight. The unseasonably mild evening was spent by the fire swapping stories and listening to music courtesy of Max and his guitar.

Continuing to work until the last light is gone

Continuing to work until the last light is gone

Looking north  toward The Spine at sunset

Looking north toward The Spine at sunset

The next day, we finished up the gate and OHV barriers and then constructed a small reroute that helped avoid an unnecessary roadwalk up the canyon and back. We brushed the route back and then built three-foot cairns to lead the way.

Building the reroute

Building the reroute

Chris shows the test of a well-built cairn

Kris shows the test of a well-built cairn

"Laddie-sized" cairns three feet high

“Laddie-sized” cairns three feet high lead the way

Short reroute with new cairns and carsonites

Short reroute with new cairns and carsonites

Here’s the finished gate and OHV barrier:

Finished ATV barrier in the unnamed canyon one mile east of Walnut Canyon

Finished OHV barrier in the unnamed canyon one mile east of Walnut Canyon

Joe, Tom, Chris, Max, Steve, David, Sirena, Shawn, and Lee at the fancy new gate

Joe, Tom, Kris, Max, Steve, David, Sirena, Shawn, and Lee at the fancy new gate

New gate in Walnut Canyon

New gate in Walnut Canyon

I was glad that my work event was a success, most of my crew were from the Crazies and their expertise certainly helped. A big thanks to the BLM and the crew!  Before we could relax, we had the long, slow, bumpy drive back out to AZ 177. This has always been one of my favorite parts of the Arizona Trail and I am excited to be a steward for many years to come. There’s always trailwork to be done, so if you’re interested in volunteering on an event, check out the Arizona Trail Association event calendar.

In Wildlife Rehab news, I have been taking quite a few birds out to test their flight capabilities to see if they are ready for release. It is exhilarating and more than a little scary taking the larger birds. I got a talon to the finger through my gloves this summer and it was extremely painful. I have taken Great Horned Owls, Red Tailed Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, and the other day I took a Turkey Vulture out to see what it could do. Click the button below to donate to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson!

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I was tagged in a game by my friend Kimberlie Dame, who writes a fantastic blog called The New Nomads. The game was started at Tripbase.com and involves finding the 7 blog posts within my site that fulfill the following requirements:

  1. Most beautiful.
  2. Most popular.
  3. Most controversial.
  4. Most helpful.
  5. A post who’s success surprised you.
  6. A post you feel didn’t get the attention it deserved.
  7. The post of which you are most proud.

It was fun to wander through my past posts. Here are my picks:

1. Most Beautiful: Royal Arch Loop via Point Huitzil– My favorite Grand Canyon trip so far. It was the first time I got to see my beloved Grand Canyon in the snow and it made everything that much more beautiful. Also, the petroglyphs on the Point Huitzil Route were spectacular.

Majestic Fan Island

2. Most Popular: Royal Arch Loop– I feel so fortunate to have done this incredible route twice. This post is from my October 2010 trip. The great part about this post is that people come to my website looking for trail beta and in addition get a crazy story about the group dynamics of the trip. (and hopefully don’t make the same mistakes as I did, going with such a large group on a tough route with people you don’t know)

Elves Chasm

3. Most Controversial: A Tale of Two Doomed State Parks-Since my blog is more of a trail journal, I tend not to get into controversial topics, but when I learned in 2010 that Arizona was planning on closing its state parks due to lack of funding, I had to speak up on the insanity. Fortunately, for now most of the state parks remain open. Unfortunately, the current legislature has been swiping money from an already-tenuous situation. You can read more about it in this recent article in the Tucson Weekly.

Lost Dutchman State Park in bloom

4. Most Helpful: Mount Lemmon to Catalina State Park via Sutherland Trail– There isn’t a whole lot on the internet about the Sutherland Trail, and I was happy to be able to help others who want to hike this little-used but fantastic trail.

Sutherland Trail

5. A post who’s success surprised you: A moonlit hike in Sabino Canyon– Just a short blog about hiking up the Sabino Canyon Road in the moonlight, but it still generates quite a few hits. Since that post was written, I have done that hike what seems like a million times, but it never gets old. I like looking for critters on the road in the summertime, and have had some fantastic sightings- rattlesnakes of all kinds, ringtails, skunks, deer, and many many tarantulas, frogs, and toads. One of my favorites was a baby Gila Monster, about four inches long and an inch wide.

Rattlesnake on a night hike

6. A post you feel didn’t get the attention it deserved: A Night on The Spine– A short but rugged solo bushwhacking backpacking adventure near the White Canyon Wilderness that describes perfectly how solo hiking rejuvenates my soul.

Morning view

7. The post of which you are most proud: This was a tough one. Which to choose? I thought about nominating my post about the recent Birds, Blues, and Bellydance Benefit for Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson. I put the entire event together by myself and am very proud of my volunteer work and fundraising efforts through this blog. But since this is a hiking blog, I’ll have to go with A look back at 2010. It is really amazing to me all the incredible adventures I packed into last year. In part because I have had fibromyalgia for almost 15 years now and when I was really sick, if you would have told me that I was going to hike and backpack over 700 miles in one year, my bedridden self would have thought that you were delusional.

Holdout Canyon

Thanks to Kimberlie for this fun exercise! She is quite the adventurer and a good friend who I met through the Arizona Trail. You should definitely go check out and support Kimberlie’s Kickstarter project of her plan to hike the US for three years: All Who Wander…Living Outside of it All. Here’s her description of the project:

“The plan is to walk away (literally and with great fanfare) from my life in Brooklyn, New York and head south along the Appalachian Trail. After completing the trail, I will then head west onto a network of smaller trails along the southern periphery of the United States. Along this route I will join up with a Hobo convention, a Renaissance camp, a Rainbow gathering, and other people in subcultures that I already am aware of, and hopefully with some that I will become aware of. I will then begin the Pacific Crest Trail in California and head north to its terminus, completing all 2,650 miles of it with varied and interesting people. I will then enter the “flaneur” part of the journey,intentionally  allowing open space and time to research and pursue new trails, new people, and new experiences that are outside the range of normal civilization. I will return to Brooklyn when three years has passed. All throughout this time, I will be doing a whole bunch of writing, communicating, and figuring it all out. My legs and fingers will become deft and muscular.”

In Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser news, we have still been very busy with all sorts of babies. One of my recent favorites is a racoon:

This is what the baby Raccoon thiinks of our food offerings

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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


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



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

5:38- this one is my favorite


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


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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