Sunday, September 29, 2013

What would Stallone do?

Whether its purpose is to convey a personal journey in the shortest time possible, to skirt the tedium that true character building activities can embody or to make it look like your protagonist has done MUCH more work than the actor himself, the movie montage has become a staple of modern American cinema.  (Evidently it is also a staple of cinema in places like Asia, but I don't watch those films, so they might as well not really exist.)

A favorite of mine was from Robin Hood; Prince of Thieves which featured the now-infamous arrow shaft Go-Pro style shot.  Another was the way Museums got cool in Ferris Bueller's Day off.  However, it's really Rocky's many montages (Rocky I, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky Balboa, and Family Guy) that made the practice a standard for movie makers.  I think it also calls to our widespread desire for instant-gratification and immediate results: don't have the time to spend 2 months training for a big boxing match?  Put together the right montage and you've gone from flabby to rock solid in about 3 minutes.

So, what does this have to do with me?  Or my blog?  Or exploring the human capacity for the absurd?  

Ah my friends, it is central to all of the above.  For, while I spent months this summer burying my head in one epic adventure after another, I don't know that I have the patience to tell each story as a separate blog post.  I'm not sure you have the patience (as my loving audience) to listen.  

So, instead, we have "Wendy Training for Nothing in Particular: A Montage".  I like to think Sly would approve.

April 20-21 - Barnhardt Trail, Mazatzal Wilderness, Arizona (here is a full report by my companion, Angela, aka "Tibber", aka "The Tibbernator", aka "Trail sister)

 The Mazatzal Wilderness was among the most rugged parts of the state until a massive fire in 2004 laid waste to more than 180 square miles of the range.  Now it's one of the most rugged parts of the country.

There are many beautiful things to see besides ruined forests and pokey plants, though...

Views to the east from the trail (see Lilo in the left corner?)

Throwing a Wendy by a waterfall.  Classic.
May 11-12 - Sycamore Reservoir - Beginning Backpacker's Trip with Arizona Backpacking Club

Hiking in with the newbies
Always one of my favorite places for a camp

May 18-28 Bahia de Kino, Sonora, Mexico  - Happy 40th birthday to ME!  (I have more captioned photos with associated story line here.)

View from the bluff above the beach where we camped the first few nights.   Impossible to capture how beautifully rugged this Sonoran seaside is.

Then a week at the house in Kino Nuevo.  Living the dream!
My passengers had a great time, too
June 12-19 Rafting in the Grand Canyon, Take 1 (more photos? click link)

Floating in June means blue skies, clear water and temperatures that exceed 120deg.  It's pretty much a good time guarantee. 
Throwin' it Redwall Cavern style!
And then, Sirena gets her first chance to run the big rapid at Granite...

July 5-9 Pinetop, White Mountains - Introducing Sir Percy to his new family.

Percy gets a new home, and Aunt Glenna gets a new friend

Something told me right away that they'd get along famously!

Gary floating in the clouds on a high-country lake at the start of monsoon season

Wait a minute...didn't I just take this photo in Mexico?

One of these days I'll stop being shocked at Monty just jumping in the water and swimming 30-40 yards to get to someone...but it's going to take a while.
July 14-20 The John Muir Trail, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California.  When Tiffani invited me to hike a part of the JMT with her, I was certain I'd have to back out because I found a job and didn't have the time off.  So, when I was still free to go, I was super excited!  Of course, I was also infinitely unemployed, but whatever.  See the whole set here.

Fresh smelling and full of excitement, we start from the Yosemite Valley...

I'm pretty sure that you'd never really get tired of the sight of Nevada falls, but I'd be willing to hike up there over and over to find out...

Hiking into the Sunrise High Sierra Camp's alpine meadow setting was like something out of a backpacking magazine

Throwing a Wendy on Donahue Pass - my highest point for the hike, but just the beginning of the climb for Tiffani - who would hike all the way to Mt. Whitney almost 190 miles away.

Thousand Island Lake

Banner Peak reflected in the morning quiet at Garnet last morning on the trail.
July 20-25 Hanging in California with Phosie and Gary.  Nothing like ending a long hike with some quiet time in the mountains with the family... More photos and story here.

Gary and his mom picked me up at the Devil's Postpile National Monument, and Tiffani kept on hiking without me.  It was hard to watch her go, but the ache in my feet made it a bit easier to bear.  

I'd hoped to get Gary into one of the lakes or streams for some of the world class trout fishing they brag of there...but some horses won't drink even if they're knee deep in that water.

Gary did, however, enjoy the visit to the abandoned Consolidated Mine near Mammoth Lakes.  Rusty equipment and ruined buildings...right up his alley

We spent a couple of evenings watching the sunset from the docks at June Lake.   

Of course, one of the major attractions of the Eastern Sierra is Mono Lake - and Gary and I made darned sure we worked our butts off to see some of it ;)
August 2-6 Back up in Pinetop to spend time with mom and see some White Mountains Monsoon green!

We took a long drive through the White Mountains, stopping for sweeping views, wildflower-dotted meadows and pie shops.  And we had to wash calf poop off my little dog.  Sigh.

We also worked on remodeling the bird house to make it more attractive real estate.  I'm not sure the avian community appreciated our efforts. 
August 25-September 4 Back on the River through the Grand Canyon with Sirena.  This time, rather than oppressive heat and clear water we had endless rain and chocolate milk to float through.  Here's the whole set of photos - with lots more WATERFALLS!

My first trip to Stanton's Cave...the place felt very sacred 

Days of rain beyond what is normal for monsoon season meant spontaneous waterfalls on the canyon walls - often red, muddy and violent

Also my first hike up to the Nankoweap Granaries - with mists clogging the view downstream

I was left with plenty of time to enjoy the base of Deer Creek falls, though my fever and oncoming cold symptoms made it a little less fun

Floating down a chocolate river into another storm system.  That's life in the Grand Canyon!

I considered this to be the close of my summer season, though anyone who lives in Arizona knows that there are still at least 2 months of hot weather after August leaves.  Maybe being caught up like this, I might be able to get a blog entry or two on my "early-fall" activities out before things get out of hand once again!


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bagging the Peak, or Ending the Battle of Rincon (Part 2)

The very long awaited second installment of the Rincon Peak hike.  Why so long?  Well - it can be hard to update your blog when you're constantly on one crazy adventure or another.

Last time on Around the Next Corner...
"There's this peak in Southern Arizona..." and this year, I swore it would be mine.  The final photo - an eerie campfire shot of Sirena and I celebrating after conquering the peak and returning to our camp at Happy Valley Saddle.  We had only to get back to civilization in order to call the trip a total success.

Less awesome hiker chicks might have gone back down the way we came up, on the short and very sweet Miller Creek trail - only 4 miles to the trailhead. 

Somewhat more awesome, but still pretty routine, would have been to hike out the well traveled Arizona Trail route through Manning Camp and Italian Trap - around 9.5 miles of good trail and relative civilization.

And, heck, a big adventure would have been to take one of the west-bound trails out to the foothills nearest Tucson,  such as Tanque Verde Ridge or Douglas Spring.  Both of these options would have topped 13 miles of hiking for the day.

But Sirena and I had a plan so audacious that we could only call it pure pro style.  Hike down the Rincon Creek trail - a route forgotten by time and the hiking community for the last 40 years.  From there, connect with the new piece of the Arizona Trail, then finally the Hope Camp system, to reach our ending trailhead over 17 miles away.  With packs on.  Without real beta on the 7.4 miles of the Rincon Creek Trail.  

Oh yeah!
Rincon Peak from the head of the trail

Yes - small cacti are cute.  No doubt (Rainbow Cactus)

Rincon Creek falls very quickly through the tough granite of its canyon
We had no idea what to expect from the condition of the RCT, but we had run into a day hiker who was coming out Miller Creek as we were going in the day before, and he described it as "overgrown". Knowing that this definition can vary widely from individual to individual, we just made sure our pant legs were zipped on and our gear was well-secured against cat-claw attack. Turns out, we needn't have been so careful. Though there is plenty of grass growing on the trail route, and places where a few cat-claw and woody bushes get in your way, overall the trail is amazingly good shape. It is a real tribute to the construction techniques of NPS trail crews that this neglected trail is still so clear. 

The tread is grassy, but not a problem for the experienced eye
So why all the hubbub about this trail and it being so underused?  It certainly wasn't always so.  Beginning in the 1940's, the Madrona district (of which the Rincon Creek Trail is the crown jewel) was set to become the Rincons' version of the Catalinas' Sabino Canyon, complete with access to perennial water, picnic facilities, a ranger station, corrals and trails leading into the park. The road to Madrona went across land owned by the X-9 ranch, and for a number of reasons - including positive relations between the park and the ranch - an access easement was never obtained. In 1965, however, that relationship began to deteriorate, leading to repeated conflicts between ranchers and Madrona visitors. This included, according to ranchers, difficulties with gates and corrals being left open and active hunting on X-9 land. As a result of these problems, the owners of the X-9 lands placed a locked gate on the entrance road to Madrona in May of 1967, permitting only park personnel to cross their land. By June, the monthly visitation at Madrona dropped from over 470 to only 17.

There were rumors that the park superintendent conspired with the X-9 owners to prevent public access to the Madrona area. Others argued that the corral and picnic areas had a negative affect on the natural resources in the area, and that the closures were necessary to save the saguaro population. In 1971, the park acknowledged in it's master plan the need to buy land from the ranchers to help resolve the matter, but before it could be implemented, the X-9 land was subdivided into 36 acre residential lots and sold off to private holders. The ease of dealing with a single landowner was lost. The current landholders include doctors, lawyers and authors with million dollar houses and extensive political influence, and there is little chance that negotiations to re-open Madrona will progress in the foreseeable future.

Madrona District 
The Rincon Creek Trail is left floating in a nearly inaccessible wilderness. One must hike for miles just to reach either end of it - and there are many other trails now that reach the same major destinations more quickly.  

What better place to get lost and have a great adventure?

The trail crossed a high saddle with amazing views opening up to the north and east, then plunged down into another arm of Rincon Creek.  This area is geologically very interesting, with many different colors of granite, bands of quartz in the rock and incredible waterfalls, pools and grottoes.  

Snack at the saddle

Creek area far below

Banded Granite and Gneiss in amazing patterns

Rounding a bluff before descending to the creek bottom

A wonderland of pools and falls below
Sirena and I enjoyed every step of the descent, then stopped for a quick break at the granite slabs and pools near the X-9 road access.  The quick break turned into over an hour - but to have rushed it would have short changed one of the best lunch spots I've seen in a very long time. 

My own private island paradise
We wet ourselves down well and put the umbrellas up for the last 2 miles of the RCP trail, which was on the desert floor and quite hot. It was the only portion of our entire trip where the weather was even close to uncomfortable, and we were so well prepared that it was really just a nice blast of hot to make us feel at home! 

We made it to the Madrona Ranger Station at about 3pm and the clouds started rolling in again. We took another break in the shade, and though there was water running here, the pools were actually quite a bit lower than we'd anticipated. The sycamores were brilliant green and the ashes were beginning to display their beautiful little seed pods.  Only 10 miles left to go!

The abandoned buildings at Madrona Ranger Station (Hantavirus Danger!)

Perfect place to rest 

Rincon Peak now seems very far away indeed!
From Madrona, we hiked up the Manning Camp trail to the Quiter Trail junction, a 2 mile, 1000' climb. The clouds returned around and kept us from getting too hot, and the trail is well graded enough to keep it easy. We reached the junction at about 4:30, hoping we were close to what Sirena kept calling the "low saddle". It was a surprising 40 minutes further to the saddle itself - up and down over the desert foothills. But the Quilter trail is so beautifully built and travels such amazing country that we couldn't help but enjoy ourselves. Once we made that "low saddle" we took one more sit-down-break knowing it would be mostly down hill the rest of the way. 

Now, in my 20 some years of desert hiking, I've seen a lot of pretty crazy stuff.  Snakes, mice, tarantulas - you name it.  But the one thing I've always wanted to spot, but still hadn't managed to encounter, is a gila monster in the wild.  Sirena kept saying that the Quilter Trail was thick with them, but I had my doubts.  Maybe it was a curse.  Maybe I was not destined to have my own wild beaded lizard encounter.  I didn't let my hopes get up. 

So when I came around the corner and was face to face with a big ol' fat Gila Monster, I let out a little yelp of surprise. The curse is lifted! This fellow was quite the exhibitionist, and we followed him through the brush for a good 10 minutes. He strutted and shook his tail and hissed at us a-plenty. Totally awesome and the perfect way to put a lift back in our step. 
Light was low, and I was slow with my camera - so I only got a couple of blurry shots.  But, he was an awesome sight!

Sirena was on the crew that built much of this new trail - and such an amazing piece of trailbuilding it is!

One weird saguaro off the side of the trail

Mind-blowing sunset views

We had counted on finishing in the dark, and indeed, the entire Hope Camp trail was done with headlamps. I was holding out for getting mine on when I came within millimeters of stepping on a poor little snake. Not a rattler, but any snake on the trail gets your heart thumping pretty good!  I put my headlamp on and was thrilled not to see any more unexpected slitherings for the rest of our trip. The wide road bed of Hope Camp was very easy to follow in the dark, and our sore feet and tired backs were glad of the smooth walking for the last couple of miles. 

We took one more break in the dark, and made it back to the car at almost 9pm. No speed records set here, but a wonderful 13 hours of hiking! 

Sorry little dude!

Oh yeah, we made it!

We covered most of the map!

To read more about the Rincon Peak Trail or our hike, visit the description I wrote for or my subsequent trip report.