Descent into injury

Every hiker knows one of the easiest paths to injury is on descent from high places.  Ascents usually pose little danger.

Of my three injuries in 2015, all took place while hiking and all occurred on the descent.

Injury #1:  Tweaked my  right knee coming down a paved road from North Mountain in January.  No slip, no tripping on an obstacle.  Just walking.  I suspect the injury was actually the result of a weightlifting session I’d done earlier in the day.  Too much weight on the leg press, perhaps.  The injury proved minor and I soon recovered.

Injury #2: Wrecked my left shoulder in March coming down Daisy Mountain east of Anthem.  Traveling solo in an isolated area, I was lucky this one did not turn out even more severe than it did.  After reaching the top of Daisy, I descended on a rock trail with loose soil.  I made it OK to the saddle but on the descent from there, I slipped on loose rock and fell as if shot by American Sniper.  The elbow caught the brunt of the fall, but the pain shot up into my shoulder.  Think this injury was due to tired legs, Daisy Mountain being a long, arduous trek.  I did not see a doctor and allowed the injury to heal on its own. That took the most of six months.  Think I tore ligaments.  It certainly was more than a strain.  This one injury put a pall on my entire year.

Injury #3:  Sprained my left ankle several days ago coming down the Arrowhead Trail in Thunderbird Park, in darkness.  Only about 25 yards from the flats and safety too.  Stepping off a rock with my right foot, the left struck an angle rock the wrong way and down I went with pain in the ankle, shooting up the outside of the shinbone.  After lying there for a while and seeing if all my other parts were working, I got up and walked to the parking lot.  This injury was utter stupidity on my part.  I was at the end of a 6-mile hike, covering the last 2 miles in darkness.  I’d stopped at sunset to search my pack for the head lantern I usually carry.  Alas, nowhere in sight.  Recovery is still a work in progress here on Day 4.

Resolutions for next year do not include a halt in hiking, however.

One thing I will try to do better is 2016 is this.  Monitor how tired I am of body and mind.  Tired legs, I believe, lead to injury on slippery slopes.  Tired minds lead to bad decisions.

 

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Night views from the mountains

To the east, Piesewa Peak surrounded by light.

To the east, Piesewa Peak surrounded by light.

In the last week, I have hiked up two mountains to view and photograph Phoenix at night.  There are plenty of choices.  The long string of peaks called South Mountain.  The popular Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak are others. I chose Shaw Butte and North Mountain, several miles north of downtown in North Mountain Park.

Shaw and North require relatively short hikes of two miles from the park’s Visitors Center.  And, since both summits sport cellphone towers, good service roads make for easier traveling in darkness.

At 2,149 feet, Shaw is by a scant margin the highest of the two but the view is partly blocked by its sister peak to the southeast.

North Mountain's towers.

North Mountain’s towers.

Not completely satisfied with Shaw’s views, I decided to hike up to North’s summit on a recent Sunday evening with Nebra.  I carried a camera, telescoping tripod and shutter release to the top.  North is more than 700 feet above the surrounding terrain and about 1,000 feet higher than downtown.  Good enough to see most of this sprawling metropolis in the desert.

It was after sunset when we reached the summit not far from the towers.  The only thing missing was the moon, here one day after the full phase.  It would not rise until we were on our way home.

I set up the tripod and shot some photos in all directions.  Nebra held the light from my new headlamp so I could adjust the settings.  The new digital cameras are amazing with their high ISOs allowing you to shoot in the darkest of conditions.  In the old days you flirted around with 100 ISO or so.  But my Canon T3i goes up to 6,400.  Higher end cameras even to higher, to 10,000 and above.

String of lights that is Shea Blvd.

String of lights that is Shea Blvd.

It was getting on to 8 o’clock when we loaded up and headed back toward the parking lot.

In this short jaunt to the summit, I discovered that these dark mountains I had come to think of as empty at night were not empty at all.

Descending on the asphalt road, I saw a dozen people, mostly young men and women, gathered at lookouts high on the mountain.  Also, we passed maybe a half dozen more ascending.  The mountains are very much alive at night.

And for some reason that made me feel good.

The beauty of it all

Cellphone towers atop summit of North Mountain.

Cellphone towers atop summit of North Mountain.

I believe you can find beauty in almost anything.  Even in the looping knots of the magnified Ebola virus.  And yesterday evening I found beauty in cellphone towers.

It was sunset when I started down from the summit of Shaw Butte, a relatively high peak in the middle of Phoenix.  It is one of the two tallest peaks in North Mountain Park.  The other, North Mountain, is just a shade smaller.  Both mountains are in the 2,000 foot range in elevation, yet 1,000 feet higher than nearby terrain.  And both are dotted with cellphone towers.

Metal amid nature.

Metal amid nature.

Standing tall on Shaw Butte.

Standing tall on Shaw Butte.

Heading down the rough road, I suddenly became struck by these metal trees.  I must have caught them just at the right moment.  The mix of man-made metal and Nature-made shadows compelled me to pull out by old Canon and shoot away.   Behind the towers, clouds of all colors amid an azure sky enhanced the scene.  Nature’s own cellphone tower, a giant Saguaro, rested nearby, the tops of its numerous arms swathed in sunlight. It would be hard to choose one tower over the other unless you intellectualized it:  Nature is best, cellphone towers on mountain tops are evil.

All of this reminded me to take longer looks at things that at first seem repulsive.

Unearthly constructions.

Unearthly constructions.

The Saguaro, Nature's tower.

The Saguaro, Nature’s tower.

The other night watching “Forensic Files” I could barely stand to look at a disfigured woman.  Her son had stabbed her three times in the head with a long knife.  She recovered but her face looked akin to a burn victim.  It took great courage for her to now walk in public, to see the stares, to see the quick-turns of faces looking away.  But I believe if you examined that face long enough, that courage would be reflected somewhere, in some aspect on that face  And that would be beautiful.

A spectacular sunset

Clouds positioned perfectly.

Clouds positioned perfectly.

By luck last night, I ended up atop the summit of North Mountain to witness a grand sunset.

It was a rare summer day in Phoenix.  Monsoon season.  Clouds had set in, temps in the 80s, down 20 degrees from norm, and a light breeze stirred the creosote leaves.

I had intended to hike the inner basin, trying to get my legs back after two months of dormancy, pampering myself too much from the heat.

At the Visitors Center at North Mountain Park in Phoenix, I’d run into an old acquaintance, Mike, who was preparing to lead a group of 25 hikers up Shaw Butte for a night’s view of the city.  It was then he told me of the baby rattlesnakes just emerging on North Mountain.  I changed plans on the spot and soon headed up the paved road to the summit.

A special sunset coming to an end.

A special sunset coming to an end.

While not seeing even one snake, I reached the top about 30 minutes before sunset, and stood there, camera in hand, waiting for what I figured would be a spectacular sunset.  The clouds in the west were just right, a low batch of cumulus hanging on the horizon.

As sunset approached, at 7:24, I was stunned to see some of the other dozen hikers on top start down.  They were going to miss the best part of the evening.

I stuck it out, and it was worth the wait and the trouble going back down to the VC parking lot in darkness.  You see a lot of great sunsets out here in the Southwest.  But this was special.

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.