Questions for a Biologist

A number (12) of little orange ant looking things were walking about on my cactus one May day in 2007.  Surprised at the sight of these new critters I photographed them in hopes that someday someone would tell me what they were.

Just this weekend a biologist friend of mine “JD” visited and I finally got to pull a file photo of the buggers that I found roaming about.  He didn’t know what they were.  Sadly.  He suggested using EOL.org, but I looked unsuccessfully.  So here I am now asking The Internet for answers to a long standing question of mine.  What kind of little buggies are these?

The extent of my description: Six legs, Color: translucent orange, small spikes on the thorax, long antenne, highly aware of photographer as they moved to the opposite side of the cactus when I was photographing them.

-a short movie of the insects-

To JD’s credit, we showed him a picture of a beautiful flower we saw yesterday along the road, and he identified it rapidly and once again fully impressed us.  Hoorah!

That’s a “Passion Flower.” and there you have it.

passiflora incarnata – is a naturally grown medicinal herb, approved by the German Commission E in the treatment of insomnia and nervousness. It is also used as a sedative in nervous disorders (including gastrointestinal complaints of nervous origin), difficulties in sleeping, and anxiety or restlessness. Passion Flower reduces spasms and depresses the central nervous system. www.passionflower.org

Geocaching – The Old Pueblo

Tucson, Arizona, USA

Just to keep our selves busy, we went for an evening walk and then a morning adventure with friends and family.  A few in the park and a few on the University campus just before a delicious breakfast at Joels.. now that’s the REAL cache!

Caches Found:

GC1XQCQ: CWB-Himmel Park Library

GC1XTZP: Defying Gravity

DNF

GC1W1JW: Pool Side

GC158B2: On A Level

Movin on.

and now, we’ve gone. Gone from Colorado Springs and on our way to Tucson. From there to Orange County. With our final destination by the end of next week, Berkeley, California, where we’ll finally drop our bags for a stay of more than a few months.

Thanks to Colorado for the hospitality, the beautiful weather, the reasonably unique people, and of course the great family that will keep me coming back.

-John

Links of interest

In a quick search I found two sites to contain a host of locations I’d enjoy visiting. Let me know if you decide to go!

http://www.communitywalk.com/azurbanex
and
http://www.uer.ca
Let me know if you’ve got any other good sites.

Dan’s Task List

Dan gets all the fun..

His last night in Tucson Kira sets up a dinner and a potluck of a scavenger hunt down 4th ave. Dan accepts, Dan performs, Dan cuts some corners, but we’re several drinks in and no one can figure out his magic. Dan buys the next round. Dan wins at pool – or did he lose?

Dan’s gone the following day, only I will see him soon.

The Snuggie Review

Kira & Tara share the mic. Tara not so much, Kira a little bit much. Who’s that in the background, won’t you be quite? Where is this girl from, someone get here a gig – or at least a snuggie.

Thanks to Coconino & Gila Search and Rescue, Chad, Jon, Steph, Pat, Family, Friends, everyone…

(Original Post w/ enlarged photos)

First of all, let me send a large Thank You to Coconino Search and Rescue, Chad, Jon Clark *clap *clap, Steph, the U of A TSO, Pat & his mom, Family, Friends, everyone… & thank you to everyone who’s put themselves out this past week thinking of Kira and I. We don’t think we can thank you enough and we deeply apologize for the anxiety and fear that we caused, whether you saw that we were safe or you were the first to notice that Kira didn’t show up to her finals or work.

Kira and I have enjoyed a number of requests for information and for the ‘whole’ story. I’m going to try and do my best to give it here, trying perhaps not to cook it up too much. Now, let me try to begin to clarify this whole mess….

Day 0: Pre-departure preparation.

Early in the week I was enthusiastic about my last weekend before the holiday. Having traveled about for the last few months, it was kind of my routine to disappear. Little did I know this disappearing act would become a national spectacle. In this act I was intent on seeing more of Arizona’s beautiful landscape while spending some time away from people and practicing my fly fishing. I pulled up Google Earth and begun my search. I had spoken with an acquaintance about a recommendation for a nice hike in the state and he suggested a place out near Sedona, so I started there. Driving my cursor around the greater Sedona area I found little in the way of water, limiting my ability to accomplish my third goal, so I began moving East, closer to Flagstaff. I passed over mormon lake and slowly moved south into a highly wooded area of Arizona. This began to look quite appealing. Water, trees, and dirt roads all seem to add into an ideal springtime weekend trip. It was December. I checked online for some suggested Arizona routes, took a look at sections of the Arizona Trail, and I returned to Google Earth. I felt good about the information I was slowly collecting and felt that I’d soon have a good plan. Honing in on the Forest Lakes area off the Mongollon Rim I wikied a couple of lakes in the area and again enjoyed some reviews of the area. Bear Canyon Lake was the one. It looked great. Secluded, it was an Angler lake where boat access was highly limited. That would be where I started the hike.

A unofficial map of routes, review, and a general outline I was able to look at during planning:

I felt comfortable with my choice so I began to solidify the plan looking at websites for the region and the adjoining ranger stations. I called Payson and asked about trails, “Which rim trails exist?” “240, 290, 390, 30, 143, 292, 184, 185” “Are they all passable?” “Yes.” “Are there any issues with any of them?” “Nope.” “Are there any issues with fires this time of the year? Can I collect dead wood and burn it for small camp fires.” “Yes.” “What do you know about getting from Knoll Lake to Bear Canyon Lake?” “Not much, give SItgreves a call, here’s their number.” I hung up and called Sitgreves. “You should just walk the road, it’s nice and quick. Don’t worry about trails up there. Otherwise you’ll be all set.” “Thanks,” I said and then hung up the phone. I felt confident, the plan was coming together.

Next I pulled out my AZ USGS quadrant map, identified the maps I’d need for better planning of the hike, jumped on my bike and rode to Tucson Map and Flag Center, one of my favorite stores in town where I presented my list of likely necessary maps. The list grew to 6 maps large and I was sold on the National Geographic TOPO! software, $100 and I get two states, one by mail, where I could print the whole state to my heart’s content… and it fit into my backpack better for the ride home. Excited about the new software I took it straight to Ike’s Coffee, installed it, and began planning my hike. I drew lines in red, blue, black, yellow. I planned hikes for the next three years. I was wired on new toys and several cups of GREAT coffee and boy was I having fun and wanted to show everyone and couldn’t keep my self from smiling to myself and from keeping myself from smiling about smiling about myself and … phew, I shouldn’t have had that coffee.

I had planned on a 10-15 mile hike over three days. I felt that was appropriate for Kira and I and anyone else who was interested to hike. When I finally got home I showed Chad my new toy and routes. The hikes ranged up to 50 miles. I didn’t keep those as serious routes. I kept the 20 mile loop. I figured we were tough and had plenty of time. I spent the rest of the night perfecting three possible routes and then enjoyed reading more about the area. I checked the weather for Strawberry and Payson. Things, while cold, seemed good. It was Monday.

Kira eventually came over, I gave her the plan and she conceded that it sounded perfect and she was excited to pickup a new pair of boots for the trip. It seemed like we were already on our way. A few days later I checked the weather again. It called for wind on Saturday and precipitation at 40% Sunday & Monday. I still wasn’t intimidated, I packed differently.

Thursday arrived, I pulled out my gear and packed my bag, picked up the food that fit our menu, and waited for Kira to arrive with her things. We repacked, got rid of redundancies, looked for gaps and got on our way, being sure to include one last stop for chocolate bars. Kira made sure we had at least one for each day, plus an extra ‘just in case.’


Our pre-trip plan, designed on National Geographic’s TOPO! (C). Three routes were plotted: Blue, Red, and Black Dotted Line. This is the map of routes from which Chad and Jon communicated to SAR our intent and promoted our quick recovery:

Day one, Thursday, December 11th. The drive was a bit long. It was late. I was tired. From what, I don’t know, but driving just makes you tired. I thought about the return drive and stopped, I didn’t look forward to it. I began thinking of all the ways I could convince Kira to drive home. I didn’t come up with much that didn’t make me feel like a jerk. We pulled off the 17 at Camp Verde, filled up with fuel, changed into warm clothes and headed East. Pulling onto the 87 our driving slowed as my mind became confused. We passed a shadow and I said to Kira, “ummm… ahhh…. Kira? I think.. I think I just passed a llama, but that doesn’t make any sense, so I think I’m a bit tired or crazy.” I starred at each passing tree thinking that perhaps I saw a tree and a shadow and they fit together just right. My eyes are not that good and things like that happened often. I then moved my foot off the gas and put it hard on the brake. Kira was clearly now awake. There was that llama, some ten feet tall, big brown chest, tan body, legs up to my shoulders, a giant set of antlers, and a slow pompous stride that took it from left lane to right lane to shoulder and then the shadows. Evidently the Arizona Llama is very similar to elk. I was amazed. That was cool. That was really cool… I’m glad I didn’t destroy the car and the elk, and that was cool. I started the motor up and as soon as I got to fourth-gear I geared right back down and slowed for the next crossing and then back up to 45. I would have really appreciated some organization within this elk’s lodge. I had no problem stopping or slowing, but before the up hill? come on. and 15 times? Really? Paint some lines, get a sign, all cross together. It was obsessive. By the time we reached Forest Road 300 I was ready to purchase my license.

FR 300 is a seemingly well graded dirt road, not worthy of my Ducati, but just fine for the Volvo at speeds under 15 mph. It was apparently used by a lot of logging trucks according to the signs and as we approached our Bear Canyon Lake, the fire had damaged a number of trees, clarifying the rational behind the forest clean-up. The road was long and I began to feel my first embarrassment of the trip. I hadn’t known the roads very well and decided to take the most ‘direct’ approach to the lake which involved FR 300 as soon as it intersected the 87, however, this route put us 30 miles from the lake on dirt, whereas if I had driven around through Payson and up the 260 I would have been able to park a) at a lower point on the rim and b) spent only about 15 miles on FR 300’s fine dirt path. Oh well, note that for next time. We finally arrived at the lake. I drove about the simplistic camp site, ignoring signs that indicated I couldn’t ‘camp’ past their location and parked the Volvo as close to the lake as possible. The whole place was empty. I didn’t anticipate harassment for at least 10 days had I parked there. I used the rest room and we crashed in the back of the car. We were there, our first day was over. I was excited.


Day two, Friday. Ah Friday. I slept in until the sun made sure I couldn’t any longer, about nine. I figured I blew my chance to catch any fish, but woke up in the cold morning and prepared my gear anyway. I really wanted to use my license while it was still good, plus, who knows, maybe I’d catch something and really be a hero. I walked down and Kira followed behind. Forty minutes later I was done. It was windy and I wasn’t putting my fly into the water well. Maybe I was grumpy from the cold air, who knows. We got back to the car and packed our gear. We drove to the top of the camp site, made breakfast, and then closed the car for the weekend. I considered placing an itinerary on the dashboard but decided it would be better for Kira to carry the extra map. We were on the trail, it was eleven.



A short while later we showed up at the See Spring trail head and adjust things before our decent. A loud truck drove past us as we inspected the signs… you’ll never regret taking time to read every sign. We took a few steps down the trail and the truck painted dull green with the US Forest badge on the side pulled up. A young man stepped out and smiled. We turned around. A ranger is kind of like a sign, you never know when information you’ll get from them. He introduced himself as Patrick and we talked about our route, down to Ridgeline and over to Horton, perhaps out to Tonto. He said Horton wasn’t a very good trail out, but along the creek it was well traveled during the summer and should be in really good condition, in general we should have a lot of fun. He suggested a route East that was about 8-miles long and might be nice and showed me on his large map at the car. I forgot his name and had to ask a second time. I asked him about the weather report and he noted they expected the storm I had seen in the report and said it was due to hit hard Wednesday… or end Wednesday… we thanked him and I told him where we were parked and what in. Told him if he saw any bears driving my car around to give me a call and take a picture. About ten minutes later I regarded that statement as pretty dumb and wished I hadn’t said it to him. Kira mentioned that she was surprised he didn’t comment on whether or not we SHOULD continue our hike, just that he gave us info and let us go. I appreciated his laissez-faire governance and the first half mile of the walk melted away with a discussion about responsible government systems and politics. I think she’s a communist. HA!

We enjoyed the hike, paused for a much enjoyed first lunch on a cold rock, re-adjusted our packs and set off again. Finally expecting the darkness to hit soon we set up shop at the intersection of See Spring and Christopher Creek. It was picturesque, complete with the sound of running water all night long. We were high enough where I expected a rise in water level to miss our camp, though I stayed a bit anxious of it. We ate dinner, had a fire, drank some tea, hung our food and tucked in for the night. I felt we were both pleased with the spot. I feel a light first day always makes for a great weekend.
Day three, Saturday, December… 12th? no 13th. I was far enough removed from society before hiking that the weekend did nothing but distance me further from my calendar. All I could remember was that I had a dentist appointment on the 16th. Tuesday? Plenty of time. We were up at nine and prepared a nice hot breakfast of oatmeal which we ate together from the bowl to save on cleaning. After a handful of nuts I was content with breakfast and we packed up and got on the trial again.
I had been letting Kira lead the way in order to get some familiarity with paving trail and orienteering our route. At one point the previous day we had ended up without a trail in the midst of very spiny bushes. We dropped our packs, walked up to the last point of known trail and reconnected ourselves. This morning again she took the lead and we came into some grass where we stopped to differentiate between rabbit trails and forest trail. We talked about what to look for, about cairns, about tree marks, about signs, about basic trail wear. We continued along and about thirty minutes later we intersected the Highline trail at Christopher Creek. There was a restroom and we stopped to enjoy it and then continued along our way. We were finally on our way West, hooray. Though we were slow moving, I was enjoying the hike. The rim was beautiful and the pace was perfect to enjoy it. We took lunch on a warm south facing rock and enjoyed lunch. I didn’t want to get up again. It was so beautiful and I was so comfortable. I put my pack back on and continued walking behind Kira, but couldn’t stop thinking about that spot for the rest of the day. This was GREAT!

Eager to make our goal for the day, Kira kicked herself into high gear and we walked hard with infrequent stops for the second half of the day. We purposefully passed the Horton TH left turn we had charted on our route and then I noticed the Promontory Point TH, a steep ascent that I had considered using but decided against. Clouds had moved in over us and the day was dark earlier than the previous night, I urged Kira to pick from several options for a campsite and we picked one next to a creaking tree. Kira set up the tent again while I prepared dinner and made a small fire. I put the tarp up with Kira’s trekking poles and snow began to fall. A bit earlier than I had anticipated, but it was light and I didn’t see any frustration from it. We packed up for the night and the tree continued to creek. I was scared it was going to crush us, but hell, there are too many people in the world already, right? I left it up for fate and fell asleep.


Day four didn’t begin, so much as it creeped up on us. Awaking every 40 minutes to the sound of a heavy doses of snow falling atop Kira’s three season tent. She didn’t sleep a bit. I ignored the situation. At six Kira had me up and awake. I mocked her anxiety in a vulgar attempt to calm her. It didn’t work. She unzipped the tent door and I slowly pulled my head out of my bag, adjusting my eyes to the bitter grey morning light. A bright white environment pulled us out of the tent. HA-HA! this was radd. The whole forest was dusted with snow, a perfect 2-inch layer lay across everything. Best of all, my simple winward-wing shelter had worked perfectly. A brown square sat, like a shadow, beneath it and within it our gear was dry and unmoved. I took some pictures and smiled a lot. This too was beautiful. I was really enjoying this trip. The sky was clear and I felt no sense of panic. Kira was still anxious and we set out quickly. In front of me Kira kept her pace. She had a map which I made her check often and knew where she wanted to be by night fall, out of the rim. I followed behind taking pictures and gawking at the white lined pine and rock and animal tracks. Small openings in the forest presented a valley of green and white. I would pause and Kira would keep walking. I smiled a lot that morning.


We arrived at Horton Creek without event, crossed it, and continued along. We found the Horton Creek TH-south sign and looked for the rim sign. We walked back to the creek and then back to the sign. I studied it, looking for interpretative loop holes, something I may have missed, but found nothing. It wasn’t there. The Horton Creek rim trail was missing. Patrick was right, it really as an awful trail. We evaluated the map, our options, and then continued East. At this point Kira’s morning anxiety had not disappeared and standing was not appealing to her. We needed to move. Trying to stay positive, I encouraged her and said “we’re almost there.”

Near 11 we saw the power lines, clearly marked on the map, and I stopped Kira. We were both really tired from the hike and the mounting stress of not finding Horton Creek-north. Now we knew where we were and re-evaluated our situation and options. We did this a lot, sometimes for practice, and sometimes for real. It was at this point the hike came to an end and we began our retreat.
Disappointed with my planning ability, I followed behind a very upset Kira whom I did very little to support at that point. I tried to rationalize my arrogant attitude to her to myself but got nowhere. A bit later I tried to make it up to her and made the biggest mistake of the trip. I offered something I couldn’t give, created risk, and gave her all the reason in the world to trust me. I suggested, as she had wanted, a way off the rim. I pointed to a small gap some 800 feet above us to the North-East where trees could be seen all the way to the top of the rim, everywhere else a sheer wall existed, clearly impeding any trail out. I said, “If you really want out of here, if you’re willing to risk it, but if you really want we can consider this…. look here… see there… it’s a big maybe… but maybe we can. Want to try?” She said yes and per my directions we left the trail and started hiking north. Though the day was sunny and clear, I had a deep pit in my stomach that was poisoning myself for allowing this fallacy of hiking. Up, up, up we went. At first through downed trees, then through brush and grass, then through a boulder field and then the dense manzanitas, and finally to the rocks of the rim. We pushed bags onto five-foot rocks and climbed up lifting them onto the next ledge. There we sat.
The sky was beautifully clear, a few clouds dedicated themselves to the art while the rest were on vacation. The sun beat down on the snow covered hill side and we were quite warm on the rocks. We ate a much deserved lunch of a few bites of salami and a couple of nuts and then continued on. Shortly after we arrived at the point which I had devastatingly expected. “Kira, we can’t go any further,” I said. We could see the rim top. We were about a half mile away from it, I checked the GPS and it put us at 7300′. The rocks were now much larger, the cliff wall was a treacherous face and real gear was necessary if we were to move forward. Certainly not a path we should take with 40 lb packs on our backs. “We could perhaps make it,” I said “but one mistake and we’re not delayed or behind, we’re dead. We need to turn around and find another route.” Kira agreed and we took in the panoramic at that height and then moved back down the hill, retracing our steps in the white inkpad. While it took near three hours to get up the hill, we were down it, through the manzanitas, over the boulders, between the downed trees in less than 40 minutes. We found our foot path intersect the Highline Trail and set back East again. Kira was in front once again and she moved swiftly and steadily. The sky was still clear. We arrived a the Horton Creek-S TH and Kira pointed out a small sign hidden under a bush about 3 meters away from the other sign we had inspected for so long. It points North and says “FR 300.” I’m astonished.

We walked to the spring over the hill and put up camp. A beautiful red sunset warms our fears of a short time line and impending doom, sailors delight, right? A short while later after a failed attempt at starting a fire and some dinner we were in the tent warming up and planning in our minds the next day’s move while time and the weather made theirs.

Sunday morning arrived kind of like Saturday. Restless, neither of us did much to sleep, thinking about the next day, timid of what was to come. Kira kicked me awake at six. As anxious as I am, I was tired and sore and in general don’t wake up before eight. I woke up anyway and we were almost packed up soon after. I walked to the spring to try and filter some water. Our PUR filter, from waaay back, had no pressure. It moved about an ounce of water through the intake tube and then nothing out. I took it apart, inspected it, all looked good, I put it together again, and still nothing. I gave up. I filled all the bottles with the spring water and walked them back to the camp some 10 meters away, cursing under my breath. I imagined what a day would be like to not have had to carry that heavy and bulky thing. Grumbling I pulled out my MSR Miox filter (the redundancy thing I had talked about earlier). The batteries in the device were old, from 2006, so I remove them and replace them with a pair of Duracells I had in the bag, brand new, EXP 2010. Still nothing. No lights, no bubbles, no pop-pop fizz-fizz… I calmly, but quite angrily put both filter and purifier away. I handed the water to Kira to boil. We boiled one and a half liters and gave up on the rest. Now we had some ‘good’ water and some water that tastes just fine, three liters of it.

Earlier in the morning I had exercised some time briefly digging a six-inch hole and sitting on a log when I noticed a reflective tree marker across from my seat. Now that we were ready to go I full anticipated checking both the sign under the bush and this phantom tree marker closer to the spring. We started at the sign. Looking North we could barely figure out where to start. We picked a direction and slowly moved upward, around logs and through brush sticking up in the snow. We walked up and around boulders and stopped every 3 meters to reorient ourselves. About 100 meters later we were stuck, without direction. We could look in all sorts of places and ‘see’ trails, lines we mentally drew in the snow with little arrows at the end, but where they went we didn’t know, wether they were correct, we couldn’t tell. We made a strike at a trial that began to ascend up the hill at a steep diagonal, but without a marker it was likely to be a repeat of the previous day’s waste of time, something the current conditions wouldn’t allow this day. We turned back to the Highline and moved to the trail I had seen earlier that morning. At least this time we had some tree markers. Unfortunately about 3 markers later we were back in our old footsteps and without direction. Another long pause looking for a marker and to discuss options.


The sky had closed up, and snow was falling. This encouraged our anxiety and shortened our tempers with the trail. As much as we tried to avoid blame, much of it that did make it out was directed straight at our feet and the ground below it. Again we paused to reflect on our situation and the options at hand; continue up this ‘trail’ in hope that we find the real one, or turn East again and attempt the promontory point trail. I make the final decision and we begin East.

At 10:30, a short while after we pass our campsite where we had enjoyed the first night of snow and a short while later found the Promontory Point trail sign. “Promontory Point, 3/4 mi.” The weather was worsening, wind was blowing, snow was falling, and we started up. This trail was marked entirely by cairns, rock piles atop other rocks, on logs, on stumps, on anything obviously hand placed and unnatural.

About halfway up we lost the trail cairns and stopped to evaluate our situation. We used our topos, GPS, geography, and orientation to locate ourselves and attempt to move using perceived paths and general sense of direction upward. However, each forged trail ended at downed logs, thick brush, or boulder fields. We descended several times and recrossed our old tracks in the snow. Our frustration mounted as we became more eager to leave the rim. We returned to our last known trail cairn and methodically weighed our options. Knowing we had a long but good path East along the Highline trail to the See Spring trail, we make one last attempt to ascend using last springs trimmed branches, hidden beneath this years growth to identify the path. Then Kira found a cairn hidden beneath the snow and we earned our first confirmation of direction in more than an hour and a half. Slowly, and methodically, we moved up the trail marking each obvious cairn with large Xs in the snow, never distancing ourselves more than 10 meters from the last obvious sign of the trail. Several times we were lead off trail by elk paths, or open clearings, however after serious evaluation and consulting each other we back-tracked and would find the trail again, eventually. Over and over I was reminded of how vital having a hiking partner is. We each identified mistakes and cairns, working together to effectively gain true altitude and maintain our positive attitude.

After a seemingly all day venture through the mounting storm we arrived at the Promontory Point trail head sign and stopped for a photo, some pack arrangements, and a quick couple bites of salami. Our watches said 2:30 PM.  Both of us were ecstatic, but contained ourselves because we knew about the long walk still left ahead. At the top of Promontory Point snow fell at a rate just less alarming than the degree to which the wind was blowing. We shouldered this and our packs and began our 6-mile walk North. The snow, initially easy to walk through began to build quickly on the road, covering some recent tire tracks in the snow we are following.  The snow was calf high at low points and knee deep off the road and building. Walking became really difficult and my pack pinched my hips. I stopped every 100 meters to readjust it or rest my pack on my trekking pole, asking myself what I could have done differently. After a couple hours we arrived at Forest Road 300 and we broke briefly for some frozen salami cuts. After sitting in the deep, and at some points now frozen, snow for only a few minutes we made sure to keep on keeping on. A short while up FR-300 we turned up the last 3-mile walk of our trip up the Bear Canyon Lake road, back to the car.


Kira ploughed through the snow as I tried to focus on my foot steps to keep from falling over. Looking up periodically, I would get vertigo and when I thought about it, I couldn’t tell if I was walking up or down hill. While I knew I was walking ‘up’ to the car, my inner ear was far from accurate and I choose down hill because it made me feel like it was easier. Kira stopped for seconds every mile to rest and look for me behind her before continuing on. I didn’t remember the walk being as long on the way out. Snow apparently lengthened the road, practically dancing on the way out the first day, the way back I could barely lift my boots without wincing. Thoughts about the next step were shuffled out of my mind in order to keep peace and by 6 PM we saw the Bear Canyon Lake sign and were thrilled. We stopped at the turn and both drank desperately needed water. Three long swigs and we turned toward the now visible car, safe.

We dropped our packs and attempted to move the car. Back and forth we tried to roll it up onto the snow top, but all to no avail.  In reality, we had no chance of driving through the deep snow, even if we did move the car, so we rested. While our exhaustion was significant, it was not severe and as our muscles ached and unwound we felt safe. Kira broke her last IB Profin in half and we each took some. We fall asleep in hope of a morning of new opportunity and energy.


On day six, December 16th, a Tuesday, according to my watch, it was still snowing.

After a restless night of sleeping sideways atop wet cold gear and clothes we woke up and began to evaluate our position and options. I turned on my cell phone in an attempt to get some signal. We were fortunately parked quite close to a clean, dry, covered toilet and we both took a try. Everything worked well. Three rolls of TP all for us. If not for the wind, one could have left the door open for a fresh experience. I handed Kira my phone before she left and she tried finding service out on the road early that morning. We cleared a small path around the car, cleared the roof, hood, and windows of snow and cleared out an area around the back hatch to use as the primary door. I began to ‘cabinize’ the Volvo, creating a staging area at the hatch for wet gear, a sleeping area and maintained the front seats for dry gear and paper work.  I put the kitchen at the hand brake, stored boots along the seats to dry and then rolled out the sleeping pads and bags and tucked in. Kira and I looked over the maps and learned our route out would be about 15 miles along the Ridgeline road, FR-300 to the 260. We also noted the route back down Christopher Creek to the trail head there out to the 260. All other options were extraneous. We saw no other buildings on our maps. Our gaze fixed on Payson as if by looking at the words we could transport ourselves there or at least communicate with the good people of the city to mobilize their snow mobiles and plows to happen apon us. It was clear our only option, at this point, was to stay with the vehicle and wait for rescue or a change in the weather. So, we sat.


We played on the uke, read, studied, and played cards. We stared at nothing. We got out and cleared the car again. Kira hiked a bit to try the cell phones again. We honked the horn short-long-short, short-long-short, short-long-short. Planes would fly overhead, beyond the clouds of the storm, and we couldn’t hold still. Every roar, or subtle knock on the car from falling snow & debris startled us and we made another attempt to communicate by getting up, honking, clearing the windows of the car. We smelled terrible and kept to our own bags the whole time. Kira wiped the condensation off the roof to stop the bitter cold drops from getting you in the back of the neck and concluded, “Honey, the house keeping is done.” Kira beat me at the volvo-cabin version of cribbage 220 to 192 and we made bets on when we’ll leave, who’ll be the catalyst, how we’ll get out of here. We enjoyed our comfort, warm and fed. We were content except for the terrible feeling of the unknown. An allegory for life eh?

Evening rolled in and the snow fall subsided a bit. I got a bit excited and rolled the window down a crack to keep tabs on the weather and we notice the windows didn’t have the snow piles on them any more. I hoped for a sunny next day. It was dark and all the bets for the day were over and we proposed a new series of bets for the next day, but never solidified anything. Then I shimmied down and try to fall asleep, but Kira demanded I keep a reasonable schedule. I tell her how hard I’ve worked all day, but she doesn’t buy it. We decide to eat dinner and in conservation mode, we conclude to save our remaining hot dinners for the following day and move to finish some falafel paste we had made a couple days prior and eat the remainder of a cucumber we had, followed by a bit of chocolate. The falafel was good, the cucumber was frozen and tasted terrible… awful.. I never ever want to eat an old frozen cucumber again.. traumatic event aside, it’s terrible, try it. But it was full of water and we knew it was good for us so we pushed it down. Blegh! We then enjoyed our one pice of chocolate each before Kira tried to hand me a second. I began to chastised her with regard to our rationing schedule and then ate it. Dinner was over and again Kira prevented me from sleeping. Okay with it, we studied some soils information, talk about soil depletion and pollution and chemistry. Finally I fall asleep as the faint humming of the world kept me awake.


Our seventh day comes without either of us noticing, it’s December 17th. Half an hour into the day I shoot up, my heart was racing. A faint light reflects off the bits of snow covering our windows and the loud leaf blower sound of a snow mobile is all I hear. Within seconds I’ve popped the hatch and am screaming and whistling with my mouth, waving my hands. The darkness and the storm clearly limited the visibility of the drivers. They’re wearing helmets, white? full snow outfits. There is two of them, they’re about 50 meters away heading down the ‘road’ to the lake. Does the GPS indicate good fishing at this time of night? I was frantic. Kira was barely awake yet. I couldn’t contain myself. They stopped a moment while I ducked back to grab my light. I threw it on and waved it. Seconds later they’ve driven away. My heart was about to burst with the fear they’ll never see us. Our car is deeply covered in snow from the night fall and looked like just another rock mound, clearly in-obvious, or as I saw it, obviously in trouble. Perhaps I shouldn’t have waited to light the spare on fire until tomorrow. I threw on my snow pants, boots, jacket, hat, light, and Storm(TM) whistle knowing I only had a bit of time before they reach the dead end and return back with the possibility to passing right by us, unless of course their fishing. I jumped out of the car and blew as hard as possible into the whistle. I secured one light on the car flashing and another on my head I moved as fast as I could through the thigh high snow to the road. One snow mobile came up the road and briefly and I feared it would pass me before it saw me, forgetting about the second. I could do nothing but focus on making myself visible to the driver – scare him to death for all I can think, jumping out of the woods at him. Whistling and frantically waving my arms I’m five meters away from him when he stops his snow mobile and dismounts. I couldn’t think of what I was suppose to do next. I kind of wait for some direction and Kira and I both suffer minor strokes when we hear “My name is Scott, I’m with Search and Rescue.” He asks if we’re hurt and while I feel obligated to find some problem we have I couldn’t. I told him we’re both warm, and comfortable, we’re unhurt, and are not hungry or thirsty, we would just like to get out, if he’d help us. He obliges.


We walk back to the car where Kira was now awake and excited. Scott gets on his radio, notifies some female voice where he has found us, tells us the snow cat will show up shortly and keeps us company until then. We packed as much as we can into our bags, which as it turned out was almost everything. Save a pair of shoes, food I didn’t care to repack, our maps, and a couple pieces of clothes, the car is clean and empty and we’re ready to go. The cat showed up a hour later due to some mechanical frustrations and we poped in. Everyone was just as nice as Scott and we were amazed at the energy and enthusiasm of every volunteer. Debb hopped into the back of the cat with us and kept us company as we soaked in our previous predicament and new found freedom and safety. She told us that she kept a blog of each event and I consider comparing stories with her later. (Her version: http://debssarstories.blogspot.com/2008/12/volvo-wasnt-so-lucky.html ) Once in the cat and comfortable, they offered a pile of donated energy bar snacks in a box on the floor and Debb told us about her favorite snack, some fruit gummies. I started looking for them to offer to Debb when I was caught by another volunteer noticing the look of hunger as I had boxes of food bars in my hand, seemingly searching for more.

Deb talked to us for the length of the ride. Kira and I were surprised at how lively everyone was at, now 1:00 AM.  Debb told us about her other experiences, the other kinds of rescue and focuses on the let down she had not getting to snowshoe tonight, apparently the Maricopa team had been on trail the day before and Coconino was slotted to get out the next day. Apparently we kind of ruined their whole search plan by being at the first place they looked. We apologized.

After a couple of refuelings of the cat and two hours we were at highway 260 where there was a slew of vehicles waiting for us. Unhurt we popped out of the cat back into the cold stormy night to meet the rest of the crew, now in the veil of bright flood lights. Still, the whole team was energetic and nice. Now illuminated our transport was clearly visible and quite impressive. Two monster treads spanned the whole length of the truck. The body was a big red can, simple in shape, but space efficient. On the side were the words “Search & Rescue, Coconino County.” We were offered a spot in the Sheriff’s truck to sit and we take a few pictures with some of the group. At this point, I really felt like a hinderance. I wasn’t even pulling my weight helping them get the gear put back together. Kira and I sat in the truck and watched as they loaded the snow mobiles and the cat back onto trailers from Flagstaff. At one point we were startled by a volunteer who offers us some NutterButters. I was delighted, but not really hungry. How do you pass up NutterButters? I graciously accepted and ate a few, but my stomach warned me not to eat anymore and I sat, contemplatively, in time-out.


A bit after things seem to be wrapped up around us, Aaron stepped into the car, tells us we’re all set, and we began the drive, along a ploughed highway, into Payson. Briefed on all the things we could look forward to in the coming few hours and days, we arrived at Denny’s near 5 AM and sat down for a breakfast with the team where the whole event seamlessly melted into just another normal day.

The whole team was really neat, we talked about everything from gear to making mistakes. Finally I was asked point blank, “Did you even look at the weather?” and I got to start practicing my answer. Breakfast ended and Kira and I moved to a corner booth where we enjoyed some hot tea and some stardom from the locals. Mom arrived and picked us up around 8:30, getting a nice long hung and a smile. We threw our gear into her Volvo, turned the car on the highway South and finally I took my boots off. …

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In the end here was our (estimated) true route:
(Red is our in route, Blue is our out route. Bear lake is off the map to the north where the car was parked. Compare to the initial plan map at the top of the page.)

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While this video may seem a bit silly and dramatic – it is – but I would also say fairly accurate. I’d still like to enjoy a barbecue with friends. (video contains profanity)

 

———————-
Some of the press we received: Missing:
AZ Star
KVOA 4 Video
KVOA 4 Story
AZ 12AZ Family – includes original story & update
Someone’s Blog

Found:
AZ Star
Tucson Citizen
AZ 12
Payson Roundup
ABC 15
KOLD 13
KVOA 4 Story
KTAR

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(This video lives on the internet – somehow… don’t know how to access it though. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to know)
The video a second time, on my servers: 2008-12-18 Mongollon..>

Mongollon Trail Blazer

A days hike slowly comes to an end. After a trek up the side of the ridge in near-white-out conditions, comes a 10 mile straightaway through the continually falling snow. As the snow piles along the road and my boots become heavier I take a moment to reflect on my thoughts.

Video currently located on YouTube.

Fly Fishing.

5 AM rolled by without anyone noticing. Then 5:30. Then four minutes later I woke up in a mild panic. I was suppose to be ready at 5:20 and I wasn’t. I paced a bit, looked out the window into the black night. Subtle porch lights created weak shadows across the street, otherwise there was nothing to see or hear in the cold morning. I picked up my phone and dialed Patrick to apologize for not being ready. He assured me they’d be right there. They too were late. I was off the hook.

I rushed my pants on (thermals under jeans) picked up a number of top layers; thermals, shit, sweatshirt, outer coat. In my panic I couldn’t find my stocking cap and opted for the base ball cap over nothing at all. Next to my knit cap was the pair of gloves that I would have picked up had I been thorough. Lights rolled up the driveway and I kicked my body into gear. I rushed outside and picked up pole and effects and shoved them into my backpack and hopped into the truck with Patrick, Dalton, and Lava.

About an hour later we pulled off the highway next to another car at the top of Rose Canyon Reservoir. “Damn, he’s got a bike.” Pat said, “We won’t be the first lines in the water.” We exchanged a cordial greeting and then he rode down the hill, quite quickly I imagine. We slung our packs and began the walk down. It’s about a mile from highway to lake and the downhill made it easy and quick, but it was COLD. Bitter cold. Tucson was cold, my guess was 35′ or 38′ F. Up here it had to be 28′ F. The fabric on my jeans would stiffen if I stopped for a moment and let them cool. So the walk did great things for keeping me warm. I think I would have kept walking past the lake in the name of warmth had I not been with other people.

As soon as we arrived at the lake the frustrating feeling of defeat struck me. The cold air pierced my hands so badly I couldn’t do more than five minutes of work before needing to put them into my armpits to quell the pain. All the while Dalton began setting up his gear and Patrick, some sort of fishing guru, tossed lines in the water and pulled fish out like they were attached to his line. I had much to learn about this fishing business.

Lesson 1: Bring warmer clothes.
Lesson 2: Don’t forget the bait.

I finally got enough stamina to get my pole together with the reel backwards, line missing loops, and loose knots. Ready for a fly I looked into my bag, a couple of donuts and half a bottle of orange juice. I raced through my memory of my rushed morning and stopped my brain just in time to keep from recounting the awful mistake. Embarrassed, I asked Pat if I could borrow a fly and he graciously obliged. I fixed my reel, re-strung my line, and tried to tie on tight Pat’s loner dry fly. Due to my loss of dexterity I had to grab the fly with the forceps and then cut a number of small knots off my line. Between bungling with the rod, line, fly, and managing what little use I had with my hands a sudden Plop! stopped all progress. Fly and forceps dropped into the water. The cold, still, bitter water. Just on the other side of this foot high wall at the water’s edge, through the arrogant amber water a shiny set of forceps pleadingly held an invisible dry fly at a depth of eight inches. I grumbled, but then bit my tongue and dipped my hand down to pull it out and set it on the concrete as I plunged my freezing wet hand into my pocket to rewarm. Maybe seven minutes later I was ready to work again and in another four minutes had the fly tied on and was ready to fish – I thought.

Walking down the path another three meters to distance myself from injuring others, I pulled some line out to cast and dropped the fly in the water. Again it hit with a significant Ploop! unlike the traditional lay of a dry fly on water, this little guy hit with force, propelled underwater and then bounced right up to the surface. I evaluated it with vague curiosity and frost-frigid mental frustration and then called over to Pat. “Is it unnatural looking to fish if my fly is frozen?” I suppose I expected his laugh and response of ‘probably.’ I then put the pole down to warm up my hands and walked over to Dalton. He was struggling with his line. It wouldn’t travel off his pole. Each of the loops had frozen over, solid. I didn’t feel so bad about my fly anymore. He chipped the ice off with his fingers as I warmed mine in my pockets.

I returned to my rod and proceeded to cast directly into the tree above my head. I took another ten minute break. I climbed the tree to try and detach my line. I climbed back down the tree and took another ten minute warm up. I tugged on my line. One, two, three… the fly let go and came down. I reeled my line in and moved down the shore. I took another break. My hands hurt something awful. Sharp pain in each finger, a numbness across the back and on the tips of my fingers. I walked over to the small dock on the reservoir, it was covered in ice. I was glad to have thick socks on under my heavy boots. I watched as Pat and Dalton strung their fish. At one point, after Dalton untied a knot he had in his line he pulled his hook out of the water where it dangled to find a fish hooked and ready for the net. It was that easy for these guys. I took another break.

Patrick moved on to a point on the shore near the dam and Dalton walked over to stand on the small dam. I stayed on the dock, in the sun, warming, and finally getting the energy to cast. Patrick would call over some tips and I would respond until my subconscious returned me to old habits and Patrick would call over again and critique. Tic-Toc. Tic-Toc. Dalton fell in the water, fell off a fence, caught more fish. I was learning.


After a bit of this I packed things up and walked around the lake, where Pat and Dalton had now moved to, in order to do some observation of the ‘pros.’ I was hoping to see a what the line does when a fish ‘bites’ and how Pat or Dalton control their line in order to both set the hook and reel the fish in. Sitting and watching, Pat suggested I fish just a couple meters away from him to keep practicing. So I put my line in the water a couple times trying to mimic the man. Dropping the line in a spot a couple times then changing location after no bites, then again to another spot.

I tossed my line out and began to manage the length of line I had at my feet. Subtly drawing my hook-side line I noticed the little ‘wiggle.’ Not more than half a second, and not more than a couple centimeters. My vision isn’t that good, some people see aliens, some people Jesus, I saw the wiggle and that was all. I tugged a bit and then looked for another wiggle to prove to myself I wasn’t crazy. The line tightened up again, but didn’t run. So I pulled a little more line in and it was snug. Snug? SNUG! I caught a fish! – keep your cool. “I caught a fish!” I mentioned to Pat, “Hey, I think I caught something,” and then I started to look at all the line I had out. With pole in the air, fish moving left to right, I had my left hand full of line and reeling it all in as calmly as possible so as to not snap or tangle line as Pat scrambled over with his net with much more apparent excitement than I. The pole wasn’t flexing or swinging, the sun was out, and the fish wasn’t taking line, so I assumed it was about the same size as the other fish those guys had caught earlier, about a six-inch rainbow. Then I saw it… WOW! “Look at that thing.” I said under my forced calm breathing. As it came closer it was evident this fish was no trivial catch, it was real! A real fish on my reel, ha-HA! Pat slid down to the water line with his net and eased the catch into the net and it was all set. I retrieved my hook and put the fish on the line, Lava went nuts. Fourteen, maybe Sixteen inches, it was a German Brown Trout. Ha! And so there it was, my first catch on the fly rod, and the first fish I’d caught on a line in a Very long time. Boy was I proud.

The sky was now full of light and sun, the rocks were warming up, the bites slowed down, and we finished fishing a couple hours later without much else action on any lines (Save Pat who always has action on his line). I threw line in the water like I’d been doing it for years. Dropping in a spot there, then in a spot over there, jumping over rocks and sharing my thoughts on where fish were biting with rocks, trees, and anyone who’d ask for my opinion or just pretend listen.

To add to my pride that day, my fish got a lot of attention from the other folks now on the lake. One fellow across the lake shouted across, “That a Trout?!” – “yep” – “You Catch that HERE?!” – “yep” – “How big is that guy, twelve, fourteen?!” – “yep” – “Geeze – Nice!” – “Thanks,” I replied as we walked back up the trail. Folks we passed walking back to the truck all gawked and to put the cherry on top a ranger pulled up at the truck on the highway and asked if we’d caught anything. I proudly pulled out the trout and he said, “Wow, don’t see many brown trout come out of that lake, hardly ever that size either.” That did it, filled my head, I was content.

We drove home happy with the day’s business, planned the fish cook for the evening, and went our ways until then.

Clear Water Creek

Sweat was dripping into my eyes again. I think my eyebrows were broken, I don’t sweat this much from my face. At about 5,800 feet Ryan and I had finally reached a flat portion of trail, ascending from the creek below which sits at approximately 3800 feet according to my Topo. Quietly we walked over yesterdays muddy trail. It was cracked and fissured and you could see where other hikers had scrapped the sticky muck off their soles. I sucked down water from my cammelpak about ever 20 feet with my head down concentrating on putting one foot before the other. It was about 2:00 PM and I think we were both thinking about the past eight hours as we were periodically interrupted by the burning soles of our feet, or a pain in our shoulders. Tired already and we still had some miles to go.

It was just this morning that I woke up at 5:45 to my alarm clock, rolled over to push my face back into my pillow when there was a knock on the door. Impossibly Ryan had arrived 15 min early and at the exact same time the alarm had gone off. That jerk! The drive started quietly, but Ryan was insistent on conversation, which was good, so by the time we were in Phoenix I was wide awake and able to hold not only conversation, but thoughts in my own head.
Pulling down the dusty, washboard of a trail just outside of Camp Verde in central Arizona, we parked at the trail head, lathered our selves with sun screen, arranged our packs, and put on our hiking shoes. As all hikers know this is your last chance for it all. Do I unload a little from my already heavy pack, or do I put a little more into my under-prepared pack? Do I bring a cell phone, do I have a flash light? Will I need a light? Where are we going again? Is this really a good idea? I left behind an extra pair of socks for fear of the heat on my feet, as well as my book, while Ryan left behind his third litre of water. Then we signed the register and walked.

I’d never been to this park – The Coconino National Forrest, more specifically Clear Water Creek – and therefore I was heavily intrigued by the land scape partially because it was full of red rock and green trees, desert cactus, and little critters, and partly because it was foreign and I wanted to make sure that ITEOE (in the event of emergency) I would be fairly familiar with where I was, where I had been, and the general direction of where I’m going.

The beginnings of any hike are fairly similar, especially when your trail and destination are unknown. When you first start out, you pace varies in form. Sometimes quickly paced, because you’ve got all the energy in the world, to slow and deliberate because of your fascination with the smallest rock and the slowest bug. Today was no exception to this rule. We moved quickly, talked a lot, missed the trail and would have to back track after running into a wall of cactus, and finally found “the Toilet Bowl,” a small pool of water that exits to the river by slicing between two rocks causing a small eddy and a deep slide. Hikers would walk themselves into the pool to just up stream of the water’s exit. Then they’d sit down and let the current suck them between the rocks and “deep,” about two feet, underwater and down stream by about eight feet. It was fun enough I imagine, especially in the hot Arizona sun. We told ourselves we’d jump in on our way back to the car.

From here it became more obvious that we were indeed on a hiking trail and not simply in an area where folks came for the day to lie about in pools. The trail crossed over Clear Water Creek a number of times and moved back and forth and up and down. It made me think, “who designs these trials.. and why does it go up, just to go down!? Those jerks.” We heard Hawks screeching and birds fluttering away, and to my excitement we heard and saw a small group of Javolina. One scurried across the trail and away as we approached, another stood in the shade of a small bush, while a third and fourth, skittish as they were, made vicious noises and then as I approached would hustle to the next farthest away bush where upon they’d make more noise to intimidate. The hike was pleasant, peaceful, and had just enough to it to make us feel good about the work out, the training. Our down fall came when we passed some folks on horse back.

They passed us during one of our slow, deliberate, and dry river crossings and we then passed them several minutes later. At 12:30 we stopped for lunch after our last crossing the riders parked and took a break for some swimming. The lead rider was apparently quite familiar with the trail and seemingly excited to share any information he had regarding it to us ‘first timers from Tucson.’ Earlier, during one of our other encounters on the trail, he had suggested that we do the loop, hiking out of the canyon and along the ridge back and then dropping back down to the trail head instead of simply hiking up and hiking back. It sounded like the kind of hiking I prefer. We both agreed that backtracking is awful and makes you feel like you accomplished nothing that day. At this brief meeting he offered to show us the map of what he suggested now that he was down off his mount. I was eager to see the map, given we had none of our own and again, I’m sometimes focused on knowing where I am, perhaps that’s a hiking with Mom and Dad thing or a Boy Scout thing.. who knows, it’s what I do. The map showed us about in the middle of the river portion of the hike, then a trail leading up, out of the canyon, and then along the ridge where it met up with a road for about a mile where it then turned back down to the trail head and thus our car. What I forgot to do was really read the map, count the lines, look for elevation, or simply look at where we were and where we had to get sans map. Neither Ryan nor I had any concept of what “hiking out of the canyon” entailed. Several hours later, with our heads down and our feet sore and dragging atop the ridge, we were well aware of what it entailed.

After lunch – two peanut butter and honey sandwiches, a hand full of almonds, and an orange – we proceeded with the plan, hike the loop. About a mile later the creek was now below us and we were along a small ridge about 100 feet above. We were feeling good, the climb was subtle, and the sun was not too demanding. My water was still relatively cool as it came out of the tube and Ryan and I kept a good pace. We were deceived by our apparent climb in elevation and concluded that the remainder of the hike would be similar, this out of the canyon business isn’t so bad.

We were soon corrected. Talking and walking still, the trail made a steady shift to the canyon side putting us onto a hill where we became victim to the afternoon sun. Our breaths became heavier, our feet dragged, and conversation was frequently interrupted by catching breath or gulps of water. The climb was now at hand. We still moved along the river but now in a manner of determination, the trail climbed quickly and we responded with pace. Striking us how the trail had changed, Ryan in mid-sentence made note of the of the wicked climb and we became aware of our challenge at hand. Conversation stopped and we became focused on breathing and climbing. The trail didn’t switch back or even out it just went up and up. Some steps where at the height of my knee and cactus, Palo Verde, Mesquite, and anything else with thorns lined the trail and spilled over onto it. I was determined to finish solid. We both marched up the hill huffing and hurting. Finally Ryan asked to break in the shade. From here the breaks were regular and drawn out. At each stop I would catch my breath, drink some water, and reflect.

This was the first time I’d put my feet into boots since our climb in Ecuador and before that.. I couldn’t remember. My feet had begun to burn about an hour into the hike, around the same time we were first past by the horsemen. I knew I was blistering but I needed this warm up. I needed to punish my feet for being so weak. My intentions were to start doing some heavy backbacking in the following weeks and if I couldn’t do a little day hike, how was I ever going to pack 30 miles? As it turns out punishment was delivered. It was delivered not only to my feet, but to my shoulders, knees, neck, lungs, heart, and brain. I was out of shape, horribly out of shape. I was glad we had chosen a difficult trail. Ryan seemed to be in a different state of mind. He began to have difficult seeing straight, his legs started to cramp, and his needed rest became almost crippling to his climb. At one point rest stops were separated by the distance between shade and lasted twenty minutes. I began to think to myself how I could signal for help if we became debilitated. However, every time Ryan would sit soon after he would get up and continue on with the hike just as determined and fresh as he was before, and help was never necessary.

To someone who exercises all you have to tell them is “I knew I was out of shape” and they’ll understand the exact pains you’re talking about, but to someone who has never pushed their limit, or worked themselves to a crawl it difficult to convey just how determined you are to make yourself hurt, to drive your body into the ground, to really end up at the end of the day exhausted and with no ability to fight off a bear if it so happened to want to take your hat (this was something I had thought about during one of our frequent rest stops).

We walked for and hour and a half up hill, cursing the land, cursing the trail blazers, cursing the horseman who gave us directions, cursing our selves for not staying at the creek and just swimming all day. At one point the trail dipped back down causing us to loose close to two hundred feet in altitude and evoking internal rage, the kind of frustration that comes from walking up an escalator that only moves down – yeah, it’s that silly. However, soon after this decent the trail progressed back up and we felt close to reaching the rim. Easing it’s self out, the trail had no place to go but down, looking through the vegetation we could see the horizon and save one small peak to our left, sky was all there was left to climb.

The crest was so gentle that we didn’t stop to celebrate or to take pictures the trail had become flat and there was no cornice or edge to jump off and so we marched on knowing we had three and a half more miles to go before reaching the comfort of the river again. The trail emptied into a small campsite and then to a bumpy, poorly maintained access road. And so we concentrated on putting one foot before the other, sucking down water about ever 20 feet and began to question my eyebrows and permission graned to the sweat rolling into my eyes at about 5,800 feet.

Rocky and pitted, the road required constant attention and when it finally emptied onto the main gravel road a mile later, I was pleased to ignore my footing. Regardless of the diminished difficulty of the hike, discussion was distant and we walked quietly. Another mile later the road presented a trail head and exchanging a “is this it?” “yeah,” Ryan and I turned down yet another poorly maintained jeep road which ended at a small trail that descended. We were confident of our eminent arrival home.

About a hundred feet down the trail I took the last draw of water from my tube, it then seized, refused service, and I got a little panicky. I was out of water. I focused on the third of a bottle of hot Gatorade I had waiting for me in the car. I moved rapidly, partly to keep myself occupied an to see if I still had the ability to keep footing at a rate of falling, partly because I wanted to make sure we beat the storm to the car, but mostly because I was thirsty. All the while keeping an eye on Ryan’s progress, I essentially skied down the trail on my feet in my anxiety. Beneath my feet dust turned to red rock and clay, which turned to blue slate, then to black pea gravel, to deep red pumice, and then slate again. The geology of the canyon was spectacular and as varied as any science project should be. Layers were prominent and rock specimens prevalent. All this made it that much more difficult to focus on and predict my footing, alas no accident occurred. At one point I waited for Ryan and when he caught up we took a short break. I still had no water every second I stood there I thought of nothing but how thirsty I was so I reverted to taking pictures to distract me. I looked up at the ominous clouds that had been approaching all afternoon. A dark bank now filled the northern sky and hung about the other side of the canyon. I could see them move and curl and I became fascinated with how quickly they were transforming and spinning about in the sky. I took a few pictures of the distant lightening and then did a quick scan of the local cliffs and hills. To my astonishment the canyon wall directly across from us, where the thunder storm loomed over head, was also moving and spinning. I put my camera away and became more concerned for myself and my hydration. I needed to sit down and drink some water. I told Ryan nothing and pulled out an orange to attempt to quench my thirst and yet again distract my thoughts, but this only proved that rapid decent is not as effective, nor feasible while peeling and eating an orange, so I gave Ryan half and resumed my pace.

For the second glorious time today, the trail leveled out and we had reached a calm point in the trek, this time it was the bottom of the canyon and we were less than a quarter mile from the car. The sky was dark and the thunder boomed loud. Flashes of lightening illuminated the sky overhead, but we didn’t see any local bolts and felt no rain, so our concern was sufficiently low. Back at the car Ryan stripped down and sat in the river while I unlaced my boots at the car and exposed my blistered feet to daylight. While sucking down my last of Gatorade tea, I found a pile of ants attacking a caterpillar to watch and concluded my day in nature. During the car ride home I opened my eyes once at a gas station in Anthem, then again when we arrived at In-N-Out for dinner, and lastly to watch a spectacular battle between Zeus and Thor in the western skies between Tucson and Phoenix where bolts of lightening spread a good thirty degrees of the sky. At home I set my boots and bag down and plummeted face first into my pillow – the exact position I had misplaced when Ryan had arrived sixteen hours earlier.

Google Map of the hike