4:30 a.m. wake up call. 4 liters of water. 4 good friends. 1 hour drive. Bumpy back roads. Mountain views for breakfast. Cows, cows everywhere. MOO…OOOOVE.
The stoke is high as we begin our hike, running through the wash and bouncing over the rocky terrain deep in the mountain valley. Mt. Rincon towers in the distance. The cold morning air burns my nose and lungs. Hit the incline, pace is naturally slowed. Set the cruise control.
Rocky path, over growth along the single track at the lower elevations. Boulders and cacti line the trail before the Sky Island. Occasionally we find ourselves meandering through a Manzanita maze at both lower and higher elevations. Watching my foot placement carefully, stabbed by an unfriendly Agave.
First blood goes to Mt Rincon.
Amazing views of the steep rock face of Mt Rincon from Happy Saddle. About halfway. The distance and elevation still yet to be climbed, daunting. Short water break. Morale is high.
Once we reach the Sky Island transformation, our feet are rewarded with soft soil littered with berries and pine needles. Sweet relief. Tall healthy Ponderosa Pine tree friends all around. Their shade is not under-appreciated. Still climbing. A cottontail rabbit runs across the trail, stops for a moment to examine our threat level. It’s over 9,000! Flight response. Further up the trail a two-winged beast swoops down to a nearby tree directly in front of us. At first glance, we assume it’s a large hawk until its head flips a 180 to show us a wide-eyed Great Horned Owl. Almost silent in flight as it quickly abandons its branch to higher ground up the mountain. The choir of birds to follow are minstrels on our passing. The trail begins to get much steeper, further into the thicket of the Ponderosa Pine. My sandals slip on the dead pine as we make our way up and over a blowdown. (Thick trunk + steep slopes) x slick pine needles = slow going.
The final summit push. Small steps. Big breaths. Trekking poles dig deep into the ground. I get my mind right: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. I think my thighs are on fire! After a strenuous ascent, we make our way out of the pines and back onto the rock. Have to make a stop at the summit log that’s lodged just before the true summit to write in a nice:
We finally reach the summit at 8,482 ft., rewarded with 360 panoramic views of the mountain-scape. Sid points out Mt. Lemmon in the distance and traces heartbreak ridge with his finger. (Beautiful, clear skies + cool breeze) x Poptarts = Bliss.
After a little bush-whacking away from the true summit, we sit our happy hiker bums on what I will call “recliner rock”. We sit there soaking in the sun, enjoying the view of the many mountains that lie before us and the valley floor so far below. We finally become too chilled from the breeze against our sweaty attire, and it’s time to get moving again. Descent commence.
We meet a party at the summit log. Perfect timing. I wish them happy trails and then the knee abuse begins. My pace is as slow going down as it was going up. Maybe slower. Making sure to enjoy the views I might have missed. Studying more closely the twists and turns of the manzanita. Listening more intently for the surrounding wildlife. Catching a glimpse of a large white tail deer before it dashes away, sneaky little bugger. Sid and Aren go on ahead, while Justin and I show love for our ligaments.
A long and strenuous 16.2 miles under our feet for the day, we arrive back at the car, pumping elation from the day’s adventure. Success! Happy to take my place in our cushy, air-conditioned car, we make our way back to our civilized lives once again. Aren, already passed out in the passenger seat, makes his way to dreamland. And then there were 3, already planning our next backcountry expedition.