Sky Islands Traverse Day 2: ain’t no time to waste

March 20th 2023

14.5 miles + 2,184ft

Campsite elevation 4,908 ft

I slowly fade from sleep to wakefulness before any alarm sounds. It must be that time, but I really want more sleep. I keep my eyes shut for ten more minutes until the alarm finally chimes. Those moments of bliss, they aren’t much but I will take them. It is 5:15am and we’re planning to walk by 6:30am. I scramle out to go pee, the sky is still covered with intermittent clouds and it’s still dark out yet I can’t see any stars.

Rockin’ is making sounds in her tent too so I know she’s up. We shuffle things around in our tents, the sounds of hiker morning: fabrics sliding, zippers zipping and plastic crunching from food bags. It all makes so much noise out in this otherwise silent world. Suddenly, we go silent as a pack of coyotes starts yipping, just like they did before falling asleep last night. They sound like they are in the direction we are headed.

I am not moving super fast, I feel like it’s been about two weeks now of undersleeping and maybe it’s starting to stack up. Maybe it’s my period, who knows. but coffee sure does the trick to get my brain focused. I sit in stillness taking those first several hot sips, allowing the brew to sink in. Ahhhh, now I am able to start organizing my gear and getting dressed.

As I do these tasks, I hear an Owl hooting! I am so elated about this as I remember hearing Owls all the time on the AZT in 2019 but did not hear any out there last week. Yay! The sunrise light is starting to caress the layered clouds to the East and by the time I am ready to pack up my tent it is full on beauty going on. Shortly the sun crests the horizon and we are once again welcoming a new day. It’s 6:36am when we are walking and it is full daylight now. No time to waste.

Start of Day two
It is wind that creates clouds like that…

We start on a lovely path that leads us over to some really cool rock formations. We are walking through overgrown soft grass and starting to climb a small hill to a ridge. Along the way we dodge all manner of sharp objects to avoid getting bitten by the desert. Mesquite, Cat’s Claw and Cholla to name a few.

Oh good morning sharp objects

When we gain the ridge, surprise, there is a fence. Another fence. Another gate we have to find somewhere on that fenceline. So this is becoming a theme of the SKIT. Fences and Gates. As we stand on the ridge scanning the horizon, Rockin’ says very matter of factly “This would be what we think were doing.” I burst out laughing, that is for sure going to be the quote of the day. 

Oak trees like this remind me of growing up in Southern California
Towering Ocotillo
Up close and personal with the Ocotillo
Our first fence of the day

We pass through the gate easily enough and soon enter Gillespie Wash. The land is lumpy around Gillespie and we take our time picking our way down into the wash. As we are making our way along a lovely stretch of the wash we admire the clear flowing water and hear a Canyon Wren’s song echoing against the walls. I have to say, while the Hermit Thrush is my all time fave, the Canyon Wren is pretty darn special. Both share a magical quality to their melodies that have a trickling or cascading effect of sound moving through a space. 

I am loving how beautiful it is here
Another sharp yet beautiful object: Agave
Check out these cool rock formations!

We scramble over some rocks to get above the Cement Dam that is described as “a leaky old cement dam” in our data book but it is a full on waterfall this year. No surprise there. It’s beautiful! We first climb up high and try looking for a way around, but it gets a tad sketch. Rockin’ probably could have done some moves to get around but I was not gonna try it with that exposure. Thus we descend back into the wash and scramble up to the other side easily enough without taking that unneccessary risk.

Trying to see if we can get around here

Our data book now reads “exit wash to circumvent private land holding” so we have to shimmy and contort our bodies to get through a barbed wire fence and thus we are in major bramble territory, which instigates a conversation about the Barkley Ultra Marathon. Those runners have to deal with brambles a ton. It’s almost like a rite of passage for the runners to show up from their first lap with bloody cut up legs. We will not be wearing shorts this week.

I have moves of my own apparently

It is here we see our first cow and it is pretending to be a statue as it is not moving a wink. It stares at us without breathing even, but Rockin’ gets some good footage of the beast. We try talking to the cow, no response. It is so stone still. We decide it thinks we won’t see it if it doesn’t move. Besides the stone still cow here being an interesting attraction, the rock formations are otherworldly so we turn our attention to those.

There are no words

I slipped on some rocks already and now am looking at my shoes and realizing I picked the wrong shoes for this hike. There is very little tread remaining on my Altra Lone Peaks that have oh a good few hundred miles on them. I have three pairs at home and wanted shoes that I could get wet, so these are what ended up on my feet, but I think I picked the wrong pair. Rockin’ is wearing her La Sportiva TX 3 Approach shoes and she is getting much more stability and good traction on this rough terrain. I do have the TX4’s at home but they are leather and I thought that wouldn’t work out here. Now I think I could have worn them. Oh well, it is what it is, these will have to do. Rockin’ says I am just trying to make it more challenging for myself. Ha!

We stop for a break in the shade to have snacks, caffeine and water at the spot where we re-enter the wash after the traverse around the private land. There is a mix of sun and billowing cloud formations, the sound of the breeze in the trees whooshing and the water is trickling along and an occasional insect buzzes by my head. Time seems to stand still, it feels like there is nothing else in the world happening except for this. Nothin’ but the here and now.

Most breaks are not only about eating snacks, but we need to take out our maps and study our route. From here we have just five miles to the next guaranteed water, which doesn’t seem like much. If it were any other year we would have to heed that distance and be very wise about this carry. So far there has been water at every marked water source and even water at places not marked in our data book. There is water in places where it probably hasn’t flown for years.

Such a wonderful sound to hear in the desert

It seems we have made very slow progress so far today. When I ask Rockin’ how far we’ve made it she looks at her watch and shakes her head, she won’t say. Oh gosh, it must be embarrassing. Then she says “there will be no hanging around in camp this trip” and we both laugh.

The clouds to the North East are building and moving real fast up high. We are in a good spot here though and the temp is sitting right at 60F. We could easily linger a while but we have a long way to go. We press on a bit further but when we reach the shade of an Oak tree at 11:30am we stop for snacks and decide to call it “lunch”. We are about to begin climbing up to our first pass. It’s called “Viewful Pass” and we sure are looking forward to those views. But frst, we must fuel up.

The shade has served us well

Satiated and energized we leave the shade of the Oak Tree and continue with a bit more deep sand up the wash. We pay close attention to find where the route suddenly departs the wash for that steep, steep, climb. Our data book notates “leave wash for straight forward steep XC up ridge”. First we follow some game trails that angle up along a contour which is nice, but often times we loose the game trail and we have to shoot straight up. Alot of the navigation here has to do with avoiding sharp vegetation and we are trying to keep the correct trajectory to the pass that we can’t yet see.

We make it up to a ridge where we have fantastic views of where we just came from and eventually we determine we are aiming for a different saddle than we originally thought. This is where map and compass combined with GPX tracks is a winning combo. We sporadically continue to tramp on game trails, probably from deer and cows, but they come and go and lead to no destination. When we loose those trails we follow the path of least resistance and amazingly it keeps us on the red line of our GPX track.

Look where we came from…Rockin’s is taking a close up photo of a Crysalis!
The pass is somewhere up there

As we continue climbing it is windy and hot at the same time. We are very sweaty. When we reach the Viewful Pass we are not disappointed in the least, the views are the best we’ve had thus far and the amazing cloud formations add another dimension of awe to the scene. This place is really beautiful I keep saying. I am loving it!

Viewful Pass Elev 6,128 ft

I am blown away, I did not really know what to expect but I am pleasantly surprised. It is definitely a combination of the wide open space, the crystal blue sky with the textured clouds and the swaying yellow grasses, the magical rock formations and all of it intermixed with a variety of flora. I love the presence of the Oak and Juniper Trees and also having water makes everything even more special. And while we are in cow country and there is a lot, and I do mean a lot, of cow poop, we are also in Arizona. We raise cows in Arizona, that is a fact. This is not the Pyrenees. Ahem…

The movement of thee grass is mesmerizing

Up here at the pass we have reached another fenceline. This route is really making use of the fencelines out here today. We have no gate here so we have to take off our packs and crawl under. On the other side we have to navigate down to Willow Spring aout .7 mi away. This will be our next possible water. This side of the range looks a lot drier however. We pull out the map, compass and GPS and decide on a route down into upper Willow Spring Canyon. There are so many clingy sharp claws all over the place, we are getting constatly snagged and we have to meander hither and thither to avoid that nasty Cat Claw. It is a tough plant to hike through, it grabs your skin, hair and whatever it can and snags it relentlessly resisting release.

That’s where we’re headed now
Not Cat Claw, but other snaggy objects: Mesquite Spikes are also abundant

When we make it to Willow Spring there is hardly any water so we sit and take another break, scooping from a small pool and drinking on the spot to hydrate. I eat again. For some reason I am hungry today so I am gorging on my home made GORP and it tastes amazing. We guzzle water and fill up with 2L each to carry out. That will have to last us another five miles at least, and we are typically moving at 1 mph. Seems crazy, but that is how fast a cross country route goes.

Willow Spring: clean and cold

It is getting on in the day now and we know we need to make more progress. Fortunately, we follow down to the end of Willow Spring Canyon that is now thick with Oak trees and soon we connect with a dirt track that allows us to move a little faster. Then we start climbing again. We pass by an old cow tank made of rusted metal and decomposing wood, and then hook up to another dirt track that we are able to cruise on for a few miles and we finally feel like we are making some progress.

Cruisy dirt track
We Californians loving the Sage

We get to another gate and briefly go the wrong way. Oops. We have to cross country just a little to pick up the correct dirt track and this next bit takes us along some quick moving terrain and some undulating hills along FR622. We are doing more talking now, and not paying attention to where we are going, we have slipped into hiker autopilot. We are snapped out of our trail trance when suddenly we get spat out into a wash again and something doesn’t feel right.

I think this means we went too far

We stop to look at our maps and GPS only to find we missed our turn off into Dial Canyon Wash, we overshot it in our autopilot mode. Oops again. Thus we cross country again via a secondary wash and this one goes through and within 30 minutes we are back on our route. Good save!

Century Plant, a type of Agave

The clouds are really building now and in places they are a heavy dark gray. The wind is picking up again and as we are taking our last little break to re-group, we both get quite chilled. We notice the temperature dropped as we sat here trying to decide how much further the next water is and where we might think about camping. We are headed first through a narrow wash that could be subject to flash floods and then out to an open area that will be incrediby windy so our options seem limited at this time.

Traversing the final deep sand in Dial Wash

It’s 5:45pm when we set off for the final mile through Dial Wash. It is beautiful in here and less windy for most of the way but it’s not fast walking as one would like it to be at the end of the day. We are ready to find camp yet we move slowly here in thick vegetation, no shortage of rock, more Cat Claw to navigate around and plenty of deep sand.

Nevertheless, we do make it to the other end with a bit of daylight remaining. Connecting onto a 4WD track again we are now out in the open and it is windy. Within a few minutes we spy a large Cedar Tree that we hope will have a place for two tents underneath. We seriously need some protection from the growing wind or it’s going to be a long night. We push our weary feet up to the Cedar Tree and we are so stoked how perfect it is when we get there. Hooray!! We have scored a great spot. We are home for the night.

I love getting in my tent!!

It is now 9:42pm as I write, we have been here in camp for over three hours but I would not call it lounging. I have done my PT exercises, massaged CBD into my ankle, massaged my calves and did some stretching, all inside my tent, then started writing. I usualy spend about 45 minutes each night writing about the day, which gives me a rough (very rough) framework for these posts. Then I look over my maps for tomorrow. I am so ready to turn over and get some shut eye. The wind has come and gone, it was pretty intense there for a while then seems to have died down. The temperature has dropped and I heard a rumble of thunder a few minutes ago, followed by a pack of coyotes off in the distance. Love all of that.

It is just amazing how much happens in a single day out here. Out on a trail I often say the same thing, but on a route it is different. When you are constantly having to pay attention to water and navigation you use your brain so much more than on a trail. I love that, but it is also another level of energy expenditure. Maybe that’s why I felt so hungry today. My brain needed fuel. You are also taking in all the scenery, beauty and feeling all the feels that you get just simply by being out here, always taking so much in. There isn’t much down time at all, even though we do take our breaks, they are not loungey, we are tending to needs like going pee, dumping sand out of shoes, filtering water, eating and looking at maps and making navigation decisions or what Rockin’ calls “making good choices”. It is a lot, and it is great. I am so enjoying this trek, we have a lot to look forward to still and we ain’t wastin’ no time.

10 thoughts on “Sky Islands Traverse Day 2: ain’t no time to waste

  1. A route inviting for only the toughest and most curious. So glad you and Rockin’ found each other and have become compatible adventure buddies. It makes type 2 challenges so much tolerable. Go team!

    I’ve enjoyed owls almost nightly while in Arizona this month. Such a wonderful novelty.

    1. Thanks Jan! Yep, we are a good team, I am super thankful for her, glad you heard so many owls out there, I had hoped to hear more of them this Spring, so was super glad when I did hear them on occasion 🙂

  2. Love your writings , have been following since hurlgoat! Hope all of these eventually, become a book!📚 Dont know how you do it! Eventually i would think you would like to end up with your own piece of land and cabin! Keep up the great writing and adventures👍
    ✌️❤️
    Hal
    Seattle, Wa

    1. Hello Hal! Thanks so much, awww that would be amazing, actually it is my dream to have a piece of land and live in a Yurt! Thank you for following along, more in the works 🙂

  3. Hi M

    This is really a compelling landscape, not to mention spiky! LOL. So glad you are enjoying the navigational aspects of this trip…it really does tax you in ways not expected for a “hiking trip.” And I LOVE the link to the birdsong. Next entry I’ll be looking for the scratch ‘n sniff so I can smell the ocotillo. 🙂

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