Saturday, January 22, 2011

Parker Canyon Lake Shore Trail

I had an impressive turn-out this morning for this easy five-mile hike that skirts the perimeter of this man-made lake: a record of 17 people showed up, many who were neighbors of new members. My youngest hiker was Michael,and he brought his 6-month-old Pekinese who simply adored Sadie. We hiked at a moderate-to-slow pace to enjoy the scenery, and to hopefully catch a bald eagle sighting. Parker Canyon Lake is known to have a bald eagle pair that winter here.

It was a great day for a hike around this high desert lake. Temps were in the upper 60s by noon and there were few clouds. Skies were mostly clear.

We got started right around 9am, as the Cochise County Search and Recovery team from the Sheriff's department drove up. This is the team that is still trying to locate the body of drowned fisherman Steven Leininger, 54, whose capsized boat was recovered on the lake 22 December. His buddy's body, Michael Slough, 53, was recovered that day. Both men were out fishing after midnight. Neither were wearing floatation vests or had life-saving devices in their boat. If his body is still in the lake it may take a while in the cooler waters for the decomposing body to emerge; the body is most likely caught on something for right now.

We later saw a S&R team near the northeastern side of the lake diving for the body, an area that is popular with many local anglers. Perhaps other boats on the lake were also part of the S&R team as there were many cars in the parking lot.

Lakewater was calm today. Temperatures quickly warmed up but I never took my orange wind jacket off.

With a group this large it's hard to stay together. Eric and his friends took off right away to get around us slower masses. I certainly wasn't about to keep them back; I tend to stay with the slower hikers when I'm leading and today was no different. I stopped a few times to take photographs but overall this was a fun group of diverse people. There were so many new people that it was hard to remember all the names!

We never spotted any bald eagles this time, though. I figured this mild winter is keeping the birds wanting to stay elsewhere. We spotted an egret, most likely the same egret Hanna and I saw last year on this hike. There were the usual coots, mallards and ducks and a few small songbirds, but we never saw any raptors. I saw hawks and falcons on powerlines driving to and from the lake, but none at the lake!

I packed a large garbage bag but there wasn't much trash along the lake shore this time, despite the many people out fishing today. We also didn't see any USBP vans anywhere, neither at the lake nor along the route on Hwy 83.

This hike took us just over two hours to complete. Some of us chatted at the Marina Store for a bit but we all departed with hopes of another good hike. I was home by 1:30pm. Sadie was unusually tired.

This is the second year in a row we have done this trail in January. I may just make it an annual hike. It seems to be a very popular hike. My next plan is to come here after a heavy snow and photograph a calm lake against the snow-capped mountains. I'm not sure much more snow is forecasted for this winter, though. January has been too mild so far since that last snowfall on New Year's Day.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Miller Peak (via Montezuma Pass and the Crest Trail)

Distance: 11 miles o/b
Elevation gain: 6572'-9466'
Time: 7.5 hours (not a personal best!)

This 11-mile hike is becoming an annual event for me over the MLK weekend. I did this hike two years ago with all three dogs from Lutz Canyon. I did it again last February when Hannah lead the hike. With Carr Canyon Road closed until mid February and Carr Peak off limits, Miller was my peak for the month. I opted to hike it from Montezuma's Pass this time to start out on a dry trail. I expected heavy snow further up.

Today I only did it with Sadie, and had a late start. I had asked via my Facebook page if anyone else was interested in hiking with me, but I got no replies. It was my bad; I didn't plan on this hike until Friday, right before a long weekend. Hiking alone provides solitude, but hiking with a companion gives me an added boost.

I started even later than planned because once at the trailhead parking lot at Montezuma's Pass, I got carried away with several people mingling there. I talked to two young women from Phoenix whose car's radiator leaked just as they pulled up next to me. The radiator was boiling over and I told them to wait before opening their hood to avoid getting hit with boiling steam. A caver from Las Cruces NM with a Canon 7D who enjoys coming here looking for caves was also parked nearby. According to him, there are plenty of unmarked caves all over the Huachucas. I chatted a while but knew I had to get going. I was the only one, it seems, who parked to hike up the Miller Peak trail.

I finally got going at 10:15am and didn't even make it to the wilderness boundary until 11:30am. I don't remember it taking me this long last time. I felt overheated, thirsty and out of shape all day today.

It was a lovely day for a hike. Clear skies, little wind, and a peak temperature of 65F. (It was 57F on Mount Lemmon, I learned later, so this was accurate) I was dressed as if expecting deep snow. My Kaylands were almost too warm for me, my insulated nylon pants made me sweat and my knee-high gaitors made my pants wet! It didn't even take me long to take off my outer yellow jacket. I wore two sweat-resisting shirts to keep me warm. I probably could have done today's hike in shorts and day hikers.

The first two miles from the pass north along the Crest Trail are rough, going up the steep grade on the exposed south side of the mountain. Agaves (some of the most perfect I've seen on a trail), sotols and oaks line the trail but the big trees are still a ways up. On a hot day this stretch is torture. The two abandoned mines are now sealed and only the bats can come and go. I love the views from this vantage point, however. Northern Sonora is so enticing from this viewpoint.

Just past the second mine the trail levels off for a bit and the firs shade the trail. This adds a more alpine feel to the trail, and a cool relief from the exposure and grade.

Target shooters were shooting in Ash Canyon. I explored an illegal trail off the first summit and could clearly see all the trails into Ash Canyon. This is where the drug runners go.

Once officially in the Miller Peak Wilderness, the trail travels north along the eastern ridge before it crosses over to the more scenic western slope with its steep ascent. The shrubs along the trail seem to have gotten a lot taller the last few years.

We were the only ones on the trail, although I heard a few male voices north of me on the Crest Trail as I got on the Miller Peak trail. That is, if one does not count the potential illegals sneaking up through the heavily-treed creekbed. Sadie kept staring at the creekbed as if she heard people there.

I stopped several times just to get my breath. A hike I thought would take me five hours took me over seven. I must have stopped four times at 10-15 minutes each time. I felt I was rehiking Mount Whitney all over again.

Why was I so slow? Maybe I just lost my conditioning from last summer after all those months. Maybe it was the holiday flab. I also feel heavier than in November. The signs said Miller Peak was 5.5 miles from the trailhead. Other reports say it's only nine miles round trip. I tend to favor the signs. It sure did feel steep.

The mountains had received several feet of snow during the New Year's Eve blizzard. However, most of the snow was packed down and there were plenty of dry areas. The only real difficult area was north of the Lutz Canyon trail section, where the snow and ice had packed deeper and developed ice. This slowed me down. It didn't slow Sadie down, except for when she had to wait on me. She'd bite into the snow for water.

I finally made it to the peak at 2:20pm. I couldn't call Kevin as I had no phone reception. The peak was remarkably calm with no wind. It was actually nice to sit down and gaze toward Mexico, and I took my time. I love the views into Mexico from Miller and Carr Peak. How I wish I could travel worryfree into Mexico! I looked over northern Sonora and rued all the violence in that country. I saw the small lakes I explored with Mike and Tone two years ago, the headwaters of the San Pedro River, meeting the Mexicans and looking at old ruins. What a shame I no longer feel comfortable going into Mexico; there is so much left unexplored now thanks to the violence the Mexicans themselves have created.

Perhaps I got lost in thought as I sat there for a while. Sadie took a nap. I finally pushed myself up to continue the two-hour descent. I knew if I waited any longer I'd be returning to the car in the dark, and that is one thing I don't want to do along the border.

I'd like to come back up to Miller Peak this summer and stay overnight for a meteor shower.

I didn't stop for a break while going downhill. I slowed down to take a few pictures but I didn't stop for water. We got back to the car at 4:50pm as the late afternoon sun cast a golden hue over the valley. I was the only car left in the lot. The two women with the busted radiator said they didn't think the drive along Forest Road 61 was very scenic. They probably weren't looking! They also didn't realize that there was a decent-sized town on the eastern side of the Huachucas; they had never heard of Sierra Vista.

Today's hike revealed no trash anywhere, even around the illegal campground just south of the Lutz Canyon trail. I was very pleased with that. I hope the mountains remain this way. Hopefully this means that there are less illegals coming across these days. I've definitely seen a decrease in mountain trash since 2008.

I was hungry when I got home. I ate a bowl of beef stew that Kevin had made and got started on my biology work. I'm going to be busy for the rest of the semester.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Perimeter Trail

Distance: 7.5 miles
Time: 4 hours

Big Steve, Rod, Cassie and I did this hike last Sunday. I just now remembered to write about it. Other events such as the shooting rampage in Tucson last Saturday in which six people were killed (including a 9-year-old girl) and Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords was critically wounded, sidetracked me for a while. And even on Sunday the talk at the trailhead was the tragedy, but I told everyone not to talk about it and to just enjoy the walk. They complied.

I was a little late getting to the trailhead (I was engrossed in any TV or internet updates on Gifford's condition) but once I was at the trailhead, didn't waste much time getting started. I hugged everyone, wished them all a good new year, and got started. It was a nice day for a decent hike and the Perimeter trail is a nice adventure and one I always recommend to newcomers to this high desert.

It was chilly in the shaded spots, but I warmed up nicely on the return hike. It's not too challenging in any way. I had allotted six hours and nine miles for this hike, but I was willing to cut it short depending on what the others wanted to do. The option was either to hike this as a nine-mile loop hike or to do this as a six-mile out-and-back hike. I would go with majority rule. The deciding point is the lool-out spot three miles into the hike.

When we got to our overlook spot, that's when I learned that Cassie wanted to turn around. "But you two should explore this trail and report back to me!" said Rod as he pointed at an unmarked (illegal) trail coming off the main trail. Steve and I did that trail and it turned out to be a 50-minute, butt-kicking "shortcut" along a steep grade higher up the foothills that got us to Clark Springs. My lack of any high-elevation hiking in the last three weeks was evident as I was panting and feeling sore. I had to rest several times. There was some ice there that Sadie used for water but the big surprise was how much packed ice was on Carr Canyon Road, which was closed last weekend due to this ice.

We only came across one young couple with three small children on this hike. No trash, no illegals and no partyers anywhere. Although I've done this hike numerous times now, it's always nice to view into the valley. This time I could look over Highway 90 and see the four miles of improved pavement that took the county two years to build.

Steve and I made it back to the parking lot at 1pm. Rod and Cassie were still on the trail. I had just missed the NPR update on Giffords when I got back into my truck and left. I was afraid she had died while I was hiking. I learned back at home that she was still alive and doing well. What a relief!

Tuesday night the hiking club had its monthly meeting. Three new people showed up, and all three looked like great people to be friends with. This is conflicting for me as I am contemplating leaving the club to persue additional interests (such as train for another California hike this summer) and to devote more time to the Cochise County Master Gardeners, and to try more challenging hikes around Tucson.