Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Day 20: Lost in the Desert!

It was going to be another scorcher of day!
May 2: The next morning started warm. Without a doubt, it was going to be a scorcher of a day! But I'd also be getting off the trail today as well. It was today that Amanda was scheduled to pick me up at a road crossing 18 miles away. Much of the late afternoon, I hoped, I'd be resting in an air-conditioned hotel after taking a cold shower. If that wasn't heaven, I didn't know what was!

But first, I had to get there....

The trail soon met up with some powerlines--probably the same ones I crossed under the day before. The powerlines were largely straight, but the Arizona Trail most certainly wasn't! Then it followed a gravel road parallel to the lines for a bit. Eventually, the trail turned off the road for a bit, but I almost missed the turn because it was completely unmarked with official signage. My only clue that maybe I should turn was a series of small rocks strategically place on the road that curved into the turn off the road. The hack looked very unofficial and I wasn't sure if I should even follow it. I knew that the trail was supposed to turn off the road somewhere around here, but I expected an official sign to mark the turn. I studied my maps, hemming and hawing, and finally followed the turn.

A few minutes later, I passed an official Arizona Trail marker and sighed with relief. Yes, I was still on the right path!

About 10 or 15 minutes later, though, my path disappeared. The trail went into a clearing then utterly disappeared. I backtracked 30 or 40 steps and there was a trail drawn in the ground as clear as day, then followed it 30 or 40 steps where it completely and utterly vanished. I searched around the clearing a bit looking for where it continued but there was nothing. This wasn't a matter of the trail just being difficult to see because it ran over boulders or intersected with a bunch of cow paths. It was a grassy clearing which usually made the trail easy to see and it just vanished in those 30 or 40 steps. Poof!

My working theory--and it's only a theory--is that perhaps what I thought was the trail 30 or 40 steps back wasn't the trail at all but some sort of path the cattle had created. Somewhere in the last 10 to 15 minutes, I intersected a cow path and didn't realize it, and had been veering further and further away from the Arizona Trail without even knowing it. It was a reasonable assumption, but it didn't help me figure out where I had turned wrong.

Not a lot of landmarks around these parts to identify exactly where
I was on my topo maps!

I studied my maps, but pinpointing my precise location was all but impossible since the terrain was so flat. There wasn't much for landmarks around these parts except those powerlines--which I could still see in the distance but they weren't even marked on my maps. Worse-case scenario, I figured, I could make my way back to the powerlines, but that would have involved more backtracking than I really wanted to do. I started wishing I carried a GPS--I could find the trail in a heartbeat with a GPS. GPS devices don't need landmarks!

Although the ground the trail covered was practically flat, a series of mountain ridges weren't far to the east and I tried to pick out mountaintops that I could identify on my topo maps. One particular mountain to the northeast grabbed my attention. It was a short ridge with two peaks, slightly offset from the much larger range that spanned my entire eastward view. And I was pretty certain I had found it on my topo map. The ridge wasn't named--or at least it wasn't labeled on my topo map with a name--but it was the only landmark I could readily identify.

I felt good about being able to do so. It still wasn't enough to pinpoint my location on the map, but it gave me an extra frame of reference. To the west of the ridge my map showed a small gully my topo map listed as Ripsey Wash--probably a dry streambed at the moment--and the Arizona Trail was on the flat area to the west of the gully. If I reached that hill and started hiking due west, I would intersect the Arizona Trail.

Recognizing the trail might be more difficult, though. Cow paths lead all over the place and many of them looked like the Arizona Trail. Without a trail marker to identify it, I might not know if I was following some long-ago cattle or the Arizona Trail.

Retracing my steps back to these powerlines was an option....
...but not one I wanted to use!

Of course, I could try backtracking to where I really lost the trail, but I wasn't entirely confident I'd find it. I was absolutely sure I'd been on the Arizona Trail right up until the moment it utterly vanished. I never had any intersections where I thought, "Hmm.... I wonder if this is the right way? Let's go down this direction a bit and see if I can figure out one way or another if it's the correct direction." And I hate backtracking. I really didn't want to backtrack if I could help it.

So I studied my maps some more and decided on another plan of action. I'd head directly towards the unnamed peaks. At some point, I should intersect a dirt road. It wasn't labeled on my maps, but it definitely showed a road between me and those hills. Depending on my exact location, there might even be a couple of roads between me and the hill. Then if I followed the road west, it would eventually intersect the Arizona Trail. Regardless of which road I intersected, they'd all lead me to the Arizona Trail. I might still miss the trail, but typically at road intersections, the trail had carsonite waymarkers to help make sure hikers don't get lost which would dramatically improved my chances of identifying the trail when I crossed it! The markers would likely be on both sides of the road as well. Two chances to identify it!

So that was my plan of attack. Hike cross-country towards the unnamed peaks until I reached a road, then follow the road west until I intersected with the Arizona Trail. And.... pay very close attention to the road. Depending on how it turned or intersected with other roads, I might be able to figure out my exact location on the map.

I bushwacked through a small gully, came up the other side a short ways where I ran into a barbed-wire fence. I hadn't counted on any barbed-wire fences getting in my way although I should have. Where there are cattle there are barbed-wire fences! But it could also be an opportunity.... the Arizona Trail would have to cross the same fences. If I followed the fence, it should eventually lead me back to the Arizona Trail and a gate, cattle guard or something that would allow access to the other side of the fence.

Except.... I wasn't 100% certain which direction the Arizona Trail was located. It might be located to the east or west. The trail loops to the west of the unnamed hill, and hiking towards the hill takes me northeast. Between my eastward migration and the trail's westward migration, I felt pretty confident the trail would have to be to my west by the time I intersected a road. At the fence, though, I wasn't sure if the trail had migrated westward enough or that I had migrated eastward enough.

I started following the fence westward a bit--not so much expecting to hit the trail but just to find if there was an easy way around it. A gate or something I could pass through without worrying about the barbs getting me when I noticed a large stock tank on the other side of it. Water! A huge pool of it! It didn't look that bad either!

It was a shocking sight too. The next water source in my databook was another 5+ miles away. Where the heck did this water come from? I pulled out my topo maps again, looking for a hint of this stock pond. A small speck of water that I had missed, or a slight depression in the contour lines marking its location, but I couldn't find it. A relatively large body of water, right in front of my eyes, and it doesn't even show up in any of my maps. How is this possible?!

But I have a rule: Tortuga Rule #23. When you're lost in a desert with temperatures expected to climb to near 100 degrees and you stumble into a body of water, you fill up with water. You drink as much as you can, and you carry as much as possible, even if you don't think you'll need it. I didn't think I needed the water--I felt confident I could get myself unlost. In fact, I didn't really consider myself "lost" per se--more like a temporary separation from the trail because the trail got lost.

But until I was reunited with the trail and could definitively identify my precise location on my maps, carrying a lot of extra water seemed like a prudent decision. Better to have too much water than not enough!

Hey, is that water back there? That looks like water back there!
Tortuga Rule #23: If you're lost in the desert and you find water, FILL UP!
After crawling under a barbed-wire fence, this was the sight
that greeted me. Gorgeous! And how come it wasn't listed on anyof my maps or data sheets?!
I stopped looking for a way around the barbed-wire fence and decided just to go directly under it. The bottom-most rung of wire didn't actually have any barbs on it. I don't know if you guys have ever looked closely at barbed-wire fences, but I noticed that the vast majority of the ones I've seen (on the Arizona Trail, at least) have no barbs on the bottom-most wire. It means I have to get a little dirty, but it's pretty easy to get through without getting stuck by barbs either by crawling under the lowest wire, and that's exactly what I did.

I spent a half hour at the stock tank filtering water before continuing onwards. I followed a wash out from it, towards the northeast and the unnamed peaks. The wash was easy to follow. It meandered a bit, but I wasn't having to bushwhack through any brush. The loose sand at the bottom was the most difficult part of walking.

After another 15 minutes, the wash started going mostly east and not so much to the north so I climbed out onto the flat area surrounding it and 5 minutes later ran into a dirt road. YES!

I followed the road westward while carefully watching both sides of the road for the Arizona Trail. About 10 minutes later, I saw a carsonite trail marker identifying the Arizona Trail and a definite footpath intersecting the road. YES! Back on the Arizona Trail!  In total, I'd been off the trail for about 1 1/2 hours, and a half that time was just filtering water. I didn't lose too much time. I could still make it to the meeting point with Amanda before she even arrived.

This small ridge with the two humps on each end was the one
landmark I could pick out on my topo maps, so I headed
towards it until I hit this dirt road.
An hour after getting back on the trail, it left the flatlands and headed into the small ridges that I'd been paralleling to my east. It wasn't especially steep or difficult, though.

By noon, the heat was absolutely crushing me. I was back on a forced regimen of drinking 90+ degree water that tasted horrid knowing I had to do it but hating every sip from it. And if it wasn't bad enough that the sun was baking everything, the heat from the ground seemed to radiate back up at me as well. I might have taken more breaks in the occasional shade along the way, but knowing Amanda was already on her way to pick me up pushed my onwards.

Late in the day, I started getting views of a massive, open-pit mine. When Amanda and I toured the Mission Mine south of Tucson, they had mentioned that there was another mine northeast of Tucson--and I figured I had just found it. Later, I would learn that it was called the Ray Mine and is, indeed, owned by the same folks that run the Mission Mine that we had toured earlier. This time, though, I was on a ridge overlooking the mine and it cost me nothing to view. =)

From the high point on the ridge, the trail dropped a couple of thousand feet to the Gila River--a mere 1,771 feet above sea level and the lowest elevation so far of the trail. And the hottest too! The Gila River was a magnificent thing to see--a huge river of water winding through the canyons like a coiled snake. It was, by far, the most water I'd seen anywhere on the trail. The trail crosses the Gila River over the Kelvin Bridge--which also marked the end of my day's hike for this bridge was where Amanda and I had planned to meet.

When I arrived, I didn't see Amanda anywhere. I wasn't entirely surprised by this--her estimated arrival time wasn't for another hour. Roads from three different directions intersected at the bridge and I wasn't even entirely sure which direction Amanda would be coming in from. My maps only showed a couple of miles on either side of the Arizona Trail and it wasn't readily obvious which was the direction to Phoenix. For all I know, in these mountains, the road might have to go due east before it loops up or down back towards Phoenix to the west.

This was my first sight of the Arizona Trail after losing the trail.
The carbonite waypoint was definitive proof I found the trail
and not just another cow path! =)
I was so excited about finding the trail again, I played shadow games with it. =)

I walked across the bridge to scout things out. I wanted two things: (1) a place to sit in the shade and (2) a place where I could easily see the road so I could see Amanda when she arrived. My choices were few. Away from the road there was plenty of shade--the Gila River had large trees on both its banks, but those weren't near the road. Near the road, my best option was next to a cliff that provided a thin sliver of shade near a dry ditch. I walked into the ditch, about to set my pack down when Amanda drove up.

"You need a ride?" she asked.

"Absolutely!" What a beautiful view! =)

I threw my pack in the backseat and Amanda asked if I wanted anything to eat--she had bought a pizza and cinnamon sticks at Hungry Howies before arriving. I was miserably hot and thirsty like mad, and a hot pizza and cinnamon sticks didn't sound appetizing at all.

"Do you have any cold drinks?" I asked. "This near 100 degree water isn't doing anything for me!"

She had a cold Coke and Root Beer, and I drank the Coke in seconds.

We started driving north towards the town of Superior--an Arizona Trail town that I likely wouldn't have arrived at on my own for another two days. On the way there, however, we passed a turnoff that was labeled as a viewpoint for the Ray Mine, so we detoured to that.

The view of the Ray Mine was just as good as anything we saw at the Mission Mine but without the cost or the need for a shuttle bus! We didn't get to tour the inside where they milled and concentrated the copper, but the giant hole in the ground was still impressive. The viewpoint included a covered picnic area and now that I had cooled down from my hiking, my hunger started picking up.

"I could go for some pizza about now...."

So I ate pizza and cinnamon sticks and drank the Root Beer while watching the going ons at the Mission Mine.

Then we continued the drive to Superior where we checked into a motel. I took a shower and changed into clean clothes that Amanda brought with her, but we were soon off again.

We stopped, briefly, at the World's Smallest Museum which was located right there in Superior because, hey, it was the world's smallest museum! That had to be checked out! We also drove out to the Picketpost trailhead a few miles west of town which would be the next place that Amanda would pick me up at.

Then, we drove to the small town of Globe. Globe is slightly larger than Superior but had something that Superior did not: Wal-Mart. We figured we could find a replacement camera there for the one that stopped working three days earlier. Except, when we checked out their cameras--they had the exact model I wanted on display but were currently out of them. ARGH!

The drive to Globe wasn't a total waste, though. We did do some grocery shopping at Safeway and Amanda was excited to get a drink at the Sonic the town had. =)

But then it was back to Superior for the night.

The palo verde trees were blooming crazily!
See that line running across the mountain? I did too, and I was
pretty sure that was the AZT. And I so didn't want to climb
that high in this miserably hot weather....

This photo was taken from near that point on the mountain, looking back
towards where I was located when I took the previous photo. =)

It's a long way back down too! Just look at those switchbacks!

Views of the Ray Mine--an open pit copper mine.

Sagauro blooms are really hard to get photos of because saguaros are so
tall and the blooms are always near the top! But this bloom
had fallen to the ground so I could finally get a close-up, in-focus photo of it!

An official water cache at the Florence-Kelvin Road trailhead.

Saguaro in bloom with the Ray Mine behind it.

The Kelvin Bridge crosses over the Gila River and was my meeting point
with Amanda. =)

The Gila River had more water than anywhere else I'd seen on the trail so far!
I stitched this photo together from four photos I took from the Ray Mine viewpoint.
If you click on it (in theory), it should open up to a much larger photo! Can you find the giant dump trucks? =)
That little red building is the World's Smallest Museum. It wasn't
actually open when we were there, but we did look through the windows!
(Amanda would go when they were open later while I was hiking the trail--
I never saw the museum open, though.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Day 19: Badwater in the Flatlands

Sunrise was gorgeous!
May 1: The morning started off beautiful but warm. My first stop for the day would be Beehive Well which, according to my water notes, was the last reliable surface water for over 25 miles. My notes did show a public water cache about 8 miles down the trail, but I'm a little leery about depending on public water caches when I have no way of verifying if they still have any water. The only problem worse than arriving at a water cache with too much water was arriving at an empty cache with no extra water.

And the water after that.... I probably wouldn't arrive at until the next morning sometime. Which meant I'd have to carry an excruciating amount of water--enough to hike an entire day in temperatures closing in on 100 degrees, enough to cook dinner and make breakfast the next morning, and finally enough to get me that last bit to the next water source. Basically, I needed to carry every drop of water I could--about 10 liters of it. A whopping 22 pounds of water.

I wasn't happy when I saw what I had to work with, though. The water from Beehive Well looked relatively clear, but it pooled into a small tank with not one, but two large, decomposing birds in it. Bleh.

It was still early in the morning but temperatures were already uncomfortably high, so I ducked in the shade provided by the water tank as I started treating it with my Sawyer filter. The water coming out looked good, but when I tasted it, there was something wrong with it. I described it as a "funky" taste in my journal, but thinking back, it seemed like a generous assessment. I remember it tasting absolutely horrid. However, there wasn't much I could do about it except hike back to the last water source--and that wasn't going to happen!

I started calling it the Taste of Death and hoped it wouldn't end up making me sick, still slightly unbelieving that I'd even consider drinking such nasty water, treated or not.

When I was done, I staggered under the weight of the water until I got my balance and continued walking--albeit at a much slower pace than before I picked up the water.

A hint of my day to come....
From there, the trail went almost completely flat. The contour lines on my topographic map disappeared into nothing and the heat of the day continued to increase. The flatness was something of a relief--it meant no strenuous climbs through the heat. But it also meant no breezes along ridgelines or graceful downhills.

The weather forecast called for strong winds, but those must have stalled at ground level because the air was nothing but stagnant. Even the cacti seemed to wither under the intense heat. The saguaros and ocotillos soon disappeared, and the brilliant blooms on the prickly pears and hedgehog cactus came to a halt.

The day started with terrible air quality--dust brought visibility down to just a few miles--but the air cleared considering as the afternoon progressed. Whatever winds had stirred up all that dust must have come to an end, but I was a little bitter that I never felt any of the wind to begin with.

At first glance, the water from Beehive Well didn't look that bad.

At second glance, it didn't look as good....
At third glance, it looked even worse!

The Taste of Death water I carried has a not-surprising property: It warms up to the outside temperature. When the outside temperature rises to 80 degrees, so does the water I carry. When the outside temperature rises to 90 degrees, so does my water. And when the outside temperature rises to 100 degrees, so does my water. And if there's one thing worse than dead-bird tainted water, it's the taste of 100 degree water when you're already overheating in the heat yourself. Even good water tastes bad at such high temperatures. I had to force myself to swallow a mouthful regularly when all I wanted to do was spit it out.

It was a tough, difficult day. Along the route, I found a couple of unofficial water caches, and I'd trade out 2 liters of my bad water with 2 liters of.... well, less bad water. It didn't have the taste of death, but it was still near 100 degrees and tasted of the plastic from the sun-bleached bottle. The water must have been sitting in those bottles for months as strong as the plastic taste was!

The official water cache, 8 miles from the Taste of Death water, was filled with mostly empty bottles. I refilled a couple of the liters I had already consumed, but felt guilty about taking what little water there was and continued carrying the rest of the Taste of Death water. 

Late in the afternoon, the trail passed a small rock outcropping called "The Boulders." Not a very creative name, but the boulders were tall enough to cast a small sliver of a shade where I was able to find relief from the intense sun.

Near the end of the day, I set up camp by a dry riverbed, hoping the slope of the riverbed would cast a little bit of shade I could use until sunset. I'd take a few extra minutes of shade wherever I could find it!

Despite the flatness of the trail and nothing going wrong, it was the toughest day of the trail for me physically. The brutal heat sapped my energy and the disgusting water left me dehydrated. After sunset, when the temperatures started to fall, I drank as much water as I could. It tasted better and better with the dropping temperatures and I knew my body needed it. I usually read a book until around 10:00 or so when I'd be tired enough to fall asleep, but I drifted off to sleep much earlier tonight. I was just too tired to stay up so late.

The saguaros I saw early in the day were blooming, but it's difficult
to get photos of the blooms when they're 10 or more feet in the air!
So I attached my camera to my trekking pole trick and used a 10-second
timer to get this blurry photo.
At one point, I was walking down the trail when I felt a sudden, sharp
pain on my foot. YEAOWWW!! I looked down and this
was what I found. Before extracting it, though, I took this photo for all of you. =)
This cholla bloom would be among the last of the wildflowers I'd
see for the rest of the day!

That's Antelope Peak in the distance. The AZT runs
just around the right side of it.

Antelope Peak
The official water cache.
Love the footbridge! For a second, I thought I'd
have to get my feet wet crossing this creek! *heavy sarcasm*
Brutally hot... brutally boring....
These powerlines were kind of nice--I could use them to
mark my progress on the trail. It was about the only landmark
along this otherwise flat stretch of land.
This was one of the more interesting gates along the trail
that used gravity to make sure the gate closed behind you.
The gate would open outward (towards where I was standing when
this photo was taken), then the weight at the end of the line
would pull the gate closed once I let go of the gate.
"The Boulders"
I take a break in a small sliver of shade provided by this boulder.
More boulder formations.

Someone took the time to place these rocks around the hedgehog cactus.
(It wasn't me, though! I only took time to take this photo!)
Near the end of the day, I started approaching some hills again.
And even found these wildflowers! =)