Friday, November 25, 2016

Arizona Trail- Passage 20- Four Peaks Wilderness

Shake Spring to Cottonwood Creek
21.6 miles

Hiking in the dark of early morning. Not even a speck of glow on the horizon. My weak headlamp is worthless so I turn it off. Moonlight is more than enough to show the trail ahead.

It’s pure joy to be walking in the predawn. In Montana, I always waited until daylight because of the grizzlies. I’ve missed this— the sounds and scents intensified, the feel of trail underfoot, seeing the first signs of pink on the horizon. Watching the light slowly changing into morning.
Crossing scree fields by first morning light
I’m glad I had the experience of hiking in grizzly country though, don’t get me wrong. But I’m glad I can hike here now in the dark.  Appreciating this hour all the more. Maybe that is how it will be with the tent. Maybe?
Contouring along the hillside
Watching shadows
The Four Peaks Wilderness is everything I love about a remote place. Being a tiny speck clinging to steep slopes. No sounds of cars. No people.
Four Peaks Wilderness
By mid-day, it heats up like summer. The sun umbrella comes out. Still hot. Careful attention is placed on water— consumption rates, how much is left. Small sips of water, swirled around before swallowing. No gulping. Gotta last.
A sliver of shade from a spiny desert bush. I plop down. My back is drenched in sweat. I can’t remember being this hot for a long time. Maybe there was one hot day in Montana this year but I was working and missed it. Funny to finally find summer this late in November. Guess that’s Arizona for you.

The break doesn’t last long. Must get to the water cache by evening. There is no water at Granite Spring. There is no water at Buckhorn Creek. Walking amidst the towering saguaro cactus and gazing down at Roosevelt Lake, imagining how it would feel to gulp water, to swim in a lake. My gallon of water is wedged under a rock up ahead. Cool water waiting.
Lots of water down there.
The trail is narrow and the loose rocks make footing difficult. My feet slip and slide like I’m walking over marbles. I look at my watch and frown, disappointed I’m not making better time. Must beat the sunset. But also— must not slip and fall.

Humans! The first (and only) humans encountered this trip are an AmeriCorps/ American Conservation Experience (ACE) crew doing trail maintenance. ACE is the AmeriCorps program here in Arizona that provides opportunities for young people to do environmental stewardship projects. It’s the local equivalent of Montana Conservation Corps, which is a group I worked with at my park in Montana.
ACE crew and the beautiful new tread
I’m the first hiker the crew has seen up here and I have the privilege of being the first to hike down the improved trail. They’ve smoothed it out, created waterbars, and widened it considerably. Amazing work! Thank you for making the Arizona Trail a better trail and for your service!

In no time I’m down at the road, retrieving my water cache, trucks whizzing by as I cling to the side of the road crossing the bridge.

There is water in the cattle tank too, so my water cache was unnecessary. But it meant I got water 2 miles sooner. Two miles of blissful hydration.
Checking the weather forecast brings bad news. Now it says heavy rains and possible thunderstorms. Maybe a little water would be good to fill up the springs. But maybe there would be too much water in the form of flash flooding.
The trees along Sycamore Creek have sprawling branches and most of the ground is slanted. More hammock sites than tent sites here. I find a spot but can’t get comfortable.

 My body aches and I just want to sleep but instead I just toss and turn and think about flash floods and lightening on exposed ridges and slippery trails and being alone. Nights are long this time of year. Too much time to think.

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