WARNING... The following reads like a never-ending story, so if you aren't into reading, I'll tell you up front... I covered more ground but again found no trace of Joe.
The novel begins...
After spending 70% of the last few weeks in the car and only two very short hikes on Thursday I wasn't sure if I was ready for this big an ordeal so soon. But around 9 pm when I took a glance at the weather forecast and saw the temps were going to range from the overnight low of 39 to 59 degrees I hesitated not a moment.
Only one problem... After the MN trip nothing was where I usually keep it and my 'hiking gear' bin was a mess so it took some time to get it set. Time I could have better used getting to bed for the early start. The plan was to be on-the-trail by sunrise but guess what? Yup, you guessed it... with the last-minute check for what I'd need taking forever
I was way behind schedule before I left the house. But on the cusp of another beautiful day in Arizona I felt great!
Whoops! Due to the heavy rains in the area yesterday leaving the possibility of muddy and/or washouts on the road to Peeley TH I decided to take the Samurai, which needed gas. No problem, just stop at the QT I usually do on the way... except what!? There's yellow tape around all the pumps.
So I go across to the Chevron that seems to have bad gas too often and fill up. Gulp! Hope it's ok this time.
Ok, thinking positively, nothing's going to stop me now... until I'm turning left onto Power Road. I'm in the intersection waiting to turn, two cars already blew through toward me on the yellow and it has now gone red so I start to clear the intersection. But in a moment I realized at the rate the Ford pickup was barreling down the hill toward me that the laws of physics would prevent him from stopping in time. And by the look on the drivers face I doubt he even knew I was about to turn in front of him. Not willing to take the chance I waited that split-second to let him blow by. Thankfully the car heading southbound on Power was slow off the mark because he was more worried about his Starbucks coffee than looking where he was going and almost spilled it when the truck raced by.
Is this what my day is going to be like? No way, I'm not about to let anything dampen my optimism for the day!
Thankfully the drive out Bush to Beeline and up to FR201 was uneventful... well uneventful if you have more than 64 H.P. The downhills are taken at 75-80 to have a chance to still have 50 mph at the top on the next uphill, except the last long one before Mt Ord where I was down to 40. (I usually can keep it at 45 so it must have been the Chevron gas) But due to construction around the corner the limit was down to 35 at the top anyway.
I was a bit surprised by the great condition of the dirt road to Peeley TH. It was solid with only a few low spots with puddles so I made good time. At least until a mile or so before the TH where a tall tree had fallen across the road. My first thought was to hook the winch to it and pull it toward me but being so tall I wasn't sure it would clear the road, and in fact may end up blocking the road worse.
So on a whim I drove up and gave it a good nudge with the bumper, breaking it near the left side of the road which allowed me to get out and drag that part of the tree off the road and shove it down the slope.
Back in the car I'm thinking enough! By now 2 hours behind schedule I will NOT let anything deter me. Finally at the TH I get out and wow!
What an absolutely wonderful day! The temperature is just over 40 and the air is crisp and clear due to the cleansing rains of yesterday. Thank you Lord
, I couldn't ask for better weather conditions!
Ok, time to get on with it. I'm so fired up for it I turned off the Mazatzal Divide trail and reached the saddle above in 64 minutes. With a quick look at the GPS to get my bearings I took off. Not 5 minutes and I'm already off-task... I planned on taking the fastest route out to my search area north and below Sheep Mountain to spend more time searching but ended up following a track between routes of previous searches (I had loaded all the GPS tracks close to my path) and soon became tangled in a batch of dense Manzanita!
Realizing I couldn't afford to get bogged down breaking a new trail I made a beeline back to the route Gabriele and I had returned on a few weeks back. From there I dropped into the drainage and since it wasn't as dense as the surrounding terrain I began 3/4 miles of rock & boulder-hopping. Still moving at a pretty good clip, I shaved 90 minutes off the four hours it took to reach the saddle at the same location as last trip out here. That meant I could spend five solid hours searching... no matter how much ground I covered, 3 pm would be my turn-around time.
Heading down from the saddle brought me through another thick batch of the dreaded Manzanita but this trip I'm wearing heavier albeit warmer clothing so was able to get through the day with but a few scratches on my forearms, and they weren't from Manzanita. After the Manzanita I found bear droppings (over 24 hours old?) and followed the path it had blazed through the brush until I hit a nice opening and crossed over Wally's 12/4/10 search path where he headed up the drainage. While my search pattern will cross over Wally's track four more times today, for the most part I will parallel his track. First I'll go up about .1 mile west, then back down still about 200-300' west and finally back up to the ridge about 200-300' east until crossing the final time to the west for the last 600' of my climb to the ridge. (See the third paragraph below for more about the last 600')
On 4-5 occasions I crossed-over and/or followed GPS Joe's Last Chance
route where it was physically possible. All it took was attempting to parallel it a few times and I realized that taken as a whole, I seriously doubt that nobody but very experienced canyoneers with a lot of cord could follow it. Which gives me the impression that although Joe may have attempted to follow the general direction of the route, he had to have diverted from it early on. One large area between Liz (12/3/10) and Wally's (12/4/10) routes is nothing but one huge
mass of Manzanita.
About 90 minutes before my self-imposed cut-off time I stopped for a break at a rockfall right on Joe's Last Chance
route to make the decision whether to attempt to follow it toward Liz' track or to continue on up to the ridge. After resting for 15 minutes I realized my only option was to start heading home. The sheer physical exertion of climbing along with the mental effort constantly re-evaluating the route around every obstacle of brush, rock falls, steep slopes and cliff-outs had taken its toll on me. I'd already gone through ten various energy bars (equaling 1480 calories), two PB&J sandwiches and 80 oz of Gatorade, so with only four 100-calorie granola bars and 20 oz of Gatorade it was time to call it a day and the goal became simply making it back to the TH safe and sound.
And now comes the last 600' up to the ridge... already experiencing a charlie-horse in each leg earlier (the left leg was worse, requiring a massage for 5 minutes once) I could feel another one coming on so this was going to be a slow climb. It was an agonizing 30 minutes to climb that last 600' in which I finished the last of both the bars and Gatorade. But oh what a feeling once I hit the ridge...
Now it's just an easy jaunt along the ridge... What's that you say?!!!!? Easy?!!
What's easy about this? It took me 15 minutes LONGER to get back to my cache at the saddle than it took cover the .1 miles MORE on my lower route out to my search area. I'll agree it shouldn't have taken that long, but between my low energy level and not having been on the ridge in some 18 months, even with a reasonably trail blazed across it was not easy by any means.
Finally back to my water and Gatorade cache, boy was I glad I placed it here 17 days ago. The perfect spot under a few inches of soft loam by a large tree... so when I pulled out the Gatorade it was so cool the bottles instantly began to sweat. It didn't take a moment to down one 32 oz bottle and half of the next. The rest I poured into my CamelBak and hit the trail in earnest. I wasn't sure if Tracey had received the text I sent from on the ridge or not so I didn't want to be too late.
Not far along the trail back I met and chatted with a gentleman named Paul who camps in this area quite often. He had noticed the poster at the TH on his numerous visits but had no other knowledge about the search. So I provided some information about the still-ongoing search and let him know about HAZ where he could find plenty more information.
No luck finding any trace of GPS Joe but again another search track has been added to the database of GPS Joe search tracks.
Summing it up:
Like my previous trips it is as rugged and demanding a terrain as I'd ever want to traverse yet on a few occasions I would lay back and breathe in the fragrance, take in the sights and listen to the sounds of a beautiful area, seemingly untouched by man. If for some reason I didn't return from a hike out here, I believe I would have died in one of the closest places to heaven on earth.
God bless you Joe!
The HAZ community misses you!
I posted 20 photos on HAZ, the full set of 36 is here: