April 12, 2019
Miles hiked: 22.6
AZT Mile 149.1
Campsite Elevation 4,042 ft
Today was a WOW day indeed. It’s one of those days when you look back from the very beginning miles to where you wound up and you realize that so much happened. I think the days like this happen most when you traverse so many different types of ecosystems and terrain. It makes you feel like you’ve traveled through portals of time, into other dimensions and back again, and you arrive back where you started, but somehow changed. It also feels like so much happens when you have people, conversations, and therefore stories to share the experience with. Which today, I did.
This morning we got a fairly early start. Flyby was ready just a few minutes before me and set off. I lingered in camp for a few minutes, grateful for the solitude to take a few minutes to clear my mind and heart, setting my intentions for the day. I was walking by 6:19 am and immeditaely began to feel the excitement for what was ahead. I rested well last night and the stopping early and covering fewer miles yesterday seems to have helped. I felt great about what challenges lie ahead, as in the 5,000 foot climb we faced, heading from the 3,000 ft elevation in the Saguaro’s up to over 8,000 ft at the top of Mica Mountain.
I walked through the entrance to Saguaro National Park in the first tenth of a mile, and for several miles I witnessed some of the most beautiful scenery I have yet experienced; not only on this hike, but in all the hiking I’ve done. Some of this is the novelty of being in the desert where Saguaros are as tall as buildings and shaped in every which way, and the other part, sheer representation of nature’s magnificance.
Their shapes are fascinating and almost funny at times. They make me smile. But it’s not only this, it is also the surrounding plant life, all the other cacti and wild flowers, the soil, the birds, the shapes of the mountains. The clouds. Here, the sage (brittle bush) flowers are blooming their brilliant canary yellow. There are myriad other plants I can’t even name, and they all seem to arrange themselves in perfect harmony with each other and the landscape around them. That’s Mother Earth for ya, pure feminine genius.
I thought about the weather forecast for today, which called for rain/snow at higher elevations. The top of Mica Mountain is 8,800 ft, so we knew we could be in for some weather. We began a gradual climb through the hillsides that were thick with Saguaro, Ocotillo and Paddle Cactus, Barrel Cactus with yellow and fuscia blooms. The greying clouds gave us both shade and cooler temperatures as well as great lighting for photos. I walked contemplatively and took it all in.
The climb was solid and steady. We traversed tier by tier into different ecosytems. Eventually the desert faded into high desert, then Oak trees, then eventually Pine trees. I saw a Gila Monster along the way, I am so thrilled! Gila Monster are a venomous desert lizzard that grow up to 2 feet in length. They are a rare species to see, because they spend most of their lives underground and are mostly nocturnal. They can survive on roughly 5 meals each year! They have thick tails where they store fat and they reproduce in the Spring and lay eggs in the Summer, so I guess now is the time they are out seeking mates. It looks so ancient!
I hiked on with the entertainment of the changing scenery and now the rare desert animal I was so privileged to see. We stopped at Grass Camp where there was flowing water and the same group of hikers we met yesterday showed up shortly. We all hung around chatting and, of course, eating together, and then pushed on, aware we still had a couple thousand feet of climbing to do.
Eventually, we reached about 7,000 ft and we could see the cloud cover had grown thicker. Flyby and I were hiking together now and we stopped when we realized it had begun to lightly snow on us. Mesmerized by the magical transition from Saguaro forest to Pine and now snow, we laughed and turned our faces to the sky blissfully.
Snow! How is it snowing right now?! We were both in t-shirts and shorts, and were all sweaty from climbing, but we kept moving, feeling inspired, kowing we still had more climbing ahead, we weren’t done yet.
We hit the split to the summit of Mica Mountain at about 1:30pm, we’d made really good time. We took this side trail to the peak and wow was it worth it. The views in every direction were incredible. This remided me so much of Mt. San Jacinto looking down into Palm Springs, but now we were looking down into Tucson. The shape of he hills to the East were layered gold and brown, like ripples tightly packed, and dotted with cloud shadows.
We found an ammo box with first aid supplies and a trail register inside. I took advantage of some athletic tape there and taped up my sore knee. Sitting on the summit, we rumaged through the box, signed the register and read the previous folks’ entries. It’s always fun to see what people wrote, what inspired them, who was there. People we will probably never meet, yet we share something…After a brief rest up there, we got chilled and decided to start our long descent. By 3:00 pm we had dropped about 1,000 ft and plunked our butts down to take a real lunch break with the most amazing views!
I pulled out my sleeping bag and draped it over my legs to keep warm while we ate and gawked at the scenery below us. By 4:00pm we needed to get warm again, so we packed it up and headed back to the long long drop down, back to the desert. My knee has been quite sore so I taped it extra today and was worried about this 4,000+ foot drop over only 7 miles. Honestly though, it went well, better than expected. I concentrated hard on foot placement, weight distribution and using my poles, and that all made a difference. Plus I did not rush.
On the descent, we encountered one magical environment after another. The afternoon clouds had gathered up and dispersed into puffy white balls of fluff and hung suspended over giant rock columns that had a presence of spirit to them, they were imposing and magnificent. I kept stopping to simply stare at them. They deserved reverence.
The views were more and more impressive as the distances we could see were growing greater and the sense of vastness and expansiveness became almost overwhelming. I siad to Flyby “I feel at once so big and so small”.
The sun began to dip lower on the horizon and the golden hour arrived. I started feeling like I was literally floating down the trail. The light, landsapes, shadows, colors and the peace of the sounds of nature surrouned me and filled my heart. It was yet another of these magical evenings on the trail where you feel so special and grateful for your life, for being right exactly where you are and so very present in the moment, you never want it to end.
We pressed on to complete that segment of downhill, needing to find a flat place to camp by dark, and we got lucky and found exactly that. It’s a tight squeeze, this campsite, but we have made it work. We pitched our shelters within spitting distance of one another and we are cozy. We ate our dinners and chatted again through paper thin tent walls, then got tucked into bed. What a day, I am so glad to be in bed. I lay there and feel all the tension and energy of the day begin to dissolve. Tomorrow we get picked up at 11am after we hike 12.5 miles to the next trailhead and highway crossing, and then we will be whisked off to Tucson for a town day. The thought of town, my Mom meeting me there, and “all the things”, Hooray!