|Canyoneering||15.50 Miles||2 Days |
|400 ft AEG||23 LBS Pack|
||no linked trail guides|
|Warning: long and ecstatic triplog ahead ...
Day One: Aravaipa Thrash & Splash
Trekkin Gecko and I arrived at the West trailhead at about 8:30 am - me with an already painful back that I had tweaked while loading up the gear - and proceeded to take care of final details, strap on the packs, take the obligatory trailhead self-portrait ... and finally, eagerly hit the trail.
Within a few minutes of starting the creek walk, we paused in the water for a moment
(I forget why, but I'm sure it was to exchange some witty banter or deep thoughts!) and - as I looked over at Kelly, I noticed a snake stretched out of the brush getting a drink of water a few feet from her. I casually said "snake - there's a snake behind you", as she calmly turned around to look I got a good look at its head and said "yep, rattlesnake". The rattler froze as we looked at it for a moment, but by the time we reached for cameras it was already retreating, showing us that it was a Western Diamondback as it went. It was a very peaceful and pleasant encounter - the snake never even rattled.
Very soon we had our creek-legs and were cruising along ... Kelly did great with all the crossings, and soon began to appreciate the value of trekking poles. Speaking of which, we found one hanging in a tree - I decided to bring it with, and asked people on their way out if it was theirs, but did not find the owner. It came in handy for me to supplement my usual favorite hiking stick.
As we hiked, waded, splashed, thrashed, and boogied our way through the horsetail (as I now know it's called!), cottonwoods, and sycamores, we took note of the best swimming holes and campsites along the way for future reference. Permagrin set in by mile two, and hiker's high lasted pretty much the whole trip. Along this stretch we saw the rattler, a bunny, squirrels, lizards, dace, chubs, and other assorted native fishies, and birds, lots of birds - more on that later.
Upon reaching Horse Camp Canyon we encountered a bit of Twighlight Zone, Aravaipa Edition. I had in mind the old standard HCC campsite - across the creek and just west of HCC, up in the trees a bit away from the water - I thought. We could not find any sign of the campsite, or the trail leading to it - it seems to have vanished without a trace. I know that it existed, I have stayed at it at least three times ... so what happened to it? I am wondering if the site was obliterated by the big flood a few years back?
Anyhow, we claimed a great spot right on the creek, directly across from high walls between Virgus and Horse Camp Canyons. To my surprise we had neighbors on each side of us, but they were far enough away that we didn't see or hear them ... we had a glorious patch of creek all to ourselves.
After setting up camp and resting and refueling a bit, we set off for HCC. Once there we immediately noticed nets and traps set up in many of the lower pools, which we figured out had just been set by the two guys and two girls we had passed while looking for the campsite, and again as they exited the side canyon. The next day we had a chance to chat with one of the girls - turns out they were removing non-native fish before they could reach the main creek. "Killing fish, basically" she said, but I said "hey it's gotta be done, so good work!" ... I forgot to ask what agency they were with - guessing BLM or maybe Nature Conservancy. I'd sure like to know how I can get hired to do things like hike into Aravaipa every day?! Also in HCC, we saw a very shy and quick striped green snake - probably a garter snake.
With no good swimming holes in HCC, Kelly headed off to find one downstream from camp - when I caught up with her a few minutes later, she was happily soaking in a nice little Aravaipa Day Spa whirlpool bath ... very refreshing!
Dinnertime highlighted the only problem with our campsite, as the insects attacked - mostly gnats and flys ... Kelly was bothered much more than I was, but there was one psycho stalker fly that chased me around the camp relentlessly for a good 10 minutes! As night fell, I watched the bats and stars come out, and listened to the powerful winds that kicked up as I went to sleep. The temperature was perfect, and I got probably the best night's sleep I've ever had camping.
Day Two: Gidget Goes To Aravaipa (or is this Black's Beach?)
Woke up feeling surprisingly good - I credit the good night's sleep with the fact that my back felt better than the day before, rather than much worse as I'd feared. We had a nice leisurely breakfast and Kelly made several cups of vacation coffee ... I had two, and was soon speeding around and talking her ear off - time to get hiking! Random thought that occured at this point: sunscreen + sand = Aravaipa exfoliator.
Virgus Canyon was fun, fun, fun! It's harder and seemingly much less visited than HCC - we were quite surprised to meet our downstream camp neighbors descending Virgus as we were ascending. It's a magical place, and I found a magical crystal egg rock that I had to have, despite the extra weight. I decided that when HCC is mostly dry - like now - I much prefer the ruggedness and beauty of Virgus ... when HCC is flowing and full of flowers, it probably wins.
I think it was in Virgus that I accidentally coined the phrase - then proceeded to engage in much - "Cameraneering" (TM) - the day before I had dropped my brand new camera three or four feet onto boulders, but it survived with only very slight cosmetic damage ... I was so glad, because Aravaipa is not a place to be without a camera.
Back at camp we reluctantly packed up and headed out ... sorry to be leaving, but already looking forward to coming back. Rather than being a trudge back to reality, though, our hike out was completely enjoyable - up to and including the hill to the trailhead. Along the way we kept leap-frogging with our upstream neighbors from the night before, finally passing them for good as we beelined to the spot where we wanted to have lunch and swim. Upon our arrival, we surprised a trio of older folks who were clearly enjoying the freedom of the wilderness. Lol. Soon it was our turn to have a wonderful swim & soak - the last hurrah. We ate lunch and chatted with our leap-frogging neighbors - a nice couple from Gilbert who were on their second Aravaipa trip in two months. She shared some beef jerky, and he related an all too familiar tale of being chased around camp by an insanely persistant fly the evening before.
After our break we cruised the last couple of miles, spotting some Great Blue Herons and a Vermillion Flycatcher (catching flies) along the way. At the trailhead we had a moment of near panic over where the car keys were - who hasn't had that moment at a trailhead? - but eventually Kelly came up with them and we were forced to leave.
What else can I say ... this trip was wonderful, amazing, fun, relaxing, rejuvinating ... probably my best and most successful backpacking trip to date - I only wish it could have lasted longer.
Common Black Hawk
Several other raptors - I suck at identifying them
Turkey Vultures everywhere - up to 20 riding the thermals at once
Western Tanager - the bird that got me into birding, still one of the most beautiful I've seen
3 red birds! - Cardinal, Summer Tanager, Vermillion Flycatcher
2 yellow birds - Yellow Warbler, and one I'm not sure of - maybe female Scotts Oriole
And maybe American Dippers/Water Ouzels - wish I knew if thats what they were, because that would be a new bird for me
I was happy with my 23 lb pack, but could have done without a few more things - didnt need the extra mini flashlight, in fact I only used my headlamp for about one minute ... could have also done without extra socks and firestarter (no fires allowed anyhow)...
I was very impressed with Kelly's new Sawyer Squeeze filter - if I were buying a new water filter, it would definitely be that one!
Physically it was my best Aravaipa trip yet - my feet held up great, not even one blister ... my back was good, just had one sore inflamed spot that felt better in two days ... no sunburn ... approx 40 assorted scratches, bruises, and bites on my arms and legs ...
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