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Chiricahua & Monte Vista Peak Loop
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mini location map2016-06-04
8 by photographer avatarDennisWilliams
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Chiricahua & Monte Vista Peak LoopTucson, AZ
Tucson, AZ
Backpack avatar Jun 04 2016
Backpack13.00 Miles 4,300 AEG
Backpack13.00 Miles
4,300 ft AEG45 LBS Pack
 no routes
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Seeking to escape the furnace and log a few miles at some elevation I headed southeast. It is a long drive from Mesa. My round trip was just about 500 miles. Nevertheless it was a fine two days of solo backpacking. I like my comforts and the weather was warm even up high so my pack was heavy. Carried seven liters of water and came out dry and thirsty.

My route was the reverse of that described; up Morse Canyon and over to Monte Vista Peak where I set up camp just below the fire watch tower, then over to Chiricahua Saddle, then down Mormon Creek. I saw only two day-hikers on the first day a mile or two out from the trail-head, then nobody. Even the campgrounds were almost empty with only one or two sites filled at each. Surprising for a weekend and a hot one at that. I skipped Chiricahua Peak due to concerns over water and the knowledge that the summit is tree covered and without panoramic views.

The fire watch on Monte Vista was unmanned so I camped in the open space right below it. Terrific view. I arrived at the peak around 2:00 pm and found an old rusted bed frame next to the shed. I placed it in the shade on the porch of the cabin and put my ground pad on it. Five star afternoon napping! The moonless night sky was inspiring with the Milky Way pressing down like a blanket. Mars blazed bright red. Got up fairly early after a good sleep and enjoyed my breakfast on a borrowed folding chair sitting in the middle of the open summit. Deluxe!

Having got nearly all of the elevation gain out of the way on day one it was mostly a cruise on day two. Nice open views along the ridge-line in some naturally open meadows and also where the fire had burned major sections. Typical sky island. I strolled along for the few miles over to Chiricahua Saddle and took a break. Here things became more interesting and exciting.

I had approached the saddle on trail 270B from the south. Right in the saddle at 9300' there is a junction. Trail 270D up to the peak heads off to the right going uphill, and just another hundred or so yards along 270B past the first junction you can see 269 peel off to the left and gradually go downhill toward Mormon Creek, my destination. I had taken my pack off and strolled over to the intersection of 269 and was walking back to my pack when something called my attention behind me. I looked back to see a bear walking down the trail directly toward me, about a hundred yards away. First reactions: Cool! A bear! But that ended quickly when he continued to come on. Thinking he had just not seen me I shouted out loudly Hey! Hey! Hey! and clapped my hands. Everyone knows that Arizona black bears are just big cuddly puppy dogs and the mere sight of a human will send them flying. He very obviously took notice of my shouting and proceeded to come on, increasing his pace from stroll to purposeful walk, all the while looking straight at me. Seventy-five yards now and closing. Head down, gazing right at me. Clear, open, flat trail between us. This is not what is supposed to happen! Sadly, there were no bear pundits around to give him instruction on proper bear behavior. It is remarkable how quickly your mind processes thoughts under such circumstances. Do I run? Abandon my pack and head back up the trail on which I had come? What if that had been his intended direction in the first place? How far do I go? Grab my pack and take off? Maybe he would smell the food in my pack. Do I really want to flee now that he has me fixed in his sights? What message does that send him? For better or worse I decided to stand my ground. Summoning all available testosterone and using my deepest and loudest command voice I shout STOP! He does. We are less than seventy-five yards apart and he just stands there looking at me. Ten seconds go by. Twenty. I shout again. No reaction. More seconds tick by. I shout again. This time he stands up on his hind legs and turns slightly to his right and puts his front paws on the big fir tree next to him. I am not an expert in bear behavior but I'm pretty sure that this was not intended as a show of submission. He is taller than I am, and I only now notice just how big he is. I hear that a 250 lb bear is big for Arizona. He could not have been a pound less and was probably a good bit more. After a few seconds like this he drops again to all fours and takes a few more steps toward me, then stops. So here we are again in the stand-off. He is motionless directly facing me, head down. Now I begin to anthropomorphise the bear's thoughts: maybe he is just thinking "This knucklehead is right in my way and I want to go south. And I'm supposed to move aside for him?" Or worse yet I figure for him it boils down to three simple options: run, fight, or hunt. He has already seemed to eliminate the first possibility and I don't care for options two or three. Every additional second that elapses while the gears in his mind grind through his bear calculus seems to tilt the outcome more toward those options. He is not afraid and I am certainly not intimidating to him. I need to break the stalemate so I decide maybe I should do just that and try to be a little bit more intimidating. I begin to growl and snap my teeth together as loudly as I can, and I take a couple steps toward him. At this point in the narrative I can hear the bear pundits pontificating on my foolishness, but hey, Mr. bear pundit, I didn't see you there. A sixty second stare-down mind meld with a big bear and nobody around for miles can make you do foolish things. It seemed to work. As if in disgust he slowly turned to his right and ambled back up the trail, then took the left fork down 269 toward Mormon Creek, right where I need to go.

A long string of deleted expletives follows. I had just backed down a big bear on his own ground, and now I had to chase him. Long, long string of expletives. It seemed possible that he might misinterpret my intentions and feel threatened, or merely lose patience with this latest example of puny human that periodically invades his world and expects him always to defer. I half considered going the long way back around to the truck but eventually decided that no, I was going forward. I waited about ten minutes, all the while shouting and growling so he could hear me. Then after taking my keys and wallet from my pack and placing them in my pocket, squaring my cap firmly on my head with the bill reversed, and with my pack in as easily removable condition as may be had, I proceeded forward. I moved slowly and continued to bark and growl, listening, sniffing, and swiveling my head. Said in all admiration, deep in the heart of the Chiricahuas it felt like Apache country. Every burnt tree trunk looked just like a bear. I searched for his tracks along the trail but did not see them even where I had watched him walk. The ground was just too hard there. This continued for about a half-mile until I found a stretch of sandy trail where I could clearly see boot prints, but no bear tracks. I felt better that I was past him but took little comfort in the knowledge that he had probably just stepped off the trail and watched while I passed. It had been a solid thirty minute adrenaline buzz.

Never saw him again and it was uneventful down the trail to the truck. As with all such things that turn out well memory quickly morphs it into a positive and grand little adventure. Good weekend. Good bear.
"All is as thinking makes it so."

- Marcus Aurelius
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