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Blue Jay Peak
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mini location map2016-07-16
102 by photographer avatarAZHiker456
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Blue Jay PeakTucson, AZ
Tucson, AZ
Hiking avatar Jul 16 2016
Hiking15.20 Miles 4,600 AEG
Hiking15.20 Miles   9 Hrs   9 Mns   2.08 mph
4,600 ft AEG   1 Hour   50 Mns Break
1st trip
Partners none no partners
Day 2 – With exceptional scenery throughout and three awesome peaks bagged, this amazing adventure of 15+ miles and 4,500’+ AEG was f”ing epic to say the least. I kicked things off from the Clark Peak TH. No sooner do you set foot on the trail when awesome views open up to the right. Clark Peak is only about 8/10ths of a mile from the TH. It feels weird bagging a peak with such little effort and so early on, but after an adventure as exhausting as this one, even grabbing three peaks almost don’t do justice when all is said and done.

When planning my route, I failed to notice that [surprise, surprise!] the “Clark Peak Trail” does not actually go to the summit of Clark Peak. Thus, when the trail started to skirt the peak, I simply started to bushwhack up. There was some brush to contend with, but the overall brush factor was definitely on the mild side. There were also some rocks and logs that I normally would’ve been airborne over but instead had to inch over with caution thanks to the equilibrium issue. However, even with my handicap, I still found it to be an easy bushwhack. The views from Clark were very nice, but compared to the 10 other Pinaleno peaks I bagged that weekend, it did not make my Fab Five.

After Clark, I cruised in autopilot mode for the next mile or so, enjoying the spectacular views and excellent trail conditions. In addition to excellent footing, the ‘route finding factor’ was a solid 1 on a 1-5 scale [with 5 being the worst]. Needless to say, when I suddenly spotted a larger than life-sized cairn, I found it rather amusing and figured someone had too much time on their hands… but as my epic adventure unfolded, that life-sized cairn, [which was the first of several coming from this direction], would have more meaning than simply serving as a visual aide to guide one through the fern field, where the shortest ferns were about 3.5’ and the tallest ones towered a few inches above my head, no joke. On the return trip, reaching that cairn after plowing through the fern field would also symbolize the end of the wonderful [but torturous] middle segment of this adventure.

The fern field was literally like passing into another dimension. After emerging from the fern field, you are treated to 360 degrees of awesomeness [vs awesome views in just one/some directions during the largely shaded first leg the journey]. But that awesomeness comes with a price: lots of sun exposure! Add in some killer AEG, temps that I’m guessing were well in the 90’s based on the amount of water I blasted through, and total route finding mayhem and, [despite being mostly a “trail” hike], even I was begging for mercy by end.

Very shortly after emerging from the fern field, the route finding factor goes from a solid 1 to a certified 5 as the well-defined trail rather suddenly becomes all but lost among a rolling hillside with beautiful flowers and enough wild raspberries to sustain an army. I would’ve taken more pics but literally broke into a panicked run at the sound of buzzing bees. It was not as loud as a swarm but definitely loud enough to be concerning. Given the tons of flowers, raspberries, and like vegetation, I’m guessing having tons of buzzing bees around was pretty normal; but I wasn’t about to stay a split second longer than needed to find out! At this point, I simply headed in the general direction of the route I’d mapped out for myself; the trail was extremely faint at best and nonexistent at worst; and although it was well-cairned in some places, I found that the going was easier / I was making better time by simply bushwhacking in the general direction I needed to go.

The next segment was a steep downhill with soft dirt, which made for good grip and fun bushwhacking. Toward the bottom, the trail suddenly becomes obvious once again… and just in time too, cuz not more than 30-60 seconds after getting back on the trail, I had not one but TWO back-to-back rattlesnake encounters [which I’ve already detailed pretty well here: (see comment #4): ... 3183]. After hitting a low point of around 7,000’, the trail then takes you on a good little climb, regaining most of the elevation you just lost, [a little over 1,000’ up in a little under 2 miles]. Toward the top, the trail joins a dirt road that counters the base of both Blue Jay Peak and West Peak.

Being a bushwhack, I decided to grab Blue Jay first while I had more energy. The slope to the peak was relatively gradual [for a bushwhack] and the footing had good grip; but with some rocks and logs to negotiate, the going was much slower than normal with my equilibrium issues and I hoped like hell I wouldn’t have to outrun any bees cuz it wouldn’t have been possible given the off-trail terrain AND the impairments I’m still with in terms of my equilibrium; [luckily there was no bee drama]. The views from Blue Jay proved to be outstanding, and of the 11 Pinaleno summits I bagged this weekend, it was definitely among my Fab Five for best views. The summit register is not right by the true highpoint, and I had fun taking the time to track it down. It’s located by one [of many] boulder outcroppings on the summit, the particular one being along the West edge, offering some killer views. I way-pointed it on my Route Scout GPS track. If the register accurately reflects the number of visitors, then this peak does not get much action… the last sign-ins were just over 1 year earlier on 7/11/15 [none other than HAZ superstars chumley, BopP, & company]. Speaking of which, HAZ’ers have been tearing up the Pinalenos lately… in addition to Blue Jay, several other of the summit registers I signed were immediately after other HAZ regulars –

Ladybug = johnlp, trekkin gecko & company [LMAO to their comments about how the “hike was a success and no one died” ... [the word "no" had a line thru it] :o :lol: ]
Clark = FOTG & company
Webb = Preston Sands
Grant Hill = johnlp, trekkin gecko [again!]

Next up was West Peak, which is literally a hop, skip and a jump down the forest service road from Blue Jay Peak. The combination of getting impatient with the forest service road and giving in to the temptation of the fun looking slope of West Peak led to a bushwhack ascent that cut off about half a mile of road hiking. Although West Peak did not make my Fab Five for best views, the views were still really awesome, and the fire lookout and cabin were neat as well [although I respected the sign and did not climb the lookout nor did I attempt to get inside the cabin which was bolted up].

The return trip was fun but a bit unnerving. I am extremely good at calculating my water needs and I could tell early on that I would likely run out with 1/2 to 2 miles to go. I normally pre-hydrate by drinking a minimum of 1 liter of water but, [in an effort to get enough salt into my system the night before], the sodium retention I experienced that morning made taking more than two sips impossible, pre-hike. Thus, although I took 4 liters, the combination of failing to pre-hydrate, hot temps, killer AEG, double-digit mileage, AND going slightly slower at times due to the equilibrium issue made me fall a little short and I took my last sips when I was about a half mile from the TH. Had I taken a fifth liter, I would’ve easily polished off my fourth liter around mile #11 or 12. Having to ration my 4th liter over the last several [mostly uphill] miles was not the most pleasant experience but I was luckily not in any danger. The freakiest part was the death-march ascent back up the ridge in the direction of UN 8790. The steepest part was toward the beginning of the ascent; and being low on water, I attempted to follow the trail, [which was faint/nonexistent during this stretch but more gradual that my original track out]… let’s just say, thanks to the brush on this side of the slope, I would’ve been far better to have sucked up the ‘straight up’ ascent on the super steep [but practically brush-free] side of the slope that I had barreled straight down earlier in my adventure.

When all was said and done, I made it back alive and then headed straight to Riggs Lake for some hydrotherapy so my body would be ready for one more epic adventure the next day before heading home. The lake was beautiful but crowded with people fishing. I got a few weird looks from some overweight, out-of-shape fishermen as I waded in to a depth where the water reached a few inches above my knees… but not nearly as many stares as the previous summer while doing hydrotherapy in Yosemite’s Tenaya Lake in 30 degree temps. :o
Benchmark Cairn
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