Added 21 November 2016
Arizona Trail Passage 9: Rincon Mountains- Hope Camp to Italian Trap (and on to Redington Road)
I was up and out the door early this morning to meet up with Jerry and Andrea (aka Cheetah) for a weekend backpacking trip on Passage 9 of the Arizona Trail. The bulk of this passage is in Saguaro National Park, going up and over the Rincon Mountains. With an elevation gain of about 5,500 feet and a total climbing elevation greater than that, it's one of the most challenging passages along the entire AZT. Since there's no direct access to the start of Passage 9, we had to hike to it, and since my car couldn't make it to the end of the passage, we opted to extend the end of our trip a couple of miles into the first part of Passage 10 by ending at Redington Road, resulting in a 27 mile trip, give or take.
There was a mis-communication between Cheetah and I about the rendezvous location, which put me going the wrong way. I called Jerry at 5 minutes past our 5:45 scheduled meeting time, and they were just leaving the house. The forecast was for unseasonably warm temperatures today, so any delay in getting started meant we'd be in for more heat on the hike. After meeting up, we caravanned to where the AZT crosses Redington Road and left Cheetahs SUV there and took my car to the Loma Alta Trailhead.
The shuttle set up took longer than expected, so it was 9:15 before we started hiking. It wasn't warm yet, but neither was it cool. The access trail to the AZT is fairly flat, and intersects the AZT 0.5 miles from the start of the passage at Hope Camp. Since we had already hiked that 0.5 miles doing Passage 8, we started our Passage 9 journey at the Quilter Trail junction, which was newly constructed for the AZT. In fact, it was not complete when we did Passage 8 back in 2011.
The Quilter Trail was phenomenal, as it wound through superb Sonoran Desert habitat. It's Park Service trail construction at its finest. The only thing marring the beauty was all of the invasive buffelgrass and natal grass along the trail. The climbing started on the Quilter Trail, gradually at first, then steepening through the transition to Manning Camp Trail. We weren't moving quickly, so it was well into the day by the time we got to the steeper parts of the climb, and it was quite warm.
At a tributary to Chimenea Creek about 1000 vertical feet up from the trailhead, we were welcomed by clear, slightly flowing water down the bedrock channel. As usual, I was carrying way more water than I needed, but Jerry and Cheetah were carrying less water so took advantage of the serendipitous find by filtering a bit of it to ensure they had enough to get them through the remainder of the day. We found a shady spot by a nice pool, and with the breeze blowing through the canyon it was a very pleasant place. So much so that we lingered for a while after the water filtering duties were done. It was a great spot to just be. Cheetah was bothered a lot by gnats, but they weren't bugging me (no pun intended). As we got up to move on, I wandered around the creek bed a bit and found a few young Canyon Treefrogs (Hyla arenicolor).
Much refreshed, we reluctantly left the stream and continued our trek to Grass Shack Campground. We arrived to an apparently empty campground but just after we wandered in a lone backpacker popped out of the trees after looking for campsite #3. He said that site was small, and campsite #2, which we were standing in, was really open, so I started towards campsite #1 to check it out. It was perfect, and by right of first to get there, I claimed it for us, though I think that the other backpacker wanted it and for us to take campsite #2. Since I don't think he had a permit to camp there anyway, and when he later started a camp fire (which is not allowed at Grass Shack, I didn't feel any guilt about taking the prime spot.
And prime it was. It's tucked away and out of sight from everything in addition to being right along the creek. Jerry and Cheetah took a spot in the center of camp and I happily threw my tarp and sleeping bag down on a narrow strip right on the bank of the creek. The only negative to be had was that it was rather buggy with both gnats and mosquitoes. By the time we set up camp and started dinner, it was getting dark, which provided a little relief from the bugs. Shortly after dinner, Jerry and Cheetah went to bed. Although I was admittedly a bit weary, there was no way I could think about going to bed at 7:30 p.m. so I grabbed my notepad, a book of poetry and my camera and found a reasonably comfortable place next to the creek to while away the evening. I tried reading a bit, but couldn't concentrate, but I did find myself sufficiently mused by the babbling brook to write a couple of poems. I also did a fair amount of just sitting and listening to the story the stream was telling. A blissful existence.
I lay back on a rocky creekside couch
in dire need of therapy. In darkness
stars and sounds the only perceptions.
A trouble comes
and is gone.
A worry arrives
and is gone.
A problem approaches
and is gone.
Ears so close to the pop and plop
that no thoughts can hold on,
all carried away
as fast as the stream
can take them.
In its babbling
the hydraulic psychologist
will brook no strife,
and in so doing drain ages of aches,
Leaving me only
the comforting soreness
from the journey to the session.
The creek has taken all my troubles,
but it will not carry me.
Nor will it let me go.
I want to think, to ponder,
read words and drink their wonder.
But the creek won't stop interrupting.
It streams my consciousness outwards
and away, down to the sea,
half-formed, or worse, still-born.
There is nothing but the flow.
No bad. No good. No in-between.
Taking everything from me
including the will to walk away.
The sounds of high hazards edge into
the cacophony of the watercourse,
A snap, a crack,
but still the stream holds me fast,
always on the verge of revealing a truth.
A bear could amble along and find me, dinner.
A snag could succumb to the struggle
and come crashing down upon me.
Yet hours later only the chill night air,
as it creeps in, manages to break the spell.
And there is the truth
to be found.
When I finally decided to go to bed, I returned to find a Canyon Treefrog (Hyla arenicolor) on my sleeping bag. He leapt from one piece of my gear to another before finally leaving camp on his nightly rounds. I lay in bed a while looking up at the sky through the trees as the stream gurgled on below me, oblivious to the fact that I had left, or was there at all.We hiked 8.3 miles today.