This trip just reinforced in my heart that the Rincons are my very favorite of the Sky Islands. They have everything: beauty, majesty, hardness, softness, toughness, fragility, wide openness and close intimacy... Everything you could ask for in a scenic national park, except for the crowds. The whole weekend, we saw only 4 other hikers on the trails. There were a few rangers and researchers at Manning Camp, setting up for the fire season, but overall we had the place virtually to ourselves - just as I had come to expect.
We originally planned this trip for the preceding weekend. Yup, the one where it got up to like 109 in Tucson. Yeah. SO glad that didn't happen.
My mileage is estimated from the trail maps and my companions GPS units. I brought mine along, but it will take me some time to figure out what to do with all that data...Day 1
Miles: ~6.5 AEG:2600 We hit the Miller Creek trailhead at about 8am - a little later than I was hoping for, but it is what it is. Because we weren't sure what to expect water wise, we each packed what we thought we'd need for all of Day 1 and the beginning of Day 2. We set a nice pace right at the start, but as I hate being out front, I stepped aside after about a mile to let the team set their own pace. I think it was about 30 yards later when we got off track at the final crossing of Miller Creek before you start up the hill. Tiffani and I were in the back, we quickly discovered that we were on the wrong track, backed up and found the trail. Fan was with the group ahead, shouted something about having found the trail across the creek, and so we kept moving. When Tiffani and I stopped to adjust some gear and wasted some time on photos, I figured the front group got ahead of us. Afterall, Jeff was with them, and he's more familiar with this area than even I am, right???
Well, when we didn't see them at the Saguaro National Park sign and trail register, we figured maybe they'd just blasted past without registering - intent on getting the hill done before it got hot. We waited a few minutes, but not wanting to make a bigger gap between the groups, we headed on up the hot hill. When we didn't see them at the first trail junction at Happy Valley Saddle, we were concerned. They didn't seem to be the types to ignore my instructions (to wait at any trail junctions). And now, we were about 3.5 miles where we thought they might have gotten lost. How lost could they be? How long should we wait? What if they were at the campground waiting for us? Ak! Double Ak! We debated our next move at great length, which if you know Tiffani and I, is not surprising.
Luckily, as a dutiful trip leader, I carry paper an pen for just such occasions. I made an eloquent note ("ABC at CG"), weighed it down with some stones at a spot even speedy bob would have noticed, and headed on to the campground. Tiffani and I arrived there at about noon. We explored the area, waffled around about what to do next, waffled some more, then set off with my pen and paper again to find the rest of the group (don't ask what good the pen and paper would have done - it made sense at the time).
Right 'round the corner, we saw Fan and right behind her, Jasen. They'd been behind us the whole time, having been lost for nearly half an hour along Miller Creek. Fan's poor legs were shredded. We were very glad to have the gang all together again, but we were faced with another, less critical problem: water.
We had anticipated that there might not be water at HV CG. However, what we didn't count on was how warm it would be climbing that hill in the morning sun. I blasted through twice what I counted on using, and I wasn't alone. I figured if we stuck to our plan and continued up to the peak, that I wouldn't have enough water for dinner or the hike the next morning. There were pools of water near the CG, but they were pretty rank and none of us relished the idea of drinking that stuff straight even after filtering. So, we scrapped the peak plan and decided on Plan B: naps.
I love napping in a hammock in the woods. There really is no better place to nap. I'm not even really a napper by nature - but it's pretty sweet to curl up in your little sack, swaying beneath the pines, watching the clouds go by... Wait a minute, clouds?
Yes, freaking clouds. I wake from my nap around 2pm to find a breezy, cool, cloudy afternoon PERFECT for peak bagging. Ak. Still, I'm worried about the water thing. Jeff, ever the resourceful one, has dug a large hole in the sand below one of the dank pools, hoping that he could get some reasonably filtered water from it. The first batch he pulled out was not encouraging. So, still no peak. I decide that I'm going to grab my camera and what little water I do have left and at least enjoy a little of the peak trail. Just as I'm about to pull out of camp, the gang figures out a way to pull half way decent water out of the sandy hole (filter, filter, shock with ultraviolet light). Perfect. Now it's too late to even think of attempting the peak (8 mi round trip from the CG), but we've plenty of water to spare. Great.
An unnecessarily missed opportunity is the worst kind of thing to hang over your head.
Tiffani and I headed up the hill about a mile to a neat little rock outcropping with a nice north/east view. We chatted it up for a bit, snapped some pics, then reluctantly headed back down. It was about 6pm when our latecomer, who'd left from Phoenix at about 11am, arrived at the campground - carrying the extra water we asked for but didn't end up needing (it's amazing how good cell coverage is in the mountains these days).
Delightful campfire, Mango Tangos and Sweet Morgaide, and a slightly cold night in my hammock without an underquilt (that's a whole 'nother story!).
Oh - and the john at Happy Valley camp is completely and horrifyingly infested by daddy-long-legs. They may not be biters, but I'm just not willing to...well, you get the idea.Day 2
Miles: ~6.5 AEG:3000 Spectacular day of hiking. Great views most of the day of the peak that got away - what a tease. However, since the last few times I've been on this trail, it's either been raining or snowing, it was nice to have crystal clear skies and stunning vistas. Heartbreak Ridge is so beautiful, but it is such a bear with its ups and downs, and ups and downs, and ups...
Jeff had left camp early, before we were completely (or even remotely) conscious, so we didn't see him on the trail much. Fan and Jasen were itchy, and left a little later. Tiffani, Mike and I meandered along the trail, stopping frequently for photos, to catch horned lizards, checking out different vistas and snacking profusely. It took us nearly 6 hours to cover the distance. But what fun! Rock piles, pools, waterfalls (kinda)...I even had time to finally head up to the Happy Valley Lookout and see what that was all about! It was like Disneyland for hikers! And, best of all, the temps were perfect for hiking. Warm but not hot, breezy but not windy...ah, yes.
There were some skunky pools at the Devil's Bathtub, but nothing too terribly nasty. The pool at the bottom was definitely not worth the climb down, however, so we skipped that part. The creek at Manning, however, was running quite nicely. We were able to pump fresh, clear, wonderful water for drinking, as well as rinsing the worst of the trail dust off our faces and legs. Clean pretty toilets, ample trees for hanging (3 hammocks in the group!) and all the firewood you can burn. It's like the backcountry Hilton. Another delightful campfire that evening, with a lackluster sunset to accompany. Summer days really do seem to go on forever!Day 3
Woke again to find Jeff gone - figured he was pretty smart, but I'm just not good at pre-dawn stuff, particularly when the temps are hovering close to freezing. brrrrrr! (Don't even ask how that went in the hammock sans underquilt!) The rest of the group got going at about 7:30am, still in our beanie caps and jackets. That sure wouldn't last!
We took the Cow Head Saddle trail down at lightening speed - or at least for me (and compared to how we'd hiked the rest of the trip!) We hit the saddle at about 9:30am. It was already getting warm. We took a snack break, and promised to re-group again at Douglas Springs CG. Again, we raced down, and were eating lunch in the shade before 10:30. I did really enjoy this part of the trail - we were all moving at our own pace, and I got a lot of time alone with the mountain. I forgot how beautiful the stretch is from Cow Head to Douglas Spring, and it's really neat to watch how the forest is recovering from those devastating fires.
The shade at Douglas was pretty much the last of it - and from here on in, it was every man for himself, balls out, race to the bottom to get out of the heat. I started out that section with my umbrella out - which seemed like such a great idea....except for the gusts of wind which kept rocking it out of control. So, I put it away. And roasted like a hiker on a spit. And I took it back out, and I put it away again. Then, during another umbrella up phase, I twisted my useless ankle on some stupid rock (yes, again) and fell on my umbrella
. Well, I'm sure you can imagine how that went. Great - now I have an umbrella that will neither stay up, nor actually scrunch back down properly.
I made it to the trailhead at a blistering 2:30 in the afternoon. I've always said that the stretch from the campground to the trailhead felt longer than 6 miles, and Fan's GPS agreed with mine that it was closer to 8. Either way, it was brutal and hot - even though the temp was only right around 90! SO SO glad we weren't there a week ago! AK!
Finished off the trip with a yummy dinner at El Charro East (never as good as downtown, but will do in a pinch). I had a margarita, which on my parched tongue tasted like silver but burned like acid. Went home, showered and fell asleep at about 7pm.
Now I've got 5 days to rest my feet before I tackle the next Sky Island. If anyone tells you I don't lead a charmed life, they're lying!