It was the Saturday after we returned to AZ after our "reverse snowbirding" vacation. Our Brit friend Mitch had invited us to go on a peak hike with him and our group of friends. He told me that people who were "not as in shape as I am" had done this hike before, and was sure I could do it. Knowing how much Curtis enjoys these hikes, I agreed - I'd lived in AZ for like 5 months and the longest hike I'd done was 5 miles, it was time for a challenge! Little did I know how much I was really in for.
Our destination was Window Rock, in the Catalina Mountains. It's a 14.2 mile round trip through Ventana Canyon, gaining around 4000 feet of elevation. We gathered at the trailhead at 6:30 that morning, Mitchell told us the hike usually takes about 10 hours to complete. I had been mentally trying to accept the fact all week that we would literally be walking all day long. We began just before 7am.
Not long after starting - before we started gaining any elevation - I started to get a headache and became dizzy. I knew well enough that it was just the elevation though, since we had just gotten back from Iowa I was still readjusting to Arizona. I just started drinking tons of water, and working on acupressure points to help. (I've found that having Massage training is extremely helpful when hiking, even working on myself makes it easier!)
Now a big incentive for me hiking this was the fact that we'd get a couple letterboxes that hardly anyone has braved this trail to get. They're spread out pretty well on the trail, so I knew I'd get a couple good breaks on the way up. However, as we started gaining elevation, my headache worsened and I was constantly out of breath. Curtis decided to hike behind me, just to make sure he'd catch me if I passed out ;)
As we hiked up, I needed to take more breaks than the others. That's why you'll see several pictures from the hike up, and hardly any from the way down! This picture is facing South, while we are just inside Ventana Canyon.
Now this hike isn't just physically challenging, it was also very mentally trying on me. I started getting discouraged even before we were 2 miles in, just seeing how tired I was compared to everyone else. I questioned over and over if I could make it, and if I should even be there.
Curtis was the best supporter and cheerleader I could have ever asked for. He stayed behind me through everything, even when I know he could've been going twice as fast. He encouraged me so much, but also comforted me in telling me he didn't want to push me too hard, and I could stop whenever. For some reason, anytime he tells me I don't have to do something, it makes me want to show him I can and gives me a little adrenaline to go further!
Our friends would wait for us at certain points. We'd rest, eat, drink, and the guys would challenge each other to rock throwing contests. These breaks were just long enough for my heart rate to go down, and to convince me to go at least a little farther!
I can't stress enough how good Curtis was to me during all these long stretches. He even took my backpack and carried it along with his own for a long part!
Here we are, about 4-4.5 miles up the trail. This is the first place you can see the window of Window Rock. I actually planted my first letterbox at this spot - Letterboxers look up "Ventana View" on AQ/LbNA!
We came to the point where there was 1.5 miles left. It was really only a short hike full of switchbacks up to the ridge, then an easy hike to the rock…after one more break, I told Curtis I could at least make it to the ridge. After about 1 switchback, I started regretting that decision, but once I made it, it was so worth it!
The above picture is looking to the North, and the white buildings in the center are actually the Biosphere in Oracle, AZ! This is when we were hiking on the ridge. It really was much easier than the rest, and it has the most satisfying feeling while walking to the rock.
There was one more steep part before we actually reached the rock, but excitement, relief, and adrenaline helps a lot at that point!
Here's the Window - it's hard to get a good picture of it straight on without falling off the cliff to your death.
Curtis just hanging off the edge :)
We did it!! Reached the window around 2pm… yeah, it took quite a bit longer than expected :)
We took about an hour long break at the top. I was dreading have to walk all the way down again, and the guys kept trying to convince me that it was way easier going down than up. In some ways it was, I wasn't physically tired at all. But the hike down puts a lot of stress on your knees. I also still struggle with hiking downhill on steep, rocky paths…I know it's all just mental, but I feel like with each step comes the possibility of sliding and falling and causing even more pain!
We did end up hiking a bit in the dark, but we reached this great view of the valley and saw the beautiful Tucson at sunset.
Finally after what seemed like forever… we made it back to our vehicles! It was just before 8pm, making the hike about 13 hours altogether, counting the many breaks. I was incredibly sore for the next couple days, as can be expected, but now that those pains are gone, I can say that it was totally worth it! :)