A hiker’s diary: February 2013

Latest entry first.

Recent rains led to a greener North Mountain and environs
Recent rains led to a greener North Mountain and environs.

February 22, Friday:  Inner basin, North Mountain Park.  The unusual storm of snow, sleet and rain on the 20th has left the desert floor verdant with plant life.  Even the spidery ocotillo was decked out in magnificent green.  In this continuing drought of ours, the colors are usually drab pastels predominately browns and grays.  Hope the wetness gives a boost to the coming wildflower season.   Maybe the wildlife out here is in weather shock for I heard nary a peep on the trails.  No howling of the coyotes, no jabbering of the Gambel’s quail.  But humans?  There were plenty of the species out and about.  Above average number of bikers and hikers walking dogs under a cool, sunny sky and a light westerly breeze.  Got a late start.  Shopped around, trying to get my Slik tripod fixed in time for photographing the wildflowers.  I’ve lost the quick-release plate and find a replacement strangely difficult.   A camera shop in Scottsdale was my latest excursion and the friendly clerk said she would order one for me.  Estimated cost $10 or so.  And I won’t have to pay shipping costs that I would online.   But the delay cost me time, and I arrived back at the VC after sunset with 2.31 miles under my belt.  At 5,348 steps, the average of 2,315 a mile was 34 steps more than on the 18th.  Surprising.   I had a bounce in my step today and motored along at a good pace, I thought, but apparently at a slightly shorter stride.

February 18, Monday:  Inner basin, North Mountain Park.    Did a figure-8 from west to east with Nebra.  We did not reach the Visitors Center near 7th Street before turning back, but managed to log 3.2 miles.  We might have tried a trail more challenging if not for Nebra’s knee injury.  She has a meniscus tear and will eventually need surgery or rehab.  She did fine on this hike because there is not much going downhill.  It was one of the last beautiful days before a big winter storm is predicted on Wednesday night or Thursday morning.   Used my pedometer and GPS to measure my average steps per mile on fairly flat ground.  Came to 2,281 steps per.  In the past I’ve estimated 2,200, and I think I’ll keep that as a standard.

February 16, Saturday:  North Mountain Summit.  An old Beatles song wafts down on a sunlit sky from the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort up the road a quarter-mile,  “All you need is love, love . . . .”  No, thank you.  All I need today is my GPS, GPS.  I aim to measure the average elevation gain per mile [as opposed to AEG, or accumulated elevation gain] as I hike up the paved summit trail to the top of North Mountain.  Not only that but to measure average gain per segment.  Each of the five dramatic curves on the trail counts as a segment.  Why do I do this outside of being somewhat of a data freak?  Good question.  So up I go, stopping at these points to jot down distance and elevation, and finally reach my destination, the locked towers gate.  The gate is the end of the road for most hikers, aka exercisers.  They turn around here to go back down, although the true summit is above it another 45 feet on a rocky off-shoot trail.   I have a set of standards.  An elevation gain of 500 feet per mile is “moderate,” 750 feet is “steep” and anything 1,000 feet and more is “very steep.”  What I find surprises me.  This is not a “steep” hike, only a “moderate” one.  I have come up from the entrance gate 450 feet in .68 of a mile.  If my math is correct, that averages about 662 feet a mile, almost half of the “very steep” AEG I recorded for the “Baby Butte” trail I took yesterday.  My computations also show that as you hike up, each segment is steeper than the one before:  In order, AEGs of 540′, 650′, 668.4′, 691.6′ and 750.’   I don’t know what this data has to do with anything important.   But I like to believe it is preparing me for something.  Maybe the loony bin.

It ain't K-9 but it felt like it at this point on the trail.
It ain’t K-9 but it felt like it at this point on the trail.

February 15, Friday:  “Baby Butte,” North Mountain Park.   No one will know what the Baby Butte is.  It’s my name for the high hill just west of Shaw Butte.  It’s the hill with only one tower on it.  Shaw has three.  Few hikers come up to Shaw from the west.  I didn’t even know there was a trail there until lunch and a guy at the buffet told me about the one that goes up from busy 19th Avenue and Sweetwater, not far from the horse track.  It’s not much of a trail.  I could barely see its outline on the brushy hillside.  One thing I do know.  It’s steep.  Very steep.  No switchbacks here.  Just straight up past a corner of one hill, over the top of a second and finally the long pull up to the third which is Baby Butte.  And rocky, lots of loose rock, lots of injury potential. It’s only 2/3 of a mile up to the single tower, but I felt like I’d climbed K-9 when I reached the top, stopping several times to gasp for air.

From the Baby's summit, Shaw Butte in distance.
From the Baby’s summit, Shaw Butte in distance.

From there Shaw is probably 20 minutes away, down a dirt road to a saddle then steeply upward to the summit.   Not much to look at on top of the Baby except Shaw.  There’s the tower, a cruddy building cradled inside a fence with concertina wire, desert scrub and a few abandoned concrete slabs.  My GPS locked in the Baby Butte at 1,908′ elevation, about 240 feet lower than its papa to the east.  It was here, though, I decided to turn back, not wanting to flirt with nightfall and disaster.  The “west trail” is not one you want to negotiate in the dark, particularly coming down.  Not even with floodlights.  So I high-stepped it back to the parking lot and the Civic in 33 minutes, reaching there just at sunset.   Took 56 on the ascent.  Not much reason to use this trail unless you require supreme privacy and a whole lot of exercise.  Some hikers do, and I do, sometimes.

Sunlit saguaro along the inner basin.
Sunlit saguaro along the inner basin.

February 9, Saturday:  North Mountain Park, inner basin.  The coyotes were out early.  Maybe it was the big black dog traveling with an older man.  Howling and barking often like I hadn’t heard for a while.  Up there somewhere on the ridge near Shaw Butte.  The dog walked along unleashed.  The old man said he couldn’t hold him if the coyotes came down to the trail like they had twice before.  Once he counted five of them, keeping their distance, never attacking.

Dead tree under a threatening sky.
Dead tree under a threatening sky.

It was a weird kind of day.  Threatening to rain, then the sun would break through, schizo.  Cool, 55 F., then warm briefly in the sun.  One thing was clear.  It was a great evening for shooting photos.  Just doing the east end of the inner basin, I still racked up 2.43 miles.  Got back to the car in darkness.

See a "man" staring up at the plane?  I did.
See a “man” staring up at the plane? I did.

February 5, Tuesday:  Papago Buttes Park.   These red sandstone buttes on Phoenix’s eastern border with Scottsdale and Tempe provide excellent material for photographers.  I did a small loop of 1.23 miles around this small park with my Canon and a tripod.  But I settled for three hand-held photos:  Two isolated buttes north across busy McDowell Road and a group to the east where the pyramid tomb of Governor Hunt rests.  If you look closely at the latter one, you might see as I did the face of a man lying on his back and staring up at an airliner descending into Sky Harbor Airport.  It was a beautiful hike at the end of a beautiful afternoon, and as I unloaded my gear in the Civic’s trunk, two geese, both Canadas I think, flew past, honking loudly from about 15 feet above my head.  They appeared headed for the big pond at Phoenix zoon a quarter mile away.

Goat Hill from the west along National Trail.
Goat Hill from the west along National Trail.

February 4, Monday:  National Trail, South Mountain Park, Telegraph Pass to near Post 40.  Completed the fifth and final segment of the National about 4:30, but it wasn’t easy. I was trying to get back to the “halfway” point I’d hit two days ago, hiking up from the west.  Now hiking in from the east, it was longer at 3 1/2 miles than I thought, forcing me to return down a perilously steep and rocky part in darkness with no flashlight.  Lucky to get back to the car in one piece.

Scratches and bruises on my left arm from fall.
Scratches and bruises on my left arm from fall.

I’d fallen earlier, in broad daylight, bloodying my left arm.  Too big of a hurry and a loose rock make for a bad step.  It’s a lonesome land out here.  The segment from Telegraph Pass to San Juan Road is the least traversed in the park.  Today I passed only two humans in the 4 1/2 hours I was on the trail.  They were on horses, a man and a woman, traveling west into a glorious sunset.  They seemed alarmed by my injured arm, but I assured them it looked much worse than it was.  Just scratches and bruises.  I got back to the car just before 7, almost a full hour after sunset.  It marked the 26th hike I’d completed of the 60 Liu hikes around Phoenix that I started a year ago.

One of three old mine shafts within 240 paces along National Trail.
One of three old mine shafts within 240 paces along National Trail.

February 2, Saturday:  National Trail, South Mountain Park.  I’m trying to complete this 15.5-mile trail in the mountains south of downtown.  I’ve done this trail in five parts because unless you either shuttle with two cars or do the entire length of the park in one horrendous hike, you more or less have to hike out to a spot, then hike back, doubling the mileage.  I hoped this would be the last segment, starting at the second parking lot west on San Juan Road.  From there, I hoped to get up on top of the range, about 1,000 feet in elevation, and meet the end of another segment, a segment ill-defined in my mind.  I just know there’s an old mine shaft on the south side of the trail.  Nebra and I got out to at least that point last year.  This western segment is the least traveled of the National Trail.  I thought it would be very quiet, probably no one about.  But I immediately ran onto 10 hikers and a jogger.  All but three were women of varying ages.  That was about 2:45.  Saw no one else over the next 3 hours, until I got back to my car.  Injure yourself up here and good luck.  You may have to wait awhile for help.  After reaching a low-lying saddle, the trail drops down into a long valley about 300 yards wide, then up on the south side of a deepening ravine to the top of the range’s west end.  Except for one steep but short stretch, the trail is fairly easy-going.  But starting late, I’m racing with the clock again to get down before dark.  The west side of South Mountain is littered with abandoned mine shafts, and up on top I quickly ran into three in a row, all within 240 steps according to my pedometer.  Nothing looked familiar, and at 4:32, out about 3 miles, I turned around after lunching at a line of white quartz rocks, disappointed and knowing I’d have to give it another try soon, coming in from Telegraph Pass on the east.  I took notes of the spot as well as a photograph and, more important, I took down the coordinates from my GPS.  Oh, well.

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