|Backpack||28.50 Miles||3 Days 7 Hrs |
|6,681 ft AEG|
|Okay - this is one I've had on my list for..well..for ever. Forever. ForEVerrrr! I feel like I've done bigger things than Rincon Peak, but that mountain has always intimidated me. I've made 2 attempts, and both times been foiled (once by monsoon storms and once by lack of water). I always wanted to do it as a backpack, mostly because I just love sleeping in those mountains - but also because I didn't want to feel rushed on the way to the peak or at the peak.
Sirena and I decided that this was the year. We actually said that last year, too, but this year we meant it. And we made it happen. And we made it happen with panache!
My previous hikes up Miller and Turkey Creek Trails taught me that starting on these eastern slopes in the morning doesn't give you a huge advantage. They're hot and sunny in the morning, and then you're just hot and tired when you get to the saddle. Sirena and I are both not the best early-morning (pre-sunrise) people anyway, so we decided to start up Miller late in the day, camp at Happy Valley saddle, peak out on day 2, then hike out day 3. Perfect.
And it was!
A generous friend of Sirena's shuttled us from our cars at Camino Loma Alta TH to the Miller Creek TH. We started hiking at about 2:30, and the day was relatively cool and breezy - perfect! Sirena had never hiked up Miller Creek before, so we had lots of fun in the boulders and enjoying vistas, shooting photos and generally having a fantastic afternoon. We got to the saddle at about 5:30, and made camp just a little after that.
The new HV Saddle Campground is quite nice - spacious and shady, with lots of beautiful tall pines and huge junipers. We wandered around a bit to be sure we were in the perfectsite, then set off in search of water. Though most of the pools were getting a bit stale and cloudy, we found enough that we weren't worried about water quantity (though quality was questionable) and we filtered it carefully (love the gravity filter). Wandering about, I chanced upon the outhouse, which is VERY well hidden directly north of the campground. It's so well hidden, that previous visitors have left toilet paper (and presumably more) all over the campsite. Would a sign kill ya, NPS?
Since the campground is new, there was still plenty of readily available firewood, and we had a small fire that was just about perfectfor our needs. I had my hammock, and I was a little worried about the temps getting a little lower than I'd planned on, so I placed some hot rocks from the fire underneath it to get a little boost.
Here is an embarrassing note for those of you who use hot rocks in campsites: keep the synthetic fabric of your sleeping bag off the hot rocks. It can melt. And when it melts, it lets feathers out. Lots of feathers. All over the place. And in the dark, this can be quite confusing and troubling. And it takes a lot of duct tape to seal a hole of that size in your very nice, rather expensive sleeping bag. Trust me. Not fun.
Once I had the feathers out of my mouth and ears, I managed to be quite comfortable for the rest of the night. Thank goodness Angela wasn't there to take photos of the whole incident!
The next day we woke to a bright and sunny day - clear skies and a soft breeze, the perfect weather for a summit hike! We didn't rush it (as is our usual m.o.), and we had a delightful hike up the Rincon Peak trail. We found a nice clear pool of water about a mile from the Rincon Peak Trail junction. We left my water filter equipment there so we could filter on the way back down. Before leaving, though, we sampled the water we'd filtered the night before from the stale pools and found it to be quite pleasant tasting. Delighted, we hiked on.
We'd both read more than a few accounts that told of the trail getting very steep at the end. So, when we reached the sign that said 'no stock past this point', we figured we would be coming upon it soon. As we were climbing these rather steep switch backs, we kept thinking (quietly at first, and then aloud), that it was going to get steeper, and we were getting worried. I think we were both picturing a hand-over-hand rocky scramble. So, when we rounded the corner and saw the peak itself, we were still in denial. It wasn't until we saw the big cairn that we allowed ourselves to believe that we'd made it. I did a big-ol-happy-girl dance. Finally, after all of these years, I was on Rincon-freaking-peak! Weeeee!
The views were, well, you guessed it, perfect. Scattered clouds in the distance, and much more visibility than we'd had a few days before with dust storms and what not blowing through. We could see all those famous mountain ranges: Chiricahuas, Huachucas, Santa Ritas, Santa Catalinas, Galiuros and Pinelanos. We could see lesser landmarks like the Canelo hills, Whetstones, Sand Pedro River Valley and the Tucson Mountains. It was like a geography lesson in 360deg panoramic high def. Perfect, perfect, perfect!
We played on the rocks with our shoes off, snacked and took a million photos and videos. We didn't feel rushed and had a great time enjoying the magic of Rincon Peak. After a little over an hour, the winds began to pick up, and a high-level flat clouds were covering up our beautiful skies. We figured that was our cue to head back to camp. Our perfect conditions lasted exactly long enough, and we had a delightful, quick hike back to our water source and then camp.
Another small campfire and another beautiful evening under the stars (the clouds cleared up at sunset). It was much warmer the second night, and I forewent the warm rocks under the hammock. It was so nice to back in my hammock after many months of ground-sleeping in places where trees were uncommon or hanging was verboten. I really had to struggle to get out of it in the morning!
But, we needed a fairly early start. We'd set ourselves up for a 16+ mile day on the way out. We both wanted to hike the Rincon Creek trail, and the only way to do that really is to go all of the way from HV Saddle to Camino Loma Alta - there are no access points in between. You can't even camp anywhere in between. We had no idea what to expect from the condition of the RCT, but we had run into a day hiker who was coming out Miller Creek as we were going in, and he described it as "overgrown". Knowing that this definition can vary widely from individual to individual, we just made sure our pant legs were zipped on and our gear was well-packed.
Turns out, we needn't have been so careful. Though there is lots of grass growing on the trail route, and places where a few cat-claw and woody bushes get in your way, overall the trail is amazingly good shape. It is clearly underused, but it's a beauty of a hike and so well constructed that it will be there long after we're no longer able to follow it. For the first 7 miles of a 16 mile day, it was just perfect. The clouds were back and we were cruising down hill. Life just doesn't get much better. (You can read my description of the Rincon Creek trail for more info on this part of the hike).
We rested and lunched at the confluence of the many arms of Rincon Creek just above the X-9 ranch access. Cool pools of water and a soft breeze helped to mitigate the fact that it was getting sunny again. We wet ourselves down well and put the umbrellas up for the last 2 miles of the trail, which was on the desert floor and quite hot. It was the only portion of our entire trip where the weather was even close to uncomfortable, and we were so well prepared that it was really just a nice blast of hot to make us feel at home!
We made it to Madrona at about 3pm and the clouds started rolling in again. We took another break in the shade, and though there was water running here, the pools were actually quite a bit lower than we'd anticipated. The sycamores were brilliant green and the ashes were beginning to display their beautiful little seed pods... it was the perfect little break, though we probably stayed a little longer than we should have, given that we still had more than 10 miles to go!
From Madrona, we hiked up the Manning Camp trail to the Quiter Trail junction. This was a 2 mile, 1000' climb, but it was really quite nice. The clouds stuck around and kept us from getting too hot, and the trail is well graded and not at all loose. We reached the junction at about 4:30, hoping we were close to what Sirena kept calling the "low saddle". It was a surprising 40 minutes further to the saddle itself - up and down over the desert foothills. But the Quilter trail is so beautifully built and travels such amazing country that we couldn't help but enjoy ourselves. Once we made that low saddle we took one more sit-down-break before we knew it would be mostly down hill the rest of the way.
The rest of the hike was delightful. Sirena kept telling me that this was the area she'd seen Gila Monsters in previously, and since I haven't ever seen one in the wild, she thought I might get lucky. I, on the other hand, had begun to accept that I was never going to see a wild gila because I was just cursed.
So when I came around the corner and was face to face with a big ol' fat beaded lizard, I let out a little yelp of surprise. The curse is lifted! This fellow was quite the exhibitionist, and we followed him through the brush for a good 10 minutes. He strutted and shook his tail and hissed at us a-plenty. Totally awesome and the perfect way to but a lift back in our step. Gila Monsters in the Saguaro National Park on the Arizona Trail that Sirena helped to build. Man - does it get any better???
We had counted on finishing in the dark, and indeed, the entire Hope Camp trail was done with headlamps. I was holding out for getting mine one when I came within millimeters of stepping on a poor little snake. Not a rattler, but any snake on the trail gets your heart thumping pretty good! I put my headlamp on and was thrilled not to see any more unexpected slitherings for the rest of our trip. The wide road bed of Hope Camp was very easy to follow in the dark, and our sore feet and tired backs were glad of the smooth walking for the last couple of miles.
We took one more break in the dark, and made it back to the car at almost 9pm. No speed records set here, but a wonderful 13 hours of hiking!
We celebrated at Montgomery's with potato skins and a cookie sundae on top of our yummy dinners. It was a late night, but we were both totally happy and ready to do it all over again.
It really was the perfect way to do Rincon Peak!
||Wildflowers Observation Light
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.- Barack Obama