Saturday, January 6, 2018

Ramsey Peak Loop with Ellen, Sadie and Zeke

I finally did it:  I bagged Ramsey Peak.  And I'll probably never do it again.

Ellen had messaged me a few days ago, asking if I were interested in hiking up to Ramsey Peak. The peak had been on my bucket list for years.  She wanted to start from Sheelite Canyon, but since I still need to get a new military ID card to replace the one that was stolen, I have to avoid the post until I get new identification.  So we settled on starting the hike via the Pomona mine access area in Brown Canyon. 

At 8,74 feet (2,659 meters), it is the third-highest peak in the Huachuacas, after Miller and Carr.  The only barrier is that there are no trails to this craggy peak.  Now I know why:  it's a long reef made of limestone and shales with a steep cliff into Hamburg Meadow below.  Scrub oak, agaves and prickly shrubs cover the terrain.

I originally just wanted to take Zeke.  But as I was leaving the house, Sadie saw me and bolted out the door with me.  I figured she could use the exercise.  She has bagged Miller, Carr and Huachuca Peaks, now she can bag Ramsey!

We met at 7:30am at the Brown Canyon Ranch and started the hike at 7:34am.  The sun had just risen, adding a golden hue to the foothills.  It was in the low 40s but I never got so cold in my two layers to put on my orange windbreaker. It turned out to be an ideal day for a long hike.  We never faced any winds.  There were only small patches of ice left from our mid-December snow and that was at Ramsey Peak.
The first two miles going into the canyon from the ranch house were a gradual incline as we entered Brown Canyon going counter-clockwise.  (Mountain bikers do this 4.2-mile Brown Canyon loop clockwise)  There was no water flowing.  At the two-mile mark we took a sharp turn right toward Pomona mine.  This is one of the steepest trail in the eastern Huachucas.  By the time we made it to the mine at the three-mile mark, my thighs were burning.  I hadn't hiked elevation since Carr Peak with Zeke over the Thanksgiving holiday and I am out of shape!
My thighs never stopped burning.  The elevation was steep all the way to the peak.  It was slo-go all the way because of the loose terrain and steep grade. We hiked up above the mine and just started going uphill from the abandoned helipad left there from the Vietnam War.  Some mining relics are still here.  It's a nice rest area as there are a few other mines and artifacts here.  It only gets steeper from here on!  Ellen was very patient with me and my many three-minute rest breaks.  

We followed the boundary fence that separates Sheelite Canyon from Brown canyon; one very rocky section which offered great views from both valleys once we got high enough.  And then there's a steep drop into the ravine...

We wanted to get to the peak before 2pm; we got there at 1:45pm by taking the ravine up and up to the peak.   This ravine, which was dry today, flows into Brown Canyon going the opposite direction, but the peak is in the opposite direction.  The grade is steep and the ground is covered with big rocks.  We had to watch our footing.  We could see a few places where water had etched into the limestone for seasonal waterfalls, but it was all dry today. We came across trash left by illegal border crossers as well.  Some of it looked recent.  People hiking down this ravine must be very careful not to fall or twist their ankles.  Getting help for an injured hiker would be quite a challenge for the search and rescue teams in Cochise County.  The thought of either of us or either dog getting injured never left my mind.

The ravine comes up near the summit, but the summit is dense scrub-oak covered limestone and shale.  This was more slo-go.  Views into Hamburg Meadow, however, were worth the stop.  We found the highest point, sat down, and had our lunch. The trees around us limit the views in other directions. 

Here is where I realized I had left the four 3-ounce packets of food for the dogs in the kitchen.  I gave them the patty to my second spicy chicken sandwich and split the one packet I had left.  Both dogs by this point had done a super job staying close by.  While I worried if Sadie would be OK on such a long and strenuous hike, she ended up doing a super job.  She never once showed any symptoms of CCD. She was her old self again, as on all other hikes she has done with me.

We left the peak at 2:15pm.  We figured it would take us two hours to get back to a real trail, this time it being the Pat Scott Trail.  It took us 90 minutes as we bushwhacked down to the meadow, at times averaging 64 minutes a mile.  I said my share of profanities sliding down the leaves, twisting my left ankle twice and getting my lower legs poked by agave and other sharp things.  We had found a small drainage that we took all the way to the trail.  Other border crossers had gone this way, too, judging by the occasional plastic water bottle or rusted tuna can among the leaves.  In hindsight, we probably should have bushwhacked to the Crest Trail and gone from there to the Pat Scott trail.

We got back to terra firma at 3:55pm.  What a relief!  The dogs immediately ran down to the creek for water.  We rested a bit to calm our thighs.  I was now feeling hot spots in both of my toebeds.  The Crest Trail is five miles from the Nature Preserve in Ramsey Canyon; we knew we would have to keep a steady pace to get back to the road before we lost all daylight.  The preserve's winter hours are 9-4pm. We could still see the beauty of the trail, though.  Several mines, year-round water, and an undisturbed canyon are what make this trail truly paradise.  

The new thing we both noticed is that the new signs along the trail are missing mileage.  The signs only show the trail number given by the Forest Service.

We even met another hiker, a man native to Trento, Italy.  He had hiked to the Crest Trail and back but now needed to get back before the gate to the Preserve closed.  He didn't know about the closure and looked panicked.   He was clad in just a red t-shirt and pants with backpack. His American Chicago-born wife was waiting for him in the parking lot.  This man was the only person we saw on our hike today, once we left the Brown Canyon Ranch to start our journey.

It was officially dark once we hit Ramsey Canyon Road again.  We both commented on how peaceful it was.  We had enough ambient light not to turn on our flashlights.  It would have been even lighter had there not been cloud cover, but it was this cloud cover that kept the warmth on the ground.  The sun had set at 5:34pm. The waning gibbous moon wouldn't rise until 10:56pm.

A man in a full-sized pick-up spotted us walking down that last .85-mile road to the Ranch house.  Perhaps fearing for our safety, he drove back to the ranch to make sure we got back to our cars.  We arrived back at 7:03pm, thanked him for his concern and hugged each other for achieving our goal today.

"Next time, let's do an easy hike!" said Ellen as we departed. She was being sarcastic.  I don't think we have ever done any easy hikes together!

Ramsey Peak is a challenging hike.  There is no easy way up there.  It's a hike one does as a passionate peakbagger.  It's the third-highest peak in the Huachucas so why not bag it?  It's there.  Unlike most other peaks in the range, this is one that one does once.  Doing it twice is just asking for it.

We hiked 12.3 miles and it took us just under 12 hours.  My entire legs were sore the rest of the night.  Both dogs slept soundly. Sadie had a good night.

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