Let me see - to sum this trip up in a short phrase...
Muddy, wet, cold, miserable.
But enough about the weather...
I was about an hour and a half late for the party at the trailhead... I blame my cuddly dogs, the golf tournament and my own failure to double check directions to the trailhead on the realigned Beeline Highway (did you know you have to travel almost 10 miles before you can turn around on stretches of that road?!). I made it to where the rest of the ABC group parked their cars about a mile and half from the Mt. Peeley trailhead. The rest of the road was snowy, slushy and icy, so they'd elected to walk it. I parked another tenth of a mile down the road and began hoofing it. I knew I'd never catch up, but I figured that I'd find them at camp. Just a fun solo day on the trail - sounded great.
Did I mention it was snowing? That there was a 100% chance for precipitation all day? That I thought I was prepared for anything?
The hike itself seemed very interesting - from what little I could see of it through the clouds and the narrow field of view of my rain jacket hood. I was warm enough at first - the snow wasn't too bad, my feet stayed dry and I was on the leeward side of the ridge. Once I got on the trail, however, the real fun started. I was walking into the wind, and the wet, sticky snow was accumulating on my backpack and shoulders. In a classic case of 'be careful what you ask for' I mentioned that it would be nice if it stopped snowing. So it did - and it began to hail. Little tiny balls pelted me for almost a mile as I headed down the hill on a series of trails made mostly from old jeep roads.
It wasn't long before the hail gave way to a constant, soaking rain. Wind blew the moisture into my face, and saturated my pants. My pants drained into my socks, which filled my shoes with water. Squish, squish, squish.
By the time I made it to the lush and pretty Thicket Spring area, I was pretty wet and getting cold. I didn't want to stop for lunch without some shelter, so I pressed on. Every tiny drainage was full of water - but I didn't need to worry about delicate footwork as I was already sopping from the waist down.
The trail continued to climb and descend a series of smaller drainages and minor saddles. I'm not sure the AEG I've listed here is anywhere near correct - it felt like I did a lot more climbing than that. However, it was all in fits and starts, into the wind and through the rain, so my self-monitor could be WAY off on this.
I was headed down yet another stretch of jeep-road-turned-AZT, when it stopped raining long enough for me to make a pit stop. Pulling down my wet nylon hiking pants, I realized that the skin on the front of my thighs and calves was completely numb from cold. But, it was raining again already, and I wasn't about to sacrifice my dry warm clothes yet. Press on, crazy girl, press on.
About a mile further on and I was descending into McFarland Canyon. Very pretty area - I'd love to see it in the fall when the leaves are changing, or in the spring when the sycamores are green. Or pretty much anytime when sleet wasn't falling from the sky. I lost the trail a bit at the junction of the Thicket Spring Trail and the Sheep Creek Trail. I wandered along an (impossibly steep, absurdly narrow) animal track, convincing myself that the canine footprints I was seeing were sure signs that I was on a good trail. Then, I stopped and stared down the canyon and felt pretty low. That gave me a clue that maybe I was getting a little hypothermic. I wandered back to the trail junction (which by the way hosts a wonderful camping spot that I seriously considered making use of), took off the wet pants and put on my dry snow pants (which I should have been wearing from the start- duh). I wrung out my gloves as the rain started in again, found the real trail after some silly bumbling about, and began to warm up as I continued following the muddy footprints ahead of me.
The intended camping spot was at the Mormon Grove Spring trail junction, or somewhere there about. I didn't stop again until I reached that intersection. This portion of the trail was pretty heavily traveled by horse traffic, cattle and hikers and was essentially a mud bog. I wasn't so much hiking as I was mucking my way down the hill. Best part was lifting the 4 pounds of mud on each boot for each step. I played a game with the weather, predicting when the rain/fog/sleet combination would change based upon the rise and fall of the ambient temperature. I gave myself a little song as reward when i got the rain hood up before the drops started.
Made it to the camping area to find it deserted, windy and exposed. But there weren't footprints in any other direction... Did a funky (and I'm told girly) call out, got a response and followed it to the spot where 9 other campers were huddled wet and miserable in their individual shelters. No campfire and cocktails this time. I set my tarp (with assitance from Angelo because I couldn't think or use my fingers), changed into warm dry clothes, hung the hammock and made a quick dinner. That was it for the evening. Quite a rowdy group, that one! I was warm and snug in my swing, listening to the rain and sleet hit my tarp all night.
Next morning, we didn't dally to long. Hiking with the group now, we continued through more rain, more sleet and an unfathomable amount of mud. We were in the clouds for nearly the whole hike, but what pieces of the mountains which revealed themselves to us were beautiful and showed signs of an amazing spring to come. We were able to get cell signal at the junction of the Little Saddle Mountain trail - the reason we NEEDED cell signal is another, longer story that I'll save for a campfire someday. From that point on, we had bouts of sun and rain as we crossed heavily grazed ranching lands. Mud, muck and more mud were our constant companions. This part of the trail wove through a number of gates, in and out of trickling drainages, and ultimately under the highway through a long culvert flowing with an inch of water. We cleaned off our boots... too early. More mud, more muck. Finally, unexcited about the trail which appeared to have been obliterated in a flood at some point, and a crossing of swollen Sycamore Creek, we climbed up to the highway and finally to our shuttle vehicle parked at the Bushnell Tanks road closure.
The weather made this an epic hike - but I think under ideal conditions, it would have been a beautiful and challenging exploration. It may be checked off the list, but I'm thinking I'll have to hike this one again to really feel like I've seen it!