|Hopkins Mountain Antler Recovery, AZ|| |
Hopkins Mountain Antler Recovery, AZ
|Hiking||8.50 Miles|| 5 Hrs 7 Mns ||1.78 mph|
|2,280 ft AEG|| 20 Mns Break||25 LBS Pack|
|The highlight of our hike when we bagged Hopkins Mountain on Labor Day weekend two years ago was encountering the right antler of a 12-point elk rack. At the time we had just divested a large collection of horns and antlers collected while hiking so along with the size and weight neither of us cared to haul it out.|
Fast forward two years and four days...
Another day off for Tracey so how about we head up to the Sierra Ancha to avoid the 110° forecast. Ok, but what hike shall we choose?
Hmmm... and just then I thought about all the racks MountainMatt has been harvesting so how about we see if the 44" antler is still on Hopkins Mountain. Even if nobody had taken it, how likely is it no be still there? After all it was on a VERY steep slope of Hopkins Mountain, so who knows how far it may have been washed down-slope, and would it still be in one piece?
Still, it's a worthy hike so let's do it. So we set off on Hell's Hole Trail #284 from the Reynolds TH at a pleasingly cool 66°. Although cool there was plenty of humidity so by time we reached the saddle just north of Jack Mountain I was half-drenched in sweat.
It felt a bit better due to a slight breeze on the descent to the Workman Creek crossing. But within the next 500' of elevation gain I was sweating faster than I could keep it off my glasses.
And that was just the ON the trail... the easy part...
Now comes the OFF-trail fun, ascending roughly 800 feet in less than a mile. While the route sported plenty of thick manzanita and holly, by playing close attention to and making the most the various deer/elk game-trails we minimized the effort.
Ha! Minimized the effort! Yeah right! The slope was so steep much of it was take three steps up, slide two steps down, repeat... Oh yeah, sometimes it meant slide down ten feet and seek another route back up.
When we were within a hundred yards along the contour of where we found the antler two years ago our anticipation grew. Ok, to be fair, Tracey was the pessimist... "it ain't gonna be there"
Me? I was definitely the optimist... "it WILL be there, or at least nearby."
But as we closed in we had to abandon the contour and climb another hundred feet due to thick brush and a spate of tree-fall. So when the GPS tells me we are within 100' all we had to do was slide down to the waypoint, which is what I did.
Wow! Is that crazy or what? Before I reached the exact spot, there it was, not 20 feet downhill of where we left it two years ago.
Of course it was quite fortuitous it had slid into a tree and was thoroughly locked in place. Yes, it took several attempts of twisting before I was able to remove it.
When Tracey picked it up for a comparison photo to the previous trip, her first observation was wow, it is much lighter than before... and it WAS.
Obviously we don't carry a scale with us so we don't know what it weighed two years ago but when weighing it at home it tipped the scale at 10 pounds.
Ok, we found it again, now what?
Well, as unwieldy as it is, I might have a tough time with my hiking poles. So I collapsed my poles, put them in Tracey's backpack and tried to find the best way to carry the antler.
Whoops! Just a few steps and I'm already sliding down the slope, trying desperately not to fall and be gored.
Wouldn't that be a great story? Hiker, gored by a stray elk antler!
No way I can do this without assistance so I retrieved one of my hiking poles from Tracey and I set off again, roughly following our descent route of two years ago. It wasn't the easiest thing to keep my balance and wind my way in and among the vegetation, what with this 44" curlicued antler sticking out on both sides, almost willing itself to catch and hold onto every tree or bush.
Thankfully we made it back to the Hell's Hole trail without any major mishap... in fact without a single misstep once I had a hiking pole to aid me. Once on the trail the only thing I had to deal with was trying to find the most comfortable way to carry the antler... which seemed to need re-adjusting every hundred yards or so.
Back to the Workman Creek crossing and Tracey set about to raid the blackberry bushes, which she did with great relish.
As for me? Well, I wasn't looking forward to the steep rocky climb through the area where manzanita & cat's-claw are overlapping the trail (not enough traffic to keep it clear I guess) and in the direct sun no less. So while Tracey kept picking I started climbing.
Just past the sunny area I heard Tracey moving fast to catch up... she was wondering where the heck I was and she didn't expect I had gotten that far ahead of her. I guess that's what happens when one is consumed by the thought of consuming fresh blackberries... only the consumption will have to wait.
Oh how I hate the climb from near the Armer Ranch to the saddle north of Jack Mountain. Usually I'm carry LESS weight at the end of a hike not 10 pounds MORE so now I'm sloshing in my boots.
And wouldn't you know it, with just a downhill back to the TH, NOW Tracey volunteers to carry the burden.
But the photo was priceless... that's some rack Tracey has, huh?
Surprisingly with numerous deer encounters along Young Highway including three of the tiniest deer we'd ever seen (alive anyway... see Mount Ord hike) and plenty of evidence of elk, deer, bear, coyote and yes, even a cow, we encountered no of the above during the hike.