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Battle Axe Butte 2008

Battle Axe Butte- Arizona Trail 2008

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

Sunrise on Battle Axe from The Spine

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

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

Up the ridge

Up the ridge

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

John waits patiently

John waits patiently

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

Juniper!

Juniper!

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

Looking at the lower summit

Looking at the lower summit

John right before the catwalk

John right before the catwalk

Summit Ridge of Battle Axe Butte- photo by John

Summit Ridge of Battle Axe Butte- photo by John

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

Summit view to the southeast

Summit view to the southeast

The Spine

The Spine

Pinals and Battle Axe Rd.

Pinals and Battle Axe Rd.

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

View of our route

View of our route

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

Janet feeds a Great Snowy Egret

Janet feeds a Great Snowy Egret

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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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