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February 26-27, 2000

"A Cold Night in the Superstitions"

Although it was becoming apparent that my days of hiking "ball-buster" trails were over for the time being, John suggested that we try to do an easy backpacking trip, just to see how I would do. The big problem that we were facing, though, was that the number of trails we could do was limited because of the season. We had to stay in the lower elevations (below 4,000 feet) in order to keep from freezing our buns off, but we also had to be able to find a water source - in the lower elevations, it would be difficult to find reliable water sources, especially since we were in the midst of a dry spell.

After much research - and after a few days of rain, which helped ease the dry spell over Arizona - John discovered an easy hike for us to do in the Superstition Wilderness Area: the West Pinto Trail #212, in the eastern regions of the Superstition Mountains. We would be hiking at an elevation of 3,500 feet, meaning that it wouldn't be too cold, and the hike was mostly flat, meaning that I wouldn't have much trouble hiking it at all. John also pointed out that there were a number of springs along the way, as well as Pinto Creek, which was sure to have at least a few pools of water leftover from the rains. Just to be sure, John printed up the topographical maps and showed them to me. "I think you can do this one," he said. "What do you think?"

"Let's do it," I replied, noticing that it did look like something I could handle. John even suggested that we keep the hike short. He pointed out an area called Oak Flat, which sounded like a great place to camp. It was only two miles into the trail. We could set up camp there, then without our backpacks, we could explore the area. I liked that idea even better.

So Saturday morning, around 6:00 a.m., we loaded our backpacks into the van and hit the road, stopping first for our traditional breakfast of bagels at Einstein's. The drive took us almost three hours. To get there, we took US 60 east to Superior. Naturally, we had to stop in Superior to go to the bathroom and to grab a snack. While we were there, we found a rather clever new candy called Dilbert Mints: there were Accomplish-Mints, Perform-Mints, and the ever-popular Manage-Mints! On the way home, we stopped there again to buy some, just to have the decorative tin for our desks at work.

Just past the small town of Top of the World, we turned left onto Pinto Valley Mine Road (FR 287) and followed the public access road, which took us through the active mine. (If this sounds familiar, it should, because this is the same route we took to get to Haunted Canyon!) After entering the Tonto National Forest, we continued along FR 287 for several more miles, passing the Tony's Cabin Trailhead (for the Haunted Canyon Trail #203) along the way. At the very end of the road, we came to the Miles Trailhead, which is located near Kennedy Ranch. We parked the van in the large parking area, and around 9:30 a.m., we began our hike into the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Less than a quarter of a mile from the trailhead, John suddenly remembered that he had left the maps for our trip on the dashboard of the van! Without even dropping his gear, he ran back to the van and retrieved them. When he returned, I told him that, whereas I don't mind the "sympathy pregnancy symptoms", the forgetfulness is not a good one!

After that delay, things began to progress rather smoothly. For the most part, the West Pinto Trail was very easy, though not entirely flat. There were some steep sections on which I had to take my time, however, these sections were not very long at all - no more than a few hundred yards at best - and when they were over, they were long forgotten.

Another thing I enjoyed about this trail was the scenery. As everyone knows, I love the Superstition Wilderness Area because of its beauty. The desert regions of the western Superstitions is always so lush with cholla cacti and towering saguaros, and the mountains are so spectacular. The eastern region, in which we were hiking, is very pretty, even in the winter time when the sycamore trees surrounding the creeks are leaf-bare and the trails are covered with dead leaves. I can only imagine just how beautiful it is there in the springtime!

We were fortunate to find water along the trail. The creek we were following, though dry for the most part, did have a few deep pools left over from the recent rain showers we had had. The biggest pool we found was at a fork in the trail, where the trail branched off into a horse trail and a hiker trail. The horse trail went through the creek, and the hiker trail went up the ridgeline. It didn't look very steep at first, so we decided to take it so that we could keep our boots dry. It turned out to be very steep, making us wish that we had taken the horse ford!

Just before coming up to Oak Flat, the trail left the creek and began to switchback up a ridgeline towards a pass. Here, the trail was lined on both sides by tall pinion trees and was very pretty. After reaching the pass, John determined that we were only a thousand feet from Oak Flat and that we would probably find it at the bottom of the hill. And indeed we did. As the trail rejoined the creek, we reached a large flat area along the creek. There were plenty of campsites to be found. Some were nicely sheltered under pinion and juniper trees, while others were out in the open where they could get the morning sun. There were also several trail junctions, some of which, according to the map, lead to springs.

The last trail junction we came to was for the Spencer Spring Trail. That was where we found our campsite. We stopped there to rest and to hang our backpacks. Then, we decided to do a little more exploring before returning to set up camp. Instead of continuing along the West Pinto Trail, we chose to hike along the Spencer Spring Trail to see if we could find the spring that was a mile away, according to the map.

We found that the trail was very easy to hike; though in some places it was a little difficult to follow as there were sections that were overgrown with thorny plants. Had we been wearing shorts and T-shirts, we would have been ripped to shreds. Even through our jackets and sweat pants, we could feel the sharp branches poking us as we passed by.

We did find water along the trail, and John marked the spot on the GPS so that we could return to the pool later. There were also plenty of great campsites, most of them in the midst of the trees. Though they were much closer to our water source, John and I decided that we would stay at the trail junction. That campsite was out in the open, meaning that we would have the morning sun to warm us up.

Eight-tenths of a mile along the trail, we reached a point where we could go no further. At first, it seemed as though the trail had disappeared, but actually it hadn't. It continued on through a thick patch of dried, thorny bushes. John attempted to break through it, but he could only manage three steps before he decided to turn around. With that, we returned to the trail junction and set up camp.

Once we had established our campsite, John and I had lunch and discussed what to do with the rest of the afternoon; after all, it was only 2:00. There were many side trails for us to explore, but which one should we do? More specifically, which one could I do? John suggested that we do the Cuff Button Trail, which supposedly lead to Jerky Spring. There were some discrepancies, though. One of our maps showed the spring along the trail, while another showed the spring off of the trail. "Well, let's see if we can find it," John said.

The Cuff Button Trail started out as an easy hike that followed along the creek. Then, as it left the creek, it began to climb steeply, providing us with some wonderful views of the Superstition Mountains. However, it also steered us away from the spring, and as a result we weren't able to find it. Instead, the trail kept going up and up. It actually got to the point where I was finding it to be too difficult for me, so we turned back. Then, as we reached the creek again, John suggested that we try hiking upstream to find the spring; but we found that the creek was blocked by overgrown thorny plants, so we decided to skip it.

It was naptime for me when we returned to camp, but not for John - he still wanted to explore. As I crawled into the tent, he left again along the Spencer Spring Trail, telling me, "If I'm not back by five, you'd better come look for me." He returned shortly after I woke up, at 4:30 in the afternoon, with quite the story to tell. Apparently, he had decided to brave the thick patch of thorny bushes. As he hiked through them, he used his Leatherman to cut through the branches. As a result, his hands got badly scratched, but he was able to make it through to the other side. Eventually, he came to the spring and found that it was full of water. Then, on the way back, he decided to avoid the thorny patch by hiking in the dry creek. He was doing fine until he slipped and fell and landed on his pinky finger. He thought that he had broken it, but fortunately, it was only badly bruised and very painful to the touch.

Upon his return to camp, we started getting ready for dinner. We walked to our water source and filtered enough to fill our jugs. When that was done, we gathered firewood and started dinner. For dinner that night, we decided to try an MRE instead of our usual one-pot chicken and rice meal. We were actually a little disappointed in the taste. It wasn't bad, but we could tell that it had been freeze-dried. We were also disappointed in the portion sizes. We had only purchased one MRE to share, but we discovered that it just wasn't enough to fill us. In order to have one complete meal we would have needed two MRE's. We concluded that the MRE's would be better suited as an emergency meal (that extra meal that we always carry, in case we get stuck somewhere).

After the sun went down, it began to get cold, so we spent most of the evening huddled by the campfire for warmth. We also amused ourselves by watching the skies. Since it was a waning moon, it was dark enough to see a brilliant display of stars overhead. (We even saw a shooting star.) We also saw lots of jets that night - we must have been directly under the flight path! That kept us entertained for hours, and we managed to stay up until 9:00 p.m. - a new record for us!

The night got very cold as it progressed. By 5:00 a.m., John, who normally doesn't do so, had completely mummied himself into his sleeping bag. The inside of the tent was completely covered with condensation from our breath. That morning, we decided to sleep in until 7:00 a.m., so that we would be rising with the sun, and when we got up and opened the tent, the condensation froze and turned into ice crystals.

During the night, it got below freezing. Our guess was that it got down to twenty-eight or thirty degrees, which was just enough to slightly freeze the water in our jugs (but not in our camelbacks) and to leave frozen dew on everything, including our hats and boots. Immediately, we went to work at building a campfire to warm us up. We got the blood circulating by walking down the trail to collect firewood - nothing like a little exercise to warm you up!

It was a good thing that we weren't in a rush to leave that morning, because soon after breakfast, I started feeling ill, so I crawled back into the tent to lie down for a bit. John used that time as an opportunity to do a little exploring on his own. He hiked about a mile of the West Pinto Trail, and when he came back, he said that it was amazing. A bit further along, the trail began to climb up a ridgeline then descend again. He decided to turn back when he saw that it went downhill again, and when he turned around, he found a most spectacular view of the Superstition Mountains. He has now decided to do this trail as a solo backpack, when I leave for my three-day U.F. Retreat in April, so that he can fully experience all of the things that this trail has to offer.

We broke camp around 9:00 that morning and began hiking around 10:00 - a late start for us, because we had to let the condensation on the tent dry in the sun before we could pack it. We returned to the trailhead the way we had come, but with one exception: at the fork in the trail, we took the horse ford and found that it was much easier than the hiker route! At 11:30, we made it back to the van. After nine miles of bumpy travel on FR's 287 and 287A, we were back on pavement (US 60) and on our way back home. The weekend's adventure was over, and we were happy that it had been a good one.


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