Saturday, May 10, 2014

Hiking Victories: Defying the Heat

Hiking season may be coming to a close down here, but we've been defying the hot temps popping up in Tucson by staying out on the trails!

Not to offend everyone from my home state (Iowa), but the last few months have been a great Iowan summer! 70's - 90's, there was some rain, but we've had a good amount of beautiful days. I've gotten a new sunburn almost every weekend since March! Now, I'm ready for fall. But ready or not…here comes the real summer!

We'll start off with last week. During the week, we got out for some hiking & boxing in Tucson Mt. Park one evening. We haven't done as much hiking during the week lately because Curtis' homework load has been heavier, but it's all winding down now with finals so we found time to get away!

Another sign of changing seasons: blossoms on the top of Saguaro cactus. You can see it a bit in the above photo. I haven't seen any more colorful than this, and they seem to be gone already… Cacti are weird.

Just a few pics of Tucson Mt. Park at sunset! It was a fun & easy hike, and didn't see any wildlife that scares me. Thank God. :)

The next hike was last weekend - May 3. 5 miles on Pontatoc trail in the Catalina Mountains. It's one we've put off for a while, and decided it'd be a good hike to do to start training for a bucket list hike we're hoping to go on in the next month… More on that later ;) Our friend Mitch joined us for this hike, we packed a good lunch and left early. It didn't matter how early we left though… there is no escaping the heat that comes and tortures hikers in the Catalinas!

Mitch has a good eye for seeing creatures all around. Thank God there were no snakes (I had honestly been praying we wouldn't see any on this particular hike for like a week. No joke. Mitch mentioned before it'd be prime time/location to see one, but I'd really like to keep my rattlesnake count to 0. Thank you.) Anyway - Mitch did point out this guy! In case you can't see, it's a big black lizard in the middle of the left edge of the rock. (Click on the picture, that should enlarge it.) It's a Chuckwalla - they are the second largest lizards in Tucson/Arizona, after the gila monster. This guy was pretty small for his type though.

Hiking up, looking back

Hiking up, looking up

The above picture is what Mitch calls the field of cholla - the tallest cholla plants I've seen down here as of yet. I do love the colors here!

Looking down on ocotillos and Tucson while the boys engage in a thrilling rock throwing contest.

After finding a box on the way up, we scrambled up a very steep last bit and made it to our destination - an old mine shaft! There was talk of it being around since the mid-late 1800's. The guys were so excited when we made it up, they threw off their backpacks and began going into the cave without so much as a breath. I needed a second…but couldn't take long because I needed their lights!

We walked through the whole cave, maybe like ¼ of a mile to the end and back. They pointed out all the exciting bits of stone and cave crickets along the way. Mitch was telling me all about his bat experiences there - totally freaking me out. Did you know that 90% of bats in Arizona carry rabies? I can't believe I kept following them - I guess being with them is safer than not…right…? Well, we made it to the last stretch when Mitch said he thought he heard something. Curtis was leading and said he didn't see anything…but then I heard it. Wings fluttering! I hit the ground in a split second. I didn't even look at it - Mitch said it was above my head. It flew the other way - the way we had to go to get out. Mitch kept saying that I needed to see it because it was "so big!" and "part of the experience!!" Well, I did see it, in the best way possible - I saw its huge silhouette flying out of the cage as we were heading toward the exit. (Curtis leading again, because Mitch was probably just as scared as I) And that is the end of our experience with bats today. Thank. God.

Back outside, looking down over the trail and Tucson.

Above, Mitch and Curtis are by the cave entrance, looking out. I'm sitting on the ledge with our food - finally, a well deserved picnic :)

"Welcome to the home of our friend, Mr. Bat. Beware."

Curtis & Mitch

Looking up - this wasn't a peak hike by any means, so there weren't any breathtaking views (unless you're from Iowa and still can't get over the beauty that is Arizona) but with 5 miles and 2000 ft. elevation gain, it was a good practice hike.

Beginning the hike down - so steep, I'll admit, I sat down and scooted down a good portion of the top. I'm not ashamed, because I lived to tell about it.

Last picture - see the crucifix in the rock? That's what it looks like anyway! We spent so much time getting up & at the top that it had really heated up. (90's) Thankful that Curtis brought extra water that we poured on my head to cool down. Lived to tell about it, along with a sweet burn. I even used sunscreen that time. Pshhh.

Our next hike happened today - May 10!
Curtis decided that the next step to prepare for our big bucket list hike, we needed to hike in and to higher elevations than before. We planned to go and hike a small part of Mt. Wrightson in the Santa Rita Mountain range. Mt. Wrightson is the highest peak in the Tucson area, and in the top 20 highest peaks in Arizona. Curtis loves this hike and has done it 4 times before, and it's been one I've hoped to do. He told me we just had to hike to the first saddle and back, which would be about 4.5 miles. 

To prepare for this hike, I made food. Homemade granola bars, bread, chicken salad, zucchini chips, apple chips, watermelon pieces. I may be the weakest one there whenever we go on hikes, but I sure redeem myself with food. I also made a big meal packed full of carbs the night before, and healthy smoothies on the morning of the hike for breakfast. Yeah, food is important to me. :)

We left home at 6, all packed and ready. I was actually really looking forward to this hike, and was becoming more and more determined in my mind that I'd go farther than Curtis expected. While we were driving there, the theme from "Chariots of Fire" played on our classical music radio station. I felt like it was a sign. I pray for strength all the time when we hike, and I just felt like God did that for me, for encouragement. (Also, how awesome is it to have that song stuck in your head when you're about to do something big and physically exerting?!) 

The drive to the Santa Ritas is about 45 minutes, just long enough to make you tired and want to go back home and sleep. We fought the temptation. ;)

Finally, we began on the hike around 7. It's considerably cooler, and higher elevation at the base of the mountain. Normally, Curtis goes on this hike between November and February, and there's lots of snow and ice on the trail. I am so thankful that we can still do this hike in May when it's not too hot and there is NO SNOW. :)

Right away, I became out of breath. I literally mean right away - less than ¼ of a mile on the trail. To get to the saddle Curtis wanted to make it to was 2.2 miles, if we wanted to go all the way up it'd be 5.2 miles - 10.4 round trip. We knew that'd be impossible if I was already tired. Our solution was to let me lead so that I could set the pace. Curtis walks considerably faster than I do, obviously with his height and all, even when we're at the mall I still have to ask to slow down sometimes! :) Anyway, this actually worked out really well, and as long as I was deliberately taking deep breaths while walking, I was fine! 

The trail to Mt. Wrightson is different than Catalina trails in that there's a more defined path and you don't have to step over as many boulders/rocks in the path. It's so much easier on my feet/legs, which was encouraging. Curtis also made me a walking stick which helped tremendously! The saddle actually came faster than I thought it would. It took 1.5 hours to get there, so maybe I'm just blanking on the majority of it. ;) Well, we made it, and took a little break there.

Still smiling - I felt so much better at this point than I would normally! At Josephine's Saddle.

Posing next to signs before starting on the next leg.

Yes! We were officially going on! The next key area we would reach was Old Baldy Saddle, 1.9 miles to go. Another great thing about this trail is that it is consistently at the same slope - none of this silly random uphill/downhill business that the Catalinas give us. I was fully expecting to be going uphill the whole way, and expecting to have knees like jelly for the entire descent. If you have that accepted mentally, I'm sure you can do just as good as I did! :)

Above picture: Wrightson is the tallest peak, Baldy's saddle is to the left & downhill.

2.7 miles to the top! Unless you're taking the Super trail. I was feeling great, but not THAT super ;)

While hiking, there will always be that first great view that you must capture by camera. However, that view will only continue to improve as you ascend, and so you need to choose your picture breaks wisely. And I can honestly say I did NOT need half as many breaks as I did last week, or back when hiking Wasson!

Same view, capturing some of the affects of the forest fire that happened several years ago. You'll notice more in pictures as we get higher.

Looking up at where we are heading…getting ready to take on the dreaded 32 switchbacks. Curtis and the guys talk about it and how painful it is all the time…but in all honesty, I thought it was a piece of cake! The part that probably helped the most was that Curtis thought there were 36, and we were very pleasantly surprised to find that it really is only 32. :D

I told Curtis that even though it was his fifth time on this trail, it was really like a whole new trail because it was a different season - trading snow and ice for leaves on the trees. And how pretty it was! He didn't totally buy that though. :)

We made it! Old Baldy's saddle. Photo credit: Rock.

Curtis planted a letterbox "somewhere around here" last fall, and I was finally able to find it!

Checking out the view a little more before continuing - .9 miles to the top!

The last half mile was the hardest for me. It consisted of mostly loose rocks and switchbacks, which in my opinion, were worse than the 32 in a row. I joked about turning back, but Curtis would hear none of that. We were GOING to make it to the top, and we were going to sign in to that darn logbook at the top and say we did it!

Thankfully, I did persevere, and we made it! It was around 11:15 - just over 4 hours to hike up. Not too bad!

I really don't remember everything, but Curtis basically knows every mountain range in any direction. Ask him. This picture is looking West, the bright blue is a mining area, the river-looking thing is the Santa Cruz river.

Looking North West.

Facing West. The buildings on top of the mountains are observatories. 

West, again.

South - ish? It was hazy, but we could still make out some mountain ranges in Mexico

Facing…East? Yeah, Southeast.

Facing East. On a clearer day, you can see New Mexico.

When you hike 5.2 miles and gain 4000 feet in elevation, you have every right to take a gazillion pictures of the view and share proudly. ;)

Above is looking North toward Tucson and the Catalinas.

A few pictures together. We did it!!

After about an hour spent eating, resting, and picture taking at the top, we began our descent. Finding my footing was difficult when my knees felt like jelly and didn't want to cooperate, but we managed to walk with basically no breaks the whole way down! Yes, walking downhill does seem easy, but when you're already tired and your joints want to give out, walking takes a bit more effort.

Saw lots of these huge, metallic colored lizards on the trail. They startled me every time, but gave me great relief that they weren't snakes.

One last look up. Wrightson, you beast.

The map of the trail we hiked - the red lines! After all this, Curtis made me hike another half mile on a nature trail for a letterbox. Okay okay, it was worth it. :) We made it back to the car at 2 - 7 hours including breaks. I think I'm getting better!

I'm sore from the hips down, but it was so worth it and I'm so glad I made it. Somehow, I still have lots of energy though. We came home, and though I can barely move I'm dancing to my Dancing with the Stars playlist. I think having this music playing would dramatically improve my time. However, I'm sure it'd drive every other hiker on the trail insane…yeah, better not. :)

And that's all for now! Oh, what's our big bucket list trail we're training for? Mt. Humphrey, the highest peak in Arizona! It's North of Flagstaff, and we're hoping to do it with friends in June. More on that later!

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