Manmping: It's not a choice, it's a Mandate
(but still in the just friends sort of way)
Each year I lead some of my man friends on a journey into the wilderness. It usually brings a cacophony of the hardened and the soft, and the occasional, "My wife said I can go on this one trip this year, will I need a flashlight" types. This tale is of our 5th annual Manmping trip.
The odds were against us from the get go. I already knew the group would be whittled down already from last year's
contestants, so I upped the ante and pushed the trip envelope a little harder. Towards the end we still had 7 men on the attendee list, but that got whittled down to a hardened three in the end but that didn't hinder our 2008 trip
so we kept the green light on.
People tend to put a lot of trust in me in trip planning. But every so often it's nice to include yourself in the list of unknowing sheep, to plan to a point and then let the cards fall as they may into the winds of the adventure.Last year
we dropped into the wilds of West Clear Creek at the steep White Box Trailhead
. We established a base camp 700ft down at the bottom, then made the trek downstream through The Narrows and hiked about 1mile down to the beautiful Hanging Gardens, then back to camp, packing it all back up the next day. Still enticed with the beauty and solitude WCC had to offer, this year we decided to try a different leg of it and complete a section above.
Our drop in point this year was the Calloway Trail
where we planned to again camp the first night at the bottom, then travel with all our gear down to our camp from last year, exiting there on the third day. Mapped out as the crow flies, the creek had a little over 5mi of hiking to offer, except that crows don't have to walk on slippery rocks, cross back and forth, bushwack, or swim.
Our first hurtle was actually the drive up. My Xterra started overheating almost right away in the valley heat at 3pm even before we approached the hills out. Instead of turning around we just turned up the heat and rode it out until reaching Payson.
Our second hurtle was the fact that with only 3 of us, bringing an extra vehicle to serve as a shuttle at the end of our hike like originally planned was a $70+ extra expense. We settled on bringing a couple mountain bikes to help with the now necessary 6.5mi trip back to the Xterra at the beginning trailhead so we loaded them on the roof rack and strapped them down tight.
The road between our canyon hike's in and out is bone jarringly rough even with the X's tires aired down. It took 50minutes extra just to drop the bikes of a mile from where we would come out of the canyon, then 50 minutes out to our drop in. By the time we parked at the Trailhead ready for our descent, it was getting dark. We donned our gear topped our crowns with headlamps and began down the steep trail to the creek.
It was almost pure dark once we got down the 700ft drop to the babbling water so we wasted no time picking a spot to camp. With the canyon being so narrow in spots, you never know when a suitable spot will open up with flat unrocky ground to accommodate sleeping gear so we chose the first one we saw. We had great access to the creek, enough room for 3 to sleep side by side (once a few rocks were convinced to roll out) and an already complete fire ring. We gathered some wood, lit up our small tract and cooked up some doggers before laying down under what became a dizzying blur of stars above.
Daylight comes a little late in the canyon so after waking, fed, breaking camp, and gearing up, it was 9 before we began our canyon hike. As with most of WCC, this stretch has no existing trail. It's a choose your own adventure type scenario where you might as well not try to stay dry for long because you'll be in the water soon enough. Sometimes the canyon affords you a shore to walk along, while sometimes the brush grows too thick to bushwhack through and forces you to rock hop along the dry rock tops jutting out of the water. When that option wears out you can try your footing in the water, although each step will almost certainly be a slick one. At this point you learn how to find purchase between the rocks, in the cracks, and in the sparse but precious traction giving gravel. That too becomes whittled down to nothing short of a slippery wade where the tubes that we brought served great as makeshift old man walkers that kept our weight off the hungry slimy rocks and holes beneath our feet. The last resort is when the canyon takes it all away leaving with no other option but an all out swim. We hopped in our tubes for these and threw our 30lb packs in our laps to help keep our belongings dry.
Even with double bagging, anything in your pack is susceptible to becoming waterlogged. I used a drysack inside my pack to keep my unwettables and sleeping bag safe and added grommet holes to the bottom of my pack to allow any water that happened to get inside a way out to in turn keep it from adding to my pack weight. Let your pack sit in the water and it'll eventually add some weight anyway by soaking into the fabric. I was able to heft my pack into my lap as I dropped to sit in my tube and had the routine down pretty well as the trip went on. Jonathan and Chris double garbage bagged their sleeping bags but because Chris got the $2 Walmart tube instead of the $4 one, his tube didn't even support his own weight much less his pack as well. Luckily he bought two (maybe there was a sale?).
Anytime you have to switch up your approach, or cross banks our route find, you're adding time to your journey and more distance into your pace. Chris found out he's faster out of the creek while Jonathan made his best time using his walker tube in it. We helped each other as best we could during our time together doing the male bonding and shouting loud words of "encouragement" along the way. We had hoped to make it to our camp from the year before so we could hike up the hill fresh in the morning after some leisure time, but all the bushwhacking and slippery creek progress slowed us down. In fact, towards the end of Saturday, we had made such horrible time that the GPS seemed like it never changed its 2+ mile ETA on our final routed destination on the creek. From the time we met the only two other hikers we had seen, who had camped down from the power line trail and tried to reach our final destination and then given up even though our total distance almost tripled theirs, until nearing our camp, we had had a tough time breaking through all the choked up brush.
We finally decided after 9 hours of canyoneering the creek, we should settle on the next camping spot we could find and finish the hike on Sunday. Luckily one came into sight around the corner. It's a great thing we stopped there because we didn't see another one for a mile after that. We used the rest of the daylight to gather more wood and boil some water for our dehydrated dinner packs. We didn't stay up too long after the stars popped out, planning on waking with the official sunrise at 5:45 instead of when the light reached us down at the bottom of the gorge. The next day we got our breakfast on, then broke camp for another exciting hike into the unknown.
The going got a little easier. We finally saw the large land point that we needed to get around at the end finally show up on our map display. Larger rocks on the creek became the norm and we made better time just hopping them and staying dry. Every once in a while we would find a game trail to hike along on the side. Our illusion that our steps were safer on land was shattered as we were breaking through some tall grass by the sound of a large rattlesnake a couple feet away. We missed our otter and ringtail friends this year but we saw their tracks and plenty of old crawfish meals strewn about.
Somewhere around day three's three hour mark, we came around the corner to the rock slabs above the creek we had slept on last year. Excitement ensued and we went ahead and took a well deserved break and ate lunch and swam in the pools below. At about 2:00pm we began the hike up the 700ft creek wall and made it to the top in about 45minutes.
After we stripped off our packs and lightened everything up to just water and a few snacks, Jonathan and I set out for the one mile hike to the bikes. When we got up the hill to where we had "hid" them, we found out that one of the tires had gotten cactus stung and was unusable. Refusing to give up, we took the one for me to ride on the short smooth stretches as Jonathan did his jogging thing. Because the road was so rocky, I mostly hiked along side him and the bike until we got to out last forest road turn which was a little smoother and downhill. Jonathan ran it while I tried to keep up while dodging the rocks here and there. There was a great breeze through the trees and towards the end, we got sprinkled on which felt refreshing too. We ended up making some pretty good time, covering the almost 7mi in 2hrs (remember our vehicle took 50min). We tossed the bike into the X and headed back to get Chris.
After we were all loaded up as we had been on the way up, we headed out as the dark clouds began to get serious about their plans. A bright rainbow appeared backdropped by a dark wall of approaching rain. It hit hard while we were still on the dirt roads, turning them into double rivers. The lightning directly overhead was pure awesome and the thunder covered up Chris's pleas for me to slow down and stay out of the mud. Before we reached pavement, I aired the tires up in the downpour and then we headed down the winding 260 into Camp Verde for some food and caffeine.
*I just brought the waterproof P&S on this. A lot less pressure