A friend of mine got into contact with me, wanting to know whether to spend a couple days in Arizona or head to Texas. I convinced him that Arizona was the best choice, and he said he'd come visit under the condition that I provide a challenging first Arizona hike for him. Pretty sure this one hit the spot and then some.
Day 1: You wanted something beautiful, wished for something true
We set off from the car somewhat late in the day, thanks to my friend's flight not arriving until late morning. Since rain was in the forecast for Saturday, we decided to try to bang out all ~30 miles in only two days, but packed for three just in case. Made our ways to Reavis Falls, which were quite beautiful. My friend was impressed that there was even water in Arizona, much less a waterfall. We checked out the falls for a little while and then headed back before the sun could disappear. Filled our daypacks up on water as the trail left the creek and hiked up the hill. We opted not to use headlamps until hitting the spot we'd stashed our backpacks. The full moon was beautiful and provided quite enough light for a nice night hike. After retrieving the packs, we hiked down to Plow Saddle and set up camp around 9:30pm. One other tent was in the vicinity, but the campers were already sound asleep. We had a bite to eat, discussed plans for the next day, then zonked out till morning.
Day 2: Running through hell, heaven can wait
We awoke to sounds of our camping neighbors' dog eagerly sniffing us out through the tent wall. My friend was startled and convinced we had a coyote after us. I tried to put his fears (and secret hopes) to rest, but he refused to accept that it was a dog until the one of the owners came over to wrangle the dog back to his camp. We packed up camp, stashed our backpacks, and headed down the trail armed with food, water, filter, first aid and survival tools. Unfortunately, it was down the wrong trail and I didn't notice until I peeked at my GPS 0.8 miles later. We headed back to camp and I grabbed a raincoat I'd overlooked. We rechecked the path and were on our way again, this time down the correct trail.
Not having very current information on Rough Canyon itself, we'd decided it would be best to start at the bottom of the canyon so that we wouldn't have to downclimb anything iffy. We walked the Frog Tanks trail, which appears to be only slightly maintained. My friend experienced a phenomenon here that I'm calling "cactus blindness," where those who are unfamiliar with prickly desert flora are slow to recognize potential hazards. This led to many unfortunate events in which my partner was pricked by a plant of some variety, despite my efforts to point out even the most obvious dangers. We stopped plenty of times to de-spine, but everything was taken in stride. Finally, the trail brought us to our junction with the canyon. We headed up, boulder-hopping and avoiding the flowing water. By the time we hit the halfway point there was much less water, but were still able to fill up again higher up.
The climbs in the canyon were good for the most part, and it was lots of fun to route-find. At a slightly more difficult area of the canyon, we found Lon McAdams' shredded pack hanging from a tree. It was a little eerie seeing it even though I'd known it would be there. Just one of those tangible reminders that anything can happen in a place like this. We stopped for some quick pictures and then made our way around the drop at that section.
Only the final climb out of the canyon would I not have felt comfortable downclimbing. I briefly looked around for an alternate route, but ended up just climbing up a very slabby boulder with only one good (crimpy) handhold. I was worried my friend wouldn't be able to pull himself up, and various scenarios surrounding the twelve foot drop back to the rocky canyon floor started playing themselves in my head. But he was able to take a slightly different route that worked better for him. As Janelle always says, "Where there's a will, there's a way!" Relief! At that point, the canyon was less of a canyon and more of a creek. We walked up through it until our route began to veer left. We were out of the creek and headed unwittingly toward the worst bushwhacking I've ever encountered.
I'd shown my friend a couple manzanita plants while we were still in the creek, and shared with him my experience searching for Joe on Sheep Mountain. He'd said, "Oh, those don't look so bad." I'd told him that if he ever had to push his way through enough of those, he'd change his story. A half hour later, we were now breaking down as many manzanita walls as possible. Expletives were uttered amidst the loud rustling and sharp cracking of the rigid red branches. Darkness was soon approaching, and we still had over two miles to go before hitting another trail. Promises of having a hot meal and comfortable bedding kept us from giving in at that point, but we agreed that if anything should happen to the GPS, we'd be staying the night on the spot. I did my best to keep on track and walk in a straight line, but it's surprisingly difficult to do in the dark while encountering myriad manzanita, oak holly, thornbushes, and agave. I was often convinced that the GPS was batpumpkin crazy and leading me in completely the wrong direction, but followed it anyway as it had yet to ever lead me astray. The hours passed on, and it felt as though no progress was being made. With every section of manzanita I was able to break a tunnel into, there was no promise of there being a good route on the other side. This led to much backtracking, and eventually I was physically unable to break through any more branches. Over three hours had passed at this point, and I allowed my friend to take the lead. I feared that he'd be angry with me for choosing such a hike, but we both stayed optimistic and upbeat and focused on the fact that we would eventually push out of the whole mess at some point. We were finally less than a mile away from the trail, and took a deliberate but not overly-energetic pace through the brush. Within a half hour we were hearing water, and I grew careless with excitement and flung my hand right into a tiny prickly pear as I scootched down a small bank. My friend tweezed the spines from my hand and then we both took a much-needed break while filling up on water. The creek got our spirits up, and a little over a half hour after leaving our resting spot, we were on trail again. I could hardly believe it, and continually checked the GPS to make sure it wasn't some cruel trick. It was almost 11:00 pm. By 11:30 pm we were back at Plow Saddle, setting up camp and boiling water for food. Neither of us was hungry, but we forced ourselves to eat despite the exhaustion. We fell into a fitful sleep that night, but were grateful to finally be done moving.
Day 3: Make my way back home when I learn to fly
Saturday's goal: move out, get home, get showered, comatize. We woke up early, packed up, and munched on energy bars on our way out. It was only seven miles, but the way our bodies felt at that point, it may as well have been twenty. We were pleasantly surprised to see others making their way toward us on the trail, heading to the falls. We made light conversation with most, including a man who was day-hiking to the ranch and back. Apparently a few days prior, a mountain lion had taken a bite out of his dog while he was camped there. He'd left immediately in hopes of saving his dog, leaving most of his own equipment behind. We asked him how the dog was, but he didn't seem too optimistic.
We finally got back to the car around 10:40 am, tossed our stuff in, and headed out. We were in good spirits and stopped off at the Fry's in AJ to replenish ourselves with Gatorade and Doritos. We parked, pulled ourselves out of the car, and stood next to it for a moment while an older gentleman with a cart walked by us, amused by the grime-covered Subi and our grime-covered selves. He asked us how we were doing and gave a sly smile; we grinned back at him, replied in the affirmative, and hobbled into the store. On the way back to Phoenix, In N Out Burger called us in for burgers and shakes while the wind and rainstorm settled itself. We were home by 1:45 pm. Showered, snacked, passed out.
Epilogue: after several cactus encounters, a "rough" canyon, five hours of bushwhacking through two miles of manzanita, and plenty of bloodloss, my friend now wants to come to Arizona at least once a year and do some more trails with me.
||Wildflowers Observation Isolated