Finally! Our first sky island. Our first impressions of this hike, we both thought it reminded us of the Goldwater Lake Trail in Prescott but only if Goldwater had and older brother who was mean with broader more malicious tendencies. This hike is brutal! We're obviously not conditioned for this hike. I tried to remember back to hiking Kendrick which was a tough hike but it was more the 8000 foot elevation that was beating up on us, but at no point was our morale so challenged as it was on the Sixshooter, a comparison shows that in roughly the same distance this hike puts on an extra 1000'. After mile three even I was done with this never ending, no reprieve, hill ascent. This was despite the incredible changes as the biology changes from that of a high desert to the shade of an alpine forest, spotting some new plants to identify, and not too mention some exceptional views and a cold flowing creek which offered a few opportunities get my hat and bandanna nice and wet.
Finally and with out warning the trail begins to descend as it approaches the mine area, but behind that relief was the grating knowledge that I was giving up hard won elevation, elevation that would have to be regained. But I pushed that back and just enjoyed finding the mine which snuck up on us. We could feel the cold air coming from which sweating profusely to this point felt absolutely divine. There was some scrabble in front it but I kept inching closer, almost giving into the temptation of a full on entry into the mine before I realized that the floor of the mine was not just moist but flooded. So much and so reliably so that trouble was taken to pipe water down to a trough stationed 20' below. Near here we ate our lunch, tried to figure out where the mill was, or the remains of a cabin. We noticed a rusting hand saw hanging from a tree near where we sat but I joked that I wasn't sure that that constituted a saw mill. A rope in a tree caught our attention and after we finished eating we crossed the stream via another foot path. Here we found the remains of the cabin and we were looking at it the entire time we were eating lunch. It had been pancaked by a large tree that had fallen on top of it. Close by we also spotted a rusty bed spring, it's placement notably dated by a good size pine tree growing up through it's center.
We tried to put off returning to the hike as long as dared but we couldn't stay here forever. The return to the ascent was immediate upon leaving this area. It seemed impossible that we were still going up and impossible still that we would be able to get back down to the trail head in the mileage yet left and still we went up. At one point I took a good long look at the topos and figured out that there was just a 1/2 mile left of this constant ascent. The mileage wasn't adding up though, and I was beginning to not trust any of the info I had, not the maps, not the gps track, not the descriptions, and definitely not the signage which couldn't convey intersections. So despite having just figured out that there was a 1/2 mile left of this ascent, for a crazed minute I didn't trust it, and going back, going down hill the 6.5 miles we just came up seemed a faster better idea then going on through unknown terrain and the idea of even another 1/2 mile of "Up" seemed intolerable. I knew Wendi was done with this hike, so abandoning the hike I took 5 crazed steps back down the trail, it felt wonderful to be going down hill, but Wendi's resolve was stronger than I expected, she didn't budge. To her adding 2 miles to short a 1/2 mile of "Up" wasn't rational even despite my distrust of the GPS track I had, which ended up by the time we reached the trail head differing by a mile but I was guessing at the time by as much as 2 miles. Despite all this she wasn't ready to quit, got to admire that.
True to the topos the terrain leveled out but one thing neither of us were prepared for was that it leveled out on a dirt road, 651C(?). Neither of us like hiking while being passed by vehicles, for Wendi it feels unsafe, for me it makes the whole exercise seem foolish. For Wendi though it also undermined her trust that we were ever going to reach the TH. I assured her that I at least had trust that we weren't going to come out at night and that we would eventually make it the TH. We soldiered on, and one couple stopped to ask if we knew where were(Sigh, not sure how to answer that one). They seemed surprised when we told them where we started from and even more so how we were intending to get back. They seemed to linger as if to be offering us a ride back. But that wasn't going to happen, we had reached our resolve and this was going to happen. After about 3/4 of mile, and deciding that hiking the short distance to Signal Peak was out of the question and enjoying some excellent Southerly views, we finally reached the start of the Icehouse Canyon Trail.
The aspens on Icehouse really changed the whole experience. The trail seemed certain to be lost to the hillside if some maintenance isn't done soon but for now it is sturdy enough, but steep. What was surreal was how the aspen leaves caked the trail and the surrounding hillside as if were walking on paper mache. I don't know if it was just going down hill finally but our morale seemed to pick up just a bit. That's when I spotted a Coati run across our trail and down into the hillside. Wendi didn't see it at first but with all the leaf litter it was easy to track and she caught a glimpse of tail. We came around another corner and another Coati, this one ran up hill. We got to where we spotted this second when the whole forest exploded with sound. Coati were breaking out in all directions and suddenly I knew how my cat feels when he finds a nest of grasshoppers to hunt. I had know idea which sound to track. I have no idea how many there were 5-6,6-7,10-20. Who knows I am not sure right now if I got any pics or not. They cinnamon colored and for 15 minutes we could here them crunching in the leaf litter, occasional spotting tails. that was pretty cool. Wendi spotted some of the Arizona walnuts she had heard about and I suspect that that is what was drawing the Coati in.
We made it back to the TH, the hike leaving my shins feeling like somebody had kicked them for that last two hours just from the physical effort of the hike. We have sworn off ever doing this hike again but who knows, all in all this hike has a lot to offer for those physically conditioned for it. We obviously were just shy of being able to truly enjoy this hike but it is also noteworthy that it was unusually warm for this time of year so that may have colored things a bit.
||Wildflowers Observation Moderate